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article imageReview: Tech for Christmas (part 4)

By Jack Kapica     Nov 25, 2012 in Technology
Telephones on the cheap: Yes, prices for voice-over-Internet (VoIP) calls are tantalizing, but you should know what you’re doing and what you might be giving up to get them. Still, bargains await.
Telephone calling via VoIP is not for everyone. Using Internet connections, VoIP calls have not become wildly popular despite their cheap pricing. Rogers apparently claims a million Canadians signed up for VoIP service, but I suspect they’re largely business or small-office customers, which means many fewer than a million people will make the decision to go with VoIP. I suspect consumers fear VoIP’s reputation for poor quality or that people don’t feel comfortable signing up with companies that have with strange names — such as Ooma Telo.
But things have improved a lot over the previous years as independent companies such as Ooma have arrived with cheaper packages for essentially the same services. On a per-call basis, these services are unbeatable; with the independent companies, you have to buy the hardware and you have to hook them up yourself, something most Canadians are loath to do after spending most of their lives dealing with phone companies that do all this for you.
Ooma Telo uses a traditional handset and sells for $149.99 at Future Shop and Costco; it includes a Wi-Fi adaptor for the home, which looks like a traditional router, and requires about the same space as one, and includes voicemail, call waiting, caller ID and 911 service. It connects your high-speed Internet to your existing home phones, requiring you to connect to your high-speed Internet connection and plug your regular home phone into Ooma. The service lets you call anywhere in Canada for free and make some international calls at very low rates. All you need is the high-speed Internet connection; you don’t need a PC.
There are hidden costs with VoIP, such as paying your Internet carrier for using its lines — VoIP calls are counted as data, and most Canadians are charged, one way or another, by the amount of data they use. But fortunately, unless you’re running a business that’s constantly making overseas calls, voice data is unlikely to get you into cost overruns. Another drawback is that whenever you suffer a power outage, VoIP goes down as your hardware runs on electricity, something that doesn’t happen with landlines. But then most Canadians also have smartphones, which will work during blackouts, as long as they’re short enough to keep your phone from draining its battery.
Essentially, Ooma charges for the initial hardware, taxes and local fees for calls, which can be extremely low, less than$4 per month. International calls are a separate charge, and Ooma offers special plans — you can buy minutes at a bulk rate, depending on the country you're calling. But the initial cost of Ooma's Telo is $250, it's much more expensive than the competing netTALK DUO Wi-Fi.
The netTALK Duo Wi-Fi
The netTALK Duo Wi-Fi
netTalk
The netTALK DUO Wi-Fi is the newer version of the netTALK Duo, the major upgrade being that it allows you to place the device anywhere there’s power and a WiFi signal. You’re no longer tethered to either the computer or a specific router.
Like with most VoIP calls, you will need a broadband Internet connection (cable or DSL, but not satellite), and minimum required upload and download speeds, usually about 128 kilobits per second. With netTALK Duo Wi-Fi, you’ll also need a router, preferably a good-quality one with the latest firmware installed. You will also have to understand how to reboot your modem; generally this happens rarely, and you don’t even see it do this automatically while working on your computer, but it becomes a problem when you’re on the phone.
Also, you can’t use 2.4Ghz cordless phones, which interfere with WiFi signals. Make sure your VOIP service works properly before porting your home phone number — the minimum requirements can trip you up even when you think they’re good enough. VopIP companies usually offer you a 30-day cancellation option.
Like Ooma, netTALK Duo Wi-Fi offers a bunch of enticing extra features that are usually extra on landline phones. They include call blocking; a year of service included; a 30-day money-back guarantee; free local and long-distance calling to the U.S. and Canada; round-the-clock live tech support (although there have been reports that netTALK’s tech support takes a long time to get through); flat-rate, low-cost international call plans (free if they’re Duo-to-Duo calls); 411 directory assistance; call waiting, caller ID and call forwarding; visual voicemail and the ability to use fax.
The setup includes an AC adapter (110/220 volts and 50/60 hz, meaning it will work almost anywhere in the world) and an Ethernet cable if you’re not plugging into the wired LAN.
To install it, you have to use your computer to activate the netTALK DUO WiFi using the username and password that came with the package, and then pick a phone number (netTALK offers a wider range of available numbers than some services). Then download software and drivers. Finally, plug the Duo into a USB port on the computer and start the Wi-Fi management tool. The software is supposed to find the Duo automatically. The next step is telling the system which home network you’re using and its password. At this point you can remove the device from the computer and put it anywhere within your Wi-Fi reach.
On the road, you can bring the Duo Wi-Fi and a laptop, and connect the laptop to the local network (you also have to get the new local network’s password) and use the Duo that way. The unit will work with open WiFi networks, but you have to make sure with the establishment offering the Wi-Fi service that there is no extra gateway between you and the Internet. When you get home, you have to reset your management application to reconnect top your home network (it doesn’t work as transparently as your computer’s Wi-Fi connections).
More about Voip, Internet, Telephones
 
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