Category Archives: VOIP

Voice Over IP

Five years on: VoIP? No. Well, maybe. But not really.

Five years ago we looked at dumping the POTS and going VoIP to save big dollars. It cost more to use VoIP.

So, recent events have suggested that moving to ADSL2+ is now a good idea. Now that the local loop is unbundled, true competition has smashed into the marketplace, and VoIP has finally gone mainstream. ADSL2+ prices are cheaper than ADSL. There’s dozens and dozens of VoIP providers, you can even port your existing POTS number to a VoIP number (for certain providers, from certain telecoms companies).

Interestingly, there’s a $10 difference between going with Naked ADSL2+ and ADSL2+ bundled with a home phone; typically you also lose some data allowance, for example going from 20Gig to 15Gig, and that 15Gig will have a further (quite small – I’ve seen an estimate of 30Meg/hr) amount consumed by ‘phone calls. So, you get less, and the question is, can you pull in VoIP functionality for less than the $10 price difference?

Well, maybe. If you insist on porting your existing phone number to the VoIP provider, there are charges (say $3/month), plus an upfront charge ($55). You’ll also need to acquire a convertery-thing to turn your Ethernet cable into a POTS connection for your existing phone handsets, or buy a network-connected VoIP phone, or whatever – some kind of connectivity to your network and thus the ISP and thus through to your VoIP provider is required. If you want a VoIP account with a Direct Inward Dialing (DID) number (you might know that as a phone number) they start at $5/month. So, of your $10 price difference, you’ve just chewed up $8. You get to amortize the connectivity hardware and charges over the $2 savings you’re making; if you’ve got the hardware lying around, the $55 port charge is will be clawed back in just 28 months. Did I mention you’re running with a smaller data allowance? And there’s also the cost of keeping the convertery-thing powered up each month. And the fact that if you lose you broadband connection, you lose your phone (POTS have very high availability rates; broadband not so much).

Now, admittedly, VoIP calls are hella cheap compared to POTS calls. If we made many, that might be a factor. But we don’t, so it’s not. Our phone line’s more for people to call us. If we wanted to place calls cheaply, VoIP accounts without DIDs start at $0; we’re looking at replacing the home phone, and the numbers still don’t stack up, even after all this deregulation and vastly increased competition. Which makes no sense.

Or maybe it does. If the costs are approximately at parity for VoIP and POTS, surely that’s showing that the prices are competitive?

Here’s another scenario. You go with POTS and ADSL2+, plus VoIP with a freshly allocated local number which you use for all outgoing calls. You still need the bridge, and now you need a second phone. You retire your POTS number (advise everyone you know of that you’ve changed numbers – doctor, dentist, home insurer, car insurer, friends, family, work’s HR department, your bank, etc etc – shouldn’t take more than a day or two), but keep it alive for, say, six months (this assumes your ISP loves the idea of you starting out with a POTS line and then dropping it after the six months; I haven’t checked, but I can guess what their reaction will be). You’re paying $15/month over naked prices (ignore bandwidth differences), but your call costs are lower. At the end of the six months you’re saving $5 a month, so another 12 months to break even, and then you can start amortizing the convertery-thingy at $5/month – about two years for every $100 it costs. And once that’s amortized, and you’ve recovered the price of the extra electricity you’ve been using, you’re making pure profit.

I can’t wait.

When the phone line is $5, or $8 for your existing number, rather than $30, that’s when it’ll make sense. But it’s almost at that price now, when you get down to brass tacks, it’s $10 plus they throw in a little extra bandwidth. So we’ve got a competitive situation (at least on the connectivity costs), and VoIP, as a result, sucks balls. Interestingly, bundled plans aren’t sold as “naked plus $10, and we’ll throw in some extra bandwidth!”.

Let’s say you were forced to change phone numbers anyway (perhaps an interstate move), so now it makes sense to go without the POTS number at all. You’ve still got to amortize the convertery-thingy at $5/month, but on the upside you’re saving money on your calls – if you make any.

Final analysis: if you’re forced to change you telephone number anyway, you might as well go Naked ADSL2+ and VoIP. Otherwise, not worth the bother.

How open is open?

While Google Talk will use the Jabber protocol, there are concerns over network interopability, with Jabber Australia President (and Geekrant reader) Jeremy Lunn questioning how (and if) Google Talk will work with existing networks.

Meanwhile, the extremely popular but extremely proprietary Skype has opened up… just a teensy bit… with an API to let developers hook into Skype a little more easily. Doesn’t mean other clients will be able to use the Skype protocols, or extend Skype support onto new platforms, mind you.

Skype: good or bad?

Skype now has a momentum that makes it hard to ignore — almost anybody on broadband who is interested in dodging long distance call fees is now happily chatting away. And though it doesn’t always “just work”, it’s certainly good enough and easy enough that it has mainstream appeal, unlike most previous VOIP applications, at least the freebie ones.

But its proprietary nature has got some commenters hot under the collar. In this month’s Australian Personal Computer, Dan Warne takes a swipe at Skype (heh), and suggests we shouldn’t use it (not online alas). Ted Wallingford has a similar beef.

Personally, I’m just following the pack. I don’t have the time to look around for a good open source, standards-based alternative, and even so, would it have the critical mass of users that Skype has? A number of overseas friends are now on Skype, so I’m happy to have the client running, alongside Trillian — which is for my many ICQ contacts. Yes, ICQ. I also haven’t been convinced to switch to Jabber, the open source IM client… why would I? Only one person I know uses it.

It’d be great if Skype had embraced existing standards. They say SIP and other protocols weren’t good enough for them, and they had to go down their own road. But if likewise it would be a gesture of goodwill to open up the protocol, and get it ratified as a standard. Maybe when they’ve made their first billion.

The other night I had a surprise Skype call from a friend in Poland I haven’t talked to for about five years. It may have its problems sometimes, but by and large it does just work. And for me as a consumer, I’m afraid that’s more convincing than some open source, standards ideal.

VoIP ain’t gonna happen this month

I’ve just moved houses and thought it would be a grand idea to replace our fixed phone line with a VoIP phone like that supplied by Engin. Save the $30/month fixed line rental, skip the $60 connection fee and also upgrade our net connection to broadband, come out ahead with features and finances. Everything would be great.

What a stupid idea.

The VoIP service offered by Engin is $20/mo, so you are saving $10/mo on connectivity. Our ISP costs $10/mo, so the most we can afford to pay for an ISP and come out equal is $20/mo. But if we pay only that then we are effectively getting broadband for free. The VoIP is $150, but we’ll just ignore that cost. It’s only $90 more than hooking up a fixed line.

Obviously, to use a VoIP phone you need IP connectivity – an ISP. Okay, so we’ll just sign up to one of those $20 / 200meg plans ADSL and that’ll be great; I did some figuring and we’d use nothing like that kind of traffic, even with voice calls consuming 1K/sec (all figuring based on Engin’s figures, supplied in the user forum, which has been pulled – methinks because the users were slagging them off). No problem signing up for a couple of years, no worries, I’ll be in the new place for at least that long.

You can’t have ADSL without a fixed line phone.

You Freaking WHAT?!

Fine. Cable, I’ll have cable. Call one of the two cable providers, the house has been cabled up by both. Except they’ve merged, to increase competition. No worries, I’ll call the only monopolistic cable provider, hook up (ought to be cheap, the house is already cabled up) and away we go. $279 to connect to your cable service?!?! $40/month to stay connected?!?! You Freaking WHAT?!

Fine. I happen to know that although cable and ADSL are widely regarded as your two options for broadband, there’s a third option here in Melbourne – radio. Alphalink provide superfast wireless access for only $33/mo; but connection is $286. But guess what? $33 is greater than $20. So we come out Losers.

So I resigned myself and we got a fixed line. And that’s why VoIP isn’t gonna happen this month, and I suspect won’t be happening for a long time yet.