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I'm a long time Vonage customer. I started as a monthly service plan customer and switched to their annual pricing a few years back. Because I'm still paying for service, I'm not part of the Vonage MDL Settlement for former clients. That said, I get a bunch of questions and visitors about Vonage-related topics, so it seems appropriate to mention this Vonage Settlement for the benefit of readers seeking help and or restitution.

Every product and service I use seems to be subject to a class action lawsuit. Recently I've received notice of class action lawsuits for a laptop video card, hard drives, and today I received one for the AT&T Mobility Settlement for taxes on data services from iPhone cell phone data plans. In some cases it becomes nearly impossible to figure out whether I actually purchased the qualifying product, as was the case with the hard drive settlement notice I received. The video card was part of a Dell laptop I once owned. This one seems to be about iPhone data plans for me, although you might qualify for the settlement if you owned a Blackberry with AT&T data service as well.

Thanks to a tip from Brandon, I just noticed that becomes very soon. I'm hoping this means it becomes open to the general public soon, because I'd love to have a unified phone solution in my life again. I waited too long to sign up for GrandCentral before Google closed it to new accounts, although I did put myself in the queue to get a number should they ever get around to reopening. Looks like they are reopening, under the new Google Voice brand.

Why do I want Google Voice? Several reasons:

Vonage is aiming to make it easier for people to convert from traditional landline phone service to the Vonage VoIP service. At CES 2008, Vonage introduced several affordable hardware solutions that eliminate some of the guesswork in setting up telephone handsets throughout your house. At the most basic level, new customers can now get a V-Portal box with easy configuration and helpful feedback for troubleshooting any service issues they may have. If you need several phones throughout your house, my landline to voip conversion hack still works, but there are a couple of more elegant solutions to getting handsets around your home. Vonage now offers a bundle with 3 handsets all working wirelessly from the same base station or you can use a networking over power line solution to get your phones to the rooms you need them.

Vonage V-Portal

The V-Portal includes a standard single Ethernet connection and RJ-11 connection for a traditional phone, coupled with an interface that provides feedback about your Vonage service, including handy messages when things go wrong. This is a step up from the solutions originally provided by third parties like Linksys because it takes some of the guesswork out of setting up your Vonage service at home. The box also includes handy features like caller ID, call logging and timing calls.

Vonage V-Portal Black Box

Vonage Multi-Handset Whole House Solution

If you want multiple phones for your Vonage setup, the VTA-CVR pictured below may be the easiest solution to configure. You connect the black box to the router on your home network and place the three handsets where they are most convenient to you. Each one requires power but needs no special connections to work with your Vonage service. The handsets support a 50 contact phonebook, include caller ID, and have a direct dial button for voicemail retrieval.

Vonage Multi-Handset Bundle

Vonage Phone Over Power Adapter

One thing every home includes is plenty of power outlets distributed in virtually every room. Vonage aims to take advantage of this with a phone over power outlet solution, combining the Vonage service box with 3 additional power line converters that can be placed anywhere in your home or office for additional phone jacks. This is especially convenient if you already have handsets you want to use for phone service in your home. The theory here is we all know how to plug stuff into the wall, so there's no need to learn anything new. Just plug the main outlet in someplace near your router so you can connect your Vonage service to the Internet, then choose additional locations for handsets throughout your home. My only complaint with this bundle is that the company didn't think to also build in Ethernet over power into all of the jacks, making them dual purpose for people who might also want to connect their game consoles or other network capable devices.

Vonage Power Line Connectors

All three solutions show that Vonage is taking a more serious interest in making VoIP easier for the consumer. While I'd like to see better integration of whole house solutions, like the Ethernet support on all the power outlet adapters, Vonage is taking steps to differentiate from other competing solutions by being more than just a phone service. I'm told existing customers (I'm one) will be given the opportunity to get some of these new hardware options at a discount.

Len asks, I have just converted to cable phone service : Is there away to hook up a battery back up; connected to a land line in case of a power failure?

One of the many things that get shoved under the carpet when VoIP providers talk up great features like no long distance costs is disaster planning. In the landline world of simple phones, the power could go out and your phone would still work. When the power goes out for a VoIP customer, it takes out the cable modem, which kills the Internet connection, which effectively makes the phone useless. For brief outages this might not be a big deal, but what happens when your power is out for several hours? You need a backup plan.

My primary backup plan is my cell phone. I have a call blast setup with Vonage (my VoIP provider) to automatically ring the phone at my house and my cell phone. I get calls no matter where I. If the power goes out, my cell phone battery is generally lasts long enough to endure most common power outages. In the event of a longer power outage, I can always recharge the phone from my car battery or plug in at the local coffee shop while I have a beverage.

If you don't have a cell phone, a different type of backup plan is in order.

The easiest backup to configure for a VoIP service is a uninterrupted power supply (UPS). These are readily available in a variety of battery sizes at the local electronics store or you can find more serious solutions online. The trick is finding one that lasts long enough for your disaster preparedness comfort zone.

The consumer level units are generally only good for about two hours. You might be able to get more than two hours of life for reasonably power efficient devices like a cable modem and VoIP adapter. While you might need a phone within a two hour window, that's still not real protection. If you want to keep your phone online while the power is out, a minimum of 24 hours seems more like a reasonable backup timeframe.

Using the APC UPS configuration wizard, their APC Smart-UPS XL 750VA USB & Serial 120V + UXBP24 Battery Unit will last for 27 hours running a cable modem, a cable router and a mini-tower PC (minus the PC it would last longer). That kind of protection doesn't come cheap at $1200. A bare bones landline with no features could provide a backup for about 5 years for the same price. This is one of the things that's worth weighing before dumping your landline in place of something else.

Another option would be to install a gas powered backup generator in a shed behind your house. A generator with enough horsepower to support most of your house for a half day on seven gallons of gas costs under $1000. If you ration the power, it might last longer.

Ultimately your decision should be based entirely on your own comfort level. I never lose sleep relying on my cell phone in case of emergency and I also have a battery backup to protect my computers in case of short term power failure, in part to protect my data. If I didn't have a cell phone as a backup, I likely would still have a traditional landline as my primary phone because the phone company is generally reliable and their service works through localized power outages.

Other VoIP related articles:

Is VoIP the Right Solution for You?

Will VoIP Work with DSL?

VoIP over Home Phone Wiring

Cellphone to Landline Converter

Download SightSpeed

Cross-platform video conferencing is one of those things that never worked well outside enterprise class software. Apples iChat AV made video conferencing for the masses seem like a reality and AIM made strides to try and offer a video component, but everything in the consumer space tends to fall short in communicating between Mac and Windows computers. SightSpeed changes that with PC to PC and Mac to PC video communication. The app also records video for video blogging. Video mail messages of 30 seconds in length allow people to leave messages. If you prefer to only use audio, that's supported too. Think of this as the Skype of video communication, with outstanding image quality and convenient conferencing between your Mac and PC friends. The basic version is free. If you want to communicate with multiple people simultaneously, SightSpeed Pro is available for $49.95 per year and includes a free Webcam. I doubt SightSpeed will replace Skype as the favorite app for online communication but it certainly raises the bar for everyone else trying to break into the space. If you have relatives who live a long way off or need to communicate with remote business partners, this is the most affordable solution for long distance face-to-face communication. [Windows 2k/XP Mac OS X 10.3.9 $0.00]

Pete writes, Is there any way of making Skype into a cordless phone? Specifically, the computer is in the home office attached to the broadband jack, but we'd like to be able to respond to incoming calls from Europe from the bedroom, since they tend to be late at night.

Making Skype more like a plain-ole telephone used to be a tricky matter, but not anymore. Skype is doing a handful of things to make it easier to get Skype calls away from the PC. My personal favorite is integration with cell phones, because that allows me to take Skype and all my other calls anywhere, but inside your home, you're likely to get better call quality and burn fewer minutes using one of the VoIP and landline integration tools.

The hardware solutions for integrating Skype with your home phone world aren't cheap, with prices in the $100 range depending on what you opt for. On one hand, there's the Cordless DUALphone, which connects to both a standard phone line and to your computer via USB. This lets you receive calls through a traditional telephone service provider and through Skype using the same handset.

A second option from Linksys connects to your PC and skips the old phone service. A base station connects to your phone via USB and provides cordless communication with the base station to provide caller ID, as well as SkypeIn and SkypeOut, in addition to the standard Skype contact calling. The Linksys Cordless Internet Telephony Kit is $129 as I'm writing this.

A third option is free, assuming you have a smartphone. Search your phone's app store for Skype and receive calls via Skype using your phone data plan.

Si writes, My friend and I want to record some podcasts to make available for people to download for nothing. The only problem is, I live in Devon, and he lives on the Isle of Man. If you don't know the geography - that's quite a way away! We both have half decent PC's etc, so I just wanted your advice on how we might record a podcast live with each other as if in the same room?

There's currently no perfect solution for recording a conversation remotely. If you have the budget, installing a digital phone line on both ends will make the conversation sound amazing. Since it doesn't sound like your podcast endeavor is currently backed by a wealthy sponsor, you probably need to consider one of two more affordable options. You either need to have the conversation in real time over a traditional phone line or voice over IP solution, recording each part of the conversation separately (called a double-ender for reasons I'll explain below) and then piece the resulting audio files together or you compromise audio quality somewhat and go for the simplicity of using a VoIP solution for both talking and recording.

Recording both ends of the call independently is going to provide the best sounding result, assuming both your and your friend are technically astute enough to configure audio recording gear. This is called a double-ender, because recording takes place at both ends of the conversation rather than as one central recording. In this kind of arrangement, you setup a microphone at each end, with headphones to hear the other side of the call if you're using a software phone or just use the handset on your telephone to hear your friend's side of the conversation. Since timing the start of the recording is less than scientific, it's a good idea to agree on a keyword or phrase to designate the beginning of the discussion for later editing. Each of you hits record on your end. When the conversation is complete, save the files from each side of the call and send the missing side of the conversation to the person doing the editing. It's fairly easy to match up the conversation in software as long as neither person did too much interrupting throughout the call.

A second and generally easier way to record a conversation over long distances is to use a software VoIP solution. Skype gets all the attention in this space because it was the first app to come along and make it easy, but for recording I prefer Gizmo Project. The software includes a built in record feature, which makes it easy to capture the entire conversation. The downside is any network hiccups may result in some delay in one side of the call, but the simplicity is outstanding.


People who know me well are aware that I never check the voicemail on my cell phone. The recordings stack up and gradually drop off after the expiration date because I hate not being able to skip to the end of 30 seconds of um, yeah, I just called, to say, um, can you call me back, um talk to you later..." If I see your number in my missed calls, I'll assume you called for a reason, call back and get the details in less time than it takes to dial. Contrast this with my Vonage service, which takes messages and emails them to my inbox. I love getting voicemail in my inbox. I can listen. When I realize there's nothing important beyond, call me back, I'll call back. Every once in awhile, I'll get a meaningful message providing details and the service pays off, but the email option puts me in control.

GotVoice is configurable to turn any voicemail service into an email deliverable or via their online interface. A scheduling feature checks messages twice daily or on your own custom schedule, cleaning out your inbox automatically. For the time being the accounts are free, which makes it even more valuable as an improvement to any voice mail service. This actually makes the voicemail on my cell phone useful again. The asking for some vague demographic information at the end, which is presumably for marketing purposes to support the service and are answered with the same honesty that any perpetually 29-year-old woman might convey. Current availability is limited to North America. An optional download manages messages outside your email inbox.

Tom writes, "I just canceled my land line and am now pure cellular. I read about a gadget somewhere that acts like a router for your cell phone in your home, using the existing wiring. When you come home at night you plug your cell phone into the gadget and all of your house phones are now ports to your cell phone. It's the best of both worlds - you get the cheap cell phone service and can still use all of those land line phones scattered around your home. Have you heard about this? If so can you point me toward a vendor?"

There are a number of solutions that link cell phones to landline connections. Most of the current batch of options perform a hand-off from an active cell phone account to an active landline service provider, effectively forwarding the call to the landline so that you aren't subject to the issues associated with poor connectivity and dead spots in the home. There are two solutions I found that truly pass the phone call to a landline handset.

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