How Do I Hook Up... my digital phone service (Vonage)? Newsletter Signup
April 12th, 2008 by Joe Chianese Page 1Page 2Page 3

Vonage and Digital Phone Service

Let's pretend you plan on getting a digital phone service if you don't already have one. When I say digital phone service, I'm talking about VoIP, or Voice Over IP. Simplified: phone over the internet (sort of). You've probably heard of Vonage, right? That's digital phone service.

Its important to learn about VoIP and what it is before we get into hooking it up. If you think you're already aware, feel free to continue to connecting VoIP or Vonage service. Vonage is a VoIP provider you may be familiar with that offers digital phone service in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico (now in the U.K., too). Vonage is a phone company that offers extremely affordable telephone service through the internet. They've been around since 2003 and compete with similar services provided by Comcast (DigitalVoice), Verizon (VoiceWing), AT&T (CallVantage), and others.

A History of VoIP

Digital phone service isn't completely "over the internet" unless you are calling someone else with the same service. When you call anyone else, the signal, which is digital, is sent from your phone over the internet (converted from an analog voice to a digital transmission) to a gateway. A gateway will convert the signal back to analog and place it on the Public Switched Telephone Network, or PSTN. That's the same network standard telephones calls have been placed over since we've had...well, telephones.

If you remember, operators used to physically connect your line to someone else's line when you wanted to make a call. This system was later updated with automatic switching centers. For telephones to have worked, they needed a direct line connecting one phone to another. The advantage of VoIP service is that you don't always need a direct line connecting phones together.

Digital phone service existed in the 1980s, but the problem with it was related to internet bandwidth. Bandwidth is typically referred to as the speed of your internet connection, represented in megabits or kilobits per second. VoIP service requires about 90 kilobits per second, or 90kbps.

In the 80s and even most of the 90s, the fastest speeds available were 56kbps through dial-up internet. This made the voice quality choppy and unattractive for potential customers. Later on, as cable and DSL became more available, the bandwidth also became available. You can typically find cable internet being offered above 2mbps, or 2000kbps. This is sufficient for receiving a VoIP call, or downloading, but you also need to be aware that there is separate bandwidth for uploading, or sending a call out. Upload speeds vary, but the lowest you may find would be a DSL connection at 128kbps. This is still more than sufficient for VoIP.

Today, providers like Vonage and Comcast offer digital phone service for attractive prices. Vonage is the most cost effective at $24.99 a month for unlimited calling to the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, and five European countries.

So, before we move on to the technical how-to of getting VoIP connected, be sure you have at least 128kbps of upload and download bandwidth. VoIP won't work without high-speed internet. Keep in mind that if you get VoIP, your phone will be unavailable when the internet is down or your power goes out. Most providers, like Vonage, allow you to set a number for your calls to be forwarded to in the event your VoIP service is unavailable.

Another problem you may encounter with VoIP besides bandwidth is wireless internet. If you have a satellite or wireless broadband connection, you're likely to encounter delay in your audio. There will probably be some choppiness to it as well. It can and will work, but it always depends on the quality of the signal. Satellite, however, will ALWAYS have 1-3 seconds of delay in the audio stream because of the distance the data is traveling. No way around that.

Didn't understand some of the terms used above?
Check our our Home Theater Glossary to lookup some of the words you haven't seen before or don't fully understand. Its a great way to familiarize yourself with home theater connections and will help you make better buying and configuring decisions.
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