connections can cut your business phone bills
by Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver
29-April 4, 2005; issue 805 High Tech Office
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) started life as a way for computer
users to talk to one another without racking up long distance telephone
charges. It popped up again as expensive hardware systems merging
corporate data and phone networks. Last Fall, Skype began allowing
Internet-connected computer users to speak to other Skype users
anywhere in the world for free or to connect to anyone's phone for a
fraction of traditional long distance rates.
But talking on a headset connected to a computer isn't a particularly
comfortable way for many of us to have our phone conversations. And
it's not a way for others to phone us.
Internet-based phone service, targeted at home and small business users
who already have a broadband Internet connection and who would prefer
to make and receive phone calls using a standard telephone rather than
at a computer terminal.
With a Vonage account (starting at around $20 per month) the subscriber
plugs an Internet phone adapter into his cable or DSL modem or router,
then plugs any standard phone into the adapter. (Vonage offers several
models of adapters, including some with wired or wireless router
capability through London Drugs at prices starting at $75). Within a
few moments, there's a dial tone and you're in business. No software
installation or messing with computer settings needed.
With the phone in action, you just dial and receive calls. There are a
couple of differences from standard phone service, however. The first
is cost. The basic $20 per month plan includes 500 minutes anywhere in
Canada or the U.S. A $40 plan promises unlimited calls within the two
countries. (Small business rates are higher: $70 per month for
unlimited calling for example.) International calls are cheap: London
or Hong Kong for $0.04 per minute, for example.
Other features might also be worthwhile. There's nothing limiting you
to a local phone number. If you have a lot of clients out of town, you
might prefer to set up your Vonage account with a New York or Toronto
area code letting those customers reach you as a local call. Or set up
a virtual number in the U.S., U.K. or Mexico that rings through on your
local Vonage line.
Vonage's SoftPhone lets customers use a Windows or Mac laptop or
desktop as their Vonage phone, handy when on the road. ($13 per month
can get an additional phone number for your laptop). Or pack your
Vonage phone adapter with you when travelling; plug it into your
hotel's Internet cable and make your calls bypassing the hotel
switchboard. Your phone number is programmed into the adapter and
travels with you.
A separate dedicated fax line is included in Vonage small business
accounts and a $13 per month extra on the home accounts. As with the
voice service, any standard fax machine can be plugged into the phone
adapter. Web-based voicemail lets you check your messages from any
While PayKiosks Internet Terminals is based in Vancouver, the company's
business is largely in the U.S. According to company president Scott
McInnes, Vonage has allowed PayKiosks to reduce long distance charges
and cell phone costs from $2,000 per month to next to nothing.
"Our business is done almost entirely over the phone with almost all of
the calls being long distance. Each time we add a new member to our
sales team we order a new Vonage line specifically for them. If they're
working from home for the day they can take the Vonage box with them
and still have the same number. When our technical team is in the U.S.
installing one of our terminals or wireless systems in a hotel, they
use the Vonage SoftPhone. This all but eliminates the need for them to
use their cell phone."
Out of 4.5 million broadband connections in Canada, approximately
30,000 were being used for phone connections at the end of 2004. Some
expect that number to jump to 1.6 million by 2008.