Time to dump Vonage

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Randy Savicky
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Time to dump Vonage

VonageI never thought I would say this, but "that's it, I've had it with Vonage!" Let me tell you about my woes with Vonage lately. First, let me say that my wife has periodically complained about Vonage having voice quality issues for three years, but it was sporadic enough that it wasn't a major problem for her. I on the other hand very rarely encounted any voice quality issues and was very happy with the price point. I guess that's why this goes back to my theory that Men are from VoIP and Women are from PSTN.

However, over the past month or so both of us have experienced several occasions when Vonage's service wasn't up to par. On April 21st, my wife had to be induced into labor and so I left a message for our pastor asking him to pray for us. I also beeped our birthing doula with my home number to let her know to come to the hospital. I waited for the return call from our doula, but the call never came and I assumed she never got the page. We left for the hospital and eventually I was able to get a hold of our doula. She told me that she couldn't get through to our phone line with a message stating that all circuits were busy. She said she tried like 6 times. Isn't that just great? My wife goes into labor and Vonage is having issues now of all times?

Eventually I got a hold of our pastor and he told us the same thing - he couldn't get through. Everything worked out, the doula eventually arrived and I was able to get a hold of our pastor, and more importantly Megan Lyn Keating was born a healthy baby girl. But Vonage not working in the most important time in my life really ticked me off.

I've been a loyal Vonage customer since almost the beginning of Vonage itself, but I'm now thinking about dumping Vonage and switching to a VoIP service provider with a managed network with QoS implemented. (Vonage uses the open Internet.)  I'm not alone in complaining about Vonage's quality of service. Now, I don't know if these problems are due to "fast growing pains" for Vonage and they haven't architected enough bandwidth to handle their subscriber growth. But seriously, I've had it with them. I have a 4 week old baby girl now and can't afford to not have a working phone in my house. As (bad) luck would have it, my cell phone doesn't get service in our house, but works at the end of the driveway. So if Vonage is down, I have no phone period!

Over these past 4 weeks I've tried to call my wife while at work and I'd say 50% of my call attempts resulted in a message saying "We're sorry, all circuits are busy. Please try your call again." So while Vonage is busy preparing their IPO, I'm getting busy signals? Grrrrr!

You're probably wondering if I called Vonage technical support to troubleshoot these problems. Well, the answer is "no". I've called Vonage in the past to discuss my fast busy issues, got a low-level tech from I assume India that knew absolutely nothing and wasn't able to solve my fast busy problem. I really don't need some low-level tech India reading from some 'moron script' asking me to unplug my ATA, reboot my cable modem, or run a bandwidth test. I know all of this stuff already, so it would be a waste of my time.

Just for argument sake, let's say it is somehow related to my broadband cable connection having high packet-loss and therefore Charter is at fault for not implementing QoS on the "shared neighbor" cable data line. I still fault Vonage for not providing any good tools to know who is at fault (them or the broadband data provider). In theory, when my broadband connection goes down or there is high packet-loss, Vonage is supposed to forward calls to my cellphone, which it didn't do when I received the "We're sorry, all circuits are busy. Please try your call again." message. So it looks like a Vonage issue to me.

I've always been high on VoIP (naturally), but my latest experiences with Vonage have left a bitter taste in my mouth and I am now looking to switch. Unfortunately, my local cable company (Charter) rapes you with a ridiculously high $39.99/month fee for their unlimited plan, so it initially appeared as though Charter's "Triple Play" wasn't an option.

However, I decided to give Charter a call to see if they offered "limited plans" for a lower rate. It was then that they told me they offer $5 off for being a broadband subscriber and $5 off for being a digital TV subscriber. At first I thought I misheard, since I'm not sure how you can get their voice service unless you are a TV subscriber and have a broadband connection for the voice. But then I remembered that Charter does digital voice directly over the coax cable and isn't "true" Voice over IP going over the broadband connection. Charter basically uses DOCSIS 2.0 QoS mechanisms, as well as the added benefit that you don't have to worry about packet loss on the open Internet affecting your voice quality.

Still, I'm not sure who would sign up for just Charter Voice and not be a cable TV subscriber, but hey, if they want to give me an extra $5/month off, that's fine with me. With the two $5 discounts, the monthly price goes down to $24.99 which coincidentally (or not) is the exact same price as Vonage's monthly unlimited rate.

Charter told me they'd be able to port my number in just 5 days, which would make this an easy transition. I was just about to "pull the trigger" and switch when the Charter representative looked up my phone number and told me that because my phone number was based out of the Norwalk rate center (my old home address) and that I now lived in the Danbury rate center that they couldn't port the number. Thus, this would mean I'd need to get a new phone number and have to notify all my friends, family, credit card companies, etc. of my new phone number. oy! I can port my cell phone number to any carrier but I can't port my old landline number that was ported to Vonage and port it over to another VoIP provider? Ridiculous. I bet it can be done, but the phone companies aren't going to willingly do it without a law on the books ordering them to.

The FCC mandated that a customer's landline phone number may be transferred to any wireless provider whose coverage area overlaps where their landline number is provided. However, the FCC site on number portability makes no mention of porting a traditional landline or VoIP landline to another traditional or VoIP landline. This is a hole in the FCC's Wireless Local Number Portability (Wireless LNP) regulations that needs to be extended to include porting to other landline and VoIP phone providers. Why should wireless carriers receive special treatment?

Two years ago, I talked about the "death knell" for Vonage and other "one trick pony" VoIP providers that rode the open Internet and didn't provide the last-mile data connection, so I did see this coming. Two years ago I also analyzed Yankee Group's expectation that alternative VoIP providers such as Vonage would lose 47% Market share to MSOs and IXCs/ILECs by the end of 2005. I disagreed with Yankee Group when I stated, "Although I do predict Vonage and similar players will lose market-share I don't agree with their numbers though." I also wrote, "I'm sure a lot more people will jump on board the VoIP bandwagon in 2005 which will no doubt dilute Vonage's overall marketshare --- however, I do not see a mass defection from Vonage and similar players to cable companies/MSOs, IXCs, and ILECs - rather cable companies/phone companies will attain new VoIP customers." I believe I was correct in both points. However, two years has passed and now I am planning to defect to a cable company. Well, I wrote about the fall of Vonage to the triple play providers as something that coming soon, so hold on while I go ring the death knell bell for Vonage.

Although, with the number porting concerns, I've now put on hold switching while I consult with my wife and weigh all my options. Of course once Vonage reads this rant they'll probably intentionally screw with my phone line to make it even worse forcing me to switch. Then again they could try and make "nice" to solve my issues and placate me. Who knows?

What do you think I should do? Dump Vonage, get a new phone number and switch to Charter Voice, or do you have another suggestion for inexpensive, reliable/QoS-enabled, e911-capable phone service?

Update:
Look like the Wall Street Journal also coincidentally had a story on users complaining about Vonage just prior to the Vonage IPO. I've actually started this post 2 weeks ago but just never got around to finishing it. I do tend to blog like Tolstoy at times (long).


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