What's wrong with Vonage?

Tom Keating : VoIP & Gadgets Blog
Tom Keating
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What's wrong with Vonage?

What's wrong with Vonage? Oh let me count the ways...

First, they've been promising the Viseon video phone for I about a year and it's still hard if not impossible to get. In fact, I checked my trusty email archives and found this email dated December 4, 2004 - "Vonage(R) Announces Partnership with Viseon to Develop Videophone Service". Ok, you announced the partnership in 2004 and it's almost 2006? C'mon already!

On September 30th of this year, I emailed a "certain" PR firm that invited me to check out the Viseon's videophone called the VisiFone. She wrote me saying, "We invite you to be one of the first editors to check out Viseon’s VisiFone, the first Digital Home Telephone for broadband. If you are interested, we will send you a set of two VisiFones. The trial VisiFone will come preloaded with a Vonage/Sipphone.com test account, a Quick start guide, and tech support for assistance." Sure, I said - send me the two VisiFone review units. I waited and I waited and yep, I'm still waiting. Nothing in the mail. Rich Tehrani also emailed her and also didn't hear back. If both Rich and I, two well-known VoIP journalists can't get our hands on the Viseon VisiFone, then who can? :(

A couple days earlier (August 29th) I also emailed someone directly at Vonage with the initial "B" and inquired about getting a VisiFone. No reply. What gives? Did one of TMC's competitors (who shall remain nameless) but who currently has thousands of Vonage stock options tell Vonage not to speak to me? Ok, maybe that was harsh, and I doubt that is the case since for the most part this competitor has taken the high road in competing with us. Maybe B's spam filter ate my email. ;) Anyway, so that's my first gripe - they promoted a product you can't even get your hands on a full year in advance. That's shady marketing in opinion.

My second gripe is that if you get a Vonage softphone not only do you have to pay extra, but you have to get a separate phone number. Why? Why can't Vonage let you have one number and simulataneosly ring both your home ATA device and the softphone (if online)? I have enough numbers to deal with than to have to have two separate Vonage phone lines.

My third gripe is their WiFi phone which is yet another product that was announced but took forever to actually ship. Sure it looks good, but once again you must get a new line and cannot add it to your existing account. So you need to pay a minimum of $15/month just to have the WiFi phone. Yet another fee? Vonage is becoming more and more like a phone company every day. Why can't I just buy the WiFi phone, or another third-party Wi-Fi phone and install the softphone config info into the phone without paying another fee and having yet another phone number? Are you telling me if I want my Vonage home line using an ATA, a WiFi phone, a Viseon videophone, and the softphone, I need 4 separate numbers with separate account fees for each? Sheesh!

Now granted, Vonage has to be careful since someone could ask a friend who uses Vonage to sign-up for a WiFi phone and then ship the WiFi phone to the friend. Thus, you'd have two people sharing one Vonage account and Vonage only collects 1/2 the revenue. It could especially hurt Vonage if the original user is using the unlimited plan. But I say, if the customer is using one of Vonage's limited plans, i.e. set number of minutes free, then you pay-per-minute, then Vonage should let the Vonage customer have the WiFi phone for the cost of the hardware only. After all, friends or not, who is going to let a friend "rack up" minutes on a limited account where the friend doesn't have to foot the bill? And even if the friend does rack up minutes, Vonage collects it's share of revenue anyway.

And even if the two friends "share" a single unlimited account, they'd be sharing the same inbound phone number. Who wants to share their home phone number with a friend? What if the friend answers the line remotely via the WiFi phone you gave him? Oh wait, I forgot, Vonage assigns you a different phone number per device (ATA, WiFi phone, etc.) :@ Vonage really needs to start thinking "out of the box" and stop modeling themselves as a carrier replacement.

It's crap like this that will drive users to switch to "pay as you go" pre-paid VoIP. In fact, while pondering my 2006 predictions (I've yet to make), one of the predictions I planned on making was "pay as you go" pre-paid VoIP and cellular taking really off in 2006. With more competition in the VoIP space, price is still the primary factor as much as industry pundits want to "push" enhanced services and enhanced features. Sure, people want advanced features, such as a WiFi or videophone but not if they have to pay for a full account. I really should go work on those predictions. So much to do, so little time...

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