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VoIP Service Providers

Most people who decide to move to VOIP based home phone service do so via one of the various VOIP-over-broadband service providers offering what has come to be known generically as “Digital Phone” services.

There are now literally hundreds of companies both large and small offering VoIP-over-broadband service. The leading independent provider of this sort is Vonage. The major cable companies and telcos also have some form of residential VOIP service offering. We might refer to these as the retail providers. Table 1 lists the major U.S. companies.

Company URL
AT&T CallVantage
Verizon VoiceWing
Comcast Digital Voice
Time-Warner Digital Phone
Cox Digital Telephone
Charter Telephone
Table 1: Major US Retail Voice-Over-Broadband Services Providing 911 Service

This group, by definition, provides their customers with access to 911/E911 and 411 services. The FCC, which regulates communications across the U.S., mandates that 911 service be provided by voice-over-broadband companies in the retail residential marketplace.

The most common pricing model among the large retail providers tends to involve xxx minute/month/line domestic long distance calling for a flat monthly rate. Some offer “unlimited” calling for a fixed monthly fee. Often “unlimited” really means some unstated but arbitrarily high number of minutes beyond which they consider that you are abusing the account.

There is yet another group of providers that target the small business, small office, home office and hobbyist marketplace. Their service offering may be wrapped in an application context as a “Hosted IP-PBX” or offered on a raw form as outbound call termination and inbound calling (aka DIDs)—all delivered via IP.

This tier of VoIP service providers is a wholly different class of companies. Not quite wholesale carriers, but not quite retail either. The generic term for these companies is “Internet Telephony Service Provider”, aka ITSP.

They run the gamut from very small players operating on an offer of super-cheap service, to larger companies in the broader networking space and providing SIP trunking to SMBs. Table 2 lists some of the U.S. based players.

Company URL
Voicepulse Connect
Junction Networks
Table 2: Sampling Of US Based Internet Telephony Service Providers

In this space, some players, VOIPJet for example, only offer one direction of service. That is, they may accept outgoing calls for termination afar, but do not provide any way to receive incoming calls. Many offer a diverse range of services at prices that make them extremely attractive to cost-conscious small business owners.

There are various pricing models among these providers. Some provide service based solely on cost per minute of calls placed with fixed no monthly fee. Some charge per minute for all calls, even local calls. Some charge fixed monthly fees per end-point (phone), while others charge per user.

One of the most significant differences between large retail players and smaller ITSPs is the ability to deliver 911 emergency calling service and 411 directory services.

In migrating my home and home office to a 100% VoIP system, we had to weigh many considerations, availability of 911 service key among them. If it was worth installing a UPS to keep the DSL, network and IP phones running during a power outage, then it follows that 911 service should be provided if possible. Yet none of the ITSPs we prefer to use provide 911 or 411 service.

Since we have several cell phones in the house, it, at first, didn’t appear that 911 service on the home phone line was an absolute necessity. Our cell phones could be used if the need arose. However, what about those times when a guest was at our home and without a cell phone? Further, would our household insurance provider look kindly upon not having 911 service?

Ultimately, my wife decided that a pure VoIP solution without 911 service was simply out of the question. What can I say? This is the Spousal Approval Factor that I have to live with.

Even 411 directory service can be important. My wife uses it with startling regularity and tends to find it very annoying if it’s not available. We have tried the free directory services such as TellMe, but found them wanting. They are interesting technology presentations, but don’t generally pass our internal spousal approval test.

Finally, we live in Houston, where we also have 311 service. This is a direct access number that reaches a call center run by the city government. It’s a non-emergency access line that can be used to report street lights out of order, fallen trees, leaking fire hydrants, etc. Sadly, access to 311 service is not provided by cellular providers in our area.

So a wireless cellular trunk sounds interesting. The next step is to examine the common cellular networks and devise a strategy for interface between them and the SIP domain.

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