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Making The Connections

You can get started with Vonage by signing up via its website, purchasing Vonage's X-PRO softphone service ($9.99 a month plus 500 U.S. and Canadian minutes), and downloading the softphone to your computer. But most users will opt for the hardware route that involves plugging your existing telephone into a router or Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA).

You can either order hardware directly from Vonage or purchase it at a computer or office supply store. I chose the latter option, purchasing a specially-configured Linksys Vonage router at CompUSA for $129.99 and connecting it up as shown in Figure 3.

Hooking up Vonage

Figure 3: Hooking up Vonage

Getting connected with Skype involves a similar drill. If you are happy using it as a softphone, all you need do is go to the Skype site, download and run the Skype installer, register, then find other users and start talking. If using a regular phone is more to your taste, you can either check Skype's store or favorite shopping search engine for USB phone options or Skype ATAs. Figure 4 shows how the Actiontec adapter is used.

Skype with optional phone adapter

Figure 4: Skype with optional phone adapter

Either setup is pretty much a breeze. Yet for my Vonage configuration efforts, the tricky parts were yet to follow.

Vonage Customer-no-service

It took awhile for me to fully enable my Vonage service. The key reasons were not a lack of experience on my part - I've been in and around the world of VoIP for awhile - but because of less-than-stellar customer service. When I first attempted to activate my Vonage hookup, I couldn't get a dial tone on any of my phones. Yes, I tried the installation disk and read the manual assiduously, but as so often happens to the best of us (and me, as well) there was definitely a ghost in this machine.

I'm a guy, and as such, don't ask for directions when driving to a new place. Yet I'm not so egotistical and proud that I would refuse the option of calling Vonage customer service. While I could probably figure out the procedures by myself, I figured that getting a read of Vonage's customer service quality would be helpful to you, the readers. By the way, my first stop was Vonage's web site, which was not much help. FAQs were thrown together in a seemingly random fashion without any diagnostic problem/solution design.

What I found is that Vonage's phone support left, and leaves, quite a bit to be desired. I fully understand the need for voice menus. Yet if you try Vonage's phone support voice menus, you'll notice some non-intuitive menu hierarchies. The best phone support resources organize these in some sort of logical taxonomy. I find Vonage's vaguely worded, and not well-structured.

Plus - cardinal sin alert here - there's no "Press O" for a live operator. Every voice-activated help line should have this. Without it, you have to guess which of the vaguely-worded options on whichever of Vonage's phone support menus you are on might apply to your situation.

And their live tech support? They were somewhat helpful, but the outsourced, India-based phone support operators seem to work off a script rather than know the answers intuitively. I called several times, and wound up being walked through a script that didn't seem to have enough flexibility to handle even the slightest deviation of topic. I have a big problem with call centers substituting canned, "if-then" scripts as a replacement for real-world experience. I found them very helpful, but when I changed the subject to X-PRO, (Vonage's own softphone offering) no one seemed to know what I was talking about. But I persevered and was finally able to get my Vonage set-up going (the problem turned out to be in my cable modem).

I have no tale of woe to tell for my Skype set up. I only used Skype as a softphone, so didn't have to deal with any hardware besides the headset attached to my computer. Download, installation, basic Skype registration and registration and purchase of the optional SkypeIn and SkypeOut services went without a hitch.

At that point, I was over the hard part and now had my choice of two popular VoIP services. Let the calling begin!

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