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TotalTalk - In Use

I browsed through the status web pages, and from what I could tell, everything appeared to be set up, so I plugged in a standard telephone and lifted the receiver. I had a dial tone; cool. (The NETGEAR router had come already set up for accessing the TotalTalk service, so I can't share what that experience was like. If it's like other services, though, it probably isn't that difficult.)

I made a couple of local calls and judged the quality. Both I and the party on the other end judged the quality to be as good as a standard call. To give the system a bit more of a workout, I made a long distance call to my parents. This went through without issue, and my father said that I sounded even clearer than normal. To really give the service a stress test, I set out to call my globetrotting brother, who currently finds himself living with his family in Cairo, Egypt. This failed, with a recording indicating that my settings were blocking international calls. I thought that perhaps the service authorized for this review did not allow outgoing international calls, so I sent my brother an email with the phone number of my VoIP asking him to call me instead. After a few minutes, the phone rang and I was talking to my brother.

Based on the advice of other expatriates whom he works with, my brother has been using Skype for his international calls; he finds it much cheaper than using a standard service. This means that during our conversation, my brother was on Skype and I was on Totaltalk. As we talked, I judged the quality to be pretty good, but there was a definite lag of a half second or so that made conversation a little bit difficult. I've encountered this before when talking to him, so instead of any issue with VoIP, it's probably more an indication that the signal was traveling over a satellite somewhere along the line.

Another thing I noticed was a faint background conversation. I asked my brother if this was typical of his international calls, but he indicated that what I was really hearing was his wife in the next room, talking to her Baghdad office via cell phone. This told me that the quality of the service was good enough for low-level audio. It also helped me realize that a lot of things have changed since my brother and I grew up in a small Kansas town!

A day or so later, I thought I'd push the service to the limit. Once again I made a long distance call to my father, but after I established the connection, I opened my laptop and simultaneously sent an email with a 4 MB attachment. Almost immediately, the conversation started breaking up - so much so that it was practically unusable. I waited a bit for the email to finish, hoping that the quality would pick back up, but even after the email was sent, the quality remained poor. It may have eventually recovered, but I got tired of waiting, hung up, rebooted the router and called back.

Along those same lines, I attempted to send a fax out over the VoIP line while my kids were casually browsing the web. The fax started to go, but eventually quit with an error indicating poor line quality. I tried again when our Internet line was idle and this time the fax went through.

These two tests show that users of a VoIP line will need to remember that they're using a shared medium. If I could have gotten the QoS setting to work, it may have helped my VoIP connection, but it would have been at the expense of other users of the line.

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