Note that you do not need a VOIP provider to place calls to other SIP destinations. With proper configuration and dynamic DNS you could call your friends using an address such as firstname.lastname@example.org:5060. You do need a VOIP provider to call regular phone lines.
Major providers, Canadian flava
In North America, Vonage seems to be a major player; however, their advertised plans are not all that is available. Here’s what a user has reported:
I just got the $24.99 retentions deal ($40 plan for $25) and one month credit for my plan and my virtual line. I just called and told them I wanted to cancel. They transferred me to retentions. The lady seemed surprised since I've been with Vonage for 5 years. I told her that Rogers was offering their VOIP service with the $30 plan for $20 (see Rogers retentions thread) for a 1000 mins and that this was worthwhile since my usage tends to be between 700-900 mins per month. And I said that I was also getting a second line on cell with the same area code as my virtual line for 0 dollars a month (0.20 PAYGO) with Rogers which would meet my needs since my second line was limited usage.
She said that "New for 2010, I can make you a special offer..." And offered me the retentions deal and a month free. There's no contract or term. I can cancel at anytime. I said, "Fair enough. Set it up." Logged in to check. Credits are there.
Voip.m seems to have some unique and advanced features. It is also possible to use it without fully understanding all that they offer, but otherwise they seem to have no equal in the amount of power they provide. I will go one step further and say that I previously had a similar idea - “mass market” asterisk features – but they are implementing it so well, I lost the appetite to do it myself.
Skype has the most users. It is very simple to set up and use, however, its technology is proprietary, which makes it difficult to use with established open server applications such as asterisk.
MagicJack will send you not only service, but also a hardware device you connect to your computer through USB. For 2010, they have plans to send a GMS femtocell instead, allowing people to use their cell phones at home. The femtocell would be great, but I have yet to see it. The USB device I used needs a computer to be on at all times and is otherwise very limited in features and support; however, it is very attractively priced. However, it is worth knowing that MagicJack sued and lost boingboing after this website wrote that MJ spies on its users and has a failing customer service card from the Better Business Bureau. Personally, I thought there’s something spooky about this company when I watched a commercial with CEO Borislaw’s daughter who seems scared and coached when talking about dad’s “invention”.
ooma was (and may still be sold) at Costco. A very high initial cost (almost $200) gives you a “free trial”, but the service is not that cheap once the trial runs out. Some early 2010 news from about.com:
..unveiled a series of new features to its already rocking service. These features are quite new on the market and ooma is the first residential VoIP service provider offering them. The features include HD Voice, which doubles the frequency to provide a close-to-natural voice quality. Voicemail transcription comes here again, after Google Voice introduced it. ooma also provides extensions for Google Voice and allows mobile calling through the iPhone. But the feature ooma presents in the front is what they call Ooma Pure Voice, which is a kind of network sophistication that makes phone calls robust and delivers quality despite congestion and low bandwidth. These new features will be [most likely, were] presented at CES 2010..
Google Voice has an amazing offer, but it is
not widely available yet and you need an invitation to use itonly available in USA. VoiceMail transcription (where you don’t receive just the voice recording, but also a transcription of messages in your mailbox), switching phones in the middle of an incoming call (just press *) and the very competitive cost of outgoing calls will make this service, when deployed, very tough to beat. The service is currently available only to users in US and Alberta (403). There are ways to obtain the service even when you are not among the lucky ones.
Freephoneline offers free phone calls in Canada using their softphone. If you would like to use SIP, the settings can be yours for $50. Though I received their phone call, I do not like the idea of “free for life” as that usually means “free until nobody signs up with us anymore”. This might be a good idea, but I declined. You do get a local phone number and Enhanced Voicemail with them and their offer is quite competitive otherwise.
Betamax (German) or Finarea (Swiss) offer various rates to most countries under several brands: 12voip, actionvoip, budgetsip, calleasy, dialnow, freecall, internetcalls, intervoip, jumblo, justvoip, lowratevoip, netappel, nonoh, poivy, rynga, sipdiscount, smartvoip, smsdiscount, smslisto, sparvoip, voipbuster, voipbusterpro, voipcheap, voipdiscount, voipian, voipraider, voipstunt, voipwise, voipzoom. Each brand has different rates with different countries and is SIP compatible. Furthermore, each brand has a number of destinations that are free for 30-minute calls. It is unclear however if they are free forever or the destinations change. Also, whenever you purchase credits, you also get a number of free services. I find the array of rates challenging and confusing, even when using backsla.sh. Furthermore, their users seem increasingly frustrated, complaining that calls do not get connected, that tech support is inexistent and that prices have been increasing for no reason.
Rogers, Telus and other ISPs as VOIP providers is not an idea I like. Large ISPs are known for poor customer service. Smaller VOIP providers are usually in a better position to provide superior service and work harder for their customers. The large ones get business mostly because of the inertia of their clients. Furthermore, the price plans they offer make sense only for people who make many local calls and almost no international calls and even then are quite expensive. Some plans have absurd restrictions – for instance, they would not allow you to travel with your adapter. Their adapters also tend to be locked on that particular network.
G3 Telecom was once my long distance provider. That has changed when I referred some friends who signed up with them but we were then denied the promised discounts. Their VOIP plan costs $10/month and it includes Caller ID, Call Waiting, Call Return, Call Forward and Call Back, but Voicemail is an extra $5. Their offer is not bad, but it’s more expensive than what I have and it comes with less features.
Teksavvy has a strong reputation for customer service, but they are far too expensive for my liking. With their unlimited local calling plans starting at a hopping $21.48 / month with $25 activations fee and all calling features extra, Teksavvy appears poised to compete with the major ISP VOIP offerings, aiming to simply provide better service. Still, their unreasonably high prices place them out of the reach of most customers. Visual Call Waiting adds an extra $9 / month, while Voice Mail is $6.
Acanac includes calling features in their standard offering, however, their customer service is lacking. I signed up for a free 6 month promotion they had a while back and when I wanted to cancel, they refused to disconnect me, attempting to fraudulently charge. I had to file a dispute with my credit card company to have the charges reversed. Their no-frills plan is $10/month while the “unlimited local” is $20/month. Many angry users report similar “internal misunderstandings” between Canadian billing and Indian tech support resulting in frustration and billing disputes with their
Primus, with their talkBroadband offer is also too expensive. Their Basic Plan at $15/month does not include any calling features. Visual Call Waiting alone is priced at $12 extra / month.
Other providers worth considering are callcentric, lingo, les.net and vbuzzer.
Though this should not normally be a factor in your decision, here’s a list of VOIP providers and their codecs as reported by users not long ago. It is very possible that in the meantime, all providers have started to support GSM, G.711 and G.729. G.722 or G.722.1 aka HD Voice offer the best voice quality, but your hardware needs to support it as well. If you cannot use G.722, your best bet is G.711u – which we recommend.
- AT&T Callvantage: G.726 (?) or G.711 with Fax and Modem support turned on
- Broadvoice: G.711u (g.726-32 and g.729a are available on the Chicago proxy)
- Broadvox Direct: G.711/G.729 + T.38
- Dialpad uses g729a for line 1. Line 2 uses g723.1.
- InPhonex – G.711, GSM, iLBC and G729
- Lingo: G729, G.711 + T.38
- FWD: G711
- iConnecthere: g711 - US calls, good quality, g729a/gsm - international, at least to Ukraine.
- mutualphone - g.729
- mybroadline.com uses G.711 and G.726
- Net2Phone Voiceline G729
- nufone.net is using G711 and G729 - will take your preferred codec
- Nuvio uses g711 (High Quality) and g729 (Normal Quality) codecs. They are user selectable.
- Packet8: G.729 (G.711 Fax)
- Quantum Voice: G.711/G.729
- Sipphone is currently using G711 and GSM on their PSTN gateway; 800 numbers gateway is using G711 only
- Stanaphone uses g.711u & GSM, G.723
- SunRocket --- G.711
- TalkBroadband uses G.711 for users with full broadband connections, and G.729 for users with 'Lite' connections.
- TelaSIP uses G.711, G.726, G.729 and GSM.
- Verizon VoiceWing has standardized on G.711. G.711a as default and G.711u when the connection allows
- ViaTalk : G.711u (Ulaw Compression)
- Videotron.com Cable VoIP G.711
- Vodavi G.711 @ 110kbps for "full" B/W connections & G.723.1 @ 22kbps when B/W needs to be limited; G.723.1 can sound almost toll quality when you have some control over QOS.
- VoicePulse: G.711/G.726-32/G.726-16
- Vonage: G.711/G.726/G.729
- Voz Online – G729a
The following are some example of voice quality MOS (Mean Opinion Score) scores collected before. G.711 has the best voice quality. However, you need to pay for the price of high bandwidth.
1. PSTN switch: MOS is close to 4.5
2. G.711 A/M: 4.4 or up
3. G.729: About 4.0
4. G.723: About 3.5
5. G.726: If I remember correctly, depending on its rate, the score is between 3.5 to 4.3.
I first contacted the VOIP provider, prior to spending money. We had the following conversation, which hopefully will not only answer some of your own questions, but also give you an idea on how providers do or should deal with questions.
I will be adding to the above collection my other conversations with tech support as well.
Note that most VOIP providers, though they may be offering voice support, prefer web chat support, as that frees the ATA to have its configuration changed with no interruption in the conversation. Mango however, reports that this should not be an issue:
We called our internet provider one day to have them make a change on our account. We used the VoIP line, not thinking that in order to make the change, they would need to reboot our modem. Which they did. Which caused every device on the floor to lose its internet connection. But when the modem came back up, our call was still connected, and we finished the conversation. Colour us impressed.
Below, you can find the list of free or cheap DID numbers worldwide from backsla.sh, courtesy of Robert Siemer aka klammero. And now, once you have decided on a provider, you might want to fine-tune your ATA.
Sources / More info: rolodex-ca-voip, vonage-retentions, fff, ffr, voip-codec, packetizer, toao-pap2t-review, PayPal-calc-Olbe, PayPal-calc, GV invites, HD-Voice, backsla.sh, voipstunt-review, voip-sale, magicjack-issues, primus-pdf, NEthing-voip, dslreports-voip-ms, voip-directory, top1K, 102-best-2008, maemo-best, rfd-free-voip