Compare VoIP Phone Service Providers: Ooma, netTalk or Vonage?
When your mobile service is reliable and reasonably priced, it may look quite appealing to drop your pricey land telephone line, keeping strictly your mobile service. A lot of people nowadays are doing just that. But if your mobile reception is not perfect, or if you don't have a mobile phone and still want to drop your land-line, there is another option to consider that has already become very popular: using Voice over IP (VoIP) which is a phone technology that uses your Internet connection to establish and carry calls both locally, nationally and internationally at a fraction of the cost of a traditional land-line. You will of course need to have a reliable Internet connection for any VoIP service to work well. Though some VoIP service providers such as SKYPE need a computer to make and receive calls, the VoIP service providers discussed in this review do not require using your computer to make or receive calls.
Here is how the VoIP telephone service works:
First, you need to be equipped with a special VoIP-enabling device associated with the company offering the VoIP service. These devices are also called VoIP telephone adapters. Depending on the service provider, these adapter devices can either be purchased separately or acquired for no cost as part of a service contract. You simply connect the adapting device to your existing phone and to high-speed Internet (via your Internet modem or router box). Note again that, unlike SKYPE, you don't need to use your computer or wear a headset to make and receive calls as these devices bypass the computer, accessing Internet directly via the modem or router. Your telephone will work as it always has worked, but without the expensive monthly bills associated with land-lines.
The main function of the VoIP adapter device is to convert the analog signals from the regular telephone to the digital packets used by VoIP, and vice versa. It may also provide access to a slew of functions such as voicemail, call waiting, three-way calling, etc. Note that some VoIP adapters have already a built-in router in which case the adapter box can be connected directly to the modem to access the Internet. Otherwise, the adapter has to be connected to the router first which itself is connected to the modem to access the Internet. These two connection configurations are shown below:
Though you don’t need your computer to make and receive calls, you will need it to open an account on the service provider’s Web portal for registration, entering your credit card information, customer support, etc. Depending on the service provider, there may be a couple of more steps to execute before you are ready to make and receive VoIP calls (like for instance requesting to keep your current number if the company offers this option), but basically that’s all you need to do to get going. Very simple! By logging anytime from anywhere to your account on the service providers Web portal, you will also be able to have access to customer support via chat lines, voice lines or both, depending on the company.
Comparing Ooma, netTalk and Vonage
With Ooma and netTalk, you will need to buy yourself respectively the Ooma Telo and netTalk DUO adapter boxes, and then open an account on the service provider's Web portal. With Vonage, if you agree to a one year contract, the Vonage V-Portal adapter box is provided free of cost. But if you don't like to be tied up by contracts, you can also buy the Vonage box yourself and then open an account on Vonages' Web portal.
Note: Though the fact that the Vonage box can be obtained free of charge with a contract may sound attractive to some, it should be noted that the monthly charges of Vonage are way higher than Ooma and netTalk (see below for exact amounts).
Here are the various Amazon prices for the adapter boxes:
- Ooma Telo Adapter Box: $120 (if you wish to have also Wi-Fi support for he box, you will need to get the Ooma Telo Wireless Adapter ($45) which plugs into the Ooma Telo USB).
- netTalk DUO Adapter Box: $35 (if you wish to have also Wi-Fi support , you can get instead the netTalk DUO Wi-Fi Adapter Box ($50) which has Wi-Fi support built in).
- Vonage VDV22-VD V-Portal Adapter Box: $50 (the Vonage V-Portal is also a Wi-Fi supporting wireless router, therefore it has built-in Wi-Fi support).
(The prices shown above are approximate as they can change at any time. For exact pricing please click: Ooma, netTalk and Vonage VoIP adapter boxes on Amazon. Note also that Amazon prices include often a discount on the list price.)
The adapter box for the three VoIP providers are shown below:
Note that even though the Ooma Telo adapter box costs quite a bit more than the other two, this is justified by the rich feature set built into the box. The Ooma Telo box supports full featured voice-mail and has a built-in speaker that allows you to listen to your messages and to screen your calls while messages are being recorded. The other two boxes have no built-in speakers, and their voice-mail service is provided at the far end by the service provider. Note however that all three providers allow remote access to your voice-mail messages.
CALLING PLANS & SUPPORTED FEATURES:
The following describes the various calling plans offered by the three service providers as well as the supported features (note that all prices quoted below were in effect at the time this review was written and may not reflect the exact price of the moment.):
- Ooma: Their basic service only allows calls within the United States, and Ooma only charges for taxes and local fees which run about $3.50 a month for most users. If you want their Premier service with additional features, it will cost you $10/month. The basic service includes making and receiving calls within the US, call-waiting, caller id blocking , voice-mail, do-not-disturb feature, 911 emergency calling, QoS (see below for details), and free Ooma-to-Ooma in-network calls. International calls are charged separately, but Ooma offers some very attractive plans for international calls. This includes their World Plan Rates which allows for unlimited minutes to 61 countries for only $17.99/month or 1000 minutes to 61 countries for only $9.99/month. Their Premier service includes additional features such as forwarding the voice-mail, making 2 calls at once, forwarding all calls to your cell phone, 3-way calling, calling Canada, call blocking, online call logs, setting up 911 e-mail and text message alerts, instant second line, backup number when Internet is down, and much more!
- netTalk: Buying the netTalk DUO adapter box includes free first year of service. After that, you can renew with netTalk for a mere $2.50/month or $29.95/year. Their basic service includes free calling to the US and Canada and between DUO-to-DUO in-network callers. Other features included in their basic service are call waiting, call forwarding, 3-way calling, conference calling, voice-mail, caller-id, call blocking, caller-id blocking, free 411 service, and enhance 911 service. For international calls, flat rates and low cost competitive call plans are available. For $5.85/month you can get their North-America Add-On Plan that includes not just the US and Canada, but also Mexico and Puerto Rico and all the features of their basic service, and for $10/month you can get their International Add-On Plan which gives access to 60 countries and all the features of their basic service.
- Vonage: If you sign up a 1 year contract, their basic service will cost only $9.99/month for the first 3 months and $24.99/month thereafter. The basic plan allows unlimited free calls to the US, Canada and Puerto Rico and comes with features such as caller-id, call waiting, anonymous call block, voice-mail, 3-way Calling, call forwarding, and free Vonage-to-Vonage in-network calling. Note that, if a 1 year contract is signed, Vonage sends you the adapter box free of charge. But if you don't like to be tied up with contracts, you can purchase the adapter box yourself (from Amazon or other retailer) and pay $24.99/month for the service. Vonage also offers an 800 minutes/month plan that costs $21.99/month, and a $400 minutes/month plan that costs $12.99/month.
With all three VoIP providers, the sound quality is going to be highly dependent on the quality of your Internet service. So, if you don't have a reliable high speed Internet service, VoIP is not for you! Ooma Telo and Vonage V-Portal each enforces Quality of Service (QoS) on data traffic, and this greatly improves overall voice quality under congested network conditions. The QoS feature prioritizes network traffic to help ensure that the most important traffic gets through the network as quickly as possible. For example, if during a VoIP phone call you need to engage in other network bandwidth intensive tasks (such as sending a large email attachment, or streaming a video), without the QoS feature the person you are talking to may observe that your voice is dropping out during a call. With the QoS feature, VoIP data will be marked as being of highest priority, and your voice will not be affected and will sound clear even under heavy network conditions.
Amazon customers have described their Ooma and Vonage call sound quality as "excellent" in their reviews and as very close to the sound you would get from a landline phone. Though the netTalk DUO adapter box does not have the QoS feature built in, if it is connected to a router (rather than directly to the Internet modem), the QoS can be controlled from the router by setting on the router the VoIP data as highest priority. In any case, most Amazon customers reviewers have found netTalk sound quality quite acceptable.
ABILITY TO PORT EXISTING NUMBER:
Phone number porting is an option that allows you to transfer your existing phone number from your old phone company to your new VoIP service provider.
- Ooma will port your existing number for $39.99 which is waived if you subscribe to one-year of Ooma Premier plan ($10/month). Number porting is supported in most calling areas, and it takes an average of three to four weeks to complete the porting process. If you want to port your phone number, it is necessary to keep your existing home phone service until the porting process is complete. If you cancel your phone service prior to completing the porting process, you may lose the number you are attempting to port to Ooma.
- netTalk charges $19.95 to port your existing number. The number transfer can take up to 30 days. Just as with Ooma, you are not supposed to cancel your phone service with your current carrier until your phone number is successfully transferred to netTALK. When the transfer is complete, netTALK will send an e-mail notification to you letting you know that the process is complete.
- With Vonage you can port your existing number for free, and it takes about 15 working days to complete the transfer. When you sign up, you'll choose a temporary Vonage phone number that you can use to start making and receiving calls right away. When the transfer is complete, your original number will permanently replace the temporary Vonage number.
All three VoIP service providers come with a Web portal which you can use for various purposes including registration and activation of your account, customer support and troubleshooting, voice-mail access, checking call logs, controlling your preferences, etc. As long as you have access to Internet from a computer, smartphone or tablet, you can easily access their Web portal. Once you purchase and obtain your VoIP adapter box and connect it to your phone and router (or modem), all you need to do is access the service provider's Web portal to register and activate your account.
Two main types of wireless support are offered by the three service providers:
- The first type of wireless is supported on the VoIP adapter box itself, and provides connectivity of your adapter box to your local Wi-Fi network. It is either implemented in the form of a small wireless Wi-Fi or Bluetooth adapter device that plugs into a USB port of the VoIP adapter box, or alternatively by having Wi-Fi or Bluetooth support built-in directly into the VoIP adapter box.
This feature allows for the VoIP adapter box to stay unplugged and be placed anywhere around your home.
- The second type of wireless support has to do with using your smartphone to make VoIP calls from anywhere! To initiate a VoIP call from your smartphone, all you have to do is download the free mobile app associated with your VoIP provider and use your smartphone's Wi-Fi/3G/4G connectivity to access your VoIP service provider's connection point. This capability allows you not to waste your precious cell phone minutes and avoid roaming charges.
- With Ooma, for Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth wireless connectivity, you will need the Ooma Wireless Plus Bluetooth Adapter ($49) which plugs into the USB port of your Ooma Telo. In addition, the Ooma Mobile app lets you make phone calls, including international calls, using your Wi-Fi or 3G/4G cellular data connection from supported mobile devices. Starting with version 4.0, the Ooma Mobile app is free for iOS devices. You can download the app from the iOS app store. For Android devices, the Ooma Mobile app costs $9.99 and is available for download from the Google Play store. When you call with Ooma Mobile, domestic calls are just 1.9¢ per minute. In addition, for $4.99/month, you'll get 1,000 minutes of calling time which amounts to just half a cent per minute!
- netTALK DUO WiFi, netTALK’s 3rd Generation VoIP adapter, has the capability and flexibility of connecting directly to a router via a Wi-Fi connection, as well as through an Ethernet and USB connection. It comes with the same set of rich features as the netTALK DUO, with the additional methods of connectivity. Which means, the device can be placed anywhere there is an accessible Wi-Fi signal. Note that netTalk DUO WiFi is slightly more expensive than the regular DUO. The discounted Amazon price is about $55.
In addition, the netTalk smartphone app allows you to make calls using your Wi-Fi or 3G/4G cellular data connection from supported mobile devices and is available both for iOs and Android cell phones.
- The Vonage V-Portal is no just a VoIP adapter, but also a wireless router with wireless turned on by default. This allows customers to create a home wireless Internet service using the Vonage V-Portal box.
The Vonage Mobile VoIP app, like the Ooma Mobile app, lets you make phone calls, including international calls, using your Wi-Fi or 3G/4G cellular data connection from supported mobile devices. It is available to both the iOS and Android mobile phone users, and can be downloaded by anyone, even non-Vonage customers. Note that with the Vonage Mobile VoIP app, users can make high-definition calls to any other Vonage Mobile user, anywhere in the world, for free.
*** OUR FINAL VERDICT ***
On the other hand, both netTalk and Vonage provide more functions than Ooma with their basic service. Even though overall, Ooma has a richer feature set than netTalk and Vonage, many of these features can be obtained only if you subscribe to their Premier plan. Note however that the Premier subscription adds also some advanced features that the Duo and Vonage do not have. We think that for only $10 per month the Premier subscription of Ooma is well worth it because of all the additional advanced features.
If you are looking for maximum savings, netTalk Duo appears to be the better bargain of the three. Both the initial purchase of the adapter box and the average monthly cost are cheaper when compared to Ooma and Vonage. However, for perfect sound quality and richest set of features offered, we prefer Ooma even though you have to pay a small premium to get some of the advanced features. Remember also that the Ooma Telo box supports full featured voice-mail and has a built-in speaker that allows you to listen to your messages and to screen your calls while messages are being recorded. The other two boxes have no built-in speakers, and their voice-mail service is provided only at the far end by the service provider.
All things considered, our top choice is definitely Ooma, followed by netTalk and followed by Vonage. The reason Vonage is our third choice is mainly because their monthly costs are way too expensive when compared to Ooma and netTalk, even though it provides excellent sound quality and a rich set of features.
Ooma Telo, netTalk Duo and Vonage V-Portal VoIP Adapter Boxes on Amazon
Ooma Telo VOIP Box
Ooma Wireless Plus Bluetooth Adapter
NetTalk DUO II
NetTalk DUO WiFi