Top Seven Questions You Should Ask About Internet Telephones

by James E. Gaskin

People switch from their traditional telephone service to an internet telephone provider for three reasons: lower cost, new features, and more control over their telephone service. Of course, one of the best features mentioned by users is the lower cost, so you can see how some people get focused a bit too narrowly and forget to ask some necessary questions.

Internet telephones from service providers like Vonage (the leading American service), Packet8, Lingo, BroadVoice, and others do a great job of replacing the majority of traditional telephone features. However, there are some features they can't provide because of a combination of technical details with their own service, or products in your home that demand the simplicity of the traditional telephone. So, if you're in the market for an internet telephone, here are seven questions you should ask before you make the switch.

1. Will my phone number still be listed by the phone company?

Technically, no, because you are no longer using the traditional telephone company as your provider. Since the traditional telephone companies generally produce the phone books, they only list their own customers.

Realistically, if you transfer your number to your internet telephony service provider, you will be listed in the phone book until the traditional telephone company prints the next version. Sometimes, your number will be listed an extra year or even two, because phone companies suffer "number inertia" and leave the listings unchanged.

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Of course, people could Google you for your telephone number, but that information comes from telephone books, so after a year or three your number wouldn't show up there, either. But phone book copies tend to linger in the databases, so your number should be available online for years.

Freedom from some telemarketing calls may be the upside of having an unlisted number. The traditional telephone companies, in their never-ending greed, charge people to not publish their number, but your number will be not-published for free.

Many directories now come from independent publishers, not the phone company directly. Often, those companies are spin-offs of the telephone company division that made directories before, but they are now officially separate. Whether these separate directories will want to list broadband phone users, and whether they can gather the information from the broadband phone providers, will be interesting to see.

2. How do extension phones work with my new internet telephone service?

The wiring running to your extension phones now will not connect to your broadband phone plug, so you will have to either rewire or get new phones. Your broadband phones must be plugged into your broadband router, and all your extension telephone plugs now run through the house back to the traditional telephone company line where it comes into your home (called a demarcation point).

There are two ways to add extensions. One, you can get a new cordless phone with multiple handsets for your extensions. Put one of the cordless phones everywhere you want an extension, and plug the cordless base unit into your broadband router.

The second option is to rewire the extension phone cable away from the existing connection point (with the traditional telephone company line) and to your broadband modem. This option includes a large number of caveats and warnings, and may well be impossible if you live in an apartment or any type of multi-family dwelling where you don't have access to the telephone line connections from the traditional telephone company.

Take heart, because cordless phones with multiple handsets support all of the modern features, including intelligent communications with your broadband phone provider. Even better, these units cover a wide price range (from fairly low-priced to feature-laden and expensive) but are dropping in price regularly.

This shortcoming causes problems for many customers. Expect the broadband phone vendors to develop better ways to integrate with existing wiring and handle the voltage sent over the traditional telephone network. But in the short term, look into purchasing cordless telephones with multiple handsets.

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