Save Money Using VoIP Devices And Services

savemoneyusingvoipdevicesandservices.jpgVoice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is, at its heart, just a method for communicating by voice over the Internet instead of through traditional phone lines. Simple.

However, with it comes a whole new set of technology challenges because communication through the internet is typically much slower than a direct telephone connection. This is because of how internet traffic is routed and because data sent through the internet is usually split up into very small chunks before it is transmitted and is reassembled later when it is received. These things can introduce big delays that are very annoying when speaking to someone else, causing you to constantly talk over each other, as well as causing garbled speech when all of the data isn’t received in a timely fashion or if it is in the incorrect sequence.

Fortunately VoIP has been around for quite a few years now and due to advances in the technology and faster internet speeds, these problems aren’t nearly as troublesome. Many companies have embraced VoIP and launched consumer friendly devices and services that are easy to use, cheap, and work extremely well. This guide will cover the most popular VoIP services that can ultimately save you a lot of money on your phone service and long distance charges.

In This Guide

Skype

Skype is one of the oldest and most popular VoIP services around and most people have at least heard of it even if they haven’t used it themselves. It allows you to make voice and video calls from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world free of charge. As you can imagine, this can significantly reduce your long distance bill by getting all your friends and family on Skype so you can talk to them in far away places without having to spend a penny. You don’t necessarily need to be tied to a computer to use Skype either, nor do your contacts need to be Skype users for you to contact them. In fact, with a little setup, you can even use Skype as a fully functional secondary phone line or to replace your home phone entirely.

Keep reading our complete guide to Skype >>

Google Voice

Officially launched in 2009, Google Voice is a relatively new player in the VoIP space. It was actually around for quite some time under a different name, GrandCentral, as early as 2005 but has since been purchased, modified, and re-launched by Google. Unlike Skype, it is not currently possible to use Google Voice as an independent telephone service but it can be used to make long distance calls FREE anywhere inside Canada and the USA. The only catch is that the service is not officially available to Canadians at this point. Canadians who were previous users of GrandCentral, like me, have been grandfathered in and are still able to use it.

Google Voice not only allows you to place free calls, but it assigns you a free phone number that you can use as your primary phone number to replace all of your other phone numbers. When somebody dials your Google Voice number, then one or all of your phones (home, cell, office, etc) will ring and you will have a chance to answer the call no matter where you are. You can initiate calls in one of several ways: through the online interface, through Google Voice smart phone software, or through Gmail chat. If you use the online interface, Google Voice will first dial you at one of your numbers, and then once you answer it will connect you with the person you are calling. If you use smart phone software or Gmail chat, then the call will be entirely routed through the internet without involving any of your physical phones.

More information will be added once Google Voice officially becomes available to Canadians!

magicJack

magicJack is a terrific invention because it is everything you need to replace your home phone in one tiny package. You plug it into your computer and then you plug your regular phone into the magicJack and within minutes you can make unlimited local or long distance calls anywhere in Canada & the USA for no additional cost. The magicJack itself only costs about $39.95USD + $9.95USD for shipping to Canada and that includes one full year of service. After the first year, you only need to pay $20 a year for a complete phone package that includes unlimited long distance. If you want a Canadian phone number, then there is an additional $10/year fee for that, but you can simply choose a USA phone number if you don’t want to pay more.

Setup is extremely easy as well. Plug magicJack into your computer and it will begin installing itself and downloading any updates to its own software. Then you just follow a few simple, yet very infomercial-like, steps to choose a phone number and configure your settings and you’re ready to start calling. It only takes a few minutes from start to finish. Really the only drawback to magicJack is that you need an always on computer to run it. I recommend using a low power consumption home theatre PC like the Acer Revo for this purpose. I have magicJack hooked up to one of these tiny computers mounted on the back of my TV and it is a terrific setup!

Update: magicJack Plus is now available which works just like magicJack except you no longer need a computer at all so it is far superior. It is slightly more expensive but definitely worth the added expense. I've upgraded from magicJack to magicJack Plus myself and am very happy with that decision.

NetTalk

NetTalk is almost identical in its function to magicJack except that they don’t offer Canadian phone numbers, only USA phone numbers. It is possible to buy a Canadian number and then have it forward to your USA number for a cheap price, but all your outgoing calls will show up as being from your USA number. The only advantage that NetTalk has over magicJack is that it can be hooked directly up to your router instead of a computer so you don’t have to leave your PC on all the time to make and receive calls. They also don’t ship directly to Canada so you would have to ship it to the border or pick one up while you are down in the USA to take advantage of it.

FreePhoneLine.ca

FreePhoneLine.ca is a lot like Skype, but specifically targeted at the Canadian market. The free service allows you to download a software phone that you can use to place free long distance calls to most Canadian cities (see full list of free cities) from anywhere in the world you happen to be with internet access. They also provide you with your own phone number at no additional cost so you can receive calls on your computer as well.

If you want to turn FreePhoneLine into a real phone, you can pay a one time $50 fee and get an Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA) configuration file so you can program any standard ATA to work with a regular telephone in your home. With an ATA, your computer doesn’t even need to be on to be able to make and receive calls. FreePhoneLine will also provide you with a pre-programmed ATA that will work right out of the box for only $99.99 if you don’t already have your own. From what I’ve read, the voice quality is pretty decent but there are short service outages from time to time that might be a minor annoyance to you. However, you can try the free service using the soft phone on your computer for a while before you pay the $50 to switch to an ATA to make sure it is acceptable to you. Apparently the call quality also improves significantly when using an ATA instead of the soft phone.

You can even port your existing home phone number to be used with FreePhoneLine.ca for a small $25 fee. Here is a full list of their optional services and their accompanying prices.

Vonage

When it comes to reliable VoIP service, Vonage is about as reliable as it gets. Unfortunately, they are about as expensive as it gets too. They were one of the first companies to offer consumer friendly VoIP service to the general public and their prices haven’t changed much since they first launched back in 2001. Their basic service costs $19.99 a month and includes 500 minutes of local and long distance calls anywhere in Canada and the US. Their unlimited plan used to cost $39.99, but has recently dropped to $29.99 for unlimited calling to Canada, the USA, and 60 other countries worldwide. Unfortunately, there is a fair usage cap of 3000 minutes per month but that is more than enough talk time for most people.

Many people do swear by Vonage service because they provide you with everything you need to get started without requiring any real technical knowledge. The service is very stable with excellent call quality as long as your internet connection is also stable. The service also comes with roughly 25 calling features at no additional cost that ensure you get the most out of your phone service without the extra charges. They are also one of the only VoIP providers that has phone numbers available to essentially all Canadians, including New Brunswick and PEI, which are typically nearly impossible to get. They will even port your existing number for free.

Other Available VoIP Options

Jaxtr

Jaxtr is a lot like a calling card that is great for using with cell phones. You use it by entering your phone number along with your contact’s phone number into their web form or smart phone app and then you are given a local access number to call using any phone. Your contact will also be sent a text message telling them the number they need to call to be connected to you. Once you have both called in you will be able to talk for free as long as you want. This free service is available in over 50 countries including Canada and the USA. The only time you have to pay for the call is when you don’t want the hassle of making your contact call in. You can be connected to them immediately by pressing 1 after you call in and you will be billed according to their extremely low per minute rates (0.8¢/min in Canada & USA).

So essentially Jaxtr is the ultimate calling card that often allows you to make your calls for free as long as the person you are calling is willing to call in themselves! If not, you still get better rates than most calling cards offer.

JaJah

Jajah is a call back service that allows you to place calls by entering both your phone number and the person’s number whom you are calling into their online form. First, Jajah will call your phone and then, once you answer the call, you will be connected to the other person. This works much like how the Google Voice call back system works except you don’t have your own telephone number. Most Jajah calls are billed using their low rates but it is possible to make free calls in many countries (see their free call FAQ), including to Canada and the USA, if both people on the call are registered Jajah users as identified by their phone numbers. However, there is also a fair usage policy that states you have to top up your account with some money at least once every 6 weeks to be eligible for free calls. If you do not do this, then you will be charged their regular rates for the call.

Jajah is particularly good for use with your cell phone or when you don’t want to change anything about your existing phone services because it integrates quickly and easily with any phone. It is even better for cell phones with unlimited incoming minutes because that way Jajah will give you cheap long distance and won’t use any of your outgoing airtime when making calls. In additional to the standard call back form, they offer several useful features like Jajah.Direct, which assigns a unique phone number to your contacts so you can dial them directly instead of using the call back system. You can even add call buttons to your web and social media pages so people can call you anonymously using their regular phone which is great for internet businesses and celebrities.

Primus

Primus has a VoIP phone service called TalkBroadband that is similar to Vonage only not quite as good. Their packages start at $19.99 per month.

Voip.ms

Voip.ms is a very straightforward Canadian-based VoIP service that is meant to work with an ATA in conjunction with a standard home phone. They offer Canadian phone numbers (currently 4 provinces) at a small additional cost and provide you with the ATA configuration settings at no cost. Then, once you are set up, they charge you a very low per minute rate for every call you make and receive. You can also choose to pay a small monthly fee for unlimited incoming calls. Calls within Canada charged at 0.5¢/min (half a cent per minute) and USA calls are a bit more.

This is essentially the ultimate in cheap and easy pay as you go VoIP home phone service.

Do It Yourself

From what I understand, it is possible to set up and use VoIP including your own phone number that is connected to a regular phone using an analog telephone adapter (ATA) at absolutely no cost. This is done by combining several free services and making them all work together in tandem. I did spend some time trying to figure this out myself, but it ended up being too complicated and involved even for me as a reasonably technical person. There is a very detailed thread at RedFlagDeals that has all the information you need to do it yourself if you have the time to parse through it and make it work.

Even More Providers

There are even more VoIP providers out there than I can possibly list here. Some of them are good and some are not, but I have tried to include all of the best ones in this guide. If you find a particularly good one be sure to contact me and let me know.

Feature Comparison Of VoIP Devices And Services

Use the below tables to do a quick comparison of the features offered by the various VoIP providers to help determine which service fits your needs. However, even if a service includes a specific feature, there may be some special conditions on how it can be used or additional costs associated with it. Once your narrow down your options to a short list, be sure to look at those providers websites in detail to see exactly how everything works.

Table 1 of 2
Feature Free Phone
Line.ca
Google Voice Jajah Jaxtr magic
Jack
FREE Option
Unlimited Local Calls
Unlimited CDN Long Distance
Unlimited USA Long Distance
Call Using A Standard Phone
Direct Dial With A Standard Phone
Receive Incoming Calls
Dedicated Phone Number
Port Existing Number
Cell Phone Option
No Computer Required
No Internet Required
Caller ID
Voice Mail
Included Calling Features 4 9+ N/A 9 5+
More Info Go Go Go Go Go
Table 2 of 2
Feature NetTalk Primus Skype Voip.ms Vonage
FREE Option
Unlimited Local Calls
Unlimited CDN Long Distance
Unlimited USA Long Distance
Call Using A Standard Phone
Direct Dial With A Standard Phone
Receive Incoming Calls
Dedicated Phone Number
Port Existing Number
Cell Phone Option
No Computer Required
No Internet Required
Caller ID
Voice Mail
Included Calling Features 8+ 18+ 10+ ? 20+
More Info Go Go Go Go Go

Choosing the VoIP Solution That Is Right For You

No single VoIP device or service is the same as any other and they all have benefits and drawbacks associated with them. Determining which one is right for your situation can be difficult, but I hope by looking through the above tables and by reading this section you will be able to figure out which one suits you best. Take a look at the following scenarios and see if they line up with your needs.

Reduce Your Existing Home Phone Long Distance Charges

If you want to use VoIP primarily to get cheap or free long distance with your existing home phone service then the best options are Google Voice or Skype.

Once Google Voice becomes available to Canadians, it is a great tool to use for making free outgoing long distance calls even if you can’t have a Canadian number assigned to it. Sure a strange number will appear on the caller ID of your friends and family, but that already happens with calling cards and some dial around long distance providers anyway. At least with Google Voice it will always be the same number so you can tell your contacts to add this number to their address book and then they will know it is you who is calling. The only problem with Google Voice is that it can be a pain to initiate the call using the web interface. But you can’t overlook that the service if free, is of high quality, and comes with many free and very unique features that other VoIP services don’t offer.

Skype is fantastic for making computer to computer calls via both voice and video and since almost everyone has heard of it, it makes connecting with people very easy. The best part is that it is so easy to connect with anyone for free anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, Skype isn’t free when calling regular phones in Canada and the USA like Google Voice, but it does have some distinct advantages: the voice quality with Skype is unmatched, the service is very reliable, it is easy to use from your computer or smart phone, the unlimited Canada & USA plan is very reasonably priced at $2.99/month, and you can even use SkypeToGo numbers to make Skype calls from any phone without internet access. Skype can even emulate your existing phone number so it looks like you are calling from your phone instead of Skype to people who have caller ID.

Reduce Your Cell Phone Long Distance Charges

Not all VoIP services can be used with a cell phone but Google Voice and Jaxtr are the best choices that do work with cell phones.

You can use the call back feature of Google Voice to eliminate the long distance charges on your cell phone. All you need is mobile internet access at the bare minimum so you can initiate a call. If you have a smart phone, you might be able to get a Google Voice app that integrates right into your phones dialer and contacts to make using it even easier.

Jaxtr can be used in call back mode as well so it is on part with Google Voice in that regard. Calls are also free as long as the person you are calling responds to the text message you send them and is willing to call in to a local number to be connected with you. Even if you have to connect the call directly, the per minute rates with Jaxtr are still much cheaper than those offered by your cell phone provider. One advantage Jaxtr has over Google Voice is the local access number system it has so that you can use the service with the dumbest possible cell phone (no internet access required).

Reduce Your Cell Phone Airtime Usage

Yes, it is possible to reduce your cell phone airtime usage with VoIP. You can use a call back service like Google Voice or Jaxtr with unlimited incoming cell phone plans to make outgoing calls without using up your minutes. You can also use Google Voice and Skype to make calls that utilize your data package instead of your minutes so if you have lots of data but are running short on minutes than this can extend your call time significantly.

Inexpensive Secondary Phone Line

If you need a secondary phone line that doesn’t need to be 100% reliable then magicJack or FreePhoneLine.ca are excellent choices. If you live and call to the free areas supported by FreePhoneLine.ca, then you can get a complete second phone line for a one time charge of $99 (includes ATA device and the configuration file to program it). Then you won’t need to pay ever again for local and long distance calls. The only potential danger is the company going out of business, poor voice quality, and outages.

magicJack is another inexpensive option for a secondary phone line as long as needing a computer turned on to use it isn’t a big problem for you. Voice quality and reliability are quite good except that there is the occasional disconnect that you may experience. magicJack is the best choice if you need to make long distance calls throughout all of Canada and the USA or you want increased quality and reliability. The service has millions of users and has been featured on many major television networks so chances are they will be around for a long time.

In both cases, you can even take this second phone line on the road with you when you travel anywhere in the world to make calls back home wherever you can find a high speed internet connection.

Replace Your Existing Home Phone

If your home phone is your primary phone or if you don’t have cell phones in your house, then I would suggest going with a full service VoIP provider like Vonage to ensure quality, nearly 100% up time, good customer support, and 911 emergency services. This is, of course, quite expensive but if you have no other phone bills to pay the price is still reasonable for the quality of service you receive along with the included long distance.

If you have a reliable cell phone that you can use for important and emergency calls, then you can probably choose a cheaper service like magicJack, NetTalk, or Skype in conjunction with a Skype adapter. Choosing any of these options effectively eliminates your monthly phone bill and replaces it with a small yearly bill to pay that still allows you to have a home phone so you can reduce your minutes used on your cell phone and get unlimited long distance at no additional cost to boot. If you choose this option, then you can probably cut back your cell phone service significantly to save even more money or switch to prepaid cell phones to only use for emergencies, texting, and important calls.

The Absolute Cheapest Phone Service Possible

If you just want the absolute cheapest service you can possibly get, then you should look into the do it yourself free option or sign up with FreePhoneLine.ca. If you go for these extremely cheap options, then you can expect many more headaches and quality problems, which may not be worth the added hassle when some of the more robust services are already extremely cheap as it is. I know it wasn’t worth the hassle for me and I am pretty hardcore when it comes to saving money!

Check out the rest of Services section for ways to save money on all of your other services!

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