Read these 14 VoIP Plans Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about VOIP tips and hundreds of other topics.
If you have chosen a VOIP provider that you feel very comfortable with and you are willing to make a long-term commitment to, consider signing up for an annual billing plan. Many VOIP providers offer a signficiant discount to customers who pay annually, instead of monthly.
Most providers charge one price for calls within their network -- usually free -- and higher prices for calls out of their network, and even more for international calls. Why? Because it costs more to use the traditional public landline network to make international calls. Remember, one the main functions of your VOIP provider is to make sure you can all anyone -- including people on the public, switched network and other VOIP networks. That's where the cost comes in, and they pass that cost back to the consumer with higher rates.
With VOIP phone service, there's no difference between local and long distance calling. Virtually all VOIP providers offer free calls anywhere in the US, either in a package of pre-paid minutes or an unlimited package. Shop around for the best deal you can find. Remember, most providers also offer free local and long-distance calling within their own network, too. So if you can convince people you call regularly to join the same VOIP phone service as you, you can save even more.
There are a few decisions you need to make before deciding on a VOIP plan. Cost is obviously going to be big factor, since most VOIP plans allow big savings over traditional telephone plans. But there are going to be other factors competing with cost. Go over these factors first and then look at costs once you've made these decisions:
* Do you want a computer-based phone in which you talk through your computer or laptop, or do you want a phone-based service that will act like your traditional land line?
* Do you make a lot of long-distance calls? Do you make regular international calls. Most commercial services offer free nationwide local and long-distance, but have metered charges for international calls.
* Do you have friends/relatives who are already on a specific VOIP service? Many services offer free calling within their networks. If you use Skype, for example, all calls to other Skype users are free, with no charges at all.
* How important is 911 access? If your VOIP phone is going to be your main or only phone, it's going to be really important to have 911. If it's a second phone, maybe not so important.
These are some of the factors you should look at before you go ahead and make a serious cost comparison.
Here's one clear advantage with VOIP phone service: video. If you want to see -- as well as talk -- to your calling partners, it's much, much easier to do it through a VOIP provider than with standard phone service. You don't even need a videophone. If your VOIP phone service allows computer-based calling, you can do video calls with a webcam and a headset.
There are basically two types of VOIP plans. One plan allows you to use your computer as a phone, with a headset or even a plug-in telephone. These services are very low-cost -- some even close to free. And they can be very convenient for business travelers who can talk through their laptop connections. But these plans do not allow you to use a traditional phone. If you want to use your current phone -- and number -- with VOIP, you will need to purchase a phone-based plan, which is more expensive, but is comparable to service from a land line.
VOIP is becoming a solid alternative for business telephony, especially businesses that have already invested in local and wide-area data networks. VOIP can be added onto an existing data network relatively simply, although hardware costs at start-up can cost thousands. And VOIP business plans, with unlimited domestic and low-cost international calling, can mean huge savings for a business. It's not as easy for a business to get cost numbers from providers, since most of these are custom solutions. But for businesses -- from small to large -- a VOIP Plan can be a solid investment.
Most VOIP plans are month-to-month services that do not require signing a contract. Think of it like your cable TV plan. You pay monthly -- usually in advance -- for services and can stop anytime. Make sure your VOIP plan offers the same deal. Even better, look for one with 30 days free or a money-back guarantee. That way, you can try out the service in relative comfort, knowing that you are not making a big commitment, or laying out a lot of cash for a VOIP Plan that doesn't work for you.
There are lots of big names offering VOIP plans. These include telecom companies like Verizon, VOIP specialists like Vonage and Skype, and software/Internet giants Microsoft, Google and Yahoo. As with any new technology, you get a certain amount of safety with going with a big name. You know it's probably going to work close to what was advertised, customer service will answer the phone, and you will be able to buy it at your local Best Buy. On the other hand, you're never going to get the best deal, you probably won't be on the cutting edge of technology, and giant companies have been known to quickly drop or sell unprofitable lines. So it's really up to what makes you feel most comfortable. Do you want to be cutting edge, pay less and take more risks? Or are you more comfortable with a conservative decision?
Choosing a VOIP plan is like choosing an Internet provider. There are lots and lots of them out there competing for your business. Some offer great services, some do not. You have to decide which is which. Do your research before you sign on to a VOIP plan and you'll save yourself money and headaches later on:
* Ask friends, relatives, business partners who they use.
* Check comparison sites on the Internet.
* Ask your technical adviser or IT person who to use.
* Find out if your current phone provider offers a VOIP plan.
There are VOIP Plans that have no monthly or per-call charges under certain conditions. Skype is perhaps the best-known, with talk services from AOL, Microsoft and Google right behind them. It's true that these services can be free. But look at the fine print. Skype, for example, is free only if you're calling other Skype users. Calling anyone outside the network costs money. This might work well for you, if your frequent calling partners are also on Skype. Otherwise, it's just another phone plan.
So now that you've looked at and considered factors like computer vs. phone plans, 911 and networks used by your frequent calling partners, you can start to look at VOIP plan costs: Expect to pay anywhere from $15 to $25 per month for a single VOIP line to your house, along with the cost of your DSL or Internet connection. This should include unlimited free local and domestic long-distance calls and a rate of a few cents per minute for international calls. But remember all those other factors and features you decided you needed before you looked at costs. Make sure the VOIP plan you choose meets all those needs and isn't just the lowest-cost plan out there.
Any good VOIP plan should offer a variety of free services, including call waiting, voice mail, call forwarding, caller ID and three-way calling. Some services charge extra for there. But many commercial VOIP plans offer these services free with any paid monthly plan. You can use this as a barometer when testing out new VOIP plans. Make sure you get these services free. If not, go ahead and ask for them at no cost.
Most commercial VOIP plans will offer you simple adaptor software at no cost, which will allow you to connect a standard phone to your Internet connection. Some also offer good deals on compatible routers and other hardware, which will allow you to set up or upgrade a home network at a relatively low cost. If you want an IP phone, however, you're going to have to pay for it.
|Sheri Ann Richerson|