A VoIP Scorecard

The June issue of Consumer Reports just landed in my mailbox (I don’t even ask any more why the June issue of a magazine shows up in the first week of May), with the front cover heralding an article that promises to show readers how to “Cut your bills for Internet, TV & phone.” Given my professional interest in VoIP phone service, it should be no surprise that I instantly devoured the article.

It took no more than a quick look at their ratings to reveal what almost any VoIP user already knows – the traditional landline is fading fast. Consumer Reports rated 25 phone service providers. Five of the seven companies at the bottom of the list are traditional landline providers. Six of the seven companies at the top of the list are VoIP companies. No, make that seven out of seven – the magazine lists Verizon, number four on its list, as delivering phone service over fiber and skips the highly salient detail that it uses VoIP protocol over that fiber.

The Consumer Reports article focuses almost entirely on home phone services – it doesn’t rate Phone.com or its competitors who focus on VoIP business phone service, for everything from the small office/home office (SOHO) market to small enterprises. Personally, I consider that an oversight given the large number of at least part-time telecommuters and those who work out of home offices (such as myself) who probably read the magazine.

But Phone.com does offer home phone services, so I decided to do a little comparison myself. I took Consumer Union’s top rated “pure play” VoIP provider (i.e. a company that does not provide its own broadband or TV service) and compared it to Phone.com (actually I did skip one top-rated VoIP provider because they don’t provide small business service). The price they charge comes to $311.88 per year, and only if you sign a one-year contract, which Consumer Reports advises against if at all possible. That compares to $238.56 for highly similar VoIP home phone service from Phone.com, no 12-month commitment needed.

I also couldn’t resist peeking at the small business plans available – it does cost more to buy VoIP business phone service, but you get more, starting with two lines of service. At Phone.com, including an unlimited calling extension and those two lines, the price per year is $381.12.  A similar configuration at Consumer Reports’ top-rated pure play VoIP company is $599.88, and I noted that Consumer Reports figures that company’s pricing “above average” in value.

A final point I found of interest, was that Consumer Reports said 24 percent of those it surveyed don’t have home phone service at all – neither VoIP or conventional landline. The obvious conclusion is that those folks rely on their cell phones exclusively, and I know from experience that even includes some small business users, particularly “road warriors.” That’s all very well and good, but such a decision comes with what I consider some really significant caveats. The first is that you better not be making international calls on those cell phones – not at the up to $4.99 per minute cell phone carriers charge for what should be an 11 cents call. The second is that only one member of a family, or of a small business team, can get a call. But people may be calling to speak to anyone available. The solution, I constantly recommend to people, is either sign up for virtual phone service where calls to a single number can be redirected to many other numbers, or get at least basic VoIP service, which similarly allows redirection of calls.

 

Stuart Zipper is currently a contributing editor to Communications Technology, a high tech business journalism consultant and freelancer, and the past Senior Editor of TelecomWeb news break.