August 4th, 2004 Issue
As readers may recall from the July 8th issue of the Viodi View, I have been testing the Packet 8 Voice over IP service. This service is from a company called 8x8, Inc. a technology and, now, service company that has been around a long time by Silicon Valley standards (for more on 8x8, please read the interview with their CEO and Chairman, Bryan Martin).
After over 75 phone calls and almost 20 hours of talk time, I have to report that the service is definitely acceptable as a second line service. At $19.95 per month, which includes unlimited local and unlimited long distance to anywhere in the United States and Canada, it really is a good value for the average consumer. Regardless, it must be recognized that this is not lifeline service and its performance is still at the mercy of the broadband connection.
Over the month that I performed the testing, I had several people comment that they did not realize they were on a VoIP phone call. On the other extreme, there were a few times where the connection was so bad, that had to hang up and use a landline. Granted, at these moments I was also uploading or downloading large files. Pinging the Packet 8 server to test the roundtrip delay was one of the more quantitative tests I performed. Sure enough, in times of heavy traffic the delay would be way beyond acceptable (Packet 8 suggests the delay should be less than 300 milliseconds).
Overall, the quality of Packet 8’s $19.95 was better than the $29.95 Vonage service that I tested back in February (link to February issue). I tested the service with incoming calls, outgoing calls, with slow DSL (309 Kb/s downstream/103 Kb/s upstream) and with a cable modem from Shaw Cable in Calgary. I made calls to Mexico, to and from Canada and all around the United States. There were incoming calls, voicemail and even a conference call or two. In general, as long as I was not doing some heavy downloading over the Internet, the service worked great.
Features-wise, Packet 8 and Vonage are pretty comparable. Both support Local Number Portability (I did not test this feature). Packet 8 expects to support E911 to 80% of the United States by the end of 2004. Packet 8 has a voicemail indicator light on their terminal adaptor, which is a nice way to see if you have a voicemail. The call-forwarding feature is nice, as this allows, via a web set-up, for a call to be forwarded to another phone. Unified messaging is something Vonage offers that Packet 8 does not offer on their low-end residential and business plans. Of course, most people do not expect unified messaging as a “must-have.”
Packet 8 does support a softphone feature that works in conjunction with the Pulver’s Free World Dial-up service. Again, this is a feature that most people do not know they need until they have used it for awhile. The softphone feature is nice in those instances where there is no Ethernet or telephone (e.g. a coffee shop), as it allows one to make phone calls using a lap-top, a telephone headset and a wireless connection. It was not obvious for this technical klutz to configure the softphone for the Packet 8 service without some technical assistance, but it is possible.
There are two business plans, neither of which I tested in this round. One of the business services, Business 2000 Plan, focuses on a single employee in a home or small business environment. At $34.95 per month, the features of the Business 2000 plan are pretty much the same as the residential plan, except it provides 2,000 minutes of PSTN use instead of unlimited.
Packet 8 supports features such as virtual phone numbers, so a business can extend their local calling into different areas. For an extra $4.95 per month an entity can have a second phone number in a different area code, but it rings through on the same line as the main line. This feature supports distinctive ringing, so if you are running multiple businesses out of the same garage, you can answer appropriately (reminds me of the character from the movie Yellow Pages who was running four businesses from his bedroom – he needed this service to keep the businesses straight).
The Virtual Office plan is a virtual PBX, where there is a common phone number and features like auto attendant functions are supported. The auto attendant allows dial by extension, dial by name, dial by workgroup, as well as listening to the whole company directory. This is a great feature for a virtual company where employees may be spread through multiple locations. Apparently, this plan, which is $39.95 per month, takes some measures to ensure quality of service.
The Virtual Office plan could be a big seller as it will reduce the total cost of communications (e.g. don’t need a PBX) for many small businesses and/or give them features that would be difficult to emulate in a traditional switched circuit environment. Packet 8 is working with third-parties to resell their service to small businesses, so this will leverage their ability to get to market. Their technology that really has me intrigued is the Video IP Telephones. This could be a real block buster, but more on that later.
Club Viodi members can click here to see my qualitative calling log of my month long experience.
And thanks to all who suffered through my using you as guinea pigs on this month long test.
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