Features and pricing are the two prime considerations in selecting your VoIP provider and deriving the maximum benefit from the product. With most VoIP users, all the features available in a particular product will rarely if ever be used. All leading service providers promise a range of features that look impressive as a marketing strategy, but often do not deliver as practical options. “Features” do not always translate as “benefits.” Pricing is also a relative factor and is linked to “quality” in the long run. Let us look closely at the packages offered by three market leaders of today: Skype, Lingo, and Vonage.
Skype has three basic usages: a PC-to-PC call, which is free voice communication between two computer users across the world with an Internet broadband connection; a paid SkypeOut voice call from a Skype user to a landline/mobile phone; and a paid SkypeIn call from a landline/mobile phone to a Skype user. For a home requirement of chatting with family and friends, the Skype PC-to-PC free call delivers on most promises made on the official Skype website, including voice quality. If you are not against being “wired” to your computer with your multimedia speakers and headphone, this free offer is the best option in this category.
However, if your requirement is for a full-scale voice service that caters to PC-to-telephone and telephone-to-PC services, you need to step up to the paid categories. SkypeOut offers a flat global rate of € 0.017 per minute for some of the most popular destinations worldwide, and has specific rates for other destinations. SkypeIn, which is still in Beta, makes it possible for your family, friends, and business acquaintances to reach you from a landline by dialing a number assigned to you. SkypeIn charges are independent of your location; if you are assigned a Chicago number but are currently in Japan, the party making the call only pays for a call to Chicago. If you buy a Skype number—an annual subscription will cost you € 30 and a quarterly subscription comes at € 10—you also get Free Skype Voicemail bundled in the package.
Skype's cost plans are uncomplicated, and making a choice is relatively simple. Compare this with Lingo's Home, Office, and International plans, and the corresponding plans from Vonage:
From this analysis, Lingo emerges as the service that will save you more on your telephone bill. However, to get more out of your VoIP, you need to look at the international pricing because that's where VoIP scores over a traditional connection. If you make frequent international calls to Asia, you can take advantage of Lingo's Asia package. Lingo's international rates to individual countries are also lower than those of Vonage, but higher than Skype. Here is a comparison of the rates for three destinations:
Skype has the lowest call rates, but is limited in features. At the other end of the spectrum is Vonage, which offers the most consistent call quality and delivers on features, but is heavier on your pocket. Although it loses out on voice quality, Lingo has the features to match Vonage.
There are a few other features mentioned by both Lingo and Vonage—such as Anonymous Call Rejection and Do Not Disturb in Lingo, and Click-2-Call and Call Hunt in Vonage—but these are more in the way of cosmetic embellishments than utility tools.
The features are many, the utility diverse. To get the most out of your VoIP provider, you need to place the key factors of pricing and features at both ends of a see-saw, and weigh them with the cornerstone of quality—that will position you enticingly in making the right choice and getting the maximum out of your service provider.
Hamesh Brown enjoys writing about VoIP. See http://www.voipreviewsonline.com/2005/10/comparison_ling_1.html for a comparison of Lingo, Skype and Vonage.