Do you want to know how to get unlimited toll free long distance calling anywhere in the US and Canada for less than $25 a month? Listen up, I’ve read a lot about voice over IP (VoIP) for a few years now and I’ve read a lot of positive press and negative press. A few months ago I came along an article in a trade magazine that was basically an article not so much about VoIP and it’s improvements but more about how VoIP could save about 2/3 off your residential and business phone costs. To be honest the savings caught my eye more so than the VoIP improvements that have been made over the past few years. 8×8 was but one of many companies referenced in the article and I thought I owed it to myself to give this service a shot.
I called 8×8 and ordered their standard residential package that included unlimited toll free calling to anywhere in the US and Canada for only $19.99. I thought WOW! How can they do this when my local exchange carrier charges me almost twice as much for service and that’s just for the basic hook up and no long distance? Below is my review and thoughts about VoIP and 8×8’s service
8×8, Inc. Voice over IP Service, what is it?
Voice over Internet Protocol, is another way of saying IP Telephony. It involves the transmission of telephone calls over a data network like the Internet. In other words, VoIP can send voice, fax and other information over the Internet, rather than through the (PSTN) or regular telephone network.
Who are 8×8 and what’s with the name?
Founded in 1987, 8×8 Inc. and its subsidiaries develop and market telecommunications products and technology for internet protocol (IP) telephony and video applications.
“8×8” is named after the number of video pixels, or dots of light, that are used as the basic building block in many image compression and video transformation functions. A block of 8×8 pixels is used as an input to the Discrete Cosine Transform function found in ITU and MPEG video compression standards.
What do I need before considering VoIP service?
The first thing you need is an internet broadband connection (DSL, Cable) and an available port on A home router that allows you to share your Internet connection with multiple computers.
The ordering process and cost
This part was very easy and straight forward. You can call 8×8’s toll free number or order online at www.packet8.com as I did. All that’s needed is the area in which you plan to use the phone. One of the key things to remember is that in order to use their service you must be in what’s called a “rate center”. This is basically an area in your state where 8×8 can issue you a phone number. I simply picked my state and city. I was very surprised at the extensive list of cities that they provided. I was almost certain that my city wouldn’t appear on their list, but to my amazement my city was there.
I had ordered my standard residential kit on a Wednesday and by Friday I had the box at my door. You want to talk about service, it was sent via 2 day air from California all the way to South Carolina. So now matter where you live you can rest assured you’ll get yours in 2 days. The package arrived well packed. The contents included the DTA310 Telephone adapter (small white modem sized box), power cord, network cord and phone patch cord. It also came with a quick start guide. See photo below.
The setup fee is typically $29, but you can find $5 off coupon codes all over the internet. You also have to pay for the first month up front which is $20. Lastly shipping is a flat fee of $9.95. So for a grand total of $55.45 (coupon included) you can get your service up and running risk free for 30 days. After your first month the cost is simply $19.99 + 3% FET (federal excise tax).
Setup was amazingly simple. When you order your 8×8 DTA310 you will receive an email that will contain your activation code. You will need this obviously to finish the installation. Since I have a small hub right next to my desk for testing purposes, all I did in my setup was connect the DTA310 to the hub and connected the power cord and attach a standard analog phone to the DTA310. Here are a few photos of the front and back of the DTA310, this should help you understand the connections and the indicator lights.
After I powered up the DTA310 it picked up an available ip address from my DHCP server which is built into my Netgear firewall router. According to the quick start guide all I had to do was pick up the phone and enter in a special activation number and the activation code and I would be ready. I did this with no problems and within seconds I had my local number and was ready to start placing calls.
Can you hear me now?, how is the quality?
I have to admit I was skeptical on my first call so I decided to call my brother who lives in Louisiana and also happens to work for a very large phone carrier. I spoke to my brother with absolutely no loss of voice quality all while surfing the internet. After about 10 minutes I asked him if he could hear me clearly, his response was “yeah you sound crystal clear, why”. I told him that I was using 8×8’s VoIP service. He said he had heard of it and that in time so would a lot of other people and the company he works for really consider VoIP a threat. Anyhow, he said it was fine and that he couldn’t tell a difference. I surely couldn’t tell any difference in the service. I was very pleased.
Features (What it can do and what it can’t)
After I hung up with my brother I thought I would call someone local. I tried to call just using the standard 7 digit phone number and I couldn’t get through so I thought maybe I had to dial the full 11 digit phone number. Well I found out that the only way I could get a local call to go through was to dial the 11 digit phone number. Not too much hassle, but according to what I thought I read at 8×8’s website I shouldn’t have to do that.
If you call someone who uses caller id I found out that the only information that is listed is the caller’s phone number. I asked 8×8 about this and an 8×8 sales rep said it wouldn’t be too long before 100% of caller id information was displayed.
If you noticed on the back of the DTA310 there was only 1 phone jack, this would lead you to believe that there is no fax capability to the service. This is currently true, 8×8 does not offer fax service to it’s customers but you can connect a regular analog fax to the DTA310 and then connect your normal phone to the fax just as you normally would with a normal landline. 8×8 has stated that by end of year they will support fax services. I would assume that either the current DTA310 will be replaced with a dual connection box or the number that 8×8 issues their customers will be able to receive not only voice calls but faxes as well. I would love to be able to receive a fax via email or be notified via email that I have a fax waiting. I’ll just have to wait until it’s available.
Update: 911 Emergency service is now available for the 8×8 service, but you must register your number to a specific location for 911 emergency services. If you decided to travel with your DTA310 and use 911 it will still dispatch to the location that is been assigned. Keep that in mind. 411 service is available but at an additional per use charge.
Part of the standard package is the free voicemail feature. I found this feature very basic and compared to some of 8×8’s competition. I would have liked to been notified via email that I have a new voicemail waiting. The only way to know if you have a voicemail waiting is by looking on the front of the DTA310 to see if the “MESSAGE” light is lit. Here is a list of some features that come with every 8×8 service package.
Caller ID blocking
3 way calling
One of the biggest features that can’t be overlooked is the portability of this device. If you are a person who travels frequently you owe it to yourself to seriously consider VoIP and 8×8’s service. If you’re lucky enough to stay in a hotel that offers broad band internet service all you have to do is connect this device to the hotels broad band connection and you can place or receive calls directly to your number the same as you would in your home. Friends and family would call your number as they normally would and you could answer the call or check messages the same as you normally would. This is truly one of the best features of this service.
For what the 8×8 service currently lacks in fax and voicemail features it quickly makes up for in call quality and portability. For $20/mo I can see how normal telecoms see companies such as 8×8 and the emergence of VoIP as a threat. I was very pleased and surprised at the call quality and the ease of setup. If you want to cut your phone bills down by more than 2/3’s you owe it to yourself to give 8×8 or any other VoIP service a try. One more thing to consider is the ability to continue to use your current phone number with 8×8’s service. Just like the newest cell phone portability act you might be able to transfer your existing land line phone over to 8×8. This will depend again if they have a rate center in your town. I will be looking forward to the email and fax services that they promise will be available well before the end of 2004. I will also be trying to see if I too can move my business line over to 8×8. Even if I can’t move my current phone line over to 8×8’s service I will still save money on using long distance alone.