When it comes to IP telephony, we have all learned that some things sound just too good to be true. So when it comes to the promise of IP telephony services that can provide high quality service with advanced features at relatively low prices, we certainly know better.

Back in the mid-90s we all downloaded that ‘free internet call’ software only to end up shouting into Radio Shack microphones as we tried to decode the words of our loved ones — as audio intermittently dropped out.

Needless to say, the disappointing call quality and unreliability of those pioneering services led us to conclude that there was a reason they were free.

But a technology called SIP-based VoIP might be changing all of that and that’s why the latest generation of IP telephony services deserve a second look.

SIP-based VoiP

Session initiation protocol (SIP) is a technology that allows Voice over IP (VoIP) telephony companies to provide standard phone service to high speed internet users, as well as some advanced features.

SIP technology is quickly becoming the standard of the VoIP community and is an alternative to traditional H.323-based telephony. The VoIP community is turning to SIP because it is easily scalable and has greater functionality. With SIP, companies are able to deliver telecommunications features over a DSL or cable modem that in the past were either too costly or unavailable.

SIP neatly integrates into internet applications, as it resembles world wide web and e-mail protocols very closely. Therefore, it doesn’t compromise bandwidth. SIP’s architecture also allows for the quick roll out of new features without the need for subscribers to install upgrades or system patches. Some services like Vonage DigitalVoice are putting SIP technology to work.


Vonage is a New Jersey-based start up that offers Vonage DigitalVoice. Ordering the service is pretty straight-forward and can be done either on the web or thru an 800 number. The installation kit arrives in just about a week and includes a Cisco ATA 186 which plugs into your router.

It takes only about 10 minutes to install and then you’re off and running. You need just a regular phone to make and receive calls.

For a flat monthly fee of $40, you get basic phone service that includes call waiting, caller id, and voicemail. What makes the service interesting is that you also get unlimited local and long distance calling and area code selection.

Since Vonage is not subject to certain area code assignment regulations, you can pick the area code you like, from those available. That means, for instance, you are able to get a New York City area code in Miami.

Though you might hear a few echoes, the call quality is great; it sounds just like a regular phone. You might even experience a service outage, but that is a very rare occurrence. The service also offers some additional bells and whistles that some might want, though others may not:

real-time online account management
e-mail notification when you have new voicemail
ability to pick up and listen to voicemail online
calls to other Vonage subscribers are free

The service does, however, have some notable restrictions: you can’t send or receive faxes and doesn’t provide e911 access, which could be a problem in an emergency situation. Also, if your ISP goes down, so does your phone service.

That’s why some subscribers use Vonage as a second phone line. Some have even decided to strip their regular phone service down to the minimum to maintain e911 access, but continue to use Vonage DigitalVoice for the rest of their calls. There is no contract required to subscribe so you can join without being obligated.

To learn more about SIP technology, visit: http://www.vovida.org/protocols/downloads/sip/ . To learn more about Vonage, go to: http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/ccarch/2002/05/01/baig.htm or http://www.vonage.com