Wednesday, January 7, 2015

VoIP show stoppers

Cutting copper wires


I GOT TIRED OF PAYING the local telco its ever-increasing rate for local calling while at the same time being enticed by VoIP providers' inexpensive options.

VoIP=Voice over Internet Protocol, a/k/a voice carried over the internet rather than copper wires..

So I investigated a number of VoIP providers and settled on one.

And then the fun began.


netTALK became my first choice because it offers a WiFi version, the netTALK DUO Wi-Fi. magicTalk once offered a WiFi option, but the option disappeared before the page refreshed. More on that later.

I tried to buy the netTALK DUO WiFi via the company's web site, but was never able to complete the process. Seems my Discover credit card doesn't work with netTALK's credit card service. Am I unique? (Of course, but …)

I tried contacting netTALK customer support (; no response.

Eventually I made the trek south into Miami Gardens where netTALK's facilities are located.

Turns out netTALK knows about the problem; some of its customers are unable to renew their service because their Discover cards are unacceptable to the vendor. QUESTION: So why stay with a vendor that fails to provide service for all of netTALK's customers?

In any event, I managed to be admitted into the secure facility. Ring the bell and wait for someone to come from the back … there is no receptionist. I told the lady who, after challenging me only once (What do you want?) that I needed to see someone in support.

About 15 minutes later a guy comes out and I explain the credit card problem. I learned that the problem was not unique to me; even having a netTALK person try to put the Discover card through proved fruitless.

So, I tried a different card and it went through and I headed back to Hollywood to wait a few days for my netTALK DUO WiFi to arrive.

MEANWHILE, I need to have my DSL separated from the telephone wires so I contacted the local telco. I explained what I needed and was told that my DSL had to be replaced by U-verse, a "different" type DSL. All it would cost me is $200 for service and a new modem/router. The voice for AT&T promised that I would receive credit cards valued at $200 within "six or seven" weeks. The AT&T BILL for the service and hardware arrived within a week - even before U-verse was working as promised. (AT&T did send out a tech to define the problem and another tech to fix the problem. Seems although U-verse is a new product for my area, the wires are old and were causing flakey service.)

CAVEAT: Check with the VoIP provider to find out if the local telco (e.g., AT&T, Verzion) DSL is compatible with the VoIP unit you are considering. There are reports that some VoIP products are not supported by some telcos; this may be limited to certain geographic areas.

Having finally split off DSL from the phone lines I was ready to install the netTALK product. Things were going OK until I came to a number porting fee.

I am FedEx and Ivory Soap sure that I read there was no number porting charge when I researched the netTALK DUO WiFi.

Now I am asked to pay an additional $30 - a one time fee to be sure and one that will not break the bank, but I don't like surprises.

I tried to contact netTALK via email. No response.

I tried to contact netTALK via Chat - there are 35 people ahead of me; 10 minutes later, there are 30 people ahead of me; 30 minutes later there STILL are 30 people ahead of me.

I try email again, this time to two e-addresses - and the one I used above. This got an auto-response with a promise to follow-up.

The follow-up didn't so I packed up the hardware and headed south - again.

The fellow I spoke with when I bought the product greeted me politely and I explained Problem 1 and Problem 2. Problem 1 was the porting fee; given that I had to travel to netTALK twice it would seem good business to waive the fee and keep a customer. This was not offered. Problem 2 was the real show stopper - absolute lack of support.

TO BE FAIR I was told that netTALK was hiring additional support personnel; it apparently was unprepared for an avalanche of business generated by an end-of-year promotion. As far as I could tell, most of the people at the netTALK facility in Miami Gardens are R&D folks; netTALK certainly does not spend money on appearances (which is not a problem for me).

My netTALK DUO WiFi hardware was accepted without complaint and the nearly $80 I paid for the hardware and a year's subscription is to be credited to the plastic I used for the purchase two weeks previous.

Basic Talk

Basic Talk advertises on tv; you can't avoid Vonage's ads for their low-end product. At $10/month (plus taxes etc.) you get VoIP POTS - plain ol' telephone service, including free domestic (Canada, US) long distance service.

I call overseas. Unlike netTALK and magicJack (what is it with the first part of the name in lower case letters?), Basic Talk does not offer international long distance (ILD) service nor does it have a way of auto-routing calls to an ILD service such as Telna . Number porting is free, but the lack of ILD is a show stopper. As expected, Basic Talk has mixed reviews


magicJack does offer international long distance (unlike Basic Talk) and at excellent rates. It has been around longer than any of the other "low cost" services (e..g., netTALK and Basic Talk).

When I first looked at magicJack is had an annual - annual! - number porting fee of $20. (The alternative is to get a new number from magicJack; that is not an option here.)

MagicJack's home page lists two products: magicJack Plus and magicJack GO.

Someone created a How To video to make magicJack work with corded phones which means that my requirement for netTALK's DUO WiFi could have been eliminated.

As with Basic Talk, magicJack has its detractors on two different web sites.

Bottom line

The main problem with each of the three low-end VoIP providers seems to be SUPPORT or, more accurately, the lack of support. To its credit, netTALK has no "knocks" against its for financial shenanigans, but then it is the "new kid on the block."

When reading reviews, keep in mind that people are more inclined to complain than to compliment. Had netTALK waived the number porting fee and had I received satisfactory customer & technical support via email and chat - I loathe the phone - this would have been only about netTALK and how happy I am with the product; its competition would have gone unmentioned.

I still think netTALK has, for me, the best VoIP product, but until things in Miami Gardens FL improve, I'll keep copper.

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