These days, more people are ditching their old-fashioned landline phone service in favor of cell phones or voice over internet protocol (VOIP). With widespread use of broadband to serve a variety of communications needs, it seems traditional phone service is becoming less attractive due to cost, confusing monthly phone bills, and the antiquated notion of being tied down with wires. Today, it’s all about wireless.
Recently I happened to see a television commercial advertising a new product called, “MagicJack.” The advertisement explained how the small unit which plugs into your computer’s USB port on one end and your home telephone on the other end saves you hundreds in phone charges per month.
The technology is called voice over internet protocol, or VOIP in telecom parlance. And with the advent of broadband, it has become more popular as a cheaper alternative to traditional telephone service. However, VOIP does have one significant limitation, and that is temporary loss of service with a power outage.
• Skype & Vonage
Two popular providers for internet telephony are Skype and Vonage. With Skype, both users must be Skype callers. One cannot go outside Skype to utilize the free phone call capability of the internet. Vonage is more similar to traditional phone service, yet is cheaper at $14.99 per month for their Basic 500 Minute Residential Plan which includes every feature you could want, plus free long-distance. And if you want unlimited minutes plus free international calling, choose Vonage’s Premium Unlimited Residential Plan at $24.99 per month.
• The Money-Saving MagicJack
MagicJack has emerged as a major contender in the battle for the top VOIP telephone service provider. With an initial cost of only $39.95, MagicJack will provide you with unlimited local and long distance calling plus many other features for only $19.95 per year (you heard right, per year). So intriguing was the advertising that I had to check it out for myself.
The MagicJack promptly arrived in my mailbox only a few days after I ordered it. The futuristic-looking little unit also came with a USB extension cord in the packaging, which is a nice optional feature should you require it.
After plugging the MagicJack into the USB port on my new iMac, its software promptly loaded on my machine and prompted me to click twice to launch the MagicJack Softphone. I then plugged my cordless phone I’ve had for years into the other end of the MagicJack. But before I could place a call, I had to set up the MagicJack, choose a telephone number, and assign enhanced 911 (E-911) location data.
After initializing the MagicJack, I was ready to place a call. I was impressed to find that it is no different than dialing the telephone through traditional phone lines; and the sound was impressive save a little background static. However, along the way I found a few limitations.
MagicJack is geared primarily toward Microsoft Windows PCs rather than Macs. It operates just fine on a Mac, albeit some features do not work:
1) No sound through the computer’s speakers or bluetooth headset
2) No caller ID
3) No call waiting
4) No contacts list
5) No call list
Like all VOIP telephony these days, your MagicJack phone service won’t be available if your electricity goes out. And most frustrating for MagicJack users, since January 2008 MagicJack has repeatedly promised that their engineers are “working on” rolling out phone number portability so that users won’t have to make the painful switch to a totally new phone number. Unfortunately, thus far we haven’t seen any movement in that direction.
Despite MagicJack’s few drawbacks, I still recommend this leading VOIP service for cheap, unlimited long-distance calling if nothing more. With its low cost of $19.95 per year, it equals out to roughly $1.66 per month, saving those who call long distance often a bundle of money. Furthermore, the plug-and-play device really is easy to set up and get going. It’s a great option if you’re considering giving up your landline phone and going with a much cheaper service.
For more information on MagicJack, see their website @ www.magicjack.com.