How VOIP helps missionaries

December 13, 2012 — 2 Comments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat is VOIP?
VOIP stands for Voice Over IP. In other words, it is talking over an internet connection rather than a conventional phone line.

Why use VOIP?
VOIP’s main advantage in the past was cost. One could talk for only pennies per minute. While the cost was very attractive, the sound quality in the past was less than desirable. With increased internet speeds and more advance internet telephony technology, the quality of VOIP can be indistinguishable from POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). Traditional calls to America from mission fields can cost a dollar or more per minute using a landline. Compare this to $0.02 per minute or less! With VOIP, you actually have an American phone number instead of a foreign number. For those living in the USA area code of your phone number, it is only a local call for them to call you on the other side of the globe. So why use VOIP? You will save money and be able to keep in contact with friends, family, and supporting churches and pastors.
How do I get it?
Okay, so you’re convinced you need to get up-to-date and start using VOIP. Now what? How do you get started?  You basically need three things: Internet service, VOIP service provider, and hardware (device to use for the calls to and from the States).
1. Internet Service. Amazingly, internet is almost available world-wide. With the advancement of wi-fi, DSL, fiber-optics, wireless broadband, and even satellite internet, most missionaries have access to some form of internet.  Since the call quality of VOIP is mainly dependent upon internet speed and consistency, make sure that your internet quality meets the requirements. You can click here to visit a separate, unaffiliated website and test your internet quality for VOIP (http://myspeed.visualware.com). On that website, select a location in the USA and then click on the button that says, “click to start test.” The results will show you the stability and quality of using VOIP with your current internet speeds. If it is between the middle-range and the top, you should be fine. We are currently using a wireless broadband service with Orange here in Eastern Europe, and it works wonderfully whenever our signal is strong.
2. VOIP Service Provider. If you do an online search for VOIP service providers, you will find an plethora of options. As with all things in life (even with noodles and rice, as we’ve found out on the mission field), the quality can vary greatly. I’ll try to go through several of the most popular ones, give pros and cons, and then let you in on what we’re using. Please note that pricing, services, and information below is subject to change.

VOIP Service

Pros

Cons

 CallCentric

Pricing is excellent. Call quality is excellent. Customer Service, though only through
email, is exceptional. After opening a “trouble ticket” (sending them an email about
your problem), they usually respond within the hour. Their website interface is easy
to use. Unlimited inbound calls costs around $6 per month. Pay-per-minute outbound
calls are about $0.02 per minute (as of 5/2010). Unlike Skype, you CAN port your
current US number to Callcentric for a fee, if your number is allowed to be ported.
Like Skype, calls between CallCentric customers are free.

Service is split into inbound and outbound calling, instead of a single plan including
both. Customer service is only through email (no number to call for customer support).
May be a little confusing to start with, but not beyond reason. Also, the service
does not come with any device to use with it. You have to purchase a regular phone
with a phone adapter or use some free software with your computer to make/receive
calls.

 MagicJack

Price is hard to beat (around $20 per year). This includes all calls in US and Canada.
No power cord is needed, which makes it easy to take to other countries. The device
is purchased with the service, and is very small. Plugs into your computer and has
a phone jack that you can plug any phone into. Claims to have a 30-day money back
guarantee.

Reviews on this device vary greatly. People seem to love it or hate it. When I tried
the device in the States, it worked well as long as I was not doing anything on the
internet or my computer during the phone call. Another minus is that you must have
your computer on in order to use it. Some have stated problems with calls to or from
certain phone company networksin the States. Cannot port your phone number to become
your MagicJack number but states it will be a feature in the future.

 Ooma

After the device is purchased, you only pay a monthly tax/fee amount that is around
$4 per month. Unlike the MagicJack, the device does not require being connected to
a computer. Plan includes virtually unlimited calls. If your number is portable,
you can port it to Ooma.

Cost of the device is a large sum to pay up-front (about $250). My brother had a
headache setting up his Ooma Telo in America until he switched to the Ooma Hub. His
problems may have been due to a defective device. The power jack on the Ooma Telo
is also very lose, causing the power plug to fall out if moved. May need a power
transformer if using in a country that is 220V.

 Skype

Free calls between Skype accounts. Very popular service among missionaries. For making
unlimited outbound calls to the States, it is around $7 per month. If you want to
have a number that people can call you at, it is $18 for 3 monhts, $60 per year,
and only half the price if you sign up for a monthly outbound call plan (yes, this
is all very confusing). Pay-per-minute rates are also available.

The costs and fees are a bit confusing on their website (I gave you a sample of it
to the left). You cannot port your number to Skype. You may be limited on the types
of devices you can use to make calls (only computer or Skype phones).

 Vonage

Several plan options include calls to other countries. Costs vary, depending on the
plan you choose (from just under $20 per month up to around $35 per month for residential
plans). You service comes with a Vonage modem that you plug your phone into. No computer
is necessary for their phone service. Many missionaries have chosen to use this VOIP
service provider over the years.

The cost is much higher than other VOIP service providers available. I had a difficult
time finding what hidden service fees and taxes would be added to the monthly bill.
If you choose to go with Vonage, be sure to contact the company and inquire what
the additional taxes and fees would end up costing.

3. Hardware. Depending on which VOIP service provider you choose, you may or may not be given the needed hardware to use the VOIP service. MagicJack, Ooma, and Vonage provide you the required device. The only other thing you need to provide is a corded/cordless phone of your choice to plug into the device. Some VOIP services can only be used with a “softphone” (a computer with a softphone program downloaded). Skype, MagicJack, and CallCentric have the option of being used with just your computer and a softphone program.
What we are using:
After doing much research into the different VOIP options, we decided to go with what we felt was the lowest cost and best quality of service. As mentioned in the table above, many missionaries are using other services such as Skype, MagicJack, and Vonage and are very pleased with them. We decided to go a different route.
Since we were unable to have a landline with DSL connected in our apartment, we decided to buy a Flybox from Orange and use their wireless broadband service. Since we are able to pickup a good signal with the cell phone tower, the internet connection is consistent and of good speed. The Flybox comes equipped with a wi-fi router, RJ-11 phone jack (for local calls in our country), and a LAN port (where you could plug a computer into for wired internet). This device cost us about $150 (not bad considering the wi-fi and other functions of the device). Before leaving for the mission field, we purchased a phone adapter (Linksys SPA2102-NA) from PCConnection.com for about $85. The device works on 120V and 220V. I had read that the quality of the phone adapter does affect the quality of the sound. The final cost in hardware was a corded phone to plug into the phone adapter (you can use cordless, too).
Why a phone adapter instead of using just our computer with a softphone? Two reasons: 1.) We wanted to make calls without going through our computer. We don’t need our computer on to make/receive calls. Also, someone can be on the phone and another working on the computer, at the same time.  2.) We have found that the call quality using a softphone is significantly less than through an actual telephone connected to a phone adapter. The phone adapter connects directly to the internet without being slowed down by a computer trying to process the call. We have also found that it eliminated any echo that we or the other people hear on the other end of the call (which was a problem with using a softphone).
So what do we pay per month and what is the quality like? We pay $5.95 per month to CallCentric for unlimited inbound calls from the States. Outbound calls are just under $0.02 per minute, but we have found a way to get unlimited outbound calls, too, by using Google Voice. (I will be writing an article on Google Voice in the future.) We go to our Google Voice page online, type in the US number we want to call, and it then calls our CallCentric phone (which gets treated as an inbound call by CallCentric, part of our unlimited call plan). We pick up the phone and it then automatically forwards the call to the actual number we dialled in Google Voice. What about the call quality? People cannot tell we are calling from the other side of the world. We believe it is as good as any landline in the States. Pastors, friends, and family have commented that we sound like we are just over in the next room. We have been very pleased with the quality and price.
On a side-note, if you do buy a phone adapter, be aware that setting it up can be a nightmare. We found CallCentric’s support to be priceless. They had a step-by-step instruction page online for setting up our phone adapter to use with their services. I would have been lost without those instructions.
Many options are out there. Talk with other missionaries and find out their experiences with VOIP companies. If you want to be a help, give your input below.

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2 responses to How VOIP helps missionaries

  1. Now the Magic Jack + has the ability to be used without turning on the computer. It just plugs into your router via eithernet cable. It works so nice for us. You can even get an app for your iphone (3GS and above). We use a combination of both skype and magic jack. We sure don’t miss the old days of trying to get a call to go though and having to speak to operators that were half asleep and did not show any desire to help. I was just telling my wife last night that it has been a long time since we have talked to the operators and I have not missed them once.

    • Joe, thank you for giving the updated info on Magic Jack. That is great to know. I was leery of purchasing Magic Jack since I did not know how well it would work in Moldova with the internet, but I know a couple missionaries here that use it and love it. Technology is always changing.

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