I recently blogged about my VOIP experiences with Acanac in “Why I cancelled my Acanac VOIP account.” I mentioned that I am now using a new VOIP provider that doesn’t have the same limitations that Acanac had. I felt that since I like my new primary VOIP provider Voice Network so much, I should write a review about my experiences and why I am very happy with them. I should point out that Voice Network is kind of a wholesale VOIP provider, but you can definitely use it for your home phone, providing you don’t require a pretty interface and can handle scary words like DID and DTMF.
Website and sign up
If Voice Network’s website design was any indication of their quality of service, they wouldn’t still be in business. Their website looks really dated, but fortunately you don’t ever have to look at it again once you’ve created an account. Their site contains basic information: practically no marketing material or fancy images–just the facts.
Account creation is relatively simple and free. It appears to have changed since I originally created my account back in June of 2008. When you sign up now, their system will automatically call you to verify your identity. They did not have this system in place when I first created my account. They verified my identity by making me contact them after I had deposited money in my account.
Once your account has been created, you have access to the Voice Network portal. http://portal.voicenetwork.ca . The portal looks similar to the main website, but they add to the archaic look and feel by implementing frames. To be fair, the portal does work very well. It’s fully functional, except for a link to a “Virtual Office” feature that’s been “coming soon” since I signed up. The Portal’s navigation is logically done, using a collapsible tree menu in the left hand frame.
Add money to your account
The first thing you’ll want to do after creating an account is add money. Voice Network offers the following payment methods:
- Interac E-Mail Transfer
PayPal is the easiest method of payment by far. Just make sure you have a verified account or they’ll make you wait a few days for the money to supposedly clear. I imagine they’ve had problems with people abusing the system.
To use your credit card, you have to email or fax them a form with valid photo ID and a photo of your credit card. Certainly not the most ideal system. Also they charge a fee of approximately 5.5% for PayPal payment and 3% + $0.25 for credit cards. I’ve never done an Interac Email Transfer so I can’t comment on it. I’m glad the rates are so cheap, otherwise I’d not be happy paying all these extra fees. I wonder if I can just write them a cheque?
Create a Peer Device
As soon as you have money in your account, you can proceed to create a Peer Device. This might be quite complicated for novice users, but this is actually one of my favourite Voice Network features.
Peers refer to the VOIP device that you use to connect to Voice Network. A Peer has a username and password that allows your VOIP device to log on to the Voice Network servers. Generally speaking, most VOIP providers only give you one peer account and usually use your username as the phone number they assign you. With Voice Network, you don’t even have to have a phone number (or DID), you can just create a Peer and use it to make outgoing calls if you like.
The other great thing about Voice Network is that you can create unlimited Peers. I have a Peer for my fax machine, my laptop, my regular home phones, my iPhone and my sister’s phones at her house. That way I can easily deposit money in my account to provide phone service to multiple VOIP devices under one VOIP service.
The nice people at Voice Network have tried to make it simple to configure your VOIP device. They added a link beside each of your Peers that will show you exactly what values to fill for your VOIP device. You can also point one or more DID’s to your peer devices, which I will discuss in the DID section.
Voice Network also allows you to set up multiple different peer types. You can specify dynamic or static IP addresses, create SIP or IAX devices, and even select which codecs you want to use. You can also create a Peer that acts as a forwarding device to a regular PSTN number.
My favourite peer setting is Caller ID. They let you set your own caller ID to anything you want. I left Acanac because they refused to change my caller ID. Apparently Voice Network has no problem with people changing their caller ID. I love these guys! At right, see screen shots of the peer device settings.
From what I’ve seen, Voice Network’s pricing is pretty competitive when compared to similar pay-as-you-go type services. It’s, of course, dirt cheap when compared to an old-fashioned Bell line.
Voice Network’s pricing is as follows:
|US Termination||$0.015 cents per minute for calls to the USA (30 second minimum / 6 second increment)|
|Canadian Termination||$0.01 cents per minutes to Canada except the NWT/Yukon and Independent Telecom Companies( 30 second minimum / 6 second increment)|
|Incoming DID||$0.011 cents per minute (30 second minimum / 6 second increment)|
|Toll Free Number||$0.04 per minute (30 second minimum / 6 second increment)|
|DID||Pay As You Go||Unlimited|
|Toronto & Montreal||$2.50||$5.95|
DID (Incoming Numbers)
Now that we know how much a DID will cost, let’s talk about how to set one up. To purchase a DID from Voice Network, you must traverse through a few selection boxes to narrow down your DID choices by location. After selecting your area code/city, you are presented with a list of available numbers. They usually have a nice selection of numbers for a lot of different cities. As I mentioned in my Acanac blog, these guys have plenty of Kitchener/Waterloo and Hamilton numbers. They also usually have numbers in sequence so you can get similar numbers if you want.
Once you have selected a number, you proceed to the DID purchase page where you decide on the type of billing for your DID. Your options are unlimited or pay-as-you-go. This only applies to incoming calls, of course, and not outgoing, which is always $0.01 to Canada and $0.015 to the US. It’s also worth noting that you get four concurrent calls with a pay-as-you-go account, whereas with the unlimited account you only get two concurrent calls.
Once your DID is setup (which is done instantly), you need to configure your DID to point to a Peer. I visit the DID settings screen frequently because I like to forward my calls to my cell phone sometimes. You can also choose a voice mailbox for your DID here as well. You must first set up your voice mailbox on the voice mailbox setup page. Voice mail is pretty much what you’d expect. You can configure your password, have your message emailed to you, etc. They also have a neat feature that lets you assign your own voice mail pickup number. Usually the VOIP provider assigns you *98 or something like that to check your voice mail, but Voice Network lets you choose your own code. Talk about options…
Voice Network has pretty good support. They actually have a number of videos that walk you through setting up Peers, configuring popular PBX systems and some VOIP end-point devices. They also provide phone and email support. I’ve used the email support a few times for billing issues and they are very prompt in their responses. I’ll also add that unlike the big companies, Voice Network gets my problems solved on my first request.
Reliability and uptime
I signed up with Voice Network almost 2 years ago, and within the first week of signing up, they went down and I was without any phone service for a few hours. I was not happy; I was scared that this might be a sign of the quality of service I should expect from them in the future.
It wasn’t. Since then, they’ve been down a few times but only for a very short duration–so short I haven’t really even noticed. The nice thing is that they are very honest and upfront about the downtime. They always explain the situation on the news page of their portal, which is the first page you see when you log in. They keep old news posts in the portal so you can see how often they go down for yourself (maybe three times in the last year for less than an hour). Acanac went down on much more of a regular basis for me.
Voice Network rocks
Ok, so they won’t win any beauty contests or user friendliness awards, but if you like playing with settings and you like reliable service then you’ll love Voice Network. Keep up the good work guys!