I've been using the Vonage Voice over IP (VoIP) phone service for about 4 months and have been very happy with it. For my small-business needs, it has proved to be quite useful. The flat-rate monthly charge makes budgeting phone expense easy; the online control panel simplifies tracking inbound and outbound calls; the voicemail services are effective and simple to use, and the ability to add additional numbers in different area codes has come in handy. However, over the past week, I had a major setback--and it had nothing to do with the Vonage service itself.
As a precaution, I configured the VoIP service to forward calls to my business cell phone so that I don't miss any calls. I use that cell number as a general backup for the VoIP service, and for communications when I'm not in my physical office. I didn't expect to need more than the cell service as a backup until last week.


My Internet service is provided through Comcast Cable. The service has worked well since I switched to it more than a year ago from my previous satellite-based Internet connection. However, over the past few weeks the service had gotten flakey, with service drops stretching into 12-hour periods and random drops throughout the day.


I contacted Comcast and went through all the rigmarole of level-one tech support; with my explanation to the support tech that I had already tried everything he was telling me to do falling on deaf ears. I did find some of the support tech's suggestions faintly humorous--suggestions that had no relationship at all to the failure of the cable modem to connect, but that's for another column.


As I expected, the problem was with the lines running to my home. In the midst of a pretty good-sized blizzard, a Comcast repair team showed up and confirmed that fact, although they couldn't repair the problem because of the weather. So I was left with an unreliable Internet connection, which meant that my phone service was now in the same state. But because my calls were being forwarded to my cell phone, I didn't miss a call.


But I did lose the ability to send email. With the flakey Internet connection, I couldn't maintain a connection with my ISP's mail server--it kept timing out. To add insult to injury, I couldn't just dial up to my ISP; I didn't have a land line that would let me do so. Without a stable Internet connection, I was cut off from my email, which is a major problem for me.


The end result is that Comcast has got me back up and running, and my email is functioning again, but for a while, I was stuck traveling to the nearest hotspot (which wasn't that near) to send mail. Now I'm seriously considering adding a plain old telephone service (POTS) line to my office as a backup to my Internet connection. It does make me wonder what the future will be for VoIP if users determine they still need a hardwired phone connection. The VoIP decision for me was an easy one; it was the only way I could keep my business phone numbers when I moved my office. But for users just starting out in a new location, opting to go without wired phone service could present a real problem.