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Consumer VoIP's Dirty Little Secret

Although there are hundreds of ITSP's to choose from (thousands if you count the "Mom & Pop" resellers), using one of the heavily-advertised majors may give you a deja vu of dealing with your favorite cell phone company. Companies like Vonage, AT&T and Verizon are spending big bucks to promote their VoIP services and want you (actually your money) to stay with them.

Given that they're the biggest (at least as I write this), Vonage comes under heavy fire from users for its practice of locking its ATAs so that they can only be used with Vonage's service - just like cellular companies do with their phones! A suit about this practice has even been filed against Vonage by competitor SIPphone, alleging deceptive packaging and advertising.

The criticism the company has received for this practice has been somewhat mitigated by Vonage providing a $15 unlock service for its Cisco ATA-186's, even though you'll also have to forfeit a $40 termination fee to keep the ATA.

Tip! Tip: You'll find many Google references to a reset-to-factory defaults procedure for Vonage ATA-186's. But Vonage implemented password-protection for the unlock procedure around July 2003 that defeats the process. This page has a good summary of where things stand with unlocking an ATA-186.

Since it's still early for AT&T CallVantage and Verizon's VoiceWing, I haven't been able to find complaints about their locking devices to their services. But the FAQ for both services list a charge for not returning the device when you discontinue service.

Note also that the larger consumer ITSPs generally won't let you use your own VoIP hardware. But there are options such as BroadVoice's Bring Your Own Device plan that let you use any compatible device (in this case SIP). And VoicePulse's VoicePulse Connect provides commercial-grade origination and termination that supports both SIP and IAX and lets you use any compatible device. But it doesn't have the fancy features offered by VoicePulse's normal VoIP plans.

In Table 1, I've summarized some of the "gotchas" that you should be aware of with some of the larger consumer ITSPs.

Updated October 28, 2004
Company B.Y.O.D. Unlock Fee MBG Termination Fee
AT&T CallVantage No ? 30 days $60. Can avoid if equipment returned.
BroadVoice Yes ? 30 days $50. Refunded if equipment returned within 14 days.
Packet8 No ? 30 days $59 non-refundable if termination within first 12 months.
Verizon VoiceWing No ? 30 days $60. Non-refundable.
VoicePulse Yes, but only on additional accounts for full service.
Available for single account with VoicePulse Connect SIP / IAX origination / termination service
No 30 days None for most plans if equipment returned.
Vonage No $15 14 days $40. Refunded if equipment is returned.
Key: BYOD = Bring Your Own Device MBG= Money Back Guarantee
Table 1: Consumer ITSP gotchas


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