Swapping Vonage for Skype: One man's search for VoIP that actually works

Matt Asay discovers that the eBay-owned Internet telephony technology is actually nirvana--and that Vonage is rubbish.


Yes, you read the headline right. I have long been a critic of Skype, suggesting that eBay was foolish to buy the VoIP toy and generally ridiculing it as a serious business tool.

Today I'm eating crow, and it tastes great. Why? Because Vonage has been complete rubbish for me, whereas Skype is increasingly approaching perfection. I dropped my traditional phone service for Vonage. I'm now about to drop my traditionally awful Vonage for Skype.

I have been a Vonage customer since May 2004. I have dumped more than $2,500 into Vonage, without the quality of the service improving one bit. For the first few months, Vonage was almost unusable. I stuck with it simply because it was cheap. Then, for nearly two years, Vonage was what phone service should be: always on, always working and not calling attention to itself.


In 2007, however, the Vonage "service" has been atrocious. I have a Comcast 8Mb-per-second connection, but you'd never guess it from the quality of service I have with Vonage. (To be fair, I rarely get anywhere near that, with upload speeds hovering around 300 kilobytes per second and download speeds at 1.5 megabits per second.) Several times each day, my Vonage service completely dies, usually in the middle of a call, and then emerges again to goad me.

Because of the unreliability of Vonage, I have increasingly turned to Skype to fill in the blanks. Guess what? On the exact same network connection that I use for Vonage, and at the same times when Vonage craps out, Skype is rocking. The sound quality is exceptional, and the reliability of the service (with one big exception) has been impeccable. When it's not, there's my mobile phone.

So today, I finally got a SkypeIn number. (I've had SkypeOut service for more than a year.) I set up my voice mail on Skype. I bought a phone (Philips VOIP841) to complement my use of a Plantronics headset (used more for comfort than anything else).

I'm going to spend two weeks using Skype exclusively. Assuming that it works as well in these two weeks as it has for the past year, I'll be calling Vonage to cancel my service. Good riddance.

Before I leave this post, it's worth pointing out how similar the Skype model is to many open-source business models. Skype is free and, at least initially, tends to get used for tasks that are not mission-critical. Adoption starts with ease of trial and zero cost.

The more people use it for peripheral tasks, the more familiar they become with it, causing them to use it for an increasing array of tasks. At some point, the cost of the traditional service nudges users to note that its functionality and service is not actually better than the free alternative and, in many ways, is worse. At that point, the user switches over into Skype land and begins to use it as her primary communication platform, with traditional phone service held in reserve for "important" or "mission critical" calls.

Eventually, however, the user drops this crutch and goes with the disruptive service. That's the path I've been on since May of 2004. Vonage disrupted my traditional phone service but failed to live up to the VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) hype. Skype then emerged to disrupt both the traditional phone service and Vonage.

At least, that's how I ended up as a happy Skype customer. How will it happen to you?

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