GlobalTouch Telecom targets its SipTalk VoIP service toward home and business users who want to make VoIP calls using their traditional telephone handsets. The company hits the bull's-eye in several respects: SipTalk offers fantastic call quality, lots of functionality, and rate plans that are priced a few bucks below competing plans from providers such as Vonage. However, the service does suffer from a couple of shortcomings, including a telephone adapter with a temperamental setup process (though SipTalk also works with several other adapters that we didn't test), as well as somewhat spotty support. And unlike completely free VoIP services such as Skype, which allows you to download its softphone for free and make no-cost calls to other Skype users, there's no way to use SipTalk without paying for a monthly plan (though once you do, calls to other SipTalk subscribers are free). All in all, users willing to shell out a bit more each month for smoother setup and support should check out Vonage. But anyone willing to weather a few bumps in the road should consider SipTalk for its excellent call quality and reasonable prices.
Five different monthly plans are available with the SipTalk service--three for home use and two for businesses. Home plans start at $9.99 for 200 minutes of calling to U.S. and Canadian numbers and end with $19.99 for unlimited calling in those areas. Businesses may choose either a $34.95 plan that includes 2,000 minutes of calls in the States and Canada or a $49.99 option for unlimited calls to those regions. SipTalk's prices are a bit more competitive than those of other providers, such as Vonage, which charges $24.99 for its unlimited home plan and $39.99 for its business plan, including 1,500 minutes. However, Vonage sells its business unlimited plan for the same $49.99 rate as SipTalk's equivalent option. No matter which SipTalk plan you choose, it will include all of the standard VoIP features, such as voicemail, call waiting, call blocking, three-way calling, caller ID, E911 support, free calling between SipTalk users, and unlimited incoming minutes. The packages also offer some nice additional capabilities, such as call forwarding to up to five different locations and the ability to fax from your SipTalk line.
After you've settled on a SipTalk account, GlobalTouch gives you a choice of conduit for using the service. You may buy one of three different telephone adapters directly from the company, check the list of about a dozen compatible adapters to see if the service will work with a device you already have, or download and install the SipTalk softphone from the SipTalk Web site. For our testing purposes, GlobalTouch sent us the Sipura (now Linksys, which recently acquired Sipura) 1001, which is among the three adapters it sells. We recommend steering clear of this adapter, since its slapdash documentation makes it somewhat confusing to set up. In addition, we had trouble getting the device to work properly. While we didn't have a chance to evaluate all of the other compatible adapters, we did take a look at the softphone and found that it lacks a lot of the features, such as videoconferencing and instant messaging, offered by newer softphones from Skype and Yak WorldCity. However, the phone provides the most basic items you need to make calls, including a virtual numeric keypad, headphone and microphone volume sliders, a redial button, and a drop-down list of recently dialed calls.
SipTalk balances out its adapter hiccups with superb call quality. In CNET Labs' tests, the service proved one of the quietest we've evaluated, with little of the background noise that typically plagues VoIP calls. Overall, the quality was akin to that of a very good cell-phone connection. When we initiated uploads and downloads, the quality took a slight hit, with some fadeouts and voice modulation, yet nothing so drastic as to affect our comprehension or willingness to use the service.
To obtain service and support, GlobalTouch encourages customers to submit requests via e-mail. The company also accepts calls to its toll-free phone line--though VoIP support reps are usually not available on weekends. When we were having trouble setting up our telephone adapter, our calls to the support line were answered promptly; when the tech rep couldn't solve our problem, however, he offered to have another rep call us back within 24 hours. Unfortunately, we never received a follow-up call.