For many would-be converts to Internet phone use--a.k.a. Voice over IP, or VoIP--the lack of emergency 911 support is a deal breaker. Hence, VoicePulse faces an uphill battle to replace the masses' current phone service completely. Also missing from this product is the ability to transfer your current phone number to VoicePulse, which means a new number for you and your friends and family to remember. The service offers an otherwise strong feature set, and a couple of its lower-cost monthly minute plans could serve you well as a replacement for your long-distance service. Plus, VoicePulse is one of the easiest VoIP services to set up--another boon if you want to try out a VoIP service before completely foregoing your current POTS line. You'll be up and calling in a matter of minutes, but keep in mind that when you call from the United States to your friends or family in Canada, your conversations will be considered international calls, and they won't be covered under your monthly VoicePulse plan. Still, with overall strong call quality, flexible privacy settings, and simple setup, VoicePulse is a VoIP service to consider if you can work around its drawbacks. VoicePulse assumes that you use a cable/DSL router in conjunction with your broadband Internet service; without one, you can't access the Internet while your VoIP line is plugged in (this fact is true of all VoIP services, however). Also, DSL users need a router for setting up their username and password, so whether you have a single computer or a home network, you'll need a router to use VoicePulse. You pay either $79.99 for the Sipura phone adapter from VoicePulse or--should you happen to own a Sipura adapter--a $29.99 activation fee. If you need a router, VoicePulse will sell you the -20610961.html?tag=txt&q=Netgear+RP614">Netgear RP614 for $49.99, but any router with an available Ethernet port should do the trick.
Setting up the adapter is a snap. A simple, six-item list clearly outlines the steps you'll take to get the service up and running. You simply plug your phone into the primary phone jack (the adapter has two), run a cable from the adapter's Ethernet jack to your router, and plug the Sipura adapter's power cord into a wall socket. In our tests, when the adapter's only indicator light stopped flashing after a couple of minutes, we had a dial tone and were ready to make calls. As a bonus, the adapter itself is as small as any we've seen for VoIP services, much smaller than the D-Link unit provided by CallVantage. For single-function items, such as a VoIP adapter, that you're likely to rest on a desk or a counter, we always appreciate a small footprint.
As with all VoIP services, VoicePulse offers a Web-based interface for monitoring, configuring, and managing your account. We were impressed by the level of customization VoicePulse affords, but the Web interface could use a bit of streamlining. We feel that home users would benefit from a simple, one-page summary screen instead of the three that VoicePulse walks you through. We found ourselves having to click through too many pages to activate or tailor a feature.
During testing, we found VoicePulse's call quality to be high for all long-distance and toll-free calls, although slightly lower for some local calls. Long phone calls maintain an even consistency throughout. Overall, we found VoicePulse's call quality to be equal to that of other VoIP services during our anecdotal testing. VoicePulse offers four monthly calling plans. Two plans give you unlimited local calling in addition to 200 or 600 long-distance minutes for $14.99 or $25.99, respectively. If you're always on the phone or just don't feel like counting your minutes each month (though it's an easy figure to check from VoicePulse's Web site), the America Unlimited plan gives you as many minutes as you want to U.S. numbers for $34.99. The Business Unlimited plan ($45.99 per month) features unlimited local and long-distance calling along with six-seat conference calling--a virtual conference room with a toll-free number that you can give to clients, employees, or whomever you wish. As of this writing, the America Unlimited plan is available for $24.99 per month if you commit to a year's contract. None of the other plans have contractual obligations. VoicePulse's monthly rates are competitive with those of the other services we've reviewed; it's neither the most expensive nor the cheapest.
One drawback to VoicePulse's otherwise excellent array of calling plans is that the service treats calls from the United States to Canada as international calls and charges you per minute. Other VoIP services, such as Vonage and Packet8 include Canada in their unlimited monthly plans.
The included Sipura adapter has two phone-line jacks, letting you add a second line to your account anytime you wish. Activating the second line costs $4.99 per month and gives you 200 outgoing minutes (and 3.9 cents per minute should you exceed 200 minutes). In addition, you can set up virtual numbers for each line you have, allowing friends, family, and clients to call you from their location to yours at their local rates. Virtual numbers for all plans cost $5.44 per month, with a one-time, $7.99 activation fee.
If you're harboring homicidal thoughts toward telemarketers, VoicePulse is well worth considering. You can activate various blocking features on each line and number, including the ability to send not-in-service tones to telemarketers, thereby stopping their calls. You can also block anonymous calls, with an option to allow users to identify themselves by entering their phone number. As for outgoing calls, you can block your caller ID from showing up, and you can block international calls and directory assistance calls. Finally, the Do Not Disturb feature lets you stop calls from coming through either until you disable the feature or over a series of scheduled times, with an option to allow specific callers through, selected by typing their phone numbers or choosing them from your contact list. Other VoIP services offer similar call-blocking features, but VoicePulse is among the best. For example, lets you block calls but doesn't let you specify which callers to block--it's all or nothing.
Other features include voicemail that you can check via e-mail, speed dialing (up to 99 numbers), and call forwarding, including automatic forwarding in the case of your number being temporarily unavailable--if your ISP is down, for instance. In addition, you can filter calls made to each of your phone numbers in a variety of combinations, based on incoming caller and time and date schedules, to ensure that you get all the calls you want but only the calls you want. You can phone VoicePulse's New Jersey contact number to request customer service, but the Web site offers two choices that will make such calls rare. First is the Support link, which provides an e-mail form to contact customer service. More importantly, the site contains an extensive knowledge base covering numerous FAQs, including details about setting up VoicePulse with specific routers. Our e-mail messages were answered promptly--on the same day in the case of two questions we asked--and the answers provided were clear.