IntroUnlike most Voice over IP (VoIP) services we've reviewed, Zoom's Global Village lets you pay as you go (for 2.9 cents per minute in the United States and Canada) as an alternative to the standard monthly unlimited-minutes plan, which Zoom prices at a competitive $24.95 per month. Regardless of the plan you choose, you'll still have to invest in a $99 piece of hardware to get started. Although the device performs the duties of a DSL modem, a router, a firewall, and a VoIP phone adapter, $99 is a hefty price for a service that Zoom bills as a second phone line for outgoing calls (as opposed to a wholesale replacement of your current phone service). Global Village doesn't offer fully supported emergency 911 calling but suggests that you keep your current local service for such calls. Business-focused features such as faxing aren't offered either. If you are a residential DSL subscriber in need of a (wired) router and a modem, then Zoom's Global Village is worth considering, whether you want to pay by the month or the minute. Otherwise, we recommend Vonage or , which have more features and cost only $30 to get in the door. Sign up with other VoIP providers, and you'll receive a telephone adapter (for a hardware charge or an activation fee of around $30) that lets you connect a regular telephone to your broadband connection so that you can make and receive calls over the Internet. Zoom takes a different approach and uses its own device, the ZoomTel ADSL X5v, which combines a DSL modem, a four-port router, a firewall, and a VoIP phone adapter. (Zoom plans to introduce a similar device for cable subscribers later this year.) Having just one device--instead of linking a router to a phone adapter and the adapter to your broadband modem--is convenient if you don't already have a home network installed.
The ZoomTel ADSL X5v installs easily. Just plug the Ethernet cable carrying your DSL connection into the ADSL port on the back of the device, then run a phone cord from the X5v to your telephone. (If you are also keeping your current phone service, you'll use line 2 for your VoIP phone.) We connected a second phone that uses POTS (plain old telephone service) for incoming calls; Zoom's Global Village is meant to replace your long-distance bill, not your entire phone bill. You can use one of the four ports on the X5v to share your DSL connection with one or more PCs or a wireless access point. After we had everything plugged in, we plugged the power cable into the X5v to turn it on, waited for the Link LED to stop flashing, and we had ourselves a dial tone.
With two phones (or a two-line phone) attached to the X5v, line 1 acted as our POTS line, and line 2 was our Global Village VoIP line. To place a call using Global Village, you must use the phone connected to line 2 (or press the line 2 button on your two-line phone). It's not the most intuitive process and will take some getting used to before you and the rest of your family or office will be making cheap VoIP long-distance calls. Call quality, however, was consistently strong during our tests, which included two overseas calls.
In addition to its versatility and ease of installation, we like the X5v for its ability to use VoIP services other than Zoom's Global Village. If a better VoIP service based on SIP (Session Initiation Protocol, the most common VoIP protocol) debuts next week, you're free to switch and probably can avoid paying an activation fee for the new service since you'll already own the required hardware.
As with all VoIP services, you can manage your Global Village account online. Once registered, you have 10 minutes of free phone time to test the service, after which credit card billing begins (for the per-minute plan). The Web site presents a clean interface that lets you view your account information and make changes quickly and easily. You can modify billing and payment information, set the number for the call-forwarding feature, and view a call log that shows all outgoing, incoming, and missed calls.
Zoom offers two calling plans, both targeted at consumers. Despite its contradictory name, the Global Village Unlimited U.S. plan provides unlimited calling to anywhere in the United States or Canada for $24.95 a month. Calls to other countries in the global village incur low per-minute charges similar to those of other VoIP services. For example, calls to Japan cost 3.9 cents per minute, to China, 9.9 cents (except 5.9 cents to Beijing), and to Sweden, 5.9 cents. Unlike, Global Village lets you call mobile phones, but in most cases the cost is much steeper: 17.9 cents per minute to Japan and 24.9 cents to Sweden, for example. Calls to mobile numbers in China, however, cost the same as regular calls. And calls between Global Village subscribers are free.
Zoom's Global Village Choice Plan will look attractive if you're on the fence about switching to VoIP. You'll still need to spend $99 on the modem/router, but after that you'll pay a low per-minute cost. (International rates are the same as those you'll find in the Unlimited plan, and calls within the U.S. and Canada cost 2.9 cents per minute.) If you opt for the Choice plan, to receive calls you'll need to keep your regular phone service or pay $3.95 a month for a Global Village number.