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VoIP service is becoming increasingly common.

It is no longer a complicated and unreliable service, but is simple to use, reliable, and gives high quality phone call connections.

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Packet 8 VoIP Internet Phone Service

The cost savings offered by VoIP can be enormous. One of the Packet 8 service plans includes unlimited long distance service everywhere in the US and Canada!

And Packet 8 are offering signup discounts to Travel Insider readers (see the summary section below).

Part 2 of a 7 part series - click for Parts  One  Two  Three  Four  Five  Six  Seven



Our earlier review of the Vonage service includes an introduction to what VoIP is and how it works. In quick summary, VoIP ('Voice over Internet Protocol') enables you to send and receive phone calls over the internet, rather than over a regular phone line. This can potentially save you money, and nowadays with the low cost of broadband internet, is easy to implement at home and at work.

The Packet 8 Product

The VoIP service offered by Packet 8 is (unsurprisingly) quite similar to that offered by Vonage. But, the differences are important and make a positive difference to the overall service.

Packet 8 uses a different type of voice processing interface box to that offered by Vonage. Installing the Packet 8 box was as simple as installing the Vonage box, however. There were simple three step instructions included - plug in the power supply, plug in the network cable, and plug in the phone! What could be simpler than that.

All cables and connectors were included, and the power supply is an international multi-voltage one.

The different interface box does has two major differences, however :

The first difference is that the Packet 8 interface box has a light on it that lights up when there is voicemail waiting for you. This is a nice feature.

Packet 8 Uses Less Bandwidth

The second difference is invisible, but perhaps more important. It seems that the Packet 8 service uses up less of your internet connection's bandwidth than does the Vonage service. Packet 8 say that the phone uses about 17kb of bandwidth in both directions, and suggest not using it on lines slower than 64kb for best quality. Vonage recommend a minimum line speed of 128kb.

This means that it will work better than the higher bandwidth consuming Vonage product when used with slower speed internet connections - indeed, there are even instructions on how to use it over a dialup internet connection, but for most people, it makes little sense to use your phone line to dial to the internet, and then connect up the Packet 8 VoIP service, so as to - well, so as to then make phone calls!

If you are considering adding VoIP phones to your business, the lower bandwidth can be important, meaning you can get more 'phone lines' to fit into less internet bandwidth. And if you're in a country that charges you for data usage, the lower bandwidth reduces the data related cost of using the VoIP service.

The lower bandwidth does not seem to have any noticeable impact on the quality of the phone call.

Making and Receiving Calls

Making a call is exactly the same as with any other phone, and exactly the same as with Vonage. Pick up the handset. Dial the number.

Receiving calls is also identical. The phone will ring, same as a normal phone. You can connect a caller ID unit to the phone and it will show the number (but, alas, not the name) of the person calling you. Pick up the phone and start talking.

The service also offers call waiting, call forwarding, voicemail and other services. But it does not - yet - allow fax messages to be sent over its line (unlike Vonage), however they promise an enhanced fax service that will be released in the first quarter of 2004.

Voicemail messages can be received from your phone, or can be sent as digital files to your email, in a manner very similar to Vonage.


The quality of the Packet 8 service is as good as - and perhaps even better than - regular phone service, and definitely much better than cell phone service.

I have called a wide range of different phone numbers around the world, and never had any problems.

Furthermore, I have taken the unit with me to Russia and used it from Moscow to place calls to Britain and the US, and have enjoyed the same high quality connections from Moscow as from here in Seattle. And a colleague now has a Packet 8 phone in London and is using it for international calling all around the world, also with no problems.


I've had no problems with my phone whatsoever.

My colleague in London reports that sometimes, when he is making international calls from his Packet 8 phone, he can't get through to the number at the other end. He doesn't know if this is a Packet 8 problem or a normal phone line problem or what, but he does feel it is happening more commonly with the Packet 8 phone than with a regular phone.

I haven't experienced the same problems when calling from Seattle or Moscow, so it is probably not something related directly to Packet 8's service.


Packet 8 offer four different service plans. Their lowest price plan has no monthly fee - you pay only 8c per minute of calling. This is definitely a 'heads you win, tails you don't lose' type arrangement, where you have no fixed monthly costs at all.

Their $20 a month 'Freedom Unlimited' plan offers unlimited calling anywhere in Canada and the US for only $20/month.

They also have two business plans that are considerably more expensive - $60 and $130 a month, with either 4,000 or 10,000 minutes included.

If you're able to take advantage of their $20 unlimited usage service, then the cost is much less than the competing Vonage product as well as, of course, much less than regular phone and long distance service. But if you're forced to register as a business user, then probably the Vonage products become better value.

The Vonage advantage for businesses grows even stronger if you're signing up for a second line. Vonage have discounted rates for multiple business lines, Packet 8 do not.

The good news is that, unless you're going to be using vast amounts of time each month that clearly establishes you as a business rather than as a private individual, you can probably register at the residential rates and will find that Packet 8 will be happy to accept your business. :)

Most international calls are charged at 5c a minute or less.

UPDATE : Only one week after originally writing this, Packet 8 brought out two new plans. They allow for unlimited (!) international calls, either to most of Europe, or to much of Asia, for a flat fee of $30 a month. If you make a lot of calling, these packages can be very appealing.

Unlike regular phone service, you don't find yourself paying massive surcharges in taxes to your local city and state and federal government. Just a single 3% federal tax and nothing else.


Packet 8 provides 24/7 customer support by phone which is convenient and helpful.

Some Clever 'Tricks' with Packet 8

Most of the same clever tricks mentioned in the Vonage review also apply to the Packet 8 service.

The key thing about VoIP service (with both Vonage and Packet 8) is that your phone number no longer has any direct relationship to where in the world you are located. You can have your phone working anywhere in the world where there is a broadband internet connection, and you can choose any area code you like (from within the US, of which all but a handful of states are available).

Another feature of Packet 8 is that all calls from one Packet 8 phone to another Packet 8 phone are always free, no matter what service plan you have signed up for, and no matter where in the world each phone is located, or what its official area code might be.

These two factors can make a huge difference to the cost of your calls, and probably an even larger difference to people outside of the US who make lots of calls to the US.

Summary and Comparison

Vonage, VoicePulse and Packet 8 services all offer a revolutionary new way of making and receiving phone calls. They are both as simple and easy and good as they sound.

Which is best for you? For most people, there is very little to choose between the three service providers - other than cost.  To help you understand the differences, we've prepared a helpful table of comparative VoIP features for the three different products.

SPECIAL OFFER : If you use the code 'travel' when signing up for their service, Packet 8 will give you a $5 discount off the activation fee.

But, whichever you choose, if you do a reasonable amount of long distance calling, or if you have a business with multiple phone lines, be sure to choose one or the other. You'll save yourself appreciably over regular phone company costs for extra phone lines and for long distance fees.

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Originally published 14 Nov 2003, last update 20 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

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