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).
2 of a
7 part series - click for Parts
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
The Packet 8 Product
The VoIP service offered by
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
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
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
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
I have called a wide range
of different phone numbers around the world, and never had any
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
I've had no problems with my
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
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
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
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
Most of the same clever
tricks mentioned in the Vonage review also apply to the Packet 8
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
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
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
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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.