magicJack VoIP Internet Phone Service
$20 for a year of unlimited domestic
Here's a very simple
and affordable way of getting low cost phone service.
Just plug the Magicjack
into a computer's USB port and, after it automatically
configures itself, you have phone service.
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With VoIP type calling
continuing to reduce in cost, is it possible that one day maybe
you'll be able to enjoy totally free calling? Probably not
- someone still has to pay for the 'last mile' infrastructure to
get phone service to/from subscribers, but the call costs are
becoming less and less.
Until that time, Magicjack's
$20 per year (plus $20 one time cost to purchase the unit itself) unlimited service is
about as good value as it gets.
The Magicjack Product
The Magicjack (the company spells it magicJack but I refuse to accept such affectation) is a
USB device that you simply plug into your PC (or Mac), and then
optionally plug a regular phone into the phone jack at the other
end of itself.
If you don't choose to plug
a regular phone into the other end of it, you can use any
headset or speakers and microphone that might already be
connected to your computer.
The Magicjack comes in one
of those impossible to open heavy clear plastic packages that
are welded together all around the edges. After attacking
the pack successfully with a pair of heavy duty scissors, the
contents were rescued and comprised the magicJack unit itself, a
short (6") USB extension cable, a brief instruction sheet, and
duplicate instructions on the cardboard backing sheets in the
The device itself measures
approx 2.5" x 1.4" x 0.6" and weighs 0.9 oz. A clear
window on one side allows you to see the circuit board inside,
and there's a tiny blue LED that glows when it is properly
connected to your computer.
On one end is a USB plug,
and on the other is a standard (RJ-11) phone jack that you can
plug any normal phone into.
The device doesn't use
batteries, but takes its power from the USB port. It
doesn't come with any installation CD, because it variously uses
the data loaded inside it and additional software downloaded
from the internet.
The unit is available
Amazon and is priced at $39.95, which includes a year of
truly unlimited service - any amount of incoming and outgoing calling,
anywhere in the US and Canada. Extra years of service are
currently priced at $19.95 each.
The unit carries a ????
Magicjack is a product of
the Ymax Corp. Ymax is one of those companies that compete
with the established 'Ma Bell' type phone companies - it is a
CLEC - a Competitive Local Exchange Carrier. Indeed, it is
one of the largest in the US, and has its own network, which
helps it to manage the Magicjack experience by quality
controlling some aspects of Magicjack's connections (and clearly
costs as well).
Using the Magicjack
The first Magicjack I
purchased, in September 2007, would not install or work. It gave
confusing error messages, and poor support from Magicjack failed
to resolve the issues, and eventually I gave up.
Apparently my experience was
not typical, but neither was it completely untypical, either.
The company does seem to have some growing pains, and it seems
their service offers less than the 'five nines' reliability
(99.999% uptime) we have come to expect from regular phone
I encountered Magicjack recently at a Trade Show
in March 2008 and their President and Founder,
Dan Borislow, persuaded me to try his service again. He
said there had been some problems with earlier build-level
units such as I had, but promised the latest ones worked very much more
While talking about
problems, Magicjack has also had what I believe to be some
unfair criticism as well as fair criticism. Because
Magicjack uses both your computer and your data line, if there
is a problem with either of these, or if either is busy, then
Magicjack can't work well. For example, if your computer
slows down when checking email (mine sometimes does) or if you
(or someone else sharing the same connection to the internet) is
busy doing a large download, the sound quality of the Magicjack
unit will suffer. But don't blame Magicjack for this (as
some people do) - you just need to be sensitive to the
requirement that when you're making a call with Magicjack, it is
best not to load up your computer with too many other tasks at
the same time, and best to keep your dataline reasonably
Based on Dan Borislow's assurances, I
tried a new unit, and it worked perfectly. Plugging it in
to a USB port caused it to automatically install the necessary
drivers and software onto the computer. The Magicjack works with PCs
and Macs, and supports both Vista and XP, of course on laptops
and desktop computers.
Choosing your phone number
As part of setting up your
new Magicjack, you are offered a choice of phone numbers.
Like most/all other VoIP services, the phone number you choose
can be unrelated to where you live - a Los Angeles resident
could choose a Chicago number, for example.
Magicjack does not yet offer
phone numbers everywhere in the country. At present it has
numbers available in 24 states (as of April 08), and not in all
parts of these states. You can see a current list of
available numbers on their site
here. The company is continuing to add more area codes
and regions to its coverage.
You can change the number
assigned to you any time you feel like it. You can do this
once for free, and after that, you can continue to change the
number for a $10 fee each time you make a change.
At present it is not
possible to move your home phone number to your Magicjack
device, but the company is promising to release that capability
in the near future.
can you add an 800 number?
Two Ways to Place and Receive
One very nice feature of the
Magicjack is that it actually combines two different approaches
to making and answering calls. One uses a 'softphone'
interface - ie, a popup program on your computer screen.
The other way simply uses a normal traditional phone handset.
If you are using the
softphone feature, you can choose whether the sound be routed to
a phone (plugged into the Magicjack) or to any other sound
devices you have connected to your computer, such as perhaps a
The softphone program also
has volume controls so you can set the sound level both for the
person talking to you and for your sound level talking to them.
This helps ensure best quality sound for both you and the other
The softphone has a
rudimentary Contact List
Take your phone (number) with
you when traveling
Because the Magicjack unit
is small and lightweight, it is convenient to take it with you
when you're traveling anywhere with a laptop computer.
As long as you can connect
to the internet on a faster than dialup line, you should have no
problems using your Magicjack to place and receive calls,
anywhere in the world. Magicjack will treat your calls the
same as if you were at home in the US, with no extra charge for
being located somewhere else in the world.
Comments about Magicjack's
support need to be matched alongside the fact that their support
is free, and the underlying gross profit they receive from each
sale is very minimal. This simple business imperative
makes it difficult for them to provide a full deluxe support
Some Problems and Issues
The Magicjack did not seem
to reliably manage voicemail, with many times callers just
getting a ring tone for an extended time then being cut off,
with no opportunity to leave a message. This is a problem
in the central switching computers at the Magicjack service
center, not at the individual computer.
Some people reported
problems connecting to my Magicjack number - when they dialed
it, they got an 'All Circuits Busy' number. This is a
problem that seems to unpredictably come and go, I've never had
a problem with test calls to my number myself, but other people
have reported problems, so clearly there is some sort of an
issue occasionally present.
The Magicjack softphone
software is surprisingly slow to load, and if you should ever
wish to close it down again, there is no Program Close option.
You could go into your Task Manager and close it that way, but
there's no 'X' box or other way to close the program normally.
What a strange omission.
Another strange omission is
there is no way to uninstall the software. Clearly the
Magicjack developers have massively - and inexplicably - failed
to follow industry standard 'best practices' in designing their
There's also a credibility
issue that I'm uncomfortable with. Whenever you visit
their website, you're greeted with a counter that allegedly
displays the number of new users that have signed up for their
service so far today. For example, at present (late
evening 4/8/08) the counter is claiming 32,530 signups so far
today. Next to this counter is an offer that says there is
a limit of 20,000 Magicjacks still available under a special
trial offer that expires tomorrow. Strangely, the 20,000
figure remains unchanged from day to day, while the 35,000 or so
daily signups also continues from day to day.
Two further comments about
this obvious marketing artifice. Firstly, to be signing
people up at a rate of 35,000 a day is the same as one million
every month. Massive VoIP company Vonage adds about one
million users every year, and currently has 2.6 million
subscriber lines after five years in business. It is
almost unthinkable that Magicjack is growing at the rate it
Of course, maybe most of the
people signing up for the free trial subsequently cancel, which
would be a point of major concern if true.
I also can't help noticing
that if I disconnect my computer from the internet, the counter
on the web page continues to increase!
This leaves a bad taste in
my mouth. It is hard to describe this as honest and
ethical, and I'm uncomfortable dealing with a company that is
not honest and ethical. And, while the sum of money at
risk is small, one has to wonder about the viability of a
company that resorts to such tactics to further its sales.
The Magicjack is a product
that is both good in places and not so good in other places.
When it works well, you'll get excellent quality voice, at least
as good as on a regular call, and you'll be enjoying free
domestic calling and very low cost international calling.
But it seems to have some
unreliabilities, particularly in terms of how it handles
Our feeling is that the
Magicjack service is currently best used as a low cost means to
make calls, out to other people, anywhere in the US and Canada
(for free) or elsewhere in the world (at low cost). But we
don't recommend using it as a main number for people to call
you, and we also suggest you keep other methods of calling (your
landline or cell phone) so that in the event of problems with
Magicjack, you have alternate ways to keep in contact.
However, at a cost of $40
for the first year, and $20 for each year after that, it doesn't
take too many hours of long distance savings to pay for the
Rejecting a call doesn't
switch direct to voicemail
Don't plug into hub - plug
into computer directly (why)
Heavy unit doesn't fit well
in a USB jack, best to use supplied extension cable
faxing - in and out?
Voicemail allows for
different messages to be given to a caller if you are
unavailable or if you are busy. This is nice. On the
downside, the message time stamps are in an unknown time zone
which doesn't seem able
doesn't pass Caller ID to
phone but does display on screen
Magicjack comes with a free
411 service; the downside being you get to listen to two
advertisements and have to use a voice recognition system rather
than a live operator. The voice recognition system does
not always recognize my voice, which makes things difficult, and
I quickly came to long for regular 411 service, fee
What is Magicfix? =
seems to be a troubleshooting utility, requires Java, when I
downloaded it as it said I must do, it installed version 5.14,
but the Java website then told me I had an out of date version
and told me to install version 6.5! (Apr)
left msg at 1005
free trial today count on
their website increases even when offline!
can work with USB handsets,
etc, as well as traditional phones
No way to close down the
How to uninstall?? Not
The contacts list in the
Magicjack program don't link to
Outlook, and neither can you import from (or export to) Outlook,
which is a glaring weakness for those of us who rely on Outlook
as the cornerstone of our contact management system.
As a partial workaround, you
can download an Outlook addin, which makes it possible to dial
directly from the Contacts folder in Outlook through the
Magicjack service. Unfortunately, this add-in messed up my
Outlook settings and I had to change back the setting for
showing full menus immediately (Tools -> Customize -> Options).
Why does registration
require one to disclose the type of tv one uses?
CHANGE PHONE NUMBER
Would you like to change your phone number to one from a
You may do this once free of charge.
After that, we charge $10 to assign a new phone number to your
VoicePulse uses yet another
type of voice processing interface box compared to the other two companies, but it has one very important thing in
common. It too is totally easy to set up. Simply
plug the power into the power socket, a LAN cable into the
network socket, and of course a phone into the phone socket, and
- as if by magic - it is immediately working.
All cables and connectors
were included, and the power supply is an international
multi-voltage one, making it easy to take your phone with you
when traveling both within the US and internationally (an
Although probably not
necessary, VoicePulse send you a helpful 24 page user manual
with your equipment. If you're like me, you'll probably
never look at - and never need to look at - this document.
As discussed in the other
articles in this series, bandwidth might seem plentiful (and free) but it is a
precious commodity and the less bandwidth that a VoIP phone
system uses, the better the quality of service will generally
Packet 8 uses the least
amount of bandwidth for a phone call with reasonable quality
audio (about 17kb in each direction). Vonage uses an unknown amount, but
twice as much.
Making and Receiving Calls
Making a call is exactly the
same as with any other phone, and exactly the same as with
the other two companies. Pick up the handset. Dial the number.
All calls should normally be
dialed in the form of 1 (area code) phone number
- ie, eleven digits, but you can also program in a default area
code, allowing you to then make shorter seven digit calls, just
like with regular phone service.
Receiving calls is the same
as with a normal phone. The phone rings. You pick it
up and start talking.
VoicePulse better supports
Caller ID than the other two companies. Whereas Vonage and
Packet 8 only show the number of the calling party, VoicePulse
usually can show their name as well. It did get tripped up
by one of my cell phone numbers that shows my name when calling
to a regular phone, but VoicePulse was able to tell me that it
was a cell phone number and from Washington State, which was
definitely better than nothing.
It is also possible to
program in your own caller ID phrases for each individual phone
number, so if I wanted to, I could make 'My cell phone' appear
when calling the VoicePulse number from my cell phone.
When calling other numbers,
the VoicePulse number appears in the Caller ID, but no name is
shown. Depending on your personal preference, you might
consider this either a good or bad feature.
When using the high bandwidth
(64kb) option, VoicePulse phone calls have splendid quality - at
least as good as regular phone calls and seemingly even better
(this is probably not the case, but subjectively, the clarity of
speech is stunning).
Assuming you have a good
internet connection with plenty of bandwidth and low latency, you'll have no problems
with echoes or delays, either.
Indeed, the only indication
I had that I was using the VoIP service rather than a regular
phone line was the fact that the quality seemed better than
average, rather than worse than average.
Reducing the bandwidth to
the medium setting (32kb) had a noticeable effect on speech
clarity, but would probably be acceptable for most
people if you were short of bandwidth (eg, if you were trying to
squeeze lots of VoIP circuits onto one data line).
Taking the bandwidth down to the low setting
had a major impact on sound quality. People at the other
end said my voice kept cutting in and out, and they had
difficulty hearing me, and from my end, the sound of the other
person became fuzzy and distorted. You should not normally
use this setting.
We recommend you use the
What Happens if the Power Fails
One of the criticisms of
VoIP phone service is that if you lose power where your VoIP
phone is located, then because the computer hub and the VoIP
control box lose their power, your phone service fails.
This is true, but probably
not very important for several reasons.
Firstly, VoicePulse have a
very clever feature that redirects your phone calls to a
different number if it detects that your phone system has
stopped working for any reason.
Secondly, chances are you
have a cell phone or perhaps even a regular landline phone to
use for outgoing calls.
Thirdly, you can use a UPS
(costing under $100) to give emergency power to your hub and
phone controller box for an hour or so.
Fourthly, it might not only
be your VoIP phone service that fails. At work, if you
have a PBX, that will stop working, too. At home, if you
have cordless phones, those too will fail. Problems when
power is lost are common to all types of phone service.
I've had no problems with my
phone whatsoever. It seems as reliable as normal phone
The VoicePulse service
includes more in the way of extra features than either Vonage or
Packet 8, with most features being managed from a simple
easy-to-understand set of web pages. You log in to the
VoicePulse website and then can customize your account and what
happens to incoming calls many different ways.
Voicemails can be forwarded
to an email account or retrieved normally through the phone.
Voicemail messages are quite large in size - a one minute
message is about 950kB, so you'd only want them sent to your
email account if you have plenty of space in your email box.
Fax service is not
officially supported on their lines, but unofficially VoicePulse
indicate that many fax machines seem to work perfectly well.
VoIP feature comparison page
for more information on features available to you.
Where Can You Use VoicePulse
One potential limitation of
this generally excellent service is that they currently only
offer a limited number of area codes from 25 states.
This is only partially a
problem. If you're in a state for which VoicePulse don't
have any area codes available, you can still use their service,
but using a different area code from a different state.
But if you do this, you'll
find yourself making long distance calls when calling 'local'
numbers, because they won't be local from the reference point of
the area code you have on your phone. And similarly,
anyone local that wants to call you will probably have to pay
for a long distance call to where the area code of your phone is
VoicePulse have several
different service plans. Their lowest cost plan is only
$15 a month, and includes unlimited local calling and 200
minutes of long distance.
Their best value plan is
$25/month if you sign up for a one year contract, and includes
unlimited calling throughout the US.
The ATA box - the device
that connects your regular phone to the internet - is free for
as long as you're signed up for their service.
Alternatively, you can simply buy a unit from them ($100) or use
your own (if you have a compatible ATA unit, eg from Cisco or
Sipura or Grandstream).
The ATA box they supply can
support two phone lines, and you can add a second phone line for
only $5 more each month (including unlimited local service and
200 long distance minutes) - a tremendous bargain.
International calls are more
expensive than from lowest priced Packet 8, but comparable to
Vonage. You'll be spending about 5c-6c a minute to call
most countries, with billing in 6 second increments. This
is a good price, but not a great price - you can get lower rates
on prepaid calling cards.
Most things to do with
configuring and managing your account can be done through their
Regrettably, if you have a
problem, there's no direct phone number you can call to
immediately get support. Instead you have to fill in a
form from their website and then wait for a response.
For many people, the
unavailability of a real person to immediately help is a
drawback. Most of us expect - or even
demand - 100% reliability with our phone service, and if we have
an issue or problem, we need to be able to immediately access
someone to resolve the problem.
VoIP instead of - or as well as
- 'normal' phone service
If you're deciding on a
phone service at home, you're probably thinking in terms of
'either I have VoIP or I have regular phone service'. Few
people would need both types of service at home (unless they
have an office at home).
But if you're considering
phone service for your office, it can be a great idea to have a
mix of regular and VoIP phone lines coming in to your office.
If your PBX supports LCR (least cost routing) you can then
program it to direct outgoing calls over the lowest cost choice
of lines, saving you considerably in long distance and
international calling costs.
You can also add incoming
VoIP lines that have phone numbers from elsewhere in the
country, adding the appearance of local presence in other
locations, and making it easier for people elsewhere to call you
via a local rather than long distance call.
Summary and Comparison
provide another variation on the VoIP phone service concept, and
for people who only use their phones a moderate amount, with
less than 200 minutes a month of long distance, it is the lowest
priced VoIP product available.
It also has a very rich
feature set that makes it appealing to some 'power users'.
To make it easier for you to
choose the best service for you,
here is a side by side
comparison of VoIP services.
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11 Jun 2004, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.