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VoIP telephony continues to become easier to install and less expensive to use.

A newcomer on the scene, with much lower rates than other companies, is Magicjack.

In addition to lower rates, it also claims an even simpler user interface.

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magicJack VoIP Internet Phone Service

$20 for a year of unlimited domestic phone service

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.

Part xxx of a xxxx part series - click for Parts  One  Two  Three  Four



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 package.

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 through 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 ???? warranty.

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 service.

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 reliably.

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 uncongested too.

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 Calls

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 USB headset.

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 person.

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.


Magicjack Support

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 service.


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 software.

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 claims.

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 incoming calls.

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 Magicjack.




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 notwithstanding.


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 magicJack software



How to uninstall??  Not in programs


(425) 216-9379

pdw flyingdr


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?


Would you like to change your phone number to one from a different area?
You may do this once free of charge.
After that, we charge $10 to assign a new phone number to your magicJack™.


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 amazing concept!).

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.

Bandwidth Requirements

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 be.

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 probably 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 64kb settings.

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 service.

Extra Features

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.

See our 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 located.


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.

Customer Service

Most things to do with configuring and managing your account can be done through their website.

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

VoicePulse 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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Originally published 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.

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