I haven't had a real “landline” in a couple of years, thanks to the emergence of VoIP, or “Voice over Internet Protocol,” which lets users make calls using a high-speed Internet connection. Here are some VoIP services I use.
Vonage: www.vonage.com. Vonage uses a special phone adapter to connect your regular phone to your Internet connection. Unlimited business service is $50 per month, which includes unlimited calling to the U.S. and Canada, and complete voice and fax services. Vonage also offers a tiny USB key “V-Phone” ($40) that fits on your key ring and instantly turns any computer into a Vonage phone.
Skype: www.skype.com. With the SkypeOut ($30 per year) and SkypeIn ($38 per year) services, you have a real phone number and can make unlimited calls to any traditional or mobile phone in the U.S. and Canada for less than $6 per month. I plug a headset into my laptop, but Netgear and Belkin make freestanding “phones” for use with Skype.
Some VoIP features are impossible with a regular phone service. For example, Vonage voice mail messages are WAV files that can be put in a client's document folder, attached to a contact record in ACT, or e-mailed.
There are a few VoIP downsides. The biggie is the lack of a conventional 911 service. Vonage is tackling this, but Skype has no plans to offer emergency service. Also, you need broadband — don't even try VoIP with a dial-up connection. And if your Internet connection is down, so is your phone. But in my experience, my old “real” phone service was less reliable than my broadband connection. —Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant and the director of builder operations for Dynami Solutions. Reach him online at www.joestoddard.com.