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Voice over IP

My Vonage Experience

Posted by mikehowells on December 25, 2010

In early December 2010, I decided to give Vonage a try. Why would I want to switch from a service that I had been using since 1994 and had essentially treated me with no problems? The simple answer is the outrageous amount that AT&T charges for their service. Below is a screenshot of my local services plan from AT&T. The monthly service costs $54.03, which includes local and unlimited long distance. The surcharges and other fees totaled $10.95\month! This is more than the entire monthly fee for Vonage’s Lite service! Quite frankly I was tired of paying a hefty service, which I barely used.

AT&T Monthly Service

So, on December 6, 2010 I ordered Vonage’s Lite service. Their website was straightforward and easy to use and the ordering process was painless.

In the meantime, I had brushed-up on some Vonage forums looking at other issues people were having but dismissed those problems as I was confident that those problems would not affect me.

A few days later the Vonage hardware arrived and I proceeded to setup the service. The instructions wanted me to replace my DSL modem\router with their Vonage router (model VDV22). This was not possible since my AT&T 2Wire DSL router uses an RJ-11 jack that goes from the wall to the router. The Vonage router uses RJ-45 jacks only so it was not compatible with my setup. No problem. I’ll just setup my Vonage router behind my AT&T router, which many others have done with success.

I then connected the Vonage blue port (WAN) and the Vonage yellow port (LAN) to my switch. Since my computer has two LAN ports I’ll just connect both of those ports to the switch and configure Vonage via this method. After I got everything connected and I logged into the Vonage web page (192.168.15.1) and I could see that the status page kept saying, “Could not connect to configuration server.” I’ll spare you the gory details but after a call into Vonage tech support they determined that the unit was faulty. So, I spent the $11 to ship the unit back to Vonage and wait a few more days for a replacement unit to arrive.

I connect the replacement unit to my switched environment using the same configuration I used for the first Vonage device. I logged into the Vonage web page and the damn thing is giving me the same error (Could not connect to configuration server). At this point, I was pretty much ruling out another hardware error. The odds were stacked against that probability. It had to do something with the way I was connecting my Vonage device to my network. Instead of connecting both of the Vonage device’s ports to my network I decided to connect just the WAN (blue) to my switch. Sure enough the device worked. Nowhere in the documentation did it say that you could not have both the WAN and LAN ports connected to the same VLAN, which was causing some sort of conflict with the Vonage device looping-back to itself. One strike against Vonage.

Now that I have the device up and running I can begin my testing. At first the device seemed to work properly with an occasional audio dropout, which I didn’t think much of at the time. It wasn’t until I made a dentist appointment where the call audio was completely cutting out every 30 seconds or so. The audio dropout was consistent and pervasive. I opened a command prompt and initiated a persistent ping to the Vonage device to see what kind of latency times it was experiencing (see screenshot below).

Vonage audio dropouts

These are some of the highest latency times that I’ve ever seen to a single device. Even my wireless aircard from Sprint has latencies better than this and this Vonage device was sitting on my gigabit switched network! I would confirm that the observed latency coincided with the audio dropouts by making test calls and seeing the high latencies associated with complete audio cutouts. Since there was no network traffic on my LAN that could be attributed to this latency it felt like a bug in the Vonage device. So, I power cycled the device and the problem went away. Strike two against Vonage.

I was hoping that this was an isolated case and that Vonage would somehow start working better. As I would see this was not to be the case.

To continue my testing I forwarded my AT&T home phone number to my new Vonage number so that I could start real world testing. Every single call that I received or placed would experience audio dropouts during the call. This was amazing to me since my DSL service is 6 Mbps downstream and 768 Kbps upstream plenty enough to handle VoIP service. In addition, I had just changed my AT&T DSL profile from Interleaved to FastPath, which reduced my latency to my DSLAM from 47 ms to 9 ms making a huge difference in Internet response times. My Internet circuit is also barely utilized so the notion that my circuit was somehow saturated is not a valid argument.

I became so frustrated that I downloaded and installed a trial version of Solarwinds’ ipMonitor. I was familiar with ipMonitor as I used it for years in my capacity as a data center engineer in a hosted environment.  I setup a monitoring session in ipMonitor so that it would send a ping to the Vonage device every second and e-mail me a daily report of the results. What I found was astonishing. For a device that is sitting idle most of the time I was seeing ping response times approaching 100 ms or more. Below is a screenshot of ipMonitor monitoring the device. The second row shows the tale of the tape. The large blue mountains show the latency to the device for which I had no explanation for. The only thing I could think of is that the device was so busy doing something. The problem though is that it wasn’t busy doing anything. No phone calls were made or received during this monitoring time. Strike three against Vonage.

VDV22 response time

It was time to cancel the service. I had spent enough time and energy troubleshooting this issue that I decided to be done with it. The Vonage account management rep on the phone tried to send out a technician to help me get it installed but I don’t see how a technician could resolve high ping times to the device, which had absolutely nothing to do with the way it was implemented. So I declined and the service was canceled on December 23, 2010.

The only other VoIP device out there that gets my attention is Ooma. The downside to this device is that you have to purchase it for a one-time cost of $199 and there is no trial period so once you buy it you’re stuck with it.

I may revisit Vonage in another year to see if they’ve gotten any better. For now, I’ll stick with the high-priced oversubscribed service that I barely use knowing that I’ll have good call quality.

The old adage of you get what you pay for rings true in this case…

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