JT's Blog

JT's little piece of the internet.

Feb-23-2009

Is Vonage really a shady company?

logoAbout 5 or 6 Years ago when VoIP was “the new thing”, I looked at a few companies.  Packet8 was a little too expensive, Broadvoice was awesome and they started the whole “free international” calls thing, but they had a lot of latency/delay (in my opinion, at least.)  Then there was Vonage.  Audio quality was good, low latency, didn’t wait on hold 45 minutes for tech support… The price seemed right and they were the “biggest” and seemingly the most likely to be around forever.

verizon-no_largeVoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) seemed poised to eradicate land lines.  Then, all the cable and phone companies started doing their own VoIP thing.  Then Verizon sued Vonage for patent infringement.  It seems that the legal team funded by over-priced verizon services had a squatters pattent on an idea of regular telephone service using the internet.  They waited until Vonage really started to be successful and then sued.  In addition to a lump sum judgment, Vonage has to cough up 5.5% of every subscriber to Verizon.  Kinda makes you want to have sympathy for Vonage, no?  How do they stay afloat, right?  I’m not so sure.

I was a staunch Vonage supporter for a long time – I even recommended it highly to friends and family.  (To those I’ve lead astray, I’m sorry.  To those who think Vonage is great, read on.) It turns out that Vonage is a little shady, in my opinion.  They have mastered the art of nickel and dime-ing you.  Someone who seems to have shared my epiphany created http://www.wehatevonage.com/ to share the pain.  In fact, if you search the internet for Vonage issues, you’ll find more complaints about Vonage than about Verizon!  How can this be possible?

In geek-speak, High UDP ports (the type of data network traffic Vonage uses) are often de-privileged, like file sharing or bittorrent traffic, in favor of regular TCP web or e-mail traffic.  So if you’re trying to have a phone conversation which stutters every time someone clicks on a web page, Vonage audio quality looses out.  Especially if you have shared bandwidth, like in an apartment building.

Ok, enough being nice to Vonage… Vonage customer service (like many others) has mastered the art of hiring off-shore call centers with very courteous people who haven’t the slightest idea how to help you.  What’s worse, they haven’t the slightest idea about the product they’re supposed to be helping you with.  If you’re patient and persistent, you’ll end up getting transferred to an “escalated” support (back in New Jersey, ironically).  The only problem is that your telephone connection goes from the US, to the other side of the planet and back, so the delay is intolerable.

Have you tried to leave Vonage?  Maybe transfer your number (that you brought to Vonage a while ago) away to a new provider?  I tried it once a few months ago and they sand-bagged the transfer to the point where I just had to give up.  Then it occurred to me, they’ve won!  They’re still getting my money.  That annoyed me so much that I made it my mission to not give up until I had satisfaction.   Recently, Vonage increased their prices for the 500 minute plan, from $15 to $20/month.  Wow, considering that I get an unlimited VoIP home phone with T-Mobile for $10/month (on top of my existing cell phone bill), it seemed like a no-brainer.

Then they changed their terms: the unlimited $24.99 isn’t really unlimited.  It’s “reasonable”, and if you’re found to exceed this (undefined) “reasonable” amount of usage, they’ll either cut the line or simply start charging you more.

WHA???  Either it is or it isn’t unlimited.  What is this nonsense?  Sometimes I teach an IT class from home, and after exactly 4 hours, Vonage disconnects.  After 5 support calls, they finally came clean – it’s a configuration to guard against an off-the-hook phone.  Except when this cuts me off from 20 students while I’m mid-sentence, it’s difficult to look past.

So now I’ve managed to transfer my personal (home) phone from Vonage to T-Mobile.  The transfer went through, seamlessly this time.  Almost makes me forget why I began writing this post!

Have you received any of those SPAM phone calls: “Your auto insurance is about to expire” ?  If you google the caller ID, it’s always a Vonage phone number!  Is it someone simply exploiting a vulnerability in Vonage’s network?  Is it an unscrupulous employee?

Then today, I started getting calls from this number: 17324444661.  A google search reveals that others who have left vonage now get calls with nobody present or just hang-ups from that number.  Some say it’s an automated dialer to “test” and make sure calls are routed properly, and that would make sense, since historically after porting numbers away from Vonage, the system would answer “disconnected” rather than route the call to the new provider so the *active* number would ring.

I started writing this post wanting to just tear Vonage to shreds.  Now, I feel sorry for the company.  It’s too bad that a great idea was forced to rely on less than noble tactics to remain alive in the competitive waters infested with sharks like Verizon and cable operators that package their own VoIP services.  Still, I won’t stick around.

Verizon could have done something similar, but in my opinion that company would rather gouge people with over-priced services and collect free money off the back of an innovative and creative company, forcing it to degenerate in quality to become something similar to itself.  But then, that’s the status quo, isn’t it.  I thought corporations were supposed to stimulate innovation, not stifle it.

Posted under Personal
  1. Nathan Said,

    Sounds like we have shared a similar experience with Vonage. I was a Vonage customer for 5.5 years. It seems for the last year my bill was a little higher each month. My last bill was over $25 for the 500 minute a month plan. This is absurd considering I started out with a $14.99 plan. I was sick of the nickel and diming so I went in search of a new VOIP provider. I found Callcentric, thank goodness. I don’t want to come across as an advertisement, so I wont go into to many details, but lets just say that the annoying 17324444661 number that calls past Vonage customers can now be blocked by me! I can send them to an error message, voice mail, to another number and more. I use to be a strong proponent of Vonage in the beginning but the nickel and diming and the lack luster features just wasn’t worth it anymore. BTW, I was able to port my number to Callcentric. Vonage released the number 3 days prior to the scheduled port date so I was without incoming calls for 3 days. I am sure they did this intentionally. In my opinion Vonage is not competitive anymore.