From the March 2006 issue of Entrepreneur

Curious about VoIP phone service? PhoneGnome is a low-cost way to see how VoIP fits your company before you start incurring monthly fees. The wallet-size device lets you make free internet phone calls without any change to your current phone numbers, services or handsets.

Once connected to a traditional phone jack, the $119 (all prices street) black-or rather, gray-box serves pretty much the same IP/PSTN conversion function as the ATA adapters you get when you sign up with Covad, Vonage or other VoIP providers.

But unlike with those services, you'll never have to change or add phone numbers to get service--a potentially significant expense for growing businesses. There's no disruption of aux-iliary services--911, directory assistance, answering machine, TV, security--that rely on PSTN protocols. There's no risk of losing phone service during a power outage (which happened to me five times last year). Unlike IM-based calling from AOL Instant Messenger, GoogleTalk or Skype, there's no software to use when making calls.

You dial using the same phone you always have. PhoneGnome automatically detects and routes calls between devices compatible with session initiation protocol, or SIP, entirely over the internet. Calls to or from non-SIP devices are routed over PSTN. Setup? Just plug PhoneGnome's phone line and Ethernet cable into your phone and broadband loops, respectively. The hardware configures itself.

The bad news is that, at this stage in our long transition from PSTN to IP calling, there isn't just one way for VoIP devices to talk to each other. While Earth-link and Free World Dialup speak SIP, PhoneGnome can't make an all-internet connection to the non-SIP hardware of popular services like Skype and Vonage.

One approach is to buy two or more PhoneGnomes to make free calls among branch offices and the homes of key employees (a two-pack is $199). The PhoneGnome website also lists compatible VoIP services offering calls to U.S. landlines for as little as 2 cents a minute.

There are new ways to make internet calls coming out every day. PhoneGnome is one that asks for very little of your time or money.