Tying the Knot
Want the productivity boost and cost savings that both VoIP and wireless networking deliver? Now you can get a helping of both in a single piece of hardware. Wi-Fi and VoIP providers are working together on a new generation of Wi-Fi routers that set you up for internet calling and wireless networking at the same time. A good example is the Vonage Internet Phone Starter Kit, which includes Linksys' Wireless-G Broadband Router (WRT54GP2).
The WRT54GP2 makes the usual broadband modem connection for wireless internet access and 54Mbps data transfers among a dozen or so PCs. But it also has two phone ports and the electronics necessary to let you make internet calls using a traditional telephone.
The co-branded Linksys/Vonage package includes the router and a CD-ROM to walk you through network setup and phone service. Its materials are well-illustrated, easily followed and backed up by good technical documentation. But expect at least one call to tech support--with all the variations in desktop configurations, there's always some hitch configuring a wireless network.
The WRT54GP2 works only with services from Vonage, which offers a rebate of $50 off the kit's $130 retail price after 90 days of service. Other router companies like D-Link and Netgear have similar arrangements with other VoIP providers. One slightly different spin is the $100 VoIP plus Three package from Zoom Technologies. Except for a backup traditional phone port, Zoom's V3 router is pretty standard, but you can use it with any phone service. Zoom itself happens to be a VoIP provider, and one of its plans has no monthly fee. You pay per call--almost like a calling card.
Vonage offers more typical monthly service plans, one of which includes unlimited internet-only calling worldwide and unlimited long-distance calling over the traditional phone network within North America for $25 per month. All its plans come with free caller ID, call waiting, call forwarding, three-way calling, voice-mail forwarding to e-mail, simultaneous ring on multiple numbers and a single phone line.
Vonage software enables you to use your broadband connection for your usual traffic and for up to two separate phone "lines"--one of which could be a fax. The router gives priority to voice packets, so you get traditional call clarity even when using both phone lines and internet connections simultaneously.
Add a multistation cordless phone set for about $100, and you have free-ranging wireless calling around your office or the old homestead.