CHOICE staffer Rein Vogel hails from the Netherlands and stays in regular touch with family and friends overseas via VoIP. He explains how his particularly advanced home set-up not only saves him money in phone calls, but allows a sophisticated entertainment system that connects directly to the internet.
Using VoIP for phone calls
Rein uses VoIP to make calls on his mobile, home phone and computer.
Rein's home phone, once run through a landline, is now ‘wireless’, meaning he has no separate phone line. Instead the family's handset is connected to their wireless router. His particular plan includes free national calls and cheap calls to Europe. It is worth noting that all calls are made through the internet and as such do use data.
His mobile phone, an iPhone 4, allows him to download apps like Skype and Viber. Both these apps allow users to connect with and talk to other users who also have access to the apps. Again, the calls are ‘free’ but do use data, so it’s advisable to connect to your home Wi-Fi before making a call.
His computer Skype is just one of the VoIP technologies you can use to make data-only calls. All you need is an internet connection on your computer and to install the specific software that suits your needs best. Fast download speeds provide the best connection. Our review of VoIP routers has lots of useful background information on VoIP.
Networking it all together
The head bone’s connected to the neck bone. The neck bone’s connected to the back bone. In this case, the head bone is the wireless router and the neck bone is the television, the computer or the telephone – all pulling together to form a bigger communication and entertainment unit.
Television Most internet-capable televisions currently available can be connected directly to wireless router – via wireless adaptor or Ethernet cable. Rein uses the connection to purchase and download films directly to his television, and to watch the range of internet channels currently available.
Internet His current set-up allows his browsing habits to be as portable as his laptop or smartphone: he can catch up on world news on his iPhone over breakfast in the garden or wirelessly communicate with family and friends overseas on Skype. Rein explains one of the benefits of this wireless communication is that he can communicate with friends and family while ‘walking’ them around the house and showing them his home and the kids (via his computer's camera). Giving the person on the other end of the line them more insight into his family’s day-to-day life than a traditional phone call ever could.
Rein estimates his family are saving an average of $50 - $60 a month on phone and internet bills since bundling them all together.
Which plan is right for you?
In order to facilitate this kind of integration outlined above, CHOICE advises you do some research into the levels of data you anticipate using before committing to a plan. Our articles on broadband basics and broadband plans provide lots of useful information about finding the right plan for your needs. Moving between plans mid contract can prove costly. We shopped around and found out that some providers charge a substantial amount to downgrade. TPG came in at the highest with a whopping $59 downgrade fee, Optus was not far behind at $50 and iiNet a slightly lower $29. CHOICE recommends monitoring your current data levels for a few months, or talking to internet users with similar usage patterns to find out what suits them before signing up to a plan that might prove unsuitable.
Not keen on committing to a two-year contract? After asking a few question Rein found he could avoid signing up to a two-year contract with iiNet by paying a one-off cost of $100.
Reliability of connection
Rein lives in inner Sydney. While his connection can drop out in parts of the garden, he says the connection inside the house is always good. He has only experienced one minor connection issue which rectified itself within 15 minutes. He experienced no problems during the busy Christmas period, a time when communication levels are traditionally at their peak.
CHOICE recommends finding out what kind of connection levels are available in your local area before committing to a new contract. It can differ dramatically between one provider and the next, even in high-density urban areas. Our article on wireless broadband highlights this issue.
Rein has no pitfalls to report. He does advise making sure you do your research and quizzing your provider about your options before committing to a contract to make sure they give you the best deal possible. As always, if you don’t like what you hear don’t be afraid to shop around.