Yesterday there was a very quiet launch of something significant to UK telecoms.
Vonage has been providing Voice over IP (VoIP) services in the US since 2001 and over this short time has become somewhat of a run away success. They’ve now opened up shop in the UK.
Vonage call themselves the fastest growing telephony company in North America, but with an impressive 400,000 lines in service and having carried over half a billion calls, it could be justified.
There are two UK offerings from them; Residential Unlimited, for £9.99/month (~$18.60, ~€14) providing unlimited phone calls within the UK and Ireland; and a Small Business Unlimited Plan for £18.99 (~$35.50, ~€27) which included the same unlimited calling but with the addition of a free dedicated fax line with 500 minutes of outgoing traffic.
Once you have signed up, they give you the required equipment and all that is required, is to plug in a normal telephone handset and you’re away. There is no minimum length of service.
The cost of calls to “non-normal” numbers are detailed on their site, but it’s worth noting that the rates to UK mobiles are charged at 15/10/5p during day/evening/weekends, no matter which mobile network is called. International rates appear very reasonable, certainly significantly lower than normal BT prices.
It is free to call any other Vonage customer, no matter where they are in the world.
Beyond cost, there are other advantages of VoIP phone services over a normal phone, such as the ability to take your phone number with you as you travel around the world, simply by plugging your adaptor into a broadband connection.
If you have friends or business colleagues abroad, Vonage offers phone numbers in cities around the world for an additional £2.99/month (~$5.60, ~€4.30). All of these numbers will route back to your single phone line.
We were taken aback to see that emergency services calls are supported as this has been a source of a debate in the US. As the Vonage phone can be plugged into any broadband connection in the world, having an emergency operator doesn’t make too much sense given your location cannot be identified in the same way a landline can.
Dialling 999 or 112 on the Vonage UK service will connect you to the UK emergency operator who will then route your call to the appropriate emergency agency. In the list of emergency agency you’ll be offered, we were amused to see Mountain Rescue and Cave Rescue. Strange given you need to have a broadband connection to use the service.
Last year we were surprised when BT launched a VoIP service, Broadband Voice, in the UK. It initially felt a bit like cannibalisation of their landline business.
It was only when we saw their pricing did we understand why it wouldn’t be a threat. They’re nearly the same as their landlines prices!
They too have two packages. Unlimited UK (Local and National) weekend and evening landline calls costs £6.50/month. Strangely BT limit the free calling to an hour, beyond this additional minutes are charged 1p/min. Daytime calls are 3p/min.
Their Anytime plan gives unlimited UK landline calls up to an hour per call at anytime for £14 a month.
Rates to mobile on the BT service vary depending on the mobile operator, some of them lower than Vonage.
After a quick look at the International rates, it appears that BT prices are more expensive, for example, a call to New York would be 2p/min on Vonage but 4p/min with BT Broadband Voice.
The level of BT’s prices doesn’t surprise us. Their usual tactic is to only lower their prices when competition comes into the market – so welcome to the UK Vonage.
We’ve been trying to get our hands on the Vonage service since it was first introduced in the US. We figured that it was a geographically independent (global) service, so they should be able to sell anywhere, but they weren’t thinking the same way at the time. We’ll be reviewing the service as soon as we can.