I recently spent 10-days in the U.K. with a phone with no cell service, relying instead on a handful of mobile communication apps running over Wi-Fi where I could find it -- mostly in hotels and coffee shops. In my last post I talked about my overall experiences using Skype, Googe+ Hangouts, Groove IP Lite and Vonage Extensions and what you might want to consider when relying on them while traveling.
In subsequent posts I'll talk about my experience with each app in more detail. Here's how I fared with Vonage Extensions.
If you have Vonage voice over IP (VoIP) telephone service already in your home or office, as I do, you can download and use the Vonage Extensions app on one iPhone or Android mobile device at no additional charge. (Each additional Extensions app you register will set you back $5 a month).
While Hangouts and Skype are front ends to walled garden communication networks that have bolted on the ability to make calls into the public switched telephone network (PSTN), Vonage Extensions is purely a mechanism for delivering plain old telephone service over the Internet. The benefit of the PSTN is that it's simple. No software to configure and run. No login process. You punch numbers into the dial pad and somewhere out there another phone rings. Simple.
Vonage Extensions uses Vonage’s VoIP telephony network. The app can route calls over Wi-Fi or you can configure it to use your mobile data plan. Extensions functions just like it’s a telephone extension in your home, but the person you’re calling sees your mobile phone number on caller ID.
Best of all, there are no toll charges for calling home from anywhere in the world. Even when calling from the U.K., for billing purposes Vonage Extensions handles all calls as though you initiated them from your home calling area. So I used Vonage Extensions to call my home Vonage phone number as well as other numbers in the U.S. while traveling to check in with family.
Unfortunately, Vonage Extensions does have one rather big drawback: It's limited to outbound calling only.
The Extensions app is easy to use. It presents a simple dial-pad when you first launch it. You dial a number and press the call button or press the contacts icon to go to your phone’s contacts app. Select a person to call and it instantly transports you back to the dial pad, with the telephone number loaded. Just touch the call button and you’re good to go -- assuming you have a reliable Wi-Fi or data connection.
As with all of the apps I tested during my trip, call quality varied greatly with the quality of the Wi-Fi signal. In some situations Vonage Extensions went into half-duplex mode: After a minute or two I could hear the person I was calling but they could no longer hear me. I had to hang up and try again – and again. Each app I tested seemed to behave differently in how it handled less than optimal Wi-Fi connectivity. In one situation where Vonage Extensions would not work, I could manage the call using Groove IP Lite or Skype. Sometimes the reverse was true.
My daughter’s experience with Vonage Extensions illustrates another downside of relying on an app to make calls. Her Verizon cellular service doesn't work on her iPhone in Europe, so she was relying on Extensions over Wi-Fi to make calls from her apartment. About a month after she arrived for a semester abroad, her Vonage Extensions app stopped working. Vonage had performed an update on the back end that broke both of our Extensions apps. But reinstallation required registering the app all over again on her iPhone, and while I had no trouble doing this at home, Vonage’s servers do not allow completion of the install process if the phone is located outside of the U.S. So, no more Vonage Extensions. Imagine if your mobile phone or landline worked like that.
If you’re going this route it's always a good idea to have more than one app handy.
Next time I'll talk about Google Hangouts and Groove IP Lite.
Road testing mobile Wi-Fi voice apps