Vonage: How to get two "lines" for the price of one

One advantage of using a voice over IP service is portability. You don't get that with cable or telco-based VoIP offerings (which work only with the cable modem or DSL router assigned to you), but with independent VoIP services like Vonage its a different story.

Vonage service is enabled by a V-Portal, a hardware device (an IP telephone adapter/Ethernet router), that you can take with you. You can then make calls from any location where you can attach it to a broadband router. But what if you don't want to move all that stuff?

Let's say that, like me, you have a weekend summer home, or you go back and forth between two different locations on a regular basis. If you would like to use the same telephone number in multiple locations, the "simplest" thing to do is pick up your V-Portal device, the associated AC/DC power converter cable, telephone cable patch cord and network patch cable that's connected to your broadband router, move everything to a new location, untangle it and plug it all back in. That's doable, but messy, and frankly no one in my family would want to bother.

So what are your other options? I found four. The last is easier than moving your V-Portal, and it won't increase your monthly charges.

Option 1: Add a V-Phone

You can achieve portability by using V-Phone, a USB-key that plugs into any PC. It includes an on-board audio speaker, a soft phone, and an ear-mounted microphone unit that plugs into the V-Phone device. The soft client launches directly from the flash key, so you can run it on any computer without installing the client software on it. Unfortunately, your phone is tethered to a PC that must always be turned on, you can't plug a regular phone into it, and it won't power your existing phone jacks in your house (up to five or more) in the way that the V-Portal can. Finally, it comes with a separate phone number - and an additional $24.99 per month bill to boot for unlimited calling (a $17.99/mo. plan includes 500 minutes). But if you really want the V-Phone there's a way around adding that second line charge, as you'll see below.

Option 2: Upgrade to Vonage Pro with soft client

You can upgrade to Vonage Pro, a service which includes, among other upgrades, a soft phone (Vonage Companion) that allows you to make calls from a PC or laptop using the same telephone number assigned to your V-Portal. But that increases your monthly price by $10 to $34.99 - and you'll need to have your PC on to make or receive calls.

Option 3: Buy a second device and use SumulRing

You could buy another V-Portal (or V-Phone for that matter), set it up in your secondary location and use a different number. Then, using Vonage's SimulRing feature, you could have incoming calls for each phone number ring on both lines. But you will shell out an additional $17.99 to $24.99 per month for the second line.

Option 4: Two devices, one number

There's a third way that doesn't cost you anything more per month and is easier than lugging a V-Portal and associated cables around. The technique is not well publicized. In fact, two of three Vonage customer service representatives with whom I spoke on this matter were unaware of this option and suggested the other, more costly alternatives above. Here's how to get around that:

Buy a second V-Portal (or a V-Phone) from Vonage or from a local retailer. According to Vonage, this unit is "free" after a rebate (subject to rebate recovery fees if you don't keep the service for at least 12 months). The user pays only for shipping. The V-Portal comes pre configured with a "dummy line." But, says a customer service representative, "Once you receive the equipment we can cancel out the dummy line for you."

The second device then appears on your online account and you can instantly move your telephone number between the devices on demand (this feature appears under "Add-ons/Move a Number" in the main Vonage account screen.) You'll still need to switch the service between devices as you switch locations, but you do that with a click of a setting online. No moving equipment.

Caveats

The disadvantages: Only one V-Portal device can be active for a given number at any time. So if you need phone service in both locations simultaneously you'll need to fall back to one of the alternatives described above.

Also, one note of caution: This arrangement may screw up your 911 service. You can update your physical address each time you move the service. Once updated, the changes take effect in a matter of minutes. But that's one more step you may need to  take every time you switch the number between devices.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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