(photo credit: )
Relationships. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em, apparently.
Take me, for example. I just managed to get out of a long-term relationship, and it wasn't easy; it was a "divorce" that was a long time coming from a relationship that had turned into an expensive, technical burden.
Before you get the wrong idea, understand that I'm talking about my now-former VOIP service provider, the one that had bestowed upon me a telephone number that folks in the US could call domestically, while the phone itself would ring in my house here in Israel. It sounded like an ideal setup when I first signed up; Americans are notoriously reluctant to dial overseas numbers, what with all those confusing plus signs and country codes that they're afraid is going to run up their already high phone bill. When friends, family and associates from the States would call, the "American phone" - connected to a special adapter (an ATA - Analog Telephone Adapter, to be exact) would ring, allowing direct VOIP conversations with PSTN landlines in America, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.
It was definitely hot stuff when it first came out, and VOIP service providers, like Packet8 or Vonage, which is still thriving despite some recent legal problems (http://tinyurl.com/35ln95). When I had my VOIP ATA setup, I was a customer of a different company, and it's possible that if I had used someone else for my service, I wouldn't have felt it necessary to break things off the way I did.
At first, I was willing to overlook what I realize now was the major incompatibility between my needs and what this company was providing. The main problem was that my ATA box would often go on vacation, refusing to provide the sought after American dial tone that would allow me to make virtual outgoing calls to the US. Of course, if the box wasn't properly on-line, I couldn't get incoming calls either, and I'd often find messages forwarded to my e-mail box for calls that were made to my incoming number during times when I was home and could have answered the VOIP line - except that the ATA box had chosen to go on strike.
Why would this happen? Well, since the ATA VOIP setup depends on a stable Internet connection, it's likely that there was too much network traffic going through my home system to guarantee a stable connection. Then there are the various electrical and telephony quirks Israeli systems are subject too; the occasional blackout/brownout (whether due to bad weather or union muscle-flexing), the occasional spike in Bezeq ADSL traffic and other technical factors all conspired against my incoming VOIP call traffic.
Besides, the VOIP thing was getting expensive. My main use for it was to receive incoming calls. Twenty-five dollars a month is $300 a year - NIS 1200 at today's exchange rates - a tidy sum of money, unless you're really rich, which I'm not. It was getting harder to justify spending that kind of money for the convenience of having American correspondents call me in a manner convenient for them - especially when the thing didn't work half the time (or more).
Now what? Well, I suppose I could try to educate my American correspondents to dial the formula for Israeli phone numbers - but there's that psychological issue again. There's no question that business is better when you have that US phone number, if you work with American client le. I began searching for a substitute service that would give me the ability to receive calls on a US phone number to a phone located in Israel - by whatever means possible.
I eventually settled on a "soft" phone - like the one at http://sipnumber.com. There, you get a free US phone number (in a randomly assigned area code) and you can receive calls from any land or cell line anywhere - for free! You install a "soft phone" application on your PC, and when someone calls in, your PC phone "rings," letting you hold a free conversation via your computer. It actually is a very good deal, because you also get 60 free minutes of outbound calls per number, making it a cheap way to receive and place calls. And, you can even set it up with an ATA box to receive calls on a "regular" phone, if you're so inclined. For outgoing calls, I relied on Jajah (http://jajah.com), which lets you make cheap long distance phone calls by accessing numbers from a Web page.
Problem solved, it would seem - except that using a PC microphone to receive and make calls just wasn't the same as talking into a phone receiver. The truth is, there should have been little difference since I'm in front of my laptop most hours of the day, and a free answering machine takes calls my soft phone misses; but still - it's just not the same. And other family members who weren't on the computer all day long were not satisfied with the system. As far as Jajah is concerned, I changed my mind about using them after I was automatically charged $25 for service renewal when my phone credits ran low. That, plus other complaints about Jajah charges (http://tinyurl.com/2csczq), along with ever-lower rates from Israeli long distance companies, convinced me that VOIP for outgoing calls is just not worth the effort for me, since I don't make a lot of outgoing calls.
But I do receive many, and I was still not satisfied with the SIPnumber service. So, after revisiting some of the services I checked out a few months ago, I came up with a solution that works nicely.
I signed up with a site called Gizmo (http://www.gizmoproject.com), which provides soft-phone software and service. But they also allow you to purchase a US-based phone number in the area code of your choice - from which you can forward calls to any number in the world, including your home or office Bezeq phone number in Israel!
Gizmo is actually very similar to Skype, which provides the same service. In both cases, you purchase the phone number (Gizmo's cheapest numbers are $35 a year, Skype's about $40). With the number, you can begin receiving calls and answer them on your downloaded soft phone software. It's the same service SIPnumber offers for free, basically.
But Gizmo (and Skype) offer something SIPnumber doesn't - call forwarding anywhere in the world, at IP phone-style prices. In both cases, you can set your software to allow call forwarding to your local Bezeq number, and you get charged the rates per minute that apply to outgoing calls on both services (about three cents per minute on Gizmo, two cents on Skype). I haven't tried the call forwarding feature on Skype, but so far it's worked flawlessly on Gizmo. Naturally, the phone companies - both PSTN and IP - like this system, since they charge the customers on both ends.
Money's always an issue, but so is convenience - and life is too complicated to have to deal with different phone systems, equipment and dropped calls, not to mention the plethora of wires and cables you have to deal with when you have an ATA setup. Gizmo and Skype call forwarding might cost a little more for incoming calls than the $25 monthly VOIP rate, and the Israeli long distance plans a little more than Jajah outgoing calls, but at least you know where your call payments are going - and where the calls are coming to.