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The economics for VoIP are compelling, and companies are popping up like mushrooms after a rain. How does I2 Telecom rate?

The rage in telephony is Voice-over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Instead of traveling over a dedicated circuit, your voice is turned into digital data packets, sent over the Internet, and magically reassembled at the other end. The economics are compelling, and VoIP companies are popping up like mushrooms after a rain.

One of these is I2 Telecom, with their Internet Talker ($109 plus a subscription starting at $11.95/month for 300 bundled U.S./Canada minutes). Their third-generation MG-3 impressed me with its ease of setup: Establish an account, plug into a phone (which can also function normally), plug into your router or PC, watch the blinky lights go solid, hit # for Internet dial tone, and call. I made a bunch of box-to-phone and box-to-box calls to my sister in New Zealand during testing. Each call initially goes to I2’s Atlanta server; a call to a telephone then goes via the public-switched telephone network at rates usually much lower than an all-PSTN phone call-New Zealand is currently 3.6 cents per minute. However, the real savings come with box-to-box calls between subscribers (which go direct after being set up by Atlanta); these are free and unlimited.

Besides better voice quality than its predecessors, the MG-3 adds another innovation, cellular bridging. If you have Caller ID on an active telephone connected to the MG-3, you can program (via a PC) up to three numbers into the box. With bridging enabled, the MG-3 picks up the line when you call from one of those numbers, allowing you to call out over the box without being tethered to it. Also just announced (in mid-July) is Direct Inbound Dial (DID) capability, which enables PSTN-to-box calling via a local phone number in some 300 U.S. locales.

Most of my calls, whether box-to-box or box-to-PSTN, were indistinguishable from their all-PSTN counterparts over the 8,000-mile journey to New Zealand. Broadband connections improve things, of course, but the box works over dialup as well.

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