Saturday, May 24, 2008

Vonage and VOIP, or 90 Minutes of my life I'll never get back

originally published 9.28.06

Monday through Thursday I'm in the office from 9am-9pm. And because I get bad cell reception in my office, it's important for me to have an incoming/outgoing dedicated private line for me to make calls during business hours. Our two main lines coming into the office go to our answering service, which is open 24 hours a day.

Well, before I can tell my story, I have to explain what VOIP is for those less technically inclined (which I aspire to be one of these days! :-) VOIP stands for "Voice Over IP" which refers to telephone service delivered over the Internet. We're not talking about some squeaky, use your microphone and headset thing, we're talking about a device that generates a dial tone that you can plug normal phones into. Cost of these lines is often very, very cheap, with unlimited North American long distance and, in my case, free calls to some European countries. Downside? It's not as reliable as traditional wireline service. I've had 3 carriers to date - AT&T, Lingo, and now Vonage. Of the 3 I have to say that so far I am most satisfied with Vonage, but their credibility took a severe hit with me 2 nights ago, though I'm just as willing to chalk it up to a very comical event. However, as with any actor in a comedy - everyone else may be laughing - you may only be able to laugh later...

I've just hired a couple new assistants, as my full-time one returned to college to finish her Masters this Fall. Both of these women work from home - one I got a cell phone, the other I got a Vonage line. Now, in the case of the former, it took a good 30 minutes to complete the order, and an additional 30 minutes to get it activated, once the phone did arrive. Not too shabby. The Vonage line took less than 5 minutes to order online...but that's where the speed ended.

Very unfortunately, DHL, who handled the delivery, doesn't leave InfoNotices, like UPS does - which allows someone to pick up from a hub in case daylight delivery is not an option. My new assistant, who happened to be out of town on the days that DHL was delivering, didn't get a chance to sign for the package, and hence DHL returned the box to Vonage. Fair enough.

I called Vonage a few days later and they said they would send a new one out right away. Five days later, not in possession of a tracking number, I called them again. Guess what? They had not sent it. What's interesting is that Level One Tech support is in India, but Level Two, etc. is in New Jersey - or at least 3 of the girls who I spoke with said "wooder" (water) and one confirmed she was from Jersey when I was (perhaps) importunate enough to ask. Be that as it may, my Jersey girl looked like she solved the problem. I got off the phone, very happy, and tried to make another phone call. Except, I had no dial tone.

Okay, here's where it gets a bit technical. Each device (called a "router") is provisioned for your unique phone number. In my case, I had a D-Link router. That was assigned to the number I had always had. The new number was assigned to a Motorola router that I had just ordered for my assistant. In assisting me, Jersey girl had switched the designations - that is, she told the system that now my old number would be assigned to the Motorola and the new number would be assigned to the D-Link - which, actually, would have been fine if we both had the same device, but the D-Link and Motorola receive different commands, so I was down.

I had come to this conclusion while I was on hold and I explained it to the rep. However, they had to go through mandatory rebooting and other steps before they could move me to Level 2, where they would resolve this. Well, 45 minutes later I was in Level 2, where they explained to me that they had not shipped out the Motorola as I had requested, but had shipped the D-Link, so that now my account had 2 D-Links and my old number was attached to the one being shipped. After 45 minutes more here, a fire drill promptly began running at this New Jersey location, and the rep promised to call me back. Before I could give her my number, the line clicked off.

At that point, I was in a fairly bleak mood, to say the least.

In these 90 minutes, I was doing my best to send a few emails here and there, pay month-end bills, etc., but my productivity went way, way down, which definitely puts me in a bad mood. I was also during the 7pm-9pm hour - some of my most productive time because I am unimpeded by incoming email or phone calls.

During the night, the rep must have done the right things because the next day, the Motorola had been shipped out, the D-Link had been stopped, and my old D-Link was in queue to get re-provisioned (re-activated). 24 hours later, I had a dial tone again.

Wonders of modern technology, right? When it works, it's phenomenal, when it breaks, it's more exasperating than fixing a buggy attached to a horse in the driving rain.

Overland Park, Kansas

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