A Whole New Way to Do Residential VoIP

The arrival of EarthLink-branded, line-powered voice should not be a surprise to regular readers of VoIPplanet.com, since it’s been mentioned several times in coverage of other EarthLink voice initiatives (see Related Articles). But it’s finally here.

Today, in partnership with Covad, EarthLink officially announces the availability of EarthLink DSL and Home Phone Service in three markets: the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Wash., and Dallas, Texas.

What is ‘line-powered voice’? It is a system where a standard POTS (analog) connection is maintained between a customer’s standard analog phones and the switch at the ILEC central office (CO), where it is converted to IP at the CLEC’s DSLAM and then cross-connected to theEarthLinknetwork where the softswitch resides. “From there we route it out to wherever it needs to go. If it’s going back to the PSTN, in our case it’s going to be routed through Level 3’s network,”EarthLink director of voice services, Jim Bagnato told VoIPplanet.com.

What are the advantages of this configuration?

According to Bagnato, “It takes the best of both worlds—takes traditional ILEC-delivered voice service and marries it to VoIP. We’ve got some of the benefits you’d normally give up in moving to VoIP. Then again there are some features that VoIP allows that your traditional telco can’t offer,” he said.

First, to get specific, with DSL Home Phone Service, all of a customer’s analog phone jacks function normally—rather than just one or two connected to an analog telephone adaptor (ATA). Thus all a family’s extensions can utilize the service. Second, the system is powered at the CO, as all conventional phone systems are, so it continues to function during local power outages—an important safety plus. Third, full, enhanced 911 calls function in the normal manner long since perfected for POTS service. Finally, Bagnato pointed out, unlike most residential VoIP services, with the EarthLink /Covad product, calls never ride on the open Internet, rather over EarthLink/Covad/Level 3 networks, giving the provider a measure of control over the quality of the user experience.

VoIP is widely noted for its rich application feature set, much of which is available to corporations by virtue of a PBX, but is typically made available to residential customers only as extra-cost options—if at all. Bagnato was quick to point out that all such VoIP-driven features are included in the base pricing for DSL Home Phone Service.

Most innovative is a call blocking feature that lets customers enter up to ten numbers to block, “in order to prevent harassing phone calls from reaching their voicemail or actually ringing their phone,” according to Bagnato. Then again, DSL Home Phone Service customers get access to an online personal address book, allowing them to integrate their online experience with their communications. One nicety here is click-to-call connectivity with any contact in the address book. Three-way calling, and ‘enhanced’ call forwarding—in which customers can enter up to five forwarding numbers, to be executed in a specified order—round out the enriched feature set.

Then there’s the bundle aspect to DSL Home Phone service. It is available only as a DSL Internet connectivity/phone service bundle—with significant cost savings over subscribing to phone and Internet separately. Not only that, the DSL piece of the bundle is ADSL 2+ technology. “What that really means to consumers,” Jim Bagnato told VoIPplanet “is faster DSL. What we’re able to do is either extend the range or the speed associated with the DSL.” Indeed, the Unlimited Premiun calling plan ($69.95 per month) offers 8.0 mbps download speeds—blazing fast by any measure of residential bandwidth. The Unlimited plan, ($64.95 per month) offers a more conventional 1.5 mbps DSL throughput—essentially T-1 speed. Bagnato expects that most customers that ‘qualify’ for 8.0 service (i.e., live close enough to the CO to get that horsepower) will want it. The slower plan is an option for those too distant to get the higher speed.

Both Unlimited plans offer unlimited local and long distance calling within the lower 48 states, with economical international calling, and all the premium features discussed above. Rounding out the calling plan options (with the cost conscious customer in mind) is Basic ($49.45 per month), which couples 1.5 mbps download speeds with the premium features and 500 minutes of free local and long distance calling.

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