My home is in an area where cell phone service is spotty. One minute, my cell phone has three signal-strength bars, then the next minute, I have zero bars in the exact same spot. In hopes of getting more-reliable calling abilities, I set out in search of a home phone service in December 2011.
My initial goal was to get a traditional landline phone because of its dependability during power outages. Unfortunately, the cost was quite substantial and not within my current budget. Next, I turned to my cable company, but I found out the $25 monthly price it advertises doesn’t include about $13 in monthly taxes and fees.
Finally, I investigated Web-based phone services. The price for Vonage seemed steep at $26 plus taxes/fees, so I chose to take my chances on another service called NetTalk. It got a solid review from PC Magazine, and customers on Walmart’s website also sang its praises.
At the time of my purchase, the device needed to establish service (the NetTalk Duo) cost $70, with a $9.95 shipping charge. I purchased directly my unit from NetTalk so I could have the assurance of a 30-day, money-back guarantee. The cost included one year of phone service, resulting in a monthly cost of about $6.67 for the first year. In future years, I’d pay only for the service itself, which is currently priced at $29.95 annually (plus tax). The service includes free calls to the U.S. and Canada, call waiting, caller ID and call forwarding.
My experience with the NetTalk Duo got off to a strong start. It was easy to set up, compatible with my Internet router and seemed to work well with the new digital cordless phones I’d purchased. Sometimes there was a one- or two-second delay in me being able to hear the people I called, but I was willing to live with that.
About three weeks after I began using the NetTalk Duo, the real problems began. I started to hear a noise while having conversations that sounded like someone trying to dial an outgoing number. It sounded like two or three buttons on the phone being pushed, even though I was the only person at home. The person on the other end of the call could not hear these sounds, but I found them loud and disruptive to the conversation. As the problem worsened, I had one incident in which the tone sound started and would not stop. I finally had to hang up to end the call; I couldn’t hear the person I was talking to at all.
I contacted NetTalk via its online technical support system and submitted a trouble ticket. I received a prompt response, and a technician sent a firmware update to my NetTalk device. When I reported back that the problem continued after the software was installed, I received a response which said, in part, “Unfortunately the issue you are experiencing is a VoIP issue called ‘DTMF Talk Off’ which affects many different VoIP providers. The vocal sounds made by you or the other party are being misinterpreted by the system as the push buttons on your phone, which it is making a misguided attempt to repeat. Women’s voices are particularly prone to this…”
Because my problems began and were reported within the 30-day, money-back guarantee window, I’m going to seek a refund from NetTalk and try another service. I’ll let you know how cooperative the company is with my refund request. In the meantime, I’ll begin a search for a new phone provider.
I’d like to hear from users of other Web-based (also known as voice over IP) phone services like Vonage, Ooma and NetTalk. Have you dealt with call quality issues, including those described here? Please share your good and bad experiences so we can all be more-informed shoppers.
Update: In October 2012, I gave up the battle and stopped using my NetTalk service. I could no longer tolerate the poor call quality. Now I am using the cable company’s VoIP phone, and only once for a brief moment have I heard any beeping sounds. Unfortunately, the monthly cost of this service is much higher than that offered by NetTalk.