NetTalk review: Bargain phone service starts off strong, then call quality plunges

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.

24 Comments

Filed under Customer service, Saving money, Technology and office equipment

24 responses to “NetTalk review: Bargain phone service starts off strong, then call quality plunges

  1. Travis

    I, too, have experienced the “DTMF Talk-off issue”. I didn’t know that’s what it’s called until I called NetTalk tech support. I got through to a real, no-heavy-accent person quickly. He explained the issue and told me he had sent an update to our unit. When I get home I will follow his instructions to reset the unit and see what happens. I will let you know.

    • Travis

      I just realized I never provided an update. We’re still using NetTalk. It’s not perfect but I will say that the “DTMF Talk-off issue” almost never occurs now and any other quality or service issues are so insignificant that I can say we are satisfied with the NetTalk service.

  2. Travis, I will be interested to hear if the update is a success for you. It hasn’t made much difference for me, unfortunately. Please keep us posted.

  3. Carlos Carmo

    I have used Vonage for the past 4 years. It has been perfect with excellent quality and no issues at all. It has been as reliable as a landline with much better quality. I just started my Nettalk service today. No issues in setting up- just took 5 seconds. The call quality seems alright but a little inferior to Vonage. It is still early days and I am hoping to tweak some settings to see if it can be improved further. So far so good.

    • mike

      I have used it for 2 years now and for tweh last year I gjhave to reboot the entire system everyday, if I do not I do not get calls. I miss calls all he time and I never know if the system is working unless I pick up the phone to see if the dial tome is there or the dreaded crackly sounds with buzzing. I have a 40 down and 27 up fiber optic connection. sometimes 2 and 3 times a day I have to reboot just to make a call. it;s really starting to suck. i just paid my bill for the year.

  4. Carlos, thanks for your feedback on Vonage. Please check back with us in a couple of weeks and let us know how things are going with NetTalk.

  5. ron

    Regarding Nettalk, I have been having call quality problems since I started with them in June of 2012. To use there system, I even went as far as just use it for just incoming calls that I would forward from there location to my other phone number,( not thru there Net Talk DUO) but I still get choppy phone reception and clipping of incoming conversations. The tech support start out OK but when they could not fix the problem, they stop communicating with me. I have contacted them repeatedly. I am ready to drop them totally.

  6. Erik

    Put a trouble ticket in August 31 for a non operational phone dial tone present can not receive or make calls. Got one reply a half hour after submitting it asking if I was hooked up through the router or PC. I replied and to date have herd nothing else from them. Calling phone support is not an option if my phone does not work (I do not have a cell). I would e-mail them my thoughts on there customer service but as you can see contacting anyone in charge is not possible as there is no (contact us) option which I think speaks to their desire to avoid having to back up their product or provide any form of customer service / satisfaction. When the phone works it works well when it quits you better be prepared if you do not have a cell to fix it your self as I finally managed to do.

  7. shola

    I got Nettalk and it worked for about a month and half. After a while, when my phone is called, it says it is not in operation. Called and opened a ticket. I was told engineering is looking into it. For more than a week, Nettalk is unable to resolve my problem. Bottom line, I get what I paid for. No one should use this service. If you dont have a problem now, wait till you have one, you will regret ever switching to Nettalk. It is not worth it.

    • Shola,
      Sorry to hear about your bad experience. I finally gave up on Nettalk altogether last month and got voice-over-IP phone service from my cable company. While it has the occasional “beep” sound during a conversation, it works almost flawlessly.

    • A. Al-Dhelaan

      I have exactly the same problem. I had vonage for three years but i wanted to save so I ported my phone to nettalk. The service was good for few months then all of a sudden my phone stopped receiving any calls from other carrier.

      I submitted a ticket and they responded quickly but then afterwards nothing happened…It has been a month with no response.

      I decided to call them and had to wait for more than two hours…until I finally got to one of their engineers who assured me that he knows the problem and should be fixed within 24 to 48 hrs at the most.

      Nothing happened….I’l be giving up soon.

      As you said….you get what you pay for 😦

  8. My NetTalk is plagued with the DTMF tone problems. Just about every call, the tones start. Both parties can hear this. The annoying beeps are very loud. I would describe them as piercing. When I call the NetTalk from a cell, frequently there is a fast skipping drop out that interrupts the call. Often, I can only hear every third word or so and have to hang up. Basically, it doesn’t work. Extremely poor quality. I had better quality phone service in 1963. i got through to a tech person once and they couldn’t fix it; they said it was due to a slow internet connection, We had the internet provider completely go through our system. Right now the download speed is over 20 mbps and the upload is over 16 mbps. Just checked it, and I’m wireless. This should be plenty good enough to connect a VOIP.

  9. DAVE

    You need good high speed internet and a fast router for NETTALK.
    5MBPS IS ENOUGH.

    • Hi Dave,
      Thanks for sharing your tip. My download speed is 14.21 Mbps, and I have a quality router (Cisco Linksys E3000). Not sure what, if anything, would resolve my issues with NetTalk. My biggest problem was the DTMF tones interrupting my calls. My NetTalk subscription expires next week, and I won’t be renewing. I’ve switched to voice-over Internet protocol phone service from my local cable company and have had great results.

  10. DAVE

    IF YOU HAVE THE WIFI VERSION OF NETTALK,MEANING YOU CONNECT WIRELESSLY,THERE IS A DOWNLOAD FROM NETTALK THAT WILL HELP YOUR SETUP.

    I WOULD AND DID BUY THE WIRED NETTALK DUO,AND ITS FANTASTIC!
    SETUP THE CALL FORWARDING,IT WILL RING YOUR HOME PHONE,AND THEN TRANSFER TO YOUR CELL IF YOUR OUT AND ABOUT,A FANTASTIC SERVICE.
    wIRED CORDLESS PHONES STILL WORK GREAT IN YOUR HOME!

  11. Ben

    I have had a Nettalk Duo for a year and I am trying to decide whether to renew. We have had the same “DTMF talk-off” problem, updated the firmware, and had little improvement. I did get a second line from Google using an OBI-100 box and it is bulletproof, 10 months of service including weekly hours-long conference calls with several female voices and never a problem. Oh, did I mention that the OBI box costs about the same as the Nettalk Duo and Google Phone service is free? The downside of using Google Phone is that porting a number requires a little fussing:
    http://www.obihai.com/porttutorial.html
    Since we got the Google line, we have used the Nettalk line a lot less and I am not sure it still has the DTMF problem. $30 vs hassle of porting, I will have to decide…

  12. Andre

    I have DTMF problem as well, but i was able to live with….! But since yesterday, I can’t receive any calls. Did everything suggested (reboot everything that could be rebooted…!). I opened a work ticket and no answer so far. I tried to call their customer servce and after 20 mins waiting I quit…!

    • tony

      nettalk duo service has been down sinnce april 1/13 Montreal and suburbs cannot receive incoming calls,,line always busy,,they said it was a cut fiber cable,,really,,2 days and still nothing..

  13. Joe Longfellow

    I like Nettalk, but I have had the DTMF just twice.

  14. Chuck

    I installed the device in April, and although it had a less than perfect call quality, we used it since we use the home phone infrequently. About 4 months later the unit just shut down completely. I have heard of people having slow internet connection issues, but I have a service that provides 30mbps+ and all of the other equipment in the house is new and set up to handle much more.

    It has been a week since I have opened the ticket and no reply so far whatsoever. I am disappointed with the response time, and the lack of a person to talk to at Nettalk, but if I do not get a response soon, I will have to move to another option. I will have paid for more for the 4 months than what my traditional land line was costing me, not to mention the time I spent trying to get in contact with them.

  15. John

    I had issues using Bell South (cost) five years ago. Saw Magic Jack, bought one from Walgreen and installed it. No problems. Every feature worked, no surprises, even got to pick a REALLY easy-to-remember number (for $10.00 extra). Unknown at the time was that “vanity” numbers must be renewed annually for $10.00. First experience lesson: read the Terms of Service (TOS). Their support was by chat and has now been redused to 16 hours a day on weekdays. But when they were there, they were effective.
    Then, they pulled call forwarding. One minute it was there and the next it was gone. The triggering event happened a month after I bought 5 years of service. By the way, TOS says no refunds for anything but the device and that only within 30 days of purchase. Since their feature setwas why I bought them, I looked around, found NetTalk and went for it.

    NetTalk was great during the setup phase. Their call forwarding was a call-hunt implementation. 7-8 rings on the NetTalk number, then 7-8 rings on the 1st forwarded number, then voicemail. Unaceptable. Returned the device to Walmart and, for some reason, dialled the NT number which immediately forwarded to my cell. The feature worked as call forwarding if the device was unplugged.

    Their customer service is now so degraded that I won’t use them again. They’ve gone from answering the service line to “opening a ticket”. Their service line is open (theoretically) from 10am to 4pm, Monday-Friday. But they must only have one person answering the phone and they must have a REALLY small bladder because I have not, in a year of intermittently trying, been able to actually talk to a person.

    Now they’re sending me emails saying that my subscription is about to expire unless I send them $29.95 to renew it. There’s no reply email address so I can’t get their attention that way.

    My recommendation is that if you have high speed internet and don’t want to spend money on a land line, but would like to have one then either MJ or NT is a reasonable deal. Don’t expect support if your issue needs more than is in MJ’s script. Don’t expect support from NT at all. When it works, it works well.

    My cable company offered a “bundle” that bumped my internet speed to 25 Mbs/5 Mbs and included VoIP free for a year. I’m in the process of selling my home, so that worked fine. I have three years of $10.00 renewal fees for my easy number with MJ and MJ charged me $30.00 to port the number to my ISP, so that was a wash. Now I have the number forever. Major providers like the phone company, cell companies, ISPs, etc don’t charge for porting.

    But if you want really cheap computer-based phone service with a really full feature set, try Google Voice. Can’t beat free!!!

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