A review of VoIP phone services in Australia

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Traditional home phone packages bundled with a broadband plan are becoming a thing of the past. After all, who uses their landline telephone anymore? We suspect a lot of young people forego the handset for their mobile phones, as mobile phone plans these days can be dirt cheap with unlimited calls. However, there is still merit in having a home phone, but the way a phone call is delivered these days can be vastly different. Enter the realm of Voice over Internet Protocol – or VoIP for short.

Communication platforms have emerged in their numbers in recent years amid the rollout of high-speed fixed line broadband, Wi-Fi and mobile 4G, along with the rapid adoption of the smartphone. High speed internet access, virtually wherever we go, has enabled a whole new communications boom, and landline telephones have been left in the dust. This is where VoIP steps in – you’re basically using the internet to make phone calls, and there are a range of different services that fall under the VoIP umbrella.

How does VoIP work?

VoIP simply works by converting analogue voice calls into little packets of data. This is similar to using a multitude of other things over the internet – email, instant messages etc. With VoIP, you can still call a landline or mobile phone, but you’ll be using your internet connection to do so, rather than a phone line connection. This can represent a solid alternative and can work out to be fairly cost effective.

What internet do I need for VoIP?

Perhaps the best thing about VoIP is that, unlike many other things used over the internet, it does not require a lot of data or particularly fast internet speeds.

  • A single phone call requires download and upload speeds of only 100Kbps, with 3Mbps a second recommended. Given a lot of providers these days boast 20Mbps download speeds with 1Mbps upload speeds on ADSL2+, bandwidth for VoIP is usually not an issue.
  • As far as data used, 13 megabytes per hour of use tends to be about the norm. Given that most broadband plans are unlimited these days, this is likely not an issue… unless Nanna rings you for your birthday.
  • This low data use is also good for mobile phone data connections as many plans nowadays boast over 1GB in data inclusions. This begs a question: Could you forego calls and texts, and just base everything entirely on the internet?

The communications landscape is fundamentally changing, with VoIP services allowing Australians to communicate both at home and on the move. Evidently, there is still a need for phone calling, but the humble fixed landline has been politely told to vacate the premises. So with VoIP appearing to be a solid alternative, what services are out there, and what can you expect to pay?

Free VoIP services

A range of free (and a combination of both paid and free) VoIP services have emerged amid the high-speed broadband and mobile connectivity boom and are now well-established in the market. Referred to as over-the-top (OTT) services – being delivered over the user’s network service, but not directly from their ISP – these services encompass a combination of functions in addition to voice calling, including video calling, along with text and picture messaging. Among some of the bigger and better known services are:

  • Skype
  • Messenger (Facebook)
  • FaceTime
  • Viber

All you need with these services is a data or internet connection, and away you go. These apps are available via both desktop and mobile devices, across the Windows, Android and iOS platforms. Such services typically allow users to communicate with each other for free within the application, yet cannot be used to contact mobile and fixed line numbers, and in this regard are limited when compared to the paid VoIP services on offer from ISPs.

However, it should be noted that some free services also offer paid functionality, charging users to make calls to mobile or fixed line numbers and operating in a similar manner to paid VoIP services. Indeed, in the case of Messenger, you have the choice to put all your mobile phone contacts into the app and text from the app. It uses data, and not your text credit. This is done by sending text as MMS, instead of SMS. However, text MMS likely does not use much data.

It should also be noted that while these services are free, users will need to pay for the broadband used to deliver them. While many of these texting functions do not use much data, the fact is they employ a lot of multimedia tools that can eat up data. So, keep track of how much data you are using!

These free VoIP services do have their limitations, so it can be worthwhile looking into paid services as well to get the most immersive VoIP experience.

Paid VoIP services

A range of ISPs currently provide VoIP plans as an alternative to fixed line telephone plans, with consumers able to use their regular home phone to access these services. Generally speaking, VoIP services frequently come as an option with a naked DSL plan, while traditional DSL providers prefer the bundling of a traditional home phone line. There are exceptions of course. The following is a selection of some of the ISPs offering VoIP plans.

iiNet

IiNet offers its Netphone VoIP service with its residential NBN, VDSL2, cable and naked DSL plans, and it’s priced at $9.95 per month.

Netphone comes with included calls to other Netphone numbers, along with local and standard national calls, while calls to Australian mobiles are 29 cents per minute, which are billed in 30 second increments. International calls are from 5 cents per minute (with call inclusions varying plan by plan).

Dependent on the contract, you can additionally purchase a VoIP international call pack for an additional $10 a month. This includes all calls to landlines in 20 different countries, including popular ones like the UK, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. For an additional $10 per month you can buy a VoIP Mobile Call Pack – this includes all calls to standard Australian landlines and mobiles.

iiNet’s VoIP plans come with no minimum term, although they are only available when bundled with an iiNet fixed line broadband service, and the broadband service may come with a minimum term.

Netphone works by plugging a standard phone into a VoIP-enabled broadband modem, or for those without a VoIP modem via a VoIP adaptor, ATA, device. Below are some plans you can expect to see bundled with a Netphone.

iPrimus

iPrimus’ range includes a number of Lingo VoIP plans, which can be purchased separately from its broadband plans, and can be used in conjunction with a plan from another provider. These plans comprise its:

  • Lingo Starter plan, priced at $9.95 per month
  • Lingo National plan, priced at $19.95 per month
  • Lingo Australia plan, priced at $34.95 per month
  • Lingo 50 Countries plan, priced at $39.95 per month

Local and national calls are priced at 10 cents per call for the Starter plan (unlimited for the other plans), with calls to iPrimus mobiles costing 12 cents per minute for the Starter and National plans (unlimited for the other plans) and calls to other Australian mobiles costing 26 cents per minute for the Starter and National plans (unlimited for the other plans).

International calls are priced from 3 cents per minute for the Starter, National and Australia plans, while the 50 Countries plan has unlimited calls to standard fixed numbers to 50 countries.

Customers will receive a Lingo ATA Box with their service, costing $99 with no contract, $59 with a six-month contact, and provided for free with a 12 or 24-month contract. It should be noted that many of iPrimus’ ADSL2+ plans still rely on the included landline telephone bundle, while its NBN plans are a little more forward-thinking.

MyNetFone

MyNetFone benefits from an easy-to-follow VoIP service. This perhaps isn’t surprising from a provider that is called ‘MyNetFone’.  Its monthly VoIP plans comprise of:

  • Home Saver plan, priced at $10 per month
  • Global Hero plan, priced at $10 per month
  • Aussie Hero plan, priced at $20 per month
  • All Rounder plan, priced at $30 per month

The Home Saver and Global Hero plans come with unlimited local and national calls, while mobile calls are charged at 20 cents per minute. International calls cost 1.9 cents per minute on the Home Saver plan, but the Global Hero offer provides unlimited international calls to no less than 30 selected countries.

The more expensive Aussie Hero plan comes with unlimited local, national and mobile calls, with a charge of 1.9 cents per minute for international calls. But if it’s unlimited everything you crave, then the All Rounder plan included limitless calls to 70 countries. These plans are all available on no contract terms.

Further to this, MyNetFone has a range of handset options available:

  • Cordless home phone for about $100
  • BYO handset and purchase an adaptor for about $20
  • BYO VoIP phone to connect to the service. This costs about $20 and includes call credit.
  • Computer softphone for calling from PC or Mac. About $30.

These plans can be bought as a standalone service, but MyNetFone’s broadband plans are also competitive, and include VoIP services.

Exetel

Exetel offers its VoIP service, ExeFone, with all of its broadband plans. Under ExeFone plans, Exetel to Exetel calls are free, local and national calls are charged at 10 cents per call, with Australian mobile calls charged at 20 cents per minute. International call rates vary country from country.

Exetel also offers its:

  • ExeFone National plan, with unlimited local and national calls, for $10 a month
  • ExeFone Mobile plan, with unlimited local, national and calls to Australian mobiles, for $20 a month
  • ExeFone Global plan, with unlimited local, national, mobile calls and top 10 international destinations, including UK, New Zealand, USA and Canada for $30 per month

Exetel’s ExeFone plans are available on a month-to-month basis. In any case it can be worth bundling a broadband plan with an ExeFone plan.

Paid vs Free VoIP: What’s best?

For people in the market for a paid VoIP plan, keep in mind that as these services often come with a broadband plan. However, it may well be worthwhile consolidating your broadband and VoIP needs as one. While you may not be able to rely exclusively on free services, you should certainly explore your options and tailor any paid VoIP plan accordingly. The free VoIP services mentioned earlier seem to work best as an option when you’re out and about, while the paid VoIP services through broadband providers work best at home as a replacement to your home phone.

Certainly, a paid VoIP plan provides further flexibility when used in conjunction with other services, and amid a variety of options, it may well be a case of mixing and matching your various free and paid services. Whatever the case, VoIP services are likely the way of the future, and whether you spell ‘phone’ with an ‘f’ or a ‘ph’, there’s likely a VoIP service out there to suit you.

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