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.

How Does VoIP Work?

VoIP simply works by converting analogue voice calls into little packets of data. VoIP basically means you’re using the internet to make phone calls, and your voice is transformed into little packets of data that are then deciphered on the other end. This is similar to using a multitude of other things over the internet – email, instant messages etc.

With Voiceover IP, 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.

VoIP has emerged as a popular alternative to a copper home phone line 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 is virtually wherever we go and has enabled a whole new communications boom.

  • Landline telephones have been left in the dust: With VoIP, users plug their phone connection into their modem, bypassing a direct copper home phone line.
  • New NBN connections also commonly prefer the use of VoIP as the country moves away from copper connections.
  • VoIP can be cost effective: Many internet providers charge for ‘home phone line rental’, which is basically paying for the privilege to access and have an active copper home phone line in your home.
  • VoIP bypasses this need by plugging directly into a compatible Wi-Fi modem.

We’ve established that VoIP has a strong foothold in the future of home phone calling in Australia, but how much data does it actually use, and will it limit internet speeds in any way?

How Much Data Does VoIP Use?

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 now 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 tends to be about the norm. Given that most broadband plans are unlimited these days, this is likely not a major issue… unless Nanna rings you for your birthday and you’ve only got 50GB to spare.
  • 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, 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?

Australia’s Top VoIP Home Phone Internet Plans

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 top ISPs offering VoIP plans.

iiNet VoIP Plans

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 mobile numbers cost 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 iiNet plans you can expect to see bundled with a Netphone.

iPrimus VoIP Plans

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 VoIP Plans

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 VoIP Plans

Exetel offers its own VoIP service, ExeFone, with all of its broadband plans. Under ExeFone plans, Exetel to Exetel calls are free, and if bundling a broadband service, the Exefone service is about $10 a month extra. For this customers get local, national, mobile and international calls to 10 countries included.

  • Other international rates are available from as little as 1c a minute

Exetel already offers some cheap NBN and ADSL plans, with 500GB data costing less than $50 a month. Unlimited data can be found for less than $55 and this – combined with a $10 VoIP plan – can mean you can call and browse endlessly for less than $70 per month! Speed boosts on the NBN are also available from an extra $10 a month, so it pays to look at Exetel if you’re in the market for a new home phone and internet service.

Teleron VoIP Plans

You may not have heard of Teleron but it has a concise set of NBN plans, which can then be customised to suit your needs. Need a faster speed? No worries. Need home phone calls? Not a problem. Teleron is also quite cheap as far as NBN providers are concerned, with 500GB costing less than $60 a month. This amount comes with local and national calls included.

  • Prices start off at just $45 a month for which customers receive 200GB data
  • Unlimited data can be had from just $60 a month
  • Speed boosts can be added from as low as $9 extra per month

Teleron benefits from having heavily customisable NBN plans and easy-to-understand VoIP call packs to boot.

Internode VoIP Plans

Internode is a subsidiary of iiNet and perhaps unsurprisingly has several broadband plans with the ability to add a VoIP service. Internode’s VoIP service is called the ‘Nodephone’ and Internode packages this service with many NBN plans.

  • NodePhone plans start at $0 extra per month, which comes with PAYG rartes, while other plans can be had from $5 per month.
  • Local and national calls are untimed and charged at 18c each. Mobile calls are 29c a minute while international rates start at just 15c/minute.

Internode may be a subsidiary of iiNet but what it offers is quite different. 250GB data can be had from under $60 a month, remembering that a NodePhone with credit can be bundled from an extra $5. Internode does not seem to offer any ‘packs’, rather relying on relatively cheap call rates to see customers through.

MyRepublic VoIP Plans

MyRepublic already offers cheap naked DSL and NBN plans, and also offers VoIP plans from a little extra per month. MyRepublic plans with any form of VoIP calling start at just under $70 a month. This then includes local & national calls on a 12 month contract, plus unlimited data as standard. You are only charged $1 for the VoIP-compatible modem. If you opt for a month-to-month contract this modem then costs $99 in upfront fees and you’re subject to a more expensive monthly rate.

  • MyRepublic’s fixed line NBN plans come with the maximum speed tier as standard, which is 100/40.
  • These prices make it much cheaper than competing providers.

MyRepublic is still a relative unknown compared to the big boys but offers some cheap naked DSL & NBN plans with cheap VoIP call packs thrown in if you so choose.

Aussie Broadband VoIP Plans

Aussie Broadband burst onto the scene and is ruffling a few feathers by limiting subscription ratios to afford faster speeds to existing customers. This limits the contention ratio of a particular pipe used to ferry internet to different homes.

  • Aussie Broadband hosts much of its own infrastructure, except in some cases where it outsources that job to Optus
  • It has many ADSL & NBN plans available from $35 a month; 1000GB data can be found from $85
  • VoIP packs can be added from $5 a month, which comes with PAYG rates from 15c a call, while $10 gets unlimited calls to local, national & other Aussie Broadband customers; $20 gets unlimited local, national & mobile calls

Aussie Broadband is more expensive per megabyte than some other providers, but is known as a telco that delivers on its speed promises. Some customers may be willing to spend more to get a speed they want, versus jumping into a cheap plan on a network shared by thousands of others.

Where can I get free VoIP?

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 vs Free VoIP: What’s best?

For people in the market for a paid VoIP plan, keep in mind that these services often come with a broadband plan. 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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