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magicJack Easy VoIP Phone Service

(with Tim Geoghan)

(Almost) free phone calls! Who can resist? VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) allows users of software like Skype to make free phone calls over the Internet to other Skype users, and, for a fee, also make calls to landline and mobile phones. But PC-to-PC voice connections do not replace having a fixed phone number to make and receive any calls. And using these kinds of services requires installing and running software and calling from a computer using a headset.

Instead, magicJack provides the benefits of VOIP cost reductions in the form of a small USB device that connects a regular telephone to a computer, and from there to phone service over the Internet.

Each magicJack device is basically a portable phone service, with a regular ten-digit telephone number. Sign up for the $39.95 annual subscription, and you can receive calls at that number from anyone in the world, you can call any other magicJack user for free, and you can call for free to numbers in the U.S., Canada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. You also can buy International minutes to make calls to other countries.

Since the service is associated with the magicJack device, it works from anywhere in the world that you've connected your computer to the Internet. (Or just take along the magicJack device, and plug it into another computer wherever you are -- you're also taking the phone number with you.)

One end of the magicJack has a USB connection, to plug into a computer. But there's no software to install -- it runs directly from the device (Windows, and Intel Mac beta). And there's no special equipment -- the other end of the magicJack has a standard phone jack (RJ-11), so just plug in a standard telephone and pick it up to hear the dial tone and start making calls.

The magicJack service also includes Directory Assistance, Caller ID, Call Waiting, Call Forwarding, Voicemail, and enhanced 911, all at no extra charge. If your computer or magicJack is not active, incoming calls will be routed to voicemail. You also can use Follow Me to redirect incoming calls to up to three other phone lines.

The magicJack device with one year subscription is $39.95, and the service is $19.95 for additional years. Also check the magicJack site for free 30-day trial offers.

Overall: The magicJack is an interesting option for VoIP phone service, with the potential to save a bunch of money. It's a matter of personal preference whether you want to ditch your land line for this kind of service. The magicJack is best for people who are tech savvy, or who call internationally to Canada, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or Puerto Rico.

    Find the magicJack on Amazon.com

More on using the magicJack ...

The magicJack product includes the MagicJack USB dongle and a USB extension cable. The software auto-runs from the device each time you plug it in (no installation required). The software takes up to a minute to load, but then needs no further attention to make and receive calls on and attached phone handset.

When you first use magicJack, you do need to use the software to configure your account, including your name and location (for e911), and to select the phone number (with area codes available in over 30 major markets).

You also can make calls on your computer using the softphone software and a handset (including dialing directly from Outlook) -- so you do not need to bring a separate phone along when traveling.

Some issues:
- The software dialer shows ads, and pops up when calls are being made.
- Number porting not available (said be available sometime in 2009).
- Some latency issues with glitches in calls (as with any VoIP calls over the Internet)

magicJack is a subsidiary of YMax Corp., which runs its own dedicated telephone network (it claims better call quality) and develops VoIP software, also used by other companies such as Vonage.

Possible hacks -- see magicjacksupport.com, an unofficial forum.
- Run magicJack as a Windows Services - hide the software dialer and just use as a regular phone.
- Unlock the magicJack phone number from the device. Could use with SIP / VoIP clients on a variety of platforms, Windows / Mac / Linux, and even other devices such as Nokia N800 Tablet. Could also use without a computer with devices similar to Vonage.

See Wikipedia on VoIP

Manifest Tech Site