When VOIP Doesn't Answer the Call

SunRocket shutdown raises doubts about committing to an Internet phone company.

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Our phone numbers become part of our identity and, for those working from home, part of a business identity. Now 200,000 customers find that piece of their selves thrown into limbo with reports that SunRocket, one of the biggest independent sellers of "voice-over-Internet" services, is shutting down operations. I'm anxious to see what happens to the company's customers, and particularly their phone numbers—although, of course, not as anxious as the customers themselves.

That has been one argument against committing to VOIP, particularly from the independent providers that offered the cheapest service: It seemed risky to commit a phone number to a service that might go bad, or worse. That's one reason I couldn't pull the trigger myself, despite buying a contract with a SunRocket competitor, ViaTalk.

Cheap phone calls over the Internet seem like such a good deal. Where a telco might charge $40 a month plus taxes, the Internet companies were charging $20 with no taxes, or even less than $10 a month in the case of ViaTalk.

The quality is great, and dependable enough, especially considering the savings. I use ViaTalk for some outgoing calls, particularly for overseas connections, but I haven't relied on it much for incoming—and have continued paying my local phone company. I felt like a chump, paying twice for service. Now I feel even more trapped by the telco.

In theory, SunRocket customers own the rights to their phone numbers, and Vonage and ViaTalk among others are promising to port the numbers quickly. But it has sometimes taken weeks to get a number transferred, and that's when the company holding the number is healthy. What happens when it's sick, or even dead?


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