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IP Telephony/Skype vs Magic Jack for VoIP

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Question
Hi, Gerry,

From time to time I assist people living in a retirement home to use their computers.  Iíve encountered something here which is outside my scope and I hope you can help me.   

The goal is to have the most cost effective means of making phone calls from USA to Costa Rica.   The person doing the calling has little computer experience and is using an iPad.   She has her own wi-fi network with service provided by our local cable company.  Some of the people being called have computers but some do not.

The retired lady asked someone before me to help her learn and that person recommended she purchase and use MagicJack.   That equipment is installed but not operational.  I have to investigate this further.

Her daughter, who gave her the iPad, but is also very busy and not very patient with tutoring, says she should use Skype to make her calls.
  
I have a basic understanding of VoIP service having used Vonage in the past and working knowledge of Skype but only for video chats with other Skype users.  I have never used Magic Jack.

Can you provide me with a comparison of Skypeís VoIP service with Magic Jack so we can better understand her options to make an informed decision as to how to proceed ?  I think with Magic Jack one can use regular landline phones that are VoIP capable but I donít see in the Skype literature that this is an option.

I appreciate any input you can provide.

Answer
Sorry for the delay, I was on vacation for a few days.

Magic Jack is basically a little box that you can plug your telephone into. Then you plug your internet connection into that box as well. When you make calls using a normal phone and dialing the same number as you normally would, then the call is routed via the internet automatically. The voice quality is excellent and the user experience for an older person is ideal because to them it is just a telephone and they dial as they always did.

However, it does require a physical LAN network cable to provide the internet connection to the little Magic Jack box. This may or may not be possible at her location. If she only has wi-fi, this solution will not work for her. There are boxes you can purchase that make a physical LAN connection from wi-fi but you would have to purchase that and set it up.

Therefore, using her iPad and Skype might be the better choice. She would purchase minutes online via Skype and then dial the normal land line number of the person she wants to talk to who has no computer. She would do this using the large touch screen pad of her iPad.

Skype does not offer the capability to use a normal land line phone with their service.

If she really wants to stick with the classic telephone experience she is better used to, then it would be worth while taking a closer look at why her Magic Jack is not working. I can help you with that and besides it sounds like she has already purchased that service. So she may as well make use of it.

The problems usually come from the configuration of the little box. As well as using the internet connection the little box also has a socket where you can plug in your classic telephone line. It can then be programmed to route your normal local calls via your classic land line connection and then your long distance or Costa Rica calls via the internet connection. It does this using dialing patterns to make the decision which way to route the call, e.g. if it sees a simple xxx-xxxx digit sequence, it routes it via your land line. If it sees 1-xxx-xxx-xxxx it routes it via internet.

It could be that this is not configured correctly and it is usually quite easy to fix.

Let me know which way you want to go.

IP Telephony

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Gerry Magill

Expertise

I am a Software Architect employed by a large multi-national communications company providing VoIP and tradtional TDM communications to Enterprise customers.

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Past/Present clients
IBM, SBS, Siemens, KPMG, Bank Berlin, Commerzbank

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