Vacation Rental Management for busy people!

Best international telephone service for your VR?

[Updated 17th Apr 2011 - Added 18-month experience]

The desire and expectation for "free" international calling with a VR rental varies by region but is getting more and more common in competitive markets.

For those that offer this today, and those that are thinking about it, what is the best option? It seems like the search for low cost International calling is never ending.

This article focuses on true international calling rather than the North American "international" calling. I have included making calls within the USA in my analysis for those that are only interested in that. I have also assumed that a regular telephone set is required for making and receiving calls - so for internet-based services a telephone adapter may be required and should be factored in. I have assumed that each location already has a regular phone.

The Service options

There are a few international calling service options and each have their Pro's and Cons - they generally fit into one of 3 categories:

Fixed Monthly/Annual Rate and free calling to most countries

  1. Magic Jack ($40 Upfront + $20 Annual Fee + $ to call to non-North American countries). Requires Internet + PC + Adapter (included).
  2. Vonage ($26 Monthly, free calls to 60+ countries). Requires Internet + Adapter.
  3. Skype ($5 Monthly skype-in number, low cost calls to most countries from anywhere). Requires Internet + Adapter.
  4. Skype Unlimited($14 Monthly + $5 Monthly skype-in number, free calls to 40+ countries). Requires Internet + Adapter.
  5. OneSuite Advantage ($3 Monthly, low cost calls to most countries from anywhere). Requires Internet + PC (Adapter not available yet).
  6. Tel3.com Premium Plan ($2 Monthly, low cost calls to most countries, only from the USA). Requires Access Numbers.
  7. Free Call ($25 Monthly) - nearly extinct but there are similar services to be found.

Per call fee at reduced rates (no up-front fees)

  1. OneSuite Long Distance (low cost calls to most countries from North America). Requires Access Numbers.
  2. Tel3 Standard (low cost calls to most countries - higher than Premium plan, only from USA). Requires Access Numbers.

Up-front purchase and then free/low cost calls to most countries

  1. Ooma.com ($250 Up front, free calls to US from anywhere, low international rates). Requires Internet + Adapter (included).

Please tell me about any more options that I should look at.

How do I choose?

So, which one is the right one for you? Which is the cheapest? Let's see if we can narrow down the choice.

Internet Connection & Power Required?

Some systems require that you have a permanent, broadband, internet connection and power for them to work. For internet-based systems, Emergency (911) calls cannot be made if there is no power so you will need a separate phone line if that is a requirement.

Requires Permanent Internet Connection & Power (no Emergency calls in power outage):

  1. Magic Jack (requires PC too)
  2. Vonage
  3. Skype
  4. Skype Unlimited
  5. Ooma
  6. OneSuite Advantage

Requires regular phone system:

  1. Tel3
  2. OneSuite Long Distance
  3. Free Call

Fees?

A few systems require ongoing fees. If you really just don't want that then you can limit your choices again:

 

Service Up-front Annually Monthly Per Minute Notes
Free Call

$25.00
Not sure that this service still exists or not
Magic Jack $20.00 $19.95

First year pay $39.95 up front
Vonage

$26.00
Free phone adapter mail-in rebate offer
Ooma $249.99

Yes
OneSuite Advantage

$2.95 Yes Need to buy a phone adaptor (website says it's not available at this time)
OneSuite Long Distance


Yes
Skype


Yes Need to buy a phone adaptor (~$30)
Skype Unlimited

$18.99
Need to buy a phone adaptor (~$30)
Tel3 Standard


Yes Sign-up credits are available
Tel3 Premium

$1.95 Yes Sign-up credits are available

Multi-location?

This is an interesting aspect of these systems. Maybe you have more than one VR or want to use the service in another location (eg. at home) simultaneously and still allow incoming calls to a separate number? Assuming that you do not need to restrict/limit calls from any particular location then this table shows what you'd need to do:

Service Add Another Service Add More Hardware Add Nothing Notes
Free Call Y - -
Magic Jack Y (included) - Adapter included with new service.
Vonage Y Adapter -
Ooma Y (included) - Adapter included with new service.
OneSuite Advantage Y PC (Adapter not available yet) -
OneSuite Long Distance - - Y
Skype - Adapter -
Skype Unlimited - Adapter -
Tel3 Standard - - Y
Tel3 Premium Y - -

 

Total Cost?

Ahhh - now we get to the more difficult part. The total cost of each system will depend on how the phone is actually used and you will have to make that determination for your situation. Here is some information that may help you decide.

I made some assumptions so I could assess the costs:

  1. You have a VR in the USA and your guests call back to the UK landlines as well as some local calls within the USA
  2. I varied the number of minutes used per day and different number of simultaneous locations
  3. I assumed that a local telephone service was still required and did not factor in the possibility of replacing that service totally by an internet based one. There are some issues over Emergency numbers when using Internet-dependent phone systems that I do not address here.
  4. Per-call rates to a UK landline (from service providers websites) are:
    1. Skype: 2.4c pm
    2. Skype Unlimited: 0.0c pm
    3. Tel3 Standard: 2.5c pm
    4. Tel3 Premium: 2.0c pm
    5. Magic Jack: 2.0c pm
    6. Ooma: 1.9c pm
    7. OneSuite Advantage: 2.2c pm
    8. OneSuite Long Distance: 1.9c pm

My Analysis/Results

You can see my results here and here is the actual spreadsheet (in the free Open Office format) if you want to plug in your own numbers. Here are my conclusions:

For VR's within the USA calling the UK:

Service Cancellation Summary
Phone Based
Free Call ? Lowest cost phone-based system if using more than 40mins per day. Difficult to find this service now.
OneSuite Long Distance Any time The lowest cost service (phone and internet based) up to around 30mins per day
Tel3 Standard Any time A little more expensive than OneSuite Long Distance, for very low usage. No reason to use this if you can use OneSuite
Tel3 Premium Any time Lower cost that OneSuite Long Distance for over 30mins per day usage. Only use this if you can't get a plan equivalent to the Call Free option for more than 30 mins usage
Internet Based
Magic Jack Any time, no equipment refund Lowest cost internet-based system if using less than 30mins per day at a single location. Skype Unlimited is better otherwise.
Vonage $39.99 disconnection fee if canceled before 12 months. No equipment refund There's no scenario that I've looked at that makes this a good choice
Ooma Any time, no equipment refund There's no scenario that I've looked at that makes this a good choice.
NOTE: If a regular phone service can be removed then there is more potential for this. Right now it's not clear how practical that is in general and whether Ooma has some special ability compared to other inter-based services.
OneSuite Advantage Any time This has similar costs to Magic Jack and Skype Unlimited, but in all my scenarios a different service gives lower costs
Skype Any time Due to the cost of the inbound number (SkypeIn) and the higher calling rate this is not the best service.
Skype Unlimited Any time For more than 30mins per day this is the best internet or phone based service. For fewer minutes use OneSuite Long Distance.

Conclusions

For calling from the USA (to the UK in my scenario)

  1. Up to around 30 mins usage per day, OneSuite Long Distance has the lowest cost of all so choose that.
  2. For over 30 mins usage per day, Skype Unlimited offers the lowest cost by far.

For calling just within the USA (and Canada)

  1. If calling more than 15mins per day, use Ooma
  2. If calling less than 15mins per day, use Tel3 Standard or OneSuite Long Distance
  3. Remember to check with your local TelCo for their rates - there's often a flat rate unlimited calling plan

Tel3.com

Experience - 18 months of Tel3 use ($5.44 per month TOTAL for 3 properties)

[This was before I knew about OneSuite - I could save about $8 a year if I switch to OneSuite for my usage].
We have been using the Tel3 Standard plan in both of our Florida homes since September 2009 and for home use to call to the UK from California.

Previously we were paying $25 per month for each VR for the Call Free system. We get a mixture of guests from all over the world but most guests are from the USA. We were looking for some cost-cutting and were not sure how often our guests really used the phone for international/long distance calls. We suspected that many used their cell phones for USA Long Distance and figured we'd give it a try to see how it went. We could always go back if we needed to - there was no equipment to buy or up-front fees so it was really a no-brainer to try out.

In the 18 months that we've been using Tel3 we have paid $98 (Ninety Eight) in total - for both VR's and home use (3437 minutes in total)! We would have paid $900 with the previous system for the VR's alone. We were also able to cancel our international plan at home so we saved even more.

We were totally shocked by this. We looked at the call history to verify that calls are being made - and they are - but way fewer than we ever imagined. We're not going back to a fixed rate service unless the usage really goes up.

We do have DSL broadband access to the home so could use an internet-based system if we wanted to but for our usage it does not make sense - if we used Vonage then the cost would have been $936.