VOIP from Overseas back to the USA
How Well Does it Work?
By Joe Mehaffey
Revision 2 September 2005
several years now, I have been experimenting with Voice Over
Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone service on my trips overseas.
My first experiment has been running a couple of years and
involves the installation of a MultiTech MVP-130
(NOT the MVP-130FXS) VOIP terminal at a local Atlanta PBX
location and connecting it to the local telephone network and to a
broadband Internet connection. This allows me to use Microsoft's
NetMeeting and a small headset with my laptop computer and be able to
phone-home to any place in the USA. Of course this DOES require a
reasonably fast Internet connection and these can be hard to come by in
some parts of the world. But.. When it works, the call is
essentially "free" and I can talk as long as I like.
I have been successful in a lot of European cities in finding hotels
with wireless Internet capability and this mostly works just fine.
Sometimes I find the necessary "IP ports" blocked on their router
but these times have been few. I have even had some success
with 42kbps dial up links providing usable voice connections over VOIP,
but these situations have been relatively rare. Dial-up
Internet connections from hotels tend to be in the under 25kbps range
and you need a good steady 40+kbps link to work properly with even low
bit rate VOIP connections. In the end, I have overall
decided that UNTIL high speed Internet is more readily available "free"
to hotel guests overseas, the old standby telephone card is a better
all around idea.
What if you LIVE in a Far-away place?
And then there is the case of what do you do if you LIVE overseas for a
period and would like the luxury of calling home to the USA whenever
you want at low cost. I have a friend who lives part of the year
in Dar es Salaam Tanzania. I visited him earlier this year and
set up a Vonage VOIP modem terminal
for him and connected it to his key phone system in his home. It
turned out that in Dar, high speed Internet service is
problematical. When we first turned on the system into his
(supposedly 128kbps download/128kbps upload) high speed Internet
service, you could RING a number in the USA fine, but you could talk to
Some tests revealed that things started out OK but within about 15
seconds on a download, the download speed dropped to about 200 BITS per
second instead of the 192,000 bps advertised. A quick (and
lengthy) call to the ISP revealed that they had a single 1.5mbps T1
speed satellite data service to the outside world that was serving over
1000 customers both business and residential throughout the Dar area.
My friend is an influential businessman in Dar and he had the
manager of the ISP visit his office for a discussion of the problem.
He managed to get the ISP to install a QoS (Quality of Service)
filter in the ISP's router so that (most of the time,) the
service level was sufficient to handle ONE VOIP call reasonably
satisfactorily. In the USA, we cannot imagine having a
"broadband" home Internet connection that could not reasonably support
a 40kbps two-way traffic load!
To make a long story short, For a 5 month period, the Vonage VOIP
link from South Eastern Africa to the USA has worked about 90% of
the time IF the calls are made early in the morning or after business
hours in Dar. At other times you might or might not get a
reasonable quality connection. While things were reportedly not
perfect, the service must have been at least tolerable
because in several months, 1200+ minutes were used calling to and from
I think the situation in Africa, particularly Southern Africa is about
worst case as far as internet bandwidth capacity is concerned.
There are no wire line or fiber optics connections to Southern
Africa from Europe, or from Northern Africa. All high bandwidth
outside telecom communications is delivered by satellite services.
The cost of bandwidth on these services is very high. Costs
are something like $3500 or more a month for an equivalent T1 (1.5
Mbps) data line. Compare this to here in the USA where this bandwidth
can be had for about 20% of that cost. Couple that with the
relatively low incomes in much of Africa and it is obvious that
Internet Service for the common man there is out of reach. (For
example, in Dar, a house maid or car driver can be hired for 40 hours
per week for the sum of US$200 a MONTH including a health insurance
Back to the topic. If you plan to live outside the USA in a fixed
location for an extended period of time, then VOIP telephone
service back to the USA should be considered. Vonage
service offers "all you can eat" phone service to anywhere to the USA
and Canada for about $26 a month. This includes both incoming and
outgoing calls and long distance calls within the USA and Canada.
Friends in the USA can call a local number in your hometown and
it immediately rings in (for example) Tanzania, 8000 miles away.
Similarly, when you pick up your VOIP telephone in Tanzania, the
dial tone you hear is (for example) in Atlanta USA. Neat stuff!
You do need to analyze what the "high speed" Internet service is
really like back to the USA (or to Europe or wherever your host VOIP
service is located). If you cannot get reasonably low latency and
a consistent 40kbps both-way Internet connection, then VOIP will not