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VOIP For expatriates, multi-country presence, & escaping carrier-bound phone numbers

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By IT_Architect, Senior Member on 8th September 2019, 02:49 PM
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VOIP for Expatriates

The bottom line turned out to be, there is no good way to have worldwide phone connectivity unless all of the numbers you use are VOIP numbers, and the SIM/wireless provider simply becomes a wireless ISP. This started out an analysis for CallHippo, which I tried out for a month, but it branched out. So far, I've only worked with CallHippo, RingCentral, and Google Voice, and looked at GrassHopper and Phone.com. I've highlighted the other's differences in red. You might be able to somehow use MagicJack in the fit too. One thing to keep in mind is once you leave the SIM or standard PSTN, VOIP often requires 10-digit dialing. That many not matter to you, but it might to those calling you. 7-digit dialing requires a relationship between the PSTN provider and the phone company for your area.

Cost: The only CallHippo plan that makes any sense is the $15.00/$18.00 plan because the number is free, you get 800 incoming, and 200 outgoing minutes after which you pay a penny a minute. Additional numbers are $6.00/mo. from ~200 different countries.

Advantages:
1. The call quality and latency are good.
2. The call recording is good, and without the intrusive nonsense of, "this call is being recorded". It just works, and they back them up as well as your call logs. The advantages of this cannot be understated. Unless you are doing contracts over the phone you don't want that. Most people just want a note taker so you don't need to interfere with the conversation to write things down, especially while driving. It keeps track of time on calls for invoicing purposes. In most cases, it is not possible to know ahead of time if you will need to play it back later or they will be giving you numbers to write down etc.
3. Very flexible with multiple people using the same number at the same time and ring through to other devices, and using devices like extensions. This is different from something such as RingCentral and Phone.com which can use SIP devices because it assigns it a number on the PSTN. With Grasshopper, the device must already have a number in the PSTN to forward the call to, to use it as an extension, which must be Internet accessible, and has it's own voice mail and greetings per extension. Nothing is more feature-rich than RingCentral and it includes MMS, never-busy FAX number, video and call conferencing, and can manage and access everything from a soft-phone on a computer. Phone.com can do nearly as much, but no MMS. A big advantage of systems that can use a SIP device means you do not need to pay for cellular PSTN number to forward to, which requires the additional expense, and something that needs to change every time you change SIMs. With GrassHopper, every time you change SIMs or let your SIM lapse somewhere, you would have to reconfigure because you would lose your number to forward to. You can still forward, and you aren't counting minutes. If the end point for the number will be a cell phone, then CallHippo might make more sense.
4. It only costs $6.00/mo. for each additional line, which can be from ~200 different countries, giving you local presence in multiple countries from anywhere. RingCentral requires a $34.00 plan for the US plus a $44.00 plan plus a 2-year commitment. With Phone.com I can get 1 US line and 1 foreign line for $14.99/mo. by the year or $19.99/mo. by the month. You get 500 minutes and $.039/min. after that or you can buy a bigger plan. If they had Colombia, I'd go with it.
5. The overall combination of good call quality, call recording, flexible use of lines, and local presence in other countries for $6.00/line set it apart. Phone.com also supports a limited number foreign countries at a very practical cost, and would be by far the better way to go IF they support the countries you need.

Disadvantages:
1. Their web site is a confusing hodge-podge of pages that indicating it was built without a plan and pages added to piecemeal to add a capability. Signup was and getting things going was cruel and required multiple chats. RingCentral is very well done. Phone.com seemed like a bit of a put-off because it seems they want you to get a quote. However, it is actually by far the best. A real-live-American will assemble the features you need so it doesn't need to fit anything, and give you a quote where you are getting everything you need and nothing you don't, and at a better price than any other.
2. Competent support will not be available when you need it. This has been true in all but one case. RingCentral's support is good, and Phone.com's is off the charts.
3. CallHippo cannot dial from your Android contacts, nor does it's sync to contacts work. If you enter the numbers into CallHippo's directory by hand they will work but then you cannot use those CallHippo contacts anywhere else. If select a Contacts from Android Contacts to dial, it will return an error that the phone number not valid. This is the problem:
__a. In Android Contacts when you enter a phone number 1234567890 into Android, it will automatically format it to (123) 456-7890.
__b. The CallHippo directory stores contacts like this: 1234567890.
__c. The CallHippo Contacts is designed to work worldwide numbers. For numbers stored as US numbers, it will prepend a 1 and dial 1123456789.
__d. When you select a number from Android Contacts, it receives (123) 456-7890 from Contacts, for the US it prepends a 1 for 1(123) 456-7890 and returns an error that the number is not valid
4. Like most VOIP solutions, it only has SMS, not MMS. RingCentral Supports both.
5. The combination of the poor support, poor website layout, not-well-thought-out contact access
*RingCentral has no problem here nor does Phone.com.

Summary:
- What sets CallHippo apart is the combination of call recording and local presence in multiple countries for only $6.00/mo. That make the penny a minute make sense. Phone.com can do this better if you can live with the much smaller country list they support.
- CallHippo costs $15/mo. for Silver which gives you 800 minutes of free incoming and 200 minutes of free outgoing. If you do the same for RingCentral Essentials it will cost $30/mo. but it will be unlimited free calling in both directions. If you have two people, RingCentral's price goes to $20/mo. each, making it compelling unless you need foreign or multiple lines per person. For that price CallHippo gives you automatic call recording while RingCentral will make you remember to hit the * key unless you get the more expensive packages. If you add $5/mo. to RingCentral you get fax, audio conference and video conference. CallHippo allows you to add numbers for $6.00/mo. including in foreign countries. RingCentral only works with US numbers and it would cost another full monthly service charge. Google Voice is free, but it is only a US number and you must give them a US number for confirmation. I'm not sure if you will need a confirmation number at any point in the future but I do know that if the number is no longer available, the service does not stop. Call recording for inbound calls only and does an announcement. This enables free calls to from anywhere to anywhere in the US for free, and makes you reachable from anywhere in the US. This does not enable free local calling to and from a foreign country from anywhere. The way I can see this working is if you don't care about call recording, and you got a VOIP number in the foreign country. Otherwise, when you were out of country, you would not be able to be directly contacted from that country, and you would have multiple VOIP provider apps. You hear a lot about GrassHopper. It is more feature-rich than CallHippo, but the problem is it is more of a forwarding service. That means you need to have a number to forward to that you are maintaining from another service. Thus, GrassHopper's fit is for a US-based business using other phones as extensions. It doesn't do call recording, every time you change SIMs the number you forward to would have to change, and anything foreign would be at long distance rates. It is clearly not a fit for international use. Phone.com makes a ton of sense if their limited non-US country list works for you.
- CallHippo's poor website layout, poor support, and not having something as basic as dialing from Contacts working, indicates an amateur operation. RingCentral and Phone.com excel in all of these categories and even sharing a contact list. Not being able to dial from you Contact list? People's expectations of a dialer goes beyond that. They expect to be able to paste a number in from a web page and have it dial.
- I believe CallHippo has a lot of potential but it seems like it's in the alpha stage. Will it even exist tomorrow, and what happens to your ported numbers then? The attraction is there isn't anything with this level of functionality and price for doing frequent coordination in multiple countries.
- Defining the market for this service is a bit of a challenge. As a VOIP IP PBX system, it is much more limited than most. It doesn't work with regular SIP hardware for inside of an office. If you use your cell phone as your desk phone, you still cannot share a company telephone directory, nor can you use its Contacts to dial from because their sync does not make the telephone numbers available in a format that CallHippo can use, nor is there any other way to import or export Contacts. It cannot sanitize numbers copied from web pages. Ideally, as an expatriate, you want your domestic and foreign numbers to be VOIP numbers so when you switch SIMs, nothing changes because the wireless provider does not host your number. He is simply providing Internet access for the numbers. CallHippo's main detractors are the Contact list situation, and no MMS support. So it seems like the only market fits for CallHippo are for a single expatriate, or a one-man business that needs local presence to call other businesses in foreign countries.
 
 
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