Vonage: On again, off again

Mrs. Gearhead is leading a revolt to do something, anything, about the poor quality of our Vonage service. We suspect that her 'anything' could well include using Vonage executives instead of chickens for the 'appease the gods of Windows' rituals.

Last week we started with a question: Does anyone know how to turn off the stupid Windows alert that pops up when you plug a USB 2.0 device into a USB 1.1 port and says, "This device can perform faster if you connect it to a Hi-Speed USB 2.0 port."

Readers Brian Goodroad and Michael Phillips provided the answer, which is also covered in a Microsoft support story we missed titled How to turn off the 'Hi-speed USB device plugged into non-hi-speed USB hub' warning message .

The solution is simple but well hidden: In the Device Manager find the USB Controllers section and double-click on a host controller that has "Universal" or "Open" in the title. In the Properties dialog box, click the Advanced tab and select the "Don't tell me about USB errors" box at the bottom of the form. That's it. Now, why isn't there a check box for this in the annoying warning message that pops up? There has to be a better way to handle these things.

Even Winguides Tweak Manager from Guideworks, one of our favorite customization tools, doesn't have a tweak to address this irritation. What's the betting that Vista, the next version of Windows, has an order of magnitude of more things you'll want to tweak and that will require even more arcane knowledge and the sacrifice of chickens to change?

Anyway, enough griping about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, this week we have more VoIP issues. We've had Vonage in for a few months, and we have developed a love-hate relationship with it.

Vonage is, as we had hoped, less expensive and better featured than plain old telephone lines (POTS), but it has its own set of gotchas. When everything is right and WAN traffic is light and the wind is from the east, the service sounds great.

Then, for no apparent reason, you will get "dropouts" and wind up asking callers or callees to repeat themselves. This takes a while because the other consequence of dropouts is the call appears to stop being full-duplex so the other person gets to carry on for as long as he pleases while you have little or no clue what he is talking about because the second sentence of his "War and Peace" monologue got trashed.

Another issue is that on one of our VoIP lines, if you do not grab the phone before the second ring the call will be bounced to the alternate number configured as the "Internet down" back-up number.

It is hard to justify to non-techies why the system stops working for no apparent reason. Mrs. Gearhead is leading a revolt to do something, anything, about the poor quality of our Vonage service. We suspect that her "anything" could well include using Vonage executives instead of chickens for the "appease the gods of Windows" rituals.

The cause of our VoIP tribulations might have something to do with the fact that a few days before moving to Vonage we switched our DSL service from a static IP address to a dynamic one. Why this would matter we don't know, but the DSL service seems less reliable now.

Using one of our old favorite diagnostics tools, PingPlotter from Nessoft, which we discussed a few weeks ago, we can see that the DSL connection has intermittent hiccups that look fractal. But the Vonage problems occur when the connection goes bad and also occur at other times.

These dropouts are surely an indication that something in the network is going bad, but try to explain that to SBC's tech support! It is much easier for them to say they don't see a problem and threaten to charge you if they send out an engineer and find nothing.

Another issue is that we have heard rumors that ISPs, particularly those with VoIP ambitions and, in the case of telephone companies, irritation at seeing their POTS revenue eroded, may be sneakily applying traffic shaping to "manage" the VoIP traffic. This week's question for you is how could you determine if this is the case?

Answers to gearhead@gibbs.com and cherchez le Gibbsblog!

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