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5/4/2006
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Review: Actiontec VoSky Call Center

This unique device lets you use an ordinary landline phone for making Skype VoIP calls over the Internet.

Anything that reduces the number of dangling wires from our computers, phones, and even our heads is okay in my book, and the VoSky Call Center by Actiontec is making a small contribution toward that end. The Call Center is a Skype-certified device that enables you to make and receive Skype calls with a regular telephone rather than a cheap headset dangling from your computer.

For the uninitiated, Skype is a peer-to-peer internet telephony (VoIP) network where you can call other Skype users for free, call land or cell numbers for a fee (SkypeOut), receive calls from traditional phones (SkypeIn), and receive voicemail messages for a small fee. The only other requirements for Skype use is that both ends have high-speed internet connections, and up until now, you have had to use a headset, or a Skype-specific phone such as the LinkSYS CIT200 to make Skype calls.

With the Actiontec Call Center, you can use any phone to make and receive Skype calls at home, make Skype calls remotely, have Skype calls forwarded to a landline or cell phone, and be notified by Call Return when a Skype contact comes online. The only requirement is that a phone be connected to the Call Center, your computer must be on, and that you have an active high-speed connection to the internet.

I'm thinking: This has got to be great. But is it?

Before I tell you that, let me tell you this: The VoSky Call Center includes a software CD, the Call Center box with lights to indicate "Regular," or "Internet" calls, a USB cable, and an RJ-11 phone cable. Happily, the Call Center does not require an external power source as it derives its power from the USB cable. The Call Center also requires that you have Windows 2000 or Windows XP. Sorry, Mac users.

I installed the software on my Dell Inspiron 5100 laptop running Windows XP and a 300MB cable modem. Even if you have already installed Skype, the Call Center software checks to see if you have the latest version and allows you to update if necessary. After installation, if you haven't already, you need to associate speed-dial numbers to all of your Skype Contacts to be used when making Skype calls from a regular phone.

The Call Center box attaches to the computer by USB cable and then attaches to a phone with the phone cable. Install a line from a phone jack to the Call Center and you can take advantage of Remote Internet calling, Call Return and Call Forwarding.

After installing everything, the software was up and running. I picked up my cordless phone, dialed a pair of #'s to make an internet call, and dialed a Skype speed-dial. It connected right up and off I went puttering around the house all while chatting away on a Skype call. Receiving calls worked pretty well too. I can't tell you how thrilled I was to receive a Skype call and have my regular phone ring. As long as your computer is up and running, you can take the cordless into the kitchen to make your lunch while waiting for a Skype call.

My favorite feature was Call Forwarding, which worked quite well after some adjustments. After a few rings and you don't pick up, the Call Center routes your call to another phone -- your cell phone, your work phone, whatever. Initially, I had a problem because my answering machine would pick up before the Call Center would forward the call. I changed the number of rings before Call Forwarding initiated and I was all set. This brings up another interesting point, you can have your own answering machine pick up Skype calls, or you can have the Call Center software act as an answering machine. I preferred just using my regular answering machine though.

The Call Center doesn't seem to affect the sound quality one way or the other—it's what I would call good cell quality. Even when I had my internet connection running through a wireless router, the sound quality was the same.

The Call Center is meant to be attached to a computer that is left on, since it doesn't do you any good if you're PC is shut off or in Stand By mode. Because I had installed to my laptop, which I frequently take on the road with me, I was forever disconnecting the Call Center which caused some problems. After reconnecting, I couldn't get my phone to make or receive Skype calls unless I first unplugged the landline input to the Call Center. I could then make a Skype call, hang up, plug the landline back into the Call Center Line input, and everything would then work.

Another issue arose when I received a landline call while I was already using my phone as a Skype phone. I hung up, then tried to pick up the landline call, but that didn't work and the landline call was dropped. I tried re-calling my Skype contact, but my landliner tried calling again. To make a long story short, there were several tries, dropped calls, and eventually a blue screen of death on my computer. That was rather inelegant.

It would have been nice to find a troubleshooting section in the online manual. Actiontec, however, does have a useful forum on their website where there were questions and answers about device setup. But as far as I could tell, the forums offered nothing on the multiple call handling issue.

Still, it's an awesome concept that works great -- when it works.

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