CES: Vonage reaches out with new V-Portal, Contact Book

By Ted Kritsonis, Special to CBCNews.ca

LAS VEGAS - As part of its "MyVonage" strategy, Vonage launched the V-Portal at the Consumer Electronics Show. It's essentially a voice-over-IP (VoIP) gateway for a home or office with a single-port router built in, and it comes with a slew of new features to try and lure customers away from traditional phone services.

When first installing it, the LCD screen displays all the instructions step-by-step, so that you don¹t have to look at a manual. The screen also shows things like call display and contact list display.


The list of features includes the ability to make changes to your phone setup through a web portal hosted on Vonage's site from anywhere in the world using the internet. And if someone calls you and leaves a voice message, you can get an e-mail with a recording of that message in WAV audio format to play back on your computer or PDA/Blackberry.

Simulring is a feature that allows up to five different phones to ring when someone calls. A child, for example, could call his parents and other relatives at the same time in an emergency, so that at least someone picks up.

V-Access enables long-distance calls to be made through cellphones. You dial a local number provided by Vonage that links you to their network, and then you simply say the name of the contact you want to call to put you through.

The V-Portal will be available for purchase on Vonage¹s website starting January 18, and will follow in retail stores sometime in March. It will retail for $80, but you would be eligible for a $70 rebate that would knock that down to a paltry $10.

Contact Book is in alpha stage (very early) testing, so it isn't being launched at CES, but Vonage was showing off what it can do. The Contact Book applications are nestled on Vonage's website, where you can manage all your contacts from anywhere that you've got internet access. With Call Blast, for example, it would be possible for a hockey coach to select all the players' parents from the contact list and record a message telling them that a game time has been changed. Each parent¹s phone would then ring simultaneously, and after picking up, they would hear what the coach has to say.

Group calling lets up to five people conference simultaneously. And by pressing *44 on your Vonage phone or cellphone, you can speak the names of those you want to call, and even which of their phones to call (home, work, cell or whatever else is in the contact book) - no manual dialling.

No definitive date has been set for Contact Book's launch, but Vonage executives said that it would be "sometime in 2008."

In other news, Vonage still hasn't been able to get the USB V-Phone to work with Macs. That might change at some point this year, the execs tell me.

The author is a Toronto-based freelance writer