Monday, March 12, 2007

The MagicJack doesn't seem magic to me

At the VoIP Weblog and in GigaOM's VoIP sections they talk a about a new VoIP device, called the MagicJack, which caused me some trouble this weekend. The device is by far not as appealing to me as to the others, and so I got some criticism in GigaOM's comment section. Paul Kapustka describes the MagicJack in his blog post „MagicJack, Simpler VoIP than Skype?“ like this:
According to the just-live MagicJack website, the main “magic” appears to be an oversized-looking thumb-drive thingy with a USB connector on one end, and an analog phone jack on the other. Greenberg’s column says the total price for a device and a yearly subscription for all-you-can-eat dialing in the U.S. and Canada should be between $50 and $60 $29 and $39 the first year, $19.99 a year thereafter; so far, no other details have surfaced on how the pricing, connection and billing actually work, and whether it won’t be another free-calling fiasco.
I directly checked the MagicJack's website for more details and was disappointed. What is so great about that MagicJack? I don’t see a breaktrough. It lets people make phone calls only while their computer is switched on. When it’s off they cannot even receive calls. The MagicJack is basically a softphone on a USB stick, bundled with a $60 dollar a year VoIP contract. - That seems quite expensive and uncomfortable to me.

E. g. with the VoIP provider Voipstunt I have unlimited calls to USA, Canada, Germany, UK and other 30 countries - for about 36 dollars a year (= 10 Euros for 120 days). I have Voipstunt installed on my analog telephony adapter (Fritz!Box), which connects my normal phone to my DSL connection. This means that I can make those VoIP calls and receive calls when my computer is switched off. It’s works like normal PSTN telephony, but is much cheaper.

I am really not impressed by this MagicJack. It seems as uncomfortable as Skype to me, which annoys me much because it works only when my computer is switched on. Maybe they want to address clients which don’t understand VoIP. But to me it seems too uncomfortable and its contract too expensive. Looking for solutions from abroad the USA they would have found much better and cheaper solutions, for instance the one I use: Fritz!Box + Voipstunt from Germany. A reader called Andrew Jed answered:
Didn’t anyone listen or read?!
The initial cost will be $30 - $40 for the magicJack device…with FREE unlimited local and long distance calls - through your analog phone (or headset on PC if your prefer). No subscription or fees the first year whatsoever. Each add’l year is planned at around $20.00.
And? What is so great about that? For about $40 I get one year of unlimited local and long distance calls as well, as I explained before. And I don’t even have to switch on my computer to make them. So the MagicJack would worsen my situation if I would change my at home configuration for it.
PLUS you can have your entire home wirelessly making FREE calls.
And so what? That’s what I do already with my configuration. I have a DECT phone connected to my Fritz!Box that let’s me wirelessly do free phone calls without the need to switch my computer in.
There is so much more. Making rash and unfounded comments prior to knowing the facts seems very, well, wrong - to say the least. Markus Göbel states in his web site he is a journalist?
Well, thanks for Andrew's appreciation of journalism as a profession. But maybe he doesn’t know: Even journalists can make mistakes. Moreover in this very case none of his arguments convinces me and I still think that I am right with every word I wrote in my comment.

Also I wrote an answer to a comment from Dan Borislow, the inventor of the MagicJack:
What makes the magicJack so different?

1.Ease of use.There is no other device in the world,where you plug into a USB,up and running in a minute with plug and play and you plug in a telephone.This is one of a kind.
Well I have already read about many similar USB stick devices that plug into a computer and then people can start talking via VoIP, without the need to install a software: Vonage V-Phone, MPlat FlashPhone or Sandisk’s Skype on a USB stick. OK, with the MagicJack you don’t need a headset but you can use your normal phone for the call. But is this really a breaktrough? When my computer is runnig and I am talking to a friend I just speak directly into my computer, which has a great microphone and sound with echo cancelation. For what would I need to pick up the phone that is connected to the MagicJack?

Borislow answered with some ironic comments:
When you went to go to in your backyard and swig down some Becks,do you bring your laptop outside with all those songbirds and talk to your favorite girl?
That’s exactly what I don’t like to do: Grab my laptop just to make a phone call. There is a device that’s called “telephone”. You don’t have to boot it. You can take it to the backyard and make phone calls. Only that it is easier to use as a laptop, weighs less and is just as mobile because I use a wireless phone. This phone is connected to my WLAN-Router/VoIP device (Fritz!Box) so that I have calls to 30 countries for free. I find this much more comfortable as the MagicJack.
What happened when you were finally making time with your girl, and Voip!Stunts only server caught on fire and she might have hooked up with somebody else by the time they restored their service? (we have 31 we use)
That was a better point from Borislow! I agree that Voipstunt can possibliy dissapear from one day to another. They are obviously underpricing. But the recent outage because of the fire was the first I experienced in two years and lasted only 4 hours. Too short to even sell this news to the media! Voipstunt is a very “no frills” service. They are just cheap and I don’t know if they give any kind of support. But for me they failed only 4 hours in two years.
Were you surprised when you started getting billed 13 cents a call,when the Voip!Stunt promo was over after 120 days?
That’s never happening. When the 120 days are over the countries I call cost about 1 Cent. I just don’t miss the 120 days. When there is no money anymore on my Voipstunt account the phone does not work anymore. In this case I have 9 other VoIP providers installed in my Fritz!Box (as fallback options and also because I a am a geek who tries out all the VoIP services). But normally I do a quick Paypal to Voipstunt and a minute later I can go on making phone calls.
Lastly, Fritz!Box told me that it is impossible to use Voip!stunt softphone on it. How did you do it.
Well I don’t know to whom Borislow talked and what is his technical background. But I suppose he knows how easy it is to configure a VoIP device like the Fritz!Box. You just have to type Voipstunt’s login name, password, registrar, proxy-Server and STUN server into Fritz!Box’ built in website and yet you can do the first phone call. This takes about 1 minute. It’s not “impossible” to use Voipstunt on a Fritz!Box. I do it every day. As well I use Sipgate, GMX, Tpad, Ekiga, Gizmo Project, FWD and others on the same device. As I said I try to check all of the interesting VoIP services.

I like the VoIP industry very much and see it with the eyes of a client. To me and to my buddies the most appealing point is to save money. VoIP should work like a PSTN telephony but cheaper. Just pick up the phone and make a call.

So the MagicJack misses the point. It shouldn't be connected to the USB port of a running computer, but directly to the DSL modem or the router. It could easily get it's energy from the router's Ethernet port. The entire phone software should be embedded in the device and not rely on the Windows XP of a computer. In this case people could make VoIP calls that feel like real telephony. They could connect their old phones directly to the internet.

But in this case the MagicJack would be some kind of Fritz!Box.


  1. I have 10 unopened magicjacks in my possession and the cost for the first year is free. I have one out of the box also to see how it worked and it is great. Having your computer on is not that big of a deal to receive and make calls for free.

  2. To me it is a big deal to have my computer switched on to make free calls. At Voipstunt I have more freedays than I need anyway. And I can use it on my ATA with a normal phone.

  3. I read your article about MagicJack and I think that it has one good use and that is for a European company that would want a US phone number and be able to call US all the time for free. The company probably has the computer on all the time...

  4. Well, it would be easier for the described company to get a free US inbound number from Sipnumber, Freedigits, Gizmo Project or an other provider. Calls to the US could be made by Voipstunt for free. And the computer could stay switched off.

  5. Markus, you don't see VOIP through the eyes of a typical CLIENT. You see it through the eyes of an obsessed GEEK! There are many more average people who leave their computer on full-time than there are who would want to deal with 8 different VOIP services or even one like Voipstunt, which expires every 120 days.

    I'm not an average consumer either, because I have 4 systems on a KVM switch and at least 3 of them are always on. I'm an IT Consultant, and even I don't want to have to become an expert in setting up FXS ports on an ATA for home use.

    I like that magicJack and magicFix take care of optimizing my Quality of Service for me, and that it only costs me $19.95 per year, not the $60 figure you leave uncorrected in your Blog, almost a year later.

    By the way, the actual cost of my magicJack, excluding the $19.95 for the first year, works out to $20. How much was your Fritz!Box? AVM doesn't even list a seller in the U.S. but I found an English version for £139.81, VAT included. That works out to US $273.74, not including the cost of shipping it across the pond!

    For that much I could give away almost SEVEN magicJacks, but the Fritz!box doesn't even include the first year of unlimited calling throughout the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. So really, the Fritz!box costs more than a DOZEN magicJacks, including delivery!

    Since I have 15/2mbps Verizon FiOS (fiber optic) internet, why would I want to pay for a box that includes a DSL modem? The same goes for all of the cable modem users out there, too! I'm too far from the telco's central office for DSL, even if I wanted it, and so are a lot of other people.

    The only change magicJack means for me is that it doesn't allow that ONE system to go on standby like the others. Since the KVM is usually switched to another system, it doesn't keep the monitor awake, and I can still let the HD spin down.

    BTW, I can receive magicIn calls on my cell phone or another VOIP or landline even when the magicJack system is OFF, because I forward all of my incoming calls anyway, and that happens at the YMAX switch, not at my PC.

    I hope & think that means that YMAX is getting the termination fee, because I want everyone to call me on my magicJack line, so YMAX stays in business for a very long time!

    For those who don't know, YMAX is the parent company of magicJack, and is a registered CLEC in 49 (soon to be 50) states, which is why they can afford to be so cheap and not risk going out of business like so many other shoestring VOIP providers like SunRocket and Voipstunt.

    Even Vonage, which had 2 million customers at one time, isn't so secure, now that they've lost about $200 Million for violating the patents of Verizon and Sprint. Do the math - that's $100 per customer which has to come from somewhere, or they won't be around. Can you say "monthly rate increase"?

    Already, Vonage has higher International rates than many other VOIP providers. TeleBlend and magicJack list most of Europe at .02 per minute, compared to Vonage at twice that.

  6. I got sick and tired of having to leave my PC on all the time. With the help of the folks at the magicJack Forum, I now have my magicjack working with my old sunrocket ATA. Now I do not have to leave my PC on all the time!

  7. Re: your Sunrocket ATA??? Sunrocket went out of business in 2007

  8. Magic Jack seems to work alright in the US. International calls are a disaster! Whenever the country tht is receiving the calls cannot get any revenue from routing these international calls, yor phone on this end always tells you to hold on while your call is beimg routed. 15 seconds go by there is no ring at the other end, another 10 seconds go by, then you get back a dial tone on your phone, signifying that somebody at the other must have hung up on you. So the call is being dropped by the phone system you are trying to get in to in order to connect with the party you are trying to call. So don't expect to be able to make International calls with Magic Jack. It does not work.


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