Sunday, December 27, 2009

IP Phone - Magic Jack vs Vonage vs Skype

When I decided to R2I, carrying an IP phone to India was one of the important things that I had in my R2I planning list. I wanted to stay in touch with my friends in US & be contactable from US. I wanted to carry something that is 'Always ON', so that I can make and receive calls anytime. So, I decided to get an IP Phone connection with US number.

Many of my friends, suggested to buy a Magic Jack, because it was cheap (just $40 for the first year & $20 for subsequent renewals). However, I was not very excited about that option because I've to connect the phone to the computer & the computer has to be kept ON, always. Also, Magic Jack has an upper limit on the total number of hours that you can use in a calendar year (A few of my colleagues used Magic Jack for about 6 months and their services were de-activated due to excess usage - I'm not sure about the 'actual' limit). Also, Magic Jack doesn't provide you an incoming phone number. So, you cannot receive incoming calls. One advantage of using Magic Jack is that you can use your regular phone for making calls using the 'Magic Jack'. You don't have to buy a new phone.

Vonage service is good - the only drawback is that you've to be on a hefty monthly plan, irrespective of whether you use the service or not (approx. $20 every month, which is $240 for the whole year).

I decided to go for the Skype phone service. I bought a Skype Belkin Phone ($80) & signed up for SkypeIn Service (this provides a US phone number for $30) & SkypeOut Calling Plan ($3 every month). They provide 10,000 minutes of talk time, every month (which is more than enough for me). Every year, I had to pay approx $66 for Skype. Also, the voice quality is excellent. So far, I don't have any issues with the Skype Phone Service.


The Internet connection in India is at times, very unreliable (unlike US). Hence, any IP based phone connection cannot be guaranteed to work 100% of the times.

Also read:
R2I - 25 things to do / checklist
R2I - List of things to pack/bring from US

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Goods in US market - lots of options & cheaper price

During my recent trip to US, I had been to Frys Electronics. Man ... Electronics are so cheap in US ! Until a few months ago, I used to think "We get everything in India. Why should I carry things from US to India?". But, now I realize that there is at least 20% premium you have to pay for buying the same electronic item in India.  (Also read: IP Phone - Magic Jack vs Vonage vs Skype)

I bought a Panasonic phone in India (with 2 cordless handsets & no base station dialing) for Rs.5,500. Frys sells Panasonic phones (with 3 handsets & base station dialing) for just $74 (approx. Rs.3,500). It is not just phones. All electronics (including Televisions, Laptops, Printers, MP3 players etc.,) are cheap in US. Also, there are lots of options to choose from.

I really miss a shop like Frys electronics, in India. Yesterday, the engineer in me wanted to stream movies from my laptop (Youtube) and watch it on my decade old Sony Trinitron TV. I visited Croma (TATA's Electronics store) to look for a specific S-Video cable. My TV didn't have a S-Video port. All it can take was input from a component cable (yellow, white and red ports). So, I was looking for a S-Video to 3 pin RCA cable. But, Croma didn't have that. All they had was an S-Video to S-Video cable. This was my first visit to a Croma store. The show room looked more like Best Buy showroom - however, it was very small. They had a decent collection of TVs, MP3 players, DVD players, Cameras, Music systems etc., But, they didn't have lots of electronic accessories. So, I went to a mom & pop electronic store near my house. Surprisingly, the store carried an S-Video to 3 pin RCA cable. I bought it for just Rs.100. I came home and tried it out. I worked OK and I was able to stream Youtube videos to my TV. We all watched a full Tamil movie online, from Youtube.

It is not just electronics, even dresses are cheaper in US. Also, the goods are of very high quality. Though most of these items get manufactured in China/India, they're sold at a higher price in India (when compared to US). Big ticket items such as imported cars are also way too costly in India. Honda Accord costs nearly Rs.19 Lakhs (~$40K) & Honda Civic costs nearly Rs.12 Lakhs (~$25K)

US market has lots of options for consumers and the goods (mostly, electronics & big-ticket items) are also sold at a relatively cheaper price. I think the reason for this is due to the large consumer base and tough competition. There are only a few people who would be interested in things like these, in India. It doesn't justify for the Indian retailers to sell them at a low price to just a handful of consumers. Hopefully, a day will come when the cost of electronics become very affordable to Indian consumers. Until then, I'll have to pay the premium for buying these fancy goods.

Also read:

IP Phone - Magic Jack vs Vonage vs Skype
10 things to know before your R2I
Canon Camera Service Centers in Chennai - Scarce & Costly

Back from a short trip to US

I had been to US on a short business trip and I got a chance to meet many of my friends. Some of the common questions from them, were - How is life there in India? Is it difficult to get adjusted? Are you thinking of coming back? Your wife/kid liking it there? Some of them were trying to solidify their R2I plans by asking such questions and others were trying to collect ammunition to justify their continued stay in America. I can empathize with all of them. Though I had always wanted to return back to India, it took a long time for me to just 'pull the plug'.

I didn't try to camouflage the living conditions in India. I told everyone "India hasn't changed much. In order to R2I, you really need to have a strong passion and determination. Otherwise, R2I attempt would be a failure". India hasn't changed much - the roads are bad, traffic is horrible, pollution everywhere, dealing with government is painful, you've to wait anywhere you go, punctuality isn't valued,
you've to work for long hours and it goes on and on. However, there are certain things that are special to India - Staying with/closer to parents, attending weddings/functions, celebrating festivals,
 meeting people regularly (actually often!), abundant house hold help, kids getting a lot of support from grand parents, etc., I didn't want to paint a rosy picture to my friends about R2I. I just wanted to give them the facts.

I visited some of the places that I normally go to - Great Mall, Frys, Walmart, Safeway, SCUMBAT & TGIF Toastmasters, Milpitas Jain Temple, Rivermark Plaza etc., Yes... the roads are clean, the shopping malls are huge, there are lots of friends, life-style is good. But still, USA looked very alien to me. I was literally counting my days to go back to India and live with my family. May be, I'm telling my conscience that 'These grapes are sour'. But, I feel that it is right.

I reached India on the 17th of Dec. By the time, I reached home it was 4am. My wife opened the doors for me. I went to the bedroom to see my daughter. She woke up on hearing me stepping into the room and got very excited. She ran to me and hugged with lots of passion. She said "Dad ! I missed you". My excess joy showed up as tears on my eyes.

Also read:

100 reasons to Return to India (R2I)
10 things to know before your R2I