We live in an era in which we expect a lot from our electronic devices. We're accustomed to the idea of gadgets that are good at performing multiple tasks. That's why it's not hard to find a camera phone or an MP3 player with a GPS receiver. The days of devices designed for a single task may be at an end.
That might be why Verizon designed the Verizon Hub, a phone system that combines elements of smartphone, tablet computer and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technologies. Descended from an earlier product called the Verizon One, the Hub is a flashy device that includes a cordless handset and a docking station with a 7-inch (17.8-centimeter) touch-screen display.
Owners can use their Hub to access information ranging from weather reports to sports scores to stock quotes. They can also view photos, watch videos and use the interface to purchase things like movie or baseball tickets without having to call the box office. The Hub's features are similar to smartphones like the Apple iPhone, the HTC G1 or the BlackBerry series. But the Hub's larger display and support for a wide variety of file types sets it apart from other devices.
Another thing that sets the Hub apart from smartphones is the fact that it's similar to a traditional landline. Users link the Verizon Hub to their home networks via an Ethernet cable or wireless connection. So, you can't take the Hub with you wherever you go, but the Hub can serve as your home's communication center.
The Verizon Hub is an example of technological convergence -- the trend of combining the features of different devices into a single form factor. Ideally, the end result of convergence is a single device that can perform all of its functions at the same level of quality as a dedicated device. Let's see how the Verizon Hub stacks up.
Verizon Hub Hardware
You can split the Verizon Hub hardware into three elements: the Verizon base, the charging stations and the handsets. The basic Verizon Hub comes with one base and one handset. According to the user manual, each Hub can support up to four additional handsets.
The Verizon base is 9 inches (23 centimeters) tall, 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) wide and weighs 1.5 pounds (0.7 kilograms). It has a 7-inch (17.8-centimeter) WVGA LCD touch screen. Verizon provides a stylus to use with the touch screen. The base comes with a support stand and a power cord. It also has a cradle to hold one handset. Placing a handset in the cradle will charge the handset's battery. In addition, the base has an Ethernet port for wired connections as well as a wireless Internet card, an audio-out port and a USB 2.0 port.
The base runs on special proprietary software, some of which Verizon has designed and some of which is licensed from other companies. To run that software, the base has a 500-megahertz dual processor and 128 megabytes of RAM. It has 2 megabytes of memory set aside for ring tones. The base supports several audio, video and image file types and even has a picture-in-picture mode.
The handsets are 7 inches tall, 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) wide and weigh half a pound (0.2 kilograms). They have a 2.5 millimeter audio-out port with microphone support so you can plug a headset into the device if you wish. Each handset has an LCD screen measuring 1.8 inches (4.6 centimeters) in diagonal. The handset can display bitmap images and play MP3 files.
The handsets communicate with the base using a 1.9 gigahertz frequency, and they'll only work while in range of the base. That range is about 164 feet (50 meters). Verizon warns that walls and ceilings can interfere with the signals and may decrease the handsets' effective range.
Consumers can also buy charging stations and additional handsets for their Verizon Hub. The charging stations are small cradles that plug directly into a power outlet. Before you can use a handset with the base, you have to activate it by placing each handset in the base's cradle.
Making Calls on the Verizon Hub
You can make outgoing calls from either the handset or the base. The base has an on-screen number pad and a speaker phone for this purpose. The handsets are similar to other cordless phones. To make a call, you simply type in the number and press the "send" button.
The base and handsets can also function like an intercom system. When activating handsets, you can designate which one is which. You can broadcast a message from a handset or the base to all the other Hub devices in your system or to just one of them.
When you make a call from the Verizon Hub, you do so over the voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) standard. Instead of using phone lines, these calls travel through broadband Internet connections. When you speak on a VoIP handset, the device sends the information across data lines the same way everything transfers on the Internet: in little pieces called packets. The packets travel across the network to the destination and reassemble. The person on the other end hears your speech. The process takes a fraction of a second.
There are some drawbacks to VoIP. The first is that it depends upon the reliability of your high-speed Internet connection. If your Internet connection isn't reliable, your phone calls will be choppy. It might be hard for you and the person with whom you're speaking to understand the conversation. Verizon recommends that you have a broadband connection capable of downloading data at 1.5 megabits per second at a minimum.
Another drawback is if you lose power, you won't be able to make any phone calls using the Verizon Hub. Unlike traditional phones, the Hub draws its power from power outlets rather than a phone line. If you lose power -- or if your broadband connection goes down -- your Hub will be out of service. That could become a serious problem if there's an emergency, which is why you should always have another phone -- cell phone or otherwise -- as a backup. Verizon has included a backup number feature that sends incoming calls to a backup number of your choice in the event of a power outage.
Verizon designed the Hub to work within the United States. While the Hub may work in other countries, Verizon stresses that using the device in an unauthorized location could violate local laws.
Verizon Hub Phone Features
The Verizon Hub has several additional call functions beyond the basic phone and intercom features. Some of them are familiar to cell phone users. For example, you can send and receive text and photo messages or view video messages from your Verizon Hub. But you can only send messages to Verizon Wireless phones.
The call forward function allows you to direct incoming calls to a different phone number. You can activate or deactivate the feature at any time. This can come in handy if you're expecting an important call but won't be home.
The simultaneous ring function is similar to call forwarding. First, you select up to three additional phone numbers using the Verizon Hub base. When you receive an incoming call after activating simultaneous ring, all the phones belonging to those numbers will ring. The Hub switches the call to whichever phone line picks up first.
Tired of getting interrupted by phone calls while watching your favorite television show? Set the Verizon Hub to do-not-disturb mode and all calls route to your voice mail. And you don't have to worry about missing an important call from a specific person, either. You can program specific numbers to ring through even if you activate the do-not-disturb feature. You can even set the Hub to ignore any anonymous calls.
You can also use the Hub to block calls from certain numbers. When you receive a call, the Hub's base will give you the option to answer the call, send it to voice mail or block it. If you choose to block it, that call will go to voice mail. But all future calls from that number will receive a message saying that no connection can be made to your phone.
Because the Verizon Hub uses VoIP, you must take special considerations into account when it comes to 911 calls. Most emergency response centers have trouble identifying the origin of VoIP calls. A call from a VoIP device might get routed to a center that's less convenient than another simply because the phone system can't be sure where the call originated.
To address this issue, Verizon requires users to set a location when setting up the Hub for the first time. The user must enter the address where the Hub will be used. That way, Verizon will be able to route the call to the appropriate emergency response center. It's important to remember that you must update this information if you move. Otherwise, emergency calls could go to the wrong center.
Verizon Hub Widgets
What really sets the Verizon Hub apart from other home phones is that it's also a computer. The Hub has several widgets that expand the phone's functionality so that it becomes a communications center. But the Hub isn't like a smartphone with an app store -- you don't select which functions you want. Instead, Verizon keeps a tight control over applications. While that might mean you don't have as many options as you would with a smartphone, it also means your Hub is safe from computer viruses and other malware.
The Verizon Hub has applications that allow you to check weather reports and movie schedules. You can access a Yellow Pages feature to look up phone numbers. Currently, the Hub can also access traffic reports for 37 metropolitan areas. There's also a map feature to plot out directions to a destination. If you have a compatible Verizon Wireless cell phone, you can send turn-by-turn directions from the Hub to the phone.
You can watch V CAST streaming videos on the Hub, too, turning it into a small television. Verizon has hundreds of video clips in its V CAST service. You can keep up with breaking news, view clips from several television series or watch a cooking show and follow along while making dinner. There's no extra charge for watching V CAST programming on the Verizon Hub.
Another feature of the Hub is its organizational software. For example, there's a call log that records all incoming and outgoing phone calls on the Verizon Hub's number. The Hub has a calendar function that you can use to keep up with scheduled events. There's a visual voice mail feature which lets you see who left voice mails for you, and you can listen to messages in whichever order you prefer. And the Hub has a contacts management feature that lets you store up to 128 contacts.
Verizon sends updates to the software automatically through your broadband connection. This gives Verizon the ability to continuously add more functionality to the Hub.
The Verizon Hub Plan
Upon its debut, the Verizon Hub cost $199.99 after a $50 rebate and the agreement to a two-year contract. On top of the purchase price for the Hub itself is the service charge. That comes to $34.99 per month. Additional handsets cost $79.99 each. The monthly fee covers all the features of the Verizon Hub.
Switching to the Verizon Hub can be tricky if you have to break a contract with your current home phone service provider. For example, if you rely on Verizon to deliver your Internet access, home phone and wireless access, you can enroll in the One-Bill service, which consolidates all your Verizon bills into one. Switching to the Verizon Hub service discontinues One-Bill, meaning you'll receive separate bills for each service. You may also incur early termination fees if you need to drop home telephone service, though if Verizon provides your home phone service the company will credit you the termination fee on your next bill.
Verizon offers the Hub to customers in the United States. Verizon doesn't authorize the use of the service outside the United States and warns that using the Hub in other countries may violate local laws. Customers can't make calls to certain numbers, including numbers that begin with 500, 700, 900 and 976. Another point to remember, you can't make collect or operator-assisted calls from the Verizon Hub.
While you can make unlimited long distance calls to anywhere in the United States, U.S. territories or Canada, international calls cost extra. Rates range from 6 cents to $6 per minute, depending upon the country and whether you're dialing to a landline or mobile phone. The Verizon Hub has a feature that lets you block international calls to prevent you from incurring unneccessary fees.
You can port your existing phone number over to the Verizon Hub if you wish. Verizon says that it can take up to two weeks for the process to complete. During that time, your old line will remain active until the transfer is finished. The Hub should be functional during that time as well.
The Verizon Hub is an interesting device. It's a combination of a home phone, smart phone, television and computer. Will it revolutionize the home phone market or will consumers choose to adopt smartphones instead? We'll have to wait and see.
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More Great Links
- Verizon. "Verizon Hub Frequently Asked Questions." (April 27, 2009) http://support.vzw.com/faqs/Equipment/hub.html
- Verizon. "Verizon Hub International Long Distance Rates." (April 28, 2009) http://support.vzw.com/information/hub_international_rates.html
- Verizon. "Verizon Hub Tech Specs." (April 27, 2009) http://www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/vzhub/techspec.jsp
- Verizon. "Verizon Hub User Guide." (April 27, 2009) https://hub.vzw.com/hub/UserGuide/UserGuide.pdf
- Verizon. "Verizon Hub: Let's Get Started Guide." (April 27, 2009) https://hub.vzw.com/hub/UserGuide/VerizonHub.pdf
- Verizon. "Verizon Hub Terms of Service." (April 27, 2009) https://hub.vzw.com/hub/UserGuide/TOS.pdf
- Verizon Wireless. "V CAST." (April 28, 2009) http://products.vzw.com/index.aspx?id=video