Shaw Digital Phone Review

February 6th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

We like Shaw Digital Phone a lot. Shaw Digital Phone is an implementation of VoIP that is run over Shaw's private network, separate from the Internet.  Shaw's reps actively deny that their service is VoIP - we suspect they want to differentiate themselves from providers of broadband VoIP.  This is perhaps with good reason. Because Shaw Digital Phone doesn't run over the Internet, typical VoIP issues caused by latency, bandwidth sharing, and internet outages are entirely eliminated.

As far as calling features go, Shaw provides basic features, but have been taking their time on implementing the more exotic ones.  In August 2009 we were finally able to order multi-line hunting.  We were the first customers in British Columbia to use this. We were excited to discover (because they oddly don't advertise this) that we not only have multi-line hunting but call queuing!  This is a clear advantage over Telus that we think they should publicize. Some of their techs still do not know about the new features.  Mango has spoken with techs who firmly deny that we have multi-line hunting because "Shaw does not yet offer it".  We can assure you that they do.

Shaw installed an Arris modem at our premises.  We read reviews saying that these modems perform fantastically well, and we agree.  When Shaw first rolled out their phone service, they deployed Motorola modems.  Unfortunately, the performance of these were apparently less than stellar and caused a rocky start and bad PR for Shaw.  But the good news is that if you've been trying to decide whether or not to switch to Shaw Digital Phone, now's the time.

If you have a PBX, lie about it.

Much to our amusement (or perhaps amazement) installation required two techs - one to connect the phone line and one to connect the cable line.  Mango states that he was not impressed with the phone tech.  At first he insisted on disconnecting the Telus line in the basement. When Mango flatly refused to unlock the wiring closet, (at this point we had no idea how well we'd like SDP and wanted the Telus line available if we decided to switch back) he then said he was going to "cut the line in the suite back so far no one will ever be able to reattach it."  The line was already disconnected, but he wanted to make it impossible for Telus to reconnect it.  Not happening. After installation, the line wouldn't ring, which the tech immediately blamed on our PBX.  He actually tried to convince Mango that perhaps our PBX was not supposed to ring. We told him he should plug in his line tester and see if it would ring.  He apparently decided our PBX was not the problem after all because he didn't even try his line tester; he made a call to someone at Shaw who solved the problem.

When we decided to order three more lines, the installation was even more eventful.  Mango received three separate calls from three different people at Shaw asking 1) if Mango was a PBX tech, which they asked already, 2) if Mango was over 18, which they also asked already, and 3) if Mango remembered about our appointment, which he did, because we had been called two other times about it.

Union rules apply.

The installation of the additional three lines required five technicians which in our opinion was four technicians too many.  We find this humorous because Mango actually offered to do it himself to save them rolling a truck.  The first two arrived the day after we placed our order and dropped off the modem.  We asked them what they were going to do, because the number port had not yet been completed.  They said they didn't know and left the modem sitting on a nearby table.  Two techs arrived two days later, on Mango's day off, and without making an appointment.  They patiently waited while we located him.  They installed the new 4-port modem that the previous techs had dropped off.  Finally, a single (!!) tech arrived on the actual installation date to plug in the three necessary cables, and call in the number port.  We sincerely hope after watching this display of convoluted miscoordination that Shaw is actually making money.

Nothing is simple with Shaw.

We decided to downgrade one of our lines to a cheaper package. This is easier said than done. For reasons known only to Shaw, the modem must be provisioned in order of the price of the line. Unfortunately, the line we wanted to downgrade was Line 1. So they had to reprovision our modem so that Line 2 was moved to Line 1, Line 3 to Line 2, Line 4 to Line 3, and Line 1 to Line 4. We are not making this up. They told us this would take two hours.  We scheduled the appointment for 8AM because we open at 10.  At 1PM, our phone lines stopped dropping more calls than a bad cell.  For some reason this procedure made a strange number appear as our outgoing Caller ID.  They stated that fixing this will involve another "two hours" of downtime and scheduled it for sometime within the next 48 hours.  A kid in his parents' basement with an Asterisk box could properly configure outgoing Caller ID in about 45 seconds.  Why not Shaw?

On the topic of Caller ID...

Incoming Caller ID does not display 7% of names.  (We counted.) We do not know the reason why.  Shaw states that if it does not appear it's the fault of the other carrier.  We do not believe this to be the case because Telus, cell, or broadband VoIP phones display names for these same numbers.  (We looked up these numbers with to be sure.) Hopefully this is something that will be fixed.

Just the Fax, sir.

Faxing works with our Arris modem, and it works well.  However, Shaw oddly gives bad advice regarding faxing.  They state that one should lower their fax speed to 9600bps and disable Error Correction Mode/ECM.  This is wrong. Our fax works perfectly well at 14400 or faster.  Disabling ECM is a bad idea because if there is an error while sending the fax, your fax machine may report success.  The recipient may have no idea you attempted to send a fax, and you will have no idea that the fax failed.  If you have problems sending faxes, disabling ECM is NOT a good solution though it can occasionally mask the issue.

Conclusion: Decent, with room for improvement.

It is frustrating dealing with Shaw, no question about that.  But, it's less frustrating than dealing with Telus.  It's common knowledge that Shaw's techs and CSRs have a much better command of the English language, perhaps due to the fact that much of Telus' staff are located in Asia.  At this time we consider Shaw to be the lesser of two evils.

For home use, we find better pricing and more features with a broadband VoIP provider.  But if someone doesn't want to take the time to learn how to install and manage a VoIP system, Shaw Digital Phone is an excellent and very cost-effective alternative.

Fortunately, other than the above-mentioned incoming Caller ID issue, Shaw Digital Phone has performed wonderfully.  We've had no downtime at all, other than the Shaw-induced downtime that occurred when they were sorting problems or reprovisioning our modem.  After a few calls, we found ourselves thinking that the audio quality was better.  We made a recording comparing Shaw Digital Phone and Telus audio quality and Shaw easily beat Telus.

If you can deal with random acts of frustration when dealing with Shaw's staff in exchange for a cheap phone line, Shaw Digital Phone is a good choice for you.
  1. Thomas
    August 30th, 2010 at 21:26 | #1

    Interesting and informative. I've had Shaw phone since they first introduced it here in Calgary (about 4 years ago or so).  I agree that it works consistently well.  Quality is great, downtime nearly non-existant, features are decent, one can have voicemail to email (but only to shaw email accounts).  I had the Motorola box for most of the time.  When I ordered a second line they gave me an Arris.  I never had problems with the Motorola, but I found the Arris voice quality to be alittle louder.  All in all it was a great service except for the price. I think what they are charging for residential customers is very pricey (about 55/mth).  I have since switched to  Granted I have to menage everything by myself, and is not as reliable, but the savings are huge (I end up using about $10/mth on average).

  2. Henri
    October 9th, 2010 at 22:16 | #2

    Thanks for the review. I also use myself for a few years now and *love* them. Perfect for us since we are part-time in two different countries.. we just plug in the ata wherever we're at and good to go. 🙂

    I found your post because my parents are in Vancouver and not happy with Telus.  I know Shaw offers Voice service, so wanted to read some current reviews on how they're doing.  I also wanted to make sure it's an idiot-proof system, as my parent's aren't tech-savvy at all, and I'm not here half the time to \fix it\ when things break. (There's only so much a geek can do remotely, right?)

    I've found a few other good reviews, and after reading yours also... I think I'll recommend they switch their internet and voice to Shaw now, and take advantage of (hopefully) a good bundling deal. (They already use Shaw for cable..)

    Thanks again for your post.  🙂

  3. Leo Tabibzadegan
    October 22nd, 2010 at 21:09 | #3

    Great post! Sorry to hear your Shaw experience hasn't been the greatest, hopefully the platform will only improve with time and feedback.

    Not sure if you are aware, but Shaw has recently introduced free Shaw to Shaw long distance for basic phone plans starting at a bundled rate of $20.95 (with internet or TV).

    I've been using the $55 Shaw phone plan for a while now, and haven't had an problems my self.

    I'm going to be giving SKYPE a test drive, as mobility and cost reduction is a huge factor in keeping in touch with family and friends.

    I currently work for Shaw as a sales rep, so this should be interesting 🙂

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