Covad Communications Group Inc.s Covad VoIP vPBX managed telephony service offers excellent user tools, simplified user adds and changes, and surprisingly good voice qualityeven over unmanaged Internet connections. With this years purchase of GoBeam Inc., Covad now offers hosted VOIP (voice-over-IP) services over its own managed network. By providing the Internet connection to a customer location plus voice services, Covad can provide networkwide QOS (quality of service) that allows it to offer SLAs (service-level agreements) for voice quality.The Covad VoIP vPBX service is currently available in 46 markets nationwide. Covad officials expect to offer the service in all metropolitan areas served by the companys broadband network by the end of the year.Click here to read more about the GoBeam acquisition and Covads enterprise VOIP strategy. Flat-rate pricing with unlimited local and long-distance calling ranges from $36.95 to $59.95 per phone per month, depending on the number of stations. Per-minute pricing ranges from $26 to $32 per station and 3 cents to 5 cents per minute, depending on call volume. These prices do not reflect the cost of Covad Internet service or telephone equipmentboth of which must be purchased separately. (eWEEK Labs tested the Covad VoIP vPBX with Cisco Systems Inc.s Cisco IP Phone 7950.) Covad also offers an unmanaged service over customers existing Internet connection. We tested this option over a Sprint-based T-1 (1.544M-bps) Internet connection. We were pleasantly surprised by the consistent call clarity during normal network conditions. To test the service in congested conditions, we saturated our Internet connection with multiple inbound and outbound FTP file transfers, then started placing calls. We saw a marked increase in jitter (variation in packet delay) on inbound voice connections and spikes in jitter and lost packets outbound. This translated to some audible dropouts during the calls, but these were no worse than what we experience in everyday cell phone use. The Web-based user and administrative dashboards are well-designed and easy to navigate. Its a snap to set up voice conferences and follow-me routing, send instant messages to other service users, or check voice mail and call logs from the Web dashboard. Likewise, its easy to configure new users or view systemwide utilization and call-detail reports from the administrative page. The vPBX service allows administrators to define a companywide contact database, and users can also create their own contacts. However, wed like to see Covad add the capability to import contact data from existing databases into the vPBX system, without needing to manually retype it. Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out eWEEK.coms VOIP & Telephony Center at http://voip.eweek.com for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.