Have you heard about Voice over IP (VoIP)? If not, I might have to ask what rock you’ve been hiding under. It seems like everytime I turn the TV on there’s another advertisement for Vonage (one of the major players).
If you don’t know what VoIP is, don’t feel bad. It’s a new technology and it’s actually a little confusing. Here’s how it works in a nutshell.
VoIP attaches a special telephone adapter to your existing broadband internet connection. You use a regular phone, just like you would normally, but calls are actually sent through your internet connection. So VoIP requires that you have a broadband internet connection. I have cable internet, so that hurdle was easily cleared.
I had toyed with the idea of switching from POTS (Plain ol’ telephone system) to VoIP for months. The big advantage is cost savings. My typical phone bill runs nearly 100 bucks a month for two lines, plus various services such as long distance, voice mail, call forwarding and so on. Why two lines? We have a second line for my wife to receive calls (and messages) from her piano students.
I figured that if she used her cell phone for her students, we could get by with one line. And for less than $30/month you get VoIP with unlimited local and long distance phone calls anywhere in the U.S. or Canada. The net savings is about $70/month — good for a nice date night!
The hitch? She really wanted to keep the same area code, and preferably transfer our existing phone number (which we’ve had for 15 years). Because we live in one of the fastest-growing regions of California, our area code recently change again, this time from 909 to 951.
That’s where it got tricky. I did some research on the various VoIP providers and narrowed it down to two choices: Vonage and AT&T. Vonage is a younger startup but they have a headstart in the VoIP market. I like their gumption, and tried to place an order through them. Unfortunately they had no numbers available in the 951 area code, and claimed that my existing phone number couldn’t be transferred.
With Vonage effectively eliminated as an option, I looked at AT&T CallVantage. The price and features are nearly identical. In addition to the unlimited long distance you get voice mail, caller id, call forwarding and many other services. You can set it up to email you when you have a message waiting, or even have the voice message emailed to you so you can listen to it on your computer.
Interestingly, AT&T CallVantage said that my existing phone number could be transferred. Done deal. I placed my order, and about a week later received my free activation kit. This included a Linksys 4-port router with two phone adapter jacks. After sorting through the configuration issues with help from the good folks over at BroadbandReports.com, I managed to get the new router working well with my existing wireless router (an absolute must for anyone with a laptop).
The Bottom Line
I am extremely happy so far. The sound quality is actually better than I had through the “regular” phone service, and I have less line noise than before. And I’m saving $70/month x 12 = $840 per year. Not too shabby.