Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Telephones over the internet

I get requests for suggestions on technical topics. A client was wanting to dump her home phoneline from the old-time provider. Here are some ideas of what she can do. The premise is that she has reliable and cost-effective cell service.

As you know, there are dozens of options to connect broadband internet and phones. If you want to ditch the phone company, here are some services I use and recommend.

Google Voice (http://voice.google.com/).
They give you a number and you can direct that number to ring one or more of your registered phones. You can apply rules including time-of-day filtering such as family goes to Sis, business to Mom, friends can be screened before picking up, unknown callers go to voicemail, etc. Receive voicemail as an email attachment or transcribed to txt. Documentation is Google-sparse.
Basic service free but lots of penny and nickel features available. No computer needed.

Skype (http://skype.com/)
Primarily a computer-to-computer service but you can buy connections in and/or out of the classical phone system. They sell tons of accessories including handsets so you’re not tethered to the computer. With decent broadband, excellent quality service – radio stations use them. Some are stant-alone and, presumably, give you a Skype connection anywhere you can get open WiFi.
Basic service free but lots of penny and nickel features available.

Vonage (http://vonage.com/)
This is the service I’ve used for 7 years, but am currently a little down on. I can’t document whether my service issues are related to Vonage or my ISP. They try to be a full function phone company replacement that you plug directly into your current house phone wiring and use all your classical equipment. They have some call management features similar to Google.
Our “$17.99” plan bills out about $25. No computer needed.

Here are some other services that I know about, but have never used.

Your ISP
All the internet providers (include the phone companies) are trying to sell you phone services. They offer the reliability you’re used to from a single source for prices you’re used to paying.

Magic Jack (http://magicjack.com/)
This is sort of a hybrid of Skype and Vonage. Plug an adapter into your computer and plug your house wiring into the adapter. Last I looked at it, they seemed a little sleazy in terms of pushing ads at you, etc.
Always-on computer required.

Packet 8 (http://www.8x8.com/)
I’ve never looked at them, but a (cheap) associate dumped his Skype dial-in/out for them. At first glance, they seem to sell full-featured phone systems to home or small businesses.

Being based in 21st century technology rather than 19th, all these services provide for free the upgrades the phone company has been making their profits off of for 30 years. Things like voicemail, voicemail notification, caller ID, conference calling, free long distance, ultra-cheap international calls, and more. Except for Vonage, most of them don’t add all the extra charges at the bottom of your classic phone bill.

Most of the services can transfer your current phone number. I always recommend letting them assign you a number until you’ve tried them for a couple months. Then you can transfer the number you’ve had for 25 years.

The downside is that, except for your ISP, they’re all separate services that you have to buy, install, and configure yourself. As far as I know, only Vonage and your ISP support 911. Support and reliability may be iffy and they are dependent on getting power out of the wall.

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