Making the switch to VoIP

Do you have a home phone? Do you even need one? With the popularity of cell phones these days, the answer to both of these questions seems to be increasingly “no”.

But there are some nice advantages to home phone lines – and some cases where they’re necessary. Monitored home alarms, for example, require home phone service unless you opt for the expensive cell options. And for long conversations I much prefer talking on a cordless home phone than my cell phone. It’s probably safer too, given the lower power output of DECT cordless phones compared to cellular.

These days there are two main options for home phone service. The traditional analog line offered by companies like Telus, and hybrid digital phone systems offered by cable companies like Shaw.

The most obvious “advantage” of analog lines is that they still work if the power goes out. (I put advantage in quotes because the Shaw service has a built in battery backup, and also because if you only use a cordless phone at home it will stop working anyway – unless you have it on battery backup. So depending on how you use your phone, power outages may be a moot point.) Digital services typically offer a greater feature set, including the ability to view call history, listen to voicemail, etc. online from a PC or smartphone. Both services offer full e911 capability so that in an emergency your address is immediately available to emergency personnel.

But wait! There is a 3rd option

Voice over IP – or more commonly “VoIP” – has become a lot more viable in recent years. Technically it’s not a difficult concept to understand. Instead of a dedicated connection for your phone service, voice calls are routed through your existing internet connection.

Even easier to understand are the potential cost savings:

Comparing costs for basic service
Hardware Monthly First year Second year+ Savings
Shaw Home Phone Basic $ 34.95 $ 419.40 $ 419.40
Telus Home Phone 1 $ 30.00 $ 360.00 $ 360.00 14 %
Anveo Personal Unlimited VoIP $80.00 * $  4.50 $ 134.00 $  54.00 77 %

* $2 base fee + 500 min calling within Canada @ $ 0.005 / min – incoming is unlimited

VoIP service falls into one of two main categories – closed systems like Skype, Google Voice, etc. and open standards based SIP services. Closed systems have grown the most in popularity lately and it’s easy to see why. They’re simple, cheap (usually free or close to it) and easy to understand and use. But they’re limited to use on a PC / tablet / smartphone (generally speaking) and they’re not really a true “home phone” replacement in that they don’t deliver regular analog service to your, they probably don’t give you access to a local number for inbound calls, and they almost certainly don’t give you the piece of mind of e911 service.

VoIP diagramIf you want a true home phone alternative to analog or hybrid digital service – including the ability to receive calls made to you using a local telephone number – what you really need is a SIP service and an analog telephone adapter (ATA) device.

Simply put, the ATA device acts as a bridge that connects the analog phone lines in your home to the SIP provider via your existing internet connection. Once you’ve configured your ATA adapter, all you need is your working internet connection and all your analog phone devices – FAX, cordless phones, home alarm, etc. have telephone access.

In the past, SIP-based VoIP service through an ATA has earned somewhat of a dubious reputation for being difficult to configure and unreliable to operate (especially at home/SOHO price points). With modern networking equipment and better internet connections however, I think they’ve really achieved perfect viability for replacing an analog or digital hybrid phone service in your home. Unfortunately the SIP-based ecosystem is still a little confusing for newcomers – there are a number of services and number of ATA devices to choose from, and they are certainly not all created equal.

After a bit of trial and error, I’ve gone VoIP and I’m not looking back. I’ve got a reliable home phone service that works with my monitored alarm, tons of calling features and options, I kept my local number, and I’m saving significant money every month too. For a complete breakdown of how I did it, read on to my OBi100 review and my Anveo review.

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