Voice Over IP (VOIP) is phone service that runs over your Internet connection rather than dedicated copper wires that go to the phone company. Its main advantages are that it is software-only, is done by small companies with less regulation, and that it is intensely competitive. This means it can be cheap and innovative.
Last spring, I became disenchanted with my VOIP provider because my $15 phone plan had become a $32 plan with taxes and fees included (no longer cheap) and because my provider hadn’t added any new features (lack of innovation). After looking around I decided to go with CallCentric.
To cut to the chase, this is what I get after the switch:
• Two phone numbers, including my ported home phone number and a free New York telephone number that CallCentric makes available.
• Inbound fax service, where CallCentric receives my faxes and then emails them to me as PDFs, as well as making them available online.
• A personal phone book, whose primary purpose for me is to add the phone numbers of spam callers
• Voice mail, including text message notification and email recordings
• Call treatments, the best feature, which allows me to: send calls to the New York number to the fax service, block users in my list of spammers, and send unknown and anonymous users to voice mail. Call treatments are quite flexible and I can generally find a rule to solve any problem by sitting and thinking about it.
• A bunch of features that I don’t use – extensions, multi-way calling, call hunting, network down forwarding, speed dial, call waiting, multiple mailboxes, multiple channels (concurrent calls), softphone, etc. Most of these seem to be free.
The price? Each month I pay $1.95 to receive calls at my ported home phone number and $1.50 for 911 service on my outgoing line – a total of $3.45 in fixed costs with no additional taxes or fees. In addition, I pay 1.5 cents/minute for calls I receive and 1.98 cents/minute for calls I make. In the last month I’ve spent $2.55 on 149 minutes of phone calls. So my phone bill has dropped from $32/month to $6/month while I’ve gained a second number, inbound faxes, and call treatments.
Of course, I don’t do a lot of calling. For those who do, there are 500- and 1000- minute plans available as well as unlimited minute plans.
CallCentric requires a bit more planning than some other providers. For one thing, incoming and outgoing phone plans are independent, and we’re trained to think of inbound- and outbound- calls being part of a unified phone service. You can get two or three inbound numbers if you wish, but only have a single outgoing plan. You could have only an outgoing line with no incoming number. You could buy more than one device and have different callers to the same phone number ringing different devices in different states. With great flexibility comes a bit of thinking.
The other way that CallCentric makes you do more work is that it is a “bring your own device” provider. VOIP modems are readily available online – I bought a Grandstream GS-HT701 at Amazon.com (http://goo.gl/pUZkmj) for around $30. Modem setup is about the same level of difficulty as an internet router, which means it’s not bad but not for everybody. CallCentric has instructions for setting up a number of different modems, and I found that after I messed up my configuration, CallCentric’s online-only tech support was able to direct me to a correct solution.
The domination of the landline may be over, but it still has the advantage over the cell phone in audio quality and ergonomics. CallCentric has turned my $32/month phone bill to a $6/month phone bill will reducing the number of telemarketing and political calls to near zero.
[If you want to make calls using a regular phone instead of using your computer, you need a telephone adapter, such as the Grandstream SS-HT701 shown above. - Mark]