Does this sound familiar? You have a cellphone and a landline that together cost you more than $100/month but you hardly get calls on the landline. You have it just so you (or your significant other) don’t run up your wireless bill with long calls during peak hours. But your cellphone is definitely your primary phone.
That was me before I started using VoIP (voice over IP) at home about two years ago. It is easy and inexpensive to setup, will work with your existing telephones, and I’m only paying, on average, about $3/month for service now. Here’s how:
VoIP gets talked about a lot these days, but it is usually: some service from your internet provider (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, etc) that is only marginally less expensive than the phone company, really complex to setup (Asterisk), requires your computer to be on all the time (Magic jack), or it doesn’t work with your existing equipment (Skype). What I am recommending doesn’t fall into any of those categories. I am using a SIP-based hardware box called PhoneGnome.
PhoneGnome offers “Personal Numbers" that cost $3.25 per month, $8.62 for 3 months, or $27.60 for 12 months, plus 2.1 cents per minute. Calling any number in the U.S. also costs $0.021/minute. The price for International calls depends on the location you are calling, and the prices fluxuate a little bit. Generally, International calls are quite inexpensive as well, see this link for the full list. Calling credit is purchased in increments of at least $5.
I should note that you don’t have to have a “Personal Number" to make calls, and you don’t have to have credits to receive free SIP calls. They are independent of each other.
You can also get certain U.S. phone numbers for free. The PhoneGnome blog explains how to get a free Washington-state number: http://www.phonegnome.com/blog/2006/12/18/ipkall-phonegnome-free-us-wahsington-state-number-for-your-home-phone/ - Since a lot of people are calling with VoIP or a mobile phone, a call is a call, is a call, so they don't care if you have a so-called "local" number or not, so in many cases this would be fine.
Another feature I use somewhat regularly is their call forwarding feature. If you are waiting for a call on your landline but want to run some errands you can just forward all of your calls to your cellphone. I know this can be done with most traditional phone services, but with PhoneGnome it doesn’t cost an arm-and-a-leg per month; you only pay your normal per minute outbound call rate.
The PhoneGnome hardware connects to standard or cordless phone. My house isn’t hooked up to any POTS (plain-old-telephone-service) service so the PhoneGnome box just plugs into my household wiring. If you still have a traditional land line service, you can also plug that service into the PhoneGnome box and use it as an add-on and use your existing phone(s) like a dual-mode phone. If you want the PhoneGnome to run to all of your phone outlets in your house, just disconnect the phone line coming into your house from the phone company (usually located in the phone box on the side of your house) before you plug the PhoneGnome into one of your phone jacks. Now all of your existing phones will be connected to your PhoneGnome VoIP service.
Setup is automated. Simply connect the PhoneGnome hardware device to your broadband router and telephone and navigate with your browser to: http://my.phonegnome.com to register the device - it performs an automatic configuration and is ready to use in a few minutes.
Once you have that setup, you are ready to go. When you pick up the phone you will hear a dial-tone and you can make calls - You will just be saving a lot of money. Last year it only cost me $37 total (about $3 per month) for this setup! We mostly use it for long calls (my wife talking to her mom) or when we get low on rollover minutes.
There are a few downsides I should point out. You might not be able to transfer your current home number. If you want to keep that you will need to pay for a "Personal number" as described above and pay $20 to transfer the number. Unless you connect a standard landline to the PhoneGnome box too, there isn’t any 911 service either, but I can always call 911 with my cellphone so that isn’t an issue for me. PhoneGnome does include free caller ID, but unfortunately it may only show you the number (similar to cellphones) not the caller’s name, in some cases. Lastly you can’t use a fax machine, at least in my case (others have reported that FAX did work for them).