Thinking of Switching to VoIP?

By Takkk (cc 3.0)

By Takkk (cc 3.0)

Summer 2010 After paying $45+ per month for a single line, plain-Jane home telephone service + long distance plan for the last 11 years, I’ve finally made the switch to VoIP. Of course a large number of Internet-based telephone service providers have appeared over the last 10 years (Primus, Vonage, Rogers Home Phone, and many more), but I’ve never found it worth the bother. Recently though, a service provider called VoIP.ms has caught my attention. This company offers an huge range of VoIP-based telephony services at very reasonable costs, the tradeoff being that a small-to-moderate amount of geekery is required to set it up and get it working smoothly. Since I love things that require small-to-moderate amounts of geekery to set up, I finally decided to make the switch. In a nutshell, here’s what I did:

  1. Established a free account on VoIP.ms, which allowed me to make Internet-based phone calls at no cost (i.e., computer-to-computer calls as with Skype). I tested by downloading a softphone – a free telephone app called, simply enough, Telephone – and called another computer in my home. Voice quality was very good.
  2. Deposited $25 in my new account, and immediately I was able to call out to PSTN (public switched telephone network) landlines, still using my softphone. The cost to call another number in Canada, whether local or long-distance, is half a cent ($.005) per minute, so my $25 was good for 5,000 minutes of (non-expiring) Canadian call time. Using my voip.ms account panel, I upgraded to the more expensive premium service which doubled the price to $.01 per minute, billed in 6-second increments. Call quality was excellent.
  3. Hooked up my wireless home telephone system. This required a couple of steps:
  • First stop: eBay, to purchase a VoIP ATA (analog telephone adapter). I found a Linksys PAP2T-NA for $28. This device acts as a bridge to physically connect an Internet router to a home telephone system. Within 10 minutes I was dialing out on the VoIP.ms service with a regular wireless home phone.
  • Next, to enable incoming calls to ring my phone, I had to transfer my existing DID (Direct Inbound Dialing) phone number from my telephone provider to VoIP.ms at a cost of $25. I completed the appropriate web-based form (from my VoIP.ms account), and in about 3 days the VoIP.ms support staff informed me that the transfer had been completed. Monthly cost for unlimited inbound calls: $4.95.
  • I terminated the contract with my old telephone service provider, and then called my ISP to upgrade to naked DSL service (additional cost $9/month).
  • Routing inbound calls to ring the phone required some additional fiddling with the Linksys PAP2T-NA device (some level of comfort with routers and IP addresses comes in handy here). First snag: on incoming calls, the softphone on my computer rang rather than the physical phone. Eventually I learned that disabling the softphone and rebooting the ATA solved the problem. To get the softphone on my computer working again, I had to create a new subaccount in my VoIP.ms account (free), and point the softphone app to this subaccount. Now, in addition to my high quality / low cost home phone system, I can make outbound calls from my computer anywhere I have network access, for about $.01 per minute. I can also use the service to make VoIP calls using my iPhone, though the quality over wifi can be spotty.
  • Configured additional services using the VoIP.ms settings panel — e.g., turned on caller id,  voicemail, visual voicemail (messages sent to email inbox) … the variety of services is impressive. Unlike many providers that nickel-and-dime for every additional feature, with VoIP.ms almost everything is included at no additional charge. One important exception is the e911 service, which costs $1 per month to activate — this is a fee that VoIP.ms is charged and passes on to the customer directly.

I’m still ironing out some details such as refining the Quality of Service (QoS) settings on the router. Without managing QoS, voice calls can break up if there’s heavy internet activity on the home network (e.g., large file downloads).


Cost Comparison

  • Old provider: $45 / month. Included all the long-distance we could eat, but vanilla service package (no call display, no call forwarding, no voicemail, etc).
  • VoIP.ms: $25 / month (+ $53 start up). This includes unlimited inbound, average 1000 mins/month premium outbound (plenty for our home needs), updated dry loop line, and more new service options than you can shake a stick at.
  • Average annual savings: $240.

2011 Update. It’s been over one year, and smooth sailing. Recently I switched from ADSL to cable (same ISP, new service). The ATA device continued working just fine, no reconfiguration was required. The higher bandwidth also resolved all QoS issues – the voice quality is now unaffected even when large downloads are occurring in the background.

2013 Update. We never answer the phone any more — everyone in the family has a mobile phone, and when the VoIP line does ring it’s almost always telemarketers! So, I reset the VoIP service to answer with an interactive voice response (IVR) instructing the caller to press a particular digit for each person in the family; each call then gets routed directly to that person’s cell phone. Telemarketer systems just hang up, whereas legit callers get through directly to the person they want to speak to. This is now costing about $5 per month, for the DID phone number.