We reduced our firm’s $160 per month phone bill for four telephone lines to 85¢ per month.
Years ago, nearly all telephone service was delivered to end users by means of copper pairs. As we know, the number of copper-service landlines has decreased maybe 15% per year in recent years. Much of this decrease is due to mobile phones, in either of two ways. First, somebody who has a mobile phone and a landline might drop the landline, choosing to retain only the mobile phone. Second, a person who has a mobile phone and who moves into a new house or apartment might choose simply not to get a landline at all.
But what I have come to appreciate only recently is that the decline in the number of copper-service landlines is not only due to the prevalence of mobile phones. A second major factor in the decline in the number of copper-service landlines is the availability of VOIP services (voice over internet protocol). A person with a landline might use number portability to port a landline to a VOIP service provider such as Magicjack or Vonage or Oooma. A few years ago, for example, a friend of mine migrated his residential landline from his copper-pair service provider (Centurylink, formerly Qwest, formerly US West, formerly Mountain Bell) to Magicjack, thereby cutting the monthly telephone bill from around $30 to around $6. But the quality of service plummeted with Magicjack and so he then ported the telephone number to Ooma. The quality of service returned to normal. The monthly cost of service increased from about $6 to about $7. This was, of course, still a substantial savings over the original $30 per month from the copper-service provider.
Around five years ago our firm moved from one office location to another, and the move prompted us to explore whether there was a workable alternative to traditional copper-service landlines. The quote from Centurylink for four business lines was about $55 per line, or about $220 monthly. Could we have used Vonage or Magicjack? No, we could not, because neither company was able to offer the feature called “hunting” or “ringover”. What we needed was that if four people were simultaneously to dial our main office telephone number, nobody would get a busy signal. What we needed was that if the first number was busy, the incoming call would move over to the second line, or the third, or the fourth. And the deal breaker for the cheap services like Magicjack or Ooma or Vonage was that none of them could provide this “hunting” feature.
So there we were, five years ago, wondering how to get four incoming telephone lines (that would hunt) from a service provider other than the legacy copper-service provider (Centurylink). And at that time, five years ago, the only other game in town was Comcast. Comcast offered VOIP service. They could provide four telephone lines for about $40 per line, or about $160 monthly. The way this worked is that Comcast would provide an ATA (analog telephone adapter). It plugged into a power outlet and it connected to Comcast cable and it provided four telephone jacks. We could run modular phone cords from those four telephone jacks to our existing telephone switch. And that’s what we have done for the past five years or so. Comcast provided four telephone numbers with the “hunting” feature.
Just recently I learned that our monthly telephone bill could be reduced from $160 to 85¢. The way this works is to port our office telephone number to a different VOIP service provider that costs 85¢ per month. We then provide our own ATA (this is a one-time cost). (In a separate article I discuss how to pick an ATA to purchase.) The ATA accomplishes the same function as Comcast’s ATA: It plugs into electric power, it connects to the Internet, and it provides ordinary telephone jacks. Our telephone switch gets its four dial tones from the new ATA instead of getting them from Comcast’s ATA.
Interestingly, our monthly cost is not 85¢ times four (for four telephone lines). We only pay one 85¢ per month fee, and the VOIP provider delivers multiple incoming calls to us. (Right now we receive as many as four incoming calls, but that is only because of the limitations of our telephone system. A more modern telephone system could receive many more simultaneous incoming calls than just four at a time.)
The carrier? It is a company called Voip.ms. Their business model is pretty simple and focused. They connect to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and they connect to the Internet to provide VOIP service to end users like our firm. And, astonishingly, they can apparently accomplish all of this for a mere 85¢ per month.
Voip.ms is not the only VOIP service provider offering astonishingly cheap telephone lines. There are many others. I mention Voip.ms here for two reasons — first, it’s the one we picked and it seems to work very well, and second, if you click around the Internet you will find lots of favorable customer reviews for this company. I am sure there are many other good choices for VOIP service these days.
What are the gotchas about this? Well, a first gotcha is that all phone calls, incoming or outgoing, cost about 0.9¢ per minute. That’s all calls to anywhere in the US (meaning that there is no cost for long-distance calls to anywhere in the US). A second gotcha is that this 85¢ per month does not include passing address information to the 911 center if someone dials 911. To get 911 service costs an extra $1.50 per month on top of the 85¢ per month.
In our case, it looks like even with all of these add-on costs (the $1.50 for 911 service and the 0.9¢ per minute for incoming and outgoing calls) our monthly bill will be only $10 or $15 per month. This compares with the $160 per month that we used to pay to Comcast and the $220 per month that we used to pay to Centurylink.
At about the same time that we migrated our telephone service from a $160 per month provider to an 85¢ per month provider, we also migrated from our old super-reliable Samsung telephone system to a new feature-rich Grandstream telephone system. But these two migrations are not linked to each other in any technological way. We could have migrated one or the other but it was not necessary to migrate both at the same time. In another article I discuss some of the advantages of new telephone systems such as the Grandstream system.