Should you switch to VOIP?
The big decision is whether to switch your home telephone service to VOIP. Wow, it sounds cheap- $14.95 a month? Why isn’t everyone switching?
A bit about what VOIP is: Voice over Internet Protocol- For now we’ll say it provides your phone service over broadband connection- DSL or Cable. VOIP cannot be used with a dial up phone service- that would be POTS, or “plain old telephone service” which is what you have now. A good site for basic, non-commercial info on VOIP is the FCC site- http://www.fcc.gov/VOIP/.
All you want to know is if you should switch. The most important thing to remember is that every service provider for VOIP has some different options and services (translation: additional charges) for their service, and it is important to be sure of the options that are included without a fee. You may also want to know the advantages and disadvantages of switching: read on.
The main reason to switch is, no surprise here, cost savings -a flat rate for your phone service, frequently with no long distance charges, and a very inexpensive flat rate at that. Many providers guarantee their price for the first year. The big thing to watch out for is the additional charges, for features and those nasty set-up related fees, which we’ll discuss below. Currently you catch a break on taxes- VOIP is not regulated by the FCC but there is no guarantee how long this will last.
Call sound quality is generally very good; you can generally expect the same or better quality due to a reduction in accumulated line noise.
Yes, most of the time you can keep your phone number, but there are a few catches. First, you must be in your provider’s service area. To determine if you are, just go to their website and enter your zip code. They immediately respond with whether or not keeping your phone number is possible. If the first provider you try can’t let you keep your number, try another provider that is local to you. Be aware that “porting” you number, which is taking your old number from your old telephone service provider and bringing it to the new one, may take from 3-4 weeks. In addition, there is usually a charge for porting, and it can be as high as $40. Transfer “Porting” of you number can take up to 30 days, so don’t cancel service with your existing provider until the new carrier confirms that everything is complete.
If you decide to transfer your existing phone number to VOIP, once your number is ported, there may be a nominal additional monthly charge if you decide to keep your temporary phone number. If you decide not to, make sure to check you bill to see that it doesn’t make it’s way on there!
In most cases you can keep your existing telephones, and you can also use a “soft phone.” A soft phone is software you install on your computer, along with a microphone and speakers or a headset that lets your computer function as your phone. If you choose to keep your phones, you’ll require a professional VOIP installation from your provider, unless you are comfortable disconnecting your existing phone service at the box connected to the outside of your house. There is a charge for this service, but it is probably worth your while to take your new service provider up on professional installation. The charge for this is generally around $50. You will also need a phone adapter, at an additional charge. Some providers are offering the adapter for free for a limited time.
You can also put a soft phone on your laptop, and use it when you travel, as long as you have a broadband connection (cable or DSL). Some services give you a package of included minutes for your travel and then charge if you go over the travel minutes. Some service providers offer a wireless phone that you can use with your VOIP system, also at an additional charge.
Your computer does not need to be on in order for you to use your phone, but your broadband Internet connection needs to be active. And yes, you can use your computer and access the Internet, while you are on the phone.
One downside is that if you lose power your phone will stop working until the power comes back on. Your plain old telephone gets its power through the phone line, but the VOIP system needs its own power. A battery backup for your phone can protect you for several hours, at, of course, an additional charge.
There are lots of cool things about VOIP- like getting an email notification that you have a voice mail waiting. You can usually get a searchable record of voicemail that you can play on your computer. There are a lot of optional features, with optional meaning “for an additional charge.” You can add a line, having 2 phone lines for a minimal additional charge.
There are a lot of questions to explore, all based on your individual needs.
Alarm system, satellite TV or TV on the same number can cause an interruption in service and should not use the same number. Is caller ID included? White pages or directory service?
911 may not work in your area with your system. You must verify this with your service provider. And if you move, even next door, you must notify your service provider of the change. In the event of a power outage or if your VOIP account is turned off for any reason (opps, forgot to pay the bill!) you will lose the ability to dial 911. Some services take up to 30 days after service installation for 911 to function properly, so be sure to have an alternate means of contact, like a cell phone.
Note that VOIP service cannot be combined with your cell phone number- your cellular service would be discontinued, since one service provider can only use a phone number at a time. You can certainly have both, but they won’t be connected to each other.
Be sure to ask if you call anyone, or are you restricted to calling people serviced by your provider only? With a peer-to-peer service, like Skype (which is great if you only want to call certain people who will also sign up, the service is only useful if it is free and there are people willing to also sign up for the service. They’ll be the ONLY people you can call. Otherwise you need a standard VOIP installation
How do you make the change to VOIP? First, write your list of the features that are important to you. Then decide about the services you want. Decide if you need a professional install? (Yes if you are keeping your existing phones and are not comfortable handing your external phone wiring.) Got to the websites of service providers that advertise in your area- you’ll be much more likely to be able to keep your phone number. Take the list and look up the features you want to see if they are included. If not, make a note of each additional fee, since they will add up when most of them are added every month. Note: many people are thrilled with the basic service, which is generally more feature-rich than your current phone service.
Now for the recap. Check the details carefully with your potential provider. Every provider offers different features for free, and has different charges for all the rest. Don’t assume that anything is included, or is free. Use the checklist you put together and only worry about the features that are important to you!