I’ve been a land-line hold-out for a long time. I’ve resisted the marketing campaigns of my phone provider (Bell Canada), my ISP (Rogers), and my long distance provider (Primus), and have continued to pay $40 per month for a wired land line with voicemail, forwarding, call waiting, and unlimited local calls, and an additional (average) $35 per month for long distance services to the UK at about 6 cents per minute, a great rate considering I paid at least $1.00 per minute when I first brought my English wife to Canada 23 years ago.
This month I finally changed over to Voice-Over-IP. I chose to go with Unlimitel, a Canadian voip provider with whom I was able to keep my existing phone number.
Unlimitel charges $3.50 per month for a DID – a Direct Inward Dialing number. That means a specific phone number is assigned to your provider who then provides a system for you to connect to it to receive and send calls. You connect to the provider over the internet.
You can connect to most providers via SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) or IAX (Inter-Asterisk eXchange). Generally, SIP is used by software or equipment that acts as a single end point, such as a VOIP handset or a soft-phone such as the free X-Lite software, whereas IAX is used by PBX software such as Asterisk or FreeSwitch, which will act as a switchboard to manage multiple extensions, Interactive Voice Response menus, voicemail, etc.
I decided to connect to Unlimitel via IAX, so I can run a simple PBX at home and play with some of the features. I chose to run SwitchVox Free Edition from Digium, because it’s a free, full-featured yet turnkey solution. I’m running it on a used Dell Optiplex box I got for $89 at Factory Direct.
After ordering the DID from Unlimitel by asking them to transfer my existing line to them, I received the login info from them and entered it into my SwitchVox software. When the line was transferred over, I disconnected my home phone wiring from the incoming wires, and plugged Line 1 of my Linksys PAP2T into one of my home jacks to connect it to all the rest of the phones in my house. I configured it as Extension 100 and told SwitchVox to route all incoming calls to that extension.
I have also set up other extensions for myself and my family members, so we can connect via our computers to make and receive phone calls. I have not yet routed incoming calls to IVR to give directory access by last name etc, but I can do that if I like.
I actually have another DID in addition to my original home number so I can play with things. I can route incoming and outgoing calls based on rules that I define. I’m even considering buying a cheap UK DID so my wife’s family can call us on a local number and avoid long distance charges.
I have 5 channels, meaning I can have up to 5 incoming/outgoing calls at any one time, including callers to a conference bridge on my PBX. Local calls are now charged at 1.1 cents per minute. UK calls are 3 cents per minute. I anticipate my total monthly charge to be less than $20, down from $75 before.
Unlimitel provides Basic 911 service, which means that I will be able to dial 911, but they will not automatically get my location (as they would with the usual E-911 service) – I will have to provide it when they answer. I have mitigated this somewhat by making a rule that says that whenever 911 is dialed from the extensions that are connected to analog handsets in my house, the Caller ID that is transmitted is my Postal Code and street number and name.
To summarize, I now pay about a quarter what I was paying before, I have up to 15 extensions, 5 channels, voicemail, call waiting, customizable Caller ID based on outbound call rules, detailed call logging and daily and monthly billing summaries. My intial hardware outlay was about the same as 1.5 months of my original bill and it runs on my existing broadband connection.
What the heck is not to like?
Tell me your story. How much have you saved, how much flexibility have you gained, what lessons have you learned?