Metafilter, Please VOIP Me!
April 24, 2016 7:23 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering some big cost-cutting changes to my home utilities (cutting my cable, changing up my telephony, etc.) but I'm a worrier. So - talk me into replacing my land line with VOIP service.

I've already seen this, and would probably go with that service (and ironically, it's an AT&t landline I'll be ditching too) but I need a little help pushing myself past some of the pros and cons:

* What if the power goes out or my Internet goes down? Am I SOL and not able to call anyone?
* The installation sounds like you plug something into your internet router, but the place where my router box is is in a completely different room than the one where I want my phone to be. Is there a way to hack that problem? Or do I need to just suck it up and have my phone next to my TV now?
* Is there any other problem I'm not thinking about that I may notice when this happens? (I will be porting my old number, so I've already thought of that and found a solution.)

Basically, give me the cons so I know what to expect and what to think about, and also give me all the pros so I can kick myself in the butt into doing this already.
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Technology (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've had VOIP for about a year now (through Comcast) and have been generally happy. I had issues early on (chronicled here) that was resolved. It's true that you will have no phone service if your internet goes down, so the reliability of your internet service provider should be a key consideration in moving to VOIP. Unless there are hacks of which I'm unaware, you must plug your phone into the router. We solved that problem by locating the base unit of our expandable cordless phone system near the router and leaving all the other phones in their usual places.
posted by DrGail at 7:38 AM on April 24, 2016

Is there a reason you're not dropping the home phone entirely in favor of cellphones? Most everyone I know no longer has any landline/VOIP phones. Assuming you already have a cellphone, that would be the most economical choice.
posted by jpeacock at 7:57 AM on April 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

About cell phones and reliability during power outages: the carriers are trying to make sure each wireless site has at least a four-hour battery backup available, and more where possible. Landlines have better sound and reliability than either VOIP or cell phones, but I think mobile beats out VOIP for reliability.
posted by asperity at 8:48 AM on April 24, 2016

VOIP at one time could have been good, but these days is overpriced and generally is bad.

Nobody seems to need a landline anymore. Unless of course you are my parents. All of your issues seem to be solved by having a cellphone. Ting is really inexpensive.

I kept the cable internet, dropped the TV (Still kept Netflix and Amazon Prime), and all I miss is the live sportsball.
posted by Sphinx at 9:04 AM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

I went VOIP with Vonage for a long time, and eventually we just never used it, so that the cordless phone batteries stopped working. now I just have a cellphone. Keep a high capacity backup battery on hand in case of a power outage, and consider getting a UPS for your modem and router so you (might) have Internet access for awhile too.
posted by cabingirl at 9:27 AM on April 24, 2016

I have VOIP through Ooma and it's great. It's $4.23 a month, and I got the initial set up pack through Groupon for like $50 (I think it's $100 through Ooma new).

I used Vonage for many years, and then didn't have any landline/VOIP for a long time. But for things like conference calls for work it's nice to have a non-cell phone. I was tired of being embarrassed at dropped calls and/or not being able to hear my co-workers.

I have not had Internet drop since I got it, but there's no way it's not DOA if Internet drops. I believe there are cordless phones that would allow you to have your phones placed wherever you want (with separate chargers) but have the main one plugged in behind your TV? Alternately, you might be able to use power line networking or another solution to let the phone device be in a different room.
posted by getawaysticks at 9:48 AM on April 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Seconding Ooma. You can also buy a wireless "extender" for it (sorry, forget what it's called) that is basically a receiver you can plug into the landline base, thus allowing you to put the actual phone anywhere in the house (with decent reception).

I only got Ooma because of a security systems issue at my last place but now I've moved I've decided to keep it, at least for now. I already have the unit and a phone, and the cost for basic service is literally less than $5 (it's just the taxes). I hate having long conversations on a cell, and GV through Hangouts sometimes has less than stellar sound quality, so for the occasional serious call it's probably worth it.
posted by praemunire at 10:08 AM on April 24, 2016

I'll just start out by linking to my post in that thread you mention earlier on.

I'm a big fan of an Obihai box (~$50~$70 one time hardware cost on Amazon), Google Voice service (free, including totally free calls to US and Canada and very good international rates), and something like Callcentric for E911 service ($1.50/month). It's cheap, the call quality is better than my recent experiences with landlines, and it's been worry free (since Obi started officially supporting Google Voice in mid-2014).

To answer your specific questions:

If the power goes down, you will lose phone service (although, most people have cordless phones for which this was true already). If you have some sort of battery backup to plug your router, VOIP box, and cordless phone in, there's a good chance you'll still have service.

If there is a phone jack next to where your router currently is, you should be able to plug your VOIP box into that jack and that will distribute your phone connection to all of the phone jacks in your house. The big caveat with this is that you need to ensure that your house is physically disconnected from the telephone company's phone lines or the signal in their lines can fry your equipment.

I guess the con here is that Obihai/GV/Callcentric is a bit more technically complicated than simply calling a phone company up and getting them to install their service (also a bit more complicated than Ooma or Vonage). That said, Obihai has been making great progress on having setup guides on their homepage and there are guides that take you through exactly what you want to do linked right from their home page.
posted by Betelgeuse at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2016

Good comments so far, all, thanks. A couple clarifying comments -

1. The biggest reason I'm still keeping a home phone is because, like praemunire, I don't like long conversations on a cell phone, and also because I know I would NEVER be able to train my parents to call me on that number all the time. I tend to use my cell only for emergency calls when I am in transit somewhere.

2. I can't really do any heavy wiring to have the router hookup in one room and the phone handset in another room - I rent. However, the wifi signal is good and clear throughout my whole apartment, so if there is some kind of wireless connection I could use to get that signal ( did I read that it'd be a wireless receiver doohickey I plug my phone set into?) that'd be great.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:43 PM on April 24, 2016

I have had a voip landline cordless phone in my studio and the base station and modem in the house for the last 18 months. All good and so much cheaper. A standard cordless voip phone base station plugs into the phone jack in the modem. The base station itself sends the signal to other paired handsets in the house/studio etc. The secondary handsets just have a recharge station, no wiring required.
posted by Thella at 4:04 PM on April 24, 2016

I've been happy with ooma. If you have a phone like this one (chosen completely randomly off amazon - I am not recommending this specific phone) you can physically connect the base unit to the ooma thing (which does have to be physically connected to your modem/router) and then put the additional units wherever you want. Ooma has 911 service - IIRC it's based on the address you provide for billing - which not all the voips have. For me the cost is about $7/month, so slightly higher than other commenters. They are right that it is basically just local taxes. Sound quality has been fine in most cases and I've not had problems with dropped calls. However, I believe it does lose function if you lose either wifi/internet or power in general.
posted by 2 cats in the yard at 4:06 PM on April 24, 2016

My setup is the Obihai box mentioned above and phonepower as my VOIP provider. Once you purchase the Obihai you can take advantage of a Obihai/phonepower plan that gives you unlimited inbound and outbound calls to the US and Canada, 60 min/month of international calling to 55 countries and E911 service for $60/year.

To answer your questions:
* What if the power goes out or my Internet goes down? Am I SOL and not able to call anyone?
Not particularly, there are a couple of options. Phonepower has something called a failsafe number. If your electricity/internet goes out your phone is automatically forwarded to this number. I use my mobile number for this. Of course another option is purchase of battery backup, but that doesn't solve for an internet outage.
* The installation sounds like you plug something into your internet router, but the place where my router box is is in a completely different room than the one where I want my phone to be. Is there a way to hack that problem? Or do I need to just suck it up and have my phone next to my TV now?
If you have a phone with a cord, you'd probably need one of these gizmos. On the other hand, you could just get a new pair of cordless phones for around $30, connect the base unit next to the TV, and place the extension anywhere there's an electrical outlet.
* Is there any other problem I'm not thinking about that I may notice when this happens? (I will be porting my old number, so I've already thought of that and found a solution.)
You shouldn't notice a difference if you have a decent internet connection. And the upside of course is if you move all you need do is disconnect it at the old home, hook it up at the new home and you're still getting calls at your old number.

The only other thing I'd add is though it's not terribly complex, it helps to be comfortable working with technology to set this all up.
posted by SteveInMaine at 5:25 PM on April 24, 2016

I haven't used it personally so can't vouch for its functionality, but there is indeed a wireless doohickey for Ooma.
posted by praemunire at 6:55 PM on April 24, 2016

I had landline service through my cable company, and about two months ago there was some static on the line. When the repair guy came out he said my analog system was shot, and they don't repair them anymore. He set me up with VOIP through my modem. I then switched from the cable company's service to Vonage for a few reasons that aren't important here.

Call quality is fine, but yes, the most annoying about it is when the Internet is down, so is my phone.

Anyway, the point is if you like a landline, at some point sooner or later you're going to have to switch over to VOIP because they're phasing out the traditional phone lines. That knowledge might influence your decision.
posted by Leontine at 7:57 PM on April 24, 2016

If you're worried about the phone not working when your Internet is down, you could get something like an AT&T Wireless Home Phone. It uses the same wireless network as your cell phone, but it's a box that plugs in to your wall and you can plug a regular phone into it. It also has a battery backup so you don't have to worry about power outages.
posted by thejanna at 6:03 AM on April 25, 2016

hah - one of the reasons I want to ditch the land line is because I have AT&T and they were dicks to me once, but I had no other good phone option.

Follow up question - if I move, then is "moving my phone" just a matter of unplugging the doohickey in my old place and then plugging it in at the new place when the Internet is set up? Also, do any internet phone services have any kind of cel, phone plan too?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:13 AM on April 25, 2016

Yes, for the VOIP phones you should just be able to plug them in at the new place when you move.

If you don't like AT&T, I know Verizon also offers the Wireless Home Phone thing. It's just like adding a phone to your current wireless plan. So you might want to check with whatever wireless service you currently use.
posted by thejanna at 7:47 AM on April 25, 2016

Count me in as another long-time Vonage user (ugh, try explaining to the Obama campaign volunteer that it was the middle of the night in Australia, yes, even though they were calling an NY area code) who eventually gave up and moved to Ooma.

If Vonage had spent a fraction of what they're now spending to woo me back, to give me lower bills in the first place, I'd probably still be with them.

With Ooma, we got the wireless adapter, so it sits in the living room and joins the house wireless network. Call quality is really pretty meh - CrashPlan running online backups on the house computer makes calls sound like garbage, for example - but the wireless connection is convenient and we've really stopped caring about the land line.
posted by RedOrGreen at 7:47 AM on April 26, 2016

Another Ooma user. I've had it for a year and have never had a problem with it. Like others my monthly payment is $4.24. I don't use it much, but now that I've moved across the country it's an easy way to have a local phone number (we are keeping our old cell phone numbers) -- once you've bought the unit it's just so cheap to keep it, there's not much downside.

If you move, you just go into your Ooma account and change your billing address, and plug it back in at your new place. Protip: if you move long-distance and want to change to a local number at your new place, sign up for the free 30-day trial of Premier service, add a second (local) phone number, ask Ooma to make that your primary phone number, and then cancel Premier. Otherwise they charge you $20 to change your number.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:47 AM on April 26, 2016

So narrowing things down a bit:

Ooma. I've looked at the site, and if I understand correctly: I have to buy their equipment no matter what, and it looks like I just plug stuff into things and then pay to have my existing number ported and poof, it works. (And it will automatically contact my existing land line service and tell them to cancel FOR me, which is actually a perk.) Do I have that correct?

As for the premier vs. basic service - the premier service has a feature called "Ooma Mobile Calling". Does that mean if I get premier service, I can also transfer my cell phone over to them too?

Definitely leaning towards this now; I fortunately have a good internet connection; I think I've only had one outage in about 3 years (and that was actually a TWC glitch where EVERYTHING went down for a few hours, not just the Internet).

So if I were to go with Ooma, what do I actually logistically do? Hit up Best Buy and buy the things and plug 'em in, or call the Ooma service and they send me things, or what?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:49 AM on April 27, 2016

Oh, and in my case, "moving" would be " a different apartment in New York City" rather than "....from New York to Topeka" or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 AM on April 27, 2016

You have to buy the Ooma Telo unit. I bought mine at, but if you can find somewhere cheaper, go with that. The Telo comes with all the instructions and things you need for setting up service. It's pretty straightforward.

I think the "mobile calling" gives you the ability to use the mobile app on your phone to make/receive calls, voicemails, etc. I don't know that it completely replaces a cell phone plan because you'd still need texting and data (someone else please correct me if I'm wrong), so Premier isn't worth it (IMO).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 7:13 AM on April 27, 2016

> You have to buy the Ooma Telo unit. I bought mine at, but if you can find somewhere cheaper, go with that. The Telo comes with all the instructions and things you need for setting up service. It's pretty straightforward.

Seconded. I bought mine off Amazon and it was simple to set up. I was issued a local phone number while my existing number port was processed, and once they finished, I had two phone numbers and I could choose which one would be the primary.

One more thing if you go with Ooma - if you have any friends who use Ooma, IRL or MeFi, ask for a referral code. Both sides get something out of it.
posted by RedOrGreen at 9:15 AM on April 27, 2016

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