Easy home VOIP
August 8, 2018 6:20 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend an easy and affordable home VOIP solution.

YoungGnutron is getting old enough to stay at home by herself. Our home has internet only - no cable or phone service. So we need a simple landline-style phone and provider that will allow her to call us when we're not around or 911 in case of disaster. There's obviously tons of options out there but it's hard to make sense of what's good.
posted by gnutron to Technology (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've used ooma for $5/month with my landline-style phone, with not too much trouble. It has voicemail, and I think an app, but I've not tried that. I was also able to port my old landline number. There is a noticeable delay when talking, but it's tolerable.
posted by Pig Tail Orchestra at 6:58 PM on August 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

For my kid who is also staying alone at home, I've done an old cell phone with a $3/month sim card.
posted by k8t at 7:11 PM on August 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

VOIP providers come and go. You're generally looking for a place that's been around for awhile, and is likely to be around for awhile longer. It's always hard to judge that last bit though.

VOIPO offers a good deal for $149 for two years. They ship you an analog telephony adapter (ATA) and you plug it in to your router, assuming a port is free. There is a standard RJ11 jack on the ATA and you plug in your favorite kind of traditional telephone. You can manage the account online, see call details, voicemail, all the usual stuff, through their web portal if you wish.

The main downside to DIY VOIP is that if your power goes out, your Internet and VOIP probably do too. If you buy it from your telco or cable company, there's a chance they will provide you with CPE that contains a battery, though this is also likely to be small, will need to be replaced at your expense, and doesn't guarantee that powered devices on the outside plant are still functional. Basically when power goes out, you might be without phone. Definitely for DIY VOIP. Quite likely also for provider-sponsored VOIP. So if you are looking for something that actually works in an actual civil disaster, VOIP probably isn't the solution. It sounds like you don't mean that though.
posted by jgreco at 8:00 PM on August 8, 2018

I have an Obihai box (~$50 one time cost) connected to Google Voice (Free) and Callcentric for 911 service ($1.50/month). It is not the absolute simplest thing to set up, but it’s fairly simple and, once it’s set up, it’s been rock solid for us: no downtime (other than when internet is down), no delay when talking, and, overall, an experience that’s no different from a landline. If you have landline wiring in your house (and you’re sure it’s physically disconnected from the phone service) you can connect the Obihai box to a wall jack and have phone service at every phone jack in the house.

Setup is definitely not as dead simple as some of the other methods (take a look here to get a sense of what’s involved), but it’s not bad and once it is set up it is completely invisible to the user; it just feels like using a landline phone.
posted by Betelgeuse at 8:28 PM on August 8, 2018

I've been using an Obihai box and Callcentric for many years as well and recommend both. Setting up obihai with Callcentric was easy; Callcentric publishes a guide. I end up spending around $5/mo.

While I know the Google Voice integration does work, I'd hesitate to recommend it because it's not a paid service, and Google has a long history of screwing with integrations and breaking 3rd party connections. In fact I got emails saying that Obihai's Google Voice support had to transition at one point and reconfiguration was required... maybe Betelgeuse can say if it caused an outage, but I was happy to not have to deal with it.
posted by doomsey at 9:05 PM on August 8, 2018

We're another happy Ooma user (we even have two!). We're on the "free" basic plan, so only around $5/month for each unit to cover taxes etc. The units cost us around $120 each I think, a couple of years ago.
posted by anadem at 8:57 AM on August 9, 2018

In fact I got emails saying that Obihai's Google Voice support had to transition at one point and reconfiguration was required... maybe Betelgeuse can say if it caused an outage, but I was happy to not have to deal with it.

Yes. Google Voice, as the heavyweight here, does throw their weight around at times and really doesn't care if their change in authentication breaks Obihai integration. There was time when the Obihai integration was broken for several months and switched to Anveo, which I was very unimpressed with (noticeable delays on calls and questionable audio quality at times). And then, recently, Obihai discontinued support for Google Voice integration on some of their older boxes and I had to upgrade to the one linked in the description.

So, it's far from perfect and it's annoying at times, but it's worth it for free, unlimited, high-quality calling the vast, vast majority of the time. And, if I ever decide it's not worth it, it's easy to take my Obihai box and go to Callcentric or one of the other providers.

So, OP, depending on your definition of "easy," this solution may or may not work for you. It's easy in a day-to-day way, but can be annoying every few years as Google or Obihai changes they way they're doing things. To me, it's worth it for free, high-quality phone service, but I can totally understand if it's not worth it for you.

posted by Betelgeuse at 11:05 AM on August 9, 2018

I have MagicJack. I was a pretty early adopter, and it was rough going at first. They fixed all that. It's been flawless for the last several years, and you can't beat the price. You get free domestic calling, local 911 functionality, and landline-type interface.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:28 PM on August 9, 2018

3rd fan of ooma here. We've had it for 5 years and it is easy to use and reliable.
posted by white_devil at 2:01 PM on August 10, 2018

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