How to Properly Ditch Traditional Phone Service?
June 13, 2007 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Hanging up on our traditional phone service... can I switch to VOIP and continue to use it once my metro area activates city-wide wifi? Or is there another solution?

Have Qwest in Minneapolis, and also have a horrid, deafening noise that takes over my home phone line 1) randomly and 2) for days at a time. The problem is not within my four walls, but Qwest can't figure it out, either. Hence, I'm paying for unreliable phone service.

I have broadband internet through a provider now, but Minni is launching a wifi very soon with coverage including my home.

Can I switch to a VOIP and somehow have it work with that new wifi, or is there some other alternative I should consider? Techies, please help!
posted by Arch1 to Technology (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Those who do VoIP over wi-fi in a controlled environment will tell you how "finicky" it is, how dropouts are common unless you're near the access point, how other radio interference (other wi-fi signals, microwaves, etc.) can interfere, and how bandwidth management issues can cause garbly speech. You can do it, but it takes a bit of planning and/or luck.

It all gets worse with city-wide wi-fi. Citywide wi-fi is usually specified for web surfing and E-mail, and not for real-time audio and video. The wi-fi access point is usually half a block to several blocks away, and is thus prone to various types of interference than one inside your home. There's no control of bandwidth, in that your neighbors can hog the connection in the middle of a call.

In short -- it will work, sure. The chances of it not working well are extremely high. And you'll pay $20 for the privilege.

In terms of wi-fi availability, keep in mind that Philly's been talking about city-wide wi-fi since 2004. They were planning on having it completely up and running in 2006. They've got only a few square miles going -- out of over 160. City-wide wi-fi is harder than anyone thinks, and most of the initiatives you've heard of ("my city has free wi-fi!") are in rather small cities, or exclusively in downtown city parks, public squares, or universities.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 11:21 AM on June 13, 2007

I EAT TAPAS is basically correct. I'm currently work with implementing VOIP software that uses wi-fi and would not trust a city-wide wi-fi network to give consistent good quality, if it ever will provide it. (But we don't usually have the same problem in controlled environments.)

How about ditching the land line completely and just use a cell phone all the time? I know many people who does that now, but then I live in Sweden where land lines are quite expensive (and local calls are not free).
posted by rpn at 11:45 AM on June 13, 2007

Response by poster: We could go just cell, but the spouse is jittery about the possibility. I think I can convince him if VOIP isn't worth pursuing, which it sounds like it isn't.
posted by Arch1 at 1:22 PM on June 13, 2007

When you city get wifi get one of these from a company with a decent return policy and just start making phone calls. Who knows, the quality and connectivity might work out for you. I have a feeling that all large free wifi networks will eventually disallow any kind of steaming (UDP) and only allow web and email access with strict filtering.
posted by damn dirty ape at 1:46 PM on June 13, 2007

I used a Vonage box as my only phone line for a year when I was in college, with a Time Warner / Roadrunner cable connection. I loved it, my housemates loved it, and I'd still be doing that now if I had broadband access out here in the boonies (two more weeks.. two more weeks..).

My advice: if your current broadband is reliable, suck up the $50/month or whatever for that and get VOIP. You'll get better-quality access than the city-provided wifi, which I would imagine will be flakey-ish anyway due to the number of users per AP. The only potential issue would be if you or your spouse likes to stream video or play games while talking on the phone, in which case QoS stuff can get sort of icky.
posted by Alterscape at 4:09 PM on June 13, 2007

I think VOIP only works with great broadband, and WiFi only qualifies sometimes. If you do go VOIP, get a month to month contract.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:14 AM on June 14, 2007

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