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Thursday, July 13, 2006

How to cut your land-line phone bill to as little as $38(US) per year

I had been a happy Vonage user for almost 2 years when recently my router/phone adapter stopped working with a constant flashing power led. I tried everything I could to attempt to revive the thing...holding the reset button for 15, 30, 45, 120 seconds...holding the reset button while powering on...constantly pinging the router while it was booting to see if there was a response which would mean I could possibly TFTP into it and reflash the firmware. But, none of this worked. After a flurry of e-mails back and forth to Vonage with them telling me to try everything I already tried, they finally tell me after the tenth e-mail that my router isn't under warranty and I'll have to buy a new one:(

To me, this was my invitation to look around and see if any cheaper voip services now existed. My family and I don't use the phone too often at home, so we were paying for the cheapest Vonage rate of $14.99 a month, which after taxes and fees comes out to more like $17.99 a month.

At first I looked at some providers that offer bring your own device (BYOD) plans like http://www.broadvoice.com who currently offers a plan for $8.70/month after fees and taxes. I like the idea of being able to use a router that isn't tied to a particular service, like Vonage routers, and just using a SIP based router which can be used with any open SIP based provider.

Next I checked out Skype, which uses a proprietary peer to peer protocol for their infrastructure (along with a little SIP for SkypeOut/In calls I think). No one could come close to the price for their service at $38 for a SkypeIn number (a number reachable by any regular phone) and free SkypeOut calls within the US until the end of 2006. I'm not sure how much it will be after this, but my guess is it will still be cheaper than the regular voip and telco prices per call if you use under 500 minutes a month, as my family does. At this low of price nothing was keeping me from creating an account and buying a SkypeIn number to give it a try. If I don't like it I'm only out $38.

My next task to be able to test this as our whole-home phone service was to find a PC to PSTN adapter so we could plug our 3 handset cordless phone into it. I went on eBay and found a SkypeKey for US $29.99 total, shipped from China. It took about 15 days for it to make it through customs and all, but it did arrive and was exactly as described on the auction. Setup was a breeze. Just plugged it into a USB port, installed the driver/software CD it came with and was making calls from our cordless phone all in about 10 minutes.

The call quality of Skype isn't quite at the level of Vonage yet, as there is a small delay between the time we talk and the voice is received on the other end, but at only US$58 ($158 dollars cheaper than Vonage per year) for service and adapter for an entire YEAR, who can complain? My only two small issues with the SkypeKey adapter is it doesn't seem to send caller id to the phone (even though the software contains a dll, F3CID.dll, that appears to handle this). Also the adapter requires a PC to be constantly running with Skype and the SkypeKey software, which isn't a huge issue in our home since we always have our media PC running.

Some other side benefits of the Skype(In) service are:

  • Can make multi-calls: you can call up to 9 people while putting the rest on hold. (for free)

  • Can make conference calls (for free)

  • Can make multiple calls: using multiple skype clients on different, or the same, PCs two or more calls can be made at the same time. I called my parents from my PDA while my wife was talking to her parents through another PC hooked up through the SkypeKey. It's like having multiple phone lines in the house.

  • Voicemail with SkypeIn (for free)

  • Call forwarding: to other skype accounts or PSTN/SkypeOut numbers (for free)

  • Can make calls from your PDA (for free): anywhere you have broadband access.

Another point to consider with Skype is that they don't have emergency service connections like 911 dialing. This is not a major issue for us because we can dial emergency services through our cell phones should we need to.

We'll see how well it goes over the next couple of months. My big test is to see if my wife can use the phone without any other knowledge of how her calls are being completed. At unlimited calling for free I think we'll be calling our families more often;)


  • At 7:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thank you for your comments about the SkypeKey. My name is Amy and I work in the sales department of tradetouch (www.tradetouch.com), the manufacturer of the SkypeKey. Our current software does support caller ID. Please visit www.tradetouch.com/download to download the new version.

    If your telephone only supports caller ID digits, the SkypeKey will show the quick dial number of the caller. If the telephone supports alphanumeric caller ID, the SkypeKey will show the registered Skype ID of the caller. Please email me at amy@tradetouch.com should you have any questions.

    Amy, Tradetouch

  • At 7:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    At unlimited calling for free I think we'll be calling our families more often;

    Hehe if your like me then thats a downside..as soon as my mum found out the tariff was so low she was expecting me to call her everyday...on the serious side i live in the uk and have been using skype for some time now.
    Here we "Top-up" the skype account like "Pay-As-You-go" mobile/cell phones
    I can get by on about £5 every month, but thats only out going calls
    If i want Skype in i have to pay £3 a month, plus voicemail is a separate charge aswell
    But on the whole it saves me loads on money a month and i am very happy with the quailty of calls
    I'll be staying with skype for the foreseeable future =)


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