Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Dumping Expensive Home Phone Service
A lot of people are getting rid of home phone service altogether and using cell phones exclusively. However, cell phones have many shortcomings- they may not work well in your home, they aren't as effective for 9-11 service, etc.
Unfortunately, even basic phone service from the phone company is expensive. While local service starts at around $15, by the time you figure in all the taxes and fees, you end up paying on the order of $25 per month before you even make your first call.
Vonage and other VOIP (internet based) phone services are often cheaper when you consider that they include long distance in their plans, but you will still likely pay $25-30 per month.
There is a better alternative.
If you've ever had a bout of insomnia and found yourself watching TV at 3 a.m., you've probably seen a commercial for a gadget called the "Magic Jack."
For $40, you buy a little USB gadget that plugs into your computer. This gadget claims to give you unlimited local and domestic long distance service for one year, and cost's $19.99 for each year thereafter.
Like most late night infomercials, the claims sound too good to be true. As a person who is not a heavy long distance user, I was not happy paying $30 a month for my unlimited VOIP program through my local cable provider, so I figured I'd give it a shot given that you can return it within 30 days if you buy from Magicjack.com or using normal store return policies if purchased elsewhere.
I installed it a month ago AND IT WORKS!
Installation was easy. Open the package, plug your regular home phone (wired or portable) into the device, then plug the device into an available USB slot on your computer. Wait a few minutes while the software automatically installs, then fill out a simple registration process. No big deal- I estimate it took less than 10 minutes for the entire process- getting the thing out of the heavy plastic packaging was the hardest part of the installation.
You get unlimited calling, voice mail, E911 service (the same 911 service you get with other VOIP providers) and call waiting, as well as some stuff I haven't tried yet (e.g. conference calling).
1. You can't port over your old home phone number. I've seen some web sites that say you can, but I sure as heck couldn't figure out how to do it. They will give you a bunch of new numbers to pick from. If you are in a large city, you will be able to choose a local number. If not, you may have to choose a number outside your current area code, which means that local friends may have to pay long distance fees to call you.
2. You have to dial the full 10-digit phone number every time, even for local calls. A minor annoyance which is easily fixed by programming numbers into the system.
3. You have to leave your computer running all the time to make or receive calls. When your computer isn't on, the Magic Jack will take voice mail messages. Since your computer is going to be on all the time, I recommend putting it to use by running a distributed computing program in the background. Distributed computing harnesses the power of thousands of PCs to act as a sort of supercomputer to conduct scientific research or find cures for diseases. I've been running distributed computing programs on my computers for years. The best place to get the software and information about distributed computing is: http://boinc.berkeley.edu/.
4. Every once in a while, you won't get a dial tone when you pick up the receiver- all you have to do is hit the flash and it will work fine.
The bottom line: it is not quite as nice as my old VOIP and regular phone service was due to the minor problems listed above.
But for less than $4 a month, this thing is great. I dumped my VOIP service completely. I'll save about $360 this year using Magic Jack (heavy long distance users may save even more).
For $360, I'll put up with those minor inconveniences. Also, some people may want to get one as a cheap second phone line. If you call overseas often, buy one for your foreign friends/relatives- you can call from your Magic Jack to theirs for free.