Goodbye landline, hello VoIP!


One of the things you want when you move into an apartment or in my case, the school’s residences, is a phone. Like many residential facilities today, phones are still plugged into the trusty RJ11 plug. Some decide to go with a landline phone, others go with a cell phone. And there’s a bunch who go straight with VoIP.

When I moved away from my parent’s cozy home, I was equipped with Skype and a cell phone.  I had no cell phone plan – I only activated it in times I needed to receive calls (the school requires to have a valid phone number for some rather essential operations like internship interviews) and for the rest, I used the Skype-out service.

That setup was more or less effective. First of all, I couldn’t call any emergency services. Of course I don’t call them daily, but it’s always a nice to have. You know, in case of… an emergency. Second of all, it turned out I needed to receive calls more than I anticipated. Since my cell phone was down 75% of the time, people found it a bit difficult to call me. Finally, if you work in a 64 bit Linux environment, you know how Skype can be a pain.

I needed a solution. Now, if you are a student, you don’t want to pay too much (unless you want to spend the next 15 years paying back all your bills). It seemed to me like an impossible equation to have a constantly opened phone (landline or cell phone) and have a low bill at the end of the month. For landlines, I could only pick from one phone provider inside the school’s residences – and that’s one provider I specifically didn’t want to go with (paying too much for too little is only one concern). For Skype, numbers aren’t available in Canada so that was out of questions. And for cell phones, I didn’t want to wrestle with providers to have something decent.

Now, with these parameters in mind, how do you save cash and still have a decent setup? One of my friends suggested that I go with a VoIP provider. More specifically, one using SIP. I was new to this kind of technology and I didn’t know if it was the good thing for me. So I tried some SIP software before switching to a paid subscription. I tried the Ekiga software and service. Although I had difficulties with my router (mainly because of NAT problems), the service was working well. After a couple of months, I finally went for a paid subscription with a provider that a friend of mine suggested and connected to the service with Twinkle.  After a couple of months, I was able to get my hands on a SIP-capable phone and I couldn’t be merrier. The price is low (not the lowest, but still very acceptable – roughly ten bucks CAD per month) and I can call landline phones anywhere in Canada and US with no extra charge.

Going with a SIP provider has many advantages – one of them is that you can connect to their servers with any SIP software you want. So whether you’re in Windows, Mac OS or Linux, you can easily find SIP software that fits your needs (should you not have a SIP-capable phone or a VoIP ATA). Moreover, you can also manage to have some mobility by installing a VoIP program on your laptop (there’s also maybe SIP software that can run on your mobile device).

There are also some shortcomings to using VoIP services. One of them is your Internet connection. If yours is reliable, there’s no worry. But if your Internet provider has a tendency of cutting out your connection for whatever reason, you might be annoyed by interrupted calls. There’s also the problem of NAT – if you are behind a router, you’ll have to make sure that you setup your port forwarding correctly. In the case that you want to use SIP software with both a phone and a computer behind your router, things can get complicated.

Nevertheless, if you search for an economic solution for telephony, search for VoIP providers in your area – you might be surprised at the money you can save compared to standard landline or mobile phone services. Some providers will give you only the connection information – you do your own phone setup. Others will give you an ATA to plug your standard phone into. The choice is up to you! And I am for one who likes choice. Taking the extra steps to setup your own phone system at home using SIP is both interesting and economic.