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I'm considering replacing my expensive home phone line with a VOIP option, but want to make sure I'm prepared for what to expect. I have a high-speed internet connection, and a (nearly) always-on Windows Vista PC. My primary goals are:

  • Reduced cost compared to $40+/month to the local phone co.
  • Make outgoing and receive incoming calls
  • Not be physically tethered to the PC (can answer the phone from a handset upstairs)

I know that I can get a Skype phone number and unlimited calls to the US for about $5 a month. Is this the best solution? What about Google Voice or MagicJack?

  • Do I need to buy a special "VOIP" handset? Do these hook directly to the PC?
  • Are there handsets that bypass the need for the PC entirely?
  • Are there adapters that let me use my existing (analog) phones?

  • What do I need to know about my VOIP phone in an emergency? (911 services, power outages)

[Edited question to make it a bit broader, and added a question about 911]

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Home Phone? What's that? – Jeff F. May 23 '11 at 21:38
What more do you need than a cell phone these days? – Keltari Aug 28 '11 at 6:11

From personal experience, I prefer Google Voice. The service will allow you to port over your existing phone number to Google. The features it has are awesome: voicemail transcribing, massive contact support, SMS, and so many more I can't list. The awesome part is that you can make Google Voice ring multiple phones. It could ring a cell and a home line, or even add a work line (you can select time ranges to ring certain phones).

This setup will cost you nothing per month, and it can be connected to a normal home telephone:

Google Voice and the Obihai OBi110

The OBi110 connects to your Google Voice account over the internet. Then it talks to Google's servers and it will translate that into a normal telephone line. Setup is easy and the device is inexpensive. You only need an internet connection, Google Voice, and the OBi110. The OBi110 is also on sale at right now for $49.99.

Here's how to set-up the device once you have bought it.

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E911/911 is not supported by Google Voice. I suggest moving to something like Ooma for that functionality. – evan.bovie Jul 6 '11 at 3:53
Didn't know about Obihai or Ooma. Very cool! – osij2is Jul 19 '11 at 21:48
I highly recommend the Obihai/Google Voice solution. I have been using it for some time now and it works flawlessly. – Roger Aug 2 '11 at 19:03

You will need special handsets if you want to be untethered from the computer. Take a look at the skype store for your options:

They do have devices that hook directly into your computer, that bypass your computer, and can be used with existing phones.

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You need a connection that is fast enough to support the number of concurrent calls you will be making. Basically, allow at least 100 Kbps up AND down per call. For most single line homes, this isn't an issue.

You will need to make sure that you have control over your router and the ability to configure it as necessary. Certain firewall settings can wreak havoc with voice calls (ALG, SPI, port triggering, intrusion detection, etc). You will also need to be able to forward the ports as necessary (depending on VoIP protocol used and model of phone, this will vary).

You will need to make sure that you can get control of the ISP device or that you can have it bridged. For the same reasons as needing control of the router, many ISP modems and routers can cause problems with VoIP.

You will need to ensure that your ISP does not enable ALG anywhere on their network, this will cause dropped calls and possible one-way audio issues.

Other than that, you need to make sure your internet circuit is clean of jitter, has latency under 100ms and no packet loss or you will experience a lot of call quality issues. You also will want to implement some sort of QoS on your router in order to prioritize our VoIP traffic (keep in mind that this will only prioritize it on YOUR network, not on your ISPs or any other network it traverses before it reaches the voice servers, but it can still be helpful).

If you are in the US, you will want to use a service that employs e911 so that you can rely on emergency services. In the event of a power outage, e911 will cease to work unless you keep your modem/router and your VoIP phone on battery backups.

Your phone is also dependent on your internet connection, so if you internet line goes down or has issues, it will affect your VoIP service.

As far as hardware goes, you can use smartphones or smartphone-like services like skype or counterpath xlite and any earphone and mic combo will work fine, so long as it is comfortable. If you want to use a hardphone (ie linksys 942, cisco 303, 525, polycom 321 335, etc), a lot of services will provide support for them and this will allow you to put the phone anywhere you can supply an internet connection to (but I do NOT recommend a wireless solution for placing your phone, but is is possible, see the cisco 525 for this option). You can also use your existing analog phone by getting a digital to analog converter (ATA, like the linksys 2102).

Some example of services that you can use are through companies like Megapath, AT&T, Verizon, Packet 8, WCI, and there are a hundred more.

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