Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Talk is cheap....and portable!

When I first began traveling alot for business, I had a cell phone for my business calls and a "Ma Bell" landline phone for home/personal calls. The home phone had an answering machine that I had to call periodically to see if I had any messages. It was a hassle, and I often wasn't aware of important messages until hours/days later.

So my next solution was to change my home phone to Vonage VOIP. It had a great feature that would email me any voice mails and allow me to listen to the message right from the email message. When I first got Vonage, it was about the same price as my basic AT&T home phone service (less than $20/mo). But over the years, it's fees continued to grow. Finally, a few months ago when the cost was now $27/mo, I decided to find a less expensive replacement.

I have a mobile phone with unlimited minutes, so that certainly could have been an easy solution-- but I didn't want to give my cell number out to all the places I do business with (as I'm sure telemarketing calls would inevitably result). I also didn't want to give up my multi-handset wireless phone system at home-- much nicer than carrying your cell phone up and down stairs.

Well, I've now found my solution(s)-- great features, super cheap, but rather techie to initially set up. Now, instead of paying nearly $30 a month, I'm paying around $3/mo and getting even more features!

Here's what I use:

Google Voice - This is an AMAZING free service that can be used with your existing number or they'll give you a new free phone number for your local area code. It shares the same contact list as Google Gmail and can import/export with various other address books. Google Voice is a call-routing service with a few cool twists. I gave my Google phone number out to all my friends and places I do business with. When they call the number, Google routes the call to whatever phones I wish to ring (such as my mobile and my home phones). Voice mail comes to me as email and includes not only the audio file but a text transcription of the call too.

But here's 3 really cool features--
- Advanced Call Routing: I can set it up so that some or all of my contacts ring my phones, but other contacts go right to voicemail (great way to avoid those telemarketing calls!), and if I ever get some weird stalker or rouge fax machine calling my number repeatedly, I can set Google Voice to give them a "We're sorry, the number you have reached is not in service" message. Wow!

- Free U.S. calls: Now this is really cool! My new home phone plan allows for unlimited free incoming calls, and low-cost outgoing calls. I thought that was a pretty good deal, but Google Voice makes it even better-- when I want to make a free call, I just select my desired contact (or type the number manually) in Google Voice and tell it to use my Home phone. Google Voice then calls my Home phone (a free incoming call) and connects me to the number I wish to talk to. Pretty mind-bending!

- Free SMS Text messages: I can send/receive free SMS text messages on my Google Voice phone number. I've got these set up to go to my email account (as that email gives me an auto-notification on my iPhone whenever new messages arrive). I can send SMS replies to these via email too, so it's essentially getting free unlimited text messages on my iPhone without having to pay AT&T for them.

Now if I didn't want to continue using my multi-handset cordless home phone system, I could have stopped right there and just have used Google Voice with my cell phone. But since I still wanted these phones, here's what I did to make them work:

D-Link DPH-50U USB Phone Adapter: I got this on close-out for about $20. It only works with Windows XP, so I use it with an old laptop that I leave running all the time at home. I then can plug any regular phone into this adapter (in my case, the cordless phone).

Skype provides a phone number for Google Voice with unlimited free incoming calls (SkypeIn). When I first signed-up for Skype, I bought a 1 month subscription which then allowed me to buy the SkypeIn phone number at 50% off ($30/yr rather than $60). Now that the subscription has ended, I'm now just buying SkypeOut credit as needed to make any outbound calls I wish to landlines and cell phones. Since I use the Google Voice trick above, I rarely need to use my SkypeOut credits, but they're nice to have around if I ever need them.

Skype is nice to use as a backup to my AT&T iPhone (which is notorious for dropped calls depending on where I happen to be). There's also a nice Skype iPhone app that lets me make calls from my iPhone via Wifi, so when paired up with my Verizon MiFi cellular modem, I can make an iPhone call via Verizon's network using Skype! Pretty cool and a very essential feature when RV traveling to not have to rely on a single cell carrier for all your phone calls.

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