Replacing traditional telephone service

Replacing traditional telephone service

Summary: Disconnecting from landlines can be difficult. While mobile phones can be a good replacement for most of the functions of a traditional telephone service, there are a few things that mobile phones and wireless service just don't do. What can we do to replace those other functions?

TOPICS: Telework

A short while ago, I took up residence in a nice home. Unfortunately, there are very limited options for cable service in the area, and we were forced to accept the only option that provided all of the needed services: Cable television, "high-speed" internet, and telephone service. Once we closed on the property, I called that supplier, Time Warner Cable (TWC), and discussed its available services and pricing. Although the price was higher than a similar selection of services from our previous supplier, Verizon FIOS, and the internet performance was lower, I held my nose and selected a package of services and scheduled an installation a couple of months later.

My first interaction with Time Warner Cable was, shall we say, much worse than I expected (see Time Warner Cable and canceled installation for the full story). In the end, we ended up with cable television and what TWC describes as "high-speed" internet. We just couldn't stomach paying so much more for a dedicated telephone line. So, we decided to become a disconnected family and just use our mobile telephone service.

A few problems appeared during our first month of this grand experiment. We couldn't send or receive faxes, and on rare occasions, our mobile telephone service become unavailable. So, I explored what options were available for voice over IP (VoIP) that would work with our existing telephone hardware. It didn't take long to uncover several options.

All of the options were based upon the purchase of a device that plugged into the router and offered a way for our telephone system to work as if it were connected to a landline. Our goal was to find a system offering monthly pricing that was at least two thirds less than TWC, with good call quality, voicemail, call forwarding, the support of at least two lines (one for our telephone system and one for the fax machine), and could be quickly and easily installed.

Here are some of the options that we considered:

  • magicJack

  • netTalk

  • Obiha

  • Ooma.


MagicJack offers a heavily advertised solution that is based upon a small device that plugs into the cable modem or router. The device includes a power adapter. A regular or cordless phone is then plugged into the device. The device appears to be available for approximately $60, and the annual telephone service is priced at approximately $30.

I spoke with several clients and friends who have been using this device for a while. Nearly everyone commented that they liked the pricing for both the device and the service. They also commented that they often heard complaints that their voices sounded distorted and there were irritating lags that led people to talk over one another.


NetTalk, like magicJack, provides several devices and an inexpensive telephone service. The devices are priced from $34.95 for the netTalk Duo II to $64.95 for the netTalk WiFi. The service offerings are segmented differently than magicJack. The base service is priced at about $30. Service to Canada and Mexico is an additional $5.85 per month. Service to an additional 60 countries costs $10 per month.

None of my clients, friends, or colleagues were using this service, so I had to rely on online reviews. As with magicJack, customers liked the pricing, but had concerns about call quality.


Obihai technology offers a number of devices. A one-line device costs $59.99. A two-line device is priced at $99.99. The company also offers business systems. Obihai's claim to fame is that it offers a way to connect its devices to Google's Google Voice. It also offer an Android and iOS app that allows those devices to use the Obihai service.

As with netTalk, none of my clients, friends, or colleagues were using this service, so I had to rely on online reviews.


Ooma offers the Ooma Telo, the device that connects to the network and offers a telephone jack; an HD2 handset; Linx, a four-port expander; and both a wireless and Bluetooth adapter. Ooma also offers a mobile app.

Ooma's Telo is priced at $179.99, and the monthly service is approximately $5. They offer a premium service for approximately $10 that offers a second line and several other services. In order to access that second line, it is either necessary to be using the HD2 handset or to purchase Ooma's Linx.

Several of my clients are using this device, and mentioned that the sound quality was as good or better than a traditional landline.

Snapshot analysis

There are many other offerings from suppliers, such as Cisco and Vonage. The hardware and service offerings vary widely, and it is necessary to really work out what each will cost for one, two, and three years. It appeared that the Ooma combined with the company's Linx fit our needs the best.

Is your company using one of these systems? What is your experience with them?

Topic: Telework


Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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  • Landline still has quality advantage over voip or mobile

    If you still need to use your voice phone for business purposes to speak with customers, I would still consider using a landline, it still works best. I work out of a home office and get great quality from my Verizon FIOS phone service. (And FIOS internet is fantastic as well.) Many coworkers use their cell or a voip phone and you can hear the quality problems on a regular basis. Even though it is pricey I like having the great quality when I speak or web demo to customers from the office.
    • I wish FIOS was available here

      Unfortunately, Verizon hasn't wired up this area. So, FIOS isn't an available option. It's sad but true.
  • Dropping Land Line Right Now

    My wife and I are about a year from retiring and moving to a different location. In the process, we are terminating our traditional land line now and won't have one when we move.

    This article sounds almost like something I would write given that I too have investigated all of these VoiP providers. If we were going to continue with VoiP, I would choose Ooma. I'm a big believer in a higher initial fixed cost with much lower forever payments.

    In the end, we decided to forget even VoiP. We purchased a Cobra Bluetooth PhoneLynx adapter from Amazon ($18). It's plugged into a Panasonic Dect 6.0 traditional wireless phone system with the base unit and 3 extensions. Our two iPhones are linked to this device. Whenever we're home and someone calls either of our cell phones, the regular phones ring and we can answer the call from any of these phones. We can also make outgoing calls using these phones and the call will be routed through our iPhones. To use the second linked iPhone for outgoing calls, you simply have to precede the phone number with "#2" (no quotes).

    We've been testing this for the past 6 weeks are just about the pull the plug on our old landline service. We've haven't had any technical issues and whenever we come home, our iPhones will automatically link up with the Cobra device within a few seconds of entering the house. Voice quality is the same as it is using either of the iPhones directly. We don't need fax service.

    I also use a free Google Voice number as an additional "screening" number so that I don't have to give anyone but my family my "real" iPhone number. I can also use Google Voice to completely block any phone numbers--something not easily done with regular cell providers.

    For us, this offers a really inexpensive option with zero additional monthly cost. Once we retire, we're also going to install a hi-def TV antenna in our attic, stop using satellite TV, and use iTunes, Hula, Amazon Prime, and Netflix as the alternatives.
  • One additional item...

    In my post above I forgot to mention that we already own 4 Apple TV devices.
  • my wife

    And I relocated about 4 years ago and haven't had a landline since. We pay Sprint an extra fee for an Airave in home signal booster. I have access to a fax at work for those rare occasions when we need to fax. I don't miss landline at all
  • Android Includes A SIP Stack

    Have you looked at subscribing to a bare-bones SIP service? Connect to it with your own server running, say Asterisk. Then your mobiles can make calls through this server via your Wi-Fi while you're at home, no need to use separate non-mobile handsets.
  • Quality May Vary Based On Location

    I've tried a number of VOIP providers - including OOMA - and actually found that at least in my locale magicJack actually has the best audio quality. It appears that when considering VOIP providers that do not specialize in higher-end (and thus considerably more expensive) enterprise-grade installations, there are a number of factors that can determine which one would be best; price alone does NOT seem to be one of them.

    It may also be worth noting that magicJack has announced that it will soon be releasing a new VOIP device that will be considerably more powerful and offer even better audio quality than its current magicJack Plus product currently offers; the new product is said to also offer considerably greater support for the needs of business applications. The new device is expected to become available by 6/1/2013, will retail for about $50 and include 6 months of initial service (with pre-paid service renewals per phone number continuing to be $30 per year or $100 for 5 years).