Contemplating Cutting The Phone Cable Too

A couple of months ago I successfully “cut the cable” and canceled my subscription to my cable television service. I detailed the experience in Mac Power Users Episode 62. In the four months since disconnecting Cable TV service I’ve been very pleased with the experience and haven’t considered going back. I’ve also enjoyed a nearly $75 monthly cost savings on my cable bill.

I still use my local cable provider for high speed Internet access and telephone service. Unfortunately, the cable company is the only game in town for the high speed access I need. The DSL options offered by the phone company have slower speeds and less competitive prices. I have struggled with the decision to keep a landline telephone service since most people I know have long since given up their landline phone. I’ve kept my landline around for three major reasons:

  1. Poor cell phone reception at my home. Although I do use a Microcell and it allows me to use my cell phone where I otherwise would not have service, the experience is less than stellar and the device has its own set of problems that have caused me to want a landline as a backup. The Microcell will regularly drop calls, have problems with echoes and occasionally take extended periods of time to connect a call.
  2. I have a home alarm system that uses a phone line to contact the monitoring station. I’m not a fan of contracts - but at the time I built my home given a number of factors and promotions at the time it was significantly less expensive to have the alarm installed with a long-term contract for monitoring than to pay for the system outright. I have about 50 months remaining on that contract.
  3. Convenience. Because of the poor cell phone reception at my home and the problems with the Microcell it’s easier just to grab the landline and chat when I’m at home, especially for longer calls.

As I was gathering information together for my CPA at the end of the year it struck me just how much I was paying for my home phone service that I really didn’t use all that often. I started having the same questions I did about my cable TV service - is it worth the price? I had the bare-bones telephone line from the cable company. Local calling only, no extra features. The advertised price was $12.99 but after taxes the total bill for the phone service was $25.20. Some quick math told me that over the 50 months remaining on my alarm monitoring contract I would spend $1,260 alone on the cost of the home phone line, and that’s assuming no price increases. I started thinking there had to be a better way and started investigating.

A call to my alarm company confirmed they had a “radio monitoring option” that could be added to my system for an additional $8 a month to lease the radio equipment. (No option to purchase the equipment outright). While that does add another $8 to my alarm bill, if I an cut my phone bill, I would be saving $17 overall. That takes care of the alarm - but what about the other reasons I wanted a landline phone? Poor cell phone service and convenience. It would be nice to still have the option to have a landline phone. What options are there for inexpensive home phone service?

I’ve used Vonage in the past, and while I was pleased with their service and features, there would be little or no price savings compared to my cable company’s solution. I’ve also heard very good things about Ooma. People who have used the service swear by it and it has overwhelmingly positive reviews from my research. Their VOIP model is pay once for the box (about $200), and the basic level of service is free, you only pay the taxes which users say are currently around $4 per month. I dismissed the highly advertised MagicJack because the reviews indicated the voice quality was spotty though some reviewers have been very pleased with their experience. I also dismissed options like Skype because I wanted a service that would be plug and play with my current phone system and not require a computer to be running any software.

The solution I’m most intrigued by was recommended by @q1n on twitter who recommended OBiTalk. They have a very different model from any of the other VOIP providers in that they have the ability to connect with a GoogleVoice account using the OBi Device as a bridge to GoogleVoice allowing you to use your GoogleVoice number with a regular landline phone. While there are instructions on the Obihai website explaining this process, I found this review from CNET to be helpful in explaining how the service works.

I haven’t had an opportunity to use the OBiTalk device myself, the reviews on Amazon are overwhelmingly positive and for a $50 investment, the cost of entry is fairly low. As a bonus, I get to use my GoogleVoice number exclusively as my home phone number, which would be my preference since I love the GoogleVoice service and have been effectively using the Google number as my home phone number for years anyway.

One important thing to note, the ObiTalk Device depends on the GoogleVoice service, and the GoogleVoice service only connects to the Analog phone through the Obihani service. GoogleVoice has announced their service will remain free for calls to the US and Canada through 2012 but no information on the costs thereafter. Of course, if the Obihai service is discontinued, this whole system breaks down. There aremore risks associated with this compared to a more traditional provider, but I’m hopeful that the days of needing a landline phone are numbered and within a year or two cell phone service will be more reliable and the whole situation will be moot.

I’ve ordered the OBi Device from Amazon and hope to install and test it in the next week or so. I’ll report back with the results. I’d be curious to know how others are handling this situation, whether you have any experience, good or bad, with ObiTalk or alternative VOIP providers.