Do you ever look over at your kitchen counter and see a piece of previous-millennia technology staring back at you? No, not your can opener … a landline phone.
If you look at that monthly bill, you might feel a bit like the phone is gloating. With taxes and complicated fees that phone could easily be costing you $30 or more a month. A couple of long-distance calls could run that bill up even further. Could I spend that money better elsewhere?
There are two potential reasons to consider keeping a traditional phone in your house. First, 911 services are indexed to a land-line database. If there is an emergency in your house, emergency services has your address information as soon as the call connects. This could be a good thing if you cannot speak when you connect. All cellphones (activated or not) can call 911 but emergency services will only have a rough position based on the cellphone towers that the phone is accessing.
The other land line benefit is that Ma Bell provides her own power, so there is no concern about batteries. Even if the power has been out for days, a landline will still function perfectly, which is great for a sense of security. You may also want a secondary line so you can give that number out for situations that require a phone number, but are likely to get you on a telemarketer list. You really don’t want those guys to have your cellphone number.
If you cut Ma Bell’s cord, you could always rely completely on a cellular phone from a traditional company or one of the prepaid companies.. The upside of this approach is that you are only dealing with one phone number, but often, cell coverage is not optimal inside your home. And unless you are on an unlimited plan, you may find yourself spending more money than you did on the landline for calls.
If you have high-speed Internet at your house, you have a couple of options. Magic Jack lets you recycle that old landline phone with a USB adapter that plugs into your computer. For $59.95, you get Magic Jack’s interface and a year of unlimited phone service. This phone must plugged into a computer for it to function, so if you want a phone to be available all the time, you will have to plan on your computer being on constantly.
Ooma is another web-based calling option. You can buy one of its Ooma Telo appliances for around $150. Connect it to your high-speed Internet connection, plug a traditional phone into it and start making calls within the United States for free … mostly. You will still be billed monthly for taxes and fees, which will be in the $5-a-month range. Ooma does have a step-up service that adds a bunch of additional features for $120 a year. This includes free calls to Canada.
While all can make outbound calls and save you some serious money on international calls, Skype and Google Voice are best-suited for use as a phone replacement system. Each gives you the option to have a dedicated phone number for inbound calls.
They feature voicemail functions and will run on all major computer and mobile operating systems. Both systems have pretty sophisticated call-forwarding capabilities that allow them to ring another number if you are not logged into the service at the moment.
Both add a level of complexity to the equation. You need to have a computing device logged in to their systems or have the forwarding turned on. For Skype to have a phone number, it requires you purchase one of its premium service plans.
A hybrid solution
Perhaps the most intriguing solution if you want to lose your home phone but still keep some of those functions and a capabilities is Republic Wireless. We reviewed its service last year and came away impressed with the idea and operation, but a little underwhelmed by the phone option it provided.
Republic is a cellular company trying to do things a bit differently. Its phones have custom software that uses a WiFi network to make phone calls, which is essentially free. This capability makes setting up your phone to work on the Internet completely transparent. If you are logged into a WiFi network, the phone simply defaults to using that bandwidth and you don’t have to do anything.
This is also reflected in Republic’s monthly pricing. While you do have to buy a phone (ranging from $99 to $299), it has WiFi-only phone plans that start at $5 a month.
Yes, you read that right. Five dollars a month (plus some minor taxes and fees) gets you unlimited WiFi calling and a dedicated inbound phone number that works wherever you have WiFi coverage. This phone also has cellular capabilities so you would still be able to dial 911 even if your home Internet is down.
In my opinion, the best option that they offer is their plan at $10 a month. It turns on unlimited talk and text via its cellular network, so you have a great back up to the WiFi calling. Also, if you walk out the door while you are on a WiFi call, the phone will switch to the cellular network and allow you to continue talking. This kind of flexibility makes for a lot of peace of mind.
Republic also has plans that allow you to add unlimited data. Since you can change your plan up to twice a month, you can easily switch your coverage to a level that makes sense for you at that moment.
The downside: At this time, Republic’s network does not support any kind of international calling other than to Canada. You can use the phone while you are abroad if you have WiFi, but only to call domestic phone numbers.
Republic’s partnership with Motorola has also brought it some really capable smartphone options with the Moto E, Moto G and the high-end Moto X. The Moto E is only $99, but if you opt for the $299 Moto X, none of your smartphone-carrying friends will be able to look down their nose at you.
I have been testing the device for the past couple of weeks and it is a very capable smartphone with 3G and 4G support for really fast data while you are wondering around town. If you want unlimited everything (phone, text and 4G data) on Republic’s system, you will pay $40 a month, but that is a great deal compared with most of the phone companies out there.
It is time to throw that old home phone in the trash. There are better options out there that will cost you less and give you more capabilities. While I have covered a bunch of options, I think Republic hits the sweetest spot in cost and ease of use.