Just twenty years ago one had very few options when considering
telephone services for the home. In most parts of the US, one had a
single phone company to choose from and ones choices were limited to
selecting the carrier for long distance calls. Today there are many
choices, even for local phone service, including traditional POTS
(plain old telephone service), voice over internet, cell phones,
cable, and fiber optic connections to the home. This page compares
your options and links to pages with more information for specific
choices. There is a table at the bottom of this page that summarizes
Before deciding on home telephone service, consider if you really need
it anyway. Many people are chosing to drop their land based phoneline
entirely, relying entirely on their cellular phone, where competion
between carriers has dropped costs and increased functionaility to the
point that for moderate use, a cell phone may be cheaper than a wired
phone. With free weekend and evening minutes include in most cell
plans, When one needs a cell phone anyway, the marginal cost of using
ones cellphone as ones primary number will often be zero and the only
real cost is the occasional, or not so occasional bad connection or
dropped call (carefuly consider the number of minutes in your plan
before choosing this option, however).
Some cell carriers are offering to sell "fempto-cells" such as the
Verizon Wireless Network Extender, or the Sprint/Nextel Airave that
you connect to the internet, and which provides you with a strong
local cell signal so that you have have stronger cell coverage in your
home if you choose this option. This would be important if you
otherwise have a weak cell signal. These devices will typically cost
between $100 and $250 (depending on your carrier), and yor cell
provider might (again, depending on carrier) charge a monthly fee of
around $5 for its use. Since they connect over the Internet, its
reliability is dependent on that of your network service provider.
The Phone Company
The Phone Company - Or more precicely, the particular regional phone
company providing monopoly service in your location. These companies
include the likes of Verizon, AT&T (formerly SBC, and formerly Pacific
Bell or PacBell), BellSouth, and others. They will provide the phone
service you are used to (POTS or Plain old telephone service), but
with many new features for an added cost, including voicemail, caller
ID, and special call functions. Of particular interest is
"distinctive ring", which is offered by some carriers, which allows
you to assign two numbers to a single phone line and have the phone
ring differently depending on the number called. If you need separate
phone numbers for a home office, or for different family members, yet
don't use the phone so much to need to lines, this can be a cheaper
option. Even if you do on rare occasions make simultaneous calls, a
cell phone can fill in.
For those still in need of a land based phoone at home who don't want
to use "the phone company", one now has several new options, often
offered at lower costs because their is competition (or because the
providers of these new options want to compete with the phone
Phone from your cable company
Your cable company is another monopoly with a wire running to your
home. Most cable companies now offer digital telephone service
running over their cable system. They install a box where the cable
comes into you home and run a phone line from the box to the
demarcation point for telephone service to your house. The rest of
your telphones operate as they would if the connection were from the
central telephone office. Although the cable companies claim battery
backup, you may find that your phone does not work when the power goes
out - whereas it would likely continue to work if connected directly
to the telphone central office.
Internet Telephony - or Voice Over IP (VOIP)
There are three groups of options available if you choose to get your
phone service through the internet. There are many providers in each
group. Some of the options cross groups, for example your cable
company may use Voice Over IP, but on their local network rather than
on the open internet. I will list each of the basic kinds of voice
over IP service as a separate group. Because you have a choice of
providers within each group, please be aware that that my comments are
general characteristics for each group, but the details might be
different for some providers. Some of these providers offer other
services, such as support networks and VPN
service, that can improve performance, security, and reliability..
Internet telephony services - such as Vonage
Vonage and similar services provide your local dialtone and usually
bundle unlimited long distance for an amount slightly less than you
would otherwise pay for local service from your phone company or cable
provider. Typical plans cost $25 per month and typically include all
the extra features like caller ID and voicemail. This class of
service is usally less reliable than that provided by your phone or
cable company because they are dependent on proper function of routing
in the internet and availability of adequate bandwidth to carry your
voice signals. So basically, you are dependent on your internet
provider to connect you to your VOIP phone provider, and if you
internet providers is as bad as my cable company, you can expect to
see some downtime on your internet connectivity, which will in turn
mean your phone service won't work.
At present inconsistent latency (i.e. intermittent delay) in
transmission of packets over the internet will occasionally reduce the
quality of a call, and this typically makes such service inappropriate
for fax transmissions (although some of these services provide
alternate means for sending and receiving faxes). If you are
considering Vonage, be sure to also look at service like Ooma, which
may be less expensive in the long run, if you keep the service for a
year or more.
Internet telephony services - such as Ooma
provide your local dialtone and unlimited long distance within the US
with no montly fee. With the Ooma Hub you pay
once up front, approximately $250, for the hardware, which you then
hook into your home telephones. For the basic service you get a local
phone number with features like caller ID, call waiting, and voicemail
plus unlimited calling wihtin the US for no montly fee. There is an
optional package of services, including a second phone line that is
available for about $100 per year. Because of the use of certain
traffic shaping technologies, some of the quality issues discussed
above for Voice over IP have been reduced, and the Ooma hub can be
used for some fax calls. Of course, if your internet service is
unrealiable and suffers from frequent outages, your phone will not
work during those periods of downtime.
Internet telephony through your PC - such as Skype
Skype provides provides the ability to make free voice calls between
computers on the internet, and using
SkypeOut to make calls to regular telephones
with low rates for domestic and international calls. By subscribing
to SkypeIn, you can receive a phone number reachable by
regular phones, that calls you on your PC.
For PC to PC calls, I have found the quality to be excellent, far
better than I would achive using my phone. Even though I have
unlimited calling on my home phone, I prefer Skype when talking with
someone else that is skype enabled because of the call quality and
hands free talking. As a speaker phone, the sound quality is amazing.
Skype also supports free
if you have a webcam, and audio
conference calling, where more than two PC Skype users are connected.
As with other forms of Voice Over IP, availability is determined by
the availability of your internet access, which might be less reliable
than what is provided your phone company. Additionally, inconsistent
latency (i.e. intermittent delay) in transmission of packets over the
internet will occasionally reduce the quality of a call A nice feature
of skype is that you can receive calls at home, while at work, or even
Internet telephony through your PC with MagicJack
is a small USB device almost the size of a thumb drive
that plugs into your PC's USB port, and into a telephone. It provides
you with a phone number, voicemail, caller ID, and call waiting, all
for $20 per year (after the first year, which is included with the
device, which sells for approximately $40). If you already have high
speed internet access, This may be your least expensive option to get
phone service at home, or when traveling.
In any event, the reviews on MagicJack
appear mixed with some problems pertaining to call quality, others
claim it works great. I have not personally seen the problems described by some. See my review.
One limitation is that it does require your PC to be on all the time
that it is in use (including if you are waiting for incommming calls).
There have also been comments that it consumes significant processing
power on your PC, meaning that if you do not have a high end PC, it
can slow the system down significantly.
Table of Telephone Options
The table below lists the main choices you have for home phone
service. There are other services discussed later on this page, such
as Fax, and Follow-Me numbers, which are not included in the table
since the basis for comparison is different. In the table, up-front
cost includes equipment you must purchase as well as installation
charges. The monthly cost is the cost of a typical configuration
including a single line, call waiting, caller ID, call forwarding, and
possibly voice mail (if noted in features). Where known I have
included the "hidden fees" like "subscriber line" charge, etc. as they
would apply in Los Angeles. Please let me know if my numbers are
incorrect since sometimes it is hard to find out about the fees until
one signs up for service. Please note that the table lists the kinds
of home phone service: there may be more than one provider for each
kind and specific costs might vary from provider to provider. Where
know, recent promotion costs are listed as well - these are what you
might expect to pay for the first 6 months, or first year, or first
month, but eventually you cost would go up to the basic monthly cost.
The column marked "order from" provides a link to one of several
places from which you can order the service or the product. A link
marked "find provider" in this box will take you to a site where you
can enter your address and find and order from the local provider for
the particular service. Reliability is on a scale of 1-5, with 5
being best. For VOIP options, reduced reliability is not due to
problems with the service itself, but is instead based on its
dependency on your internet connection which will typically be less
reliabile than a traditional landline telephone. The table is not yet
complete, and I will add services as I can verify their pricing
$21/mo + at least 4.39 Fees
Leaves off other enhanced fetures that are included in other plans.
$26 + Fees
Long Distance included in higher priced plans.
Price is discount when bundled with standard Internet.
$25 + 3.77 Fees
$10/mo for 3 mo
Free US Long Distance,
500 minute plan is $8/mo less, but does not get the promo.
Free US Long Distance,
Click for Ooma review.
Premier service for $99 per year
gives second line, number porting,
follow me and more.
Use computer to make and receive calls.
PC-PC video/audio/conference free.
LD for as low as 0.021/min without subscription.
Free US Long Distance,
Click for MagicJack Review
Small, Plugs into USB port and phone. First year free, then $20/year. Mixed reviews.
Other services useful for home calling
Integrated Inbound Calling Numbers
There are several services that provide you with a local phone number
and allow you to set up calling rules that cause calls on that phone
number to ring on one or more phones simultaneously. You will
sometimes hear these services refered to as providing "follow me"
numbers. One such service is Google Voice, previously known as GrandCentral which was acquired and subsequently rebranded by Google.
The basic service for Google Voice is free if you can get an invite to Google Voice. This
service is not intendent to replace, or be used as your home phone,
but it does provide an alternative to home phone service whereby you
can select a "home number", and receive calls on your cell phone or
office phone when you want, and change the forwarding rules so that
you aren't interrupted by your calls to home when you don't want such
interuptions. It is also useful if you want a second phone number at
home (so each family member can have their own number), or if you
simply want to avoid the need to change numbers if you move (without
needing to rely on number portability).
If you want this kind of service and can't get an invite, this kind of service can by obtained from
(which is described below - since it provides other kinds
of services too). With either of these options, be sure you read the
terms since the number of minutes of included use per month may be
Hosted Small Business Intenet Phone Systems
provides mult-line hosted business phone system connected
through Voice over IP, as well as many other services, including
integrated inbound calling number (just described) without the VOIP
service, and a hosted internet fax service. The plans range in price
from appriximately $10 per month to more than $100, depending on the
features and serices you choose. The multi-line business VOIP service
may be ideal for a small business operating from your home (or from
multiple homes), but as with other VOIP services, reliability is
dependent on the reliability of your internet connection. Because the
service also includes integrated inbound calling, you can set the
system up to roll incomming calls automatically to your cell phone, or
a landline if you have one. Be sure to read the plan details
carefully as some plans provide limited calling minutes, and you may
be charged for calls (including inbound calls) that exceed your montly
alottement. Even with this limitation for some of their plans, the
service is a good value.
Internet Fax Services
Some of the voice over IP services are not compatible with local FAX
machines. Additionally, hosted voice mail services (i.e. anything
other than your local answering machine) can not be used on the same
line as a fax machine that needs to accept incomming calls. If you
need incomming fax service, your choices are a second line without
voicemail, from a service that can support faxes, or a hosted fax
number. My recomendation is to use a hosted fax number, such as that
MyFax, or eFax
. These may cost less than adding an
extra phone line, and it will save you the cost of the fax equipment.
Bettter yet is that the faxes are delivered to you by e-mail where
they may be easier to manage or forward than would be pieces of paper.
Depending on the package you select, you may be able to send faxes by
"printing" from your computer - this can include printing PDF's that
you scan yourself, in order to send faxes from a piece of paper.