Making the switch to computer-based calling

I have been a user of Vonage for my main business line for at least four years and mostly a happy customer. But a series of anticipated moves this summer got me thinking: do I really need this service any longer? And so I have come up with a rather strange plan, so stick with me here for a minute while I explain how I got to my post-VOIP mobile telephony world.

I spend about $60 a month for my business telephone service: half on Vonage, half on AT&T for providing DSL service to my home (which I share for both home and business connectivity). This summer I will be moving across town and splitting off my office into a separate location. First I thought I would just get a cable modem and move the Vonage box and line over to run on that. That is the beauty of tying your business line to a VOIP service: it can move with you. Plus, with the cable downloads at 10 Mb, I can get those mission-critical movies and other image files that are so important to my day-to-day work life.

But the more I pondered that situation, the more I thought I would be better off if I got one of the AT&T broadband PC modems and used my computer for all my outbound calls. The modems are free with rebates and a two-year service plan, and you pay $60 a month for unlimited Internet access. Some of them are USB so can work with desktops, laptops, Macs or Windows. This is the same $60 a month that I was paying for my business line. The downside is that I won’t get anywhere near 10 Mb downloads, but that might cut back on the opportunities to view unneeded visual content.

I am already a big fan of Skype, and they offer an unlimited Skype Out subscription for less than $3 a month to everyplace that I would call with the Vonage account for the most part (you can get more expensive packages if you want to call international places). You can also purchase an inbound number for Skype for a few more dollars a month, but the number of people calling me doesn’t justify this, yet.

There are a couple of important caveats to note here. First, I make a lot of calls to conferencing services, so I need to be able to continue to dial touch tones after the initial call goes through. With Skype, this isn’t a problem: you get a cute little keypad that you can type in your conference number and PIN and away you go.

Second, more importantly, I no longer will be using the actual telephone that has been sitting on my desk for the past 16 years. Granted, this phone has been in many difference cities, and at the beginning of its life was used on New York Telephone where I was paying something like two cents a minute for local calls. The more I thought about my solution, the more I began to miss this old friend and desk totem. As a friend of mine said, it is like you have to clean out the last boxes from your old bedroom at your parents’ house. I will miss the concept of this old Ma Bell ringy-dingy most of all — even though it doesn’t serve any current purpose in my new post-VOIP life.

I don’t mind the headset, and in fact I have a whole passel of Bluetooth headsets that should work on my Mac and Windows PCs for the calls, if I don’t want to use the wired one.

But the third issue is the most important one. To make this trick work, I would need to port my existing Vonage number over to one of my wireless phones. The only way to know if you can do this is to go into an AT&T company-owned store (there are other franchise stores that look exactly the same so it pays to call their support line and find out) and ask them if it is eligible for porting.

I called my local AT&T store and first was told they couldn’t port any Vonage numbers. Then after I persisted, they said I could and just stop by. So far so good.

So what I have in mind is extreme mobility: I should be able to make calls anywhere I have my laptop, as long as I have AT&T broadband service (which should be in most of the major cities I am in). This also has the extra advantage that I am not trying to find Wifi service or have to pay extra when I am in a hotel or airport, because usually those places have wireless broadband. If not, I can use my cell phone, which will be my primary business line. And under the worse case scenario, I can carry an Ethernet cable (remember those) and a phone card and use a payphone!

I am interested in your experiences with the AT&T broadband PC cards, so leave a comment on my blog if you don’t mind. Do you think I am crazy, to contemplate doing this? I think it is kinda exciting.

6 thoughts on “Making the switch to computer-based calling

  1. David – I agree with most everything, as I spend significant time in my travel trailer, and never actually quit working (at least it seems that way). I have at least 2 computers and several wifi enabled devices that depend on my wifi router. Having a single connection would be inconvenient to say the least.

    So, I got one of a new breed of router that uses a USB cell modem (any carrier) and acts as a wifi router. I can connect all my devices. The brand of this one is NexAira ( There are several other brands, but this one is < $200 and works nicely.

    Good luck!

  2. Hi David,
    I’ve not used the AT&T card but have do use the Sprint card, and I am a Vonage user. Sprint Broadband is being rolled out in more and more areas but it is not always available. Something I found interesting in certain locations where Sprint has not enabled their broadband, you can get dailup speeds if you can get cell service. Hey, at least you have connectivity!

    I had kind of the same idea a while back. What I did was get a softphone from vonage to use when I travelled to use with my laptop which was Ok but not great. I was spending a week or more in Canada where the broadband was not yet available and had to find a connection. Cellular broadband is not nearly as fast as your landline connection. Since that time Vonage has come out with the usb phone that will make any PC your phone. I haven’t tried it but it looked interesting.

    I do think that I’m spending too much on being accessable; Sprint celluar, sprint broadband Vonage, att dsl. I looked at getting naked dsl from att to provide a platform for cheaper unbundled services but couldn’t cost justify it.

  3. I am totally addicted to the broadband modem built into the Blackberry Pearl. You never have to work about wi-fi reception again. I am Verizon, not AT^&T so it may be different.

    You left off another caveat about Skype. The quality is terrible compared to your old expensive Ma Bell connection. My dad was a telephone engineer with Western Electric and he used to tell me about how losing a byte of data during transfer was a big deal. Now we can’t hear each other speak; maybe you get what you pay for.

  4. Hi David, I use Verizon Wireless broadband which works VERY well for data. But I would be VERY, VERY careful about using it for voice calls. It works “ok” – but for the calls that I would assume you’ll be doing the quality might not be good.

    Ramon Ray, Editor & Technology Evangelist,

  5. My experience with VOIP is so-so. I just called a colleague in the UK a week ago and he felt compelled to tell me up front that he’s using a VOIP phone (now) and to expect voice quality problems and stuttering. I got both. Another colleague (in New Mexico) I talk with a lot uses a VOIP PBX and has “lots of bandwidth” yet more often than not I miss syllables and sometimes entire words. Another uses Skype and I have trouble understanding him about half the time (partially because of his “gruff” voice, which seems to get further “gruffified” by Skype’s vocoder).

    I should explain that in the above cases (and 100% of the rest of the time) I am using a POTS phone here in the office, so my IP connection is irrelevant. It’s all at the other end and in the cloud. Often I end up calling them back on their POTS phone if they have one and paying the charges, just to get a comfortable connection.

    Maybe I’m a Luddite, but at least for me, the quality of VOIP just isn’t there yet. It’s a heck of a lot better than it was 5 years ago, and if things continue to be improved, it just might measure up to POTS in another few years. But missing syllables and entire words is just plain annoying.

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