Keeping Your Landline Using A SIP VoIP Service – Part 1
In this two-part article, we’re looking at a way to keep your landline home phone without paying through the nose for it. Many people are still paying $30 to $50 per month for home telephone service while simultaneously paying the same or more for cellphone service as well. Here, in Part 1, we ask if you need to have a landline phone at all.
Most people already have internet service with a reasonable bandwidth, certainly plenty of bandwidth to support an internet phone. However, you need to think through whether or not a VoIP phone (Voice over Internet Protocol) will work for you.
More important than bandwidth is latency, the delay you get over the internet that you don’t get with dedicated phone networks. The worst latency comes with satellite internet, typically the only internet service available in the countryside. If you’ve ever tried to use Skype or a similar videophone app over satellite-based internet, you’ve seen this. It’s similar to live TV interviews from sports events. The interviewer in the studio asks the sports person at the stadium a question, and the latter person seems to stand there stupefied for the best part of a second. This is because it takes around a quarter second for the question to go up to the TV relay satellite in geosynchronous orbit and then down to the interviewee. Then it takes a further quarter of a second for his or her answer to make the return journey.
It’s the same with VoIP telephony over satellite internet, except that when you add on the latency naturally associated with packet transport (receiving and reassembling the information data bits) the delay is close to one second overall. Therefore, if you’re using satellite internet, this article is not for you. Keep your traditional landline phone.
Even if you have terrestrial based internet service, typically DSL, cable, or fiber-optic, then VoIP telephony may still not be for you. As I wrote above, there is latency inherent to the internet that you don’t get with traditional POTS (the plain old telephone system). Think about the words the telephone operator used to say to us. If you’re too young to remember, think of old movies. The operator would say “Connecting you now,” or “I’m sorry, you’ve been disconnected.” This is because with POTS, there was a physical connection between your phone and the phone at the other end. The twin wires of the phone-line formed an electric circuit, and any latency was caused by the speed of electrons through copper. That is, almost light speed – no latency at all.
With the internet, there is no physical connection. The data is spit into thousands of little packets that may or may not follow the same meandering path across the internet. In theory, some data packets may go via Atlanta, others via Toronto, though in practice most packets follow the same route. However, the packets may not arrive in the correct order. The VoIP application at the receiving end needs to wait for some late packets to arrive so as to be inserted into the stream in the correct order – so the caller’s voice sounds like a voice rather than squeaks and clicks. Thus, the packet stream must be buffered (held back) until all the packets are sequenced in the correct order. (This is not the full story. The system will ask for missing packets to be retransmitted. When a time limit is reached, the stream will be forwarded to your ear without the missing packets, reducing call quality.)
All this means that during VoIP calls, the extra delay can make the person at the other end appear distracted or rather stupid. And worse, they may perceive you the same way. A typical round trip latency is 250 ms, a quarter of a second, that for most of us is acceptable. However the situation is worsens when we speak over VoIP to someone who is on a cellphone. Cell systems use digital encoding that, while not the same protocol as VoIP, are subject to the same coding/decoding issues. Two people talking on cellphones will typically encounter a 250 ms latency, largely acceptable. But with one person on a cellphone and one on a VoIP landline, the round-trip latency nearly doubles to half a second.
Therefore you’ll want to use your cellphone to speak with other cellphone users. So, why do we need a landline? I have several young children in my house who I want protected by a working 911 service. Cellphone coverage in our house is spotty with all four major carriers.* Plus, we have an amazing ability to be out of phone charge at the most inconvenient times. We often have teenagers or elderly relatives babysitting, so, should disaster ever strike, I want the easiest, most intuitive way for someone to call 911. It’s also worth mentioning that we have Enhanced 911 service with our landline. If someone dials 911 and is unable to speak, our physical address and family name is still transmitted to our local dispatcher. Similar functionality is planned for cellphones, but is not yet in place everywhere.
If you use your home phone regularly for speaking to other folks on landline phones, or when you speak with relatives abroad on their landline phone, then a VoIP service is ideal. If like me you want the safety of a fixed-line method for contacting 911, but without breaking the bank, then VoIP is a must.
In Part 2, we’ll look at some of the options for switching to a VoIP landline service.
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*Important note: Many people in trouble have mistakenly not called 911 because they saw no bars on their cellphone. During an emergency, even if you believe your phone cannot make a personal call, you should still dial 911. Your phone will attempt to connect using all its on-board radio frequencies. It automatically tries to connect to ANY carrier.