Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Cutting the cord

A few weekends back, I finished my wire cutting project. For those of you that don't know, that's not a thing where I go around the house and cut the cords off all my lamps, it's a term applied to people who choose to get their media via streaming and a la carte methods that are not hardwired into their home by the major utility companies. It's pretty much just getting all your services over the internet (internet protocol) rather than cable, phone or satellite.

A little bit at a time over several years, I have been eliminating all non-IP based services at home. We've been cable and satellite free for a couple of years. We have Comcast teleworker service at home and we have enough bandwidth to run pretty much whatever we want.
The final stage of the project was dumping the landline telephone in preference for Voice over IP (VoIP). The trick here being that we didn't want to eliminate the phone number or the convenience of having readily available handsets at home. I found a blog post on how to do this that provided the heart of the process.
My basic process was:

  1. Buy the necessary VOIP gear. I bought an OBi 100 because that was the cheapest option and met my needs for Google Voice and 911 access at the same time.
  2. Move my wife from feature phone to smartphone 
  3. Convert feature phone to a pay as you go phone ($10 minimum account required) 
  4. Call pay-as-you-go vendor to get account number 
  5. Port home number to pay as you go account 
  6. Create a *new* Google Voice account (you have to give the VOIP service your password, not something I want to do with my main account) 
  7. Pay $20 to port mobile number to Google Voice Configure VOIP device to accept Google Voice Configure VOIP device for e911 service ($12/year) 
  8. Plug in Handsets 
  9. Wait for port to complete 
  10. Configure settings 
  11. Dial away happily! 

I had to deal with a couple of complications to the process as outlined in the blog post. One piece of that was that when you have a pay-as-you go phone, they do not make your account number easily accessible to you.  You need the account number in order to port from the pay-as-you-go over to Google Voice.  I had to call the AT&T Go Phone service line to get the number.  I found that dialing the service number from the mobile phone itself caused my call to go through faster.  They were pretty good about giving me the number without hassle, but it still took about 20 minutes if you include wait time.

I also had a bit of a twist when I purchased a SIM card for the pay-as-you-go service online and tried to activate service myself.  This didn't work out, and since I was taking my wife's phone to the AT&T store to transfer contacts, I took the old feature phone with me.  Within a couple of minutes, they gave me a *free* SIM card that actually worked and had the service set up, activated, closed my landline and ported the number.  If you do this project and are on AT&T for both cellular and home phone, just go into an AT&T store, it's way easier. Trust me.Another aspect that the blog article mentions is the lack of 911 service as an integrated part of most regular VOIP services. You may or may not find this to be an issue for you.  If your VOIP system, router and modem are not on an uninterruptible power supply then whether or not you add 911 service to your VOIP setup, it might not be there when you need it.  In that case, you'll be leaning on your cell phones anyway. I added the Anveo 911 service to my setup, but I became concerned with something rather simple... how do I know it is working and set up properly? I can't dial 911 to test it can I? If I never test it and then I cut my hand off on the table saw, but find that it isn't working when I do finally dial 911, what good was it?

I'm still working out all the various settings available in Google voice to optimize my experience, but it seems pretty slick and will pay for itself in two months! At the moment, I have it set up to do a complete pass through and I use only features from the handsets that I have at home (answering service, caller ID, etc) but Google Voice has quite a few things that might make me hand some of that control over to that. For example, you can have Google screen your calls and then forward to a list of different numbers based upon the response during screening.  That is, it could ask you if you want to talk to George or Fred and then automatically forward to Fred's cell phone if he is traveling. There are other things I might do as well, such as setting up my modem/router/VOIP/phone system on uninterruptible power supply.

Since I completed the process, we've been happy with the VOIP service.  No major hiccups so far and we are almost a month in.  That means that I have almost paid for the switchover already!

One of the things that I like best the whole IP setup is that I can pick and choose services a la carte and can drop services for short terms whenever I wish. Last summer, I didn't have anything that I particularly needed to watch on Hulu, so I shut it off until the Fall TV season started again.  This is true with most of the services in that while they are not a la carte in the sense that I only pay for what they get, but I have the freedom to turn them on and off as I please. That is, except for the ISP itself... but it's not like I'm gonna shut off Internet am I?

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