Roll-your-own VoIP service

I’ve been sitting on this too long now and I’m just bustin’ at the seams with information … too much, I think, to be able to spew it out here in one entry and have it make sense. So, with this entry, I’ll just tell you what I’ve been doing.

Almost two weeks ago I decided to look into an alternative to Vonage. I started doing some searches for VoIP systems and uncovered a vast wonderland of technogeek-dom. It took almost a week for me to make sense of what is required to build your own VoIP solution from scratch and another week to get an idea of providers, prices and features.

Here’s the short story: if you’re willing to buy your own router (for about $60), you can build your own VoIP solution for your home, including connections to your normal, run-of-the-mill RJ-11 phones (yes, the kind you already have installed in your house and possibly even plugged into your Vonage/CallVantage router) for $10/month or less. That includes your own phone number, unlimited inbound minutes and outbound calling rates of about a penny per minute (ranges are from just under a penney to a little over 1.5 cents). At that rate, 1,000 outbound minutes will cost you up to $15.00. Lay that on top of your $10/month and your sitting at $25. Of course, that assumes you make 1,000 minutes of calls per month from your home phone. Me, I don’t use anywhere near that number of minutes per month — I average around 300, spiking up to about 600. So, at worst, I’ll pay about 600*$0.015 or $9.

Now, I realize this cost savings is really pretty trivial stuff. Going from about $28/month (Vonage + cost recovery fees + taxes) to about $15/month won’t even cover my Starbuck’s habit. But we’re talking about geek heaven here, take my word for it! That softphone that Vonage wants you to pay extra for? That feature is included with every single SIP provider that I looked at. I should note there are some very low cost providers (Magic Jack is a very popular one) that use a proprietary protocol and can only be used with their hardware. But, those aside, you can bring up a softphone client on your PC (at work, say) and both it and your home phone will ring when you get a call.

OK, I’ll stop here and let that all sink in. The takeaway from this entry? You can create your own VoIP solution for your home for the cost of a router ($60-$75). The service will cost you $10 or less per month for unlimited free inbound calls. Outbound calls to regular USA and Canada phones (landline and mobile) will cost about 1.5 cents per minute and, if you’re like me, making about 600 minutes of outbound calls per month, that translates to another $9 per month. In the process, you can have your phone number on both your PC and your home phone simultaneously.

What do my future entries on this have in store for you? How about the ability to build your own PBX with Open Source software? Not interested? No big deal, you say, you don’t have that many phones in your house? Well, what if I told you that you can assign extensions to your cell phone, your wife (or girlfriend … or both), your son/daughter, your grandmother, your brother. Yup, you can set it up so that you (or anyone) can reach anyone in your family at their own phone, by calling YOUR PBX and keying in their extension. Regardless of whether the called party is in the same house, the same city or the same state. And that’s just one thing you can do.

Stay tuned!

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