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April 15, 2013

Yes it really is what it looks like. A free phone line.

Do you have a home phone that you hardly use, but absolutely want to keep the number? Have you considered those VOIP providers that offer those great deals but not sure which ones offer what? Well I can't really weigh in there. Honestly I haven't tried "all of those VOIP providers". The reason is pretty simple actually. They all want money.

And there's nothing wrong with wanting money for providing a service. But why would I want to pay when I can get that same service for free? Now if you need 100% uptime from your phone then perhaps VOIP is not for you. If you have an absolute need for traditional 911 service, then perhaps VOIP is not for you. But if VOIP is for you then you really should consider is a web site / phone service provider. Their claim to fame it that they provide "absolutely free" VOIP phone service. They only serve specific areas. Now, to be fair, it's a lot of areas. The list is far too long to put here. uses Fongo to provide free phone service on your computer, with an option to purchase the configuration information for use with an ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter). This means that for a small startup cost you can get your home phone service for free (if you have high speed internet at home). Essentially you sign up for and get a local number for free. You can use this number via an app on your computer to make and receive phone calls. All local calls and many long distance calls are at no charge and are essentially paid for by the ads you will see in the app. If you purchase an ATA and pay the fee for the configuration file (which is essentially a password and connection info) you can use the service on your home telephone (without the ads).

Now I want to be clear here that I am talking about and not Fongo (which actually provides the service). I say this because Fongo also offers a "free home phone" service (which isn't actually free). The service is actually 100% free. The costs for the ATA and configuration file are optional and the service works fine (for free) without them. The product offered by Fongo costs $4.95 per month (*Plus $59 one-time fee for Fongo Adapter). But the Fongo product has one advantage that the solution that I suggest does not. You get tech support. For me, $4.95 per month is awfully expensive tech support. I get free calling to all the same cities as the Fongo service (remember the service is still provided by Fongo). My ATA (adapter) actually only cost me $35, but to be fair I had to find it first. And, of course, tech support is really not a concern for me (being the guy all of my friends run to for their tech support).

Now first, I suppose you need to know that VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) basically means getting your phone service over your internet connection. Which, as you might guess, means that if your internet service is poor or goes down, likewise your phone service will be poor (or non-existent) or so they tell me. I put this in there, because I have yet to see that in my installation. But I suppose as someone who doesn't often pick up the home phone, there could have been problems of which I was unaware. I used to wonder how long my home phone would have to be nonfunctional before I would notice (given that all incoming calls are forwarded, I would almost never notice).

Essentially you plug in your ATA, connect it to your router (with the network cable) and plug your normal old telephone into the telephone jack on the ATA (to be fair, I assume everyone has a router or switch with an open connection). You will then log in to the web interface of the ATA (instructions will come with the ATA) and input the "stuff" in the configuration file into the web interface. Although simple enough, if there's a tech head in the house (or as I tell my wife... anyone under the age of twenty) now's the time to get them. This setup takes about 5 minutes after which you will probably never have to look at that interface again.

I rarely ever used the home phone. All incoming calls on that number are simply forwarded to my wife's cell. We were paying Bell $30+ per month (basic line plus call forwarding) for a phone we almost never used that had no long distance plan. Now after an initial investment of just over $110 I have a home phone that gets free long distance to numerous cities (although I usually use my cell for long distance) with no monthly cost. You will notice that it's a little more expensive than just the ATA ($35) and the configuration file ($50). That because I wanted to keep my same home phone number. Fongo charged me $25 (one time fee) to port that number to their system. That brought my cost to $110 (plus tax).

Now, if you're not technically inclined, and you don't know anyone who is, you may be better off with your traditional land line or even Fongo's Home Phone (due to their tech support), but truth be told... Once it's set up, you pretty much don't have to think about it again. Like most "computer stuff", trouble shooting is usually as simple as rebooting (unplugging and plugging back in). I have only had to do that once in the last year so it's not common.

So what makes them better than Vonage or Comwave or [insert VOIP Provider's Name Here]. Nothing really. In fact the tech support provided by those companies might even qualify them as better. But, myself and any number of other people have been using for quite some time quite happily and with no ongoing cost (except that high speed internet is needed). Tech support is via the forums on and Google.

Remember with VOIP (ANY VOIP!!) you may not get the traditional 911 direct dialed service. For people like my sister (who's husband has a heart condition) this might not be the best option. 911 service is still available, and you are asked to register an address for use with the phone number. I'm honestly not exactly sure how the VOIP e911 service works as I've never had a reason to use it, but like so many things, we get used to what we get used to. And most of us will always feel better if dialing 911 gets us directly to the 911 operator (which some VOIP services may not).

I guess the big question is "How is call quality?". In my year of using it, I have made relatively few calls on the home phone, but virtually all of them have been as clear as it was before. The only thing I do notice is a VERY VERY small lag in the transmission of the sound (never enough to interfere with a conversation). I likely only noticed this because I test the phone by calling my cell and am therefore both the sender and receiver. When calling other people the lag is only noticeable if you're looking for it. That is, during normal conversation and you won't notice any lag.

Why should you use Maybe you shouldn't. I don't know. I can tell you why I use it. It's free. It doesn't cost me any monthly fees. I don't get a bill every month. Call forwarding doesn't cost any extra. Call Display doesn't cost any extra. Long distance to many Canadian cities doesn't cost any extra. Hmm there seems to be a theme here.. Ah, that's it. I'M CHEAP!

Chances are, that you already have a cell phone. Odds are pretty good that you have internet service. So, if (like me) you don't really use the home phone (or even if you do) and you don't like paying every month for the service, give a visit. You might save a dollar or two, or you might decide it's not for you. But you should at least know about it. And that's really what this blog entry is about.

One last note (for the more technically inclined). freephoneline's "configuration file" provides all the information needed to use it with your SIP client if you so choose. But if you're looking for a SIP like service for your mobile device that's free, check the Fongo app (formerly Dell Voice) for Android and iOS.