Vonage – How to keep your original home telephone, or office number, when you move

Ok, so this isn’t exactly a Mac topic, or even related to Apple. But because so many clients have opted to purchase the digital bundles offered by service providers – whereby phone, television (cable or satellite), and internet are provided together, it’s time to let you in on a secret. Despite what some people and companies will tell you, you CAN keep your number when you move. And I don’t mean just a move across town. I’m telling you if you move to the South of France, you can keep your 310 area code number, and receive calls there – inexpensively.

To hear phone companies tell it, it’s virtually impossible to keep the original home phone number you and your children have known and loved for years. The phone company may tell you it doesn’t serve the area you’re moving to, and that you will have to give up that number. The company servicing your new area may not only tell you it can’t get the number you had, but that you’ll have to use a new area code, such as 424, along with a new, foreign number. According to Time Warner Cable in Los Angeles, for example, there aren’t enough 310 area code numbers to go around.

Not to offend the residents of Catalina Island, but who wants a 424 area code when living in Beverly Hills? It’s just absurd.A client faced this very situation when she moved from West LA to Beverly Hills. She had accepted the idea of getting a completely new number, but assumed that number would at least be within the 310 area code. Time Warner Cable, also the provider of internet and phone services these days, informed us that 310 area codes are just about sold out. There are few available. In fact,  the “pool” of available numbers that Time Warner has, was reduced to 424 area codes. That’s all the customers who need new numbers can get.

Baloney. Perhaps it’s all a customer can get with Time Warner, but there are plenty of 310 area code numbers out there. Between foreclosures, the bad economy and businesses shuttering across our country,  more “old” phone numbers are becoming available every day. You just have to know where to look for them, and, you need to know how the system works. There are even consumer rights to be considered here.

Unbeknownst to many, you’ve been paying for a “feature” on your landline for several decades. This feature is known as the “digital phone portability service”, a fee you paid  that would allow you to take your number with you if you were to ever move to a new location. Yes, you heard right. We’ve been paying for that capability for not some months, not years, but decades. PRE-INTERNET! And, it wasn’t a fee one could opt out of. It was a mandated fee.

I remember discovering it on my phone bill back in the 80s. The fee amounted to $1.50 per month, and was right up there with the digital touch-tone charge of $1 that phone companies charged when rotary phones were still common.

Yes, I am that old. I remember rotary phones, and the days prior to touch-tone. I also remember my first Sony Walkman. It was made almost entirely of metal, and played something called “cassette tapes”.  Back then, a Sony Walkman cost $250 – a great deal of money for a teenager back then. And, kids who had a Walkman also sported “roller skates” with Chicago Struts.But I digress.

We protested those digital portability and touch-tone fees at the time, since operating touch tone technology was actually cheaper for the phone company than rotary service.

As the cellular market took off in the 90s, people REALLY wanted to keep their original home numbers as they went mobile. The migration of phone numbers from landlines to competing cellular markets was a complete nightmare for the phone companies. Yes, they had been collecting fees for this eventuality for many years, but now the chickens had come home to roost.

Not long after hemorrhaging business to the cellular market, the larger phone companies had enough of this hassle. They unceremoniously announced they would no longer offer the migration of numbers to other services. Not only that, but clients could no longer transfer their calls from an old number that had been set up to be virtual, to their new number across town. When a client moved years ago, an AT&T agent on the phone told me it was too complicated to move the number, and that they no longer offered that service. Some politicians sued, successfully, and even delayed the implementation of an area code overlay – calling the phone companies bluff. But that impasse only lasted for awhile. Eventually, the phone companies got what they wanted, and area code 424 (as well as many others) were born.

 

Enter an internet phone service, known as Vonage. Years ago we learned that a relatively new company called Vonage could assume the original phone number we had been using. It would allow me to CANCEL the virtual number with SBC Global (now AT&T), forgo the per minute charges for forwarded calls, AND, provide me with a very clear phone signal. All of that for considerably less than I was paying then. At the risk of sounding like a commercial . . . “but wait, there’s more.”

Vonage offered unlimited calls within the US, free calls to certain foreign countries, included voice mail, and an online web portal for managing the account, and call logs. All for $25 a month? Well, no. By the time we upgraded the calling plan for Europe, and added taxes and fees, it was more like $52 per month. Still, we LIKED it.

I like it so much that since then, I’ve installed another Vonage account for our home. Our long distance bills dropped from $200 or so a month to about $75. If we miss a call, the voicemail message gets emailed to us. If we want to know just how long we were on the phone on that last call, we can log in to our web portal, and look it up on the call log within minutes. No more waiting for that bill at the end of the month. This has helped us immensely with client billing on service calls. What’s not to love?

One of our clients claims he takes his Vonage box (a small device that is less than the size of half a paperback book) with him to the South of France when he vacations there in the summer. If people call his Los Angeles number, he picks the call up in France, and no one knows the difference. While I haven’t been invited there to confirm this (yet), it would seem that where ever there is internet, your home number can stay with you.

More recently, Vonage has introduced an app for your smartphone, called Vonage Extension. With the app, I can call friends overseas using my Vonage service, via my iphone. Instead of paying $.99 per minute to call Europe, I now pay $.37 per minute. Nice.

But the point of the story is this:

Don’t let them tell you that number portability is dead, or that you can’t have any area code you want.

For our client in Beverly Hills, we went online immeditely and ordered a Vonage account. Within minutes, we chose an easy-to-remember number within the 310 area code, and set it up to forward to our client’s cell phone. It would take less than a week to receive the little Vonage box necessary to have the number ring in the home. In the meantime, she could give her new number out to friends and family, and receive calls to that number, on her cell. We then contacted Time Warner, explained that we would need to revise the bundled deal our client had signed up for, and have them remove the phone service from that bundle. She did not want a 424 area code number.

To be fair, Time Warner was very helpful in making that happen, did not impose any penalties for making the change, and admitted that we were not the first to complain about the area code issue. Unfortunately, not many people know they have options. Now you do.

Let’s review how the service works.

Vonage, like many phone service providers these days, uses the internet connection you have established in your home to offer you a discounted, often unlimited phone service. They send you a small box that you plug in to your router (or network), and configure to operate with the regular phone hardware in your home. (It sounds more complicated than it is. Three wires have to be plugged in, and you’re good to go). The box is plugged in to the router, the phone is plugged in to the box. And voila, you have internet phone service.

 

There is one caveat. Your internet service must be broadband, have a speed of at least 6 megs per second, and NOT use DSL – for ideal phone connectivity. Time and again some of our clients jump on the Vonage bandwagon, not realizing that if their internet connection is on the slower side (such as 3 megs per second download or slower), they will have trouble with the Vonage phone connection (or ANY internet phone connection).

Yes, they TELL you it will work fine, but I beg to differ. With a slower connection, the phone may work alright, but as soon as you go online to download something (even email with attachments), or do some streaming, your phone will drop out. The person at the other end of the line will become harder to understand, and so on. With a faster connection, it’s just not an issue.

At the risk of getting long-winded, let me elaborate. DSL stands for Digital Subscriber Line. It’s internet that is offered over your existing copper phone line. As such, it’s considered very 1990s – less than ideal, and not very stable. You have to realize that in some areas, those original phone lines were put in perhaps 100 years ago. They’ve been spliced, re-routed, chewed on by rats – you name it. As the digital signal travels over those lines, the likelihood of signal loss is high. Some areas, of course, are on the edge of broadband service, and thus have no choice but to go with DSL. For those areas, I would NOT suggest exploring Vonage service just yet. Wait until your area has upgraded internet, so that transmission speeds reach at least 6 megs per second.

If you have cable internet service, with Time Warner or Charter for example, then you’re in business. Order a Vonage box, choose a number, and run with it. Most cable connections will surpass 6 megs per second, even if you’re only paying for 3 megs per. Some will even hit 25, 35 or even 48 megs per second. Keep in mind that if you’ve already bundled your services, you are probably committed to a two year contract. And, since both services (Time Warner and Vonage) are of the same type (phone over internet, aka VOIP), there isn’t much point to making a switch to Vonage. It’s the same technology.

Another benefit of the Vonage service is the ease with which you can add a second line, either for fax or for that teenager who has suddenly commandeered your telephone handset and the television remote. For more details on current offers, go to the Vonage website. If you’re wondering, we still do not have a referral deal with Vonage (though we probably should). While we love our Vonage service, we remain financially independent and impartial. And we don’t endorse services lightly.

To sum it up, know that you can keep your current number for as long as you like – most easily, in our opinion, by transferring the number to an online service like Vonage. As with all internet phone services, there is one potential downside. If the power were to go out, or if your internet service were to go down, you’d lose your phone line while the internet and or power is out.

The traditional landline receives it’s low voltage power through the phone cable. That’s why phones may still work after an earthquake, but the lights won’t come on. Internet phones, including Vonage, require electricity to operate the small box that connects your phone to the internet. No power, no internet. No internet, no phone.

Thankfully, Vonage has a solution. Should your phones go down in your home or office (where the Vonage box is installed), the service automatically re-directs any incoming calls to whatever number you provided. Most people configure the service to revert to their mobile number if there is a problem. Works for us.

As an additional safety measure (and for convenience), we’ve installed UPS (uninterrupted power supply) units to our internet modems, Vonage boxes and cordless phones. If the power goes out, we can run a couple of hours on battery backups. (See our separate review of APC UPS battery backup units – coming soon)

There really is no easier way to quickly and inexpensively add a fax line to your home office, if you still need a fax line. Or, for that foreign exchange student, a private, inexpensive phone line in his or her room.

One final note before you run off to join Vonage (or some similar service). If you wish to keep your old number, you must make sure that the original phone service is NOT interrupted or cancelled before Vonage has a chance to contact your old phone company. The number has to still exist if Vonage is to take it over. Cancel the number too soon, and it’s gone.

 

This is very important. Vonage will NOT be able to assume your number for you if you’ve already cancelled the old service. The transfer usually takes about a week. if you’re starting with a new number, it can be up and running within minutes of signing up online. It’s that easy.

 

If you checked out Vonage many years ago, and had a less than stellar impression back then, take another look today. It’s not your Dad’s internet phone. They really, finally, have this stuff down to a science. The most important thing to know is that you need better than average internet connection speed (better than 3 megs per second). Once you’ve confirmed that, you’re good to go.

 

To check your connection speed, go to http://www.speakeasy.net, and click on speed test, then the city nearest you in the list that appears. Vonage may not be an Apple product, but you’ll enjoy how easily you’ll be able to manage your phone service, using your Mac online. And, now you can tell your friends something they may not know. That number they have? As long as they pay for it, they have a right to keep it, no matter what.