Once upon a time in the beautiful province of British Columbia, home telephone service was monopolized by Telus (formerly known as BC Tel). When the telephone industry was deregulated by the CRTC in 1985, many telephone companies emerged. However, none of them were able to challenge Telus because Telus’ phone service was too ingrained in the region.
I was always a loyal Telus customer for two reasons. The first reason is obvious as there was no competition back then. Secondly, Telus’ traditional landline service was always very reliable and stable.
In 2005, Telus’ home phone dominance in BC was finally tested when its rival, Shaw Communications, surprisingly added residential phone service to their product line. Many people, including myself, were skeptical about Shaw’s phone service because after all, Shaw was best known for its cable TV and Internet service, not telephone. In order for Shaw to compete with Telus, Shaw undercut Telus by bundling its home phone service with their cable TV and Internet services for a much lower price. I took advantage of this enticing offer and my home phone service was finally switched to a different company after more than a decade of using Telus. It turned out that my switch to Shaw’s home phone service became my first encounter with VoIP phone service. VoIP stands for Voice-Over-Internet-Protocol and it basically means phone service over the Internet.
To my surprise, Shaw’s VoIP based home phone service had good voice quality and it was almost as reliable as a traditional landline offered by Telus. As such, I had Shaw as my home phone provider for almost 5 years. Unfortunately, Shaw slowly raised its prices and I knew it was time to move on when its monthly charge became comparable to Telus’. In 2010, I started my quest to find an inexpensive home phone service to replace Shaw.
During my research, it became obvious that low-cost phone services were ALL based on VoIP technology. As compared to Telus or Shaw’s phone service, I could save anywhere from 50% to 75% by switching to a VoIP phone service provider. For example, plenty of VoIP phone services charge under $20, $10 or even $5 per month. Amazingly, these VoIP service also include many calling features for free!
After comparing various VoIP services, I divided them into three service types: 1. VoIP-In-A-Box 2. DIY VoIP service and 3. Full service VoIP provider. I will summarize each service type and explain which one worked best for my needs.
For VoIP-In-A-Box, brands such as magicJack, netTALK and Ooma Telo were already available in 2010. These VoIP devices could be purchased at a retail store or online. Basically, I would pay for the VoIP device upfront, then pay a yearly fee to maintain the phone service (usually under $5 per month). However, I could not keep my existing phone number with magicJack and netTALK so it was a deal breaker for me (netTALK now offers number porting service). Ooma Telo offered number porting and excellent voice quality but it was selling for $229 in 2010 (it can be purchased for $109 now). With Ooma Telo, I would only need to pay for monthly taxes and fees which is usually below $4 per month, however, some of its premium calling features cost extra.
Next, there were what I call DIY VoIP services such as Voip.ms and freephoneline. Voip.ms is pay-as-you-go while freephoneline is marketed as free except for long distance calls. In order to use their phone services, I would need to buy and configure my own Analog Telephone Adapter (a.k.a. ATA). Both companies have been around for a while but I felt their setup was more complex and technical than VoIP-In-A-Box and Full VoIP providers so I skipped them to avoid having to deal with any technical issues on my own. For those who are comfortable or willing to set up their own ATAs, these DIY VoIP services are possibly the cheapest VoIP phone options out there.
Finally, there were Full service VoIP providers such as Primus, iTalkBB and Yak Communications. These VoIP service providers would sell or lend the customer a pre-configured ATA for plug-and-use. No advance credit purchase is required to use their service (e.g. long distance calls). These VoIP service providers will charge a fixed monthly fee plus any long distance fees. In essence, these companies offer very similar phone service provided by big phone companies such as Telus and Shaw. Through word-of-mouth, I ended up trying and staying with iTalkBB because some of its long distance features fit my needs. iTalkBB’s monthly fee is $8.99 (around $11 after taxes and fees).
To conclude, using a full service VoIP provider saves me over $25 per month. So for the past 6 years, I have saved over $1,800 in my home phone cost. The savings would have been even greater if I was willing to try other options. Overall, I would rate my experience with iTalkBB as “good” except for a few rare technical issues which had to be addressed by their technical support. One more note about VoIP technology, VoIP phone service is only as good as your Internet connection. So a power outage will wipe out your phone service unless you have backup power. In the case of a network outage, you will be out of luck. However, I consider this is a small price to pay since I have saved so much using VoIP phone service so far!