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Goodbye Ma Bell, hello Internet phone service

MSNBC's Gary Krakow switches to 100 percent Internet phone service and never looks back.
VTech's i5871 cordless phone system made switching over to all VoIP an easy task.  You can add as many as eight additional handsets throughout your home.
VTech's i5871 cordless phone system made switching over to all VoIP an easy task.  You can add as many as eight additional handsets throughout your home.VTech

NEW YORK — When I moved to my new apartment, I decided it was time. I had been running two phone systems in the old place: POTS (plain old telephone system) phones with wires everywhere as well as wireless VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) phones. The monthly bills ran more than $200.

The choice was simple: Hundreds of dollars per month vs. a new monthly charge of less than $60. Goodbye Ma Bell, hello Internet telephony.

Traditional phone service has been around for more than 100 years. Voice signals are carried over two-wire systems and distributed worldwide. The system is self-powered, meaning your phone is powered by the phone line itself. That's why in times of widespread electrical power failures, your phones usually work.

VoIP, on the other hand, is still relatively new. Phone calls are routed over high-speed Internet connections. If you have a DSL, cable or satellite connection for your computer you can also have a VoIP phone system. Your phone plugs into a VoIP modem box which connects to your high-speed Internet box.

Unlike the traditional phone system, when there’s an electrical power failure in your area there’s no power for your high-speed Internet service or the telephone modem box. Bottom line is that your VoIP phones won’t work. That could make calling 911 during emergencies a problem.

When it came time to move, I decided I didn’t care. My VoIP line had worked flawlessly for me in my old apartment and I reasoned that it was time to begin saving lots of money on my phone service. I decided to go totally VoIP. In an emergency, I had a cell phone or two to call for help.

Once Time Warner Cable wired the new place for high-speed Internet access, I plugged in my VoIP modem from the old apartment and a new modem from Vonage, my VoIP provider, for the fax line. Within 60 seconds, all three of my phone lines were up and running.  For the record, each Vonage box handles a maximum of two phone lines so that meant I needed two modems for my three lines.

It took Vonage three to four weeks to get my three old phone numbers ported to my new VoIP lines. Except for the wait, the number changeover went very smoothly.

The next big step was figuring out which phones to use for the family phone number (the other two lines are connected to a fax machine and a home office phone). While the new apartment had been wired with a jack or two in a number of rooms, they were connected to the vestigial POTS system. Since I had successfully used a cordless phone for my original VoIP line, I decided to go all cordless in the new place.

I didn’t want a phone system which ran on old technologies (using the 900 MHz band) or one which shared spectrum space with everyone’s Wi-Fi networks (2.4GHz) so I went looking for the best 5.8 GHz phones system I could find. New 5.8 GHz spread-spectrum phones seemed to provide the best combination of clarity, range and security.

After a long search I decided on VTech’s incredible i5871 multi-handset system.  It consists of a base station (which I connected to my VoIP box) and a long, thin handset with color screen.  It’s not made specifically for VoIP use, but it worked perfectly in my situation and probably will in yours, too.

You can add up to eight additional wireless handsets (sold separately) throughout your home. All you have to do is just press a button and let the base station find the extension phone. I found that bringing the extension phone close to the base made it easy for everything to register in less than 10 seconds.

That’s it. No wires. No jacks. I just plugged the extension phones (and their charging bases) into the AC outlet and I had my multi-room system up and running in minutes.

The phone comes with all sorts of ring tones, speakerphone functions, an answering system accessible from every extension and picture caller-ID. You can even download your own pictures. The handsets not only look great, but feel great in your hand and are a pleasure to use. I’m happy to say the system has worked flawlessly since installation.

The VTech base station and handset combination sells for $199. Extension handsets go for $99 each. It's not cheap, but the price is reasonable for the quality and features the phones provide. Keep in mind, too, how much your phone company would charge if you wanted to install additional jacks throughout your home.

If you didn't know, you'd never be able to detect that my home phones are connected through the Internet and not the phone company. I’m very pleased with my 21st century home phone system.