[Addition on Nov 21 2013: On Tue Nov 19, 2013 I was informed by FlyNumber that they had cancelled the number that I had with them. There was no prior warning and the terse email I received gave no reason for cancellation. After investigation, non-payment was cited, but I had previously been unable to make a payment via the FlyNumber web interface as it stated that my FlyNumber account would auto-renew, an option which I had specifically turned off! It’s a transient industry that companies like FlyNumber operate within; I bought, configured and tested a new number from VoIP.ms in less time than it took to receive a response from FlyNumber customer services. I thought that I was being smart by separating my number provider from my VoIP provider but in reality I probably just introduced an additional point of failure. Consequently, I would suggest that if you are going to use FlyNumber, make sure that you’ve gone through several incident-free billing cycles before advertising your new number to the world.]
Despite having worked for a telecommunications company a few years ago, it would not be true to say that I am well versed in the machinations of telephony. Since starting to work remotely in 2007, no home of mine has even had a landline and only in the last year has chez moi had fixed line broadband (previously I was reliant upon cell and satellite technology due to geographic location).
Emergency services limitations
When recently a work partner insisted that I should have a landline number I quickly purchased one from a leading player in the VoIP market; their headline rate appeared considerably more attractive than the landline offering from my broadband provider. It really bugs me when the phrase “decision in haste, repent at leisure” is rolled out but in this case it’s supremely apt as the past six months have shown that has been no long term savings and that the only real difference between my VoIP service and a conventional service is that the VoIP service allows the placement of a big sticker on the underside of the telephone that states, “Emergency services limitations”.
Another limitation of the VoIP service is that the number allocated is not standard number for our geographic area. Consequently when I quote my phone number to friends and neighbours I often get asked if it’s a premium rate number; I like to think I’m an interesting conversationalist but charging friends to hear my dulcet tones would probably be a bit rich.
It was definitely a time to get geeky and understand my options.
Premium rate hotline
The first step was to find a company that offers telephone numbers that won’t make acquaintances think that I’m operating a premium rate hotline. The result was a number bought from FlyNumber which offers a variety of forwarding options when calls are made to my new number. Calls can be forwarded to Skype, Google Voice, FlyNumber’s own PBX or a VoIP provider.
VoIP providers! Thousands of ’em.
For the VoIP provider, there is a plethora of companies. In fact, there are so many companies in the VoIP market that it feels a bit like the web hosting market 10 or 15 years ago when every geek in his bedroom morphed into a web hosting reseller. Many of the companies seem to name themselves in order to sound as dodgy as possible; often the name appears to be a portmanteau of the acronym ‘VoIP’ and a synonym for explosion: VoIPBoom, VoIPBang, VoIPRoar (I made those up but they probably do exist). I settled upon VoIP.ms which appears to have been around for a number of years and, more importantly for a geek, offers way too many options that invariably require wading through a Wiki to understand.
Whilst waiting for a Cisco SPA112 VoIP Phone Adapter to arrive, which will give a regular phone handset solution, I have installed Softphone by Acrobits on my iPhone to act as my phone. There are a number of VoIP apps available but Softphone appears to be the only one that will ring when a call is made and the app is not running.
After a bit of fannying about with various configurations, I finally have my phone system working satisfactorily: line quality is good, calls are cheap and I’m about to cancel my existing virtual phone account (which might be another story in itself). The only fly in the ointment is that every call that comes through to my iPhone is shown as coming from my phone number… but hey, you can’t have everything and I’m sure I’ll sort it out with a bit more tweaking.