Landlines. My take on POTS, VoIP and more

Rotary Dial TelephoneThe landline is dead!  Long live the landline!

Cell phones are great but landlines are still useful.

Here is my take on landlines, VoIP, cell phones, Instant Messaging and my current favorite solution, OBi + Google Voice.

The home telephone line or landline as it is sometimes called is slowly falling out of favor and being replaced by cell phones.  The younger generations in particular don’t see the need for a landline when they have a cell phone to stay in touch with the world.

But a landline does have advantages over cellular service including reliability, simplicity and multiple handsets.  Older generations may prefer the familiar, simple and reliable landline telephone.

Now landlines are available as the traditional wires run to the home or service over the Internet called VoIP (Voice over IP).

Wired landlines, VoIP landlines and cell phones each have their strengths and weaknesses.

Traditional landlines or POTS

Traditional wired landlines, also known as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), rely on wires run from the telephone company’s central office to the home – traditionally telephone poles and copper wire pairs but now cabling is run underground.

POTS landlines are extremely reliable, easy to use and inexpensive.  These landlines are reliable because they are simple wired circuits.  Your local electric service can go out and the line will remain active.  They are easy to use, just plug in a phone and you’re done.  911 service always works and 911 will know your address.  Directory service works and your number can be published in the telephone book.   These landlines can be inexpensive with basic service less than $15/month and low income subsidies available.  These landlines were designed for voice but can also carry data using a modem or fax.  They work well with alarm systems.   Many features like Caller ID, Call Waiting and voice mail can be added but this will ramp up the cost.  Another handy feature is you can have multiple extensions throughout your house.  A fun bonus is your rotary dial phones will just work!

Summary of POTS landline advantages

  • Easy to use, familiar
  • Extremely reliable
  • 911 reliability and location
  • Low cost with basic service
  • Features are available including voice mail, Caller ID, Call Waiting, etc
  • Fax machines, modems and home alarm systems will  work
  • Multiple handsets
  • Telephone directory service works

Summary of POTS landline disadvantages

  • If you use a cell phone, may be an unnecessary expense and extra phone number
  • Long distance service may be expensive
  • Features ramp up the cost
  • Not portable like a cell phone

AT&T is one provider of landline service.  My experience with AT&T has been overall good but telephone  customer service can difficult to navigate.

VoIP landlines

VoIP landlines have gained popularity along with the Internet because they have more features and save long distance costs.  VoIP has most of the advantages of the traditional wired POTS landline and adds hi tech features.  VoIP landlines require that you have broadband Internet service because they connect your telephone to the telephone system via the Internet.

VoIP landlines work  a lot like your traditional home telephone service and casual users wouldn’t know the difference.  So for the average user, VoIP works well and may save you money.  For the geek user there are more features.  Some interesting features that may be available include – simultaneous ringing of multiple phone numbers, transcribing voicemail to text and emailing the message and logging calls.   You will have an account on the vendor’s web site to manage your features.   Voice quality is definitely better than wires or cellular.  Unlimited local calls and US long distance is generally included in the deal.  International long distance may be lower cost and can be free with a device-to-device service like magicJack.  Comcast and other providers of cable TV/Internet/telephone may discount services with bundling.

On the down side, setting up your VoIP service can be daunting with boxes and cables.  Your telephone service will go down if your Internet or power goes out (except if your power goes out and you have a battery backup or your interface has battery backup).  911 will not know your address unless your service allows you to register it (Comcast, Vonage, magicJack all allow you to register).   Your phone number may or may not get listed in directory services and telephone books and your Caller ID may show the service name, a city or your name along with your number.  If your Internet connection is slow or busy you may get broken choppy voice quality.  Fax, modem and alarm systems may not function.  The viability of some companies is an issue – some VoIP companies have gone out of business and some have never made a profit.

With VoIP service you’ll be plugging your home phone into your Internet gateway (modem/router) or a box provided by the service.  Cabling and configuring a VoIP box to your Internet gateway, modem and /or router can get complicated.

Cordless telephone sets are easy to use with VoIP.  Alternatively you can connect your VoIP box to your home telephone wiring to activate all your home jacks with phone service.

Summary of advantages of VoIP

  • Enhanced voice quality
  • Additional features like simultaneous ringing of multiple phone numbers, transcribing and emailing voice mail, logging phone calls and advanced features
  • Cheaper local and long distance services
  • Free international service with the right setup
  • Multiple handsets
  • Voice mail service generally included
  • Can be inexpensive with a  low cost service like magicJack

Summary of disadvantages of VoIP

  • Broadband Internet service required
  • More complicated setup
  • Service interruption if Internet or electricity (without battery backup) goes down
  • Not portable like a cell phone
  • 911 issues – you must register your address or 911 service may not be available
  • Listing your phone number in a telephone directory may not be available
  • Caller ID may not show your name, instead the name of the service or your location
  • Slow or busy Internet connections may degrade voice connections
  • Fax machines, modems and home alarm systems may not  work
  • Voice mail indicator and call waiting tones and Caller ID may not function
  • Company stability and viability may be an issue

Comcast VoIP, Vonage and magicJack are example providers of this service.

My experience with Comcast VoIP was overall good.  The Comcast Voice web site is easy to use to manage features.  Hardware setup was easy.  The Comcast provided gateway was an all-in-one modem/router/VoiP telephone interface.  Installation was as simple as connecting it to the coax cable, power and plugging in the phone.  The gateway even had a battery backup for dial tone if the local power was out.   On the downside, Comcast VoIP cannot simultaneously ring multiple numbers, the monthly gateway rental fee and deceptive marketing.

My experience with Vonage was overall good.  The Vonage web site is easy to use to manage features.  Installing the Vonage phone adapter was complicated for me because I use a DSL modem and separate router and did not want the adapter to act as a router as the instructions recommended.  Vonage has the SimulRing feature meaning it can simultaneously ring multiple phone numbers.

My experience with magicJack and magicJack Plus is good.  On the plus side magicJack can provide low cost telephone service at $30/year (the cost recently went up from $20/year).  On the negative side the service can have some quirks and requires a running PC to use (magicJack) or a PC to set up (magicJack Plus).  Two quirks I experienced were first the Voice Mail indicator light would not flash when I had voice mail and second Caller ID is not configurable.   The magicJack must be plugged into the USB port of a running PC on the Internet to have phone service, so for a home phone you must leave your PC on 24/7.  On the other hand, you can take your magicJack on the road with you.  The magicJack Plus, after it is registered can be used with a PC or without a PC with the supplied USB power adapter.

Cell phones

Although this is about landlines, here is my take on cell phones .  Cell phones are great because they are portable and smart phones are computers on the internet.

Summary of advantages of cell phones

  • Portable, always in touch, great for emergency use
  • Smartphones are computers that are Internet savy
  • Phone service where no landlines are available

Summary of disadvantages of cell phones

  • Expensive
  • Signal strength varies, coverage varies
  • Easy to damage, lose
  • Cell phone use can be hazardous and breeds a whole new class of bad manners

Telephone alternatives

If you are on the Internet there are many ways to communicate, like chat, instant message, Skype,  email, text, Facebook, Twitter, Google Voice, Obi,  and on and on.

IM services from Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, Google and more allow us to chat, talk and video conference with the downside that you have to be at your computer to receive calls (exceptions – Skype and others offer specialized hardware to connect to your computer or Internet connection to give you a real time telephone connection, subscription charges may apply).  IM also locks you to your PC with a microphone, speakers, headset or wireless device to talk and listen.

Google Voice tm is a free telephone service (Google has said the service is free through 2012) that gives you a telephone number and flexible voice , voicemail and text services).  Incoming calls can be routed to your existing landline(s) and/or cell phone(s).  Outgoing calls are not so easy unless you have a device like and OBi  – see my article on my positive experience with Google Voice and the OBi.

Summary of advantages of telephone alternatives

  • Typically free
  • Text, voice, video, file sharing
  • Integrates with email and social networking

Summary of disadvantages of telephone alternatives

  • You have to be online and at your computer for real time connection
  • Phone numbers and services additional cost
  • No 911
  • No easy connections to the traditional telephone network – landlines, cell phones, directories


What are your telephone requirements?

  • Easy to use
  • Reliable
  • Portable
  • Cost
  • Features
  • 911
  • Tech support


My current favorite VoIP landline solution is Google Voice and an OBi110 phone adapter.  Read all about it on my blog post: Free VoIP phone service – OBi110 + Google Voice


More on telephones.

You can port your telephone number between companies with some restrictions.  Keep your old telephone number.


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