Tuesday, January 16, 2007

I got an iPhone (But Not That iPhone)

With the recent purchase of our first home, my wife and I decided that it was time to take the next big step in telephony and get a home phone. For the first 3+ years of our marriage, we have used only cell phones and the Skype VoIP application to audibly communicate with others not in our immediate vicinity. This sufficed, but it was not an optimal solution, especially at our church, where they would only allow one phone number per household on the official roster. This meant that one of us had to endure call after call on our cell phone from someone looking for the other. Unfortunately, I drew the short stick and have been fielding those calls for the last several years, most of them at the most inopportune and/or inconvenient times.

There were two options available to us as I saw it: regular old PSTN land line service through SBC-or-whatever-their-name-is-today or a Skype handset. (At our previous residence, we would have had a third option-Digital Phone service from Time Warner-but our new provider, SuddenLink, does not yet have a digital phone service, or at least that's what they told me when I signed up for service a few weeks ago.)

Being the technologist that I am, or at least consider myself to be, I went out and purchased the only Skype handset that I could find in stock after the Christmas rush: the Linksys CIT200, or iPhone. Sure enough, this is the same model of handset that Linksys has been shipping for some time, although not under the iPhone moniker. I won't attempt to share my thoughts about the Apple iPhone or the Cisco and Apple trademark dispute here. More on those issues later. Rather I'll offer an honest assessment of the combination of Skype and CIT200 during our time with it.

The first thing I did was buy a local phone number from Skype. The process was painless and simple. It took about 2 minutes and 6 mouse clicks before I had my very own local number. (As an aside, I should like to invite any executive of any large telco to explain to me why I can't get a number from them as easily as I can from Skype. The last time I called and ordered service from a telco, I was on the phone for almost an hour. Truly pathetic. Granted, this was several years ago, but I can't imagine their archaic processes have changed much, if at all.) The next step was to procure a handset, which I did with relative ease. Setup of the CIT200 was very simple. I plugged in the USB "dock", or whatever it is they call the device which transmits data from the PC to the handset, and let the install CD do its thing. A few short minutes later, I was up and running.

The call quality of the phone has been great. Walls and other obstacles between the PC and the handset have not caused any perceptible degradations in call quality. Battery life seems to be up to snuff. Using the Unlimited SkypeOut plan, which I also purchased, we can easily make and receive unlimited calls in the US and Canada. My wife has not yet complained about its usability, which means it must be easy to use. All of those things are to be expected of any phone. The clincher is price.

I payed roughly $50 for one year of SkypeIn and SkypeOut. That means I'm paying approximately $4 and some change each month for phone service. Any other service would have cost me on the order of between 5 and 10 times more per month. Not even Vonage, the alleged "Leader of the Itnernet Phone Revolution", can come close to offering that kind of price/value combination. Skype truly is a game changer, in my opinion. Would you ever abandon your local telco for Skype or another VoIP service? Have you already done so? Leave a comment.