Telephone Options and how I defeated robocalls
This is a story of phone journey that started in 2009 and continues today. In the end I’ve saved money and put in place a solution that works for home offices and defeated the automated robocallers.
There are probably hundreds of voice over IP (voip) providers available on the market. This is NOT an extensive list of vendors or their respective offerings. I really don’t think there is a “one size fits all” solution because everyone has different requirements, different technical abilities, a range of “pain tolerance” while setting up a service (it can be tricky) and budget. This paper is simply an overview of some of the tools I’ve used over the years. I have used or extensively researched all of these options. I decided about 15 years ago that paying $40/month for a landline from my local phone company is a COMPLETE waste of money so I ventured into the world of VOIP. .
- In order to “cut the cord” from our internet provider I needed to file a divorce from Xfinity/Comcast but I needed to retain my local home number (you cannot port all phone number to Google voice or other voip providers).
- Almost all phone services rely on voip including “traditional landlines”. The main difference is that the big providers (ATT, Comcast, Cox, etc) simply charge too much or they use your phone number to keep you hostage to their services.
- Non-traditional voice providers such as Ringcentral, Zoom, Vonage, 8x8, etc offer lots of options over a traditional providers but I found that these providers are not typically cheaper than a traditional phone service in the end - but they are a lot more flexible.
I think I own about 10 different google voice number associated with various email accounts I’ve used over the years. It is the easiest voip solution to use and it is “free” - as long as you realize you are the product. I also hesitate to rely on Google because they do have a history of getting people addicted to their cocaine and then charging them down the line. BUT, it’s free and it is a really good solution.
- I set up my wife with a Google voice number in March 2009 because they assured me as an early adopter they would never charge me. I sort of believed them…
- The result is that she could protect her cell number and save the cell number for the family and friends.
- It was a rough start but the service is mature now.
- This allowed her to brand the number to her business and freely use it on signs, letterhead, websites, etc. It rings on her cell phone and when she calls back it displays her Google voice number.
- We had a problem though...her cell phone didn’t work in our house and I certainly didn’t want to set up a different phone line in the house just for her outgoing calls and introducing another phone number into her eco-system.
- This led me to explore other options which are way more fun and flexible such as Voip.ms, Twilio, 8x8, Magicjack and more options.
- The solution ended up being a device called an Obihai which is an incredible piece of hardware. For 30 bucks (one time cost) I integrated the Obihai into our home and they unofficially supported Google voice! They now support it officially.
- Godaddy has an interesting service for $10/mo called Smartline. I don’t have direct experience with this but it seems like a good idea - especially for the google haters in the world. https://www.godaddy.com/smartline/second-phone-number
- There are literally hundreds of options available from Grasshopper to Vonage. I’ve used a lot of them but in the end I came back to Google Voice and an online PBX because those met my base level requirements.
Home office or teams setup
I mentioned a few things that impelled me to continue looking at options.
- I needed a divorce from Comcast and I wanted control of my phone number.
- Ana’s cell phone does not work in our house (we’ve tried antenna’s, boosters, standing on one foot with a finger attached to a metal object, etc. It was just unreliable…
- I viewed switching from Comcast to ATT to rescue my home phone number as jumping from one frying pan into another frying pan.
- As a result I stumbled on a few services that would work including the well known one like Vonage, Ringcentral, 8x8 and others. All of these services are simply voip services that packaged a phone service as SAAS and sold it to you. Simple stuff but not what I wanted.
- Then I found more non-traditional services that let you actually set a phone system for pennies on the dollar versus these providers. In fact, these providers sometimes were just packaging Twilio or other voip providers services and reselling them - which is brilliant!
After trying about 20 non-traditional providers I settled on a service called www.voip.ms for a few reasons including the most important reason - it fixed Ana’s cell phone issue and she could now use her Google voice number in the house!
- While I was researching voip.ms and how the heck I could get dial tone into my house I stumbled on the most ingenious product that worked with Google voice called an Obihai.
- For $0.84 per month plus 0.009 cents per minute I could replace Comcast! A 10 minute phone call is a penny.
- Our home phone number now costs me about $20/year including the telemarketing calls.
How I defeated robocalls
- www.voip.ms seems to be a full service phone PBX. If you are familiar with PBX systems at large corporations you know what I mean. I had set up a few PBX systems in the ‘90’s so I did have some telephony experience so I wasn’t scared to dive into their features. I’m not saying I understand all their features but I found that if something could be done on a traditional PBX it could be done on voip.ms.
- We were getting about 20 robocalls a day. My understanding is that a lot of the calls were tests to find out IF a real person might answer the phone.
- It occured to me that I could set up a voice tree on my home phone which would required the robocall to make a decision before it rang the phone. I simply put a voicetree in place which said “If you are a robot, hang up, if you are a real person, hit 5”.
- It worked and the calls stopped. In the end, it is a simple solution but it took me 10 years to get there!
Call tracking services for marketing
I decided to include some info on call tracking software which is a really good idea for anyone that wants more granular data on where they are spending their marketing dollars. If you use the same phone number everywhere you can never get this knowledge. In this day and age, phone numbers seem fungible and not really tied to brand identities any more. It is more important to know if your client came from a display ad, a newspaper ad, a mailer, a website or whatever. Call tracking services assist in the endeavour.
Calltracker.com - $4 per month
- With Call Tracker, you'll purchase phone numbers that forward to your phone number. When someone calls a tracking number, we gather data about where the call in the background while you answer the call just like normal.
Callrail - $6 per number per month
- Minimum 5 numbers
- Discover which marketing strategies are driving calls
- 5 Local Numbers / 500 Local Minutes
- Call recording and playback
- email notifications
- Call forwarding
What should you do?
I don’t know. Depends on your budget and your requirements.
At the minimum I’d sign up for a Google voice number and use that. It is simple, it works and Google wants to know where you are at all times.
If you are a team I’d seriously look at voip.ms and spend some time configuring it. As a PBX it has the call tree options, group ringing, voicemail, SMS ability that a PBX has.
Ringcentral is very easy to setup and use so that is a good option for the “less” technical people in the arena. I see very little reason most companies should use Ringcentral over much less expensive and more capable online PBX services. But they do a great job advertising their service.