Once you’ve got yourself connected to our spiffy new fibre network, you’ll probably still have your landline phone number and the BT landline over which it’s delivered to your house. It doesn’t matter who you use to provide your phone service, it still comes in over that ancient BT copper wire, and of course you’re charged line rental and call charges for using it – most of us have been paying £25-30 a month for this.
The good news is that you don’t need to do this once you’re connected to the fibre: you can move your existing number into an online telephone service over our fibre connection, ditch your BT line altogether and thereafter only pay for the calls you make, with no line rental. Oh, and the sound quality will be much, much better.
The technology used is called Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP for short. In many cases, you can also continue to use your existing telephones, with the aid of a small adapter.
So this is how to set up VoIP over BCB’s fibre (or indeed, anyone else’s) network.
Step 1: Look at your contract. Check what notice you need to give (if any) on your existing phone service, and time things accordingly. And see here for the change in BT’s terms and conditions (from September 15 2018) that give you the option to terminate your contract without penalty.
Step 2: Pick the VoIP provider and deal that suits you. In our house, we mostly use our landline for incoming calls – we make most of our outgoing calls on our mobiles or online. It’s also good to have a backup for the mobiles for when service is (even) worse than usual. So we didn’t want to buy a monthly call plan (typically £8-£12), as we’d rarely get full use from it.
So we were looking for a VoIP provider – the internet equivalent of a phone company – who didn’t insist on a call plan and who allowed us to simply add credit to our account when we needed to. That meant our going with Sipgate, simply because they do a pay-as-you-go option. Others include Vonage, (who do insist on a call package, starting at £9.25/month, and their £12.25/month call package does get you two free VoIP phones), Skype and 1-voip. Not all of those however support moving your current number to their service (Skype being one of those) so here, we’ll look at Sipgate and Vonage.
Step 3: Set up a VoIP account. Having chosen the deal you want, create an account with your chosen VoIP provider. Signing up is easy: just go to their web site, provide your details and you’ll be able to choose from a range of phone numbers to get you started. Here, you can pick a number pretty much anywhere – you’re not restricted to 01877 – once you move your own number over, you’ll end up with two, should you want them. Simples.
Step 4: Move your existing number. Then, if you want to keep your existing number, you need to get them to move your number (it’s called ‘porting’) from whoever your current provider is to their service. Sipgate charges £30 for this, but then allows you to either have pay-as-you-go phone calls or to pay for an inclusive monthly call package. Vonage doesn’t charge anything to port your number over but do require you to take a monthly call plan. Other providers have similar offers.
If you’re planning to go with Vonage, put out a message on our Google Group (see below for details), as Vonage has a ‘refer a friend’ link from their accounts, which get both referrer and referee a £50 voucher. (thanks to Chris Conder for that)
In Sipgate’s case, I emailed them to say I wanted to port my number, they emailed me an authorisation form to fill in, I completed it and emailed it back. They then sent an authentication code in the post that I then entered into our account on their web site to fully activate it, having credited our account with the porting fee. They then send it to your current telephone provider (Plusnet in our case) and, a week or so later, our number arrived at Sipgate and was available to use.
Step 4: Attach a phone. You need to attach a phone to your internet router. Some internet routers have connections that allow you to plug in your existing phone or base station; you can buy an adapter for your existing phone for about £30-£40 to connect to one of the network sockets on your router; or, for not much more, you can buy a phone that is capable of plugging directly into your router. Here, Gigaset are one of the most common providers.
Step 5: Set it up. Finally, you need to set it up to make and receive calls. This does require the entry of various arcane bits of information into your phone – these will be provided by your VoIP provider, sometimes as a downloadable profile file, and include:
Once that’s done and your number has moved over, at this point, your BT/Openreach copper line is disconnected and you go tell the blighters to clear off out of your life. That’s a very satisfying moment.
You can also install VoIP apps on your mobile devices so that they can become extra phones – search on the Apple or Android app stores for ’SIP client’.
Finally, how much to run the service will depend on how you use your phone: in our case, we use our mobiles, Whatsapp, Skype or Facetime most of the time, keeping our 01877 number for incoming calls and for when Vodafone or O2 are having an off day. So we put £10 credit into our account when we moved to VoIP in February 2018 – as of early September, we’ve spent precisely £3.
When it comes to emergency calls, you should always make sure that you have at least two means of contacting the outside world. While services such as Skype do not offer emergency calling, many of the VoIP services allow you to automatically associate your location automatically with an emergency call.
That however, doesn’t help if you have a power cut and your phone and internet connection aren’t working. Our broadband cabinet and the bunker at Comrie have battery-backed systems (uninterruptible power supplies) that will keep everything running except in the most extended power cuts, but you then need to have a battery backup in your house as well to keep your connection up – a basic UPS costs well under £100. And, as we’ve seen, the mobile networks here expire after a few hours of power cut as well.
In our case, we have a battery back-up system in the house that keeps everything running for about 30 minutes after a power cut. IF we just hooked it up to the phone and internet connection, it would run for hours. After that we’re on mobile and, when that goes, back in the stone age. Of course, if you have a wireless phone on your BT line, you’re already in that position – as soon as the power goes out, you lose your phone.
Different phones need to be set up in different ways in different ways – so if you have any issues, post a query on our Google Group (email to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to https://groups.google.com/group/balquhidder-broadband if you’re not already signed up) and those of us who’ve been through the process will help you get set up.