When I moved into my current office a while back, it came with shared Internet and no phone. So, I got myself a Vonage account and, with that and my cellphone, I thought I’d be OK. Wrong.

The problem is that the Internet connection isn’t that reliable. The throughput is good, the latency is good, it just for some reason checks out briefly a few times a day. This doesn’t make Vonage happy if there’s a call in progress. Since my main telephone usage is big long conference calls, I was suffering real pain. I switched those to my cellphone, but my monthly bill veered ino brutal and stayed there.

So I gave up and called up the local telco and ordered what we used to call POTS—Plain Old Telephone Service. It’s like $30/month.

They said it’d be installed on a certain Monday but I didn’t hear anything and I assumed they’d get around to it. A couple of weeks later, I got a bill. So I called and complained and they said “but we switched the circuit on at head office, you should be fine.” But I didn’t see any jacks in the room, so I had them send a guy, they warned me there’d be a charge.

My office is on a main street called Main Street in a building that is old and wasn’t much to speak of when it was new. It’s over a clothing boutique and a café. The telco guy showed up on schedule and spent a couple hours tracing antique cabling around dusty crawlspaces right over the bakery’s main oven. I felt really sorry for him but he maintained his good cheer.

Eventually he declared victory and said “That installation charge? Forget it, I think I just fixed up eight severe safety-code violations.”

So now I have an old-fashioned land-line. Wow! The voices are so clear, and there’s only static when I’m talking to someone on a cellphone or Vonage or Skype or something, and it never goes down.

I had the cutest little postmodern cordless Panasonic phone plugged into Vonage, but its battery life was unsatisfactory, so I went to Office Depot and bought this big streamlined plastic phone allegedly made by someone called “AT&T”, I wonder what that could stand for? And the handset is connectd by this thing called a “wire”, remember those?

It’s got a superb speakerphone, and works great with my Plantronics headset, and great big keys that you just can’t miss, and my stress level around teleconferences has gone to zero.

Telephonically, I’m in 1985, and it feels just fine.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Kevin Lipe (Mar 11 2008, at 00:21)

I worked in an office last summer that still had those old Lucent Merlin phones in it--the big black ones, with lots of speed-dial buttons. It was wonderful, and kinda makes me wish I still had a landline in my house.


From: Derek K. Miller (Mar 11 2008, at 00:39)

Just for fun, I think you should get one of those big ol' black wired-to-the-wall rotary phones everyone (like my grandmother) used to have.


From: Adrian Sutton (Mar 11 2008, at 01:09)

Indeed, I'm considering getting just such a wired telephone for my "old skool" POTS as well given the radio dead zone that seems to be just behind my desk in my home office. Leaning back on phone calls is not recommend!

Generally, I've found the new age telephone services to be pretty terrible and in the UK there are so many free international phone call plans around (£5/month with BT for example) that the cost benefit has disappeared too.


From: Martin Probst (Mar 11 2008, at 03:41)

I always feel that we computer nerds can learn a lot from those old guys running those old systems. Like telephone lines. Or postal mail. Those systems are quite comparable in complexity to modern computer systems, and they do go down every now and then, but they still have impressive uptimes and QoS.

Another nice example is the train system. In Berlin Hauptbahnhof (Central Station), there are well over 1000 trains arriving every day, that's close to one a minute (even when distributed equally over the day). And they are connected to about a hundred train stations in Berlin alone - just imagine all the potential for errors, human and technical alike.


From: robert (Mar 11 2008, at 06:09)

And the script-kiddies think MP3 sounds just as good as CD, and better than vinyl. No wonder Bush got appointed: the level of critical thinking has gone in the toilet. Ah can nau chain the laws of physics, Capn


From: Charles Oliver Nutter (Mar 11 2008, at 08:08)

I haven't considered Vonage for the same reason; when my DSL can't maintain a connection to IRC reliably, how can I expect it to funnel VOIP through?

My current complaint about phones is that it's near impossible to know from looking at the box whether a cordless uses crappy memory-ridden NiCd or NiMH batteries or much better Li* batteries. I've had too many cordless phones lose their financial viability because they required constant battery replacements. A battery with memory, that generally performs poorest when used for short periods and immediately recharged...yeah, that's a great option for a PHONE.


From: Scott Johnson (Mar 11 2008, at 12:13)

I have been enjoying our new Cisco VoIP phones at the office lately. I honestly can't tell a difference between it and the old analog phone it replaced. Except that it plugs into my ethernet jack and can display the company's entire phone directory on its screen. So its the best of both worlds.


From: James W (Mar 11 2008, at 12:39)

Funny, that.

My POTS phone service has not been unavailable a single minute for the five years since I've had the line installed.

My ISP, however...


From: Mark (Mar 11 2008, at 12:44)

Obligatory link to MAKE: http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2005/06/portable_rotary.html


From: Tim (but not THE Tim) (Mar 11 2008, at 13:17)

re: Rotary phones

AT&T and local Telcos definitely practice "backward compatibility" -- if you plugged one of those phones in (or better, wired a jack in and wired it to the jack) it <b>would still work</b>.

It's still basically just a (20ma?) loop of wire between you and the local branch exchange.

Simplicity is the mother of reliability, or something like that.


From: Paul W. Homer (Mar 11 2008, at 13:43)

Isn't technology wonderful :-)

All this fancy new stuff, and the only thing you can trust is nearly a century old. I've always been very glad my bank accounts are still held in a mainframe...




From: Assaf (Mar 11 2008, at 15:48)

I'm ashamed to admit I only recently discovered VoIP, and it's great!

Fake static to hide keyboard clicks in the background, "dropped" calls to cover for bathroom breaks, and unreliable connections to excuse you when it's "one more question ..." time.


From: Rob (Mar 12 2008, at 18:12)

Me, I'm just glad to talk to someone on the phone that doesn't sound like they are yelling at me from the bottom of a particularly foul toilet in one of the seedier corners of Mumbai or something. When VOIP doesn't work, which is a lot of the time, it really sux.


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