Cheap Alternatives for Making Long Distance Phone Calls?

We moved into our current house not quite two years ago. While we love nearly everything about it, including our relatively isolated location. The big downside to all of this is that we get spotty cell phone service. This isn’t a huge deal, as we also have landline phone service, but it can be a pain when we need to make cell phone call.

In the past, we’ve always used our cell phones to make long distances calls for free, but it’s annoying to only be able to talk in certain parts of the house and to deal with periodic dropped calls. While we could always revert to using our landline, perhaps with a cheap calling card from Sam’s Club, I’m looking for a more elegant solution.

So, dear readers, this is where you come in…

We’re looking for a cheap long distance calling alternative. While we’re not necessarily opposed to cancelling our landline, any solution that we come up with has to jive with the following requirements:

1. Our only reasonable option for high speed internet is DSL. So… Unless we can get “unbundled” DSL for a decent price, cancelling the landline is out.

2. We have young kids in the house, and we’re not particularly fond of the idea of being “off the grid” when it comes to 911 service. So… Any solution has to transmit location information to the 911 call center.

3. We have an alarm system, and would prefer that it retain the ability to alert the authorities in the face of whatever solution we settle on. So… Any solution has to be alarm system compatible

Another consideration:

Neither my wife nor I are crazy about the idea of being tethered to a computer with a headset, so ideally this solution will involve either a phone or a phone-like device.

Given the above, what are your recommendations?

31 Responses to “Cheap Alternatives for Making Long Distance Phone Calls?”

  1. Anonymous

    Skype ? Have you tried to ADD A NEW ACCOUNT after trying to CANCEL AN OLD ACCOUNT ? The instructions to cancel are no good. You have to go into Paypal to cancel the recurring payments, but the account with Skype, and all payment info is saved. So when you try to add a separate new account, the payment info interferes with the new account payment process. No online support. No email contact. No simple button to click – “CANCEL ACCOUNT” .

  2. Anonymous

    I feel very similar about telephone service. I think magicJack might do the job for you. It does have the 911 provision. Let me know what you think. I think you can find all the information you need. If not, I can send you some.

  3. Nickel

    Darrin and Andrew: This is an interesting idea. However, I checked into it and the Sprint solution (Airave) won’t be widely available until at least next month. Moreover, it will come at a cost of $15 per line or $30 for a family. It can recognize up to 50 phones (total) and up to 3 lines can use it at once. The nice thing is that minutes used on the Airave are unlimited, but the $30 (to cover both my wife and myself) isn’t worth it in this case — we already have plenty of minutes.

    I’m going up into the attic later today to see if I can get a good signal somewhere up there. If so, I’m probably going to try out a signal extender such as this one. I’ll install the main antenna in the attic, and then fish the wire down the wall along with our speaker cables such that I can install the base unit in the house.

  4. Anonymous

    I’d look into the device mentioned in comment #12. If I remember correctly, you have a SERO plan with sprint anyhow, this would be a low-cost (free?) solution, and it just might work really well…plus it’s super simple because you can continue to use your cell phones, etc as you do now.

  5. Anonymous

    Before I had a cell phone, I didn’t have long distance on my land line. I had been given a calling card from Sam’s. I learned that I could add on or recharge 1,000 minutes for $28, so I did that. I haven’t bought minutes in a long long time, so I don’t know how much they cost now, but it might be an option.

  6. Nickel

    Carol: We use the cell phones for general daily life. With four boys we’re constantly “on the go,” and I’m often away from a phone at work. The fact that we got free long distance was just an added bonus, not the primary reason we have the cell phones.

  7. Anonymous

    Any particular reason you’re looking to keep your cell phones? If you solve the long distance problem (e.g. the $25/mo VOIP service), then couldn’t you drop the cell phone plan to pay for it?

  8. Anonymous

    I just switched (today as a matter of fact) or DSL with AT&T to a “Dry-loop”, meaning we don’t have a phone line with it. It is slightly more expensive ($4 per month), but with the basic phone line being $7, then we are still ahead. You can reach their dry-loop department directly at 800-264-0002.

    I also just renewed our VoIP service with ViaTalk as well. Our renewal rate was $199 for 18 months (new customers get 2 years for that price). It included e-911 service as well. I’ve got links to ViaTalks deals on my site that give me a commission if you sign up if you were interested.

  9. Anonymous

    I recommend long distance with Enhanced Communications Group (ECG). I first used them many years ago in my apartment for their cheap rates. Then I got married and once I started taking on the bills I was appalled at the $20/unlimited rate my husband was using for the minuscule amount of long distance calls we actually made. I convinced him of the change and now our long distance is less than $5/mo. There are no minimums or fees if you do automatic billing and payments. It’s easy! is the website.

  10. Anonymous

    Use 10-10-321. You don’t see the ads much anymore, but those are still valid for long distance calls. I only have a landline, and I don’t have long distance on it. If I have to make a long distance call, it’s usually under an hour, and this is a relatively cheap/minute service.

  11. Anonymous

    Have you tried just buying an external antennae for your cell? When I was right out of college I lived in an apartment complex with crappy cell service so I bought a $25 antennae from Target and the problem was solved.

    Another inexpensive solution is country-specific international calling cards.

  12. Anonymous

    Skype is the easy way. You can reasonably purchase a cordless phone that plugs into your computer, or even a WIFI-type phone that doesn’t require a computer. With their subscription service, you can call anyone in the US and Canada for $2.95 a month, your Skype to Skype calls are free, and if you need international calling, it’s only $9.95 a month.

  13. Anonymous

    I’ve been using MagicJack for a month, so far, it’s working fine. Free calls to anywhere in the US. The call quality is ok, not as good as a landline, and some telephones won’t ring because of the ringer voltage the MagicJack provides is fairly low.

    It’s very cheap though, $40 for the device and the first year, and $20/year afterward. I intend to keep it for faxing long documents and calling people who are out of the local area.

    Two things to watch out for, first of all, make sure you can get a number in your local area code, and secondly, you’ll need to keep your computer on to receive calls.

    An alternative for international calls is calling cards, such as the ones offered at, the website is in Chinese, maybe you can get your friends to translate it for you. I’ve been buying international calling cards from them for 4 years, and no problems so far.

    Good luck.

  14. Anonymous

    Switch to t-mobile or sprint. Both of them have a device that can plug into your local internet connection, and becomes a home hot spot for wireless service.

  15. Anonymous

    I’ve been looking at MagicJack — heard about it listening to Clark Howard a few weeks ago on the radio. Looks like a great idea and gets rave reviews from all kinds of “reputable” outfits.

  16. Anonymous

    I have heard of a product called magicjack, that plugs into the usb port. I don’t have any personal experience but have heard that it is inexpensive. I currently have Pioneer long distance and it works just fine and is economical.

  17. Anonymous

    You can consider the Skype phone. What I did was obtain a PDA phone that is able to run Skype on it. Since I already have the unlimited data plan from my cell phone, I am able to call to my skype contacts for free. Of course, if you wanted to call their cell phone, you can also purchase a plan where they have unlimited plans for USA, Mexico, or all Long Distance calls.

  18. Anonymous

    Remember that even if you drop your phone service entirely, you can leave a few phones plugged into it for 911 purposes. 911 is always available, as long as you have a dial tone.

  19. Anonymous

    Check out for the best long-distance plan in your area. We signed up for long-distance thru one of their providers, and pay only 2.5C / min for in-state and out-of-state calls. They round the duration of each call to the next 6-second increment. Plus, we only get a bill (E-Mail only) once we have spent $5 … which usually takes 2 – 3 months.

    Of course, you could take a frugal (cheap) route, and call whomever on your cell for free, and have them call you right back on your home phone.

    OH … in regards to mixing VOIP with DSL … since VOIP is in direct competition with your old-school phone company, many of them block the ports that VOIP services need; effectively rendering VOIP useless via their DSL. Unless, of course, you go with the much-overpriced in-house VOIP that the phone company itself is offering.

  20. Anonymous

    I like the Vonage option. Drop your phone line to the very basic service and depending on the amount of long distance calls you make, it can be extremely cost effective. We travel a lot and the freedom to call Europe at no long distance toll, and not having to worry about the length of our calls has tremendous benefits. I have used Vonage since their adoption and I have to say have had no problems with the service.

  21. Anonymous

    I’ve used in the past. It’s similar to a calling card (reloadable via the ‘net) but you can program in your home number so that you don’t have to enter a long access code everytime you make a call. They charge 2.5 cents per minute.

  22. Anonymous

    I’ve been using Pioneer Telephone for long distance. It is a regular long distance carrier, so you don’t need to dial any access numbers or anything, it just works automatically. There is no monthly fee, just cheap per minute rates. You don’t get your long distance billed on your phone bill, however, and they do prefer to bill your credit card automatically. But you can easily see your call history on the website. I definitely recommend checking them out.

  23. Nickel

    David: I’ll have to look into reducing the cost of our local landline service — I’m not sure how much lower we can go. I’m not sure the difference combined with our long distance savings would offset the $25 VOIP charge enough to be worth the hassle.

  24. Anonymous

    Could you get basic landline service at home, and just hook up a VOIP box to your DSL? I know that if I did not have cable internet at home here, I would have to have DSL – and I refuse to pay $75 a month for my phone service w/long distance. So I would get base service for $10-$15 with no calling plan, and then get VOIP for $25 a month with unlimited calling. For $35-$40, you get your regular phone for 911, VOIP for long distance, and your DSL for internet. Would that work for you guys?

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