Options for Cutting Our Long Distance Phone Expenses

The other day I solicited opinions on how to reduce our long distance expenses. While we’ve relied primarily on our cell phones in the past, our current house has spotty cell phone service and having multiple dropped calls during a single conversation is incredibly annoying.

Given that DSL is our only option for broadband internet, that my wife wouldn’t be comfortable without a landline, and that neither one of us wants to be tethered to a computer when making calls, our options are somewhat limited.

For background, we’re currently on the Sprint 50 at Home plan in conjunction with our cell phones. This plan gives us 50 free minutes of long distance with additional minutes being charged at a rate of $0.07/minute. Back when we got a good cell signal, this was a great plan, as we rarely needed to use our “real” phone to make a long distance call. And even when we did, the 50 free minutes was more than enough to cover it.

Anyway, the suggestions that we received ran the gamut. Here are some of the options that we’ve dismissed…

Skype — As I said above, neither my wife nor I want to be tethered to a computer. Moreover, the Skype WiFi phones that I ran across aren’t getting very good reviews. I suspect the landscape will be much better in a year or so.

VoIP — Too expensive for our needs (especially since we’re keeping the landline). We’re already on the cheapest phone service ($15/month though it ends up costing more like $25 with taxes/fees) so we can’t really trade down to offset the cost.

MagicJack — Very interesting concept, and it works with a regular phone. However, my wife and I both have laptops, which makes a solution like MagicJack rather inconvenient in that we’d have to wake up one of our computers and plug it in (along with a phone) every time we wanted to make a long distance phone call.

Airave — This is the name of Sprint’s forthcoming home internet “hotspot” service. Just plug it into your broadband connection and you’re ready to roll with unlimited minutes transmitted over the internet. And, unlike T-Mobile’s service, this works with any Sprint phone — no built-in WiFi necessary. Unfortunately, it’s not yet widely available, and it costs $15/month for a single phone($30/month for a family plan). Yes, it provides unlimited minutes, but we already have plenty of minutes. We just need a better signal.

So… That brings us to the options that we’re going to implement.

First and foremost, we’re switching long distance carriers. A couple of readers recommended Pioneer Telephone and, after poking around a bit on LowerMyBills.com, they seem to be among the very best options. Their out-of-state calling rate is $0.027/minute, whereas in-state calls go for $0.032/minute. There are no other fees if you pay be credit card (otherwise there may be a low usage fee).

The other attractive option that I found was Uni-Tel. According to LowerMyBills.com, they had slightly cheaper out-of-state rates ($0.025/minute) with slightly higher in-state rates ($0.042/minute).

In the end, we decided to switch to Uni-Tel. The break-even point here of out-of-state calls vs. Sprint’s 50 at Home plan is around 80 minutes. In other words, at that point it will be cheaper to use Uni-Tel even though the first 50 minutes are free from Sprint.

The other thing that we’re considering is a cell phone signal extender such as this one. While this particular unit gets mixed reviews on Amazon, I’ve seen very positive reviews elsewhere. Ultimately, it appears that the poor results that some have experienced may be a byproduct of improper installation.

The main sticking point right now is finding a spot in the attic with a strong enough signal to make this worthwhile — signal extenders are no better than the signal that they’re extending. Ideally, we’d place the antenna in a spot with 4 or 5 bars of service (though I’d probably settle for less). That being said, I spent a bit of time up in the attic last night and wasn’t able to find an especially strong signal. I haven’t given up yet, but it’s not looking good.

16 Responses to “Options for Cutting Our Long Distance Phone Expenses”

  1. Anonymous

    The problem with VOIP is that when your broadband connection goes down your phone does too. We have cell phones, and our cable modem goes down every few months for extended periods of time during storms and whatnot. The cable was down for about 18 hours last week, no TV and no Internet. The POTS line worked fine. Power was out and the POTS line worked fine. I spent an hour on hold with the cable provider while listening to them marketing their digital voice service during the hold music. Imagine the minutes used if I was on hold on my cell phone, which would also need to be recharged should I need to make more calls later on.

    You know what the difference between Comcast Digital Voice and my AT&T landline is? AT&T realises that the phone line is a utility and treats it as such, if the line goes down they get it up ASAP. Comcast doesn’t.

    I have immediate family in Australia, and cell phone calls overseas are stupidly expensive. I use Skype for those, with a Linksys cordless skype phone. 2.7c a minute to Australia is great.

  2. Anonymous


    BAD NEWS STORY. Sorry.

    I went with a digital service (name excluded, not their fault I did not read enough). I quickly became aware how important enhanced 911 service is on a standard land line. This is actually a comedy of errors. I was two days out of a vasectomy (this is important) I was drugged up, still in a bit of discomfort and my wife had to go to the store. While she was gone my 2 year old daughter was sick and had a fever, well this fever shot up and resulted in a seizure. Between the drug induced confusion, the stress of the situations, and the pain it was all I could do to remember to call 911.

    “911 operator – what is your emergency, where are you located?”

    At the time I was 34 years old and a babbling idiot. What 34 year old, upstanding citizen does not know his own address?

    OH OH OH Pick me, pick me.

    Sir, I could not think of my address to save my soul. I fumbled to the door to look on the house. Lucky for me the neighbors were out and came to my rescue.

    BTW, daughter is fine. And no more babies from me.

    Fast forward a year. My sister-in-law gets a job as a 911 operator in FL. She relayed to us the pain, confusion and time lost because of the digital phone stuff AND “OnStar”. Think about it. A middle man/woman in an emergency.

    Just for our living room I’ve used the automobile stick on cell antenna on the window to a good measure of success.

    A lot of my buddies in Iraq call home on Yahoo messenger with voice and video. Pretty cool, if you ask me. I thought I was going so we got the same setup.

    Good luck with this.


  3. Anonymous

    I have a comparison search engine on my site that allows you to enter the first 6 numbers of your ph# and compare multiple companies and VOIP with the rates for your area as well as calling cards.

  4. Anonymous

    I’ve been using Vonage for about a year now and I love it. Have had no problems with it and I like the set bill every month.


  5. Anonymous

    I would look to T-Mobile.

    Their ‘HotSpot @Home’ service uses the Wi-Fi already in your home to improve coverage. No more ‘spotty coverage’. You need to get a new dual-mode phone from T-Mobile.

    Then for a fixed line phone, they have a new service they are planning to roll out nationwide shortly (currently in Dallas and Seattle only).

    It’s a VoIP service like Vonage, but from T-Mobile. If you have a $40/month plan, for an extra $10/month they give you unlimited calling from your fixed line. (versus $25 from Vonage). You need to get a new T-Mobile terminal adaptor which connects your fixed line phone to the internet. The web site is http://talkforever.t-mobile.com.

    Check it out.

  6. Anonymous

    Have you considered phone cards? Check around on the internet and I’m sure you can find rates at around 2 cents per minute without the need to pay a monthly fee.

  7. Anonymous

    I think the cell extender is a great idea, wish I had thought of it 😉 Let us know how it works out. Tigerdirect has a 30 day return policy if it doesn’t help.

  8. Nickel

    douglas: Nope. As I’ve already pointed out, the extender would not only give us access to free long distance, but would also restore the utility of our cell phones around the house. There are actually times when we need to use them (me moreso than my wife) at home even though we have a landline. Moreover, we’re talking about a good bit more than a $0.01/minute difference — closer to a nickel given what we’re currently paying.

    Even with this larger price difference, it wouldn’t make sense to spend $230 just for the LD savings, as it would take quite a while to recoup the expenditure. But given that there are other issues at stake, it’s still worth considering.

  9. Nickel

    Chris: Interesting. I didn’t see that phone when I first looked. It looks very promising to say the least. The final decision on this will likely come down to whether or not I can find a decent cell signal somewhere in my attic. If so, the signal extender not only solves the LD problem, but also restores our cell service in general when we’re at home. But if not, the Philips phone looks like a great alternative. How’s the battery life?

    William: I hear you, but we happen to live in one of those rare areas that has DSL access, but no cable access (TV has to come in via Dish or DirecTV). Thus, our options are considerably more limited.

  10. Anonymous

    I note that you are limited in terms of broadband access in your area. I also can appreciate that everyone has to make their own choices in this arena, however, I thought I’d chime in with my own experience, in case it would prove of any usefulness to other readers.

    We had a plan from the local phone company that covered all local calls, unlimited long distance, and had some of the usual features like call-waiting and caller ID. We also had DSL service for our Internet connection.

    Two years ago, we opted for cable for our Internet connection instead and went with Vonage. We utilize the $14.99/month plan, which includes 500 minutes of outgoing calling, unlimited incoming, unlimited calls to other people with Vonage, and Vonage access numbers where people can call you, long-distance, at no additional charge to them or to you. Our bill, all total, usually runs around $20. Sometimes, we go over the 500 minutes but the per minute charge still makes it better to have this plan than the unlimited one. In fact, that is the case even if you go over by more than 200 minutes per month.

    In any case, our bill with local, long distance, and DSL was significantly higher than what we now pay for (higher speed) cable Net access and Vonage 500.

    It was a move that has been well-worth it for us.

  11. Anonymous

    We have a regular land line, but for long distance we use onesuite.com. 2.5c a minute. They have other packages and services, one of which might work for you. Only downside to the cheap long distance is you have to dial through another number for the gateway, then dial your destination. We have the gateway on speed dial.

  12. Anonymous

    I’d still consider Skype. I have a Philips DECT Skype phone and it works very well. The Skype portion runs on an embedded processor that directly connects to both your landline and your ethernet network. The handset uses DECT to communicate with the embedded processor, giving you wireless handset freedom without worrying about WiFi and whatnot throughout the house.

    I have Skypeout for $3/mos, giving unlimited calling to Canada and the US. I have a $2/mos Skypein number, too, so for $5/mos I get essentially a complete phone line.

    I have this Philips phone: http://www.amazon.com/Philips-VOIP841-PC-Free-Wireless-Phone/dp/B000ND75FW/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1211903619&sr=8-1. I got it on sale for $70 about a year ago, and it’s worked very well for me.

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