Ditch Your Landline and Save Some Cash With VoIP: Skype, Ooma, and MagicJack


cptdano from the forums asks:

"We have done away with land lines in our house. Do you have any ideas of another way we might accomplish something similar?"


The country is in a recession, and your cellphone bills are high enough.  The last thing you or anyone else needs is yet another outrageous telephone bill, but your local cable and telephone companies keep on pressuring you to sign up for their included landline service.

Landline telephone service does have its advantages, including clarity of transmission and always-on service, but there are a number of solutions from various providers that offer voice telephone services over the Internet for a fraction of the price.  Are you ready to cut the cord?  Take a look at these three solutions.  (Before we begin, all of these solutions require a high-speed Internet connection.)

Skype: A Solid, Well-Known VoIP Provider

If you're not familiar with the term, "VoIP" stands for "Voice over Internet Protocol" and is exactly what you might assume - telephone service over the Internet instead of over a landline.  Skype, an eBay company based out of Luxembourg, has been providing service to users worldwide for quite some time, and has really come into its own lately with the addition of an iPhone client.

You can talk to other Skype users (called Skype-to-Skype) for free, with either video & voice or voice only, as well as chat features.  For a paltry $2.95 USD monthly, you get virtually unlimited calls to any phone in the US and Canada, no contract needed.  It's governed by fair use, but you'd have to rack up an unrealistic number of minutes to invoke it, so I wouldn't worry! 

For an additional fee, you can get your own local telephone number that others can call, along with voicemail and other features.  Skype also has worldwide calling plans available.  There are a number of ways you can use Skype - you can use a headset and a client installed on your PC, a Skype-enabled phone connected to your PC, or a Wi-Fi enabled Skype specific phone.

Skype does have its disadvantages as a landline replacement, though.  First of all, and most importantly, you CANNOT dial 911.  So, you must have a cellphone or other alternative way of conveniently making emergency calls before you can safely switch to Skype.  In addition, the service is far from perfect; expect occasional dropped calls, robotic sounding voices, and other glitches.  All in all - Skype is an excellent overall solution for an incredibly low price, and no commitment.

Pros of Skype

  • Very inexpensive
  • Can get a dedicated number and voicemail
  • No contracts or commitment
  • Worldwide calling plans available
  • Voice, chat, and video 

Cons of Skype

  • Glitchy, imperfect service
  • Sucks bandwidth like a Dyson
  • No emergency calling 

Ooma: Unlimited Talk for a One Time Fee

Ooma is a company that takes a notably different approach to providing an alternative to the dreaded landline.  They do away with monthly fees altogether for the base service, charging you only for the Ooma Hub hardware.  You can also keep your existing home telephone number, if you have one, for a one-time fee.

Ooma claims superior voice quality to other leading VoIP providers as well as more consistent service and availability.   The Ooma Hub can use your existing phones, either corded or cordless, and you do not need tokeep a PC on to use it - a huge advantage.  Of course, you also get standard features such as voicemail, and for another $100 USD per year, you can get Ooma Premier - a suite of extra features. 

Note that 911 calls will work with Ooma in most areas as long as you have an Internet connection available at your home, but will connect to a landline backup if you're concerned, so 911 will always be available.

Pros of Ooma

  • Crisp, reliable voice service
  • No need to connect a PC
  • You can use existing telephone hardware; no PC or headset needed
  • No monthly fees for base service
  • Supports 911 calling in most areas as long as your connection is active
  • Nice, modern-looking hardware

Cons of Ooma

  • Must purchase the unit up front for $250 USD (approximate) making it the most expensive of these solutions - at least right away
  • Premier features cost extra
  • If you don't have existing phone equipment, you'll probably want to buy some 

The MagicJack: Made For TV Goodness Or Too Good To Be True? You Decide.

For our third solution, we present a nifty little device that appeals to the budget minded or to anyone addicted to the Home Shopping Network - the MagicJack.  This little dongle packages the power of VoIP in a little space, and promises super easy setup.

For approximately $40 USD, you can acquire the dimunitive USB device. For now, you'll be stuck with your own MagicJack number, but the official site reports that you will be able to port your existing landline number "sometime in 2009."

All you have to do is plug in your telephone to the jack on the MagicJack (hence the name,) run the setup software, and for a $9.95 fee monthly, you'll be up and running with unlimited calls.  This service is somewhat like Skype in that you must have your PC up and running to use the telephone, and offers similar services, such as voicemail, call waiting, etc.

MagicJack gets some mixed reviews, though.  Some people report crystal clear voice quality while others report that it sounds like a robot submerged in Jell-O with a mouth full of marshmallows.  In this member review, it's also reported that the numbers you get to choose from are often long distance, making it difficult for others to call you.  Caveat emptor - but if it works as the company promises, the MagicJack is a great solution for all the non-geeks searching for a cheap landline replacement.

Note that the official site claims that 911 will work with the MagicJack where supported as long as your Internet connection is up.

Pros of MagicJack

  • Inexpensive (relatively)
  • Super easy to set up
  • Can use existing phone hardware 
  • 911 will work where supported

Cons of MagicJack

  • Monthly fees
  • Inconsistent customer reviews 
  • Questionable voice quality
  • PC must be on to get service


As you can see, there are a number of low-cost solutions out there, too many to list in fact.  There are also other VoIP providers such as Vonage that tend to be priced higher and also provide mixed results.

If you use any of the aforementioned services or another service that is not listed, please tell us about your experiences!

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Peter, you're missing one important point about Skype. You can operate Skype without a computer if you have a phone with its own base connected to your router. We've been using this for a few years now and it works great. I have no idea why Netgear stopped selling the phone, because people are selling it on Ebay for a big premium, but I believe Philips sells one as well.


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