Want a nearly free phone line? Want to replace your Gizmo service when Google kills it early next month? All you need is a $40 piece of hardware, a broadband Internet connection, and about an hour of cursing and shrieking as you configure it all.
Start with a free Google Voice account. Google Voice has too many benefits to name here. You’ll get a free telephone number with it, plus the ability to make free calls to the US and Canada, and cheap calls to everywhere else.
Second, order a Linksys PAP2T or a Grandstream 286 ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter) from Amazon. When you get the ATA you will see it has two types of ports – the Ethernet jack connects the box to your router (sorry, no WiFi devices), and the smaller phone jack(s) connects to standard telephone cable to link the ATA to your your phone. Then the real fun begins.
Register for a free account with CallWithUs. You’ll notice that the site looks crude – don’t worry, it works well. Their tech support team responds quickly to email, too. Be sure to put some money ($5 should do it) into your CallWithUs account, to keep it alive.
Connect your ATA, plug in the phone, and get ready for the weirdest device configuration experience you may ever see. You’ll need to have a computer on the same network as the ATA, since you’ll configure the ATA through a web browser.
You will configure your ATA using information from your CallWithUs account. Don’t cry – you won’t touch most of the settings you see here. When you’re done, the phone you connected to your ATA should be putting out a dial tone. If it doesn’t work, fight your urge to go free-style on the configuration – go to the CallWithUs configuration page and click on your device’s link for screen shots of your ATA’s correct configuration pages. When you get the dial tone on your phone you’re ready to start making outbound calls.
Now it’s time to go get a standard telephone number (called a DID) to let people call into your new line.
Go to IPKall (you thought CallWithUs looked crude!) and get your free telephone number there. Under SIP username, enter your CallWithUs username (not the account number). Under Hostname or IP Address, enter ‘did.callwithus.com’. You probably want to use the same password you used for your CallWithUs account. Leave all other values as they are. They will give you a Washington or Oregon telephone number, but nobody but you and Google Voice needs to know this number.
Try dialing your IPKall telephone number from your cell phone (not from your new free phone). The free phone should ring. You’re almost done.
Now, go back to your Google Voice account, go to Settings |Voice Settings, and add your IPKall number as one of the numbers Google Voice will forward to. (If Google Voice says this number is in use by another Google Voice user, cancel your IPKall account and get another – you’ll get another number that should work.)
To make free outbound calls now, just use Google Voice and have Google Voice call your new IPKall number to set up the call. It should sound better than your regular telephone line. And callers to your Google Voice line will reach your new free line (as well as any other phones you enter into Google Voice).
Crack open a beer – you deserve it. With the money you’ll save, make that beer a Sierra Nevada Estate ale.
- Make sure you have entered CallWithUS STUN server settings into your ATA (and check tigurr’s comments below for network-related settings). This makes sure incoming calls get through your firewall and NAT (local network).
- Want your free phone line to ring all through your house or apartment? You can wire the Linksys box into a 110 block to power multiple phones in your home. It puts out enough power to ring 5 modern telephones.
- You will need to make the occasional (every 30 days at least) direct call with your free phone to maintain your CallWithUs account. Calls are very cheap, though – just make sure your Google Voice number show up as the line’s Caller ID (Log into your CallWithUs account, select Add Caller ID from the menu on the left, and add your Google Voice number (11 digits – make sure you have the ‘1’ before your area code)).
- Don’t use this number for 911 calls – emergency services may not automatically know where you are.
- Choose the G711 codec in your ATA for best voice quality. Unless your Internet connection is slow – then use G729.
- To maintain high-quality phone calls set your router to give bandwidth preference (QOS) to your ATA. This will make sure that other Internet use doesn’t get in the way of your calls.
- Here is a Dial Plan (for entry into your ATA’s settings) that will let you dial local calls with only 7 digits: L:10,S:6,(*xxS3|11|S0|17472066858S0|1222xxxxxxxS0|1[2-9]xx[2-9]xxxxxxS0|[2-9]xx[2-9]xxxxxxS0|[2-9]xxxxxx|[x*][x*].) Be sure to replace the ‘1415’ string with ‘1 your area code’.
- How does IPKall make money offering free numbers? They earn money from telcos (and Google) for ‘terminating’ calls to these numbers. Make sure to send a few calls to your free phone line each month to keep it alive.
- How does CallWithUs make money? By charging you for direct calls. That’s why you have to make a direct call every once in a while to keep your account alive.