Bye bye home phone, hello VOIP

I finally got around to replacing my home fixed line phone with VOIP. I took the easy route of sticking with my ISP, Netspace/iiNet.

Previously each month I’d been paying $59.95 for ADSL2+ broadband, plus for the home phone $22.95 rental, plus $6 for caller ID, plus $2.93 for an unlisted number.

Local calls were costing me 30 cents, but because I only make at most perhaps about a dozen a month, a grand total for net+phone of around $95 per month. With all the phone costs included, each call was costing me about $3. (Some of them can be quite lengthy, which is why I decided not to abandon any form of home phone completely.)

Switching to the equivalent Naked (eg without a home phone) ADSL plan, with VOIP (which doesn’t count towards the plan quota, and includes free local and national calls) is costing me $59.95 per month. On top of that I’ve decided to rent (rather than buy) a BoB2 combined VOIP-capable modem and VOIP phone for an extra $9.95 (on a two year contract — I’ve checked; we won’t get the NBN in that time).

So I’m at $69.90 per month with most calls included — saving about $25 per month.

The changeover

One thing that scared me about doing the change were the warnings that it would take 10-20 days, and that I would be without Internet during this time. As an extremely wired, internet-addicted person (and indeed family), this terrified me, and I ended up timing it for the January school holidays when the kids were away. (I figured I could find ways around it on my own, like using my mobile, though I’d need to take it easy to avoid high fees.)

This turned out to be a furphy. The text might imply you’ll be without Internet for the full switch period, but in fact once I’d signed-up, an email I received said that in fact it would be out for only up to one day.

If I’d known that I would have done it a lot sooner. In fact any outage was barely noticeable — it probably happened in the middle of the day when we were all out.

I think they’ve severely undersold how easy it is to switch.

The catches of VOIP

There are catches of course.

The BoB2 wasn’t quite plug-in and go, as advertised… it seemed to have picked-up the wrong logon info from somewhere; possibly an issue with migrating off an existing account. Easily solved.

I had ummed and ahhed over keeping my old phone number or switching to a new one. In the end I placed the order requesting to keep the old one, but when it was provisioned, they’d actually allocated a new one. I don’t mind — I almost chose it that way — so I won’t bother to get it changed back, though there’s a few people I’ll need to notify.

By ordering VOIP you have to waive your rights under the telephone service Customer Service Guarantee. Basically that means if it doesn’t work, you don’t have much recourse. That’s OK for us — we barely use the home phone anyway; the mobile is much more important, so this is really just a backup (and cheaper option for local calls).

Some complain about VOIP call quality — in the calls I’ve made so far, it’s been okay for me. I haven’t yet tried it with a lot of network traffic going on. Theoretically QOS should ensure it’s okay, but it’ll be interesting to see how well that works in practice.

They note that calls to 13 numbers don’t necessarily go to a local branch of the company you’re ringing, unlike those made from conventional fixed lines.

They also warn about not keeping it as the only phone in the house, in the event of emergencies. Fair enough, we have mobiles for that. And you can’t dial 190X premium numbers at all. (No loss!)

Finally, although you get free national calls to fixed lines, it’s worth being aware that this excludes 1300 and 13 numbers, which are listed at 30 cents each, untimed. What I’ve also found is that some other types of calls cost — I used the 1194 Time service a couple of times to check voice quality without ringing a human. Turns out these cost 35 cents a pop, despite not being listed on the call rates list. Odd.

Overall

So far I’m happy, and saving a big heapa money. I wish I’d switched ages ago.

Oh no! Home Interwebs is down

Disaster! No internet at home.

Yesterday iiNet/Netspace had major outage in Victoria. It was eventually fixed, but even after a modem reboot we couldn’t get back online.

Then I noticed the home phone (yes, I still have one of those) was getting no dial tone. My assumption initially was that this was just an unhappy coincidence; I’m unclear as to how a widespread ISP outage would somehow affect a home phone line.

So I rang Telstra, whose call centre person (offshore, I’m assuming, given how scrupulously polite she was) ran through some basic checks before declaring a tech will need to look at the lines on the street.

That will apparently take until Wednesday or Thursday. Sigh.

Netspace support was closed last night by the time I got around to looking at things, but I’ll try and reach them this morning to see if anything can be done from their end.

Until then, apart from limited mobile use, I guess we’re cutoff from the outside world.

Update lunchtime: Got hold of iiNet support; they can’t see a problem that would affect the phone line, but asked me to check the sync light on the modem. Since I’m not at home, they suggested they could ring me back tonight (at 8:39pm to be precise) to go through it with me. Cool.

Update 6pm: Text message from Telstra a couple of hours ago to say all is resolved, and it appears to be so. Woo hoo!

ISP shopping part 2

An update on my ISP shopping post from a couple of weeks ago:

Netspace rang me up to discuss my concerns (they found the post themselves), and to let me know there was some progress on resolving them:

Advice of network outages — they said there is already a project underway to advise of outages via SMS direct to customers. Sounds pretty good. Whether or not they’d open up their network status page was unclear — sounds like not. But at least SMS alerts would make it easy to know what’s going on without being online.

Revision of plans without telling anybody — apparently this is being discussed with Netspace management, and it is recognised that this isn’t great customer service. No promises, but at least they’re looking at it.

And they said that they recognised I was a loyal customer (since about 2003 I think), and wanted to keep me, and made me a very good offer to upgrade me. Combined with the fact that there’d be no hassles with switching ISPs, and no outage, it was an offer to good to refuse.

So I’ve upgraded and am sticking with Netspace, on a 75 Gb plan (30 Gb peak, 45 Gb off-peak; about double what I had before) for $59.95/month (the same as I was paying before).

So far it’s been good, the speed difference is noticeable. In fact, they switched me to the faster speed before the modem arrived, so almost instantly my speed went up from 1500 kbps to about 8000 kbps (the fastest possible ADSL1 speed). And the ADSL2+ speed is about double that.

ADSL speed test

And of course because there’s no contract, I can jump ship anytime if I want (though in the fine print there is a $65 “network termination fee”). But for now, I’m happy again, and provided Netspace are true to their word and fix the outage notifications, I’m more than happy to recommend them.

Another lesson here: I’m not sure if this is universal, but it would seem that people on ADSL1, using ADSL1 modems, are able to get a speed upgrade from 1500 kbps to 8000 kbps fairly painlessly just by switching to an ADSL2+ plan. Because for many ISPs, ADSL1 uses others’ facilities (eg it’s reselling) and ADSL uses their own, the pricing is likely to be comparable — in my case it was identical. In fact, why Netspace (and other ISPs) don’t encourage this?

ISP shopping

I’m ISP shopping.

I’d been considering it anyway, as I’m still using ye olde ADSL1, and in the past couple of years, ADSL2+ has become available in my neck of the woods.

I’ve been using my current ISP, Netspace, for about 7 years, I think. Over that time they’ve been pretty reliable, but not without fault.

My two major beefs with them have been:

  • Every so often they’ll revise their plans, and a new plan which is cheaper and better will start up. But they don’t upgrade their customers; they don’t even mention it. Unless you go looking to see what the latest offer is, you wouldn’t see that you could change and get more bandwidth and a lower monthly fee.
  • In an outage, the authoritative place to check the network status is their Newsdesk page. But that’s not accessible from mobile phones; at least not my mobile phone — in part because it’s behind a logon screen which doesn’t seem to work in some phone browsers. So you have to be at a computer, connected to the net to find out why you can’t access the net. (Or of course you could waste time ringing them up to check.)

Reliability on Netspace took a battering this week, when the service went down on Tuesday morning and stayed down all morning, coming back up after lunch. There was another, shorter outage in the evening, and again on Wednesday afternoon. This wouldn’t bug me normally very much, but I was working from home on Tuesday, and had a bunch of stuff to get done.

I ended up getting a “tethered” connection via my mobile phone. Surprisingly easy with the N95, using Nokia PC Suite, though it drained the battery pretty fast. I don’t have any kind of data plan on the phone, so it could get quite expensive if done on a regular basis, but the connection was rock solid, and fast.

So anyway I’m ISP shopping.

The two that were recommended by the most people: iiNet and Internode.

Internode get a good rap from a lot of people, though it looks like they can’t give me ADSL2+, only ADSL1 or “Fast ADSL”. A speed upgrade would end up costing me a fair bit more than I’m paying now.

In contrast, with iiNet I may end up paying just marginally more, but for more bandwidth and a much faster connection:

ISP Current: Netspace
ADSL1: 1500k/256kbps
iiNet
ADSL2+: Up to 24000kbps
Cost 30 Gb (15 peak+15 off-peak)
$59.95/month
Shaped. Off-peak is midnight-7am
60 Gb (30 peak+30 off-peak) $49.95
Shaped. Off-peak is 2am-8am
Pros Pretty reliable in the past Network status publicly available
Cool advertising
Free content including ABC iView
They’re fighting the good fight
Cons Not reliable this week
Status page hidden behind logon
Dunno. Anyone know?
Phone Telstra Homeline Budget Phone 1
Cost $21.95/month
Unlisted number $2.93/month
Caller ID $6/month
$29.95/month
Unlisted number $2.93/month
Caller ID $6/month
Call cost Local 30 cents Local 20 cents
Total
inc 30 local calls/month
$91.83 $94.83

I haven’t looked at setup costs (including a new modem), cancellation fees, or costs of non-local calls, since I hardly ever make any on my home phone.

What’s been stopping me? Inertia, until this week. And perhaps fear of losing my connection for a few days.

I know this is like asking everybody what car is best, but has anybody got any comments? Any drawbacks to this plan?

Any other contenders who have fast ADSL/2+ in Bentleigh?

(Whirlpool says other companies with ADSL2+ DSLAMs installed at the Bentleigh exchange are Primus, TPG and Telstra. I notice Highway1 uses iiNet’s DSLAM; once upon a time circa 1996, they kindly hosted Toxic Custard.)

Update: Clarification thanks to Twitter people: Internode’s “Fast ADSL” is in fact up to ADSL2+ speeds, re-selling access from Telstra. So it would be just as fast as iiNet’s ADSL2+, but is more expensive, about double the price.

Update Mon 8/2/2010: I certainly can’t complain that Netspace ignore their customers’ concerns — they’ve been in touch to discuss things. Will post an update when the dust settles.