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.