Taking Your Phone Line Online

In today’s age of the Internet, communication has modernized to the point of real convenience. We have email. We have instant message. We have Twitter, for those of you who like to update your friends en mass via text message. We can even send video email or have a video phone conversation via Skype. But, what about the land line? By comparison, the traditional phone line is slow and, well, crappy. If somebody isn’t there, you leave a voice mail. In most cases, you then have to dial a phone number and listen to every single message. And when was the last time you got a fax? It is to the point now that when somebody asks me to fax them something, it is a major pain in the rear.

I don’t maintain a fax machine anymore. I have brought it, and my phone line, to the realm of the internet. I like to have everything come to my computer. If it doesn’t come to my computer, chances are it will get forgotten or, at the least, it will take a while for me to get to it.

So, how can you consolidate your various phone lines and fax into your computer? How can you take advantage of the internet here? Let’s see.

Fax Lines?

Fax machines are the worse. I seriously don’t know why anybody uses these dinosaurs anymore. Get a scanner and scan to PDF, then send the PDF. It is SO much quicker, better quality, and you don’t have to pay for an extra phone line. But, what if you need a fax number?

Here at PC Media, I maintain a fax number only for those rare occasions where somebody has no other way to get something to me. But, there is no way in hell I am paying the phone company for that. In my case, I signed up for MaxEmail. I use the MaxEmail Lite account, which gives me a non-local number which will accept faxes and send them to my email address as PDF attachments. I am located in Tampa and my fax number is on a Chicago area code, but I couldn’t care less. I pay $24 for a year, which is certainly a LOT cheaper than the phone company. Plus, I don’t have to maintain a fax machine.

There are a number of services out there which offer fax-to-email delivery. EFAX, MyFax, jConnect, and Packetel are among the providers that come up first on Google.

Phone Lines?

To be truly portable, you cannot be tied to a traditional land-line phone. Sure, you can use call forwarding to make the calls follow you around, but that can be a hassle. The alternative is to turn to the Internet for your voice communications. Getting a VOIP line is the only way to go. I personally use Vonage for my home office. When somebody leaves me a voice mail, I get the message in my email box as a WAV file. I can therefore check my email from anywhere (using Gmail). By using the Vonage V-Phone, you can have your Vonage line follow you anywhere by turning your PC into your phone.

Business owners, one great advantage of voice mail by email is the ability to forward that email. Have an employee or virtual assistant you want to deal with the email for you? Just forward the email to them along with the attachment. They can listen to the email and deal with it. Or, vice versa, if you have somebody screening your messages for you, they can forward you only the voice mails that truly need your attention. This is invaluable for me because it blends the voice mails along with my normal email. For me, my email is the most important inbox. The phones, due to the hassle, usually do not get tended to as often.

If you want to go even cheaper, you can turn to Skype. You can get a landline phone number to route calls into your Skype line for hardly anything. The current cost (as of this writing) is $18 for 3 months or $60 for a year. Skype is not quite as dependable as Vonage, but its much cheaper.

For voice mail delivery to email, you can also try eVoice, oneBox or RingCentral.

Consolidation

If you do have a land line and don’t want to switch, you can investigate services to grab your voice mail and email it to you. Services like Gotvoice.com or GrandCentral can get the job done for you. They can check your standard voice mail and email you the messages. And you can use them to centralize multiple phone lines. GrandCentral is owned by Google (perhaps to be an eventual component of the Android platform ?) and it looks awesome. Unfortunately, like Gmail in its early days, it is by invite only so I have not been able to test it. I have, though, set up GotVoice for my home land line and it works well. It is free, although these are charges for enhanced features which I do not use.

BTW, if any reader is a GrandCentral user, I would LOVE to get an invite to this thing so I can check it out. Hook me up and I’ll buy you a beer. Seriously.

Some other companies which offer useful services are TalkPlus, Jajah, and Talkster.

Use The Internet

While I don’t think I would recommend ditching the land line for everybody, I will say that everybody can benefit by exploring some of the internet-enabled communication systems available now. VOIP is very dependable, but does not yet have the dependability of a standard land line. 99% of the time, though, you can depend on an online service to do it. Just make sure you have a dependable broadband connection. If your bandwidth starts to wane for any reason, a VOIP conversation can begin to cut out badly.

Comments

  1. Great article! I use a number of the services you mention above – overall they’ve been great auto-attendant/phone system/ call forwarding services for me, personally and for my businesses.

    You can read my review of RingCentral here:
    http://small-business-phone.com/?p=4

    My review of Callwave here:
    http://small-business-phone.com/?cat=9

    And my review of Skype here:
    http://small-business-phone.com/?cat=14

    Good luck!
    -J.B. Malik

  2. I have Vonage as my phone carrier. AT&T was charging 45 cents per minute to Romania which my wife frequently calls. The cost per minute dropped down to 13 cents.

    The sound quality is no different from AT&T. Using the phone is exactly the same. It is as if I were still connected to AT&T.

    The only disadvantages are that you have no phone service if your internet connection goes down and you have to set up an alternative to calling 911. You also have to pay for a special Vonage modem, but that was cheap and it has already paid for itself.

  3. Also, calling Vonage was really easy and simple and setting up the modem athome was a no brainer. Also, the computer does not need to be on in order for the phone to work. All my missed calls go right into my home answering machine…just like any normal phone. I wish I had done this years ago when I first got a broadband internet connection.

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