I have a story to tell you.
My wife and I have been increasingly unhappy with CenturyLink. CenturyLink in Denver was formerly Qwest, the regional Baby Bell, and before that US West. Unlike Bell Atlantic, which became Verizon and invested heavily in wireless technologies, Qwest just cruised along, bleeding land lines and slowly dying.
Back in December and January we lost our land line service three times. Each time, when service was restored after a day or so, it came back with just as much crackling and noise as before. I couldn’t even hear my mom on the line; she has a soft voice. For the privilege of a perpetually unusable line that couldn’t seem to be fixed, we paid about $60/month. A lot of that was taxes.
We also have iPhones, but because we live in a topographic depression and because AT&T hasn’t been aggressive with cell towers in our neck of the woods, we can’t use our AT&T iPhones at the house. To remedy that, AT&T gave us a free microcell, and I’ve written about that.
The problem is that if we lose electrical power, we lose the cable modem, the router, the gigabit switch, and the microcell — while a traditional land line would still be functional. Then the iPhones would be dead. While we have all four of those devices connected to a hefty APC Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), something could still go wrong. We wanted an alterate method of communication for redundancy.
The initial plan was to buy an iPad 3 (which I now have) with Verizon wireless capability and plan to use Skype to make emergency phone calls as a backup. I noted that people in our neighborhood were able to use their Verizon mobile phones, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure of the signal at our house. Another option would be to buy a small, cheap cell phone from Verizon, set it in the kitchen on a charger dock and set the ringer on high.
The problem there is that we like having the land line ring in every room of the house, especially the bedroom. A cell phone in the kitchen would be a pain to carry around the house, take upstairs at night, etc.
Well, that idea was killed when we found that you can’t port a land line number to a pre-paid phone. And we didn’t want a contract with a stupid, feature post-paid phone. Just minutes as we go. Dead end.
Fortunately, Verizon has thought all this out. With great planning and execution, Verizon has developed a system that is beautifully designed to make the traditional land line and home wiring obsolete while still preserving its advantages. It’s called the Verizon Wireless Home Phone Connect Device.
Verizon Wireless Home Phone Connect Device
We found out about the Home Phone Connect when we went to our local Verizon store to inquire about that pre-paid phone. At first, I was skeptical about how our customer experience would be in a Verizon wireless store. Those typical wireless stores are usually full of teenagers and moms, interminable discussions with sales agents, long waits, standing around, and to make it worse, typically not so tech savvy sales people. At least that was my experience with T-Mobile, back when I had an unlocked, first generation iPhone.
Boy was I wrong.
The first thing that happened was that a tall young man with an iPad in his hand greeted us cheerfully. He answered our screening questions with good knowledge and an immediate grasp of our problem. He then put our name into a queue on the iPad so we could chat with a salesperson. It didn’t take very long, perhaps five minutes, and we were chatting with a very smart woman, I’ll call her Lisa.
Lisa told us that Verizon had just the solution we were looking for, the “Verizon Wireless Home Phone Connect Device.” She explained the advantages:
- Picks up the local wireless signal.
- Plug a cordless base station into it and have an extension in every room.
- Trivial to activate and use. Just plug a standard phone, your own phone(s) into it. Two RJ-11 jacks.
- Eligible to have land line number ported to it.
- $19.99/month with unlimited long distance (in the U.S.). Plus taxes.
- Technically a cell phone, so marketing calls are prohibited.
- 43 hour battery life and easily replaceable standard battery pack.
- Caller ID, Call Waiting and 3–Way Calling.
- Messaging (I haven’t explored this.)
- Buy the device for $20 with a two-year contract.
- Integrated GPS for 911 Support.
- Can be taken anywhere, on travel for example.
There’s a USB port on the back for data, and I haven’t even begun to explore what that’s all about. This fabulous device solved all our problems in one fell swoop. There are several limitations, however, that you should know about.
- It doesn’t work with standard home alarm systems.
- It doesn’t support FAX operations.
- No support for medical alert services.
There are a few other minor limitations, so check the website link above for details.
Our primary concern was that, like AT&T, we wouldn’t get a sufficient signal at our house. We didn’t want to commit to a contract unless we could be sure that the device would work well when we got home with it. I suggested to Lisa that my wife and I go back home, enable the Verizon data capability of the iPad 3, and if that worked, we’d have confidence that the Verizon Wireless Home Phone Connect Device would work as well, especially since it has an external antenna - about 12 cm. long.
We were on our way out of the store when a manager, who had overheard our enthusiastic technical conversation with Lisa, stepped in and made a proposal. He said,” Why don’t you just take one home for free. Try it out for fourteen days. We’ll give you a temporary phone number, and it it doesn’t work, bring it back. No cost to you.”
We were astounded. This was an incredible team. The greeter with his iPad wad terrific. Despite a fairly crowded store, our wait wasn’t long. Lisa was terrific. Now the manager offers us a free trial for two weeks. Holy crap.
My jaw was dropping, and my wife and I started giggling. This was an Apple-esque customer experience.
The antenna is 12 cm tall
Lisa activated the device in 60 seconds, and packed it up for us. When I got it home, I noted that the device registers three levels of signal with blue lights. There were two lights no matter where we put the device, so we put it in my office and plugged the cordless base station into it. It worked perfectly. Over the weekend, we tested it locally with friends, and I made long duration calls to my mom and brother back east (at Verizon’s expense). There was just a slight about of cell phone-like lag, but not as bad as a regular cell phone. The call quality was good, but not great, like the very best land lines. But it was acceptable.
I have to commend Verizon for thinking this process through. The device itself, while brilliant, would be bogged down if the finances, policies or customer service were suspect. But those too were brilliant. I don’t think I’ve ever been so amazed with a team in a wireless store, and I’ve had a cell phone since 1994.
So, Verizon, color me amazed. While I fell into AT&T with the original iPhone, and AT&T has been good to us, even providing us with a free microcell and a corporate discount, I am very tempted to figure out how to do more business with Verizon in the future. They’re on my iPad 3. Maybe a Verizon iPhone is in my future.
Two! RJ-11 jacks for your own home phones
If more fun ensues, like that USB port, I’ll continue to report on my adventures with this device.
UPDATE #1. I have subsequently activated the Verizon service on the iPad 3. I get about 1.3 Mbps down, which is pretty good considering where we live.
- Mode: Digital CDMA and PCS; IS95, 1X, CDMA2000
- Frequency: CDMA 800/1900MHz; 1xRTT
- Size: (H) 1.4 x (W) 5.4 x (D) 4.2 inches
- Weight: 11.6 oz
- Chipset: Qualcomm QSC6055
- Memory : 64MB Flash/16MB RAM
- SMA Antenna
- Connectivity: OTADM, A–GPS
- Connectors: Two RJ–11
- Data: USB 2.0 (High–speed )
Rotary phone image credit: Shutterstock.