How I Learned to Love Verizon - and Kill my Land Line

| John Martellaro's Blog

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.

The Plan

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 Ye Olde Land Linewoods, 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.

The Revelation

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.

VZW-HomeVerizon 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.

Testing

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.

VZW-Home2The antenna is 12 cm tall

Results

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.

VZW-Home3Two!  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.

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Specifications

  • 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 )

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Rotary phone image credit: Shutterstock.

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20 Comments Leave Your Own

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Yeah, this thing totally kicks butt. Had one since September in place of a land-line. So one other positive to note about it is that it’s stationary. So even if you live inside construction that blocks some of the signal, you can probably find a spot that works well enough if it just stays in place. That’s typically a better situation than you would get carrying your cell phone around the house.

Another alternative that’s getting hotter right now is landline cordless phones with bluetooth that can connect to either/both a landline or bluetooth on you cell phone. VTech has a couple expandable handset systems that do this now. Get home, hook your cell phone up to the charger in a stationary spot, and use the handsets to make call. But this Verizon thingy is cool because it won’t eat your minutes.

geoduck

Wow
A good experience at a cell phone store
I can’t even fathom such a thing

Dhoeman

How does it work with 911 location services? I’ve been leery of giving up a land line for emergencies.

Lee Dronick

A good experience at a cell phone store
I can?t even fathom such a thing

The last few times I was in my local AT&T Store have been positive experiences, but yeah it still surprises me.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Well, this old guy had a horrible experience at a local AT&T store.

John Martellaro

Dhoeman: The list of advantages I listed in the article includes a reference to built-in GPS for (911) location service. Check the link to the product I provided.

geoduck

The last few times I was in my local AT&T Store have been positive experiences, but yeah it still surprises me.

I’m in Canada. No AT&T but we do have Rogers, Telus, and Bell that studied at the Marquis de’ Sade Business School

davebarnes

Two items:
1. CenturyLink (no space)
2. “Technically a cell phone, so marketing calls are prohibited.” I wish. I get marketing calls every other day on my iPhone. I get spam texts at least once a day.

John Martellaro

Dave,
I think that some companies play dumb.  I’ve had that happen. “Gee, sorry, we didn’t know this number is a cell phone.” But of course, they do or can find out. I usually report them.

jbruni

I’m curious why this device would not work with an alarm system. Alarm monitoring is currently the only reason I hang onto a land line (provided by Cox) in addition to our iPhones.

r everett

I have an Xlink BTTN (http://www.myxlink.com/) that connects cell phones to the wiring in the home via Bluetooth.  It rings all the connected phones in the house and can link to multiple cell phones.  Different ringer for each and can dial out on any of them.

The BTTN works with both a land line and cell phones, letting me try out using a cell phone as the house phone while I keep the land line as back up.  They also have a BT which does not include the land line connection.

Currently part time use, but is working pretty well.  Plan is to add another line to the family plan for $10/month and drop the land line eventually.

iJack

JM Said: “No support for medical alert services.”

But surely, there’s a workaround if the unit is “eligible to have land line number ported to it.”

No?

rjackb

Does the 911 location service really work? The last time I called 911 on my land line when my fire alarms were going off, the dispatcher not only asked me for my address but also transferred me to another person! Finding out why they asked and why I was transferred was not my concern at the moment but it definitely made me wonder about 911 service. I thought they definitely could see your address because of your land line number.

Lee Dronick

I think that 911 wants to make sure that you aren’t pranking them and to keep you engaged in dialog. I called a few times when my neighbor needed help and gave them that address first and then my info. I listen to the police scanner app on my iPhone or iPad and often hear the dispatcher say “911 hang up, I could hear sounds of a struggle” then the address is given to the Officer.

NoLandLine

I have the homephone connect device plugged into a spare jack in my house. That allows you to use your inside wiring as an extension/splitter. I have 8 standard phones plugged into jacks throughout my house and they all work off the single homephone connect device.

Bob

The last time I called 911 on my land line when my fire alarms were going off, the dispatcher not only asked me for my address but also transferred me to another person!

I’m guessing that probably you got sent to the wrong bank and they were verifying the address to make sure who was supposed to receive your call.

From what I understand from a friend who I think knows the system - 911 dispatchers can have certain response areas attached to them, and if you aren’t in theirs for whatever reason, they have to transfer your info to another dispatcher to get the correct service.
Most times they do that themselves without you knowing, but having you talk to the other person is virtually the same result.

Cathy

Don’t have a comment, but a question.  You’ve had your system for over a year now.  Are you just as pleased?  Just found out about this today and I’m trying to see if people who have had this system for a while are just as happy as when they started out.

John Martellaro

Cathy: We don’t have an exceptionally strong Verizon signal here. Two “bars” on the unit, not a maximum of three. Occasionally, there is some cell-phone-like distortion or drop out, but by and large, the unit works fine. We’re very happy with it - considering that it costs us $20/month (plus some minor taxes). I continue to give it a strong recommendation—assuming you have a decent cell tower signal.

Ralph Rasmussen

We have had our Home Phone Connect a little over a year. Our signal strength is 2 out of 3. I am very happy with it. The sound quality is equal to the bellsouth land line we had. No problems with drop calls. I have had many long calls to 800 numbers with no problem. The one quirk is on an outgoing call it takes several seconds before you here it ring and every now and then we get an immediate busy signal that I assume is cell circuit busy. Hit redial and it goes through.
One thing to watch out for, adjust the volume (##1 press 1 to 4 then press * key) mine is set to 1. My connection was noisey with poor quality sound until I lowered the Home Phone Connect volume.

Rene

Hi, we had no choice but to lose comcast as our provider and now have dish network for tv and internet, but that left us without a phone.  We have very weak coverage here on our cell phones so we assumed the home connect wouldn’t work either. But we too got to take it home for free and have been testing this out, and our two weeks is up on Saturday so we have to make a decision.  Surprisingly, we have had 2 out of 3 signals pretty much the whole time, except for a night where the entire afternoon/evening and early next morning we didn’t have any signals lit up and it didn’t work. We are assuming the local cell tower was having issues but it made us wonder how often this will happen if we go this route. Anyone have experience with periods of interruption of coverage? 

Also, we bought the $9.99 desktop antenna to go with it and we are getting the same 2 out of 3 signals with and without it so I’m not sure it’s really doing anything. Anyone have one? The instructions were a little vague and concerning in regards to it warning you that the antenna is a powerful magnet and to put it on metal if in an office as to not ruin other electronics such as a hard drive or monitor. The best cell coverage in our house is in my office where ALL the electronics are so it makes me leary of using it anyway.  Any input would be great.

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