(T-G photo by Jim Davis)
For families, though, there's certainly something to be said for a home phone -- a phone number tied to a place rather than a person, a central contact point for whichever combination of family members happens to be home at the time.
In an era of tight budgets, families who want to keep that home phone may have to look at alternative ways of doing so.
I recently got several AT&T products to review, and the one that left me scratching my head was the Wireless Home Phone Base. At first, I was confused about what it actually did. But it turns out it's a way of providing one of those alternate channels for home telephone service.
Basically, the wireless home phone base is a way of getting your home phone service through AT&T's wireless network instead of through a traditional landline. You use the base with your existing home telephones. It will work with your answering machine, too, but it comes with cell phone-style voice mail service if you'd rather use that instead. Verizon sells a similar product, Verizon Home Phone Connect.
Once the base unit has been activated, you unplug your telephone and your answering machine from the wall and plug them into the base instead. You cancel your landline service and -- assuming you don't want to change telephone numbers -- you have your old landline telephone number transferred to your new wireless account. Instead of being assigned to a traditional mobile phone, your new account is assigned to the wireless home phone base. Once you connect your household phones to the base station, your conversations are carried by the mobile phone network instead of by a landline. As with your cell phone, you do have to dial the area code with every call, but otherwise your phone operates just as it did when it was hooked up to a landline.
My first question was, why would someone want to do this? I always think of cell phone plans as being more expensive than land-line service, but that's not necessarily the case here. AT&T charges only $19.99 per month for a Wireless Home Phone Base connection with unlimited nationwide calling, a price which is competitive with other forms of home phone service. The price can be even less than that -- $9.99 per month -- if you add the wireless home phone base to an existing family cell phone plan. Verizon also offers plans as low as $9.99 per month for its comparable service. Either company will throw in the base for free if you sign a contract for monthly service.
You can take the home base with you when you travel. A "snowbird" family that spends part of the year down south and part of the year up north could take the box with them and use the same phone number year-round. That could be a boon to horse-owning families that relocate to Middle Tennessee for the summer show season.
There are some caveats.
* Just like a mobile phone, the base unit only works in areas where the company selling you the base (AT&T or Verizon) offers mobile phone service. I suspect the strength of that signal, and the placement of the base station within your house, may have an impact on call quality. You don't have to worry about whether the signal is 3G or 4G, however, since you won't be using it for data.
* The home phone service you get by using the base is voice-only. It isn't compatible with gadgets that send or receive data through your phone line -- fax machines, some types of home security systems, dial-up modems, some types of DVR, and so on. If you use those gadgets regularly, you still need a traditional landline and the wireless home phone base is not for you. Before cutting the cord, make sure you aren't using your landline for anything other than voice service.
* If you rely on your landline telephone connection for AT&T's DSL Internet access, and you try to cancel your voice telephone service, you may have to restructure your DSL account in order to use your landline just for DSL, without voice service. That could change the price of your DSL plan and cancel out some of the savings you'd get by switching to the wireless home phone base.
* If you make a 9-1-1 call, the cell phone network will attempt to route it to the correct county's communications center, just as it would with a mobile phone. Verizon's base unit even has a GPS function built in to assist with this process (the base unit may need to be near a window in order to access GPS). But, unlike a landline connection, this isn't an exact science, especially if you happen to live within reach of cell phone towers from more than one jurisdiction. In an emergency, you may need to confirm that you're speaking with the proper com center for your address.
You have to know what you're getting into, but for some families seeking to keep their home phone while reducing their costs a wireless home phone base may be worth a look.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.