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CallVantage: The End of a Good Thing

So we received a letter in the mail recently from AT&T informing us that our CallVantage phone service will be disconnected around the end of the year. Most of you won’t know what CallVantage is, but let me tell you one thing: this sucks. CallVantage is (or pretty soon “was”) AT&T’s VOIP phone service. It competes with the likes of Vonage, with the difference being that the call quality is consistently better. We started using CallVantage about 4 years ago and have been happy customers ever since. Though it’s a little more expensive than Vonage (about $5/month more expensive), it was well worth it for us since the quality was always superb, which was essential since at various points in time we’ve worked from home a lot. Besides call quality it was attractive because it offered a very rich set of features for a great price. For $20/month we got unlimited calling to anyone in the U.S., and may other features like call waiting, call forwarding, three-way calling, caller ID, locate me service, safe forwarding in case the Internet connection goes down, and our favorite: control-by-phone. The latter is a feature I can’t seem to find anywhere, which is was really makes this unfortunate. Control-by-phone basically gave us a local number for every city in the U.S. that we could dial, then enter our phone number and password and make calls using our CallVantage service. So, if we’re visiting someone but don’t want to rack up their phone bill we could make a free local call to the local control-by-phone number, tap into our CallVantage account, and from there make a free call to anyone in the U.S. Another example would be if I wanted to call family internationally using my cell when not at home: I’d just call a U.S. number from my cell, tap into our CallVantage and then call internationally, without paying the cell phone company’s ridiculous international rates. Alas, all good things must come to an end, and after four years the same is true of CallVantage. We’ll certainly miss the reliability, call quality, and features.

So, what’s next you ask? Well I refuse to pay the insane phone company rates for the features we had. I could look at service offered by the cable company or something like AT&T U-Verse. In fact I did call U-Verse but abandoned that idea when I learned that given that AT&T was forcing me off of CallVantage because they want to discontinue it, they couldn’t port my number to U-Verse. That whole idea seems silly to me – it’s a number AT&T owns with one service that they’re discontinuing, but they can’t port it to the other service they’re trying to migrate customers to?! Seems pretty short sighted.

I then found Ooma in an email from Costco. Ooma is quite intriguing. Apparently the company has been around for a few years but was never successful because the hardware was too expensive. Now the hardware is about 40% cheaper, so hopefully things take off. You buy the Ooma device ($220 at Costco), and it works just like any other VOIP phone – it connects over your Internet connection. Though you pay a chunk up-front, unlike CallVantage and most other VOIP providers, there’s no monthly fee whatsoever. That’s right, no monthly fees for unlimited long distance in the U.S. I figured given that I’d likely pay about $25/month with taxes and all for phone these days, I’d break even in eight months, and then everything else is upside! Of course, the company could go bust before then, but then that’s the beauty of buying from Costco – you can always return the product. Seems like a good setup if the call quality is good. We got the product shipped in two days and set it up. It looks very Apple-esque for all you Apple fans out there (especially you Aaron and Adam!). The call quality is very good – so far just as good as CallVantage. Furthermore, they can port our number, so that’s a big win. It doesn’t have a feature similar to Control-By-Phone and a couple of other features that AT&T had, but for all intensive purposes, it’s a great replacement (and hopefully in the long run, a cheaper replacement). If you pay $100/year ($8.34/month), you get premier features which gives you a second line, three-way calling, and several other privacy features. Since the premier comes with a free number port (which would otherwise cost $40), I figured I’d sign up for it and give it a shot (by the way, there’s a free 6-month trial of the premier included anyway).

So, overall we’re happy for now. Hopefully the call quality will stay great, the company won’t go under, and they’ll continue to bring new features to the device. In the meantime, the prospect of having no phone bill (except for the $8.33/month IF you choose to get premier, and any international calls you may make) is certainly appealing. Anything that can be done to save a buck or two in this day and age is welcome! If you’re thinking about switching, give it a shot! If you have Costco membership, even better – you’ll save $30 off the regular price ($220 at Costco vs $250 other places), and you have the peace of mind that you can return if you don’t like or the company goes under.

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