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Swapping to Broadband VoIP from a UK Copper Home Phone Line

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2019 (12:01 am) - Score 14,477
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All of this is frustrating because the ability to retain your home phone number, no matter who you might choose for broadband, is an important consideration for consumers. The good news is that Ofcom are mindful of this and they’re working on a possible solution using blockchain (here and here), but it’s too soon to know how this will pan out.

In the meantime some people today might still desire to replace their home phone with a residential friendly VoIP alternative and so we’ve written this simplified guide to act as a primer. Hopefully this will help you to understand some of the terminology, processes and options that exist.

Our focus here is thus on replicating your current home phone and handset setup as closely as possible, albeit via VoIP rather than an analogue landline. Happily once you get past the initial terminology barrier then it’s really not all that difficult, although some basic IT /  Networking knowledge does help (e.g. the ability to access your broadband router settings and make changes).

NOTE: Check out our article – The Changing Face of UK Home Phone Lines – for a bit more background. The BSG has also highlighted some of the Challenges in Moving to All-IP Networks and Ofcom has talked about a Phone Number for Life.

The Terminology Primer

Before we delve any deeper it’s probably a good idea to pause and build a basic understanding of the key terminology that you’re likely to come across. Alas this is rarely ever explained by VoIP providers, many of which adopt the usual approach of assuming that everybody knows what they’re talking about.

Luckily we can simplify this down to the basics.

Key VoIP Terms

VoIP – Voice-over-Internet Protocol
This broadly means the overall approach of making or receiving phone calls over the internet (i.e. encoding voice traffic into a digital signal / data). Some people may also try to over-simplify this by using terms such as IP telephony, internet telephony or voice over broadband, but it’s all still VoIP.

SIP – Session Initiation Protocol
This is one of the most common protocols for enabling a VoIP service and it can work on a peer-to-peer basis. Generally you’ll want to use a SIP supporting service, although there are also older protocols (e.g. H.323 or MGCP) and Cisco’s kit has their own proprietary one called SCCP.

SIP Trunking
This as an extension to SIP that enables you to increase your call capacity and the number of concurrent calls (it may also carry other media like video calls), which makes it ideal for businesses.

PBX (IP PBX) – Private Branch (Box) Exchange
This is essentially a private telephone exchange and is often spoken of alongside SIP Trunking since such services are generally business centric. In the past these were designed for use with the old PSTN analogue phone system but modern IP PBX’s can also be used with VoIP / SIP Trunking etc. A PBX is generally not something that residential users need to think about.

ATA – Analogue Telephone Adapter
A useful little piece of hardware (box) that enables you to use a traditional analogue or DECT phone handset over a VoIP system. One cable connects to your phone and the other to your network via an Ethernet (LAN) port. You can also buy dedicated VoIP Phones that have an ATA built-in (i.e. you connect the VoIP Phone directly to your router’s LAN port or via WiFi).

FXS / FXO Ports – Foreign Exchange Subscriber / Office
In simple terms this is a phone port (RJ11 size) for your old analogue or DECT phone handset, which you’ll often find on the back of VoIP equipped broadband routers and ATA adapters. In reality there’s a little more to it than that but for the purposes of this article this is all you need to know.

You’re also likely to come across plenty of other terms but those listed above are among the most important. Generally speaking most of the time when people talk about VoIP or SIP then they’re really just discussing the same service (i.e. the SIP protocol is widely used for delivering VoIP).

Connecting to VoIP

One of the best things about VoIP is that there’s usually a variety of different ways to both setup and access the service, although admittedly the caveat here is that too much choice can cause confusion. As such it’s often better to think of VoIP as being a very flexible communication service, which often enables you to access it however you choose and to even take it with you when travelling.

Continued over the page..

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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27 Responses
  1. Avatar Roger_Gooner

    If you transfer your broadband and phone to Virgin Media, you’ll pay line rental of £19 a month even if you get VoIP via the hub 3.0 – which seems a lot.

    • Avatar Bargain Hunter

      Thanks for that, did not know VM did VOIP at £19 that for a start will be a £11 a month saving over my BT Cloud Collaborate which costs me £30 with VAT per month. Will also have to check out all the other MarkJ mentions.

    • Avatar StevenNT

      While it’s true that the VM hub 3 has phone ports, but not all VM areas support this yet.

      Mine has the ports disabled at present. I was led to believe this is for VM new build areas where PSTN is not supplied with a view that it might be enabled in the legacy areas eventually when VM decide to close the original PSTN network down.

      I’m happy to be corrected on this.

    • Avatar bargain hunter

      Id likely be a business customer as i am with BT and take their solution which only requires “broadband connectivity”.
      https://www.virginmediabusiness.co.uk/applications/voip/

      Not interested in residential internet or Hub 3 i have my own equipment for VOIP.

    • Avatar Aaron

      @StevenNT
      All new installs of VM will be VoIP & they’ll soon be converting all current traditional landlines to VoIP.

  2. Avatar Fabrizio

    Great article! I’m in the process of moving away from Vonage to Sipgate ( no charge for leaving but Sipgate wants £30 to port in which isn’t too bad because I won’t have a monthly fee with their basic option ); I’ve written an article about my experience of porting away my previous landline number to Vonage a few years back, scary moments. Please forgive my atrocious English as it’s my third language.

    https://hubpages.com/technology/Is-the-UK-market-competitive-enough-for-Voip-Decoupling-my-phone-number-from-a-BT-line-experience

    • Avatar Jack

      Good choice! I’ve been a happy Sipgate customer since 2014 and they’ve been brilliant with me. No monthly costs and I have my basic account linked with my PBX on a raspberry pi.

    • Avatar Fabrizio

      Glad to hear it Jack 🙂

  3. Avatar chris conder

    On our fibre network the majority have gone with Vonage or Sipgate, no real issues as long as the instructions are followed. We do find however that many are just using their mobiles and not bothering with a landline. Great article Mark, thanks.

  4. Avatar Graham Long

    Mark, You don’t mention that now that many mobile phones support WiFi Calling, using your mobile as if it were your landline phone, makes the old landline redundant. Many of us who use one of the altnet fibre broadband suppliers (Gigaclear, BARN, Hyperoptic etc) can not only dump the old copper landline, we don’t even need to use a VOIP service provider and can just use the one mobile phone for all calls, even in areas where the mobile phone signal is poor. In my experience however, the mobile networks and mobile manufacturers do not do a good job at telling customers which mobile phones support wifi calling and the networks make you jump through a couple of hoops to get wifi calling enabled on your account. (Same applies to VOLTE – the ability to make make voice calls over the 4G network rather than only using it for data)

    • Good point, although I’ve found WiFi Calling to be quite patchy on my phone and the voice connection wasn’t always stable. In any case this article is about VoIP rather than alternative methods.

    • Avatar Graham Long

      I have a Samsung Galaxy J4+ (Android) which has never failed to offer wifi calling from my home wifi powered by Gigaclear fibre. When out and about it also offers wifi calling (by showing a handset symbol with the wifi symbol above) when ever I am logged on to a free wifi service in cafe’s, shops etc. If you find wifi calling patchy Mark it is likely to be because the wifi service you are connected to is patchy.

    • In this case it’s more likely to be an issue with the phone / settings itself or my strict network security controls.

    • Avatar Joe

      @Mark Think we’ve all hit the proper security breaks stuff dilemma 🙂

    • Avatar Phil

      @Graham Long

      I’ve had several issues with Wi-Fi calling with EE but now they seem pretty stable.

      Trouble we find if only using a mobile phone is you only have one mobile, whereas the home phone we have 3 (DECT) in order to hear the phone over the entire house. This means if I leave my mobile in another part of the house and someone calls my mobile, I don’t hear it ring and miss the call. Often, family if failing to get an answer on a mobile will ring the home phone as a backup. Also some more elderly relatives can’t bring themselves to ring a mobile number under the assumption its more expensive, even if that isn’t the case with their call plan. Admittedly as time goes on this becomes less of an issue.

      So I understand why people like to keep a home phone even if it isn’t strictly necessary, and overall it just seems more reliable, although that will not be the case with VoIP as you have more things to go wrong. When your internet goes down and you pick up the VoIP phone to call support, that isn’t going to work, and if you are on Wi-Fi calling, neither is that! So off to the phone box if you can find one, then the problem is out to make an outbound call using a defibrillator 🙂

  5. Avatar RICK OLIVER

    vonage – one to avoid…. port 5060 potentially pricey….. having tried both these providers with mixed results i decided to try sipgate basic…… support is via messaging system only but they are cheaper than the vonage equivalent. Costs me £9.95 monthly for unlimited land line and mobile calls anywhere in the UK 01,02,03,07 can also access the emergency services. Set up is a bit convoluted as they send an activation code by post (in order to confirm your address for the emergency services) which can take up to 4 working days to arrive; web based user interface is basic but does the job. I wanted a cheap way to call mobiles and this service ticks all the boxes in that regard ….. have got rid of my mobile (android) as a result (bye bye google)

  6. Avatar Joe

    The obvious Q is what is AAISP doing that others can’t replicate?

    I’m sure it will fix itself in time but atm I do think swapping to VoIP is a pain for average users.

    • Being both a VoIP provider and broadband ISP no doubt plays a role, although not every provider does both.

    • Avatar Joe

      Fair point; I’d expect all the fibre providers to see an obvious synergy in providing bb and VoIP. The old copper resellers of OR or LLU copper I can see the issues or even disinterest atm…

  7. Avatar 5G Infinity

    Did this in February, ported from BT to Voipfone, painless process and the Cisco ATA that Voipfone provided (GBP40) was already set up.

    The only challenge I have noted is that if you put the softclient on your mobile, it takes precedence over the VoIP connection to the house. What is useful is going on holiday and still being able to take calls to the house line and also use it to make calls with no surcharges.

    Great article and appreciate the explanations, it is interesting to note that Voipfone also spend a lot of time in the ‘tech side’ of VoIP, which is great if for instance you have both a business number and home number on same VoIP connection and use the PBX features. Works well, and all setup is via web browser but its still wrapped in tech language.

  8. Avatar Charles Smith

    A good article and a useful basis for those considering the leap from POTS. One recent development is that Google have started to offer Google Voice numbers in the UK to their GSuite business users. I’m tinkering with it now and am impressed so far. Otherwise we use SIPgate team which is pretty reliable and relatively low cost. We used to use Vonage but on some of the international calls we get poor voice quality, scarily it was our clients telling us our voice was choppy even though they sounded okay to us.

  9. Avatar t0m5k1

    Great article.
    I’ve been waiting for naked xDSL/FTTP(C) for years but all ISP’s seem agnostic or ignorant to it, one even said it is not possible!

  10. Avatar Meadmodj

    Not all VoIP are the same (both functionally and technically) and the direct comparison of the general VoIP providers with the new services that will be offered instead of the PSTN (BT, Virgin, Talk Talk) may not be totally valid. Latency and network congestion will play a big part in the quality of voice calls and it will be easier for ISPs to manage QoS of voice and hence the use of the term VoBB is now being used. Clearmode cannot be guaranteed over IP but new standards will minimise issues. VoIP providers independent of the ISP will still need to route via general IP networks. So whilst VoBB will use VoIP there will be a difference.

    All the main providers already have both TDM and IP platforms. These will be consolidated overtime along with mobile. Longer term mobile/fixed will merge in their use and functionality.

    As Landline call use has fallen over the years the costs have migrated to the “Line Rental”. The physical line is now invariably included in the BB charges and PSTN facility differs in cost and package. BT include their Weekend Call package in their BB product. Other ISPs do similarly and the package content can differ widely. Much will change when BT launch their Consumer Digital Voice products and Virgin/TalkTalk etc announce their equivalents. The main suppliers will be in a better position to peel off VoBB traffic to their switching platforms for interconnection UK and Internationally. I also see Mobile converging with the fixed phone service as a single offering.

    The issue for the consumer will be how each ISP approaches the issue. BT is initially proposing the SOGEA faceplate and a cable from the ATA socket on the router back to the existing house wiring and existing phones. Whilst for business it is more likely to continue to be IP Phones connected to the router. OR are likely to continue to support VFA on the ONT. So each ISP will have a number of options and will need to explain to their consumers exactly how it will work going forward.

    The current cost comparisons above may be completely different as we enter the PSTN closure period. But I agree using Mobile only may suit certain lifestyles and 4G data can now be competitive particularly on poor broadband service.

  11. Avatar Robert March

    If you are interested in a very economic worldwide VoIP provider with the additional benefit of being based in Canada, I highly recommend voip.ms. They have been my residential and business provider for many years. Excellent support throughout and servers located in all the major continents.

  12. Avatar David Ford

    Having been granted the opportunity to ditch BT in it’s entirety by a combination of B4RN and some hard work, we decided not to opt for the simple Vonage box solution.
    Instead we’ve had great service and a very flexible interface (suitable for business/home/handset differentiation and call routing) from Yay.com.
    It’s worth checking them out – reliable service (last three years no outages) and good customer service.
    Excellent technical support when setting up our Snom hardware too.

  13. Avatar Phil

    Naims.net have been providing a basic VOIP solution for £2.99 per month plus extremely low cost calls inc Voice mail which can be sent to your email if necessary for at least 5 years. You can port your existing landline number over to the VOIP service or select a new geographical phone number. The VOIP service can also be set up on a Smart phone via Apps like Bria so calls can be made and taken over Wifi or 4G. I made a call to my local council in the UK whilst in the US, I was on for an hour to them and the call cost be 30p. When they called back on my local number they thought I was actually at home.

  14. Avatar Andy K

    Originally I had BT Phone and Internet. I took out a Virgin Media internet only connection (no phone or TV) to start with and ran it in parallel for a month. I tested SIPGate using a Siemens Gigaset VOIP to DECT box. It worked well, so I then I ported my BT Landline to SIPGate Basic and cancelled my BT Phone and Internet.

    I was quite ready to ditch the landline but you do still need a land line number for some things.

    As far as SIPgate goes, I like the way that I get emails on my iPhone when there is a missed call or voicemail (with the voicemail as an attachment). Part of the number transfer and registration process was to set up the geo-location for the number so it can be used for emergency calls.

    I run the Virgin Media Router and the Siemens Gigaset VOIP-DECT box from a small UPS, so I still have telephony if the power goes off (for a while).

    One year on, I’d say I’m very happy with it. The £20 credit at SIPGate seems to last forever.

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