Saving on telephone bills with VoIP

2014-02-28 00:00:00 +0000

I’ve been using VoIP (voice over IP) telephony since 2004 and recent move to a new flat made me rebuild the whole configuration and was a good opportunity to review it and see how much I could have earned with VoIP?

Back in 2005 when I built my first home VoIP telephone I really had one important reason to do this: make international calls as much affordable as possible to allow my wife call her parents frequently. At that time calls to Russia were rather expensive from Poland (and they still are) but there was who offered free VoIP calls to most countries in the world as soon as they were made to landline numbers. Which was perfectly sufficient, as the parents had one. Calls to mobile numbers are not free, but still way cheaper than those done over a commercial operator.

VoIPDiscount has a software client, but that means occupying the computer for the whole time of the call. The solution was to use a VoIP gateway, which allows you to hook a standard telephone to VoIP via a tiny device connected to local network. Enter Sipura SPA1001. Sipura was the original company, then Linksys, then Cisco. Cisco has finally discontinued the original device which was not very nice as it had one great feature: you could configure two VoIP operators on single gateway.

In practice this means, that when I pick my handset I’m calling via VoIPDiscount, the cheap operator. But when I push the hash key (#), the gateway would switch to another VoIP operator configured on the device. And since VoIPDiscount doesn’t give you a phone number, it was the easiest way to have a landline number at home, for the benefit of people calling me. For that purpose I used a Polish VoIP operator called IPfon and I’m using them to this day, having subscribed to a couple of Polish landline numbers which I use for various purposes.

So, to summarize: thanks to the small box which costed around $50 back in 2005 I was able to make free calls to landline numbers in Russia and other countries, regardless of their time. In my case, this means hours of calls per month, both to landline and mobile numbers abroad.

Sampling my bills for three months, I have estimated that the total call time in a year was around 1700 minutes, at a cost of around $60 (mostly due to mobile calls). If I wanted to make the same number of calls over larges Polish telco operator TPSA I would pay around $560 — so it’s order of magnitude in difference. Over the 10 years period which I’ll be soon reaching, it will allow me to save around $5000 on my home bills. And, which is also an important factor, if these calls were not that cheap my family would probably refrain from making them and spend less time socialising with the remote relatives.

VoIP call quality

Low quality of VoIP calls is frequently raised as an issue that prevents people from using VoIP at home. This is indeed an important argument: VoIP doesan’t need much bandwidth by today’s standards but it needs rather low latency or the voice quality will be impaired by jitter and noises.

And most home broadband networks are used for multiple purposes, including gaming or file sharing, with the latter being probably the worst enemy of VoIP as it tends to saturate the link completely. Solutions to this problem is technically simple — using traffic control (quality of service — QoS) on your router — but most people have no knowledge required to configure that, and home routers usually don’t even have such feature.

I solved this problem with OpenWRT which is an free replacement operating system that can be installed on most of the popular home routers on the market. In my case it’s TP-Link TL-WR2543ND, which is rather powerful, but I’ve used much cheaper models previously as well. OpenWRT offers QoS as a free add-on and it’s relatively simple to configure. You can see my full configuration on the screenshot below and in most cases the only thing you’d need to adapt to your conditions is your bandwidth (which you can measure using broadband speed test).

These rules will do the following with your traffic: