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Is the Uk Market Competitive Enough for Voip? Decoupling My Phone Number From a BT Line Experience

Fabrizio is an Internet midwife as well as technology enthusiast, although hooked on paper crafting his geekiness seeps through time to time

Screenshot taken of Vonage UK website admitted under fair usage rules.

Screenshot taken of Vonage UK website admitted under fair usage rules.

I wanted to move away from a fixed landline situation to give me flexibility.

I needed to have the flexibility of a Voip solution but with an all inclusive cost. After looking around, Vonage was the perfect fit for my needs: needed 24/7 free UK calls and free calls to Canada (because I have relatives there). My previous configuration with NowTV only gave me the free calls to the UK (although it included mobile phone calls too which was handy but I wasn't desperate for that) was good value but once you added the charge for voicemail and caller ID, it was £10 a month on top of the broadband charge, Vonage offered me the same but with the international calls for one pound extra (now £11.50 after latest increase of 50 pence, I can live with that).

It was as they say a no brainer, so I decided to see how best to disentangle my phone number and bring it over to Vonage which wouldn't be easy as when one wants to move their phone line away they lose the broadband too which is a ludicrous situation and I believe that Ofcom should introduce a swap and keep solution whereas when someone wants to move away from a ADSL/VDSL provider then they should be able to but having a same day reprovisioning of their broadband connection with a different number given but I can't see that happening anytime soon.

So this was the plan, installing a new line alongside my current one and going for a very cheap broadband access where the landline cost would be negligible.

After a lot of consideration, I opted to leave NOW tv as the cheapest option for a new phone one install was with Plusnet, also my thinking behind picking them is that they're in de facto owned by BT and although they keep on saying that they don't get preferential treatments from Open Reach also owned by them, well let's say I'm not totally convinced about that.

The idea was to find a cash back deal so that the cost of installing a new line (usually £50 or so) can easily be recouped so that I wouldn't be out of pocket. My contract with Now TV was up back in July and I thought that by ordering my new line from Plusnet in June, it would have given me a very short overlap to avoid the extra cost of running two lines and two broadband connections.

I got a £75 cash back deal from Plusnet so that would easily cover the installation charge and first month of Broadband/Line rental at £18.99.

So there's method in my madness, once everything was installed and I was able to move away my phone number from NowTV to Vonage ceasing the broadband in July then by August I would have: broadband with Plusnet £18.99 and Vonage call package for £11 a grand total of £30 per month (now £30.50). Compare to my previous set up with Vonage where after the first year discount I wouldn't have ended up paying £46 a month (yes the entertainment package is a nice addition but I could live without it), you can easily see that for a temporary upheaval of having two lines, two broadband connections for 30 days, it would be worth it.

Also the idea is that after Plusnet I could move my broadband wherever I wanted without having to worry about my phone number being lost when moving providers as it's completely independent, giving me the option in the near future for going for LTE mobile data providers such as Relish or other offerings by the big 4 mobile telecoms in the UK.

You didn't think it would be that easy did you ? New phone line installation nightmare begins compliment of Open Reach...

Plusnet new phone line ordered online in June to take advantage of the cash back offer I was feeling smug that by the time Plusnet contacted me to send an Open Reach engineer then I would be able to port my number to Vonage and won't have any loss of broadband....yes that was the plan.

It wasn't to be as I placed my order on the 6th of June and the week after an Open Reach contractor showed up at my place saying that a new line wasn't need to be installed physically as in my current wire there was a spare line so he pulled the wires out and checked them, but unfortunately that line wasn't connected on the phone pole and he couldn't up that pole so he booked a hoist from Open Reach people so that they could physically connect the wires, giving me a new line. I kinda knew that some problems would come up but I wasn't prepared for what was to come...

Trees can stop anything, even Open Reach engineers and there's nothing that can be done...

I was resigned by the fact that I would have to wait another week before another Open Reach engineer would show up. I was pleasantly surprised that one showed up unannounced out of the blue, although a bit taken aback as I have social anxiety issues and wasn't medicated for this 'visitor', I was so happy that my line would be installed that I welcomed him recounting what happened with the contractor. He was a charming bloke but he probably knew what I didn't, and he kept saying it's not going to be easy. He proceeded to install the new socket using the spare wires that were pulled out by the contractor and wasn't impressed that he didn't install the socket himself on that first visit. Socket ready I was hopeful. Martin was his name I believe, came back with the bad news, in order to climb the phone pole he will need a hoist because the adjacent overgrown tree was blocking the way.

Ok I thought he was quick to show up just a couple of days after the first guys showed up, I can wait another week for the hoist. Plusnet kept informed that a new engineer was booked through their messaging system and I made sure I kept them updated on the ongoings issues.

10 days later the engineer showed up saying that even with the hoist he couldn't reach the top of the pole as the branches where in the way and that would make impossible for him to each in the box. Ok I said will you "Open Reach" or Plusnet will contact the council to have that tree trimmed then ? Oh no he said, that's up to you, we won't do that it's not our job.

For a split second I thought I was part of a candid camera skit and I was just the victim of a big joke...

Overnight I was turned into a Project Manager by Open Reach and Plusnet

After the realisation that I was suddenly in charge of making things happen that as customer, I needed to baby mind two companies and governmental agency, I thought for a moment that maybe Vonage wasn't worth it. So I called Ofcom to complain and they told me that after all this hassle I had a good case to cancel my contract with Plusnet and that if they charged me a cancellation fee they would back me up but it could take months to recoup the money or they would be entitled to send me letters to recover their charge(s). I didn't fancy that and to be honest, the option out there were only either Virgin cable or LTE/4G mobile broadband but the allowances are low and I had the inkling that our usage would easily top 80GB per month with the streaming etc...

I swallowed my pride and decided to contact my local council greenery department to have the tree trimmed, which took two attempts and the intervention of my local councillor to have it finally done in.....August !

I could have waited and kept the NowTV connection but I really wanted to have the number ported so a day after my contract was up with them, I ported the number to Vonage knowing that on the date it would happen I would lose also my broadband.

In perusing the mobile telecom websites....Three came to the rescue with Homefi. Sold as an alternative to home broadband, it came with a new powerful router and the blurb on the ad said that it was a category 4 router with speeds up to 150mb, which wasn't the full truth. But I bit the bullet, since that mobile data router had a ethernet port I couldn't connect to my existing router wan in bridged mode until the new line got installed. 40GB allowance ! No problem, I'll survive and manage on this 'diet'...

Homefi is ok if you use the internet like if you had dial-up...

I opted for the Homefi monthly recurring contract so I wouldn't commit for a full 12 months. I used Quidco so that I would have £40 cash back to use towards the cost of the modem £59 in order not to be totally out of pocket.

It connected fine and although it didn't have a bridge mode and the warning of Voip not working through it on their website, my TP-Link router didn't disappoint in forwarding the traffic and disabling the SIP ALG as well as setting up a DMZ zone on the Homefi router helped avoid the double NAT woes.

Vonaged worked when I set up bandwidth control giving it priority and 128kbs/3000kbs upload/download minimums and maximums. For day to day surfing and browsing the internet was fine but streaming any of the boxes (appleTV, skybox or Nowtv; yes I have too many boxes) was a hit and miss, also I soon noticed that background usage would climb up to 1GB a day without even trying. So I blocked them on the router and allowed only one to be used, the apple TV as Homefi on Three sim contract allows you a Go Binge option whereas if you use Netflix or Deezer it doesn't use up your monthly allowance.

Everything was in place and my phone number ported successfully to Vonage on August 11th. To give Vonage and Now TV their dues, it went without an hitch and they both kept me informed. After 3 hours my number was fully ported and I was able to receive and ring out from my old landline number which was by then fully ported.....SUCCESS !

Since my existing landline was deactivated/ceased I had the realisation that if I were to contact Plusnet and tell them that Open Reach could come over and install the new line in the old socket, they wouldn't need to climb up the pole....right ?

Plusnet nemesis....the TREE, it was always about the tree

I contacted Plusnet though their messaging system which works brilliantly as it keeps a chronological thread of what happened.

I explained at length that I believed that the engineers didn't need anymore access to the phone pole as it would be just an existing line being reactivated. They replied that they would do a line check and come back to me.

Finally decided to write back telling me that the line check showed no live line at the property...duh ! Yes I know that because the line was deactivated but if they could check with OpenReach if I was right to believe that since the line no longer needed to be physically connected on the phone pole if they couldn't just install my plus net new phone line and number on the existing socket...

Nope as the tree hasn't been trimmed yet....I gave up !

So once the tree was finally trimmed I texted them saying book an engineer please it's ready...in September !

I was vindicated ! At least I was right...

When the Open Reach engineer showed up I showed him the old phone socket where he would have to install the 'new' line. He asked me about the extra socket next to it, I said " You don't want to know " ! LOL

Low and behold, I was right he didn't need to go up the flipping phone pole, it took only 5 minutes to set up my line with another number (not the one Plusnet gave me to start with). So I had to wait an extra month because of Plusnet stubborness.

Thankfully because Three connection was dire I got a rebate so I ended up paying only £12 per month as opposed to £24. Also cancelling my contract with them went without a hitch and thankfully the day my broadband went live with Plusnet was the 30 days notice cut off date, lucky streak I guess after all those troubles. Maybe karma had enough playing with me ! ;)

In conclusion

Would I do this again ?

Probably not as it seems that no matter how much you plan things, there's always something to trip you up.

I'm glad now that the whole palaver is over and that when my Plusnet contract is up I'll be able to choose whatever deal is available taking the phone out of the equation for the best deal.

Voyage is working fine for me and is rock solid, apart from a few tweaks on the router side, it was painless. I like the fact that when I receive a phone call, I can also receive them on my mobile and the boomerang service where my relatives in Canada can ring me, hang up and be called back so that it costs them nothing, is a nice addition to an excellent service.

My router has also a Modem USB stick that allows redundancy in case my ADSL broadband connection were to fail, so I didn't need to reroute, through the Vonage failsafe setting, the phone calls to my new line as I don't have a phone connected to it.

If you want to decouple your phone from your existing landline to Vonage make sure you have a suitable alternative backup solution as you will lose your broadband once the phone gets ported unless you are using cable broadband as it doesn't use a residential landline.

That's why I feel that Voip suppliers are not given a good chance to compete in the UK market as people should be able to move their phone number over to them without risking the loss of their current broadband. Ofcom could propose a number swap and reprovision system whereas the customer move away the number and on the same day the current internet provider, re-assign a new line with new number and the broadband connection within hours. Giving people more choice to move to the best deals that suit them.

© 2017 Fabrizio Martellucci

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