Hardware & Software
Given the strategic importance that VoIP services have in helping to reduce both your cellular and home phone bills, VoIP hardware and software should be discussed. The ATA, or Analog Telephone Adapter, acts as a bridge between your pre-existing or cheap to obtain traditional POTS telephone handsets and your wired internet connection for making phone calls with. A softphone is software that can run on a smartphone (or even desktop/laptop computer) that allows you to make and receive phone calls the same as the ATA does, but without utilizing dedicated hardware for the services. Given there’s a far more limited field of equipment and software due to their inherent nature, we won’t cover this topic quite the same way the cellphone hardware subject has been, as there is less variance in features and functionality to meet needs.
When shopping for an ATA, the most important features you should look for boil down to a fairly short list. First, make sure you’re buying an ATA that isn’t locked to a specific carrier; they don’t come up as often as they used to, but this used to be a big issue with Vonage branded Linksys ATAs and it’s enough of an issue to at least be aware of. Second, if you’re not savvy enough to work out and configure generic SIP settings from your VoIP provider with a random user interface, be sure that the ATA you purchase is officially supported for configuration with that carrier and full provisioning documentation is included for your device. Third, if you’re still concerned about configuration, stick with a VoIP provider that will provide you with pre-configured equipment.
The REN rating of the ATA will tell you about both the build quality and how many phones the device can support, but keep in mind that you’ll never see greater than 5 REN as that’s the standard for most residential lines. If you need multiple physical phone lines in your setup, clearly you should look for devices with multiple FXS ports with individual account management options to support each line. If you’d like to bridge VoIP with existing POTS phone service for routing long distance or international calls through, then you’ll need a device with an FXO port. If you plan on using FAX services, you’ll need a device that can support the T.38 FAX protocol. Those are pretty much the option highlights of these devices.
As for specific ATA devices, here’s a list of three entry-level models well supported with many VoIP providers and of decent build:
Cisco SPA112-NA ($40 most places)
2 FXS ports with 1 account per port, 1 LAN port, 5 REN, T.38 FAX/modem support – product details
This is a workhorse ATA. Quality build for a consumer device, supports up to two phone lines/SIP accounts, feature rich if you know what you’re doing. This is a solid choice, but even still, you’ll eventually have to replace capacitors on the thing or replace the device itself as it’s a consumer-grade ATA.
Grandstream HT701 ($35 most places)
1 FXS port with 1 account per port, 1 LAN port, 5 REN, T.38 FAX/modem support – product details
This is a good, cheap, full featured single line ATA that’s useful as an emergency fallback device, an on the road device, or even as your primary device if you’re on a budget and only need a single line. The quality of the build veers towards cheaper Chinese electronics than what you get from Cisco, but that’s what the good capacitors and the soldering iron is for once the warranty ends and it starts going flaky.
Obihai OBi100 ($40 most places)
1 FXS port with 2 accounts per port, 1 LAN port, 5 REN, G.711 FAX/modem pass-through, call history – product details
This is a reasonably priced model that’s a favorite of the Google Voice users. Lots of features and relatively easy to configure, but a lot of gimmicks that you’ll likely never use tossed in as well. The build quality is about equal with nearly every other ATA.
If you’d like to learn more about VoIP and deployment as well as learn about a few more ATAs with different feature sets, read this article.
As VoIP is truly the linchpin for reducing your phone costs, we should also touch on softphones for your smartphone that allow you to make and receive calls on your well-priced VoIP package without racking up cell minutes, or for those people who would simply rather use their smartphone for making calls at home over WiFi as well.
CSipSimple – free (OSS license) – Android only
This is an Android specific SIP phone and one of the more commonly used softphones for VoIP usage. It’s free as in beer and speech, well supported within VoIP/SIP communities. It also integrates in with your address book, can record calls, and supports the SIP SIMPLE messaging protocol.
Sipdroid – free (OSS license) – Android only
This is an Android specific SIP phone and one of the more commonly used softphones for VoIP usage. It’s free as in beer and speech, well supported within VoIP/SIP communities, and even has the capacity to integrate Google Voice in for “free” “outbound” calls over WiFi via a free VoIP account. It also integrates in with your address book.
3CX Phone – free (freeware) – iPhone, Android
A cross-phone-platform softphone, it has its buggy moments, but works relatively well overall. No spiffy extra features, just your run of the mill VoIP phone software.
Acrobits – $7 – iPhone, Android
Although not a free application, it does come with a lot of bells and whistles (like video conferencing and verified support with various VoIP operators) that the others don’t provide. Probably one of the better iOS SIPphone clients available.
X-Lite – free (freeware) – Windows/OSX/Linux
One of the oldest and most commonly used desktop softphones on the market, and typically supported by most all VoIP providers that allow you to BYOD.
There’s likely other paid and free options out there, so if you don’t like these, RESEARCH. Again, for this topic as with the VoIP providers, Broadband Reports is an indispensable resource for doing that research with.
- Internet Service Providers (what you do and don’t need)
- Networking Equipment (laying the foundation)
- Cell Phone Providers (MVNOs are your friend!)
- Cell Phones (hardware and software)
- Home Telephone Providers (VoIP to the rescue!)
- Home Telephone Equipment (hardware and software)
- Home Entertainment (replace the cable box)
- Closing & Miscellaneous Resources