The Telephone Blues

We recently switched to a different office in our building, and neglected to check one small thing beforehand: cell phone reception. While we got a terrific signal on the 2nd floor, it’s strikingly bad on the first floor! Generally, if we get a call and we want to actually have a conversation, we have to stand in the corner of the room or walk the halls. This is unfortunate, because there’s no gadget I love like my iPhone. It’s sad that it just won’t cut it down there.

So we’ve had to start looking around for another provider, which can be relied upon a bit more than the cell phone signal. We started our search with Qwest, since they supply our data connection, but their website is confusing and their support isn’t great, and while their Internet service is reliable, it’s not fast enough and they have no plans to improve their speed in our building.

We next looked at Comcast. They can offer data rates far, far higher than Qwest, and they offer much more straightforward telephone services. Unfortunately, they charge you a $250 penalty if you want to start your service with a less than three-year commitment, which we’re just not wanting to make. So for the service that we want, running about $140 a month, we’d have to cough up nearly $400 just to get set up! We’ll come back to this in a bit.

Next stop: Vonage. This is an interesting service. It connects to your Internet service, but it lets you use regular telephones and kind of pretends to be a traditional phone service. Their rates are roughly half of what Comcast and Qwest ask, and from what I hear the call quality is pretty good. The problem I have with them is a strange one, however: their stock price. While trading at about $12 years ago, they’re now at about 35 cents, and they’re apparently being threatened with delisting by the stock exchange. Not a good sign when you are looking to set up a permanent number for your business. Not very reassuring. So we keep looking.

Finally, we take a look at Skype. This is by far the most “exciting” service out there, and I’m just in love with the philosophy. I like the idea of just getting calls on your computer, and being able to place calls from your computer, since we’re planning on upgrading our Internet speed anyway. It’s such a cool idea! Why have a separate phone, why not just be able to use your computer and a wireless headset? The problem is a predictable one: call quality. It’s not good. At its best, I find it’s about par with a cell phone, but at its worst it’s unusable. I’ve placed a couple of calls and experienced all the problems I’ve heard about elsewhere – strange echo sounds, stuttering voice, gaps of silence and so on. For a service that we want to rely on as our primary business phone number, it’s not looking good.

And that’s a shame. Because setting up Skype to supply our business phone needs would only cost seven bucks a month. That means having flexible calling options, voice mail, a custom phone number, and more. If you want to just use a telephone, you can actually buy a Skype phone for $99 that uses your wireless signal. You can even put a badge on your website or in your email that indicates if your phone is taking calls.

But again, if the call quality isn’t there, none of this matters. We are forced to choose between paying maybe $7 a month for Skype, but suffering through partly-coherent conversations, or paying about $45 a month and having trouble-free service. Or more specifically: is it worth $38 a month to have coherent, productive calls with our clients?

The answer there is sure to be a yes. We’ll be paying another $400 this year, plus buying an old-fashioned telephone, to make sure this happens. Because you don’t want to replace one problem with another. You want to fix it. And that’s what we’re probably going to do.

But… Comcast! Ugh. I just got off the phone with them again, and after a half hour of back and forth, I’m starting to realize that there’s no way on Earth to strike a deal with these people. The price is just such a sticking point for me. Does anyone have suggestions or thoughts?!?

Raymond Brigleb

Creative Director, dreamer, partner, father, musician, photographer. Has been known to ride the rails. Pulls one heck of a shot.