I'm Done With Copper

I've had it with copper wiring, particularly the local loop that Verizon runs to my house. For the past 16 months, I've had nearly monthly phone calls with Verizon's repair folks, almost always starting with a rehash of previous events. The short form is that the main trunk line from the nearest pedastal to our block is out of free pairs, and the pairs that come into my house (at least two of the three) are of completely unreliable quality: hiss, hum, static, and random dropping of calls, particularly when I'm hosting my late-night staff confab. I expect some of those attributes from wireless service, but this is copper. Land line. Hard wired. Seems only the "hard" adjective is appropriate. I've had four different Verizon technicians here, running a new service line to the house (which is still sitting on top of the ground, despite two calls and three promises to bury it), diagnosing the bad line from the main distribution point, including the loading coils inserted upstream (because of our distance from the central office, making the copper line to my house look more like a transmission line, and a lossy one, at that), and, most famously, telling me the problem is with my wireless network and phones.

It's one thing when the content of phone calls frustrates you. It's another when the phones themselves cause the frustration. I went epsilon over my tolerance for infrastructure failure this week, and setup VOIP in the house. I was done before the first half of the Rutgers-West Virginia game.

8:00 Leave Staples with a new Linksys Vonage 2-port phone adaptor.

8:15 Plug in the phone adaptor. Power, and one port on the wireless router.

8:20 Provision a Vonage phone number. Before transferring anything over, and to make sure my problems really are isolated in Verizon's network, I spun up a new Vonage phone number, and then forwarded my existing Verizon number to the Vonage number. This is faster than having Vonage initiate the transfer, and I got instant gratification when it worked.

8:25 Install a modular phone jack next to my cable modem, and use it to splice into the existing house wiring. Had to first get the old number to ring forward to the new number, then I could cut the existing house wiring free of Verizon. Two snips, one punchdown, and one screw-down block later, and my VOIP circuit now routes through my doorbell as well, using all of the existing house wiring (including two wireless phone systems, one for each floor, and a doorbell that rings the phone).

8:35 Call my wife, noise-free (modulo 18 years of marriage). This will backfire at some future point, of course, because I won't be able to blame a bad signal-to-noise ratio when I forget to do something on the way home.

Total door-to-door (literally) service time: 35 minutes. I've since played around with the caller ID features on the Vonage web site, turned off voice mail (since I like our clunky but fun answering machine), set up network service connection forwarding (in case Comcast drops the line, Vonage will route calls to my cell phone).

Yes, I'm late to the VOIP game, and yes, this is about as technologically hip as discovering MP3s. But it's just so cool when it works. I've since initiated transfer of my home office line, and I'll move my fax machine over as well, cutting the cord with Verizon unless our first winter storm causes the snow plow to beat me to it.


It was such a happy day when I was able to dump SBC. Welcome to VOIP land!

Posted by catherine helzerman on December 03, 2006 at 11:01 AM EST #

I'm interested in how Comcast is providing you service without using copper. Do you have a direct fiber-to-the-home arrangement? I've heard of some FTTH deployments and would be interested in yours is working. Thanks.

Posted by Thornton on December 03, 2006 at 12:22 PM EST #

OK, so it's two-pair copper loop that I'm avoiding. There's still a single copper conductor inside the cable, but it converts to fiber not too far from my house. There are no strange inductance problems causing my speaker phones not to work, or periodically causing so much DC bias that the line thinks it was hung up on the other end.

Posted by Hal Stern on December 03, 2006 at 04:28 PM EST #

I completely shifted all my phones to vonage and it works great. Had a few stuttering issues which we easily fixed once I changed the bandwidth in the vonage tool and after a software updgrade courtesy of a support engineering in india. And now my parents call for free from the UK too - they have a local numbe rin their town that transfers to my desk for the cost of a local call to them. Now that's cutting out phone companies!

Posted by Jeremy Barnish on December 08, 2006 at 03:44 AM EST #

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