I recently discovered how to get a "free" home phone line.
- Sign up for GrandCentral. This will get you a free real phone number in the area code of your choice that you can forward wherever you want. Right now my GrandCentral phone number forwards to my cell phone, my office line and my Gizmo account (see the next bullet); when someone calls it, all the phones ring, and I can answer at whichever line makes the most sense. (GrandCentral has a bunch of other cool features, like per-incoming-caller routing, call screening, unified voicemail...check it out.)
- Sign up for Gizmo, a SIP-based IP telephony service. Gizmo lets you make PC-to-PC calls for free, like so many other instant messaging clients (Messenger, Google Talk, etc). You can also make PC-to-phone calls for $0.019/minute, and you can also buy an incoming phone number from Gizmo...but GrandCentral gave us that for free!
- Configure your GrandCentral number to forward to your Gizmo account. At this point, incoming phone calls to your GrandCentral number will ring the Gizmo softphone on your PC.
- Since Gizmo is based on SIP, an open standard, the options for where to go next are wide open. I don't want to be tied to a computer (I want a "home phone"), so I ordered a SIP-based IP phone, the GrandStream BudgeTone 200. If you have an existing analog phone investment (I gave/threw all mine away over the past few years), you could configure an Analong Telephone Adapter (ATA) and plug in your phone or fax. Other devices: Zoom 5801, Linksys PAP2, and many, many more. You could install Asterisk, a free PBX system, or Exchange Unified Messaging. Relying on an open standard makes me feel better than being tied to a proprietary provider, like Skype.
The IP phone I ordered should arrive on Monday. I've been using this setup with a headset plugged into my PC, and I've been happy with the call quality, as have the people I've talked to (especially compared to the crappy cell phone reception I get at home). What I'm not happy about is being dependent on a PC; I'd much rather have a standalone device...you know, a telephone!
Nothing's really "free," either. If you want to make outgoing calls, you have to pay. Well, maybe not...during the GrandCentral beta period, "click2call" is free. You initiate a call on the web site and it rings your phone; when you pick up, it rings the other party's phone. So—for now—you can even make outgoing calls for free if you're willing to jump through a few hoops!
I called AT&T recently to get a quote on a land line. The cheapest I could find was around $8 or $9/month, plus taxes and fees (like 911 service), bringing the bottom line to around $15/month. Compare that to 500 minutes of usage on Gizmo for $10 with no maintenance fees.
I'll have more to report when I get the phone up and running on Monday. For now, I'm excited about a workaround for the crappy cell phone coverage at home for a bare minimum cost (oh, right, the hardware investment...but that's a "gadget," so it's fun and justifiable).