Voice Over IP - Batphone StyleTraditional telephone service is composed of three things: a public switched telephone network number for people to call (known as a DID), an inbound voice service ring, and an outbound service to the PSTN (known as call termination) so that you can call other telephones. As you will find out in the paragraphs below, in the VOIP world these services are not always joined together. Also, you may not need a telephone number or PSTN termination if you plan on communicating with others strictly via VOIP. Pure VOIP makes it possible to communicate without the use of traditional land line or mobile telephones. Some of the services listed below also have the ability to send and receive text messages, known as SMS. SMS isn't a strict requirement for a batphone, but it can be nice feature to have. When using a prepaid mobile phone, all three services, plus SMS are all bundled together.
There are some service providers, like Skype or FaceTime that limit you to their proprietary software or hardware. I have information about those services in the batphone hardware and the batphone software sections of this site.
#1 Google Voice - Google Voice gets a lot of mention on this site because you get so much with it for free. It's entirely possible to set up a batphone without GV, but GV does make juggling multiple devices and numbers significantly more manageable, especially for people who will be calling you. Calling with GV works best when you are forwarding calls to PSTN numbers. Google Hangouts has been experiencing many growing pains since late 2013 so answering incoming calls via Google Hangouts can be a little awkward sometimes. If you want to use GV for calling reliably, you will get the best results if each app or device has its own PSTN number. Different solutions pop up from time to time to let you use Google Voice in other ways, but they are almost always problematic. For the foreseeable future, reliable VOIP calling with GV means setting up PSTN numbers first, and then doing your app/device/hacking afterward. There are proprietary phone apps that provide free PSTN numbers, such as Talkatone, which you can learn about in the batphone software section of this site.
To learn more about Google Voice from the official source, or to sign up, click here.
VT offers unlimited inbound and outbound calling along with all of the calling features that you would expect from residential telephone service, such as caller ID, 3 way calling, and voicemail. The service generally costs $189 for the first 2 years (roughly $7.88 per month). This price does not include taxes and recovery fees from the federal government, generally $2.50-$3.50 per month. When my first two years of service was due to expire, VT sent me an offer by email to renew for another two years for $189.
VT will also give you SIP credentials for use with a softphone or VOIP hardware, and a SIP URI so you can receive free SIP calls without using the PSTN. I used the service for a few years and the only time I missed calls was when my hardware or Internet connection were having issues. If your plans for your batphone include replacing your landline phone that still sees significant use, this is an affordable one-stop solution. You can even port your landline telephone number to VT, but at this time you cannot port your VT number to Google Voice without taking a few steps.
VT also has sophisticated call routing, forwarding, and line huntingfeatures. VT includes an option to forward calls to another number when the line is busy. If you are setting up a phone system that requires multiple lines, you can use this feature to ring a second trunk, ATA's, or VOIP phones so that your phones will ring when another call comes in. This is different from call waiting in that someone else could pick up the second call and carry on a conversation at the same time. You can also direct a number dialed to another number, such as forwarding calls to 411 to 1-800-FREE411. You can also route incoming calls, so that calls from specific numbers are forwarded to another number such as a mobile number, or maybe your batphone :-)
You can also selectively route calls based on their caller ID, so that unwanted calls can be routed to a recording. VT even has a Do Not Disturb feature to control when your phone rings, and a white list feature so that important numbers can always ring your phone. I used the selective routing feature to route all calls from toll-free numbers to a message that states that the line has been disconnected. I then set the Do Not Disturb feature for 24 hours a day. I have numbers for my friends and family white listed so that they can ring me any time of the day.
I don't use my home phone very often anymore, so I switched to a cheaper 500 minute per month plan from Vestalink.
An important feature with residential VOIP services like via:talk or Vestalink is emergency calling via E911. If your batphone plans will require emergency calling, you may want to consider a traditional VOIP service, or using a batburner.
If you want to avoid Internet calling and use a mobile phone with a prepaid mobile service, you can read about prepaid service in the Prepaid Mobile Service section of this site. More details about prepaid mobile service are at the end of this page. Again, I'm only going to talk about the mobile services that I have experience with. I'm not affiliated with them and I'm not advertising for them.