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Verizon Wireless Home Phone Connect: Can it save you money?

Consumer Reports News: March 25, 2011 11:56 AM

Verizon Wireless now has a service, Verizon Wireless Home Phone Connect, which promises—with some legitimacy—that you'll "save on your home phone service" to the tune of $72 to $360 a year. But before you sign up, we found an alternative that offers similar functionality and can save you that much and more—up to $600 a year.

Home Phone Connect replaces your landline phone with what is essentially a cell-phone base station, about the size of a DVD movie case. While we haven't yet tested the device, the main idea is to port your current home phone number to the new line, connect your cordless phone system to the station, and—voila!—you've got a home phone line that's now wireless. The service comes with popular features such as voice mail and essential e-911 service (plus battery backup in case of a power outage).

Service to the line, including unlimited domestic calls, costs $20 a month—or just $10 for current Verizon Wireless customers. That's less, possibly a lot less, than landline service typically costs from a major telecom carrier, even as part of discounted triple-play bundle with TV and Internet service. The cellular base station itself is free with a two-year service contract, $50 with a one-year agreement, and $130 if you opt for month-to-month service.

But there's a different way to save more, provided you're willing to give up your landline number and your cell phone gets a decent signal and provides satisfactory call quality inside your house. You can simply drop your landline and rely on your cell phone for all of your calling needs, as about 12 percent of ConsumerReports.org readers and 25 percent of all Americans have done already.

You might do that simply by answering your cell at home, as you do when you're elsewhere. But if service is weak in some parts of your home or toting a cell phone throughout the house is unappealing, there's a solution that provides essentially the same functionality as Home Connect but with no ongoing cost. And it doesn't require getting decent Verizon cell reception everywhere in your home, as Home Connect does; it will work with any cell phone that gets decent reception in at least one location in your home.

The solution is to buy one of the cordless phone systems that are designed to connect wirelessly to cell phones and to pipe cellular calls throughout the home using DECT wireless transmissions to various cordless handsets, just as the cordless phone systems do for landline calls. An example from our current Ratings of cordless phones (available to subscribers) is the VTech DS6321-3, a unit that includes an answerer and three cordless handsets. It sells for about $80.

Your cell phone must connect to the cordless base station via Bluetooth technology, so it must have Bluetooth capability for voice--but almost all cell phone models in our current Ratings of cell and smart phones have that.

Verizon Wireless Home Phone Connect makes sense mostly for those who really want to retain a separate landline number and are already Verizon Wireless customers, and so can get the service for $10 a month. For anyone else, using a Bluetooth-enabled cordless phone system and your current cell phone is likely to be a cheaper option that's little or no more trouble to set up.

If you do want to retain your landline number but go to a less expensive carrier, keep in mind other low-cost alternatives, including the Magic Jack computer peripheral and a phone box known as Ooma that we'll report on soon. But if you buy your home phone bundled in a triple-play package with TV and Internet, check with your provider before you activate the new service (and count your savings), to see how dropping the phone part of the deal would affect the bundle's price.

—Jeff Blyskal

   

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