While the FREETALK® Connect•Me Adapter for Home Phone became available in late August, I only received a production hardware version three weeks ago. I have now had a chance not only to verify the operation of all its features but also to observe some of the reviews. But before talking about its operation I want to identify its market positioning as a result of my own experience and some of the review comments.
What is FREETALK® Connect•Me Adapter for Home Phone?
It’s essentially an ATA adapter that allows you to use a conventional 12-key TouchTone analog phone1 to make calls to Skype Contacts and SkypeOut numbers over an Internet connection. Optionally you can continue to make calls over a landline.
Who is it for?
Anyone who wants to make Skype and SkypeOut calls without the need for a PC and already has a 12-key TouchTone phone. It is especially convenient for use with today’s very common cordless home phone setup comprising a base station and multiple handsets distributed around the house.
It offers a worldwide long distance service that combines free Skype-to-Skype calling with low cost SkypeOut calling to the PSTN. When combined with a local landline service it provides a unique complementary long distance service, especially if you are making international calls outside U.S./Canada.
Initially it is only available for use in U.S. and Canada; versions for European and other countries are anticipated to follow early in 2012. Update, Nov. 15, 2011: FREETALK® Connect•Me Adapter for Home Phone is now available in the U.K.
What is it not?
A complete replacement for a landline service. You still need a landline or alternative service for emergency e911 calling. Also the landline service will often include “free” local calling to a region identified by the carrier.
What are the requirements?
- A traditional 12-key TouchTone phone with its standard RJ-11 cable connection
- A broadband Internet connection (via a port on a router connected to your cable or DSL Internet service) accessed via a standard RJ-45 Ethernet cable connection
- An AC power connection (110-120 volt in US/Canada)
- For configuration and setup only: a Windows or Mac PC
- Optional: a traditional PSTN landline service with RJ-11 cable connection
Why would you buy it?
- To place free Skype-to-Skype voice calls to any destination worldwide from the world’s most familiar telephony user interface
- the call can be received on any Skype-enabled platform: PC, smartphone, iPad, TV or even another Home Phone with Connect•Me.
- To take advantage of Skype’s low worldwide international calling rates and calling plan subscriptions for calls to the legacy PSTN or mobile phones in over 180 countries.
So what has been the experience?
While most of my calling involves using Skype on PC’s or a wireless service on a mobile smartphone I have maintained one line of a legacy PSTN service from Bell Canada, mostly for local calls and as a matter of convenience. I also have a long time investment in this phone number as my primary business number. (My fax line has been replaced by PamFax; a second voice line became redundant a few years ago.)
A couple of years ago I reviewed this setup with Bell Canada where I wanted a minimal long distance capability while maintaining the ability to make local calls. Just having access to a reduced long distance charge was costing me $11.00 per month before making any calls. I seldom made long distance calls on that line but needed it for emergency circumstances such as when my smartphone batteries had died or my Internet connection was down. It was also a convenience when placing local calls from its physical location.
I have replaced the Bell Canada long distance service with the Connect•Me Adapter with the following consequences:
- I can make Skype-to-Skype calls worldwide at no cost
- I can make SkypeOut calls at 2.3 cents/minute vs Bell Canada’s charge of 10 cents/minute
- I have the option to use a Skype Calling Plan subscription, if call volume suffices
- I have eliminated the $11.00 per month fixed charge from my Bell Canada bill.
- I make “local” calls over the landline at no additional charge beyond the monthly service charge.
- I continue to have access to Bell’s auxiliary services such as call forwarding, call waiting and basic voice mail.
- TouchTones (DTMF signals) are passed through successfully for services that require, say, dialing into a business extension or placing a prescription order with a drug store.
But here are the caveats:
- I need to start landline calls using the # key followed by the normal 10-digits for local calls.
- I can start SkypeOut calls by dialling ** followed by [country_code] [area_code] [local_number]
- I can access up to 100 speed dial numbers for both Skype and SkypeOut calls
- I have set up a separate Skype account with only 30 to 50 contacts. This becomes an essential consideration if you are using this service for personal or family calls and your normal Skype account is used heavily for business. Note that the Connect•Me Adapter can handle up to 200 contacts.
- Due to my low SkypeOut call volume on this phone line I am using Skype credit for SkypeOut calls; however, one can use a Skype Calling Plan to call U.S./Canada at $2.95 per month or over 40 countries worldwide at $13.95 per month subject to Skype’s fair usage policy.
- And to repeat (from the user portal):
- If you have a landline connected, dial #911 for e911 service.
And how is the voice quality?
Calls using the landline have the same quality as a normal narrowband landline call. (When placing a landline call you’ll hear some exotic noises while placing the call but the connected call allows me to carry on a normal phone conversation with no audible distractions.)
When making a SkypeOut call to the same number I have observed noticeably clearer voice quality compared to using the landline . And on Skype-to-Skype calls there is excellent voice quality.
By making a call to my primary Skype account on a Windows PC I was able to check the Call Technical information which reported a “NWC” codec with 16KHz sampling. This confirms that, where feasible, the Connect•Me Adapter supports wideband audio. I am told that NWC is actually a dynamic codec that will switch between narrow band audio G.729 and wideband audio G.722 codecs as appropriate to the connection conditions. But the bottom line has been a much crisper audio on a SkypeOut call than experienced on the landline.
How does the Connect•Me Adapter get set up?
The Connect•Me Adapter is accompanied by a user portal for setting up:
- Call Settings –
- Do you want to have local calls default to the landline or SkypeOut?
- Do you want international calls to default through SkypeOut?
- Call Forwarding and Voicemail –
- calls to your Connect•Me-enabled home phone can be forwarded to, say, your mobile phone or any other landline number; the delay before forwarding can also be set.
- if call forwarding is not set up you can set up and use Skype voicemail. If both are setup call forwarding takes priority.
- Contacts and Speed Dials –
- Add Skype Contacts to your account, set up speed dials for making Skype-to-Skype calls and SkypeOut calls.
- There is an option to print out your speed dial list.
Firmware Upgrades: From time-to-time FREETALK will issue upgrades to the firmware to offer new features and/or bug fixes. The first upgrade added support for Skype voicemail. These upgrades are provided automatically with no user intervention required. There is an option in System Settings to define a time-of-day for accepting upgrades, such that upgrades will not interfere will normal calling times.
Update: as I was finalizing this post I lost power at my office location. When power was restored about 30 minutes later, the Connect•Me Adapter came back up within a couple of minutes; I was able to make both Skype and landline calls with no user intervention.
Bottom line: The FREETALK® Connect•Me Adapter for Home Phone provides an option for taking advantage of Skype’s services for voice calls using a standard 12-key TouchTone phone set. It can either be a stand alone service for long distance calling, with the caveat that it does not support e911 emergency calling, or an international long distance service complement to a “local” landline service.
When attached to a DECT cordless phone base station, it will Skype-enable all the handsets around the home.
Initially the FREETALK® Connect•Me Adapter for Home Phone is only available for use in U.S. and Canada via either the Skype Store or the Amazon U.S. and Canada stores (search for FREETALK under Electronics). There are three SkypeOut options:
60 minutes of SkypeOut calling as the starter package
a one year North American (US/Canada only) Calling Plan subscription, or
a 3 month worldwide Calling Plan subscription to over 40 countries
Individuals need to make their own assessments of the savings they will achieve by using the Connect•Me Adapter. In particular “local” landline services and calling plans will vary by carrier. The information presented here is for one particular circumstance using the author’s landline carrier.
Should you wish to make PC free calling but require a phone handset, the GE Digital Cordless phone offers a more complete Skype experience as it can embed your Skype Contacts and provide presence information.
Full disclosure; the author was a participant in late beta testing for this product using a pre-production version of the device; however, he has received no compensation for his evaluation and feedback. There are no affiliate links in this post; if one clicks on the link to PamFax, there are affiliate links on that page.
1 It will work with any single line phone, including cordless phones, except older cordless phones where the cordless connection works over the same 2.4GHz band as WiFi. Also, run legacy Nortel phones with a power adapter in its “backup” mode using power from the phone line – i.e. – without the power adapter.
- Now you can use your home phone for Skype calls (gigaom.com)
- New Freetalk adapter makes Skype more like MagicJack (skypejournal.com)