A good (not great) alternative to Bell Canada

This is my second post in my series on reducing monthly reoccurring costs. In my first post, I discussed alternatives to Cable TV. In this post, I’ll discuss an alternative to a traditional telephone land line.

How to hangup on the high cost of telephone service

Sometimes, the younger generation is ahead of the curb when it comes to consumer trends. A recent survey found that while a little over 20% of households have discontinued their land line telephone service in favor of a cell phone, the number jumps to over 60% for households in the under 35 age category. When it comes to telephone service, there is indeed a generational divide. Maybe it’s because the older generation grew up with land line telephone service, or maybe some people just feel they need the security of being able to make a reliable 911 call from home.

Being the frugal creature I am, I recently cancelled my Bell land line for a savings of $50 per month. But unlike many others, I didn’t replace my land line with a cell phone (although I already had one). I performed some basic research and decided to try out an internet telephone device. I considered two devices: The MagicJack and NetTalk Duo. I chose the later because the unit that was in stock at Best Buy supported WIFI. In the end, that didn’t matter, but at the time of purchase, it was a feature I was looking for.

This project had several goals:

  • It had to be much cheaper than a Bell Canada land line
  • It had to allow me to transfer my existing phone number
  • It had to work with all my existing wireless handsets
  • It had to offer extra features, such as call display and call answer

The NetTalk device met these criteria, and then some. It also offered unlimited long distance in all of North America for less than $5 per month. And the device itself only cost $79, therefore it would pay for itself in less than 2 months. So far, so good – but the devil is always in the details.

NetTalk Internet Telephone Service
Click on image to view on Amazon.ca

Bumps in the road

The NetTalk device itself was pretty easy to install. Simply plug the device into your existing network using a network cable, your phone systems base station into the appropriate jack and run a simple web based configuration program. That process was fairly straight forward, but the WIFI setup was a mess to deal with. The user interface for the WIFI setup left much to be desired, and when I finally did get it working, it eventually lost connection whenever we used the microwave (which shares the same 2.4Ghz network spectrum). Lesson learned. This was going to work, but not over WIFI – it required a direct network connection – which raised a new set of issues.

My WIFI router is located in my basement. My main base station for my cordless phone system is located in my bedroom. It would be impossible to run a network cable from the router to the NetTalk device given the lack of existing cabling infrastructure in the walls. But this problem was quickly solved by using a pair of DLink PowerLine adapters which are capable of re-routing network traffic over existing home electrical wiring. The purchase of these adapters added $70 to the overall price of the project, but were well worth the investment.

The second wrinkle was that NetTalk assigned me a phone number which already belonged to someone else. Therefore, whenever someone called our NetTalk number, the call would either be routed to our residence or the other owner of the same number. To make things worse, the other persons name was also André – which, as you can imagine, led to much confusion.

An interesting note is that the second party with whom I shared a phone number was a MagicJack customer – which leads to the question – do NetTalk and MagicJack  share the same back end infrastructure or simply the service which assigns phone numbers?

Porting our existing number to NetTalk

The phone number issue was quickly solved when we ported our existing Bell Canada phone number to our NetTalk service. An important note is that there is a $20 fee to port your existing number to NetTalk. The process is straightforward enough, but it did have an interesting wrinkle that you may want to note.

Part of the process of porting a phone number from Bell Canada to another provider is obtaining a PIN number from your existing provider. When I called Bell Canada to obtain the PIN number (which turned out is your phone number), the customer service representative at Bell immediately realized that I wanted to cancel my phone service and offered to cut my phone bill from $50 a month to $30  – with no loss of existing features. I declined the offer, but found it interesting that they would put it forward all the same.

After completing the required documentation (via the NetTalk website) to port my existing phone number, the process was completed within a few days and my phone number conflict woes were over. I should also note that your address is recorded by NetTalk so that the authorities know where to send first responders in the event of a 911 call.

Call quality and features

There are many Internet telephone providers that offer a wide range of pricing, features and call quality. I chose one of the least expensive options available. Here are my impressions of the service.

My first observation is that call quality is adequate, if not consistent. Sometimes you get a connection that’s as clear as a Bell Canada land line, at other times the call can be somewhat fragmented with a slight delay. It works well enough for our needs, but if you’re seeking consistently high voice quality, an Internet phone service might not be for you. It must also be noted that you will not be able to make or receive calls if you lose power or the internet goes down.

In terms of features, the system really shines. We get call display, call forwarding and voice mail included in our service fee. The voice mail is quite nice and automatically sends you any new messages via an audio email attachment. Free long distance in both Canada and the USA is also a nice bonus.


If you have a cellphone to fall back on, NetTalk is a great secondary service that allows you to easily port your existing phone number while maintaining full access to the 911 service. Call quality can be inconsistent, but adequate for most situations. Free long distance and several calling features, including caller ID and call answering, make this a compelling choice when you consider the sub $5 per month service fee.

Click here to view the NetTalk Duo on Amazon.ca

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