Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Geek Super Bowl Preview: Telephone (or "who cares?")

Ah, landline telephone. The sickly third leg of the triple-play tripod is definitely not one that is very important to most people. These days when everyone has cell phones, what is even the point of a landline anymore, outside of folks with home alarm systems or perhaps a business owner?

Well, in the interest of completeness, I will briefly note that both AT&T U-Verse and Sunflower Broadband both offer landline telephone service. AT&T, in a refreshing display of simplicity compared to their dozens of TV and internet plans, offers just two phone plans, prices at $25 and $30, and Sunflower has three plans, rangingin price from $19 to $40.

While both Sunflower and AT&T's top plan includes unlimited long distance, and the usual bells and whistles (called ID, call forwarding, voicemail and such) there are a few major differences under the hood, and ironically, for such a pedestrian feature, phone service appears to be one area where U-Verse has a somewhat revolutionary improvement upon traditional phone service. Since it is all integrated into the residential gateway that controls the internet and TV, AT&T can do things like display incoming call information on the TV, advanced messaging and selective forwarding, and allow remote access to voicemail and call logs.

The downside? U-Verse uses an IP-based phone technology. While you can still plug any old phone into the phone jacks in your house, the Residential Gateway is the "gatekeeper" for the phone system, and it has some issues with home alarm systems and doesn't function during extended power outages. Additionally, if the broadband network goes down, you may be left without any phone service, including 911 service. AT&T recommends that you have a cell phone available to reach emergency services if you use their phone service. This is not a deal killer for us, but it might be for some people.

It is possible to configure U-Verse to use the broadband connection for TV and Internet and keep the phone done the traditional way, and for long-term use, this might be a better choice for many people, but for one month at least, we're going to use the phone as part of U-Verse so we can report how well it works. We will test with our alarm system (although we don't plan to test 911 :-) as well as the more fun advanced TV integration features and let you know how it goes.

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