NetTalk makes it easy to dump your landline but keep your phone number

NetTalk Duo's number-portability feature transfers your landline number to the company's low-cost VoIP service quickly and simply.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
4 min read

How many phones does a person need, anyway?

Chances are you're paying more for telephone service than you need to. If you've been tempted to drop your landline but hesitated because you didn't want to lose your old phone number, get ready to save some dough.

NetTalk is one of a handful of VoIP services that port your existing number to an inexpensive Internet-phone account. Visit the NetTalk porting page to determine whether your current number is portable. If it is, you can submit a Number Porting Authorization when you complete your order or afterward by signing into your NetTalk account.

NetTalk number-portability checker
Enter your landline's area code and exchange to find out whether your current phone number can be ported to a NetTalk account. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

When I tried the service, the number porting took only 10 days; in the interim NetTalk provided me with a temporary phone number that switched automatically to the landline number once the swap authorization was complete. The previous landline account was canceled automatically.

One year of NetTalk phone service throughout the U.S. is included with the $50 NetTalk Duo device that connects your phone to your router, either directly or through your PC. Each subsequent year of service costs $30, which is less than most people spend each month for their landline. (International calling plans are also offered.)

Cutting the telco cord is easier than ever
Like many families, we rely primarily on our cell phones these days; the three landline phones in our home are used much less frequently than they used to be. In fact, we could get by nicely using only cell service, but we've used our home number for 12 years and would prefer to keep it. We just don't want to overspend for it.

By unofficial count, our household makes about three calls and receives about two genuine calls on the home number each week. We get at least five times that number of robocalls. Our number has been added to every "do not call" register there is but still the telemarketing persists. (I've reported some of the incoming telemarketing numbers via the FTC Do Not Call Registry.)

Our landline bill runs between $25 and $40 a month, so each of those calls costs us at least $1. There are many good reasons to pay for a hard-wired phone line -- extensions in many rooms, self-powering, tone clarity. There are many more good reasons not to pay for one, especially considering Internet-phone quality and features keep getting better. One fewer monthly bill is nothing to sneeze at.

Attach your phone set to your router with a simple switchbox
On the NetTalk site you enter the user name and password that shipped with the Duo and then provide your name, E911 address, and e-mail. Choose a number (which will be replaced if you port an existing number). Connect the Duo to your router via the included Ethernet cable, and plug the phone set into the Duo's phone port.

After the Duo registers with the NetTalk network the phone will ring and you'll hear a dial tone. The phone is ready to place and receive calls.

Connecting the Duo through a PC requires downloading the USB driver, restarting the computer, and connecting your phone to the Duo and the Duo to the PC via the included USB cable. Once the device autosyncs with the NetTalk network the phone rings to indicate a dial tone. (I tested only the Duo's direct connection to the router.)

There was no appreciable drop in audio quality from the landline to the VoIP connection. A NetTalk account includes voicemail, call history, and auto-forwarding, among other features. The company provides a toll-free support line and online FAQ, knowledgebase, and forum.

No problem using a standard fax machine to transmit over a VoIP line
Before I switched our home phone to VoIP I had heard that conventional fax machines didn't work over VoIP connections. I use a 1998-vintage fax machine regularly, so I was prepared to replace the machine with an Internet fax service. You can imagine my delight when I found the ancient fax machine transmitted without a hitch when I connected it to the NetTalk Duo.

Since the phone jacks in the house no longer receive a signal, we have only the phone set connected to the router via the Duo's Ethernet link. It's a cordless phone that works throughout the house and has a long battery life, which means we're not necessarily tethered to the home office. If we're expecting a call on the home number, we can keep the handset nearby.

(Later this month NetTalk is expected to release a $65 Wi-Fi version of the Duo that will offer phone coverage anywhere in range of your wireless access point.)

The transition from a conventional home phone line to a VoIP account using the same number went without a hitch. Considering the money we'll save each month, the only question is why we waited so long.