Another competitor for expensive telephone service

As a user of alternative telephone services for several years, I have been very satisfied with their performance. All of them use some variety of VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, to send voice-grade telephone conversations over the Internet, terminating at the recipient’s local phone service (landline or cellular), which ultimately connects the call to his or her local phone. Over the years I have used the voice features of Yahoo! Messenger, Google Phone, MagicJack and netTALK, and found the best to use were Google Phone and netTALK. I use Google Phone as an adjunct to my cell phone and to make long distance calls from work without incurring significant long distance phone charges. From home, for almost two years, I have been using a netTALK DUO (the DUO signifies that it works either by a direct connection to a router or to a live USB port), and have been very satisfied with its cost, functionality, clear call quality, and most of all, its U.S.-based live technical support.

Almost two years ago I wrote about the then new netTALK DUO, which eclipsed its main competitor, MagicJack, because it could work without a computer (connected directly to a network port on a router) and was fax compatible. While both MagicJack and netTALK DUO offered unlimited local and long distance calling for a low annual flat rate (about $25 to $30 per year), I switched from MagicJack to the netTALK DUO because the MagicJack model available at that time required an active USB connection in order to send and receive calls, and since I shut down my computer when it is not being used for a period of time, I lost my telephone connection for much of the day. Since the netTALK DUO connected directly to my router, it was always on even when my computer was shut down, giving it a distinct advantage over the MagicJack. Just to be fair, sometime after I switched to the netTALK DUO, MagicJack came out with a new model that offers similar connectivity (USB or router) as the DUO.

In the time that I have been using the netTALK DUO, it has almost always functioned flawlessly, allowing me to conserve cell phone minutes by using the DUO from home during prime minutes, and also using my DUO connection to send and receive faxes, both local and long distance. It would be totally practical and feasible to “Fire your phone company,” a slogan used by netTALK, and use the device as a sole or primary home phone service without a hard-wired connection to the local phone company, enabling substantial savings. I pay my local phone company more for a month’s local phone service than I pay netTALK for a year of unlimited local and long distance phone service! Once set up, my wired and cordless home phones connect to my netTALK DUO device as easily as plugging them into a wall jack. The only time that I lost phone connectivity with my DUO over the past two years was when an automatic “push” software upgrade to my DUO failed, causing it to lose its connection. I contacted netTALK’s technical support, and they remotely upgraded my device, restoring service. I sent an e-mail to the executives of netTALK complimenting the technicians who did such a professional job.

In recent weeks, I saw announcements that netTALK had introduced a new device, the netTALK DUO WiFi that allows the device to connect just like the DUO, by live USB port or direct router connection, plus provides for an alternative, fully functional connection via the common WiFi wireless connections that are so widely available. Eager to try this new technology, I ordered one and now have it to play with. Retailing for $64.95, the new netTALK DUO WiFi includes 12 months of unlimited local and long distance phone service (including the U.S. and Canada). Additional years of service can be purchased for $29.95.

In the box is the device, smaller than an average size cell phone, with a phone jack and network connection on one end, and a combination USB/power connection (standard USB cable with micro USB plug on one end) and a reset button on the other end. On the top edge is a multi-color LED that indicates the status of the device. Also in the box is an Ethernet cable, USB to micro USB cable, AC adapter, easy setup guide, and support information.

There are six steps listed on the “Easy Setup Guide” (seven steps if using the online guide to configure the WiFi feature), and I am performing those steps as I type this. Step one is to locate the user name and password that is on a peel-off sticker inside the box. Step 2 is to activate the DUO WiFi by connecting to the netTALK Web site. During the simple registration process, an E911 service address is created, which enables proper connection and identification to the local 911 service. Following the 911 process, the user can select a local phone number or arrange to transfer an existing phone number to the netTALK device; I decided to select a new phone number in my area code. One issue common with both MagicJack and netTALK is a dearth of local phone numbers in my 409 area code, only having local numbers for the Galveston and Texas City areas, almost 100 miles west of my location, but I selected a Texas City local phone number; it took a few minutes for the network to create my new phone number.Step 3 was to connect my telephone to the netTALK DUO WiFi; I have a multi-handset cordless phone, which I connected to the phone jack on the device. Step 4 is to connect the device to either a live USB port, router port, or WiFi. I already have my original DUO connected to my router, so I decided to connect this one to my existing wireless network. The instructions to connect to WiFi direct the user to, which repeats initial steps already completed (which can be skipped), and the steps to configure it for WiFi; the six steps in the Easy Setup Guide for USB or router connections are simple and fast, and none of the WiFi specific steps (below) are necessary. It needs to be noted that for those who may travel with the DUO WiFi, it can store information on up to 12 WiFi networks, allowing instant connection to each as necessary. The Web site (Step 4), required the downloading and installation of a “DUO WiFi Management Tool” (both Windows and MAC versions available), a 1.8 mb file that installed the proper drivers on the computer and then rebooted the computer; this tool enables the user to configure the DUO WiFi for a wireless network.

Step 5 is where the device is connected to the computer via USB, and to the telephone. If all goes well, the LED on the device will flash orange while connecting and then green when completed, followed by a single ring of the phone. Step 6 is selecting a WiFi network using the DUO WiFi Management Tool. The management tool attempted to detect and configure the DUO WiFi automatically, but since I have a hidden SSID and sophisticated encryption on my wireless-N router, the management tool required me to connect manually and enter my SSID, encryption mode and key, and other information, which quickly enabled the wireless connection between the DUO WiFi and my wireless-N router. For public-access WiFi, the DUO WiFi Management Tool will automatically configure the device.

The seventh and final step is “Get Ready to Make Calls Over Wi-Fi.” Instructions are to disconnect the DUO WiFi device from the computer (and phone, if using a different phone), connecting the USB cable to the AC power adapter that is supplied, and the device will connect via WiFi, indicating success (after a minute or two) with a green LED on the device, and a single ring of the phone.

Regardless of the mode of connection, USB, router or WiFi, the netTALK DUO WiFi is very feature rich including the unlimited local and long distance calls to the U.S. and Canada (first year included then $30/year), free DUO to DUO calls anywhere in the world, inexpensive flat rate or per minute calling to other countries ($5.85 extra per month for unlimited calls to Puerto Rico and Mexico, $10 per month extra for unlimited calls to the 60 countries listed at, free 411 directory assistance, enhanced 911 service, fax compatible, Videophone application, call waiting, caller ID, three-way calling, call forwarding, and conference calling.

Since the new netTALK DUO WiFi can easily provide phone service almost anywhere there is some type of Internet connection, is totally portable, so reasonably priced, and so feature rich, it could be an excellent alternative to more traditional phone service. With this netTALK device, as its commercials say, you really can “Fire your phone company!” and save substantial money.

Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM