My Ideal Phone System

We're getting ready to move and it's time to figure out the phone thing again. This will be the fourth phone decision our family is making in the past eleven years. And in a world that is moving fast, we've had an interesting path.

In 1999, we moved back to NYC from the suburbs and picked up a block of about ten 212 phone numbers from Verizon. We used one for our main line, each person in the family got a number, and we used one for fax. We ran them on a panasonic phone system with rollovers.

In 2001, we moved into another home and ported the numbers to a CLEC who provided us a voice T and we bought an inexpensive NEC PBX/phone system. That system worked great but it was overkill and expensive.

In 2007, we moved again and this time we ported the numbers to a VOIP provider and bought Cisco IP phones. That was a step backward in terms of functionality, particularly the phone handsets. I'm still paying for that decision at home.

So it's time to move again and this time I've put together this spec of the ideal phone system:

1) get a dedicated 768k internet connection from verizon (dsl probably)
2) buy SIP phones for everyone
3) connect all the SIP phones into a network with router and hang that off the dedicated internet connection
4) find a cloud based VOIP PBX out there that is commercially supported that provides dial tone
5) send my block of ~10 phone numbers to that provider
6) map the phone numbers to the SIP phones via the cloud based PBX
7) live happily ever after

I've been looking around for a "commercially supported cloud-based VOIP PBX that provides dial tone" for the past few weeks and I keep coming up empty on the SIP phones. I want this system to support any SIP phone I choose to put on the system.

That's the mistake I made last time. We went with a very good VOIP provider but they could only support the Cisco phones. And nobody in our home wants an office phone on their desk or in their bedroom. My kids are fine with routing their incoming calls to their cell phones. The Gotham Gal and I still want a traditional phone handset but we want something that you'd typically find in a home; wireless and with a headset.

It's really not about the handsets that each provider "supports." It's about a design principal that I take from the world of computers and the internet. When you get a new laptop, you don't worry if it will work on your home network and the internet. You simply connect to your wifi network or wired network and it works.

That's how I want my ideal phone system to work. I want to be able to walk into Best Buy, select any SIP phone that I like, buy it, bring it home, plug it in, and make a phone call.

So that's my ideal phone system. I tweeted it out last night and I've gotten dozens of suggestions which I will now cull through.

When I find the ideal phone system, test it out, and am sure I've found it, I'll report back and let you know where you can get it.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Josh Fleischmann

    The only thing I want is simple by comparison- A triple play from a company I don’t end up wanting to strangle.

  2. Chris Swan

    Fred,Expanding on my Tweet from yesterday…I think Ribbit Mobile will suit your requirements (and do a lot more besides).I’m about to try using their service as the sole telephony platform for my company (8 people) as we move to a new office.

    1. itamarl

      Ribbit is a nice service indeed, but I had to stop using it as I was getting lots of missed calls that never rang on my phone.

      1. fredwilson

        I’m in the doghouse at home over my last choice. Can’t mess this one up. Dropped calls will be the end of me!!

        1. Tereza

          Whoah. The word “doghouse” and two exclamation points.This is serious.All hands on deck, folks. We’ve GOT to save Fred!

    2. fredwilson

      Excellent. I will put them at the top of the list. I should have created a hashtag for that twitter Q&A so I could link to it on this post. My bad

  3. d4rr3ll

    I think the smart choice for you right now would be to ensure you ‘own’ your numbers, much like would own a domain and have control over where it gets routed to. This then gives you the flexibility to move your numbers around and point then at whatever SIP service meets your needs over the next few years. Once you are in control of your numbers your then platform agnostic and can swap and change as new products and businesses come along.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s how I look at it too. Is there a number hosting service out there that does just that?

      1. oriberger – they give you a number anywhere you want (subject to availability; 212 numbers are pricey, 917 are $5/month; numbers in New Zealand are $6/month, but venezuella will set you back $15/month).There are in fact many such providers – e.g. diamondcard, or even twilio, but didww is the only service I was able to find that doesn’t charge you for _incoming_ minutes, and gives you full control of your number.(I’ve been using them for over a year and the service is good. On the other hand, it is bare bones; e.g. they don’t offer any kind of termination, and fax support is flakey)

        1. fredwilson

          I’ve got a block of 212 numbers that I want to keep forever (or as long as I’m alive). I think of them like email addresses and domain names.I’d like to host them somewhere in the cloud, ideally independent of the dialtone and pbx provider. Can that be done?

          1. d4rr3ll

            You can’t manage them directly as such, much the same way as you do with domain names, you would need to port the numbers to a telco who has an agreement with a SIP provider, your calls would then get delivered to the SIP provider and they would route the SIP side of the call to wherever you configured.The main thing to consider here is what happens with the audio path, some suppliers will proxy the audio through their equipment adding an extra hop and therefore another point in the chain where you can get poor audio quality. Also if the equipment is in ‘the cloud’ (e.g. Amazon AWS) then audio will be going in and out of their network infrastructure (lots of hops, I’ve tried it). What you need is a supplier who will simply handle the SIP forwarding for you and leave the audio stream un-interrupted, so once the call is connected the audio stream will take the shortest route from the telco SIP gateway to your device.

          2. fredwilson

            This is complicated. The reason I want to isolate the vendor from the handsets, home network equipment, and phone number hosting is I am fearful of picking a bad provider and I’d love to be able to switch easily without having to think about the handets, router, and numbers

          3. d4rr3ll

            The glue in the middle of all this is SIP, as long as all the providers play nicely and follow the standards you should be in good shape. I think if you choose a provider in the middle that uses good open source software (Asterisk, Freeswitch, OpenSer, etc..) your safe there. Handsets can prove to be tricky, but I think the majority of new ones all tend to play nicely with SIP, there will always be quirks but these can be fixed on the PBX side if you have no luck with the handset provider.

          4. oriberger

            With number portability, this becomes much like domain name registration — you should be able to do that. Unfortunately, the whole registration/trading system is crazy complicated and as far as I know there is no “phone number registrar” you can rely on today that will guarantee YOU have control of your block of numbers even if _they_ go belly up (some domain registrars do, though not all). Can’t offer anything smart on that front.As for hosting in the cloud — that’s a bit of a problem. As d4rr3ll noted, for best sip call quality, your PBX server (e.g. asterisk) should connect the two endpoints, namely your phone and the other end, and step out of the way. This works, and works well — I I’ve been successfully running it for the last year on a $5/month VPS server.HOWEVER, if you want your PBX server to do anything nontrivial — be that reliable voice mail, 3 way conferencing, live call recording, or any other cool thingy — you need it to be well connected _and_ have hard real-time performance. To the best of my knowledge, no cloud service offers that. So whether you can “cloud source” it *today* depends on your feature and reliability requirements.I’m running a super-cheap international exchange for my family (self, wife, parents, friends), which gives me all-local-or-even cheaper calls across two continents, for about $20/month including two phone numbers, a VPS and termination service. To get it this low, I had to use three companies, and it’s not as plug-and-play as one would hope — I spend on average 2 hours a month on mails/chats with them to make sure things tick properly.

          5. fredwilson

            Ugh this confirms what I’ve suspected.

          6. paulhart

            While you’re looking for your solution, you can port them over to, and set up a relatively simple forwarding solution, with Twilio ๐Ÿ™‚ Eating dogfood is always fun.

          7. fredwilson

            I wanted to do all of this with twilio for obvious reasons. I’d love to host my block of phone numbers at twilio and then get dialtone and the cloud based pbx elsewhere

          8. paulhart

            If I wasn’t already working on a twilio-enabled app, I’d ask for a specific feature set.

          9. whitneymcn

            It’s a tangent, but I now regret not arranging to take over my parents’ 212 number (the one that I grew up with, they had it for ~40 years) when they moved out of NYC. I suppose it’s a weird thing to have an emotional connection to, but there it is.Also: it’s a design “principle” that you’ve taken from the world of computers — the design “principal” is the person who architects it for you. ๐Ÿ™‚

          10. fredwilson

            i make that mistake all the time regarding principals/principlesi’ve got something wired incorrectly in my brain

          11. whitneymcn

            25 years of my dad editing and proofing most of what I wrote left me withhim pretty much wired into my brain.

          12. Matt Bartus

            A bock of ten 212 numbers must have been a pretty darn good investment!

          13. fredwilson

            yup, just like and

      2. d4rr3ll

        we do just this @localphone as well, US numbers are $3 setup and then $0.99 per month rental, there is no charge for incoming calls. SIP forwarding of the numbers is not generally available yet, but we are about to rollout this feature pretty soon.

  4. oriberger

    I’ve given up on SIP phones — they’re ridiculously expensive, usually ugly, and lack features — the only reasonably priced ones are from Grandstream, and they cost only ten times as much as an “analog” version with the same capabilities.My solution so far is to use an analog phone connected to a SIP-to-Analog converter (called an “ATA”); I’m currently using an 2-line Audiocodes setup but probably switching to a 4-line Grandstream soon (Grandstream has an 8 and 24 line too). It lets me use my old, great quality, favourite wireless handset with the sip line, and still be able to configure anything non-trivial from the laptop or iphone.From my searches, home sip phones are not there yet.

    1. fredwilson

      Wow. That is a great suggestion. I’ll look into that. Can you get super small ATAs that don’t take up much deskspace?

      1. oriberger

        Grandstream has good quality at great prices – for a desk,… will probably have what you want. If you want one box for the whole house, look at… ; I’m not affiliated with grandstream in any way, but they’re of comparable quality to other vendors, and prices are consistently 30% to 50% less.I’ve found the HT-286 for sale for as little as $25 in the past, which is probably what you need if you put it on your desk right near the actual desktop phone unit; I’ve never used it myself though, only the HT-486 which is more featured.

        1. fredwilson


      2. Graham Siener

        The Linksys PAP2T-NA is a great small 2 line ATA:…Make sure you get the NA version (think unlocked)

  5. markslater

    i dont get it. everyone gets an iphone or a BB and job done.

    1. fredwilson

      Everywhere I work or live, including my home on long island has horrible cell service. Our new home does as well

      1. markslater

        hmmm. both devices will seamlessly go from cell to wifi if you are using services like skpye that are integrated with your phone number.THe end of POTS numbers is upon us anyway. pretty soon it will be a twitter ID or some other form of “address” that will link us all.but back to today – unless you want to look at the wifi / cell combo using a smartfone – you are back to a punchboard unfortunately.cant twilio help? i bet they’d have a novel approach.

        1. fredwilson

          Twilio can help but they won’t have something ready for prime time (aka the gotham gal) for a few more months

      2. Graham Siener

        A few cell providers have been offering femto-cells that basically bridge the gsm/wifi divide in hardware rather than software. I’ve been going to other route with an UMA enabled phone from T-Mobile and it’s served me well as I live abroad.

      3. rfradin

        I have an AT&T repeater for my house and a Verizon femto-cell repeater. Took a place with terrible terrible cell service into a place with excellent cell service.

        1. fredwilson

          Hmm. I am going to try to convince the gotham gal to go all cell. We’ll have to use some kind of cloud pbx to route our numbers to our cell phones.

        2. Tereza

          Can it work on a place that has no cell signal? ๐Ÿ™‚

      4. calabs

        Why wouldn’t cell phone companies want customers buying mini cell towers for their homes that connect to the network over the internet? A GSM repeater using the internet as one of the links.

        1. fredwilson

          I may build that in my home

        2. JoshuaGarrison

          I agreee to that idea. Why wouldn’t them? But, which company would actually do it?

  6. Dan Cornish

    Try Junction Networks. We use them to interconnect our Asterix PBX server. They offer a complete suite of hosted VOIP services. From a 1 person office to 100 people and everything in between. They have a really nice web interface to manage it all. What they have done is create a nice web interface to the Asterix PBX. http://www.junctionnetworks… or

  7. louis

    If you like to use multiple browsers [Chrome, Firefox, IE, etc.] my recommendation is to stay away from Verizon’s DSL service [except, possibly, as a backup service]. During the Verizon DSL install, it evidently makes some under the hood changes that allows their DSL service to function beautifully in your browser(s) of choice, however, if you decide to use another HS service, such as cable, you’re going to encounter major browsing problems as well as DSL uninstall problems [dll issues]. I know, I’ve just been there and backRegards,louis

    1. fredwilson

      I would just use verizon dsl for voipWe are using TWC’s 50/5 wideband offering for data, video, and audio (ie data)

  8. GraemeHein

    SIP phones… this brings back memories!I think you’re going to be disappointed in terms of retail phones – consumers are moving wholly to mobiles, especially the high end consumers who are the early adopters. Businesses are the ones still tied to landlines and willing to spend serious money on terminals, which gives you the office aesthetic for any phones that would have the features you’re looking for.The suggestion to get digital-analog converters is the best option. Might be a little flaky, but easier to rip and replace the converters than the phone system.I wouldn’t go with the Siemens – I’ve gone through a few versions of their gigasets and it was less than satisfying.As an alternative, why not look to stick with mobiles and fix the reception issues? You could offload your wireless service onto your home wifi. Not sure about the availability in the US, but Rogers in Canada offers Talkspot so that your compatible phones use your home wifi to make calls. It’s $15/mo for a family of up to 5 people. A commercial grade solution would be to get wireless boosters for your homes – very popular in office environments that have crappy reception thanks to the wonders of ferro-concrete.

    1. fredwilson

      This is really useful feedback. There are other reasons to avoid going straight to mobile. We like to transfer calls easily, conference, and intercom our kids.But I’m seriously thinking about using ATAs and trying mobile phones and a few consumer handsets

  9. HowieG

    I don’t know Fred. Do you really need the land connection? I would probably have one land line for the business phone if you don’t want those calls forwarded to your mobile. And the rest would be mobile. Seems like overkill. But I know your sales rep who sells you the system will love you!

    1. fredwilson

      There isn’t going to be a phone system. Its going to be something in the cloud. is 20/month per line and that’s for everything including dial tone. International calls are the only extra cost. Only issue is they want you to use polycom office phones. If they would support an ATA, I think they’d be the answer

      1. HowieG

        grasshopper understands now! very cool

        1. fredwilson

          I’m not sure who is grasshopper on this thread. Actually I am sure. Its me!

          1. HowieG

            i am grasshopper you are sensei! LOL at least in the areas of your expertise!

  10. Mark Essel

    My fiancรฉ and I go with mobiles. No land lines.I hardly ever have time to talk, so I keep my communications asynchronous (email) or skype at home (google talk has issues on my Ubuntu box).I prefer talking in person whenever possible.As far as ideals go, just give me a data plan smartphone and a cheap way to call folks with legacy phones if I have to.

  11. Jorgos

    The last couple of weeks I’ve been googling extensively to find a similar VOIP solution for my company. Our spec has been 10-15 numbers (selected individually), a simple hosted PBX and terminals. The findings have been disappointing though, I had really hoped for a more matured market segmentation by now – I cannot fully understand what the obstacles are.Regarding the phones, for now a softphone solution (on iphone/itouch) looks like the most promising for us. Of the apps I’ve tried out, Acrobit’s SIP-phone has by far been the best, even if it still lacks some critical stuff like support for SIP dialing between networks and option to change the ringtone (it’s horrible right now). No JB needed as the calls are notified by push.

  12. Adrian Bye

    i’m curious you’re willing to spend the time dealing with technical issues on your phones while this is still a fairly unstable area.why is it worth the effort?

    1. fredwilson

      you sound like the gotham gali like to live on the bleeding edgein fact, it’s the only place i am comfortableit causes problems at home at times

      1. Gerald Buckley

        That’s scary close to haiku Mr. Wilson.

      2. Tereza

        Don’t take this the wrong way but it sounds just like my parents. So I am laughing pretty hard.

  13. Gustaf Rosell

    This sounds like an overengineered solution to me. What we have at home (Sweden) is VOIP SIP gateway that connects to a simple consumer DECT system (Siemens) with several handsets. We only use one line, but the gateway supports two lines. This is the line we use for incoming family call and some international calls. We also use a few Skype accounts in an ad hoc manour from computers and cellphones. And every family member except the rabbit has its own cellphone with zero charging for internal calls. Works perfect for our needs.As someone else said here, I really hate most SIP phones. Siemens multi PSTN/VoIP DECT phones are relatively OK however, and I used them with the Asterisk PBX in an office earlier. Someone will surely run Asterisk in the cloud, but don’t know who in the US.

    1. fredwilson

      you and others are bringing me to my senses. i’ve overengineered this and amscaling back my ambitions in real timethanks

  14. frankgrillo

    Any SIP phone is a bit of a tall order,while we could promise it there is no way to guaranty that without some interop testing upfront. How would you feel about support for a broad range of SIP devices, such as Cisco, LG, Nortel, and Polycom? That would come with an equally broad array of soft clients supported. Our preferred model is to control the access ourselves – but given that this is a residential application I understand you wnting to order DSL – though 768 won’t cut it for 10 devices unless we’re talking very low utilization.If you’re game to give us a try we’re game to take the challenge.Frank

  15. tarun101

    Fred,We have very similar requirements. After much research I went with Callcentric.* They can host your 10 numbers.* They can forward those to any land or mobile numbers* Work with almost all software or hardware based SIP clients* You can get fancy and set up elaborate rules for call forwarding (to voicemail, another phone, another fax, error message)* We use one of our numbers as a calling card (so we can dial international from anywhere at cheap rates)In last 6 months with them, they have never been down for me and they have been around a long time.Get their “office unlimited” product. It comes with 3 lines by default but you can add more.You will need a dedicated internet line. We just use our cable internet provider and have never had any issues but there are also SIP trunking providers out there. For more flexibility, hook up callcentric to for a very nice on-cloud PBX.I will also recommend that ATA thing. It is worth it if you want those fancy B&O phones or something (who doesnt).Also, do not lose patience. The flexibility you get with SIP is worth it. I love taking calls on my macbook and then transferring them to my cellphone when I am heading out.

    1. fredwilson

      this is promising. thanks!!

  16. John Frankel’s virtual office is what you are looking for, with one exception. You have to buy the SIP phones from them. I believe it is a compatibility issue to make sure that the network features are fully functional on the phone.Virtual Office is like Google Voice on steroids – voicemail transcriptions that can be understood, each person can share a phone number that “hunts” for them on the SIP phone or their cell phone, and you can also create speed dials within the menu so that they only need to call the home number (which can be a 1-800 number as well as the regular number) to access the speed dial menu. In addition, the menu can be set up so late at night it encourages the kid’s friends to patch through to the kids directly and not ring the home phones unless it is an emergency – less having the phone ring at 1:00am with “is James there?”.Though Virtual Office is designed for a small business it has been a boon in our house, especially as it works with regular phones, mobile phones, SIP phones etc.

    1. fredwilson

      i’ve looked at thatbut the number one thing i am not going to do is lock into any specifichardwarei want to isolate each part of the value chain here

    2. Ari Rabban

      This is Ari from — would love to have Fred as a customer :-)One correction: you can bring your own IP Phone or ATA and we will help you configure it as needed. Just that it is easier of course to work with the hardware we recommend and support regularly,

      1. fredwilson

        I will give a lookover

  17. mcbeese

    The ATA option is by far the best solution for handsets. Don’t waste your time with SIP handsets – they all look like they were designed by engineers for engineers. I use a very nice set of cordless phones with a Skype ATA. I previously used the same phones with a Vonage ATA. (Note: SIP specifically isn’t important to me at home. I just wanted dialtone and changing ATAs was easy and cheap. Now I use Google Voice on top to manage call routing features.)THIS product from at&t will solve your in-home iPhone reception issues. solution from at&t will solve your in-home iPhone reception problems:

    1. fredwilson

      a common suggestion in this thread and very helpful to methanks!

  18. Jason Richelson

    I have been using for about 5 years now. I have gone through a lot of pain with them but they are much better now. I use them for my 3 location wine and grocery chain and my software company. It is a complete PBX from the cloud and if you don’t want to use IP phones you can route to landlines or cell. The big step for me was to transfer my verizon lines into ringcentral last month which took only a few days. I am now 100% in the cloud for phones. Ringcentral will do everything you have mentioned above.

  19. btucker

    My experience is anything you connect to a sip provider is going to suck. VOIP just can’t compete with POTS. At work we tried going VOIP and had to reverse course after a year & tons of dropped calls w/ frequent bad sound quality. We still use all our SIP phones (snoms) connected to an asterisk box which has cards in it which just connect it to the regular phone lines. Not a single dropped call in the last year that I know of & the quality is always constant. We also pay just a little more than we used to with our top-tier sip provider.When setting up the asterisk box (a trixbox appliance) it gives you this message if you try to add a sip provider. Exactly our experience:

  20. davidu, backed by the guys from, which is a major B2B VOIP network provider. You can use any IP phones you want and it’s about $20/phone/month. All the standard PBX / call-routing options exist. Lots of VOIP startups are piggybacking on’s network and APIs.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s who i wanted to usethey want me to use polycom phones and their custom configured routerthat’s not how i want to do this

    2. Jason Richelson

      How long has been around? The thing about PBX in the cloud is how incredibly complex it is. Ringcentral has been at it for at least 5 year (thats how long i have been using them so probably longer) I have seen their growing pains but they seem to have it working well now. You can use any IP phone you want (or ATA) with no router needed. My pain has come from firewalls and once I put the IP phones OUTSIDE the firewall on a cable modem they work great.

      1. fredwilson

        I’m gonna give ringcentral a good look

      2. pwb

        Phonebooth is provided by which has been around a long time and way more legit than RingCentral. The Phonebooth service while looking very promising is still fairly new and doesn’t have quite all the features. RingCentral has a very good set of features, attractive pricing but still needs to sort out reliability and customer support.

        1. fredwilson

          I wanted to go with phonebooth but they won’t support ata and sip phones I want to use

  21. Siminoff

    I feel as though I might have failed you:)You are 100% correct in that the cloud based VOIP PBX people have taken the traditional PBX and just thrown it into the cloud without really looking at how to leverage the cloud or the power of it.The closest thing to what you are talking about now is Skype, in that you can buy any Skype enabled device, put in your credentials and be up and running. Check out things like, is a space that is forming around this and as you know my opinion is that it will not only be about VOIP but the integration of the “traditional phone” to be with both video and voip. While video is exploding on the computer, having a separate purpose built device like the Tandberg E20,, is something that I think will be valuable long into the future.There are definitely some people working towards this goal, including myself, and one of them you invested in, Twilio.

    1. fredwilson

      if skype could host our phone numbers and could support traditional phonehandsets via an ATA, it might be the answer

      1. Siminoff

        It is not there yet, however they are 100% going in that direction. Remember the main owner of Skype is also the main owner of Nortel/Avaya thelargest PBX vendor in the world…This space is going to be a lot of fun and see some major changes over thenext few years.

  22. RichardF

    I know it’s not in your time frame but now that Niklas and Janus are back I don’t think it will be too long before Skype will be solving problems like yours.My wife hated using Skype until I hooked up a Philips dual phone, now she doesn’t even think about the fact that she is using Skype to call her brother in the US and neither does he when he calls our US SkypeIn number.

    1. fredwilson

      i would love to make skype my phone companyi have to keep my wife happy too thoughseems like you understand that requirement very well!

      1. RichardF

        my wife dislikes technology with a passion however she said to me on the weekend “technology doesn’t impress me at all but the fact that you can set the Sky+ box (it’s like a Tivo but Rupert Murdoch owns it) to record a TV programme from your iPhone when we are out of the house is pretty amazing”…so maybe I’m making progress in introducing technology into her life. It’s the iPad next ๐Ÿ˜‰

        1. fredwilson

          Same with gotham as my friend howard calls her

      2. Tereza

        Happy wife, happy life.

  23. Christopher Conway

    Fred,My company, GreenT Digital does personal technology upgrades and an important part of that is upgrading peoples phone system to VOIP and integrating it with the rest of their digital world.Running through your requirements, here are some thoughts:1) get a dedicated 768k internet connection from verizon (dsl probably)*When you get a dedicated line, make sure to get a Static IP, not dynamic, IP address as Verizon DSL’s dynamic dsl usually uses PPOE which can cause registration drops (phone doesn’t ring), stutter (voice dropouts), and latency (delay).*Also, although it costs more, consider getting your dsl service from someone other than Verizon. In the event that something is wrong on the line, dealing with them can be ‘challenging’, very ‘challenging’.2) buy SIP phones for everyone*The great thing about SIP is that there are plenty of phones to choose from and they need not all be of the same brands or types. So you can have a ten line manager style phone in your office and the kids can have cordless phones in their rooms. tends to have the best selection and best pricing if you want to get an idea. I like Aastra and would recommend staying away from Cisco as their equipment is extremely ‘finicky’.3) connect all the SIP phones into a network with router and hang that off the dedicated internet connection*That gets more complicated based on the wiring in your house and where your internet connection is located. You don’t want to use Wifi to connect as the quality is terrible. If you don’t have ethernet to all rooms, then I would say you should use a wireless DECT system with a base station (same technology as used by analog cordless phones) that connects to a router independent of the rest of the local network. The Aastra 420D is great ( as is the Siemens S675 ( The Siemens does not support headsets though.* Definitely make sure that regular Internet and VOIP are separate, if not physically, then virtually as any streaming services on your network (youtube, bittorent,etc) will kill your call quality.4) find a cloud based VOIP PBX out there that is commercially supported that provides dial tone5) send my block of ~10 phone numbers to that provider6) map the phone numbers to the SIP phones via the cloud based PBX*These are all related of course. I would add the following specifications to these:-Has a local point of presence hear in New York as connecting to a local server hugely improves quality.-Has low ‘pay-as-you-go’ and per DID pricing as I doubt you want to pay $29.95 for each of ten lines and the spectrum of pricing is very, very broad. Also check porting costs and ask if they have a volume discount (most do).-Has a website configuration page that doesn’t require a PhD to use.-Has user programmable outgoing Caller ID so you can do Google Voice (or equivalent services) integration or to just make sure that call backs come on your cellphone. -Have porting capability so you can transfer your lines in. Some don’t, like Sipgate.My favorites based on these criteria would be,, and live happily ever after-This one is beyond my scope, but not using Cisco equipment will definitely help.Hope this makes sense and helps.Chris

    1. fredwilson

      great comment and i loved the end of itthanks. this is very helpful2010/3/16 Disqus <>

  24. Brooke Dixon

    magicjack? just $19.95/year and satisfaction is guaranteed.Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

  25. jamiequint can do everything you mention here (phone agnostic, etc). Their online interface is great, its flexible and its easy to do pretty much anything you can think of without having to go read an FAQ.I also suggest pairing your phone system with an Edgemarc router to prioritize voice traffic. Its basically just a packet shaper with a focus on VoIP features and works very well. In fact it is what DISQUS uses since we sold it to them when we shut down Snaptalent, and even on our crappy DSL line in that office we never had a problem with voice quality.Also, I have transferred numbers to them in the past, and while it is a pain – I think you have to fill out some paperwork to do it – I think that is mostly a result of the backend system for transferring numbers rather than a problem with any provider.

    1. fredwilson

      Sweet. I’ll give them a good look

    2. kenberger

      +1 on the recommendation. They offer “HD Voice”. We use them in our shop in Vietnam, and give all our US customers compatible handsets. The quality is consistently like you are whispering directly into the other person’s ear. Reasonable service prices, and we’re happy customers.Downside is you do in fact need a bulky, officey, pricey Polycom unit or the like, though there are upcoming softphone and other solutions– (I pair mine w/ a hi-end wireless headset, though it degrades the audio). I’m also not sure about the “cloud PBX” features.

  26. Jon Smirl

    Use a bluetooth enabled analog phone system. Put the linked device (or similar, there are many) somewhere in the house where you have reliable cell service. When you come home put your cell phone in the charger next to it. The cell phone will bond to it and make the radio based analog phones ring with a distinctive ring. You can bond up to five cell phones depending on model.Take the analog phone input of the device and send it into a SIP ATA adapter for a VOIP line. You can get multi-line versions of these devices.The radio handsets will have distinctive rings for each phone line. Some models function as intercoms between handsets. Cell service will be reliable since the phone isn’t moving. It will also have a distinctive ring for each cell phone bonded.When my new house is finished I may be forced into locating a femtocell next to the bluetooth to analog system since cell service is awful all over my house. Theoretically the femtocell will be reliable since nothing is moving and everything can be adjusted to optimal positioning.

    1. fredwilson

      Wow. That’s a very cool hack. I might have to try that. Is it wife proof?

      1. Jon Smirl

        I have an older bluetooth to analog system that doesn’t always connect to the phone. So she will set the phone down and then it won’t ring on the analog phones sometimes. I will get a newer one when house is ready next month. Hopefully the connectivity problems will be fixed.She also has to remember to plug her phone into the charger next to the device and not leave it in her pocket. Couple this with a wireless charging mat and you can eliminate the plug in step.

        1. fredwilson

          Just sent you a private email Jon. I’m eager to dig deeper on this idea

  27. Mark

    Fred dig in and stay awhile,moving that often is insane… you only get to really know a house once you have been together for 10+ years…. And 10+ numbers holy cow, you guys must be uber connected…

    1. fredwilson

      I moved every year as a kid. I was an army brat. Five years seems like a lifetime in one place to me. I get antsy

  28. troygroberg

    My business partner and I just successfully setup our own solution that sounds like exactly what you are looking for. We are not planning on offering it as a commercial service but the info may be useful for you.We have our own phone server (freepbx and asterisk) setup at the office and Grandstream SIP phones. We host our phone number with Voipstreet. We can add unlimited phone numbers (trunks) and phones to our server.We are in the process of moving offices and we wanted to make sure that we wouldn’t have any interruptions in our phone service. Last night we moved to server to my partners house (with a static IP) and reconfigured it. This morning we tried different phones at a couple different locations that do not have a static IP. The results were simple plug n play. So far we haven’t tested any other SIP phones but in theory, they should work just the same with minimal setup.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s the kind of flexibility I am seeking

  29. andrewparker

    You didn’t list price sensitivity in your spec… In sounds like the PBX solution in 2001 worked well but was very expensive. Why not just go back to that?A VoIP solution of any flavor will be bottlenecks by the flakiness of internet connectivity, which in Manhattan is not a trivial limitation.

    1. ShanaC

      because secretly, we’re all a bit cheapsake.

    2. fredwilson

      Price is an issue. I hate paying a lot of money for something I barely use (voice)This thread has taught me a lot and that’s why I wrote itIts taught me that ‘my ideal phone system’ is not my ideal phone systemIts making me think about going entirely with wireless carriers for voice and using the cloud pbx simply to host our ‘land line numbers’ and route calls to the cell phones

      1. andrewparker

        Once every phone carrier and model offers femtocel (why hasn’t this happenedyet??) cell-only solution will be excellent… but all carriers’ covereageseems to be pretty crappy along the westside highway for some reason. Ican’t get reliable service for any major carrier in my apt.

        1. fredwilson

          I may try repeaters instread of femtocells

          1. andrewparker

            Buy a good one. I had bad luck with a crappy consumer one.

      2. Tereza

        Would GG be OK with calls meant for ‘the family phone’ to route to her cell phone? You may have to negotiate that…. Or then establish several “family cell phones”?There’s something liberating about your cell phone not being on your person when you’re at phone. But then again, I have no signal so i’m probably in the minority.I’d feel like I’d have to establish spots where the ‘family cell phones’ anchor lest they go the way of reading glasses and coffee mugs….sprinkled all over the house…and yet not where I need them when i need them.

      3. Chris Jones

        Ok – had to respond here too – just two things – I think the people suggesting you go back to an old school PBX are crazy – and I started out working for AT&T in the early 90s managing them, so I get the reliability factors, etc…As to your wants, I think you may want to actually USE the PBX, but just take advantage of find-me/follow-me for the cell-phone bit. Your call if you just want the DID’s forwarded to cells directly, but it’s useful if no-one answers at home to try my cell or my wife’s before sending the call back to the home vmail.

  30. PhilipSugar

    I was really hoping to see somebody come up with the “magic bullet” I’ve been thinking since 1989 this would eventually become “automagically done”I think the problem is we all want it a bunch of ways: absolute quality, absolute flexibility, and low cost. So you can use magic jack, one cell phone with booster, but everything else is a kludge.I know this probably marks me as a luddite but the best I’ve found is the Panasonic small business system KX-TD line.Going to Verizon having the 10 numbers hunt to four lines that have unlimited long distance and a separate internet connection.You can use analog, digital, whatever phone set you want.You are locked into the main cabinet….but it doesn’t cost that much and while Verizon sucks, everybody else blows and they definitely still support their land-lines.The only other thing I’d say is while it feels really stupid to deal with wiring having good wiring makes all the difference and its a one time only cost. Since you need to plug everything in eventually for power, it makes sense to have lots of wiring all going down to a central patch panel and then having multiple patch panels for things such as the phone system all well marked with an alpha numeric system, then interconnected with cheap 3ft color coded patch wires.Sounds dumb but it just works. You want to move extension X or port Y from Jack A to Jack B?? My 5 year old can do it unplug color coded patch wire from Jack A plug to Jack B. 5 seconds.Add a big battery backup……setup….runs for 5 years.(I know this doesn’t put you out on the bleeding edge), but that’s how simple I want it…..and nobody has been able to give it too me…use ATA’s, Edgemark Routers, don’t use Cisco, go with somebody other than Verizon because they won’t give you a static IP…yuck…..On that last one I know its not fair but if the company providing service has to use somebody else’s last mile….I’ve never had any luck. Its in the best interest of the company that owns the last mile to F with the company providing service and you’re the pawn.

    1. fredwilson

      That was what we had in 1999. I can’t bring myself to go back there. I agree that it works

      1. PhilipSugar

        If you’re doing this as part of learning I agree. If people here are looking for a solution and just want the problem solved, the new systems have lots more features, if you combine with voicemail transcription services, and good wiring it really works.I was working with a company that was doing VOIP over cable in the early ’90s in the UK. I thought PBX’s would be dead in 10 years but I was wrong.And I’m serious about the wiring, everything terminates to an RJ45 port, premise wiring on one side equipment on the other, all marked well, all connected with $.80 patch cords. Most tech guys won’t touch wiring, and most wiring guys have no clue about technology. Took me a while to figure that out…the wiring guys will tell you it won’t work unless its punched down to a 66 block.You want to sit in my office and use the internet off our corporate LAN….that jack is usually in the conference room. What to do? Unplug D25 and plug into D32, quicker than getting a cup of already made coffee.One last piece most alarm systems only work over POTS….I want a good alarm system.

  31. Guest

    Good luck with that Fred. I worked with VoIP for the past 3 years and there are quite a few interesting solutions out there. In my opinion, a good dedicated broadband will be more than enough to provide high quality, as long as the phones are good enough as well. Try Polycom phones for a good professional alternative to Cisco. Can’t help with the IP-PBX though, the product we were selling was an on-site IP-PBX for small businesses, not so much for the small office/home office market.

  32. ShanaC

    Despite the fact that I grew up with VOIP, I have no idea what to say. I’m going to send this to my Dad, he sets this up for people (note: Long Island got hit brutally by the weather, including my area…)

    1. Tereza

      So his phone’s out?

      1. ShanaC

        Dunno, we shall see.

  33. onsip

    Thanks to everyone who suggested OnSIP.Fred – Give us a call if you’d like to discuss your phone service needs. 1-800-801-3381. We support all SIP phones, and we review them too.… . We’d be glad to help you live happily ever after. Great blog post!

    1. fredwilson

      Will do

  34. Eric Leebow

    You should check this one out by DSP Group. Being someone who likes gadgets, this is the one to get.

  35. PhilipSugar

    I really want somebody to prove me wrong but I think it will be like slingbox or pogoplug somebody will have to make a box where you plug in the connection/s to the internet you plug in your analog phones/wireless phones/SIP Phones/Computers/Wifi Modems and it just works.

  36. Adam Sterling Lawrence

    I would recommend a system from Agito Networks. They provide VoIP through WiFi and 3G on most smart phones. You’d get all the functionality without the cost of new desktop phones. The WiFi would also take care of poor cell reception.

  37. Andre D

    BB only for me.

  38. enrolled agent exam

    I like the example o the laptop– “When you get a new laptop, you don’t worry if it will work on your home network and the internet. You simply connect to your wifi network or wired network and it works.” This is a good point. Why can’t phones be this way?

    1. fredwilson

      That’s what I want to know too

  39. trevorusken

    Hi Fred,My name is Trevor Usken and I am the Community Manager for Focus. Focus is the world’s fastest-growing business research and media company. We provide business buyers with business research. Our CEO, Scott Albro, published your question in our Question and Answer section on Focus and we got some interesting feedback.To summarize: most respondents brought up the issue of call quality and interference when using cordless VoIP phones in the vicinity of wireless networks. It was suggested to make sure your overall system is supported with both DSL filters and DECT equipment, along with keeping one analog line specifically for use with important conference calls, webinars, etc. RingCentral and OnSIP were the only two vendors recommended for use by our users.After reviewing the bulk of the responses you received on your blog post, itโ€™s safe to assume that OnSIP would be a very strong contender for you. Other hosted PBX contenders (not previously mentioned) might include: Vonage (they provide their own ATA) and ViaTalk. ATAโ€™s appear to be a viable option for you as well. Ooma is another phone service provider, but offer a sleek ATA-type device that may be worth your while.The last piece of advice the Focus team can leave you with is to take your time, and demo several options. With your list of requirements itโ€™s imperative you give your top choices a couple of demos to ensure you make the correct choice.Best of luck. We look forward to hearing how this search worked out for you.

    1. fredwilson


  40. RDP

    I live in Seattle and just ported my Qwest number to It’s $14.95 per line per month, but they have great features, the USB analog adapter works well (although the softphone client works better). I currently forward calls to my Google Voice account to take advantage of Google’s somewhat sketchy automated transcription. They just came out with Line2 for the iPhone which is the first application to do VoIP over AT&T’s 3G network. Hopefully the app will migrate to the iPad as well. They don’t support SIP because they say customers had too many firewall traversal issues. Caller ID number works well but Caller ID name has been intermittent.Fonality seems to have a nice small business solution for $24.99 per user per month, they seem to only offer desk phones though. As others mentioned an ATA or USB adapter allows you to choose nice Panasonic or other cordless analog phones.

    1. rafer

      Fred, Toktumi also produces the Line2 iPhone app that Pogue just wrote up as the first real WiFi voice app on the iPhone. It’s a powerful combo.…Oren and I pitch in there a bit and the founder would be happy to get you all squared away.

      1. fredwilson

        I don’t use an iPhone scott. I’ll see if its on android

  41. levent

    hi fred,try teliax, it does exactly what you describe, they do have a POP in NYC. we have been very happily using them for our business for the last 2 yrs. they have relatively good support as well. we also had to port 3 numbers from verizon, and it took about 2.5 half weeks and was rather smooth.

  42. Martin

    I would recommend the KONNECT Office Phone System.See…No PBX or hosted service required ! Just install KONNECT phones, and they self-organize into a high quality phone system, and work effortlessly across multiple sites.The KONNECT phones are very easy to operate. Within the home environment, you can page all/individual phones. They can seamlessly work with your landline(s), and handle VoIP services simultaneously. You can also set up cell phones as extensions to your KONNECT Office Phone System.Fred can set it up himself in minutes with minimal fuss or technical know how.Regards.

  43. seancallahan

    Google voice or a similar service might help. No need to have to worry about your phone numbers at least…it will always be the same.

  44. bobsMitel

    Mitel could help with this.

  45. Michael_Brucker

    Hello Fred,Great post! This is Michael from RingCentral. We’re reading through all the great comments below. We’d love to talk to you about how RingCentral can meet your need for an ideal phone system.Please contact Dave DeMink at 650-242-8813 (or daved (at) when you’ve got a couple minutes. I’ve spoken with Dave and sent him this posting so he’s already up to speed.

  46. cjonesmo

    Oh – I figured that you were asking for hundreds of responses from VOIP providers with a post like that, BUT – I’ve been running a VOIP PBX in the cloud for over a year now with a few hundred clients on it – all businesses, and it works great and does all that you’ve asked for. I connected a Cisco ATA 186 at my house (because that’s what Vonage used to send out – probably still does) – and just plugged that into a jack to make all of my existing phone jacks live with dial-tone. My cordless works, my kitchen wall telephone works, etc… so I’m all good. I’ve got a SNOM 320 in my office with multiple call appearances, transfer, conference, hold, etc… normal business phone goodies.At any rate, I’ve been at this for a while and our service works great. Drop me a note if you’re interested. I’m sure you’ve gotten 100+ other answers just like this one. My website is a little more bent on our managed services and dialing systems, so please excuse that, but the phone service is really decent and just what you want if you’re interested.

    1. Chris Jones

      Sorry, but one more thing – Fred, if you want to try my system out – if you have 1 or more SIP phones, call or mail me and I’ll give you an account and a DID so that you can try it out. I’m not posting a plug or other info here because we normally only handle businesses and I don’t want hundreds of requests for home phone service.

  47. Ray Gauss II

    It sounds like you’re getting close to a solution but I’ll second oriberger’s response: termination/origination service <-> PBX <-> SIP a bit of a pain to get setup and maintain.I had to go a step further to accommodate fax and alarm system monitoring so I’ve now got a patch panel in the basement with each outlet in the house wired for line1=ATA and line2=POTS. The POTS land line is also split into an FXO which links the POTS line to the PBX, so when a call comes in on the land line, it rings the PBX, and I can do what I want with it.One thing to note is that most ATAs won’t have enough voltage to ring more than a few devices split on the same FXS port so be careful has been a decent termination/origination service for me and has a modified kernel for their VPSes that virtually eliminates the timing issues oriberger is referring to regarding conferencing, etc. They’ve got several flavors of asterisk plus GUI distributions ready to fire up.If I didn’t need the alarm monitoring and fax I’d probably port my existing numbers to Vitelity and forward from there to Google Voice, no PBX.Let’s hope Google starts inbound number porting and that their acquisition of Gizmo5 yields a product soon so tech nerds everywhere can lead a somewhat simpler life.

  48. Michael

    Fred, Your 1st issue is that you’ve been reading the industry swill re: SIP. The SIP protocol provides no standard for end-point support, so everyone who developed call control for SIP did their own thing vis-a-vis endpoint support. That means if your common carrier is providing dialtone via a VocalData, Broadsoft, Cisco, Sylantro, et al server, then the SIP phone mix available varies accordingly. Also, it means that the human interface varies even when several of the vendors support the same phone.As an aside, NTT established the interface they wanted and VocalData developed it. This had the affect of enabling any phone vendor to develop a phone that was able to participate in a mass market. Not so in the U.S. I was unable to convince Sylantro and Broadsoft to create a vendor forum (that’s how ATM got it’s compatibility boost) to agree upon a common SIP end-point “standard”. Now that Broadsoft owns VocalData and Sylantro, hopefully they’ll move to a common interface. Even then, until a SIP standard is created, either through the standards process or a vendor forum, the concept of simply purchasing the next great SIP phone, plugging it in and having a functional phone is just that — a concept. The other side of this is that until such a standard exists, the phone manufacturers are going to be selling into vendor-specific pools which does little to drive prices down.

  49. Garrett Smith

    Hey Fred,Garrett Smith here with VoIP Supply ( We sell lots and lots of VoIP equipment to folks just like you AND certainly feel your pain. We’ve got over a dozen different phone systems, work with over 100 different providers and yes, carry over 300 different SIP phones.I understand how complex something that seems simple can get.I could go to great lengths on selecting a SIP phone, but I’d love the opportunity to work with you offline to find the ideal set-up, including those SIP phones. In the mean time, for those of you interested in learning more about the various SIP phones available and the technology powering them, check out this guide we wrote to VoIP phones (it’s free):

  50. jenslapinski

    Not sure this is relevant.I have two phone systems at home. One is the standard landline. I am keeping that largely for emergency purposes in case the Internet shuts down.I then have a normal broadband router. Into that router, I can plug in as many little Vonage boxes as I like. Each box essentially comes with its own telephone number. I can connect any type of handset I like with each box. I use a wireless Pansonic, but any would work.What this means is the following: buy a router that supports as many Ethernet ports as you need handsets. Buy these little Vonage boxes with associated telephone numbers. Just plug in the telephones. You could buy phones with a base station and a separate hand set, so they could be put into separate rooms. Done. Connection quality is great and it is dirt cheap. I routinely call into some exotic countries (to mobiles there) and it costs me next to nothing.Best of all, when you move house, you simply take that arrangement with you and plug it into your new location. Done. Nothing else needs changing. I find this so pianless, I am going to stick with it for foreseeable future.

  51. JoshuaGarrison

    Voip is always my number 1 solution. I don’t care about devices. I travel a lot and use Skype most of the time.

  52. calitalieh

    Fred, while I am not working on or have expert knowledge of ideal SIP phones, I am working on a technology solution to completely re-think the entire business-customer voice model. Any chance I could send you the overview deck for some feedback? Given your background, it would be invaluable to me and my team. Thanks.

  53. RichP

    Fred: For nice looking “normal” sip phones check out the Siemens Gigaset Dect Cordless A580IP phone… The base can handle 5 SIP lines & 1 Pots line and then you can add more DECT Handsets. I’m taking one with me to Aruba to play a little with different voip providers on a crappy hotel internet line ๐Ÿ˜‰ I figure after a few drinks it will all sound good!You’ve received some good suggestions for SIP providers: RingCentral, OnSip, SipGate, PhoneBooth, Skype(skype now has a SIP product btw). I have also been checking out Aretta, Broadvoice, Vocalocity & Fonality.You can also you use an iphone or android phone as a SIP phone…mostly on Wifi though.Good Luck!

  54. jim boyle

    my ideal phone system for home is one that never rings. cannot remember last time someone that i wanted to talk to called my on my home phone number.

    1. Tereza

      That’s so true!

  55. Alexander Ainslie (@AAinslie)

    Just spotted this: Skype for SIP adds new IP PBXs and gateways for SMBs:

  56. fredwilson

    i’ll check it outthanks2010/3/16 Disqus <>

  57. fredwilson

    I’m headed in that direction although I may park my numbers somewhere other than google