Vodafone has just released a gizmo that re-routes your home phone calls over its cellular network, quite literally pulling the plug on your Telecom landline.
"Vodafone at home" is a $99 box, the size of a beer mat but a couple-three centimetres deep, with two standard jacks to plug in any old home phone. An aerial on the box then beams your home phone calls over Vodafone's cellular network rather than your home's Telecom line.
Thanks to a regulatory change that's been in force since April, you can keep your current phone number if you do choose to switch (to Vodafone at home or, a couple of technology leaps away, a VoIP service run by an ISP. Whichever service provider you switch to can call Telecom on your behalf to arrange things).
The monthly service, also called Vodafone at home, cost the same as a standard Telecom home account ($40), but Vodafone includes unlimited calls nationwide. That is, bye bye toll charges. Calls to Vodafone mobiles in New Zealand will cost 39 cents per minute and calls to other mobiles are 55 cents per minute. International calls are based on Vodafone's existing fixed-line offers.
Plug and call
I set up an eval unit this morning (pictured), bracing myself for the niggles that come with any first-generation product. However, set-up was plug and play, and I was able to make my first call within two minutes. Call quality was fine. The only difference was that - as if I was using a cellphone - I had to dial 09 before making a local Auckland call (for the Vodafone at home box has a SIM card inside). I'm going to call my brother in London when the time's a bit more amenable, so check in on tomorrow's update to see how international call quality turned out.
Like a Woosh modem, the Vodafone at home box (officially called an XSJack T2, according to its slim manual) has lights on its exterior. Three green bars - which I got, in central Auckland - means signal strength is optimum. If you have difficulty getting a strong signal (and my colleague Juha Saarinen reports such strife) then there's a - again Woosh-style - extender aerial with a long cable that ends in a sucker you can attach to a window. The T2 does need an AC outlet, too.
Telecom snipes back
Telecom spokeswoman Rebecca Earl was quick to strike back via our sister site Stuff, where she said
the value of home lines went beyond calling and was how broadband and Sky interactive services were accessed and alarms monitored. Mobile was not considered by the telecommunications industry as the preferred platform for the diverse services customers demand.
"This move has been well signalled for some time, and we think relying on mobile technology as a household's only link with the world will suit only a niche group of customers."
When I put Earl's comments to Vodafone spokesman Paul Brislen, he replied: "This is only the first generation device on offer. Future versions will include capability for data, alarm monitoring and so on. The at home device today is really only the tip of the iceberg and there's plenty more to come."
Brislen also expects Telecom's response to go beyond Earl's war of words: "National toll calls are worth $150m a year to Telecom. The fixed line business brings them in $1bn. They're going to have to respond somehow."