Thursday, January 21, 2016


Cutting the cord


REMEMBER WHEN THE FEDS "broke up" AT&T into a bevy of Baby Bells?

Remember how long it took for the Baby Bells to congeal into the "new" AT&T?

When if comes to copper leases, AT&T has little competition, and it prices its product accordingly.

Still, AT&T has competition in the air.

Not only cellular phones, including its own brand, but VoIP - Voice over Internet Protocol - from companies such as

VoIP Telephony Vendor Sampling

Home SystemsBusiness Systems
Via TalkPhonebooth

Above information from Next Advisor and is not "all inclusive."

Unlike Ma Bell's copper landline, when the power goes off, the telephone system also goes off unless the user's Internet connectivity (router, modem) has a back-up power supply. The landline phone gets its power from the telephone company Central Office; if power goes out to a business or residence, the phone still works.

There is another option: cellular.

When cellular, or mobile, telephony was new, phones were bulky and service areas were limited. Back in 1949, AT&T introduced the first mobile service in the U.S. Not many customers could afford the roughly $175/month the mobility feature cost. The phones were a bit pricy, too.

The problem with current cell phones is they are, for some, too small and often the clarity falls short of the land line phone.

Is there a compromise?

Turns out there is.

Consumer Cellular (and AT&T as well) has a device that essentially turns a landline phone into a cell phone. Consumer Cellular, hereafter "CC," customers disconnect their phones from the copper leash and connect one phone to CC's ZTE Wireless Home Phone Base

According to CC, the device can be used with either a landline phone or a cordless phone. It may be connected to the base station of a cordless phone system.

The problem with the CC (and AT&T) device is that it needs AC to operate, The unit does include a stand-by battery, but if a power outage longer than 3 hours, the battery may fail. Unlike a cell phone battery that can be charged in a vehicle, the ZTE is charged only from AC.

On the other hand, CC customers HAVE cell phones else they probably would not be CC customers.

CC's ZTE manual reminds that cordless phones need AC to operate and even though the ZTE device has a 3-hour talk time battery, if the power is off, the cordless phones are useless. (The regular cell phones will, like Mighty Mouse, save the day.) Alternatively, hang on to the old POTS copper-leashed telephone and plug it into the CC device.


CC's user manual warns that

    The Wireless Home Phone Base is not compatible with data or messaging services, home security systems, fax service, medical alert systems, medical monitoring systems, credit card machines, IP/PBX Phone systems, or dial-up Internet service. May not be compatible with your DVR/Satellite systems, please check with your provider. DSL customers should contact their provider before transferring a phone number to ensure uninterrupted DSL Internet service.

    The Wireless Home Phone Base cannot be used to make 500, 700, 900, 976, 0+ collect, operator assisted, or dial-around calls (e.g. 1010-XXXX)

There is another problem. To make an international call, the user has to dial a "401" area code number and follow the bouncing ball - sorry, prompts. That number can be programmed into the cordless phones, but listening to prompts after having an excellent ILD service provider for years will be hard to accommodate.


Consumer Cellular brags in its tv ads that it has good U.S.-based customer service. I would say that is an understatement.

I went back and forth with CC CSRs via email before deciding to buy the ZTE device. When the unit arrived, by Priority Mail, I started to set it up only to find the antenna and the connector that connects the antenna to the device, was broken off.

I called CC and explained the problem, CC sent a replacement unit out the same day and I had it the next day. (Unfortunately the letter carrier wedged it into my mailbox and it took more than 5 minutes to extract it.) The new unit seems to work OK; this time the antenna and the connector remained together. (Lousy engineering, but the ZTE is from China - 'nuff said.) CC included a Priority Mail SASE to return the failed unit.

Once out of the box, connected to AC and the ON/OFF toggle in the ON position I noticed I already had voice mail - I assume a welcome message.

I opened the Quick Tip Guide to Page 11 and read about Voice Mail. (Yes, Virginia, I DO RT*M). I did as instructed and entered my account number - it was shown in BIG LETTERS on my "Thank you" letter. The voice on the other end told me that number was not valid. Checked the number and tried again. Same thing. Emailed CC. Today is Sunday. Monday (Jan.18) is a (yet another) federal holiday so I don't expect a response until Tuesday.

I got a call from a CC CSR telling me that the problem was that the phone was not yet activated. She activated the phone.

On Wednesday I got an email from CC Service that the number transfer (from ATT to CC) was completed. I tried the phone. I could call out (make a call) but I could not RECEIVE a call.

Called Customer Service on my CC cell phone. Turned out CC Service had been a tab premature; the number transfer was only half completed. A very helpful CSR checked and we tested the phone.

Later on Wednesday I got my second call from a CC CSR telling me that "by 9 p.m. you will be able to make and receive calls." Given that it normally takes 7 to 10 days for a landline number transfer I was skeptical. Once again CC's CSR was premature. But then my account number ALSO was not recognized. Once the number transfer is complete - no ATT dial tone - I will try to activate the ZTE again and test making and receiving calls. (Meanwhile a corded phone still is connected to the ATT jack.)


The problem with cordless phones is that if the power goes off, the phones don't work.

But the ZTE has a 3-plus hour talk time.

OK, the ZTE has power but not the cordless phones.

What to so?

The ZTE has two (2) connectors. One for the cordless phone base and one that is "unassigned." A POTS corded phone will be connected there in the event of a power outage so I'm covered if the lights go out. (Florida Power and Light has pretty reliable service, even when the winds blow.) Consumer Cellular warns customers about power outages and cordless phones.

The "spare" connector could be used for an answering machine - albeit CC does not recommend that - providing the answering machine can be set to answer before the fourth ring. Since I cannot always get to a ringing phone before the fourth ring I'll pack the old answering machine away and let CC answer the phone.

It has been an experience. Documentation could have been a little better, and one CC CSR did give me incorrect information, but over the course of ordering and installing the ZTE device and porting the house number from ATT to CC, all CC personnel have been helpful and friendly sounding. (I have no idea what went through their minds when they saw yet another email from me.)


After spending too many hours on the phone with pleasant CSRs without resolving the problems, I sent a final email, this time including all the information no one asked for before. The email fell into the hands of SHARI R..

She got suspicious that something was amiss when the MEMI code failed to match want CC had on its computer. She fixed that, but the problem remained.

Next she had me remove the units battery cover and the battery, exposing the SIM card. "What are the last 4 digits on the SIM card" she asked. When I read them to her and she compared them to the CC computer information she found the problem.

She updated the CC computer to recognize the SIM card in my ZTE box, then we made test calls to assure I coulee make and receive calls via the ZTE unit.

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