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Four things I learned moving my home phone to the NBN


Close-up of hands holding Ethernet cables.

Technology journalist Adam Turner talks us through some of the stumbling blocks you could face if you want to get your home phone connected to the NBN.

When you're excited about finally getting access to half-decent broadband speeds, it's easy to forget about the impact that shifting to the NBN (National Broadband Network) will have on your home phone.

Of course, some people ditched their home phone line a long time ago, or they used shifting to the NBN as the perfect opportunity to make a clean break. That's fair enough, but a lot of people are still attached to the idea of a home phone line.

For example, I helped my parents make the move to the NBN last year and they were keen to hang onto the phone number they've had for almost 50 years. I also kept my home phone line when I made the move earlier this year.

Lots of ISPs (Internet service providers) offer a pay-as-you-go home phone service with no monthly fee, which means it's costing you practically nothing. If you are keen to hang on to your home phone when you move to the NBN, here are a few important things to keep in mind.

1. You might be stuck with the modem supplied by your ISP

This is the big catch for the tech-savvy crowd. Once you move to the NBN your home phone is basically just another VoIP service, but don't assume you'll have complete control over it.

You might have already spent good money on a top-shelf modem/router which supports VoIP lines, but you'll be out of luck if your Internet provider won't share the login details for your home phone service.

The large telcos like Telstra and Optus won't play ball, they'll insist that you need to use their supplied modem/router in order to access your home phone service. You'll have more luck if you're with a more progressive ISP like Aussie Broadband, which will provide those details upon request.

Make sure you ask your prospective NBN retailer these questions in advance and talk to the tech people rather than the sales people.

You might think another option is to enable "Bridge mode" on the modem/router supplied by your ISP, while still using the VoIP phone line, but that probably won't help.

Bridge mode disables most of the features on the modem/router supplied by your ISP, turning it into a basic modem. Once you've done this, you can plug in your own modem/router and let it play traffic cop on your home network.

Unfortunately, enabling Bridge mode on the modem/router supplied by your ISP usually disables the VoIP features, so you're left without a home phone line.

If you find yourself in this situation, a progressive ISP can give you your home VoIP login details, so you can still use the VoIP features on your own modem/router. Alternatively, they might be able to supply you with a VoIP ATA adaptor – a little standalone box into which you can plug your home phone handset.

2. You might need to rewire the phone sockets in your home

Life becomes more complicated if you rely on several phone jacks spread around the house. They'll stop working when you switch to the NBN. Instead, you need to plug your home phone into the phone socket on your modem/router or VoIP ATA.

The easy solution is to switch to cordless handsets, with the main base station plugged into your modem/router or VoIP ATA. DECT cordless handsets are less prone to interference but it's still important to keep them away from Wi-Fi base stations and other wireless gear, even if they're on different frequencies.

Of course, it might not suit you to have your wireless base station in the same room as your NBN gear. If it's at the far end of the house, such as in the study, then you might struggle to get a decent phone signal in the living area.

If you need to keep plugging your home phone into your existing wall sockets then you'll need to pay someone to rewire them so they connect back to your modem/router or VoIP ATA.

3. You might need to relearn Home Phone 101

Remember all those codes you needed to change the settings on your home phone line? Probably not, but you might need to find them in order to set up your new NBN phone service just the way you like it.

A Google search (or the phone's manual) should turn up the codes that you need to change features like how long your phone rings before going to voicemail, as many telcos turn on their voicemail service whether you want it or not.

For example, when my parents moved to the NBN with Optus they discovered that, when people rang their home phone, an automated service answered after six rings to announce: "The person you have called is not available" – not leaving enough time for their home answering machine to pick up.

When they were already on the phone, the new caller would hear this instead of an engaged signal. Along with this, they found that outgoing Caller ID was disabled.

Some of these issues could be fixed by punching codes into the phone, but others required calling Optus.

4. You might need to admit how little you actually use your home phone

I have to confess that we play a game in my house when the home phone rings: we try to guess whether it's my mother or my wife's mother calling. They're the only ones who ring the house, apart from the occasional telemarketer or scammer, although we get very few of these because we're on the Do Not Call Register and I've always been careful when handing out our number.

I always thought we'd need to keep a home phone number as a point of contact for our children, so the school could reach us, or the children could reach their friends before they were old enough for a mobile phone of their own.

My two children are now teenagers and, looking back, this has rarely been an issue. They've used my wife's mobile phone to call friends once or twice, but they're much more likely to stay in contact via email, iMessage, Discord or Steam chat.

We've actually had to force them to use the phone when making arrangements with friends when they're stubbornly determined to use these other channels rather than just call someone to sort things out on the spot.

Our NBN was recently down for three days, which took out the home phone, and we didn't even bother to tell anyone or ask our ISP to divert the number to my mobile. I think we can finally concede that we don't need a home phone line but, on a pay-as-you-go plan with no monthly fees, we're still hanging onto it as a safety blanket.

Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian freelance technology journalist and co-host of weekly podcast Vertical Hold: Behind The Tech News . Former deputy editor of Sydney Morning Herald's biztech section, Adam writes about the technology challenges facing Australian consumers and businesses.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article (which may be subject to change without notice) are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Finder and its employees. The information contained in this article is not intended to be and does not constitute financial advice, investment advice, trading advice or any other advice or recommendation of any sort. Neither the author nor Finder has taken into account your personal circumstances. You should seek professional advice before making any further decisions based on this information.

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