If your home-based business relies on a lot of telephone time, you might want to consider a web-based phone. The number of people who turned in their regular phones for Internet phones more than doubled last year. Nine percent of U.S. homes now have a Web phone. But that means the vast majority of Americans still have not yet taken advantage of this new technology and the serious savings that can come with it.
There are two ways to talk over the Internet: with a converter box that turns your regular home telephone into a Web phone, or by talking over the computer itself by using the built-in speaker or plugging in a headset.
New Yorker Ian Warren uses the Web phone company Vonage. For $14.99 a month, he gets 500 minutes to make calls all over the world. "I think it's about $600 a year that I'm saving by using Vonage over a landline phone," Warren said.
ABC News shopped around and found a traditional phone company charging $43 a month for unlimited local and long distance, plus typical extras like call waiting.
A similar service from a cable company was advertised at $85 and up because you have to purchase premium TV channels to get the phone service.
The leading company offering Internet calling charges $25 a month for unlimited calling. That's on top of whatever you pay for your high speed Internet connection.
But there are also computer calling programs like Skype, where you talk over your computer. If the person you're calling has the software on his or her computer too, even international calls are free! That could do wonders if you regularly talk to suppliers or colleagues in other countries. Alternatively, if you want to be able to talk to less technologically advanced people who only have regular phones, you can pay as little as $2.50 a month for unlimited calls.
"I think it's a foregone conclusion among telecom companies that at some point all telephone calls are going to go over the Internet," said Stephan Beckert of Telegeography, a research group.
With Internet calling, you can even sign up for what's called a virtual phone number. Say you have a lot of clients in San Francisco, but you're based in New York. You can sign up for a local "415" Bay Area area code online. That way customers who call you are just paying for a local call.
"I think across the board it's been a good thing for consumers," Beckert said.
But before you unplug your landline, you should know that not all Web phones come with 911 service, and you may have to register your address so emergency crews can find you. Plus, if there's a power outage, your phone goes dead too. You'll need a back-up power source, so your business can keep humming.