Musing About Telephones

In early 2002 the telephone/fax/answering machine gave out. It was too old to get parts so I threw it away and replaced it with a 2.4GHZ wireless phone. This one was a combination answering machine, caller ID, speaker phone unit with a longer range and clearer signal than even the second wireless phone my ex- had purchased. I added this new phone to my desktop collection of electronic hardware. Without a dedicated fax machine, I now sent and received faxes used my computer using special software, scanner, and printer.

I also was able to migrate from dial-up to high-speed cable Internet access shortly after my divorce. This was great for those people who often had to spend hours attempting to call me while my phone line was tied up with Internet usage. I migrated to cable Internet just in time to start correspondence with my then-future wife, Winnie. DSL was not yet available to our neighborhood, and I never bothered to pick up new cell phone service. I felt having six phones in the house along with fax and e-mail was more than enough communications.

I remember Winnie being very amused when she learned I had only gained high-speed internet access a few months before we first met, and still didn’t have DSL. All the Internet access available in her city of Nanning, China, was DSL or better. Winnie and everyone she knew had cell phones.

After hurricane Katrina only the kitchen phone survived and only because it was hanging on the wall high enough to stay dry. Not having phones didn’t much matter as our telephone line wasn’t operational again for more than six weeks after the storm. Our cable TV internet connection wasn’t restored for a month, which also didn’t matter too much as we had no working computer or TV. As we needed something to communicate with we went out and purchased a prepaid cell phone (Tracfone). That worked quite well as our only communications for several weeks.

We re-acquired new communications technology over the next year, and by the time we moved to Virginia we had four telephones and the prepaid cell phone. Somehow, three of our telephones got lost in the move. When we moved into our Virginia apartment we decided to go with only cell phones “for the time being.” In October 2006 we dumped the Tracfone and went to personal cell phones. That’s all we’ve used until this week.

Now, we’re back up to having an in-house landline telephone again along with our cell phones. The telephone service is a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone that uses the Internet for connectivity, not the standard telephone line. Our service offers unlimited local and long distance calls to five countries; China, Canada, Italy, Germany and Singapore. It also allows anyone in China to call us for the price of a local Chinese call; they simply dial up a local China access number which hooks into the VOIP service.

The VOIP equipment itself is a box about the size of a pack of cigarettes. It has one plug for an Internet connection and a plug for a telephone. The drawback is that a telephone must plug directly into the VOIP box, which is rather limiting. I mean, who can live with only one telephone in the house? To get around this severe limitation, we went out and purchased a 5.8GHZ telephone system with four matching handsets. We plug the base unit into the VOIP box, and then put the other three phones with their charger cradles anywhere in the house we want.

Now that we have a landline we can again use fax service from our computer. But, who needs fax when you can just as easily scan and send any document you need via e-mail? Since we’re using the cable and wireless phones, all the wired telephone jacks in our house (at least one in every room, two each in the living room and den) will now go unused, victims to advancing technology. Perhaps someday we’ll find some other use for all that extra wire?

So there you have it – The great advance in telephone technology in less than one lifetime. The next great advance would be for the telephone to automatically broadcast our new phone number to anyone and everyone who needs it…

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in the Category “Family Stories.”  It was moved to the Feature Story section under Ron Charest’s byline October 13, 2014, as part of rebuilding archival content to be compatible with WordPress. Illustrations were also added at that time. 

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