New Toys

Posted by Phil Weber on December 6, 2004

I recently switched to Vonage for our residential phone service. The process was relatively painless: I asked one of my co-workers, a satisfied Vonage customer, to refer me; he thereby gets two free months of service, and I get one. (If you're considering Vonage and would like a free month, drop me a line.) I completed an online application and printed, signed and faxed the (optional) Letter of Authorization to transfer our existing number to Vonage. That was it.

A few days later, I received a package containing a Linksys VoIP router. My network topology is very similar to Omar's; I followed his instructions and was up and running in minutes.

It took about a month for Qwest to transfer our number over to Vonage (Vonage provided a free temporary number for us to use while the transfer was in progress); that process went smoothly as well. Qwest didn't terminate our service until about 24 hours after our number had gone live on Vonage, so we never missed a call.

It was only after Qwest had disconnected us that I remembered that our TiVo, which is at the opposite end of the loft from the Vonage box, needs a phone line in order to download its program data. (Newer Series 2 TiVos include a USB port which can enable them to download program data over a network connection; unfortunately, I have an older Series 1 device.) It's possible, I'm told, to connect Vonage to our internal wiring so that it's available at all our phone jacks. But I'm a software guy, and TiVo was complaining that it only had a few days of program data remaining, so I just strung a 30-foot phone cord from one end of the loft to the other; if it worked, I'd think about connecting Vonage to our internal wiring later.

But it didn't work. Apparently the digital-to-analog-to-digital conversion was just too much; no matter what I tried, I couldn't get TiVo to complete a successful call on the Vonage line.

I now faced several alternatives: I could order a bare-bones phone line from Qwest (about $15/month) solely for TiVo's use. I could purchase a new Series 2 TiVo (about $90 after rebate), which would be able to download its data over my wireless network. (This option also appealed to me because we could then use Series 2's Home Media Option, allowing us to enjoy PC-resident music and photos in our living room.) I was about to drive to Costco to pick up a new TiVo when I realized that I'd also have to purchase a new "lifetime" subscription ($300) or pony up $13/month for the TiVo service. (I have a lifetime subscription for my existing TiVo, but it's not transferable to a new box.)

I eventually decided to retrofit my existing TiVo with a TurboNET Ethernet adapter (about $70). I also found these instructions for connecting TiVo's serial port to a Windows computer and using that computer's network connection to download TiVo's data (I wasted an evening trying, unsuccessfully, to get this to work with Windows XP SP2; apparently SP2's enhanced security prevents TiVo from accessing the network. It works just fine, however, with Windows 2000). Finally, I ordered a Media Center PC to replace my aging desktop system, and a Media Center Extender to connect the PC to my TV and audio system.

My plan is to transfer the 120GB drive from my current desktop PC to the TiVo when I install the TurboNET card; then I'll have a capacious TiVo with network access. In the meantime, I'm using a serial connection to my laptop to keep the TiVo up-to-date. The Media Center PC and Extender will give me the equivalent of a second TiVo with Home Media Option, but no subscription fee. And hopefully it will all get along with Vonage! I'll let you know how it turns out.


Posted by David on January 21, 2005:

It’s easy to have Vonage power your home phone wiring. Just do a search on “vonage home phone network” or something. There are several good tutorials on how to do it. You just unplug the line coming from Qwest in the network box on the side of the house. Tape it up and then get a splitter. Plug the phone outlet splitter into a jack. Then run cable from Vonage adaptor to splitter and plug phone into other jack of splitter. You can then use all phone jacks throughout the house. Go read the detailed instructions to know what all you should do. I have multiple phones and two DIRECTV receivers all working fine. :-) Enjoy!

Posted by Phil Weber on January 21, 2005:

Thanks, David. My problem is that I live in a loft, so I don’t have a “network box on the side of the house.” Anyway, I bought a cordless phone with two handsets and installed an Ethernet adapter in my TiVo, so everything’s working fine now. More details in a future post. Thanks again!

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