VoIP over Phone Wiring

I have no complaints about my Vonage experience so far. The call quality is great. Getting voice mail messages in my email is a dream come true (if you leave one, I may actually listen to it now). I can send faxes using a traditional fax machine. I’m able to place calls using a 900 MHz cordless phone (I don’t use 2.4 MHz because it interferes with my WiFi) or any other standard landline phone. The only thing that had me a little perplexed was how I could easily connect several phones the way I would in a normal landline configuration.

I had a revelation during a trip to the drugstore a few blocks from my house. The phone wiring in the house could be terminated at my Linksys Phone Adapter the same way the phone company brings their lines to the house and ties in to all the internal wiring of the house. Both scenarios route all the wiring in the house back to a central office. The traditional landline service routes underground or to a pole along the street back to the CO while the VoIP method connects to my router headed for the servers at Vonage. This same concept should also work for other VoIP providers, although Vonage is the only one I tested.

I currently live in an 80-year-old house. The phone wiring has been updated, but the routing of the wiring is a jumble of three different incoming lines routed to different sections of the house. This didn’t matter to me when I moved in because we don’t have a landline phone. In newer houses, this won’t be a problem because all phone wiring should terminate at a central location.

Most home phone wiring is made up of two pairs of wires: red/green and yellow/black. In most cases, the primary line you’ll want to connect to route your VoIP service throughout the house is the red/green pair. If the house was wired using category 5 cabling, green might be replaced with white-with-blue-stripe wires and red with blue-with-white-stripes. The yellow and black wiring pair will not be needed.

Required Tools and Supplies

Before starting, I needed a few supplies from the hardware store. I purchased a roll of Category 3 cable, a box of 3 port telephone splice connectors and a phone wire junction box with modular plug. You could get by without using the junction box, but I’m lazy and don’t enjoy connecting RJ-11 ends to raw wire. The junction box makes it easy to quickly connect your household wiring to the phone adapter.

Supplies for connecting VoiP to your phone lines directly

Note: If you plan on connecting the VoIP phone adapter directly to a wall jack (see below) you probably won’t need these supplies.

Several tools are also required. To make the connections, you need a Phillips head screwdriver and wire strippers. To finish up, you may want a cordless drill to fasten the junction box and phone adapter to the wall, as well as some coaxial cable straps to router your Ethernet cable along the wall between the phone adapter and your router.

Phone wiring tools including wire strippers and a screwdriver

Make sure there’s an outlet in close proximity to your phone wiring (to power the phone adapter) or else get an extension cord long enough to reach.

Making the VoIP to Cat3 connection

First, find the location where external phone lines come in to your house. Determine which lines are internal and which lines route back to the phone company. Disconnect the phone lines coming into the house from the phone company because they might cause noise on the line (or damage the VoIP adapter) and they aren’t being used anyway (Word of Caution: Do not attempt this if you still have an active line with the phone company, it will cause your landline service to cease functioning).

Phone terminator from an old house

Connecting VoIP via a Wall Jack

If your phone lines all originate on the same copper pair from the phone company, this is potentially your stopping point. As Gary S. points out in his experience with this : “First I disconnected the POTS line from the demarcation point in my home. It happened to be on the outside of my garage. Then I simply plugged the Vonage VoIP router into the nearest telephone jack. Since the phone system in the house is essentially a bus, that provided voip service to every phone that was plugged into the wall. Simple and free since I have a number of telephone patch cords, terminated with RJ11s, laying around from various decommissioned devices.”

The caveat to this method is that you lose usage of the phone jack you plugged into as a place to connect your phone, unless you add a splitter off of the jack. It’s possible to centrally locate your VoIP box to keep all wall jacks clear, as described below.

Connecting VoIP at the Origin

Next I used some splice connectors to combine all of the various ends throughout the configuration to a single wire that ultimately connects to the junction box. An alternative is to connect each individual line to the junction box (up to 4 in the case of the junction box used in my example). Red wires connect to red wires; green connect to green.

phone wiring spliced together

If you already have a similar junction box in the house, connect red and green wires from the old junction box to the new one and disregard the part about coupling all the wires together with splice connectors.

phone wiring junction box

Once all the internal wiring is connected, plug in the phone adapter, connect the Ethernet cable to the appropriate port on the adapter, and connect the RJ-11 modular plug from the junction box to the phone adapter.

Test your connections by plugging a phone into one of the wall jacks in your house. If you get dial tone, you’re probably set. It’s not a bad idea to place a call to your cell phone just to make sure everything is working.

The final step is to mount the junction box to the wall with the two bundled screws, secure the VoIP phone adapter so it won’t come unplugged accidentally and fasten the Ethernet cable to keep it out of the way.

VoiP adapter connected to legacy phone wiring

By tying into the phone lines in your home, VoIP passes the ultimate spouse acceptance factor, because it works everywhere the old landline worked, with the added bonus of no long distance charges.

John L. offers several additional suggestions for further improving your VoIP experience:

Keep your VoIP adapter safe in a lightning strike: “Route the wiring backward through a surge protector, connecting the wall side of the connection to phone/modem and the line side directly into the VoIP adapter. Of course, it’s also smart to make sure the power for the VoIP is connected to a surge protector too.”

Ring Boosting: “Most consumer ATA units are not really equipped for this type of installation. Most do not provide as significant amounts of current while ringing or in normal operation as the telco (or other more expensive equipment) — If you have a lot of telephones that are not cordless (ie line voltage actually has to power the phone) or any old battery/bell ringers, outdoor ringers, etc. You might find that your phones do not ring every time you get a call, only some phones ring, or you cannot have more than 1-3 handsets on a call before things get quiet on you.”

“If ringing is the issue (it typically is), the only ways to solve it are to remove phones from the circuit, reduce the total amount of wiring in the circuit (lower line resistance) or to add a “Ring booster” type device to the line. These devices cost anywhere from $100-$300 but are a far cry from rewiring your house! You can also of course just go with multi-handset cordless phones or the like which will reduce the number of phones on the circuit without reducing the number of handsets.”

VoIP as a second line: “If you still keep a landline, but want to patch in your VoIP line to the Line 2 pair (the outside two wires – black/yellow), you can do that too! As before, you can either wire the red/green from the ATA to black/yellow in your [junction box], or you can plug it into any wall jack – the easiest way to do this is to buy one of those L1/L2 adaptors from Radio Shack that breaks out one phone jack into three plugs – one will be L1/L2 (normal), one will be L1 only, and one will be L2 only. Just plug the ATA into the L2 port and you won’t have to do any wiring at all!”