What service do you want to use with your antique telephones?
- Mobile phone service (cell phone carrier like Verizon Wireless or AT&T): purchase a Bluetooth gateway.
- Home internet: purchase a VoIP telephone adapter and a pulse-to-tone converter.
- Cable-based phone service (like Comcast or Time Warner Cable): purchase a pulse-to-tone converter.
- Traditional land-line service (like Verizon home service or FairPoint): you don’t need to buy anything extra, but they might not be here for long.
- None: make only internal (in-house) calls among your own antique phones using a PBX system.
Mobile phone service: Bluetooth gateway
- XLink BT and BTTN devices from Xtreme Technologies – these are the devices I recommend buying, mostly because the company is constantly providing firmware updates (ongoing upgrades to the device’s performance). All you need to do is download their free software on a Windows-based computer and occasionally connect the device to your computer using a standard USB cable. You can link up to three mobile phones at a time to the device, and use call waiting among those three phones. The only difference between the BT and the BTTN is that the latter has an additional line-in jack so you can use it with a home phone service, if you still plan to have it, or even pair it with an internet-based device like the OBi200.
- Siemens Gigaset Bluetooth Gateway – Look familiar? This is the exact same device as the XLink BT, just re-branded as Siemens. From what I can tell, it works the same as the XLink and can even receive firmware updates from the XLink software, but I read a couple of user reviews reporting trouble with doing firmware updates on this version. I get the impression that this re-branded version is no longer being made, so it might be best to avoid buying this one and just get the XLink BT instead.
- GE Cell Fusion Gateway – This device is similar to the XLink BT, but it requires use of the * and # keys, which of course a rotary phone doesn’t have. Even if you were using it with an older touch-tone telephone, it can only link up to two cell phones, does not provide call waiting between the phones, and the company does not provide firmware updates.
- Doc N Talk from PhoneLabs – The base model is a docking station (you have to physically plug your cell phone into it to work), but you can buy an additional add-on for Bluetooth connectivity. From reading online comments about this device, it looks like it does not recognize rotary dialing, so you could only receive calls on an antique phone using this device (unless you bought an additional pulse-to-tone converter). The docking station and Bluetooth device combined are much more expensive than the XLink, they only support one cell phone phone at a time, and the company does not provide firmware updates. The major benefit of this device over the XLink could be that you can make a physical connection with your cell phone rather than using Bluetooth, which is more open to disturbances.
- There may be more bluetooth gateway devices that have been released since I last updated this site. If you’ve found one I should add here, let me know!
Home Internet: VoIP Adapter and Pulse-to-Tone Converter
Based on my previous research, I bought the OBi200 VoIP Telephone Adapter from Polycom / Plantronics. You can order this device for around $50.00 from Amazon.com, sign up for a compatible internet-based phone service, use Polycom’s ObiTalk website to link the device to your phone service, plug a telephone into the device and voila! – you can make and receive calls on your antique phone via the internet! The best part is that devices from Polycom are compatible with Google Voice, which is (currently) free for domestic calls made within the United States, and comparatively cheap for international calls. There are a few catches with this avenue: (a.) the Obi200 (and their other models) does not currently support rotary dialing, so you need to buy an additional device to be able to dial out; (b.) the device does not automatically support emergency 911 calls (although there are ways to add this feature, for a small annual fee); (c.) you may need to adjust some of the settings on the Obi200 so it will work with your rotary phones.
Cable-based Phone Service: Pulse-to-Tone Converter
Most cable television providers offer home phone service – this usually includes unlimited calling within the country for a flat monthly rate. Calls are made through the cable company’s internet-based phone service, and the phone jacks in your home are connected to this service by the cable company. If you want to use this type of phone service with your antique telephones, and you want to be able to dial out, you need to purchase a pulse-to-tone converter (otherwise, your rotary phone will only be able to receive calls). A pulse-to-tone converter will convert the pulses coming from your rotary dial telephone to dial tones that your cable company’s phone service will be able to recognize. See the Accessories tab of this site for examples of pulse-to-tone converters you can buy. Be aware that, depending on the phone service you’re using, you may have to try different pulse-to-tone converters before you find one that works for you. Be sure to save the packaging and receipt for any device you buy until you’re sure it works as expected.
Traditional Home Phone Service
Traditional wire-line phone service companies, like Verizon and FairPoint, are usually able to recognize the pulse signals from rotary telephones, so you shouldn’t need to buy anything extra to make an updated antique phone work – just plug it into a working phone jack. Using a local land-line phone service is probably your most reliable option, given the reception and compatibility issues that some users have faced with the other devices described above. To avoid monthly charges for services you don’t need, call your local phone company and ask them for their simplest plan. But be aware that there’s a lot of buzz about traditional land-line service being discontinued in favor of newer wireless and internet-based technologies in the not-so-distant future. Here’s a 2013 Associated Press article on this topic.
No Phone Service: PBX System for Internal-only Calls
Let’s say you have more than one antique telephone in your home, and you only want to be able to make a call from one of these telephones to another. You might come to this conclusion if none of the options above work for you – perhaps you tried a bluetooth gateway and/or a VoIP adapter, were unhappy with the results and you know you don’t want to sign up for traditional home phone service through a local provider. But you still want to be able to hear your old phones ring and be able to talk on them. A PBX (Private Branch Exchange) system is essentially a box that can connect multiple telephone extensions within a home or office, and also connect those stations to an outside line. You can use a PBX to connect your antique telephones with each other without incorporating an outside line. You can also combine the use of a PBX with one or more of the services described above (for example, you could plug a bluetooth gateway into your PBX and make outside calls through your cell phone). An example of a simple PBX model is the KX-TA824 from Panasonic. I’ve seen this one on sale for $169.00 plus shipping through Amazon, and you might be able to find this or something similar on eBay.com. It is always a good idea to save your receipt and all of the packaging when purchasing a device like this in case you find that it doesn’t work well for you.
Disconnecting Your Home's Jacks from the Telephone Company
If you are using one of the Bluetooth gateway or VoIP adapter devices I’ve described above that routes calls through your mobile phones or through the internet, you can plug an antique phone directly into the device or it is also possible to connect the device to all of the phone jacks in your home. You would need to locate your home’s demarcation point (sometimes called a phone demarc box, distributer box or network interface) – the point where your local phone company connects to the phone jacks in your home. This is usually on the outside of the building, although sometimes it is in the basement or elsewhere inside. Inside the customer side of the box you would disconnect the line for your home’s jacks from the phone company. It’s also a good idea to cover up the tip of the phone line you disconnected and put a note inside the box telling others not to re-connect the line – this is for safety purposes because a re-connected line could damage your device. Then, you would connect your Bluetooth gateway or VoIP adapter to any unused jack inside your home and all of your other jacks will now be connected to your device! I opened a box similar to the one pictured on the outside of my house, and unplugged two phone cords marked “Line 1” and “Line 2” from the modular outlets inside the box. Learn more about disconnecting the jacks in your home from the telephone company on the Resources tab of this site.