What service do you want to use with your antique telephones?

Decide whether you want to use antique phones with your mobile phone service, your home internet service, a cable-based phone service, a traditional land-line service or some combination of these and follow the links below.
  • Mobile phone service (cell phone carrier like Verizon Wireless or T-Mobile): purchase a Bluetooth gateway.
  • Home internet:  purchase a VoIP telephone adapter and a pulse-to-tone converter.
  • Cable-based phone service (like Comcast or Spectrum):  purchase a pulse-to-tone converter.
  • Traditional land-line service (like Verizon or AT&T home service): 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.
Once you have what you need to use your phone service, you’re ready to buy an antique telephone!

Mobile phone service: Bluetooth gateway

This is the method I initially chose for making calls through my antique telephone.  I liked it because I use my iPhone all of the time anyway to access the internet and send text messages, so it made sense for me to pair my antique telephone with my iPhone while I’m at home.
There are a few devices on the market that act as a Bluetooth gateway for traditional land-line phones: they connect to one or more Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones, and route mobile calls through land-line phones that are plugged into the device.  Now when someone calls your mobile phone number (and your mobile phone is within range of the Bluetooth gateway), the call will ring on your antique phone! When you pick up the handset on your antique phone and dial a number, the call will be routed through your mobile phone wirelessly via a Bluetooth connection.  What is Bluetooth? 
The XLink BT is such a device – it links up to three mobile phones to traditional land-line telephones. Not only does it support rotary dialing, but you can even make calls on a non-dial telephone by briefly depressing and releasing the hook switch, activating the voice recognition function of your cell phone. After reading user reviews for this and other devices on Amazon.com and elsewhere, it appeared that people have had the most luck with the XLink BT.  (I have also listed some of the other competing devices at the bottom of this page.)  I learned that the makers of the XLink BT regularly provide firmware updates that address phone compatibility issues as they arise.  I bought the XLink BT on Amazon for $39.99.  The company also sells a model called the XLink BTTN – the only difference between the BT and the BTTN is that the latter has an additional “line-in” jack so you can incorporate your home phone service, internet-based or cable telephone service as well.  If you think you ever might want to expand your phone service options in the future, I would recommend buying the XLink BTTN model.
Now, despite my own success with this device, other users have been less than impressed with its performance. I paired a Western Electric model 302 telephone (that’s been modified with a modular plug) with the Xlink BT device.  It was pretty easy, and as long as our mobile phones are fairly close to the device, calls sound clear through the antique phone.  One complaint that some reviews of the Xlink BT have mentioned is that the range was not very wide, and I have noticed that my iPhone will unlink if it’s more than one room or so away.  But since I was expecting that, it wasn’t such an issue for me.  You just need to locate the Xlink BT in a place where you’ll be able to keep your cell phone nearby.  Some users have also reported crackling and other sound disturbances, even when their mobile phone is placed close to the XLink BT.  I have been able to hear calls fine, but sometimes people on the other end have reported that my voice sounds garbled intermittently.  This seems to happen most often when I’m talking to someone who uses a cable phone service on their end.  If people are having trouble hearing me, I switch the call back over to my iPhone instead. Other users of this device have reported that the bell-and-clapper ringers on some or all of their antique telephones have not worked when connected to the XLink. I had two phones attached (through a line splitter) with this this type of mechanical ringer, and didn’t have a problem – but this is something else to consider. It appears that some of these problems can be minimized or eliminated by ensuring the XLink BT is not placed near another wireless device (such as a Wireless internet router) or electrical device that might be interfering with the signal.  A call or email to XLink’s customer service department can help you trouble-shoot some of these problems if they arise, but some customer reviews on Amazon.com noted that either the user was unwilling to deal with the hassle of getting assistance, had trouble reaching a company support person or was unable to solve the problem even after getting assistance.  So although the device doesn’t work for everyone, a majority of buyers seem to be pleased with the device.  It is always a good idea to save your receipt and all of the packaging when purchasing a device like this in case you decide to return it.
Downloading the free software that accompanies the Xlink BT enables you to update the device’s firmware to the very latest version (i.e. the company addresses customer problems with the device by providing updates to how the device functions).  To do this, you must connect the device to a Windows-based computer (I have a Mac myself, but I use a Windows PC at work, so I did it there) using a standard USB cable.  The cable is not included when you buy the device, but it’s the same as most USB printer cables.  I just disconnected the cable from my printer and plugged it into the Xlink BT.  The software also allows you to make adjustments to the volume levels, among other things.  I found that my phone sounded a little too loud when I first connected it, so I lowered the incoming volume one notch, and now it’s perfect.  Some of the “advanced” settings accessible through the software allow you to make adjustments that might minimize call quality issues – XLink’s customer service department can help you with this.
I only had two telephones plugged into my Xlink BT device, but it is also possible to connect the Xlink BT to all of the phone jacks in your home. Read more about this at the bottom of this page.
I have also created an XLink quick-start guide, modified from XLink’s own version with a few additional notes – view it here.
Keep in mind that you would (obviously) need to keep Bluetooth switched on through the settings on your mobile phone.  This can use up your phone’s battery quicker than when it is switched off.  This hasn’t been a problem for me since I am used to plugging in my phone overnight, but it is something to consider.
Bluetooth gateways for sale:
  • 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

If you have high-speed internet service in your home or office, you can purchase a VoIP (“voice over internet protocol”) telephone adapter, sign up for an internet-based phone service like Google Voice, and buy a pulse-to-tone converter for each antique phone to make it dial calls.  This is the set-up I currently use. You can also attach just one pulse-to-tone converter to the VoIP device itself, and this will convert pulses from all connected rotary-dial phones to tone-dialed numbers.

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.

A popular device that is similar to the OBi200 is the Ooma Telo.  You purchase one of Ooma’s devices, starting at about $180, and pay only taxes and fees for the calls you make.  The disadvantages of this device as compared to Obihai’s devices are that you are locked into using Ooma’s phone service (whereas Obihai gives you multiple options for phone service) and the devices themselves cost a lot more.  One advantage is that their service includes emergency 911 calling.
Another option is to sign up for a paid service like Vonage or magicJack.  You pay a flat monthly service fee for unlimited calling within the country, and they send you a device that allows your telephone to make calls through your internet connection.  Like many cable-based phone services, Vonage and magicJack offer a “low” introductory rate for the first few months, and then they jack up the price later.  There are other internet-based phone services that compete with Vonage and magicJack – just do an internet search for “VoIP phone service” to find them.  Given the fact that the OBi200 device I mentioned above allows you to try out multiple low-cost internet calling providers (or use Google Voice for free), I don’t see any reason to use Vonage or magicJack.  Be aware, though, that not every review of the Obi200 (nor the Ooma Telo) is positive – some users have found the sound quality to be inadequate, among other problems.  It is always a good idea to save your receipt and all of the packaging when purchasing a device like this in case you decide to return it.
Whether you use something like the Obi200 or Vonage, you will need to buy a pulse-to-tone converter that will convert the pulses coming from your rotary dial telephone to dial tones that your VoIP device will be able to recognize.  I have listed examples of pulse-to-tone converters in the Accessories tab of this site.  If your antique telephone doesn’t have a dial at all (or if you choose not to buy a pulse-to-tone converter), you will only be able to receive calls on your antique telephone with this method.  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.
You can simply plug your antique telephone into a device like the OBi200 or Vonage’s box, but it is also possible to connect such a device to all of the phone jacks in your home.  Read more at the bottom of this page.
In my home, I have now paired Polycom’s OBi200 with the XLink BTTN Bluetooth gateway for the ability to use my antique phones with both my cell phone service and Google Voice.  I also purchased a couple of Dialgizmo pulse-to-tone converters to allow my rotary phones to make calls through the internet.

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, like that provided by the legacy Bell telephone companies, is 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 boxdistributer 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.