XLink Experience Report

Christopher Rath

2011-07-08

Background

For some years, I've been looking forward to the day when we can cut the landline cord and become a mobile-phone-only household. My initial thinking had been to wait for the day when everyone in the house owned their own mobile; but, more recently, I've concluded that I'd both like to retain our current landline number and be able to provide visitors with access to a traditional telephone handset (some of our family and friends are older and do not own mobiles and are not familiar with them).

The installed XLink & mobile.  The picture was taken at an angle so the cables plugging into the XLink can be seen.

Some additional background: earlier last year, a new mobile phone company began operating in Canada: WIND Mobile. They presently only operate in a few Canadian cities; but, they have presence in Ottawa. WIND offers a low cost voice plan that provides unlimited local in/outbound minutes: $25 / month. Our Bell landline costs us $36 / month for the same set of services (call display, but no voicemail).

Last month, I did some Googling for mobile phone bridges—it seemed logical to me that they should exist—and I found two such devices:

Both of these devices claim to support providing service to all the POTS handset in your home when the "bridge" is connected to your home's landline demark point, and both devices seem to have reasonable reviews on the Internet (from users; real of faux); however, only the XLink is available for purchase in Canada. So, I ordered an XLink BT (the Bluetooth only version).

The XLink Setup

The inside of the telephone panel; showing the power and telephone cables.  This shot was taken after the number was ported and the Bell POTS line had been disconnected from the XLink

The XLink website is a work in progress, and some pages do not contain any meaningful information; but, the link to their PayPal store worked and I was able to order my XLink BT. It arrived in short order, and I was surprised to find that the XLink guys sent me an XLink BTTN instead of a BT. The BTTN is the device that also allows bridging of a POTS line.

In hindsight, I should have ordered the BTTN myself; since it takes at least 4 business days to port a landline number to a mobile plan—although due to the WIND salesman making a typo in our port request, it took 8 business days to move our number. So, with the BTTN in place, we were able install and use our new mobile handset in parallel with the old POTS line during the port of the number.

Before we finished our basement, I wired up the house with cablevision (RG-6), telephone (Cat5) and network (Cat5) cables into every room of the house. The XLink installed very nicely to the front of telephone wiring cabinet using a bracket I fashioned from some sheet aluminum, and I used an all-weather AC (mains) outlet cover to contain the mobile handset.

When I first powered up the XLink, I installed the XLink setup software on my my laptop and then used it to upgrade the XLink's firmware to the most current version.  I also changed the XLink so that outgoing calls will be made on the first mobile handset (just to ensure it never tries using the nonexistent POTS line).  I then connected the XLink to our POTS line, the home telephone network, and paired the mobile handset.  It was all very painless, and simply worked.

The Mobile Handset

A close up of the mobile in the all weather outlet cover.  A cardboard tray keeps the handset from falling out when the cover is opened.

The XLink website does not offer any advice regarding the selection of a mobile handset; except to mention workarounds necessary for a couple of models.  Based upon the features offered by the XLink, I wanted to use a handset that supported voice dialing and would allow my 1,600+ Outlook contacts to be loaded.

So, I emailed XLink support and within an hour had a reply: "We haven't tested all cell phones with XLink, but I will definitely suggest to stick with Blackberry, Nokia or HTC."  After talking with the salesman at the WIND Mobile store, I purchased a Blackberry Curve; the least expensive phone that supported voice dialing.

Another advantage WIND Mobile offered was their willingness to sell me a Blackberry with a voice-only mobile plan.  WIND disabled data for my mobile, which assures me that I won't unexpectedly incur data charges.

I loaded up my contacts into the Blackberry, and Bluetooth paired it to the XLink.

The User Experience

In our home, the ultimate test for the XLink was whether my wife and kids could use the existing POTS handsets without any instruction.  That has indeed been our experience.

The XLink device generates dial tone; so, when you pick up a POTS handset you hear the same sound as when we had a Bell landline.  There is a slight pause between dialing the number and the call beginning to ring; but, it hasn't bothered anyone.  Outgoing calls can also be made using the Blackberry's voice dialing feature; which is engaged by dialing '##' on the POTS handset.

The XLink sends call display information to the POTS handset for incoming calls; however, the Blackberry only sends the calling number via Bluetooth and does not send the caller name, so this is a slight degradation from our previous situation.  Editorial aside: Blackberry product development is less than cutting edge; so, it will probably be some years before they catch up to the iPhone and provide full callerID information via Bluetooth.

The only problem we have experienced was a short outage of the WIND network during a thunderstorm.  Our handset has excellent, four bar, signal strength on the WIND Mobile network (even from it's basement location); but, the roaming GSM network has very poor signal strength in the basement and so when the WIND network went down the handset was unable to complete calls on the non-WIND network.  The outage lasted about 10 minutes; but, it confused us a bit because we were initially unsure of what was going wrong.

Conclusion

The XLink plus WIND Mobile handset is a definite win for us.  We have our old POTS number on a mobile phone, the convenience of using our POTS handsets in the house, and the flexibility to take our "home phone" with us when we travel.  It will take 18 months to recoup the costs of switching to this new solution; and then we will be saving money every month.

I highly recommend the XLink BTTN device.


©Copyright 2011 Christopher & Jean Rath
Telephone: 613-824-4584
Address: 1371 Major Rd., Ottawa, ON, Canada K1E 1H3
Last updated: 2011/10/12 @ 07:19:58 ( )