Sunday, January 18, 2015

Navigating the Telecommunications Maze in Israel: The Cheapest Way to Call the USA That I've Found

Twenty five years ago, when I studied at Sha'alvim, when I wanted to call home, I'd stick in our asimon (remember those?) and then our Telecards (remember those??), and wait for hours as the AT&T hold message cycled through in three languages. Some of the guys spent so long on hold that they could recite the Arabic version of the hold guy by heart. I was allowed to call home once every three weeks for a simple reason: a simple call to the States cost more than a dollar a minute.
Times have changed, and as we all know, you can now talk overseas for pennies, literally.
In the old days (when we first moved), we had Vonage. Then we switched to MagicJack. Both worked pretty well, but we had to keep a separate phone for our US and Israeli numbers. And we had to keep them hooked up to a computer, or a router, and then leave the computer on all the time.
I wanted a single phone that could handle all calls, with a reasonable price.
For a while, we were using TCS Telecom. For the rate of about 100 shekel a month, we got 600 minutes of talking (both ways), as well as a US telephone number that relative could call and reach us in Israel. It worked well for a few years, until we started experiencing service problems in the form of dropped calls and static that made the service unusable. I was looking for a way to have both incoming and outgoing calls from our regular home phone line (yes, we still have a home phone), while people in the US could call us on an American number. (They can always call us on our Israeli number, but experience has shown that most of our relatives simply don't do this. This is somewhat upsetting and distressing, that they can't be bothered to take the additional step of acquiring an inexpensive calling card, or pay the international calling rate, but that's another post entirely.) I did not want a service that required another phone, a VPN, a router, or any additional equipment I would have to purchase and maintain. Here's what I found.

First, I switched our cell service to Golan. Right now we're paying 36 shekel a month for the first line, and 23 for the second line, which includes voice, text, and internet. (Currently, they're running an insane deal where all additional lines are a shekel a month for 12 months. It's crazy.) The plans include free international calls (outbound) as well. I was hoping to take advantage of Golan's ability to have a US phone number for incoming calls, but you only get that if you pay 99 shekel a month (the premium plan), which I'm not willing to pay. If you want to reach me on my cell, it's on you.

For our home line, I needed a way to have both unlimited international calls, as well as a US phone number. For the outgoing calls, I saw an ad for Hotnet.net (which is a cell service). They offer an 017 number that gives unlimited international calls for 10 shekel a month. You can purchase a plan for any Israeli number. A small warning. They're very nice on the phone, but it can be a challenge to get them to understand exactly what service you want to buy.

What about incoming calls? I found a call forwarding service called SendMyCall which, for a dollar a month plus 2 cents a minute (to Israeli land lines), relatives call my American number and it simply forwards the call to our home phone in Israel.

The math:
Old bill: 600 minutes (max) for 100 shekel a month (US Telecom)
New bill: Outgoing calls - 10 shekel a month (HotNet); Incoming calls: 4 Shekel + 2 cents a minute (SendMyCall.com). Assume 300 minutes = 6 dollars = 24 shekel a month = 34 shekel total. And it will never be that much. Total cost: 44 shekel a month.

I hope this saves you money.