Home > Blog > The Truth About VoIP Phone Lines and Medical Alert Systems

The Truth About VoIP Phone Lines and Medical Alert Systems

Your new VoIP phone line may sound OK, but is it powerful enough for a medical alert system to use in an emergency?

If you're like many Americans, your phone or cable company may have changed the way your home phone system works.  Many customers are surprised to learn they no longer have Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) that uses copper wire coming in to the home.  Instead, they now have a digital phone line that uses the internet to transfer voice, using a new protocol called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP).  Since your number didn't change, and you are using the same phone line as before, you may not have even noticed a difference.

But there is a big difference, especially if you have a home alarm or a medical alert system.

Without going into all the technical specifications, here are the main differences between your old POTS-style phone service, and the new digital VoIP phone service:

POTS:

  • Analog transmission, capable of transmitting both voice and data
  • Works during a power outage because electricity runs through the copper phone line
  • Being discontinued in many parts of the country, and POTS copper line networks are not being rebuilt when damaged in a natural disaster like a hurricane.
  • Expensive - one reason it's being phased out.
  • Fairly consistent quality of service among providers
VoIP:
  • Digital transmission, capable of both voice and data
  • Requires internet access
  • Inexpensive, and capable of lots of features at low/no cost like voice mail, three-way calling, call forwarding, fax, receive calls on a computer or tablet, etc
  • Often bundled with Cable TV and Internet services
  • Requires a battery backup if power is lost
  • If the internet is down, your VoIP line is down
  • Quality of service can vary during peak usage times, and depending on the usage in your neighborhood
  • Wide range of quality of service among providers
  • VoIP is provided through a Modem (box where your phone is connected).  When service is switched from POTS to VoIP, you may lose connectivity in the other phone jacks installed throughout the home.  

VoIP and Alarm Systems and Medical Alert Systems


Home alarm systems and Medical Alert Systems transmit DATA over the phone lines to the monitoring center.  This is what establishes a connection and allows the monitoring center to know WHO and WHERE you are, and access your profile to know how to respond in an emergency.

VoIP phone lines generally can transmit VOICE at a quality level that is acceptable, but DATA is a different matter.  Generally speaking, if you are using a high quality, national provider of VoIP service like AT&T, Comcast, Century Link, TimeWarner, Verizon and others you should be fine.  However, due to low signal quality, VoIP phone service from providers like Magic Jack, OOMA and Vonage shouldn't be used with a medical alert system. In fact, these phone providers DO NOT recommend using their services with any medical alert systems. So, while you may be able to call across the country using one of these bargain-priced VoIP phone providers, you should NOT count on them to work with an alarm or medical alert system.

Examples of medical alert systems that work with both POTS and VoIP include the HOME Medical Alert System and the HOME & YARD Medical Alert System from Medical Care Alert.

How Do I Know If My VoIP Phone Line will Work With A Medical Alert System?


VoIP Test
If you have a VoIP phone line, please click this link to use the VoIP Testing Tool  to determine if your VoIP phone line can support a medical alert system.  Your results should show in the top part of the graph labeled "radio quality".  If not, contact your provider and tell them you are connecting a medical alert device and need them to boost your signal strength.  If they cannot do this, find another provider.