Telephone Time Warp

Once upon a time ‘follow me’ was an exotic, and expensive, service used only by folks who were either very well heeled, or for whom an employer was paying the freight. These days, VoIP phone service providers such as Phone.com often offer ‘follow me’ as a standard feature of their plans, at no extra cost.

In fact, follow me can now follow you anywhere in the world where there is phone service. In many cases the cost is zero from Phone.com, which offers calls to landlines in many countries as part of the basic monthly charge for service. Calls to cell phones generally will cost, but at bargain rates compared to traditional “phone company” rates.

But the issue I’m concerned with right now isn’t the cost – it’s the time.

I’m writing this blog nine time zones away from my home base. What that means is somebody who calls me at the reasonable hour (to them) of 5 P.M. and has their call forwarded, via ‘follow me,’ to my current location will reach me at 2 A.M.

Put simply, I’d love to chat, but not now please.

The solution, though, is simple. I programmed my home and office phone to forward to either my local overseas cell phone number or my wife’s. I’m using a menu – press 1 for me, 2 for my wife – for two reasons. The first is that way annoying automated calls are effectively screened out rather than forwarded, and the second is that both my U.S. cell phone and my wife’s are now set to forward to our home office phone, effectively unifying our phone service.

Step two is using the scheduling feature in Phone.com to set up a second routine that intercepts calls during the hours I don’t won’t my phone to ring – late at night and early morning – and sends them to voice mail.

And that’s all there is to it! It probably took me longer to decide on the exact wording I wanted on the message telling callers to choose a number, or explaining why they are being sent to voice mail, then it did to actually set up the program using Phone.com’s dashboard. Oh, and I didn’t even bother to record the message, I simply used the Phone.com text-to-voice feature to create my announcements.

As a sidelight, it took a good half hour to get my U.S. cell phones to forward to my home office. That’s because I procrastinated a bit, and didn’t try to do it until I was sitting on the plane at JFK Airport. Yes, you allegedly can set up forwarding directly from your cell phone, but when you’ve never done it before it’s a bit tough when sitting squished in what passes for a seat on today’s airplanes (a center seat, no less). So I called AT&T customer service – and it took their guy a half hour to figure out how to forward a call – which was at least six times as long as it took me to set up my entire Phone.com time warp system.

Stuart Zipper is currently a contributing editor to Communications Technology, a high tech business journalism consultant and freelancer, and the past Senior Editor of TelecomWeb news break.