Stopping Telemarketers and Saving Money

I’m sure we’ve all experienced the never ending calls of telemarketers. Especially around dinner time.


My wife and I have had the same phone number for more than 20 years, and more than a decade ago, we did provide some donations over the phone (although now, all our donations are done through a single institution). That means that we’re on a large number of lists. It’s not uncommon to receive 10+ calls a day.

As I’ve recently retired from the corporate scene, I decided to do something about it. After about a month of development, I’ve come up with “Phonely” (yeah, I might need a better name). This is an application that leverages the Twilio API (although it should be easy to adapt to Plivio, Nexmo or similar systems) to provide a complete phone system.


In a nutshell, I ported my phone number to Twilio and registered my application with them. Therefore, as soon as a phone call comes in, Twilio calls my app. My app looks at the incoming phone number, and checks it against a database of numbers. If it’s recognized and approved, it immediately forwards the call to the house phone (via VOIP). If not, it sends them to a voicemail system (also part of Phonely).

Thus, for friends, family and known companies, it works just like before. They dial the phone and it rings in the house. For everyone else (aka telemarketers), they go to voicemail, and my phone never rings.

The fact that I’ve now got a computer answering the phone, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff I can do. For example, I can have different voicemail prompts for different people. Another example, if the same phone number dials multiple times in quick succession, I can forward it to the house phone (telemarketers don’t dial back that quickly). Thus, people dialing from numbers I don’t recognize can still get through by just redialing right after getting voicemail.

Another feature I’m playing with is to have the ‘forwarded call’ actually travel with me. If I’m at home, it rings the house phone, if not, it rings my cell (a small app on my house network periodically checks if my phone is on the local network, and if not, tells Phonely that I’m away from the house).

Overall, this has basically cut out all telemarketer calls, since almost none will leave a recording, and even if they do, I’m not disturbed.

Additionally, switching over to a VOIP system from my local phone provider (Telus) seems like it’s going to save me a bunch of money.

I currently have a pretty basic landline package, but it’s still $40 CAD a month. With Twilio, the phone number costs me $1 a month plus about $0.01 / minute (it’s a little fluid, as for voicemail calls I only have to pay $0.008 / minute, since it’s just an incoming call, but for the real calls, I have to additionally pay $0.005 / minute for the outgoing connection, so it could be up to 1 cent a minute.

However, even at $0.01 / minute, that still means that I’d have to have more than 3900 minutes of calls to break even with my old landline. As that’s 65 hours or more than 2.5 days straight on the phone per month, I know that I spend nowhere near that much time on the phone.

At the moment, I’m just using this system for myself, but I’m thinking of making the entire system available as open source (probably via a Docker image). I’ve even thought about running a small business to make it easy for others to use (even with Docker, you still have to have the technical know-how to run Docker, have a server to run it on, setup and configure the Twilio system, and likely setup a VOIP phone at home).

I’ll likely provide some additional blog entries on some of the technical components of the system in the near future. But I’d love to hear anyone’s feedback or comments.