Thursday, January 25, 2007

No Broadband, No TV

My Homechoice box died at the weekend - this leaves me without TV or Broadband internet.

I had half planned for this (Homechoice boxes don't last long) - awhile back I bought an Intel InBusiness Internet Station, a little router device that uses old analogue modems. However I haven't been able to get it working with a Tiscali pay as you go dialup account (Tiscali didn't work with the iStation, the laptop with a modem attache or a Compaq "Internet Terminal"). I assume that my Tiscali account is still active as I can log in to the web mail and check my mail, so maybe nobody uses Tiscali's dialup anymore so nobody's noticed it no longer works. However I was able to get an "anonymous" ISP (ie, an ISP you don't need to sign up to) to work, so I was able to login and get my email. My Amstrad emailer came in handy here - it's difficult to get internet access without internet access - fortunately I was able to browse the web with the emailer to find the anonymous ISP.

The other thing I've done is set up BT Openzone - I'm typing this at South Mimms Service Station, while eating dinner. They have a £5 (+VAT) a month for 500 minutes subscription offer, which I've been meaning to subscribe to for some time. I'll post more about BT Openzone at some point.

I'm not overly pleased with Homechoice - I phoned them up to tell them that my box had died and they told me that an engineer would call the next day. I phoned them on Sunday, nobody phoned me until Wednesday. Hopefully, they should be coming around Saturday afternoon to replace the box.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Scot's VOIP Info

I've created a "backing" website for this blog on googlepages - the imaginatively titled Scot's VOIP Info site. It will contain static, non-time related information that really doesn't suite being on a blog.

Thoughts On VOIP Providers

I've had a few thought about VOIP providers. I think you can classify them as follows:

  1. Toy Providers - These are providers that use proprietary protocols and you're stuck using their software. These providers have little to distinguish them from regular Instant Messaging - as IM as long had Voice capabilities.

  2. Consumer-Unfriendly providers. These are providers that use open protocols but don't let their users benefit from it.

  3. Consumer-Friendly providers. Open protocols, with the basic information needed to use their service from whatever client the user wants, not just the provider's own client.

I'd say that it's really a spectrum from 1 to 2 to 3. Tiscali and Skype are certainly in the toy provider realm, I call them toy providers because what they are offering is little more than a toy - something to play with, but not much else. AOL's service is based on SIP (which means it had the potential to be more than a toy) but modified so that the SIP base only benefits "partners" of AOL, not AOL's users - a consumer unfriendly act that leaves AIM Phoneline as little more than a toy. Some providers may have terms in their T&C's that state that you can only use their software with the service even though they use open protocols - this is consumer unfriendly behaviour that is absurd - it's like having a website and requiring everyone to use the website's own browser. Others may use open protocols but not federate with other providers (but at least allow users to use whatever software they want). And then there are the providers that are open and federated and provide the needed information to use whatever software their users want (such as Gizmo).

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Here's an example of a SIP/DECT router - The Planet VIP-462DG. No idea if it's available in the UK, or how much it costs (though I strongly doubt it's in the 30 quid price range).

A few points, looking at a page on audio codecs at Broadcom, it appears that DECT uses G.726 (which encompasses G.721 and G.723) The VIP-462DG supports G.711, G.723.1A, G.729A - so it looks like some codec conversion communication is possible. It's router, so it has a WAN port and 4 LAN ports (with a builtin NAT/Firewall) - what I really want is a cheap standalone device, not another router (I'd don't need another router)

VOIP Gadgets I Would Like To See

Here are some VOIP related gadgets I would like to see. Some of them may already exist, but they're not cheap - so this is really "cheap VOIP Gadgets I would like to see", somewhere in the 30 pound range.

  1. A standalone FXS that supports UK caller id. Something small that you could plug in near your master socket and that would connect to the home network via ethernet and/or WiFi
  2. A standalone Cellular gateway. Similar to the standalone FXS, except you put a SIM card in it and it connects to the GSM (and maybe even 3G) network. These exist (at least with GSM if not 3G) but are expensive. The lowest cost idea I have for connecting Asterisk to GSM networks involves going through a soundcard, which seems like a great way to get poor quality audio (GSM -> Analogue -> GSM can't be great).
  3. A standalone DECT gateway. A simple device that lets you use DECT phones.
  4. A standalone Bluetooth gateway. A simple device so that you can use your bluetooth headset. Fairly unnecessary, but what the hell (maybe it could be combined with the DECT gateway).
  5. Simple, standalone FXOs. No built in routers/firewalls, just one ethernet port and one RJ-11 port (or even a BT port). Maybe even a WiFi version. Ideally it would generate UK Caller ID signals and ADSI. Digium's IAXy seems to be this sort of device, but it's outside my definition of "cheap" (I'm not saying it's expensive, it's just out side my 30 quid "what the hell" price range).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

3 Drops Roaming Fees

Yet another mobile phone post (I'll get back on topic in a bit - anyway, all telecoms will converge to VOIP at somepoint anyway ;-). 3 have dropped international roaming charges when you're in a country that 3 operates in. About time somebody did this - while I can see roaming charges when you're using a provider that isn't your own, it seems a bit silly to charge people extra to use the same providers network.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Google Maps (US) Click To Call

I've just discovered that the Google Maps (US) click to call service (which was demoed by Steve Jobs during the iPhone launch) works with any US phone (I assume US numbers only - I'm not sure what would happen if you put in an international number). Even more interesting is that it's free to use - Google pay for the call between you and the business you are calling. All you have to do is enter in your phone number, and then Google calls you and then connects you to the business your calling.

Now if only this was available in the UK. And GTalk integration would be nice.

Skype Journal - Google Talk - AIM to interop this year

Skype Journal has a post about Google interoperating with AIM this year. The post contains a link to a post by a Google employee (who appears to have previously worked at AOL) , which links to a competition at TopCoder (that appears to be sponsored by AOL) to develop an XMPP - AIM gateway.

The competition doesn't include voice/video integration. I wish AOL would just release the AIM protocol specs - then they'd get an XMPP-AIM gateway for free that would probably include voice/video integration. XMPP-AIM gateways already exist for free, but can only use the features of the AIM protocol (called OSCAR) that have been reverse engineered.

My own analysis of how AIM Phoneline works leads me to believe voice integration might be possible - it uses SIP (in a slightly odd manner) and GTalk has already been federated with SIP providers. It's a shame that AOL have chosen to base their latest voice product on an open protocol while still keeping their users in a walled garden.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Note: Linux Mobile Phones

Trolltech Greenphone
  • Available now
  • USD 695 (Community Edition SDK)
  • UI - QTopia (obviously)
  • Traditional

OpenMoko FIC Neo1973
  • Available Feb 2007?
  • Price Unknown
  • UI - Unknown
  • Keypadless Touch Screen Smartphone (like the iPhone)

ROAD S101/S101K
  • Availability unknown
  • Price Unknown
  • UI - QTopia
  • Flip to large keyboard (like the old Nokia communicators)
Motorola MotrRizr Z6
  • Available 1st half of 2007
  • Price Unknown
  • UI - Unknown (probably QT)
  • Slider form factor
Motorola ROKR E6
  • Available now (on eBay)
  • Price - £200 - £270 + shipping (Buy It Now on eBay, some UK sellers)
  • UI Unknown (probably QT)
  • Touchscreen
Motorola SCPL
  • Availability - was Dec 2006, now Jan/Feb 2007
  • Price unknown (probably similar to RAZR and SLVR)
  • UI - Unknown
  • Traditional (though very thin)
Various other Motorolas (they have been shipping phones with Linux for a few years now)

  • Available 1st Quarter 2007 (US?)
  • Price Unknown
  • UI - Probably QT
  • Dual GSM/WiFi
  • Traditional

No 3rd Party Apps For The iPhone

Various reports on the internet indicate that the new iPhone will be locked down. Needless to say, there is a backlash coming in technical circles. It will be interesting to see if this negative feeling has a negative impact on mainstream adoption.

I'm wondering if this is due to a US focus for the device. From what I've heard, mobile providers in the US often lock down their phones to a level unseen in Europe - even the phones themselves are often only available on a single network. Even comparatively dumb phones in Europe offer 3rd party Java apps, so maybe the European model iPhone will at least have Java - otherwise it will seem a bit silly that a phone costing at least £250 (probably a lot more) doesn't have a feature that a phone costing £35 has.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Apple iPhone

The internet is abuzz with news of Apple's iPhone. Certainly an object of desire, though there's no mention of how much it will cost in the UK (but what's the bet it's £499), or if it will be exclusive to any provider, like it is in the US (Cingular/AT&T).

It looks cool and one of the more interesting features (for me at least) is the use of OS/X. I've already read posts on Slashdot by people wondering about whether or not it'll have IM and SIP clients - I'm wondering if you could get Asterisk to run on it and use the GSM phone as a channel. No word on what processor it uses - I'd speculate that it's using the Cell processor (assuming Sony aren't taking up all of IBM's capacity).

Apple are partnering with Google (with Google Maps - including a press to call button on search results) and Yahoo for Push-IMAP mail. I'd never heard of Push-IMAP before today. It appears to be an extension of IMAP to make IMAP act more like a Blackberry - instead of the client occasionally polling the server, the server pushes notifications out to the client. According to the wikipedia article, it's also supposed to replace the role of SMTP in client/server setups as well (though you can already do this with a little bit of effort already with IMAP). It was developed by Oracle (who, I have to admit, aren't the first people I think of when I think of email). I find the fact that Apple are partnering with Yahoo over this a bit odd - what about Apple's own .Mac service?

The thing is, at that price I don't think I'd want to carry it around.

One other note, Apple Computer, Inc have changed their name to just Apple, Inc. I feel kinda saddened and nostalgic. But then I've been using Apple computers since my childhood, and I think that has something to do with it.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Slight Tesco Wierdness

I've noticed something over the last few days - if you sign into Tesco Internet Phone with the Tesco client, log out and then try to log in from the Asterisk server, Asterisk won't be able to log in, but the Tesco client still can.

The Tesco client and the Asterisk server are different machines behind the same firewall, so I'm wondering if that might be the issue. It's not a major problem, just something unexpected.

Free Vodafone SIMS

Vodafone are giving away free SIMS

I can't get "Asterisk + My Vodafone Family = Cheap Mobile Calls" out of my head.

Update (2007-01-12) - I got an email back from Vodafone Customer service - call diversions between My Family phones are free as well. They don't mention this in the literature.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Really Bad Consumer Journalism From The BBC

I have just seen the worst piece of telecoms related "consumer" journalism that I've seen in a long time on BBC News 24. It was about how people on some pay as you go mobile networks pay more for cross network calls than people who are on contract and they portrayed it as some huge conspiracy by the mobile operators to rip off consumers.

While the mobile operators are guilty of many, many sins against against the consumer, this is not one of them. My biggest problem with the item was how they kept banging on about how "people who use PAYG to be in control are loosing that control as they sometimes pay up to twice as much as people who are on 'multi-contract'". How is paying twice as much per call compared to people who are contracted to pay for minutes they may not use "loosing control"? You know (or at least can find out) how much a call to a particular network costs and you know what your usage pattern is. So you can work out if you would be better off on a monthly contract or on another network.

The BBC hauled out two different pay as you go consumers, a heavy using teen and a low using mum. The mum found her costs rose heavily after her daughters switched to Virgin. Would she have been in "more control" if she was on a monthly contract (which is what the entire item seemed to be about) - no, she would have been just wasting just as much money as before her daughters switched. She still had more control, as it's possible that the best thing for her to do is to switch networks, which is a lot easier when you don't have a contract. As for the teen, as a heavy user he would be better of with a monthly contract - but he can't get one as he's under 18. It's hard to feel that sorry for him though - not being able to get credit is one of the many "unfair" things about being a teen.

A Quick Glance At Tiscali's Netphone

Tonight, I thought I'd have a quick look at Tiscali's netphone. For dial in, you get an 0871 number, so I thought I'd dial in and watch what happens with wireshark.

It looks like the protocol they use is proprietary. All traffic appears to take place over HTTP port 80 (though one of the packet fragments does mention UDP port 5050 - though wireshark didn't capture any UDP traffic). One worrying thing is that I noticed my password was sent in plain text. The server side seems (at least partially) written in Java - a tell tale JSESSIONID, use of Apache 2 (UNIX) with mod_jk and the apparent use of software from (which only has one listed project, xmentos "A lightweight XML binding/persistence framework for Java (JDK5.0 or later). Works whith annotations, does not require any configuration/mapping file, runs with standard W3C DOM and JAXP"). The client looks like a regular windows app, though there is a DLL called mosquito.dll, which is interesting as "MOSQUITO" is often found in messages from the client to the server,

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Note: Building zaptel on Ubuntu Dapper VM

A quick note - when building Zaptel on a fresh Ubuntu Dapper VM (ie, the one downloaded from VMWare's website), g++ and libncurses5-dev needs to be installed.

Maybe It's A Bug

UPDATE (2007-01-06) - I've submitted a bug report and patch for Asterisk - you can see the bug report here.

I've been going over the source code to Asterisk a lot tonight, and the more I look at it, the more I think that the reason why it doesn't work "out of the box" with Tesco is because the Asterisk implementation of IAX is slightly incorrect (at least, when compared with the latest internet draft). The draft states that the default refresh value is 60, but the function that appears to handle the REGACK message (iax2_ack_registry), defaults refresh to 0. So maybe Tesco aren't actually sending a value of 0 - they might not be sending any value at all (as it is optional), and I think (although it is after 4 in the morning), that if the server doesn't send anything, it being defaulted to 0 and not 60.

When I'm more refreshed, I'll look into this further.

Asterisk 1.4 And Tesco Internet Phone

One of the first things I wanted to see with the new version of Asterisk is whether or not it will work "out of the box" with Tesco's Internet Phone service.

I didn't have much luck getting it working at all through the web interface, but I was able to get it registering with an iax.conf similar to the configuration I used with 1.2. Sadly it still uses the server assigned refresh rate, and Tesco are still sending a value of 0. So I'm still going to have to run my own customized version (though this time, I'll release a diff file so others can patch theirs - sorry about not getting around to it before). As it appears that I have a bit of time left between now and when 1.4 hits Debian (and then down to Ubuntu), I'm going to look into something a bit less hackish - namely a configuration value for iax.conf (something like forcerefresh=value).

I've been looking at the latest internet draft of IAX2, to see if it can shed light on if a value of 0 is at all valid, and if a client must always accept the servers value. There are 2 sections that appear relevant - 6.1 (especially 6.1.4 - REGACK) and 8.6.18 (REFRESH). It appears that the refresh value is optional and when not present it defaults to 60, but no mention is made if 0 is a valid value. It also looks like the refresh value in a REGACK is there for informational value than anything else - from the draft
When sent with a DPREP or REGACK, it is informational and tells a remote peer when the local peer will no longer consider the event valid.
So, it looks like I can alter Asterisk's behaviour without having to worry about breaking the protocol - whether I use the hack I did last time or the "forcerefresh" option.

On a side note, the web interface really started to screw up tonight - it would log in and then immediately jump to a broken version of the setup wizard. I eventually gave up and started over with a fresh copy of the VM. I also found out that when starting with a fresh VM, run the update before you do anything else - something I did last night but didn't tonight. If you don't update, it doesn't seem to work (as in, the login page never loads).

Friday, January 05, 2007

More on the Asterisk UI

Right, the first time I went through the setup wizard, I didn't add any users. When I tried to add users in the main UI, I got the error I reported in my previous post. I reran the setup wizard, added myself in there and now I can add more users from the main UI.

So that's one to remember - add at least 1 user in the setup wizard.

Asterisk 1,4

While waiting for Asterisk 1.4 to make it's way downstream to Ubuntu, I've decided to give AsteriskNow (inside a Virtual Machine) a go. I figure that way I can get most of the setup right before I upgrade my real machine.

The new Asterisk comes with a web based UI. So far, it's seems a little flakey - I can't add users (I keep getting a "Sorry, user must be undefined digits". Still, it's new, so it's bound to not be quite right.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Read/WriteWeb: Nokia and The Gizmo Project: Phone-to-Phone VoIP

Read/WriteWeb has an article about a version of Gizmo for the Nokia N80i. No word on if it will work with other SIP providers (like Gizmo 2 does). The software has it's own website here

It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time

I haven't posted in while, because I haven't had much of a chance to do much with VoIP over the last couple months. Sometime in October (of what is now last year) I got the idea to redo my flat's networking, partly because I wanted to move some equipment around and partly to try and improve the performance of SMS messaging (as I'm "convinced" it's poor line quality between the master socket and the modem). Needless to say, progress has been slow, but it has left my asterisk box without an ethernet connection.

Hopefully I'll be back up and running soon. I bought an cheap webcam from Tesco's over the holiday, I want to get it up and running with motion detection software that'll SMS me if something odd is happening to the flat while I'm out.