Hobby home system at the crossroads - next step?


#1

I am looking for input/recommendations/lessons learned etc…

Here’s where I’m at:
Set up Asterisk for home use (still 10.0.9), running stable for quite some time. Did that on a shoestring: Used but good P4, X100P clone, SIP softphones (XLite’s on OS X and XP). Trunks are

  1. PSTN with my old phone number
  2. SIPGATE VoIP to stay in touch with friends and family in Germany (I live in US) who aren’t that technically advanced (;->).

I’ve been living with small problems: Cracking sounds and hangups on OS X softphone, long breaks in audio on XP softphone. I am under the impression that softphones are useless for daily use. I still use my old analog phone parallel to Asterisk, which is truly besides the point of having Asterisk, of course. So I need to move forward. What’s my next step? I am undecided about my options, which I see as follows:

  • Aggressive route: Ditch PSTN landline and go VoIP with Broadvoice BYOD, get wireless SIP phone (i’m running a wireless LAN). I have considerable reservations though:
  1. VoIP not being ready for prime time, e.g. Broadvoice cannot get me a local number, just one issue.
  2. Countless accounts of underachieving wireless SIP phones, not ready for prime time either?
    VoIP via Broadvoice BYOD would safe me considerable $$$ on my monthly bill though, and a “carrier” when I’m on the road.
  • Conservative route: Keep analog line and local number but be stuck with dialtone. Get Digium TDM400P w/ FXS and FXO module. Connect analog phone to FXS and configure as extension. (Q: on a side, any recommendations for a cordless analog phone?)
    Conservative route would be pricier and isn’t nearly as sexy, but I am aiming to build a solid platform so I don’t have to explain to callers why calls are getting dropped, why I cannot be reached, and whatnot. Also, with a solid platform I expect I won’t have to scratch my head when things don’t work with further steps down the road.

Sorry, long story… I suppose my Q: boils down to: I’m leaning towards the convservative route, even so, is there a reasonable shot at a solid platform from the aggressive route, at this time anyway?


#2

first- breaks in audio can be caused by xten silence suppression. Do setupmenu-advanced settings-audio settings-silence settings, turn on ‘transmit silence’. This disables VAD (voice activity detection), which Asterisk does not support at all. See if that fixes your issues.

That said, softphones suck and you are right they are totally useless for daily use. Almost anything (when properly configured) will work better. IP hardphone, FXS+cordless, ATA+cordless, WiSIP phone, Uniden now makes a SIP VoIP cordless product thats a 5.8GHz cordless phone with a SIP client built right into the base. Chances are very good that any of these will work better for you than softphones.

IMHO you have two issues to think about- what you’re going to use internally and what kind of service you’re going to get.

As a general rule, i like native-VoIP hardware better than analog. Features like juggling multiple calls, transferring, etc are far easier when I have a phone that fully understands what’s going on. If you’re getting a cordless phone, check out Uniden’s model (see above).
One way to kill both at once, Aastra makes the (expensive but very nice) 480i CT. I’m debating buying one for myself. It’s a very full featured VoIP desk phone with a cordless handset. It’s about $300 for the kit, but I think you need to toss in another $30 for the power brick.
Another cheaper route is the $200 Uniden UIP1868. Like the Aastra, it has a deskset and a cordless handset, but it can accept any Uniden 5.8GHz handsets (there are some very cool ones).
Lastly, for a non-cordless one, try the Sipura SPA-841 ($80) or the Grandstream GXP-2000 ($100). I have a Grandstream and I like it alot, with the new firmware (1.0.1.13) it is very usable. The Sipura is also a good phone, but it does not have a backlit display, which to me is a deal-killer. YMMV.
I agree that current WiSIP phones aren’t quite there. Mostly because none of them support WPA yet.
All of the above are compatible with Asterisk, and will continue to work even if you stick with a landline and/or upgrade your x100 clone to a TDM400 card (although there seems less of a need to do this if the x100 works).

As for service- try quantumvoice ( quantumvoice.com ). Their website sucks but they are extremely helpful with whatever you need. Email them and ask if your current phone number can be ported. They support Asterisk/BYOD. If you are worried about call quality, sign up and request a port, but don’t fax them your paperwork (LNP authorization) yet. Your outbound caller ID will say your real landline number (that you are considering porting), and you can get it working / make outbound calls to test it for a while. They’re a few bucks more expensive than BV, but their vastly better service is worth it.


#3

I’m in a not-too-disimilar place.

I’ve been running *, with a cheap ITSP (telasip), in parallel with my pstn phone. When the wife’s not home (she works away from home, I work at home :wink: I switch the regular phone line over to * for testing.

I’ve unlocked a couple of PAP2s and just completed wiring the house (everything is home run to the garage, and I have 2 punch-down blocks for the phone lines, a switch for the ethernet, and one of the PAP2’s sitting there) so that I can easily switch various lines from analog to SIP. I’ve even started getting her excited with a cheap analog phone connected to one of the PAP2s in her home-office and showing her music-on-hold, callerid on her PC screen, etc. I think I’m building a good case :wink:

The next step is switching the main pstn line into * (via the X100P card), and start taking inbound calls (with nice features like voicemail, caller id announcement, transfer, etc.) on the regular pstn line, and allowing outgoing calls via the telasip VoIP account. This also enables some nice features, like multiple simultaneous outbound calls, an adaptation of nerd vittle’s asteridex, and some other nifty stuff. Taking inbound on the pstn line means I don’t have to deal with either switching my local number OR making the one-way trip to porting my number to a VoIP provider.

It also means having 911 service, which I’ll provide access to through 2 dedicated phones in the house (line 2 of my home-office 2-line phone, and one of the old wireless phones plugged into the pstn circuit, but with its ringer turned off, and located in a very accessible, but non-traditional place [in the entertainment center in the family room]). I think the ringer needs to be turned off, and the dedicated analog line phones need to be somewhat “obsucred” so that people respond to the * initiated ringing, NOT the incoming pstn ringing (which they won’t hear if the ringers are off). In this way, * answers the call, picks up caller id, does its processing, then rings whatever extensions it’s supposed to ring. Having people picking up the pstn phones on incoming calls really messes up the call flow, and * doesn’t deal with it well.

I’ve read about, but don’t yet know the details for downgrading my pstn service to the minimum required level (it will still need callerid enabled to function usefully for inbound calls, so it’s not totally bare-bones), and I can certainly get rid of any pstn long distance. Overall, I think the lower cost of the pstn line will just about balance the $15/month I pay to telasip, so I don’t really come out ahead, per se.

Ultimately, pending progress with 911 services, and acceptance of VoIP in the family, I can always go the route of porting my local number to my ITSP and completely get rid of any baby bell umbilical. I’d certainly look forward to that, both as a cost reduction, and since the services over VoIP are much better (e.g., you get callerid on the incoming call, vs. waiting for the 2nd ring in the U.S.).

Anyway, not sure if that helped at all, but I sorta got on a roll there describing my road map, and figured it might give you an idea or two.

Cheers,
john


#4

a random suggestion- you can setup 911 through Asterisk using the x100 card, program it to dump whatever is on the zaptel chan (zaphangup i think), then dial 911 whenever anybody dials 911 from anywhere.

Also, for the few phones hardwired to landline- this may be of use redhotphones.com/


#5

THX guys so far - I am still leaning the conservative route, no final conclusions yet.

VoIP vs. PSTN

  • Local number support and 911 aside, there’s another potential problem going VoIP: When you get a number from a VoIP provider, it is not per se “yours” as is under FCC regulations. Consider the following scenario: Vonage takes over your provider of choice and kills Asterisk support for business reasons. Now you have the choice to stick it out with evil, or your (business) phone number is in all likelyhood gone. IMHO there’s going to be an industry shakeout ahead of us, and with no regulations in place, customers are going to be holding the losing end. Hmm, haven’t we been always right?
  • Bummer, Quantumvoice does not show a considerable rate advantage over PSTN as Broadvoice/BYOD does. Apparently, they can give me a local number though, hmm, i’ll have to check it out. Heck, if they offered bare bones for 10bucks/month, or pre-paid like SIPGATE does, i’d say to hell with the phone number if i had to ditch it. Off topic I have to say the way SIPGATE does business in Germany sets the standard to me. Easy verification of address, no rip-off monthly rate - pay as you go.

As far as phones go:

  • I want the flexibility of a cordless/wireless phone
  • Established that WiSIPs aren’t ready at this point. Unbelievable they all enter the market this unprepared.
  • I am not impressed with the limited selection of cordless SIP phones. Given I find THE cordless phone, it’s going to be analog in all likelyhood, and i’d have to get an ATA. In case I stick with PSTN, I suppose I better get the Digium card to get a dialtone for the analog device then. Less equipment, fewer points of failure, and potentially better integration of the PSTN(analog)/digitial/phone(analog) configuration.
  • Red phones, LOL, for the hero within.

Bad compromises as you turn… it doesn’t look to me like the situation is going to change any time soon. Perhaps a good WiSIP phone is available in a couple of years, but the VoIP/PSTN issues are here to stay for quite some time, I’m afraid.


#6

Yep, this makes a noticeable difference.


#7

Great suggestion. I’m adding that today.

Thanks for the pointer to the red phones! Doesn’t everyone need one of those? LOL.

cheers,
john


#8

FWIW, the next batch of WiSIP phones will suck much less. Linksys and UTStarcom are both coming out with units that look pretty good (and support WPA).
As for LNP, you should check with ip carriers on this. Some will make a fuss about you porting out, some won’t. Read their terms of service, if that prohibits it then you’re probably but not always SOL. If that explicitly allows outward porting- then check how its updated. It usually says that it can be updated by posting a new one on the website, you can make a legal case that you didn’t accept the new TOS and your porting out was a method of refusing them. Alternately, you can get a number from your local telco, port it, then you are pretty much guaranteed to be able to port it out.

You are right that as far as cordless voip goes its pretty slim pickings ATM. Digium card or ATA is probably a better bed (i’d go with the digium card). At the very least, you could buy a 1FXO version and not get the FXS upgrade unless you needed it…