REPORT: Asterisk and VoSKY "Call Center" Skype Box

I found someplace local here who has the Actiontec VoSKY Call Center Skype adapter box (see in stock, so I went and bought one to see if I could make it work with Asterisk to route calls between Asterisk and Skype.

Following is a report on the results.

The short answer is that it works, sort of.

You need a Windoze machine (XP or 2000) that runs Skype, because the VoSKY Call Center software is only available in a Windoze version … no Linux. So, you can’t run Skype and VoSKY Call Center on your Asterisk box (well, I suppose you could, if you run Windows on VMware on your Asterisk box… I didn’t try that but I suppose it would work … also didn’t try Wine and may try that later).

On your Windoze box, first install Skype, and THEN do the VoSKY Call Center installation. Configure Skype to use the VoSKY Call Center as its audio input and output devices (in Skype select Tools -> Options -> Sound Devices and select from the pulldown menus). As part of the VoSKY Call Center installation, you’ll be told to connect the Call Center’s LINE port to a phone line; connect that to an FXS port on your Asterisk box. You may optionally connect an analog phone to the PHONE port on the Call Center box.

There is a configuration dialog box in the VoSKY Call Center software that you use to configure the Call Center to accept and place calls.

If you want to direct incoming phone calls to Skype, you select “Enable Remote Internet Calling” and tell it the number of rings you want it to wait before it picks up the call. There is also a place where you configure a password. You must also configure your Skype to assign “speed dial” numbers to each of your Skype Contacts. The idea is that you place a regular telephone call to your VoSKY Call Center box, and after the configured number of rings, it will answer the call and ask for your password, then ask for the “speed dial” number of the Skype Contact you wish to reach. Dial those in, and with luck you will find yourself talking to your Skype Contact.

Here is where the “It works, sort of” kicks in. If you plug the VoSKY Call Center into the telco jack on the wall, it will answer in the configured number of rings. If you plug it into a Digium TDM400 FXS port, it will ONLY answer if you configure the number of rings to one (1). If you configure it to any other number, the VoSKY Call Center will never answer at all.

Actiontec / VoSKY has a very inconvenient tech support response form on their website … they make you fill out the form every time you want to contact them, then they send you an email starting with a warning “DO NOT REPLY TO THIS EMAIL, it is a send-only account”, then they give you the answer to your question, then there is a link at the bottom where they make you go back to their fill-in-the-blanks form on their website if you want to ask them a followup. Sending them a followup message requires that you fill in ALL the blanks on their form AGAIN, very inconvenient (they assign you a “CallID” number which is part of the link you click on to get their response form back, so you’d think they’d automatically fill in things like your name, phone number, email, serial number of the box, etc. etc. etc.). I insisted that they provide me with a direct email address to use to discuss the issue, which they finally did.

The bottom line is that they disclaim any compatibility with PBXs. I tried to explain to them (after verifying it with Digium tech support) that the Digium FXS port is designed to be compatible with the telco port in terms of ringing voltage, frequency, and cadence, but that did no good … if it’s a PBX, they don’t want to know about it.

The reason they don’t want to know about it, of course, is that they also sell a VoSKY Exchange box which is designed to work with PBXs … but the Exchange box costs MORE THAN TEN TIMES the price of the Call Center box ($800 vs $70 at Radio Shack), so naturally they want you to buy that one even if your PBX is compatible with telco wall jacks.

I only have one FXS port so I tried to double-duty it by establishing one extension number on my PBX for my office phone (which auto-forwards to voicemail after four rings) and a different extension number that does not auto-forward to anything, for use with the Skype box. So, if someone calls my PBX and dials the Skype extension and lets it ring six times, it is supposed to transfer to Skype. Unfortunately the above-described deficiency in the Call Center box makes it impossible to do that, at least with Digium cards.

The VoSKY Call Center can also be configured to redirect incoming Skype calls to a phone number. You check the “Enable Call Forwarding” box in the VoSKY configuration and tell it the number of Skype rings you want it to wait before picking up. After that number of rings, the call gets redirected to a number you put in a different box in the VoSKY configuration. I just use my office extension number (21) and it works fine. Note that in this case, the incoming Skype call comes in via a USB port, which the VoSKY apparently implements a little better than it does the telco interface, so the number-of-rings-before-pickup works fine.

There are a few other limitations that severely restrict the usefulness of this box for some applications.

Anyone who calls in wanting to redirect the call to Skype will have to know the password AND the “speed-dial” number that’s programmed into the Skype Windoze box. This isn’t necessarily a big deal, just publish that information for your callers … EXCEPT that if you have SkypeOut credits, someone could call in on your phone line and use up all of your SkypeOut credits (SkypeOut calls are free within the US and Canada until the end of the year but ONLY within the US and Canada and ONLY until the end of the year…).

A more serious restriction is that anyone calling in on Skype wanting his call to be redirected to a phone line only gets one choice … you can only program one phone number in the VoSKY Call Forwarding configuration. I guess that’s a good thing … that way no one can call in via Skype and call out on your dime and run up your phone bill … but that also prevents anyone from calling in via Skype and contacting someone from a list of possible destinations, which most people will want to be able to do when contacting a business (I suppose the “Call Forwarding” number could go to an operator or receptionist who can redirect the call to someone else, but one purpose behind Asterisk is to save us from having to hire receptionists). There may be some ways around that too… I could establish an extension number that just redirects back to the main Asterisk menu … haven’t tried that, will have to try it and see how well it works.

Those are the results of my testing. Actiontec seems unwilling to fix that ringing problem (they’d rather you buy the $800 Exchange box), so unless you have an FXS port that you can dedicate to the Call Center box, it will probably be of limited usefulness to you. I plan to return mine to Circuit City on Monday.

I hope this information is useful…

A follow-up regarding the Actiontec VoSKY Call Center…

As noted in my previous post, a serious limitation in the Call Center implementation is that you cannot select the number to which you want Skype calls to be forwarded.

I have worked around that by setting up a separate extension number that goes back to the main menu (“Thank you for calling, please select from the following menu…”).

That works, sort of, except for two things…

  1. The VoSKY box apparently doesn’t wait long enough between taking the phone line off hook and dialing the number (I think it tries to sense the dial tone but Actiontec also claims that PBX dial tones are incompatible with the Call Center). So, sometimes the call goes through and sometimes it doesn.t

  2. The more serious limitation, the real show-stopper, is that apparenly the Call Center box filters out DTMF. At least, that’s how it appears… voice goes through fine but touch tones do not. So, you can’t even use Asterisk’s call redirection capabilities.

I will send Actiontec an email on these two issues and report back if I get any useful information.