OK, I’m going away for a trip. A long trip (well, not that long. Gonna swing through Africa and Europe to clear my head.) So I decided this would be a good time to test VOIP on the Road. I initially had a few thoughts about how to approach this whole thing and here are my solutions / concerns.
I’m currently with ATT Wireless (yes, the “New” ATT.. Geezus) and I checked on their website as to whether my phone / service was gonna work in those countries. Long story short, yes, but at a price. $2.50 per min. in Africa and $.99 per minute in Europe. Personally, it’s not too appetizing for me. Since I have a few businesses I run, I decided that not having a cell phone would be (marginal) career suicide. I figured it would be safe to get the International Roaming option + their $5.99 world traveler plan that allows me to get “discounted” rates as posted earlier in this page.
Now, me being the “f*** the system” kinda guy, I believe there’s always an option. So, I took a good hard look and put on the thinking cap. Here are my solutions that I will be implementing (while keeping the ATT Wireless solution as an absolute backup).
1. I have a VOIP PBX System (CentPBX) that I’m using. So I figured it would be prudent to leverage the power of the net. The first step was to leverage VOIP to provide awesome rates to my cell phone (call forwarded calls), but that wouldn’t stop me from getting the charge. I did, however, figure I could simply let my calls go to voicemail, but the problem is, as per ATT, “If you leave your telephone and get a call, Calls going to Voicemail will be charged at the per minute rate of $2.50 per minute. If your telephone is off, you will get no charge.” Kind of retarded, huh? So here’s my solution and a little bit of an explanation.
Buried deep in your telephone is a voicemail system telephone number to forward your calls to. If your cell phone is on when you receive a call, after 4 rings, the phone itself tells the switch to forward the telephone to your voicemail system. (This means you’re paying for someone to leave voicemail for you). When you update the telephone number in your phone, it updates the setting in the switch and the call is forwarded directly to your voicemail system (even if the phone is off).. I know.. complicated and just “retarded”. This can easily be tested by messing with the telephone voicemail settings in your phone. (It works with mine).
So.. I simply get a DID and set my phone to forward all calls to my DID (telephone number) and that subsequently forwards calls to my voicemail on my PBX system. Once a message is left for me, the PBX system notifies me of a call via SMS. Now, remember, I can’t have my cell phone on right? Right. How do I bypass this whole mess? Simple.. There are 2 solutions.
a. When I get to Africa Country 1, I’m going to buy a SIM CARD (Prepaid) from the local cell phone store and pop it into my unlocked phone. I will update the info on my pbx remotely to forward calls to my new African number (which recieves incoming calls for free). I will get text message notifications from my PBX that people have called and left a message for me on my African SMS telephone. Got it? I don’t pay for people to leave me messages and I still get immediate notification that people are calling me and leaving messages (the difference is now, the messages are left on my PBX phone system and not on the Cell Phone Carrier’s phone system).
2. I can check the phone messages a couple of different ways. I can check my voicemail via my voicemail portal (website), I can have the messages emailed to me for laptop checking, or I can simply call in to get them. Problem is.. I’m not going to pay $2.50 per minute to do it. Since I had my African Sim Card in my cell phone, I would only be charged $1.25 per minute. Uhm.. Not as bad as ATT wireless, but still unacceptable. I went online to look for a VOIP DID in the country I was visiting only to find that there are no VOIP providers in that country offering DIDs!!! ok.. I’m S.O.L. right? nope, I’m not.
The hotel i’m staying at offers Free Wireless Internet Access. N’est Pas? So I could just get a softphone client on my laptop with a headset and be done with it right? Unacceptable. I’m not going to carry a headset and be tethered to my computer. It just isn’t happening. I bought a Linksys WIP 330 from Mike over at .e4 Communications (877-434-VOIP) or simply http://www.4e4voip.com. I received it via overnight mail (saturday deliver), because I didn’t want to wait.
I configured it and will now conduct some field trials before my trip. The phone is configured to connect to any wireless hotspot / Access Point and become an extension of my PBX. This will allow me to roam relatively freely to Starbucks, places that just happen to have open wifi, etc.. If someone calls, my wifi phone rings..
Now.. Off to test.. Will post follow-ups as I run around and pound on the system.
Driving around, I found an open access point called ‘Free Internet’ so I accessed it. The phone seemed to connect and I could make outgoing calls no problem. When I dialed into the PBX from a Cell Phone and punched in the extension of the WIP330, I got nowhere. I have since added a STUN server to the configuration of the WIP330. I will be experimenting with this later on today.
I’m running PFSense Firewall at my office, so I decided to try NAT Reflection. Needless to say, it was a miserable failure. Turning on DNS RELAY and Masquerading seemed to help as long as I put a static address mapping for the server to the DNS tables (to resolve internally). So the WIP330 now works within my network and outside without reprovisioning. It’s not a fix for NAT Reflection, but it’s a temporary fix.
I decided to set up a secondary network on another static ip and of course, a secondary Access Point (well, more of a router). So basically, I’m Double Natted to the Internet through this connection. It was more of a test and I really didn’t expect the WIP330 to work, but to my surprise, it does!!! It’s been about 2 hours since I connected it and I still have connectivity! The WIP330 gets the calls transferred to it and makes calls out! Pretty damn stable if I say so myself! If I had to guess, I would say that the STUN server setting made a HUGE difference. I wasn’t expecting much, but surprisingly, it works quite well! I’m going to test it throughout the week as I run around to various locations. Things are looking up! Yay!!!
There are a couple of things that bother me about the WIP330 though. Specifically the lack of features that work on the phone. For example, the headset jack does NOT work, nor does the speakerphone. Further analysis and a little bit of googling has determined that the speakerphone functionality isn’t enabled.. yet. Since the speakerphone isn’t enabled yet, I would venture to guess the headset isn’t either. That’s ok.. I’m looking forward to it.
It seems like Linksys rushed this phone out to market (probably because they had a potential deal with Skype) and it fell through. This is also the ONLY wifi phone that will authenticate via those crappy hotspot web authentication portals. So… I really can’t complain, but that was my big beef about any of the other phones out on the market. They couldn’t do that!
While things look promising on this telephone it’s still a long way from being *complete*. There are features that aren’t activated on the phone yet, but that’s something I’m willing to deal with, as the base functionality I was looking for is already here. The firmware update feature is slick, but required a little bit of modification of the download URL from Linksys. That’s ok too.. but for the average “non-techy”, this would have been a major problem. For someone who’s well-versed and isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty, this is a phenomenal phone once you get it set up properly.
I’ll be using the phone throughout the next week prior to my trip and if all goes well, it should be a success!!!! (hopefully). We’ll see…
I tried the “overnight” regular usage test.. Running around the house with all calls forwarded to the phone. Performance was very good. Didn’t drop a call, although, callers said they heard, “minor echo”. They said it didn’t affect the call quality though. It was still usable. I didn’t hear the echo on my side so.. I wouldn’t know.
Gonna run to the airport to test it today (2 hour drive roundtrip). This should be a good test.
—————- UPDATE ——————
OK.. Stopped by the Mall on the way to the airport and tried it out in a few places (hotspots). Worked Flawlessly with a few free wifi hotspots.
The Airport, however, was a different story. It’s all Pay Service. So… To use it, I either have to pay $8-10 per day (buy at the time of the service) or.. I can sign up for Boingo (the provider partner of the service) on a monthly fee. I decided not to pay the fee to test it, but I will be signing up with Boingo or an affiliate partner to test it when I go to the airport on Sunday.
Interesting bit of news though.. I was gone 4 hours, had a relatively well-charged phone, used about 10 min. of talk time and the phone was dead within 4 hours.. I don’t know if the phone was partially charged prior to me leaving for my little excursion. I’ll be testing battery life throughout the week.
It’s been 3 days since I’ve charged up the phone. I just let it sit by my desk (it shares a miniusb cable with my Razr) and it’s received 5 missed calls. So We know standy time rocks! Talk Time testing begins today.
Well, I’m back from my trip and here’s what I’ve learned. The WIP330 did it’s job in my hotel room / lobby. It was good for keeping the fort down and handling incoming phone calls. I did have some trouble with phone calls outside my hotel, but I attribute that to the lack of access points available rather than telephone performance. My goal was to have a landline available and my business phones ring me when I was in the hotel room. The WIP330 performed flawlessly. Battery time for talk was ample as I was always in / near my hotel room. I just remembered to plug in to the charger after telephone calls.
My little experiment was definitely a success and the WIP330, while not perfect performs it’s functions well. I will be traveling with this little dynamo again in the near future.