I Have A Dream: Free Cellular Service with Integrated Remote SIP Connectivity

As part of our Mobile Internet adventure this year, we’ve been scouring the countryside with two requirements in mind. First, we wanted a smartphone on which we could activate some type of free cellular service for making calls and sending text messages. Second, we wanted to integrate remote SIP connectivity using the same provider and phone number so that we could make and receive calls transparently using any SIP phone or Asterisk® server anywhere in the world. Sounds like a tall order, you say? Well, if you’ve enjoyed your Cloud@Cost Sandbox, you’re gonna love RingPlus! Note to Naysayers…

Yes, you’ll have to buy a compatible cellphone, but there are thousands to choose from. And, yes, you’ll need Sprint service in your neighborhood. Then you’ll have to cough up $10 to activate your cellular account. RingPlus offers dozens of plans.1 We recommend the Michelangelo plan which best meets what we’re trying to accomplish today, but the choice is all yours.2 With the Michelangelo plan, you can make and receive 1,000 minutes of free calls a month to anywhere in the U.S. (calls to Canada are 3¢ a minute), you can send and receive 1,000 free text messages a month, and you can use 500MB of free data service every month. You also can use your same account credentials with any SIP phone, softphone, or Asterisk server anywhere in the world to make and receive phone calls transparently using the same phone number as your smartphone. In other words, you can travel anywhere and make and receive phone calls just as if you were sitting in Atlanta, Georgia dialing from your smartphone. The SIP calls are deducted from your free minutes. No cellular service required at all. Meet RingPlus!


So what’s the catch? How does RingPlus make money? Well, of course, they would prefer that you sign up for a plan with monthly fees. For those on the free plans, the only difference you will notice is an occasional ad which plays instead of a ring tone when you place outbound calls. This only occurs until the other party answers the call, and it can be all but eliminated by choosing a music selection in the RingPlus Radio feature in your RingPlus Dashboard.

Who are the ones most likely to use something like this? Well, for openers, all of your kids unless you like springing for a $500 phone and spending $40+ dollars a month for cellular service for each of them. One of the other real beauties of RingPlus is you can set up a whitelist of numbers that can be called from the phone. Blacklists are supported as well. It’s perfect for kids just getting started with a cellphone. A second potential user group would be those who travel outside the United States and prefer not to pay exorbitant roaming rates for calls. Using a SIP phone connected to your RingPlus account, all of the international calls suddenly are free. And the calls are delivered with the same CallerID number as calls placed from your actual smartphone. In fact, your smartphone doesn’t have to be in service at all. A third and perhaps most important use for us was to serve as a failover trunk on one or more Asterisk servers. When all else fails, you can route outbound calls to your RingPlus SIP trunk for free calling using your RingPlus account. Doesn’t get any better than that.

There are probably numerous ways to put all these pieces in place so that things function just as we’ve described. Today we’ll share with you the solution that actually worked for us. You can take it from there and avoid the thousands of horror stories about incompatible smartphones. Be advised that acquiring used cellphones or even incompatible cellphones is a very dangerous and expensive business. If you buy one that happens to be stolen, or that has a balance due on the account, or that is incompatible with RingPlus, then you’ve bought a tiny boat anchor and not much else. So, our best advice is buy one from the provider. That’s the one and only RingPlus, and the smartphones start at just under $100. If that’s too rich for your blood, you can roll the dice and try what we did (twice) by purchasing a brand new Sprint or Boost Mobile Prepaid LG phone in an unopened box starting at $35. NO GUARANTEES THIS WILL WORK FOR YOU! We’ve had good luck with LG phones at both ends of the price spectrum, and it MAY work with other brands; however, every manufacturer sets up their phones a little differently, and we happen to know that this worked on both a low end and high end LG prepaid phone.

Visit your favorite Sprint/Boost Mobile reseller including Radio Shack (with a Sprint store), Best Buy, and WalMart.3 If store employees will let you, find the Sprint or Boost Mobile Prepaid LG phone that you like and look on the bottom of the box. There you will find the decimal value of the MEID. Log into http://nerd.bz/nvringplus and plug in the MEID to see if it is RingPlus compatible. If it passes, buy it. If it flunks, try another one. Whatever you do, DON’T BUY A PHONE IN AN OPENED BOX, AND DON’T OPEN THE BOX YET! If there is a problem, you still can return it for a full refund at this point.

Funny story. The Radio Shack employees at our local store were very savvy and refused to let me look at the MEID claiming it was a security issue. Fair enough. Of course, they were also curious why I wanted the phone without letting them configure it. Once I told them the deal, they all wanted one, too. They asked for the link to the MEID verification site and said they’d do it for me. Once it worked, excitement broke out in the room with all the staff reading an early copy of this article. While Radio Shack typically charges a $35 restocking fee on cell phones, that fee is waived if you return the phone in an unopened box. So the only thing you’re wasting if they insist that you purchase the phone is a little bit of your time and a lot of Radio Shack employee time if, in fact, the MEID flunks the verification test.

Configuring Your Phone for RingPlus Service

2/9/2016 Update: You may wish to put off signing up until 3:00 PM Eastern time today (Tuesday, Feb. 9) so you can take advantage of the new Giuseppe Farina monthly plan with 1,200 free minutes, 1,200 free text messages, and 1.2GB of free data per month with a $20 deposit. Also provides tethering for an additional $0.49 per day.

Now sign up for a RingPlus free plan using the MEID and ICC ID you previously verified. Michelangelo is probably the best bet if you missed our Twitter tip this past weekend. Deposit $10 in your new account, and activate it. Log into your RingPlus Dashboard, click on your phone in the upper right frame, and choose Manage Device. Write down your MSID, your phone number, and MSL. Once your account is active, then and only then unbox and turn on your phone. Go through the minimal setup steps by choosing your Language and choosing an available WiFi network. During this setup, RingPlus should push a PRL update to your new phone, and it will reboot. Check in Settings -> General -> About Phone -> Status and see if you have a phone number. If so, you’re good to go. If not, open the Phone Dialer application and dial ##72786# which should force another PRL update to your phone with another reboot. When it finishes, check again for a phone number and place an outbound call.

Using a browser on your desktop computer, go back into the RingPlus Dashboard and sign in. Your phone device should show Active in the upper right corner of the screen. Click there and you’ll get a display like this:

While still in the Device Settings Menu, click on the WiFi FluidCall option to decipher your SIP credentials. You’ll need these to set up your SIP phone or a SIP trunk on your Asterisk server. Your username is your 10-digit phone number, the domain name is sip.ringplus.net, and the password is a system-generated entry which you can recreate whenever you like. That’s probably a very good idea whenever you use public WiFi services to make calls with your SIP phone or a softphone.

By the way, this isn’t some kludgy SIP-GSM gateway where the calls actually are routed out through your cellphone device. The RingPlus SIP gateway connects your SIP device directly to the Internet and simply uses your existing RingPlus CallerID to identify the calls. In short, you get the best of both worlds: a dirt cheap or free cellphone service plus a dirt cheap or free SIP trunk for use anywhere in the world.

Configuring a RingPlus SIP Trunk with Asterisk

If you’d like to set up your RingPlus number as a failover trunk on your Asterisk server, here is the setup that worked for us with Incredible PBX using your assigned 10-digit phone number for your username and fromuser settings and your assigned password for your secret. If you include a registration string and configure an inbound route using your RingPlus DID, then inbound calling will work as well. If you skip the registration step, then you can use the same RingPlus trunk on multiple Asterisk servers for emergency outbound calling. No firewall adjustments should be necessary.

There are all sorts of other magic tricks you can implement using the RingPlus API, but you probably won’t need any of the features in light of the robust SIP connectivity RingPlus provides to an existing Asterisk server where the feature set is virtually unlimited. Be advised that you must make a call at least once every 60 days to keep your account. The simple way to do this is to set up a monthly reminder using your RingPlus trunk. Schedule the reminder to call you once every month using Telephone Reminders in Incredible PBX. Enjoy the Free Ride!

Originally published: Monday, February 8, 2016





Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For our users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. Be advised that future availability of these “free” plans may go away after February 15 unless you join the Member+ program, the cost of which has not yet been announced. This will not affect those that already are participating in the program according to RingPlus. []
  2. In case you’re curious, a plan equivalent to the free Michelangelo plan at RingPlus would run you $41.00 per month at Ting. Ouch! []
  3. Problems have been reported with WalMart varieties. It may be that they have prelocked the phones to Sprint since they get a commission on the revenue. []

The Ultimate VoIP Sandbox in the Cloud for Less Than a $35 Raspberry Pi 2

Last week we began our new series on Cloud Computing by documenting how to build an awesome LAMP server in the Cloud using Linux. Today we’re going to use the same platform but the price just dropped to $10.50 with coupon code TAKE70. We’ll show you how to build an equally powerful Incredible PBX 13 server with hundreds of PBX features including free calling to the U.S. and Canada using any (free) Google Voice account. Keep in mind this isn’t $10.50 a month for your cloud server. It’s $10.50, period! The whole project takes less than an hour. Before we begin, let’s revisit our cautionary note for those that missed last week’s article. It’s important.

There’s lots to hate at Cloud At Cost, a Canadian provider that offers virtual machines in the cloud for a one-time fee with no recurring charges. For $35 or less, you get a virtual machine with 512MB of RAM, 10GB of storage, and a gigabit Internet connection FOR LIFE. We haven’t seen a week go by when Cloud at Cost didn’t offer some sort of discount. Today it’s 70% which brings the total cost down to $10.50. That’s less than a burger at Five Guys. That’s the good news. But, if security, 99.999% reliability, performance, and excellent customer support are your must-haves, then look elsewhere. So why would anyone in their right mind sign up for a cloud solution that didn’t offer those four things? Did we mention it’s $10.50 for a lifetime cloud server?

If you take our recommendation and plunk down your $10.50, you’ll need to go into this with the right attitude. It’s not going to be flawless perfection computing. It’s a sandbox on which to experiment with [VoIP] and Cloud Computing. Will your virtual machine disintegrate at some juncture? Probably. Our experience is that the first couple days are critical. If you start seeing sluggish performance which degenerates to zero, don’t waste your time. Take good notes as you go along, delete the virtual machine, and rebuild a new one. It won’t cost you a dime, and it’ll save you hours of frustration. We suspect that bad folks get onto some of the servers and delight in bringing the machines to their knees. So the quicker you cut your losses, the better off you will be. Is CloudAtCost a good solution for production use? Absolutely not so don’t try to fit a square peg in the round hole. It’s not gonna work, and you WILL be disappointed.

Next we’ll cover three production-ready Cloud solutions that range in price from $5 to $15 a month. But today’s experiment will give you a platform on which to learn before you decide upon a more permanent deployment solution. And it will give you a terrific home for a backup server once you do move to a long-term solution so your $10.50 won’t be wasted.


The objective today is to show you how to build a rock-solid, secure VoIP server in the Cloud with all the bells and whistles you’d typically find on a PBX costing tens of thousands of dollars. Incredible PBX is pure GPL, open source code with one major difference. It’s FREE! And it’s supported by thousands of users on the PIAF Forum that started just like you.

Some of you are probably wondering why you would want a PBX at all. Hearing is believing as they say. Spend a couple minutes and call our demo server that we have preconfigured using everything covered in today’s tutorial. It’ll let you play with some of the features that a PBX offers such a voice dialing from a directory, news and weather forecasts, and much more. Just dial:

Nerd Vittles Demo IVR Options
1 – Call by Name (say “Delta Airlines” or “American Airlines” to try it out)
2 – MeetMe Conference (password is 1234)
3 – Wolfram Alpha (say “What planes are flying overhead now?”)
4 – Lenny (The Telemarketer’s Worst Nightmare)
5 – Today’s News Headlines
6 – Weather Forecast (say the city and state, province, or country)
7 – Today in History
8 – Speak to a Real Person (or maybe just voicemail if we’re out)

For long time readers of Nerd Vittles, you already know that the component we continually stress is security. Without that, the rest really doesn’t matter. You’ll be building a platform for someone else to hijack and use for nefarious purposes. When we’re finished today, you’ll have a cloud-based VoIP server that is totally invisible to the rest of the world except a short list of VoIP providers that have been thoroughly vetted by Nerd Vittles staff. You can whitelist additional locations and phones to meet your individual needs without worrying about your server being compromised.

Creating Your Virtual Machine Platform in the Cloud

To get started, you’ve got to cough up your $10.50 at Cloud at Cost using coupon code TAKE70. Once you’ve signed up, CloudAtCost will send you credentials to log into the Cloud at Cost Management Portal. Change your portal password IMMEDIATELY after logging in. Just go to SETTINGS and follow your nose.

To create your virtual machine, click on the CLOUDPRO button and click Add New Server. If you’ve only purchased the $10.50 CloudPRO 1 platform, then you’ll need all of the available resources shown in the pick list. Leave CentOS 6.7 64bit selected as the OS Type and click Complete. Depending upon the type of special pricing that Cloud at Cost is offering when you sign up, the time to build your virtual machine can take anywhere from a minute to the better part of a day. Things have settled down since the 90% off week so new servers typically are ready in a few minutes. However, we’ve learned to build new virtual machines at night where possible. Then they’re usually available for use by the next morning. Luckily, this slow performance does not impact existing virtual machines that already are running in the CloudAtCost hosting facilities.

Initial Configuration of Your CentOS 6.7 Virtual Machine

With a little luck, your virtual machine soon will appear in your Cloud at Cost Management Portal and look something like what’s shown above. The red arrow points to the i button you’ll need to click to decipher the password for your new virtual machine. You’ll need both your IP address and the password for the new virtual machine in order to log into the server which is now up and running with a barebones CentOS 6.7 operating system. Note the yellow caution flag. That’s telling you that Cloud at Cost will automatically shut down your server in a week to save (them) computing resources. You can change the setting to keep your server running 24/7. Click Modify, Change Run Mode, and select Normal – Leave Powered On. Click Continue and OK to save your new settings.

Finally, you’ll want to change the Host Name for your server to something more descriptive than c7…cloudpro.92… Click the Modify button again and click Rename Server to change it. IncrediblePBX13 has a nice ring to it, but to each his own.

Logging into Your New CentOS 6.7 Virtual Machine

In order to configure and manage your new CentOS 6.7 virtual machine, you’ll need to log into the new server using either SSH or, for Windows users, Putty. After installing Putty, run it and log in to the IP address of your VM with username root and the password you deciphered above. On a Mac, open a Terminal session and issue a command like this using the actual IP address of your new virtual machine:

ssh root@12.34.56.78

Before you do anything else, reset your Virtual Machine’s root password to something very secure: passwd

Installing Incredible PBX 13 with CentOS 6.7

Now we’re ready to build your VoIP server platform. There aren’t many steps so just cut-and-paste the code into your SSH or Putty session and review the results to make sure nothing comes unglued. If something does, the beauty of virtual machines is you can delete them instantly within your management portal and just start over whenever you like. So here we go…

We’ll begin by permanently turning off SELINUX which causes more problems than it solves. The first command turns it off instantly. The second line assures that it’ll stay off whenever you reboot your virtual machine.

setenforce 0
sed -i s/SELINUX=enforcing/SELINUX=disabled/g /etc/selinux/config

Now let’s bring CentOS 6.7 up to current specs and add a few important applications:

yum -y update
yum -y install net-tools nano wget tar

Now we’re ready to kick off the Incredible PBX 13 install:

cd /root
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/incrediblepbx13-12.2-centos.tar.gz
tar zxvf incrediblepbx*
./IncrediblePBX*

When the install begins, read the license agreement and press ENTER to agree to the terms and get things rolling. Now would be a great time to go have breakfast or lunch. Come back in about an hour and your server should be ready to go.

Tweaking Your CloudAtCost Setup Improves Performance and Improves Security

After you reboot your server, let’s address a couple of CloudAtCost quirks that may cause problems down the road. CloudAtCost has a nasty habit of not cleaning up after itself with fresh installs. The net result is your root password may get reset every time you reboot.

sed -i '/exit 0/d' /etc/rc.local
killall plymouthd
echo killall plymouthd >> /etc/rc.local
rm -f /etc/rc3.d/S97*
echo "exit 0" >> /etc/rc.local

Implementing Dynamic DNS Service on Your Client Machines

Unlike some other PBX offerings that leave your server exposed to the Internet, Incredible PBX is different. Unless the IP address from which you are accessing the server has been whitelisted, nobody on the Internet can see your server. The only exception is the preferred providers list and those on the same local area network (which is nobody in the case of CloudAtCost). As part of the Incredible PBX install, the IP address of the computer you used to perform the install was whitelisted automatically. But there may be other computers from which you wish to allow access to the PBX in order to deploy telephones at remote sites. Some of these sites may have dynamic IP addresses that change from time to time. Or you may have traveling salesman that land in a new hotel almost every night with a new IP address. Fortunately, there are a number of free and paid Dynamic DNS providers. For sites with dynamic IP addresses, simply choose a fully-qualified domain name (FQDN) to identify each location where you need computer access or need to deploy a phone. Then run a dynamic DNS update utility periodically from a computer or router at that site. It reports back the current public IP address of the site and your DNS provider updates the IP address assigned to that FQDN whenever there are changes.

DNS update clients are available for Windows, Mac OS X, and many residential routers. They’re also available for Android devices. Then it’s just a matter of plugging in the remote users’ FQDNs so Incredible PBX knows to give them server access via the whitelist. You implement this in seconds using the add-ip and add-fqdn utilities in the /root directory.

There are other ways to gain access as well using the PortKnocker utility or Travelin’ Man 4 from a telephone. Both of these are covered in the Incredible PBX 13 tutorial so we won’t repeat it here.

Incredible PBX Preliminary Setup Steps

First, let’s check things out and make sure everything is working as it should. With your favorite web browser, visit the IP address of your new server. You should see the default Incredible PBX page, the Kennonsoft Menu. It’s divided into two parts, a Users tab (shown below) and an Admin tab with additional options that we’ll cover shortly.

Now we need to jump back to SSH or Putty and log back into your server as root. You’ll note that the Incredible PBX Automatic Update Utility is run each time you log in. This is how important security updates are pushed to your server so do it regularly. And, no, you don’t need to contribute to our open source projects unless you want to. You’ll still get the updates as they are released.

After the Automatic Update Utility runs, the login script will execute status which tells you everything you need to know about the health of your server. After the initial install, it will look something like this with your server’s IP address obviously. We’ll cover the RED items down the road a bit.

For now, we need to complete a few preliminary setup steps for Incredible PBX to make sure you can log into the various components which have been installed on your computer. There are several different credentials you will need. Most of these are configured using scripts in the /root folder of your server. First, you need your root password for the server itself, and you should have already set that up with a very secure password using passwd. These same credentials are used to login to WebMin.

Next you’ll need an admin password for the Incredible PBX GUI. This is the management utility and Asterisk® code generator which consists of FreePBX® GPL modules that are open source and free to use. The admin password is set by running admin-pw-change in the /root directory.

There are also a number of web-based applications such as Telephone Reminders, AsteriDex, phpMyAdmin, and VoiceMail & Recordings (User Control Panel). You obviously don’t want everyone with a telephone using all of these applications so they are protected using a couple different Apache web server credentials. First, you set up an admin password for the administrator-level applications using the htpasswd utility. Then you set up an end-user account and password for access to AsteriDex, Reminders, and the User Control Panel. With the User Control Panel, end users also will need a username and password for their particular phone extension and this is configured with the Incredible PBX GUI using Admin -> User Management -> Add New User. If this sounds convoluted, it’s really not. Apache credentials can be entered once in an administrator’s or end user’s browser and they’re stored permanently.

Here is a checklist of the preliminary steps to complete before using your server:

Make your root password very secure: passwd
Create admin password for Incredible PBX GUI access: /root/admin-pw-change
Create admin password for web apps: htpasswd /etc/pbx/wwwpasswd admin
Create joeuser password for web apps: htpasswd /etc/pbx/wwwpasswd joeuser
Set up UCP accounts for Voicemail & Recordings access using Incredible PBX GUI
Make a copy of your Knock codes: cat /root/knock.FAQ
Decipher IP address and other info about your server: status
Set your correct time zone: /root/timezone-setup

Activating Incredible Fax on Your Server

Incredible PBX also includes an optional (and free) faxing component that lets you send and receive faxes that are delivered to your email address. To activate Incredible Fax, run the following script and plug in your email address for delivery of incoming faxes: /root/incrediblefax11.sh. After entering your email address, you’ll be prompted for all sorts of additional information. Unless you have unusual requirements, pressing the ENTER key at every prompt is the appropriate response. You’ll need to reboot your server again when the fax installation is complete. Once you log back into your server as root, the bottom line of the status display should now be green UP entries.

Managing Your Server with the Incredible PBX GUI

About 99% of your time managing your server will be spent in the Incredible PBX GUI. To access it, fire up your browser and point to the IP address of your server. At the Kennonsoft menu, click on the Users tab which will change to Admin and bring up the Admin menu shown here:

From the Administrator menu in the Kennonsoft GUI, click on Incredible PBX Administration. This will bring up the following menu:

Click on the first icon to access the Incredible PBX GUI. You’ll be prompted for your credentials. For the username, enter admin. For the password, enter the password you set up using admin-pw-change above. You should then be greeted by the main status display in the Incredible GUI:

If you’re new to Asterisk and FreePBX, here’s the one paragraph primer on what needs to happen before you can make free calls with Google Voice. You’ll obviously need a free Google Voice account. This gets you a phone number for people to call you and a vehicle to place calls to plain old telephones throughout the U.S. and Canada at no cost. You’ll also need a softphone or SIP phone (NOT a regular POTS telephone) to actually place and receive calls. YATE makes a free softphone for PCs, Macs, and Linux machines so download your favorite and install it on your desktop. Phones connect to extensions to work with Incredible PBX. Extensions talk to trunks (like Google Voice) to make and receive calls. We use outbound routes to direct outgoing calls from extensions to trunks, and we use inbound routes to route incoming calls from trunks to extensions to make your phones ring. In a nutshell, that’s how a PBX works. There are lots of bells and whistles that you can explore down the road.

As configured after installation, you have everything you’ll need except a Google Voice trunk, and we’ll cover that next. Then we’ll add a softphone with your extension 701 credentials, and you’ll be ready to make and receive calls. Before we move on, let’s decipher your extension 701 password so that you’ll have it for later. Choose Applications -> Extensions -> 701 and scroll down the screen to the Secret field and write down your password. You can also change it if you like and click Submit and then the Red button to update your settings. While you’re here, write down your extension 701 Voicemail Password.

Deploying Google Voice on Your Server

That leaves one RED entry on your status display, GV OAUTH. Whether to use plain text passwords or OAUTH 2 credentials with Google Voice accounts presently is a matter of choice although Google regularly threatens to discontinue access to Google Voice without OAUTH authentication. We suggest you play with Google Voice using plain text passwords just to get your feet wet because OAUTH implementation gets complicated. When you get ready to deploy a permanent Incredible PBX server, that would be the appropriate time to switch to OAUTH. This tutorial (beginning at step 1b) will guide you through the process.

If you want to use Google Voice, you’ll need a dedicated Google Voice account to support Incredible PBX. If you want to use the inbound fax capabilities of Incredible Fax, then you’ll need an additional Google Voice line that can be routed to the FAX custom destination using the GUI. The more obscure the username (with some embedded numbers), the better off you will be. This will keep folks from bombarding you with unsolicited Gtalk chat messages, and who knows what nefarious scheme will be discovered using Google messaging six months from now. So keep this account a secret!

We’ve tested this extensively using an existing Gmail account, and inbound calling is just not reliable. The reason seems to be that Google always chooses Gmail chat as the inbound call destination if there are multiple registrations from the same IP address. So, be reasonable. Do it our way! Set up a dedicated Gmail and Google Voice account, and use it exclusively with Incredible PBX. It’s free at least through 2013. Google Voice no longer is by invitation only so, if you’re in the U.S. or have a friend that is, head over to the Google Voice site and register.

You must choose a telephone number (aka DID) for your new account, or Google Voice calling will not work… in either direction. Google used to permit outbound Gtalk calls using a fake CallerID, but that obviously led to abuse so it’s over! You also have to tie your Google Voice account to at least one working phone number as part of the initial setup process. Your cellphone number will work just fine. Don’t skip this step either. Just enter the provided 2-digit confirmation code when you tell Google to place the test call to the phone number you entered. Once the number is registered, you can disable it if you’d like in Settings, Voice Setting, Phones. But…

IMPORTANT: Be sure to enable the Google Chat option as one of your phone destinations in Settings, Voice Setting, Phones. That’s the destination we need for The Incredible PBX to work its magic! Otherwise, all inbound and outbound calls will fail. If you don’t see this option, you may need to call up Gmail and enable Google Chat there first. Then go back to the Google Voice Settings.

While you’re still in Google Voice Settings, click on the Calls tab. Make sure your settings match these:

  • Call ScreeningOFF
  • Call PresentationOFF
  • Caller ID (In)Display Caller’s Number
  • Caller ID (Out)Don’t Change Anything
  • Do Not DisturbOFF
  • Call Options (Enable Recording)OFF
  • Global Spam FilteringON

Click Save Changes once you adjust your settings. Under the Voicemail tab, plug in your email address so you get notified of new voicemails. Down the road, receipt of a Google Voice voicemail will be a big hint that something has come unglued on your PBX.

One final word of caution is in order regardless of your choice of providers: Do NOT use special characters in any provider passwords, or nothing will work!

Once you have your Google Voice account properly configured with Google, here is the proper sequence to get a Google Voice account working with Incredible PBX. First, using a browser, login to your Google Voice account. Second, make sure that Google Chat is activated in your Phone -> Settings. Third, in a separate browser tab, enable Less Secure Apps for your Google account. Fourth, in another separate browser tab, activate the Google Voice reset procedure. Fifth, in the Incredible PBX GUI, choose Connectivity -> Google Voice (Motif) and enter your Google Voice credentials:

Sixth, save your settings by clicking Submit and the Red Button to reload the GUI. Finally, using SSH or Putty, log into your server as root and restart Asterisk: amportal restart.

Setting Up a Soft Phone to Use with Incredible PBX

Now you’re ready to set up a telephone so that you can play with Incredible PBX. We recommend YateClient which is free. Download it from here. Run YateClient once you’ve installed it and enter the credentials for the 701 extension on Incredible PBX. You’ll need the IP address of your server plus your extension 701 password. Choose Settings -> Accounts and click the New button. Fill in the blanks using the IP address of your server, 701 for your account name, and your extension 701 password. Click OK.

Once you are registered to extension 701, close the Account window. Then click on YATE’s Telephony Tab and place some test calls to the numerous apps that are preconfigured on Incredible PBX. Dial a few of these to get started:


DEMO - Allison's IVR Demo
947 - Weather by ZIP Code
951 - Yahoo News
*61 - Time of Day
*68 - Wakeup Call
TODAY - Today in History

Now you’re ready to connect to the telephones in the rest of the world. If you live in the U.S., the easiest way (at least for now) is to use the free Google Voice account we set up above. Unlike traditional telephone service where you were 100% dependent upon MaBell, there is no such limitation with VoIP. The smarter long-term solution is to choose several SIP providers and set up redundant trunks for your incoming and outbound calls. The PIAF Forum includes dozens of recommendations to get you started. Here are a few of our favorites:

Originally published: Friday, January 29, 2016





Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For our users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

The Ultimate Linux Sandbox in the Cloud for Less Than a $35 Raspberry Pi 2

Every few years we like to drop back and take a fresh look at the best way to get started with Linux. For those coming from the Windows World, it can be a painful process. Learning with a Cloud-based server can be especially dangerous because of the security risks. And then there’s the cost factor. Not everyone has several hundred dollars to buy hardware and, frankly, learning about Linux on a $35 Raspberry Pi can drive most newbies to drink. So today we’ll show you another way. It’s not necessarily a better way. But it’s different, and it’s loads of fun for not much money. Today’s project only takes 30 minutes.

There’s lots to hate at Cloud At Cost, a Canadian provider that offers virtual machines in the cloud for a one-time fee with no recurring charges. For $35 or less, you get a virtual machine with 512MB of RAM, 10GB of storage, and a gigabit Internet connection FOR LIFE. We haven’t seen a week go by when Cloud at Cost didn’t offer some sort of discount. Today it’s 70% off with coupon code TAKE70 which brings the total cost down to $10.50. That’s less than a burger at Five Guys. That’s the good news. But, if security, 99.999% reliability, performance, and excellent customer support are your must-haves, then look elsewhere. So why would anyone in their right mind sign up for a cloud solution that didn’t offer those four things? Did we mention it’s $10.50 for a lifetime cloud server?

If you take our recommendation and plunk down your Alexander Hamilton, you’ll need to go into this with the right attitude. It’s not going to be flawless perfection computing. It’s a sandbox on which to experiment with Linux and Cloud Computing. Will your virtual machine disintegrate at some juncture? Probably. Our experience is that the first couple days are critical. If you start seeing sluggish performance which degenerates to zero, don’t waste your time. Take good notes as you go along, delete the virtual machine, and rebuild a new one. It won’t cost you a dime, and it’ll save you hours of frustration. We suspect that bad folks get onto some of the servers and delight in bringing the machines to their knees. So the quicker you cut your losses, the better off you will be. Is CloudAtCost a good solution for production use? Absolutely not so don’t try to fit a square peg in the round hole. It’s not gonna work, and you WILL be disappointed. You’ve been warned. Let’s get started. ENJOY THE RIDE!

Our objective today is to show you how to build a rock-solid, secure Linux server in the Cloud with all the bells and whistles that make Linux the server platform of choice for almost every organization in the world. We’ll finish up by showing you how to embellish the platform with WordPress to do something that’s special for you whether it’s your own blog like Nerd Vittles, or a school newspaper, or an on-line shopping site to sell comic books. The basic foundation for most Linux platforms is called a LAMP server which stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. Linux is an open source operating system that includes contributions from thousands of developers around the world. Apache is the web server platform on which most commercial businesses stake their reputation. MySQL is the open source database management system now owned by Oracle. If it’s good enough for Facebook, it’s good enough for you. And PHP is THE web-based programming language that will let you build almost any application using Linux, Apache, and MySQL.

So what’s the big deal? There are thousands of online tutorials that will show you how to build a LAMP server. For long time readers of Nerd Vittles, you already know that the component we continually stress is security. Without that, the rest really doesn’t matter. You’ll be building a platform for someone else to hijack and use for nefarious purposes. When we’re finished today, you’ll have a cloud-based server that is totally invisible to the rest of the world with the exception of its web interface. And we’ll show you a simple way to reduce the exposure of your web interface to some of its most likely attackers. Will it be 100% secure? Nope. If you have a web server on the public Internet, it’s never going to be 100% secure because there’s always the chance of a software bug that nobody has yet discovered and corrected. THAT’S WHAT BACKUPS ARE FOR!

Creating Your Virtual Machine Platform in the Cloud

To get started, you’ve got to plunk down your $10.50 at Cloud at Cost using coupon code TAKE70. Once you’ve paid the piper, they will send you credentials to log into the Cloud at Cost Management Portal. Change your password IMMEDIATELY after logging in. Just go to SETTINGS and follow your nose.

To create your virtual machine, click on the CLOUDPRO button and click Add New Server. If you’ve only purchased the $10.50 CloudPRO 1 platform, then you’ll need all of the available resources shown in the pick list. Leave CentOS 6.7 64bit selected as the OS Type and click Complete. Depending upon the type of special pricing that Cloud at Cost is offering when you sign up, the time to build your virtual machine can take anywhere from a minute to the better part of a day. We’ve learned to build new virtual machines at night, and they’re usually available for use by the next morning. Luckily, this slow performance does not impact existing virtual machines that already are running in their hosting facility.

Initial Configuration of Your CentOS 6.7 Virtual Machine

With a little luck, your virtual machine soon will appear in your Cloud at Cost Management Portal and look something like what’s shown above. The red arrow points to the i button you’ll need to click to decipher the password for your new virtual machine. You’ll need both the IP address and the password for your new virtual machine in order to log into the server which is now up and running with a barebones CentOS 6.7 operating system. Note the yellow caution flag. That’s telling you that Cloud at Cost will automatically shut down your server in a week to save (them) computing resources. You can change the setting to keep your server running 24/7. Click Modify, Change Run Mode, and select Normal – Leave Powered On. Click Continue and OK to save your new settings.

Finally, you’ll want to change the Host Name for your server to something more descriptive than c7…cloudpro.92… Click the Modify button again and click Rename Server to make the change. Your management portal then will show the new server name as shown above.

Logging into Your CentOS 6.7 Virtual Machine

In order to configure and manage your new CentOS 6.7 virtual machine, you’ll need to log into the new server using either SSH or, for Windows users, Putty. After installing Putty, run it and log in to the IP address of your VM with username root and the password you deciphered above. On a Mac, open a Terminal session and issue a command like this using the actual IP address of your new virtual machine:

ssh root@12.34.56.78

Before you do anything else, reset your root password to something very secure: passwd

Installing the LAMP Server Basics with CentOS 6.7

Now we’re ready to build your LAMP server platform. We’ve chopped this up into lots of little steps so we can explain what’s happening as we go along. There’s nothing hard about this, but we want to document the process so you can repeat it at any time. As we go along, just cut-and-paste each clump of code into your SSH or Putty session and review the results to make sure nothing comes unglued. If something does, the beauty of virtual machines is you can delete them instantly within your management portal and just start over whenever you like. So here we go…

We’ll begin by permanently turning off SELINUX which causes more problems than it solves. The first command turns it off instantly. The second line assures that it’ll stay off whenever you reboot your virtual machine.

setenforce 0
sed -i s/SELINUX=enforcing/SELINUX=disabled/g /etc/selinux/config

Now let’s bring CentOS 6.7 up to current specs and add a few important applications:

yum -y update
yum -y install nano wget expect net-tools dialog git xz
yum -y install kernel-headers
yum -y install kernel-devel

Next, we’ll set up your Apache web server and configure it to start whenever you reboot your server:

yum -y install httpd
service httpd start
chkconfig httpd on

Now let’s set up your MySQL server, bring it on line, and make sure it restarts after server reboots. Unless you plan to add Asterisk® and FreePBX® to your server down the road, you’ll want to uncomment the two commands that begin with # by removing the # symbol and replacing new-password with a very secure password for your root user account in MySQL. Be sure to run the last command to secure your server. After logging in, the correct answers are n,Y,Y,Y,Y.

yum -y install mysql mysql-server
service mysqld start
chkconfig mysqld on
#/usr/bin/mysqladmin -u root password 'new-password'
#/usr/bin/mysqladmin -u root -p -h localhost.localdomain password 'new-password'
mysql_secure_installation

Next, we’ll set up PHP and configure it to work with MySQL:

yum -y install php
yum -y install php-mysql
service httpd restart

Finally let’s get SendMail installed and configured. Insert your actual email address in the last line and send yourself a test message to be sure it’s working. Be sure to check your spam folder since the message will show a sender address of localhost which many email systems including Gmail automatically identify as spam.

yum -y install sendmail
rpm -e postfix
service sendmail restart
yum -y install mailx
echo "test" | mail -s testmessage youracctname@yourmailserver.com

Installing Supplemental Repositories for CentOS 6.7

One of the beauties of Linux is not being totally dependent upon CentOS for all of your packaged applications. Let’s add a few other repositories that can be used when you need to add a special package that is not in the CentOS repository. Let’s start with EPEL. We’ll disable it by default and only use it when we need it.

yum -y install http://epel.mirror.net.in/epel/6/i386/epel-release-6-8.noarch.rpm
sed -i 's|enabled=1|enabled=0|' /etc/yum.repos.d/epel.repo

We actually need the EPEL repo to install Fail2Ban for monitoring of attacks on certain Linux services such as SSH:

yum --enablerepo=epel install fail2ban -y
cd /etc
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/fail2ban-lamp.tar.gz
tar zxvf fail2ban-lamp.tar.gz

We also need the EPEL repo to install ipset, a terrific addition to the IPtables Linux firewall that lets you quickly block entire countries from accessing your server:

yum --enablerepo=epel install ipset -y

Next, we’ll add a sample script that documents how the country blocking mechanism works with ipset.1 For a complete list of countries that can be blocked, go here. If you need a decoder badge to match abbreviations against country names, you’ll find it here. To add other countries, simply edit the shell script and clone lines 4-7 using the names of the countries and country zone files that you wish to add. Be sure to insert the new lines before the commands to restart iptables and fail2ban. This script will need to be run each time your server reboots and before IPtables is brought on line. We’ll handle that a little later.

echo "#\!/bin/bash" > /etc/block-china.sh
echo " " >> /etc/block-china.sh
echo "cd /etc" >> /etc/block-china.sh
echo "ipset -N china hash:net" >> /etc/block-china.sh
echo "rm cn.zone" >> /etc/block-china.sh
echo "wget -P . http://www.ipdeny.com/ipblocks/data/countries/cn.zone" >> /etc/block-china.sh
echo "for i in $(cat /etc/cn.zone ); do ipset -A china $i; done" >> /etc/block-china.sh
echo "service iptables restart" >> /etc/block-china.sh
echo "service fail2ban restart" >> /etc/block-china.sh
sed -i 's|\||' /etc/block-china.sh
chmod +x /etc/block-china.sh

Another important repository is REMI. It is especially helpful if you decide to upgrade PHP from the default version 5.3 to one of the newer releases: 5.5 or 5.6. In this case, you’ll want to activate the specific repository to support the release you choose in /etc/yum.repos.d/remi-safe.repo.

yum -y install http://rpms.famillecollet.com/enterprise/remi-release-6.rpm
sed -i 's|enabled=1|enabled=0|' /etc/yum.repos.d/remi-safe.repo

One final repository to have on hand is RPMForge, now renamed RepoForge. We’ll use it in a bit to install a dynamic DNS update utility which you actually won’t need at CloudAtCost since your server is assigned a static IP address. But it’s handy to have in the event you wish to assign a free FQDN to your server anyway.

yum -y install http://pkgs.repoforge.org/rpmforge-release/rpmforge-release-0.5.3-1.el6.rf.x86_64.rpm
sed -i 's|enabled = 1|enabled = 0|' /etc/yum.repos.d/rpmforge.repo

Adding a Few Utilities to Round Out Your LAMP Server Deployment

If you’re like us, you’ll want to test the speed of your Internet connection from time to time. Let’s install a free script that you can run at any time by logging into your server as root and issuing the command: /root/speedtest-cli

cd /root
wget -O speedtest-cli https://raw.githubusercontent.com/sivel/speedtest-cli/master/speedtest_cli.py
chmod +x speedtest-cli

Next, let’s put in place a simple status display which will quickly tell you what’s running and what’s not. We’ve borrowed some GPL code from Incredible PBX to help you out. Run status-lamp at any time for a snapshot of your server.

cd /usr/local/sbin
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/status-lamp.tar.gz
tar zxvf status-lamp.tar.gz
rm -f status-lamp.tar.gz

Now we’ll put the Linux Swiss Army Knife in place. It’s called WebMin, and it provides a GUI to configure almost everything in Linux. Pick up a good WebMin book from your public library to get started. Once installed, you access WebMin from your browser at the IP address of your server on the default port of 10000: https://serverIPaddress:10000. It’s probably a good idea to change this port number and the commented out line shows how to do it with the new port being 9001 in the example. The way in which we typically configure the Linux firewall will block all access to WebMin except from an IP address which you have whitelisted, e.g. your home computer’s public IP address.

cd /root
yum -y install perl perl-Net-SSLeay openssl perl-IO-Tty
yum -y install http://prdownloads.sourceforge.net/webadmin/webmin-1.780-1.noarch.rpm
#sed -i 's|10000|9001|g' /etc/webmin/miniserv.conf
service webmin restart
chkconfig webmin on

Tweaking Your CloudAtCost Setup Improves Performance and Improves Security

Finally, let’s address a couple of CloudAtCost quirks that may cause problems down the road. CloudAtCost has a nasty habit of not cleaning up after itself with fresh installs. The net result is your root password gets reset every time you reboot.

killall plymouthd
echo killall plymouthd >> /etc/rc.local
rm -f /etc/rc3.d/S97*

With the exception of firewall configuration, which is so important that we’re covering it separately below, you now have completed the LAMP server installation. After completing the firewall steps in the next section, simply reboot your server and you’re ready to go.

The Most Important Step: Configuring the Linux IPtables Firewall

RULE #1: DON’T BUILD SERVERS EXPOSED TO THE INTERNET WITHOUT ROCK-SOLID SECURITY!

As installed by CloudAtCost, your server provides ping and SSH access from a remote computer and nothing else. The good news: it’s pretty safe. The bad news: it can’t do anything useful for anybody because all web access to the server is blocked. We want to fix that, tighten up SSH access to restrict it to your IP address, and deploy country blocking to show you how.

As we implement the firewall changes, you need to be extremely careful in your typing so that you don’t accidentally lock yourself out of your own server. A typo in an IP address is all it takes. The good news is that, if you do lock yourself out, you still can gain access via the CloudAtCost Management Portal by clicking the Console button of your virtual machine. Because the console is on the physical machine and the lo interface is whitelisted, you can log in and disable the firewall temporarily: service iptables stop. Then fix the typo and restart the firewall: service iptables start.

First, let’s download the new IPtables config file into your root folder and take a look at it.

cd /root
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/iptables-lamp.tar.gz
tar zxvf iptables-lamp.tar.gz

Now edit the /root/iptables-lamp file by issuing the command: nano -w /root/iptables-lamp

You can scroll up and down through the file with Ctl-V and Ctl-Y. Cursor keys work as well. Once you make changes, save your work: Ctl-X, Y, ENTER. You’re now an expert with the nano text editor, an absolutely essential Linux tool.

Here’s what that file actually looks like:

*filter
:INPUT DROP [0:0]
:FORWARD ACCEPT [0:0]
:OUTPUT ACCEPT [0:0]
-A INPUT -p tcp -m tcp --tcp-flags ACK ACK -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -m state --state ESTABLISHED,RELATED -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -p icmp -j DROP
-A INPUT -i lo -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -p tcp ! --syn -m state --state NEW -j DROP
-A INPUT -m state --state INVALID -j DROP
-A INPUT -p tcp -m tcp --tcp-flags FIN,SYN,RST,PSH,ACK,URG NONE -j DROP
-A INPUT -p tcp -m tcp --tcp-flags SYN,FIN SYN,FIN              -j DROP
-A INPUT -p tcp -m tcp --tcp-flags SYN,RST SYN,RST              -j DROP
-A INPUT -p tcp -m tcp --tcp-flags FIN,RST FIN,RST              -j DROP
-A INPUT -p tcp -m tcp --tcp-flags ACK,FIN FIN                  -j DROP
-A INPUT -p tcp -m tcp --tcp-flags ACK,URG URG                  -j DROP
-A INPUT -p tcp -m set --match-set china src                    -j DROP
-A INPUT -p udp -m udp --dport 53 -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -p tcp -m tcp --dport 53 -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -p tcp -m tcp --dport 113 -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -p udp -m udp --dport 123 -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -p tcp -m tcp --dport 123 -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -m state --state NEW -m tcp -p tcp --dport 22 -j ACCEPT
#-A INPUT -s 12.34.56.78 -j ACCEPT
#-A INPUT -s yourFQDN.dyndns.org -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -p tcp -m tcp --dport 80 -j ACCEPT
-A INPUT -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
-A FORWARD -j REJECT --reject-with icmp-host-prohibited
COMMIT

Reminder: If you add another country to your block-china script, don’t forget to add a corresponding new country entry to your iptables file. See line 17 above that includes the word “china” for the syntax. There’s nothing much else to tweak except the two commented out (brown) lines that begin with #. First, remove the # symbol by moving the cursor to the right of the first one and hitting the backspace/delete key on your keyboard. Replace 12.34.56.78 with the public IP address of the computer from which you will be accessing your virtual machine. If you need multiple entries for multiple computers at different addresses, clone the line by pressing Ctrl-K and then Ctrl-U twice. Yes, we know. Some folks IP addresses change from time to time. In the next section, we’ll show you how to set up a Dynamic DNS entry with a utility that will keep track of your current IP address. In this case, uncomment the second commented line and replace yourFQDN.dyndns.org with your dynamic DNS address. Be very careful to assure that your FQDN is always on line. If the firewall cannot verify your DNS entry when it starts, the IPtables firewall will not start which means your server will be left unprotected. HINT: IP addresses are much safer because they are never verified.

Once you have your addresses configured, save the file: Ctl-X, Y, ENTER. Then issue the following commands to copy everything into place and restart the firewall.

mv /etc/sysconfig/iptables /etc/sysconfig/iptables.orig
cp -p /root/iptables-lamp /etc/sysconfig/iptables
echo "/etc/block-china.sh" >> /etc/rc.local
/etc/block-china.sh

Always, always, always check to be sure your firewall is functioning: iptables -nL. If you don’t see your desktop computer’s public IP address near the end of the listing, then the firewall is dead. status-lamp should also show IPtables down. Check for an error message which will tell you the problematic line so you can correct it.

Implementing Dynamic DNS Service on Your Virtual Machine

There are a number of free and paid Dynamic DNS providers. The way this works is you choose a fully-qualified domain name (FQDN) to identify your computer. Then you run a dynamic DNS update utility periodically from that computer. It reports back the current public IP address of your computer and your provider updates the IP address assigned to your FQDN if it has changed. In addition to supporting sites with ever changing IP addresses, it also allows you to permanently assign an FQDN to your computer or server so that it can be accessed without using a cryptic IP address.

If that computer happens to be an Incredible PBX server or a LAMP server that you’ve set up using this tutorial, then the following will get the DNS client update utility loaded using the RPM Forge repository that we previously installed:

yum --enablerepo=rpmforge install ddclient -y

Similar DNS update clients are available for Windows, Mac OS X, and many residential routers. Then it’s just a matter of plugging in the credentials for your dynamic DNS provider and your FQDN. In the case of the CentOS client, the config file is /etc/ddclient/ddclient.conf. Now reboot your server and pick up a good book on Linux to begin your adventure.

Now For Some Fun…

First, let’s check things out and make sure everything is working as it should. With your favorite web browser, visit the IP address of your new server. You should see the default Apache page:

Next, let’s be sure that PHP is working as it should. While still logged into your server as root using SSH or Putty, issue the following commands and make up some file name to replace test4567 in both lines. Be sure to keep the .php file name extension. Note to gurus: Yes, we know the second line below is unnecessary if you remove the space after the less than symbol in the first line. Unfortunately, WordPress forces the space into the display which left us no alternative.

echo "< ?php phpinfo(); ?>" > /var/www/html/test4567.php
sed -i 's|< |<|' /var/www/html/test4567.php

Now jump back to your web browser and access the new page you just created using the IP address of your server and the file name you made up: http://12.34.56.78/test4567.php

The PHPinfo listing will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about your web server setup including all of the PHP functions that have been enabled. That’s why you want an obscure file name for the page. You obviously don’t want to share that information with every bad guy on the planet. Remember. This is a public-facing web site that anyone on the Internet can access if they know or guess your IP address.

When you’re ready to set up your own web site, just name it index.php and store the file in the /var/www/html directory of your server. In the meantime, issuing the following command will assure that anyone accessing your site gets a blank page until you’re ready to begin your adventure:

echo " " > /var/www/html/index.php

Ready to learn PHP programming? There’s no shortage of books to get you started.

Adding WordPress to Your LAMP Server

Where to begin with WordPress? What used to be a simple platform for bloggers has morphed into an all-purpose tool that makes building virtually any type of web site child’s play. If you want to see what’s possible, take a look at the templates and sample sites shown on WPZOOM. Unless you’re an art major and savvy web designer, this will be the best $70 you ever spent. One of these templates will have your site up and running in minutes once we put the WordPress pieces in place. For the big spenders, $149 will give you access to over 50 gorgeous templates which you can download and use to your heart’s content on multiple sites. And, no, your sites don’t blow up after a year. You just can’t download any additional templates or updates unless you renew your subscription. The other alternative is choose from thousands of templates that are provided across the Internet as well as in the WordPress application itself.

WordPress templates run the gamut from blogs to newsletters to photographer sites to e-commerce to business portfolios to video to travel to magazines to newspapers to education to food to recipes to restaurants and more. Whew! There literally is nothing you can’t put together in minutes using a WordPress template. But, before you can begin, we need to get WordPress installed on your server. This is optional, of course. And, if you follow along and add WordPress, we’ve set it up in such a way that WordPress becomes the primary application for your site. Stated differently, when people use a browser to access your site, your WordPress template will immediately display. When we finish the basic WordPress setup and once you upload an image or two, you’ll have a site that looks something like this:

Before you begin, we strongly recommend that you acquire a domain for your site if you plan to use it for anything but experimentation. The reason is because it can be complicated to migrate a WordPress site from one location to another.2 Once you’ve acquired your domain, point the domain to the IP address of your new server. With a dirt cheap registrar such as Omnis.com, it’s easy:

Now let’s get started. To begin, we need to load the WordPress application onto your server:

cd /root
mkdir wordpress
cd wordpress
wget http://wordpress.org/latest.tar.gz
tar -xvzf latest.tar.gz -C /var/www/html

Next, we’ll configure MySQL to support WordPress. We’re assuming that you have NOT already created root passwords for MySQL. If you have, you’ll need to add -pYourPassword to the various commands below immediately after root. There is no space between -p and your root password. Also edit the first line and make up a new password (replacing XYZ below) for the wordpress user account that will manage WordPress on your server before you cut and paste the code:

mysql -u root -e 'CREATE USER wordpress@localhost IDENTIFIED BY "XYZ";'
mysql -u root -e 'CREATE DATABASE wordpress;'
mysql -u root -e 'GRANT ALL ON wordpress.* TO wordpress@localhost;'
mysql -u root -e 'FLUSH PRIVILEGES;'

Next, we need to configure WordPress with your new MySQL credentials. Before you cut and paste, replace XYZ in the fourth line with the password you assigned in the preceding MySQL step:

cp /var/www/html/wordpress/wp-config-sample.php /var/www/html/wordpress/wp-config.php
sed -i 's|database_name_here|wordpress|' /var/www/html/wordpress/wp-config.php
sed -i 's|username_here|wordpress|' /var/www/html/wordpress/wp-config.php
sed -i 's|password_here|XYZ|' /var/www/html/wordpress/wp-config.php
chown -R apache:apache /var/www/html/wordpress

Before you forget, take a moment and create a very secure password for your MySQL root user accounts. Here are the commands. Just replace new-password with your new password before you cut and paste. Note that you also will be prompted for this password when you execute the second command because you will now have a root user password in place from executing the first command.

/usr/bin/mysqladmin -u root password 'new-password'
/usr/bin/mysqladmin -u root -p -h localhost.localdomain password 'new-password'

Finally, we need to modify your Apache web server to support WordPress as the primary application. Be sure to enter your actual email address in the third line before you cut and paste the code below:

echo " " >> /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf
echo "<virtualhost *:80>" >> /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf
echo 'ServerAdmin somebody@somedomain.com' >> /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf
echo "DocumentRoot /var/www/html/wordpress" >> /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf
echo "ServerName wordpress" >> /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf
echo "ErrorLog /var/log/httpd/wordpress-error-log" >> /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf
echo "CustomLog /var/log/httpd/wordpress-acces-log common" >> /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf
echo "</virtualhost>" >> /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf
echo " " >> /etc/httpd/conf/httpd.conf
service httpd restart

That should do it. Open a browser and navigate to the IP address of your server. You should be greeted with the following form. Fill in the blanks as desired. The account you’re setting up will be the credentials you use to add and modify content on your WordPress site when you click Log In (as shown above). Make the username obscure and the password even more so. Remember, it’s a public web site accessible worldwide! When you click Install WordPress, you’ll be off to the races.

After your server whirs away for a minute or two, you will be greeted with the WordPress login prompt. With the username and password you entered above, you’ll be ready to start configuring your WordPress site.

Once you’re logged in, navigate to Appearance -> Themes and click Add New Theme. There’s you will find literally hundreds of free WordPress templates that can be installed in a matter of seconds if WPZOOM is too rich for your blood. For a terrific all-purpose (free) theme, try Atahualpa. We’ll leave our actual demo site running for a bit in case you want to explore and check out its performance. Installing and configuring the new theme took less than a minute:

A Final Word to the Wise. WordPress is relatively secure but new vulnerabilities are discovered regularly. Keep your templates, plug-ins, AND the WordPress application up to date at all times! The WordFence plug-in is a must-have. And we strongly recommend adding the following lines to your WordPress config file which then will let WordPress update everything automatically. Microsoft has given automatic updates a bad name, but in the case of WordPress, they work well.

echo "define('WP_AUTO_UPDATE_CORE', true);" >> /var/www/html/wordpress/wp-config.php
echo "add_filter( 'auto_update_plugin', '__return_true' );" >> /var/www/html/wordpress/wp-config.php
echo "add_filter( 'auto_update_theme', '__return_true' );" >> /var/www/html/wordpress/wp-config.php

Special Thanks: Our special tip of the hat goes to a few web sites that we found helpful in putting this article together especially Unixmen and Matt Wilcox & friends and Programming-Review.

Wondering What to Build Next with your new $10.50 Server in the Sky? Check out the latest Nerd Vittles tutorial. Turn it into a VoIP server FOR LIFE with free calling to/from the U.S. and Canada. Call for free demo:


Originally published: Monday, January 25, 2016





Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For our users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. It doesn’t take long for the probing to begin. So watch your logs, look up the IP addresses to identify the countries, and block them unless you happen to be expecting visitors from that part of the world:
    [Sun Jan 24 00:36:12 2016] [error] [client 40.114.202.60] File does not exist: /var/www/html/wordpress/w00tw00t.at.blackhats.romanian.anti-sec:)
    [Sun Jan 24 00:36:12 2016] [error] [client 40.114.202.60] File does not exist: /var/www/html/wordpress/phpMyAdmin
    [Sun Jan 24 00:36:13 2016] [error] [client 40.114.202.60] File does not exist: /var/www/html/wordpress/phpmyadmin
    [Sun Jan 24 00:36:13 2016] [error] [client 40.114.202.60] File does not exist: /var/www/html/wordpress/pma
    [Sun Jan 24 00:36:13 2016] [error] [client 40.114.202.60] File does not exist: /var/www/html/wordpress/myadmin
    [Sun Jan 24 00:36:14 2016] [error] [client 40.114.202.60] File does not exist: /var/www/html/wordpress/MyAdmin
    [Mon Jan 25 00:29:29 2016] [error] [client 137.116.220.182] File does not exist: /var/www/html/wordpress/w00tw00t.at.blackhats.romanian.anti-sec:)
    [Mon Jan 25 00:29:29 2016] [error] [client 137.116.220.182] File does not exist: /var/www/html/wordpress/phpMyAdmin
    [Mon Jan 25 00:29:29 2016] [error] [client 137.116.220.182] File does not exist: /var/www/html/wordpress/phpmyadmin
    [Mon Jan 25 00:29:30 2016] [error] [client 137.116.220.182] File does not exist: /var/www/html/wordpress/pma
    [Mon Jan 25 00:29:30 2016] [error] [client 137.116.220.182] File does not exist: /var/www/html/wordpress/myadmin
    [Mon Jan 25 00:29:30 2016] [error] [client 137.116.220.182] File does not exist: /var/www/html/wordpress/MyAdmin
    []
  2. Should you ever have to migrate your WordPress site from one domain to another, here are two helpful tools to consider: the Automatic Domain Name Changer Plugin and the one we use, WordPress-Domain-Changer. []

Mobile Internet: The 2016 Road Warrior’s Guide to Choosing New Wheels


OK. We’re not going to bring Mobile Computing down to the teepee level, but we have decided to dedicate a column regularly to Mobile Internet developments in the marketplace. Of course, our major focus will remain the impact on unified communications and especially Asterisk®, FreeSWITCH™, PBX in a Flash™, and Incredible PBX™. The idea here is to document a design that lets road warriors travel with the same communications dexterity that they have at home or in the home office. In other words, our vision is a mobile computing environment that makes travel status transparent. Things that worked a certain way in the office should work similarly on the road or in the comfort of your Motel 6 suite. :-)

To get 2016 started on the right foot, we want to lay out some of the technology that’s available to the road warrior who spends a significant amount of time in an automobile. Our objective today is to help you choose that next set of wheels, the proverbial perfect vehicle. We began documenting some of what we’re looking for in our December Mobile Internet column. Today we’ll follow up with more details and some real-world feedback. What we’ll be covering in coming months applies equally to those that travel for pleasure as well as those that do it for a living. Unless you prefer hiding in your Man Cave, we hope you’ll find something useful that makes travel away from your home office amenities easier and less intimidating.

Let’s begin by documenting some of our inexpensive must-haves. These can round out your vehicle shopping list without much impact on the cost of a vehicle: cup holders (lots of them), cigarette lighter connections (lots of them), USB ports (lots of them), and compartments especially those with access to power or USB ports. Another must have for us was a fold down table for the back seat. These come standard in Mercedes S Class sedans as well as the Jaguar XJ. For other vehicles, you’ll need to consider aftermarket options which is a little surprising when you consider that every airline seat has had fold down tables FOREVER. In their haste to roll out the latest gee whiz features, many car manufacturers have forgotten the basic essentials that make all of this technology useful. But there’s hope. General Motors is among those that have finally awakened to the 21st century. Our best advice is this. Before you get swept away by the self-parking car, take a quick look inside the cabin and consider whether the vehicle has the road warrior essentials.

Now for the fun stuff. Take a quick look at this AutoBytel article which ticks off some of the more interesting high tech features that are available in the marketplace today: GPS-linked temperature control, a sensor that provides a text alert if someone is hiding in your car, a collection of audio and visual alerts if the car senses that you are distracted or falling asleep at the wheel, self-parking vehicles, night vision with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control that adjusts your speed based upon the speed of the vehicle in front of you, blind spot detection that provides visual warnings on your side view mirrors when a vehicle is cruising along beside you at 70+ mph, lane departure warnings which include console alerts, buzzing your seat, or adjusting your steering wheel to guide you back into your lane. And, last but not least, the latest Tesla which can drive itself under certain highway conditions. In case you haven’t guessed, none of this technology comes cheap. Typically, the features first appear in the high end cars and require the purchase of even higher priced, factory-installed options. Then they trickle down to less costly vehicles as the price of the technology drops.

Here’s our two cents worth of advice on some of these features. We happen to live in the southeastern United States so we really don’t need a GPS to tell us to turn on the air conditioner. Almost any road warrior’s dream machine will have automatic temperature control. That’s as much technology as you need to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

A sensor to tell us someone is hiding inside our car is another clever idea, but we much prefer a vehicle that can lock itself when you leave the vehicle or when you place the vehicle in motion. Newer GM vehicles can also sound an alarm if someone sticks a hand into your window while you’re stopped at a traffic light. Works great unless people are passing you things while parked in a carpool line.

If you’re a road warrior that does a lot of night driving, all of the high tech features you can find that help you drive and stay awake at the wheel are terrific additions. Not mentioned in the AutoBytel article is one of our favorites that’s actually been around for decades. The head-up display (HUD) appears on the lower part of the driver’s windshield. It shows information such as your speed and the speed limit without taking your eyes off the road. For the science behind it, see this article.

If you’re a road warrior that spends considerable time commuting in heavy traffic or driving on interstates, adaptive cruise control is the best invention since sliced bread. It doesn’t completely drive the car for you, but it reduces your need to stay 99.9% focused on what’s in front of you every second of the trip. You simply set the separation distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you, and radar in your vehicle does the rest, adjusting your speed to keep you at or below the cruise control speed you set for your vehicle while preserving the spacing you predefined. Newer versions of adaptive cruise control include support for bringing your vehicle to a complete stop at traffic signals. The best testimonial we can provide is this. Once you have a vehicle with adaptive cruise control, you’ll never buy another vehicle without it. It’s that good!

Blind spot detection is another radar-based feature. Visual side view mirror alerts are provided whenever something is hiding in your vehicle’s blind spot. Of course, you can accomplish much the same thing by adding supplemental wide-view (blindspot) mirrors to your existing side view mirrors at considerably less cost. However, the radar-enhanced version typically is bundled with features such as adaptive cruise control and lane departure alerts so there is no additional cost for the convenience. Just be sure to test them for accuracy before dispensing with turning your head to check for vehicles. We’ve actually had a vehicle in which the sensors were incorrectly positioned. Merging into traffic without any visual warning of what’s beside you is a quick ticket to the body shop, both for the car and for you.

Lane departure alerts and autocorrection are equally important for those that spend endless hours on long stretches of boring highway. The other essential ingredient for every road warrior is the smartphone app, Waze. Between hazard alerts, speed trap notifications, and directions, it’s the single-most important traveling enhancement that’s come along in a very long time. Think of it as you free copilot. It can watch for things up ahead and alert you to problems before you actually encounter them. Because its data is based upon real-time data and feedback from thousands of road warriors, it has no equal in terms of accuracy. See our first article in this series for more details.

Wireless charging is another feature that has been touted by many of the Android device manufacturers. In the case of Samsung, the technology was available in the Galaxy Note 4 except for the back cover which can be replaced easily. Surprisingly, Apple has completely ignored it thus far. There are, of course, aftermarket cases that will bring wireless charging to any smartphone including the iPhones. Beginning with some 2014 models, General Motors, Chrysler, and Toyota began integrating wireless charging stations into the center consoles of some of their vehicles. By 2017, most car manufacturers probably will support it either as an included or add-on accessory.

No review of automotive technology would be complete without mention of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the two smartphone integration systems from America’s finest software development companies. One can only hope that the car manufacturers see the light and drop their insistence upon their own proprietary consoles. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto provide navigation, messaging, and numerous music platforms including Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, and Apple Music. Many newer vehicles offer one or the other, and some offer both. The systems also are available as aftermarket add-ons. For an excellent review of the two competing systems, take a look at this CNET review. Our only complaint with Apple CarPlay at the moment is the inability to add applications other than those that Apple has chosen for you. That means no Google Maps and no Waze, at least for now. For an excellent interview with the man behind both technologies at General Motors, see this article from The Verge.

So which vehicle did we choose for our Mobile Internet Lab? Well, come back next month and we’ll take you for a ride as we review the best WiFi Hotspots to complement that new set of wheels. We’ll consider offerings from Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T so there will be something for almost everybody with a smartphone.

Originally published: Monday, January 18, 2016





Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For our users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

The Last Sunset: Saying Goodbye to Google TTS… Hello Pico TTS



Despite the heroic efforts of Lefteris Zafiris to keep GoogleTTS afloat for use with Asterisk®, Google has made it increasingly clear that they intend to blow everyone’s apps out of the water (except theirs) if you choose to use their text to speech engine, even in open source, non-commercial products. As much as we’ve loved the voice quality and Google’s previous generosity in sharing their work product with the open source community, there comes a time when the mud wrestling simply is no longer worth the effort. Thanks to the pioneering efforts of Steven Mirabito, we all now have a choice. Steven took the work of Lefteris on GoogleTTS and retrofitted it to support the free SVOX Pico TTS engine. While Pico lacks a bit of the voice quality of GoogleTTS, it’s a quantum leap improvement over Festival and FLITE and perfectly suitable for Incredible PBX TTS apps.

Unlike FLITE which has no voice alternatives to Lurch, Pico for Android has a rich assortment of 40+ male/female voices supporting 25+ languages. Many of them are free. Hopefully, it’s only a matter of time until someone documents how to move them over to the Linux platforms. For today, our default install includes support for US English, British English, French, Spanish, and German. After the install, you’ll find them in /usr/share/pico/lang. Changing voices and languages in your Asterisk scripts is simple. Replace the default language identifier, en-US, with the voice of your choice, e.g. en-GB for British accents, fr-FR for French, es-ES for Spanish, and de-DE for German. If you wish to generate wave files at the command prompt, the syntax is shown below. Here’s the command we used to generate the sample sound file above.

pico2wave --wave sample.wav -l en-US "Here is a sample, using the PICO text to speech engine."

We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here. Before you can use Pico TTS, we first need to get it installed. There are two different procedures depending upon whether Incredible PBX is running on the CentOS/Scientific Linux platform or Debian/Ubuntu/Raspbian. The installation procedure below will install all of the necessary components for Pico TTS on an existing Incredible PBX platform. It also will modify the Incredible PBX apps that currently rely upon GoogleTTS. And, as of yesterday, all new Incredible PBX 13 installs include Pico TTS by default.

To get started, log into your server as root and choose the installation steps documented below for your particular platform.1

Installing Pico TTS on the CentOS/Scientific Linux Platforms

cd /
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/picotts.tar.gz
tar zxvf picotts.tar.gz
cd /root
./picotts-install.sh
sed -i 's|en)|en-US)|' /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf
sed -i 's|googletts|picotts|' /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf
asterisk -rx "dialplan reload"

Installing Pico TTS on the Debian/Ubuntu Platforms

cd /
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/picotts.tar.gz
tar zxvf picotts.tar.gz
cd /root
rm -f picotts-install.sh
apt-get update
apt-get install -y libttspico-utils
sed -i 's|en)|en-US)|' /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf
sed -i 's|googletts|picotts|' /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf
asterisk -rx "dialplan reload"

Installing Pico TTS on the Raspberry Pi Raspbian Platform

cd /
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/picotts-raspi.tar.gz
tar zxvf picotts-raspi.tar.gz
rm -f picotts-raspi.tar.gz
cd /root
echo "Installing Pico TTS..."
./picotts-install.sh

Post-Install Testing of Pico TTS with Incredible PBX

The easiest way to make sure everything is working properly is to pick up a phone on your server and dial 951 for the latest Yahoo News headlines. Keep in mind that Google Speech Recognition (Google STT) still works for apps such as Voice Dialing (411), Voice Messaging (767), Wolfram Alpha (4747), and Star (8). However, these apps require a free API key before use. The procedure to obtain and install one is documented in this Nerd Vittles article.

Changing the Pico TTS Voice with Incredible PBX

All of the Incredible PBX application scripts are saved in extensions_custom.conf in the /etc/asterisk directory. To change the default voice for Pico TTS apps, simply search and replace en-US with the desired voice: en-GB, fr-FR, es-ES, or de-DE. Save your changes. And then reload your Asterisk dialplan: asterisk -rx "dialplan reload"

Originally published: Monday, January 11, 2016





Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For our users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. If you’re using an older version of CentOS, see the install tips documented on the PIAF Forum. []

Mobile Internet: A 2015 Update on Caribbean Cruising and WiFi-Enabled Travel

We decided to spend Christmas a little differently this year and joined 10,000 of our closest friends on cruises to the Western Caribbean taking in Cozumel and Grand Cayman with a few extra days at sea. If you haven’t tried it, put it on your bucket list. Christmas week is a bargain and about 50% cheaper than the same cruise to ring in the new year. Rates start at about $300 per person for the 5-day cruise. You’d be hard-pressed to dine out for a week in your home town at those prices. Today we want to provide an update on the dramatic changes in Internet connectivity not only aboard ship but also in navigating 1,000 miles of highway to get there. Let’s start with the glamorous part.

Surfing the Internet Aboard Ship

What a difference a couple years has made. On previous cruises to Alaska and the Eastern Caribbean, Internet service was spotty at best and cost prohibitive on sea days. Typical connection rates were $25 or more per hour. You found yourself scrambling to find a bar with cheap Internet service every time you hit a port. But that was then. Here’s our 2015 update.

Carnival which owns the majority of the cruise ship companies (9 different brands) prides itself on making cruising affordable for almost any traveler. So we qualified. They’ve also revolutionized Internet service with rates on some ships (including ours) as low as $5 a day for unlimited (but basic) Internet connectivity. Here’s a typical pricing plan, but ours was even less expensive. $70 got us unlimited premium Internet service including Skype (one user at a time) for the entire 5-day cruise, and performance was surprisingly good, roughly triple the speed of the $5 a day plan and equivalent to or better than cellular 3G service regardless of the time of day. During early mornings, dinner hours, and when docked at a port, the speed difference from DSL was barely noticeable. Part of this is due to Carnival’s new hybrid Internet technology which blends satellite service with strategically placed Internet towers along your itinerary. The way it works is simple. You login with your account number and birthday, and you can stay logged in as long as you like. If another member of your family wishes to use the service, they simply login on a different device with the same account number and birthday. They’ll be prompted whether to bump you off. Clicking YES transfers the Internet connection to their device and terminates your connection. With three people, it worked amazingly well and was a wonderful testament to what it means to share. Complete details of the WiFi@Sea Internet program are available here. The rollout will be complete by the end of the first quarter in 2016.

We made roughly a dozen Skype calls to test the quality of the calls. With a couple of exceptions, the calls were roughly equivalent to what you would expect using a cable modem connection. With the two bad calls, it was obvious within a couple seconds, and the simple solution was to hang up and try again.

If you’re an Asterisk user, connectivity to an office or home server was easy by making a free call with Skype Connect which we documented just last week. Once connected to an AutoAttendant on the home server, using DISA to make secondary calls to other destinations at minimal cost was a no-brainer. The setup is simple, and we showed how to do it over 10 years ago. Today, it’s built into the GUI. We routed the incoming Skype calls to a Stealth AutoAttendant on the Asterisk server. By pressing an unannounced key during the welcome message, we were prompted for our DISA password. After entering it successfully, we were prompted for a number to dial. In our setup, this includes any number supported by our dialplan: local extensions, 10-digit NANPA numbers throughout the U.S., Canada, and 18 other north American countries as well as special dial codes to retrieve voicemails and other Asterisk functions.

Bottom Line: Do your homework before you book a cruise. Decide what your must-have’s for the cruise are and then compare prices.

Surfing the Internet from Your Car or Motorhome

The other eye-opener was the advances in cellular service along America’s interstates. 4G service now is available almost everywhere. Average download speeds were in the 20-40 Mb range. We used 7.18GB of data during 16 hours of travel. That works out to roughly a half gig per hour of travel with three users. YMMV! Funny how quickly 4G service rolled out once the (not so) Baby Bells got their monopoly back and could charge by the megabyte. We were one of the lucky ones to snag one of the few remaining Verizon unlimited data plans on eBay. Verizon now has tightened the screws and doesn’t allow transfer of the plans to others. But, if you’re one of the lucky ones that still pays over $100 a month for an unlimited data plan (Verizon just quietly raised the monthly charge by $20), then here’s some information for you. First, as part of the FCC’s 4G spectrum auction, bidders (Verizon in this case) were required to agree to the following condition as laid out in 47 C.F.R. 27.16:

(b) Use of devices and applications. Licensees offering service on spectrum subject to this section shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee’s C Block network, except:
(1) Insofar as such use would not be compliant with published technical standards reasonably necessary for the management or protection of the licensee’s network, or
(2) As required to comply with statute or applicable government regulation.

When Verizon won the auction, they reluctantly acknowledged a customer’s ability to move a SIM card from one device to another so long as the new device was on Verizon’s approved devices list. It doesn’t mean Verizon hasn’t dragged its feet on adding new approved devices, however. The important takeaway from this is that moving between approved devices appears to be safe even though there have been some reported problems. You’ll know whether you’re using a Verizon-approved device by examining your Verizon account to see if a picture of the new device shows up once you insert your SIM card.

So what does all of this have to do with surfing the Internet from your vehicle? Well, you have two choices. You can use your existing smartphone, enable tethering, and have multiple passengers surfing the Internet at 4G speeds with unlimited bandwidth. Or you can purchase a Verizon-approved Novatel T1114 4G Router on eBay and move your SIM card there for trips. Just be sure you buy one with the required 3.5W power adapter. Then add a $20 150W Power Inverter, and you’ve got a Mobile WiFi powerhouse plus a POTS phone connection… in your car.

If you’re one of the unlucky ones that doesn’t have an unlimited data plan with Verizon Wireless, there’s now another option if you live in an area with Sprint service. HINT: Sprint works great along most interstate highways in the United States. For $50 or less per month, you can set up a WiFi HotSpot in your vehicle with unlimited data using Karma Go. If you use our signup link, you get $10 off, and we get a $10 referral credit. There’s a 45-day money-back guarantee. For a great review of Karma Go, go here. And 2016 promises more choices with most new GM vehicles sporting an integrated WiFi HotSpot.


UPDATE: Karma Go this week began backing off from its unlimited Internet pledge. Seems these companies never learn the bait-and-switch lessons from those that preceded them… or they don’t want to. You can read all about it here.

1/18 UPDATE: Karma Go today announced that they were restoring the original 5 Gbit performance of the product but would cap usage at 15GB/month after which performance would be throttled to “speeds good enough for emailing and messaging.”

NEWS FLASH: Beginning January 12, 2016, unlimited Internet plans return to AT&T Wireless for those that also subscribe to DirecTV or U-Verse. Details available here.

There’s more good news from our 1,000 mile travel adventure. We were late to this party, but what an awesome addition for those that travel for a living or just for vacations. If you’ve never tried Waze, add it to your smartphone right now! Not only do you get turn-by-turn directions to any destinations, but you also get road hazard alerts, automatic traffic rerouting to avoid bottlenecks, cheap gas price alerts, and… did we mention that in 1,000 miles it didn’t miss alerting us to every single speed trap. Police departments are government bureaucracies that have grown just like the rest of federal, state, and local government agencies. We counted nearly 100 police vehicles doing nothing but traffic enforcement. On 70 mile per hour Interstate highways, our unscientific survey showed that speeds increased to 75 miles per hour with no police presence compared to 69 miles per hour when a speed trap had been identified. It was readily apparent that truckers and frequent travelers have been using Waze long before us. What we kept asking ourselves was whether the cost of 100 police officers + 100 police cars + an enormous fuel bill was really worth it to slow folks down (momentarily) by 6 miles per hour. We hear a lot about government waste, but the police seem to get a pass on frugality by claiming they’re saving lives. We just didn’t see much of a correlation. It looked more like a game of cat and mouse. Happy New Year everybody. Don’t Drink and Drive!

Originally published: Monday, December 28, 2015





Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.


 
Awesome Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a terrific discount for Nerd Vittles readers. You now can get an almost half-price DID from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. When you use our special link to sign up, Nerd Vittles gets a few shekels down the road to support our open source development efforts while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For our users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls and four simultaneous channels for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. NOTE: You can only use the Nerd Vittles sign-up link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage. Any balance is refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…