Don’t Hurry: A First Look at Google Glass with Google Glass Frame

It’s one thing to read about new technology, and quite another to actually try it out. We’ve been holding off on Google Glass awaiting support for prescription lenses. Well, it’s finally here. And Nerd Uno was one of the first to receive the new Google Glass Frames. Having spent the better part of a week with the new technology, here’s our review.

Let’s start with the price tag. Ours came to $1,868.75. That’s before you add the cost of prescription lenses, some of which are now subsidized by vision insurance plans. So the $2,000 question is whether you’re ready for that type of investment in order to assume the mantle of PIONEER. And, make no mistake, Google Glass is a beta project in every sense of the word. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Pardon our morphing into a male chauvinist pig for a moment. Can you picture your significant other ever wearing a pair of these glasses? Seriously? If the answer is no, then put yourself in her shoes and ask the same question. Looks aside (and some of us need all the help we can get), much of the resistance to Google Glass boils down to the privacy issue. It’s one thing to carry a hidden pen camera when nobody knows they’re being recorded. It’s quite another to advertise what you’re up to. As Engadget put it:

It’s a headset with a projected display, a camera and a data connection that could revolutionize the mobile device industry. It could also cause a public uproar over privacy concerns.

People can and should be a bit concerned about someone walking in a public restroom with Glass on and, since you can’t fold them up and stick them in your pocket, finding something to do with them while you do your business is a challenge.

Take it from us. Your friends are going to disown you if you wear these things around them. Nobody (except people that work for Google or would like to) wants to be on camera all the time. And nobody except the Glass wearer knows whether the camera is on or off. Therein lies the problem. All it takes to send a photo to the Google Cloud is the wink of an eye. Ask yourself this question. Do you really want to live in a world like this? We haven’t even gotten to the way you can expect to be treated by strangers. Consider, for example, the poor guy that got dragged out of the movie theater because of a claim that he was illegally recording the movie. He wasn’t! But there was a parking lot full of police and FBI interrogators anyway. Then there are the restaurants and bars that will throw you out just for wearing a pair of wonder glasses. And finally we’ve got the Eager Beaver traffic cop that couldn’t wait to make his first Google Glass bust. So let me repeat the question. Do you really want to live in a world like this? Perhaps the better question is this. Do you think other folks want to live in a world with people like you wearing Google Glass? You can probably guess our answer, but the world does not stand still. So… we will see what we see.

Google Glass Setup and Operation

If you’ve set up an iPhone or Android phone with Gmail using your Google credentials, then you already know the drill for setting up Google Glass. It’s a breeze with the MyGlass app for your smartphone. In 5 minutes, you’ll be ready to tilt your head up and take Google Glass for a spin. The magic word to activate Glass is “OK, Glass.” So far, so good. In the default setup, you can make phone calls, check the weather, participate in Hangouts (you can see them but they can’t see you), read emails, send dictated email messages, take photos and videos as well as perform Google searches and navigate to a destination with Google Maps. The ability to schedule reminders has been removed in the latest software release. Unfortunately, messages sent to Gmail accounts (with or without a photo) go to Hangouts, not to Gmail.




You can take photos by blinking your right eye after enabling the feature. The photos are immediately uploaded to your Google account in the sky. There also is an option to forward a photo to an email address. But choosing a recipient was problematic. If you have an extensive list of Contacts as we do, it’s almost impossible to navigate through the list or to use it reliably with the Glass speech-to-text function. Oftentimes you will find yourself inadvertently sending something to the wrong person with no notification as to who that person was. And there’s no quick way to cancel delivery. That is a major shortcoming of virtually all the Glass features presently. There is no “go back” or “never mind” or “hangup” voice command to cancel an activity. We often found ourselves tapping, swiping, and yelling at Glass in order to cancel some action. Painful is the kindest adjective we can muster. Do you have any idea how stupid you look tapping on the side of your head all the time? People really will think you’ve lost your marbles. Let’s put it this way. If the Google self-driving car worked as well as Glass, you’d be in a ditch or dead in a matter of minutes.

There are a whole host of additional features you can add to Glass. Google calls them Glassware. The process is straight-forward, much like adding an app to a smartphone. Here’s a partial list to give you some idea of what’s already out there:

With all these potential applications, you’re undoubtedly asking yourself about battery life. In a word, it’s HORRIBLE. If you get a half day out of Glass even with minimal use, count yourself among the lucky ones. If the idea is that folks should wear Glass instead of glasses, you’re not going to be a happy camper. While Google has taken steps to shut off Glass when you’re not actively using it, this is an uphill battle. Glass depends upon Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and regularly communicates with your cellphone and the closest WiFi access point. That’s a battery-consuming activity that is not going to be easily remedied without a bigger battery or better battery technology. As someone described it in the Google forum, “It’s like watching the gas gauge on a Ford Expedition with a 454 engine going up a mountain.” There’s a reason that over half the inside of a smartphone is reserved as a battery compartment. Unfortunately, Glass doesn’t have that luxury of space.

In conclusion, we were tempted to keep Glass only because of its novelty. Everybody likes to play with the latest toy. And we have a reputation to uphold. But the battery life and privacy issues are truly dealbreakers for us. Before it’s over, we suspect there will be overwhelming public demand for a little red blinking light on Glass to tell others when you’re doing something that might affect them. If you’ve seen the way people react when you point a movie camera at them with a blinking red light, you’ll at least know what you have to look forward to. There has been no bigger Google Glass evangelist than Robert Scoble. Check out his comments on why Google Glass is doomed. Then read today’s comments from Jeff Jarvis before you take the plunge. We’re saving our money for the self-driving car. Here’s hoping the people that make ours don’t read this review.

Originally published: Wednesday, February 5, 2014




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


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. 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. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road 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 PBX in a Flash 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 for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this 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 and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

A New Star Is Born: The PIAF-Green Virtual Machine featuring Scientific Linux 6.5

We are delighted to announce our first of many releases of PBX in a Flash™ 3.0.6.5 running atop the just released Scientific Linux™ 6.5. In keeping with our historical methodology (minus CentOS™), today’s PIAF-Green™ VM release with Asterisk 11® and FreePBX® 2.11 provides everyone an opportunity to kick the tires and provide some feedback before the tailorable PIAF™ 3.0.6.5 hits the street. What’s missing is the CentOS operating system. Good riddance! See last week’s article for why. We are pleased to introduce our new OS platform:

“From the beginning Scientific Linux was designed to be a community project. We solicited input from the labs and Universities that originally contacted [Fermilab™ computer scientists], as well as other interested parties. We also designed the sites area to make it easy for sites to create their own distribution, as well as add to the mirrors without disturbing the main core distribution.”

Feel free to read up on its history, its legal footing, and its incredible growth over the past decade. If you’d like to build your own creation from Scientific Linux, there’s a well-documented tutorial to get you there. Incredible Linux™ here we come! And what a terrific contribution to the open source community by the Scientific Linux developers. Imagine actually being able to spin off GPL code into enhanced products just as the GPL license envisioned. What a concept!

We’ll have more news about Scientific Linux in coming weeks. But, for today, we hope you’ll take the new PIAF-Green Virtual Machine for a spin. This new release was put together within days of the release of Scientific Linux 6.5. That speaks volumes about SL platform stability and its enthusiastic community. We’re delighted to be the newest member!

The Ultimate VoIP Appliance: PIAF Virtual Machine for VirtualBox

Today brings us to a new plateau in the virtual machine development era. We’re pleased to introduce a new product that can be installed in under 5 minutes and will run on any Windows PC, Mac, or Linux machine as well as Solaris. And, unlike the dedicated machine platforms and OpenVZ compromises of years past, today’s PIAF-Green Virtual Machine is state-of-the-art giving you everything a bare metal install from source code would have provided. Most importantly, the components are truly portable. They can be copied to a 4GB flash drive1 for the price of a good hamburger and installed from there onto any type of machine that happens to be in front of you. Five minutes later, you have a fully functional Asterisk server with FreePBX and exactly the same feature set and source code that you would have had doing a bare metal PIAF install to a dedicated server. And we’ve built this 32-bit production-ready PIAF-Green Virtual Machine with Asterisk 11.7 and FreePBX 2.11. No Internet access required to perform the install. Sound too good to be true? Keep reading or, better yet, try the PIAF appliance for yourself. The install process is simple:

  1. Download and install VirtualBox onto a Desktop Machine of your choice
  2. Download and double-click on the PIAF-Green Virtual Machine to import it into VirtualBox
  3. Select the PIAF-Green Virtual Machine in VirtualBox Manager Window and click the Start button

Introducing Oracle VM VirtualBox

We’re late to the party, but Virtual Box®, Oracle’s virtual machine platform inherited from Sun, is really something. It’s not only free, but it’s pure GPL2 code. VirtualBox gives you a virtual machine platform that runs on top of any desktop operating system. In terms of limitations, we haven’t found any. We even tested this on an Atom-based Windows 7 machine with 2GB of RAM, and it worked without a hiccup. So step #1 is to download one or more of the VirtualBox installers from VirtualBox.org or Oracle.com. As mentioned, our recommendation is to put all of the 100MB installers on a 4GB thumb drive. Then you’ll have everything in one place whenever and wherever you happen to need it. Once you’ve downloaded the software, simply install it onto your favorite desktop machine. Accept all of the default settings, and you’ll be good to go. For more details, here’s a link to the Oracle VM VirtualBox User Manual.

Installing the PIAF Virtual Machine

Step #1 is to download the PIAF-Green Open Virtualization Appliance (.ova) from SourceForge.

Step #2: Verify the checksums for the 32-bit .ova appliance to be sure everything got downloaded properly. To check the MD5/SHA1 checksums in Windows, download and run Microsoft’s File Checksum Integrity Verifier.

For Mac or Linux desktops, open a Terminal window, change to the directory in which you downloaded the .ova file and type the following commands:

md5 PIAF-Green-SL.ova (use md5sum for Linux)    MD5: 33fcda3badc7cae025905b59d59f8213
openssl sha1 PIAF-Green-SL.ova    SHA1: f3aa8d966cd8e7bed1d0d6e16d29806056b81e6a

Step #3: Double-click on the downloaded .ova file which will begin the import process into VirtualBox. It only takes a couple minutes, and you only do it once. IMPORTANT: Be sure to check the Reinitialize the Mac address of all network cards box before clicking the Import button.

Once the import is finished, you’ll see the new PIAF-Green virtual machine in the VM List of your VirtualBox Manager Window. You’ll need to make a couple of one-time adjustments to the VM configuration to account for differences in sound and network cards on different host machines.

Click on the PIAF-Green-SL Virtual Machine in the VM List. Then click Settings -> Audio and check the Enable Audio option and choose your sound card. Save your setup by clicking the OK button. Next click Settings -> Network. For Adapter 1, check the Enable Network Adapter option. From the Attached to pull-down menu, choose Bridged Adapter. Then select your network card from the Name list. Then click OK. That’s all the configuration that is ever necessary for your PIAF-Green Virtual Machine. The rest is automagic.

Running the PIAF-Green Virtual Machine in VirtualBox

Once you’ve imported and configured the PIAF Virtual Machine, you’re ready to go. Highlight PIAF Virtual Machine in the VM List on the VirtualBox Manager Window and click the Start button. The PIAF boot procedure with Scientific Linux 6.5 will begin just as if you had installed PBX in a Flash on a standalone machine. You’ll see a couple of dialogue boxes pop up that explain the keystrokes to move back and forth between your host operating system desktop and your PIAF VM.

Here’s what you need to know. To work in the PIAF Virtual Machine, just left-click your mouse while it is positioned inside the VM window. To return to your host operating system desktop, press the right Option key on Windows machines or the left Command key on any Mac. For other operating systems, read the dialogue boxes for instructions on moving around. Always shut down PIAF gracefully! Click in the VM window with your mouse, log in as root, and type: shutdown -h now.

Run the PIAF Virtual Machine behind a hardware-based firewall with no Internet port exposure!

To begin, position your mouse over the VM window and left-click. Once the PIAF VM has booted, log in as root with password as the password. Change your root password immediately by typing passwd at the command prompt. Now set up a secure maint password for FreePBX as well. Type passwd-master. If you’re not in the Eastern U.S. time zone, then you’ll want to adjust your timezone setting so that reminders and other time-sensitive events happen at the correct time. While logged into your server as root, issue this command:

setup-timezone

Next, use a browser to log into your PIAF server by pointing to the IP address of the PIAF VM that’s displayed in the status window of the CLI. Click on the User button to display the Admin choices in the main PIAF Menu. Click on the FreePBX option to load the FreePBX GUI. You will be prompted for an Apache username and password. For the username, use maint. For the password, use whatever password you set up with passwd-master.

Now read the latest PIAF Quick Start Guide and begin your VoIP adventure. Then you’ll want to do some reading on VirtualBox. We’ve barely scratched the surface. Setting up Headless VMs that run in the background on any server is a breeze. From the command line, here’s an article to get you started. But you also can start Headless VMs from within the GUI by highlighting the VM and clicking Shift->Start. Always shut down VMs gracefully: Close->ACPI Shutdown. You’ll find more great tips at virtualbox.org and GitHub.

One of the real beauties of VirtualBox is you don’t have to use a GUI at all. The entire process can be driven from the command line. Other than on a Mac, here is the procedure to import, configure, and run the PIAF-Green-32 Virtual Machine:
 
VBoxManage import PIAF-Green-SL.ova
VBoxManage modifyvm "PIAF-Green-SL" --nic1 nat
VBoxManage modifyvm "PIAF-Green-SL" --acpi on --nic1 bridged
VBoxHeadless --startvm "PIAF-Green-SL" &
# Wait 1 minute for PIAF-Green-SL to load. Then decipher IP address like this:
VBoxManage guestproperty get "PIAF-Green-SL" /VirtualBox/GuestInfo/Net/0/V4/IP
# Now you can use SSH to login to PIAF-Green-SL at the displayed IP address
# Shutdown the PIAF-Green-SL Virtual Machine with the following command:
VBoxManage controlvm "PIAF-Green-SL" acpipowerbutton

On a Mac, everything works the same way except for deciphering the IP address. Download our findip script for that.

Adding Incredible PBX 11 and Incredible Fax

You can read all about the Incredible PBX 11 and Incredible Fax feature set in our recent Nerd Vittles article. If you decide you’d like to add one or both to your PIAF-Green Virtual Machine, just log into your server as root and issue the following commands. NOTE: You must install Incredible Fax after installing Incredible PBX, or you will lose the ability to install Incredible PBX at a later time. With Incredible Fax, there are a number of prompts during the install. With the exception of the prompt asking for your local area code, just press Enter at every other prompt.

cd /root
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/incrediblepbx11.gz
gunzip incrediblepbx11.gz
chmod +x incrediblepbx11
./incrediblepbx11
./incrediblefax11.sh

The Incredible PBX 11 Inventory. For those that have never heard of The Incredible PBX, here’s the current 11.0 feature set in addition to the base install of PBX in a Flash with Scientific Linux 6.5, Asterisk 11, FreePBX 2.11, and Apache, SendMail, MySQL, PHP, phpMyAdmin, IPtables Linux firewall, Fail2Ban, and WebMin. Incredible Fax, NeoRouter and PPTP VPNs, and all sorts of backup solutions are still just one command away and may be installed using the scripts included with Incredible PBX 11 and PBX in a Flash. Type help-pbx and browse /root for dozens of one-click install scripts.

Originally published: Wednesday, January 29, 2014




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


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. 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. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road 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 PBX in a Flash 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 for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this 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 and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. Many of our purchase links refer users to Amazon when we find their prices are competitive for the recommended products. Nerd Vittles receives a small referral fee from Amazon to help cover the costs of our blog. We never recommend particular products solely to generate Amazon commissions. However, when pricing is comparable or availability is favorable, we support Amazon because Amazon supports us. []

Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle: More RedHat Legal Shenanigans with CentOS


As we celebrate the 10th anniversary of CentOS, the Community Enterprise Operating System, all is not well in Open Source Land. If you haven’t heard, CentOS “joined forces” with Red Hat while you were enjoying the Christmas holiday. And RedHat wasted little time attempting to morph CentOS into a Trademark Minefield much as RedHat has done with its other “open source” projects. If you look at the new CentOS.org web site, RedHat proclaims a New Look and New CentOS. New, indeed. You won’t see many changes other than a healthy mention of RedHat and a vast new Legal section proclaiming RedHat’s ownership of the CentOS trademark and severely restricting acceptable use of the CentOS product. It’s more than a little ironic that RedHat actually pulled off a similar stunt against CentOS back in 2005. The initial problem this time around is that RedHat doesn’t actually own the trademark, nor has RedHat attempted to register it. There are some good reasons why, and we’ll get to those in a minute.

The RedHat Legal Theory of Trademarks goes something like this. We just don’t want people to confuse other products with our brand even though we all use the same, freely available open source brands. Get it? Well let’s try again. RedHat doesn’t mind using Apache’s brand name, and SendMail’s, and MySQL’s, and about 40,000 other trademarked and copyrighted products of open source developers. But God help you if the word “RedHat” appears anywhere in your open source software aggregation.

Now RedHat would like to extend this philosophy to CentOS for the betterment of the community, of course. If successful, RedHat bullying would wipe out virtually all of the current CentOS packages available from the following providers, and thousands more would disappear as well. Here’s the list from CentOS’ own web site, but don’t expect the list to remain around very long. The mere existence of this list proves CentOS acquiescence in the development methodology employed by Amazon Linux AMIs that include CentOS as part of the AMI, AsteriskNOW, BlueOnyx, BlueQuartz, CactiEZ, CentServer, ClarkConnect, ClearOS, Elastix, FAN, FreePBX Distro, OpenNode, OpenVZ, OS Office, OVH, Parallels Virtuozzo Containers, PBX in a Flash, Proxmox images that include CentOS, SipX, SME Server, Snaplogic, trixbox, trixswitch, VicidialNOW, most of the Virtual Machines and hosted platforms that rely upon CentOS with any other included application. And the list goes on. To give you some idea of how pervasive CentOS is in the products of other developers, try Googling: built atop centos which returns over 21 million results.

In a nutshell, the new RedHat Terms of Service outlaw use of CentOS in any productunless the combined distribution is an official CentOS distribution.” In short, the open source community would be transformed into the functional equivalent of the Windows and Mac platforms. End-users could independently install CentOS and then acquire apps to run under CentOS, but CentOS could no longer be included with the application itself. Well, not so fast, Mr. RedHat.

Even though the evidence trail is quickly disappearing, there’s still plenty of CentOS history that suggests things may not work out quite as well for RedHat this time around. First, there is the CentOS “Social Contract” with the Open Source Software Community and The cAos Foundation’s Open Source Software Guidelines, both of which have conveniently disappeared from the CentOS web site. For history buffs, the cAos Foundation was the developer of the CentOS aggregation. If there’s one overriding principle in both trademark law and open source software development under the GPL, it’s this: YOU CAN’T UNRING A BELL. A license once given cannot be withdrawn at the whim of a new owner, even RedHat. Here’s an excerpt from their “Social Contract.” Pay particular attention to the last paragraph:

Another problematic issue is ownership of the trademark itself. You can certainly own a trademark without registering it with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office. But… since inception, the cAos Foundation has gone to great lengths not to ever enforce, proclaim™, or protect its trademark in CentOS. The reason is simple. They viewed CentOS as a community project which was free for everyone in the community to use and integrate as they saw fit. Thus it is more than a little puzzling that a single developer would finally file a USPTO trademark application for “CENTOS” (note the capitalization and compare to RedHat’s view of the universe) six months ago claiming that he individually owned the mark. Quite the contrary, the cAos Foundation referenced its CentOS brand as early as 2004.

This, of course, raises some additional problems with RedHat’s claim of CentOS trademark and service mark ownership. From a legal standpoint, owners of trademarks are obligated to police the use of their marks to avoid Dilution either by third parties or by tarnishment. Without delving too deeply in the legal weeds, suffice it to say the CentOS mark suffers from dilution on both counts over a period of almost 10 years! This is as it should be actually. CentOS was intended to be a community resource for everyone in the community to be able to use, integrate, and build upon. Because of its inherent non-commercial character, it was never intended to be a brand for independent marketing.

A third trademark infirmity for the CentOS brand is the fact that it’s suffering from genericide. In Plain English, CentOS has become a household word. In the Linux community, it signifies a generic open source Linux operating system. Just as with aspirin and thermos bottles, “a majority of the relevant public [has] appropriated the name of the product… [and, in essence,] the owners are victims of their own success.”

And then there’s the matter of licensing. In addition to the “Social Contract” referenced above and upon which many developers relied, there’s also a financial angle. Individual developers reportedly have been given either express or implied authorization to integrate CentOS into their software products in exchange for financial contributions to the “CentOS project.” We’ll have more to say about that in our Petition for Cancellation and Opposition to Registration of the CentOS trademark, if the trademark is ever approved for publication. We trust many other developers will file petitions as well. You can review the procedure here. You can follow the CentOS trademark saga here. Be advised that an Opposition to Registration (section 202) must be filed with the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board within 30 days of the date a mark is approved for publication in the USPTO’s Official Gazette. A sample Petition for Cancellation (section 307) is available here. You do not have to be a lawyer to file it. You do have to pay the $300 filing fee. The safest way to monitor approval is by regularly checking the Status of the CENTOS Trademark and Service Mark Application.

Licensing issues aside, there’s a more serious issue moving forward. Most companies used CentOS so they wouldn’t have to pay for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Now Red Hat has bought CentOS. Guess what? Is it just a matter of time until CentOS is crippled so that it cannot serve as a drop-in replacement for Red Hat’s Cash Cow? Duh! Did the CentOS development team care about this? Probably not. Might not have even considered it. They got money and cushy jobs out of the deal. But, just because Red Hat offers financial rewards to a handful of CentOS developers is no reason to scuttle the development efforts of thousands of independent developers over the last decade. Better think twice, RedHat. The open source community will be watching.

Originally published: Monday, January 20, 2014




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


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for all of us.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. 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. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road 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 PBX in a Flash 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 for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this 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 and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity. 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Obivoice = OBi Heaven: Dumping Google Voice for Less Than 10¢ a Day

What a difference a week makes! When we wrote last week’s article about netTALK and their terrific pricing, we were pleased to report that at least one company could offer a drop-in replacement for Google Voice without breaking the bank. But, alas, all is not well in netTALK Land. For openers, the Better Business Bureau revoked their accreditation last June because of failure to respond to or resolve technical complaints. And a recent SEC Filing paints a fairly bleak picture of the company’s financial condition. Special thanks to Gershom1624 for his sleuthing efforts. This merely reinforces the difficulty of providing reliable, unlimited VoIP service at the $2.50 a month price point. But we firmly believe $2.50 is the magic price point, and it is achievable with some safeguards for the provider, i.e. residential service, no call centers, no 10,000 minutes-a-month customers. My mom loved the telephone, but she never spent 5 hours a day on the telephone. There also has to be some tradeoff in the level of support customers can expect. If customers tie up expensive support reps with multiple calls, the pricing matrix falls apart very quickly. And that brings us to this week.


Let’s review the Wish List for those that missed last week’s article. We want a drop-in replacement for Google Voice on both the OBi110 (stand-alone with any POTS telephone) and Asterisk® (PBX) platforms. It needs to provide unlimited (within reason) calling in the U.S. and Canada. It needs a feature set that is fairly comparable to Google Voice. It needs to include E911 service because the federal government says so. We don’t care much about support as long as the setup process is well-documented, the service is reliable, and calls sound great. Charging for support requests to resolve issues that aren’t the company’s fault is perfectly fine with us. But the price point for unlimited calling needs to be $2.50 a month, i.e. $30 a year or $60 every two years for the math-challenged. We’d prefer no tips, taxes, or fees. We want to keep our existing number. And, lest we forget, the company must promise to stay in business and never raise prices… forever.

Suppose we could find you a company that, with a 2-year commitment, could provide all of the above (minus the last sentence) plus fax support including a web page to send outgoing faxes from attachments, free calling and a mobile app for your iOS and Android devices, Visual Voicemail with voicemail transcription as well as email delivery of voicemail messages, call forwarding, call waiting, CallerID spoofing for any number you own, and unbelievable customer service. Not sure about the service? How about a 30-day free trial with 60 free minutes?

Let us introduce you to Obivoice. Don’t be alarmed by the one-year price of $40. The two-year price is just $60. But it doesn’t cost you a nickel to sign up and try the service. Obivoice is a pure SIP provider so the setup with PBX in a Flash™ or an OBi110™ takes only a couple minutes. Here’s the SIP trunk setup for PBX in a Flash using FreePBX®. All you need is your SIP credentials and phone number once you’ve signed up for an account. Plug in your 10-digit phone number in the Outbound CallerID and Register String, replace 1234 with your Account Number in the username, fromuser, and Register String, and replace yourpassword with your real Password in the secret and Register String.

Next, build yourself an Inbound Route with your 10-digit DID and point it to your favorite PBX destination. Finally, create an Outbound Route using obivoice as the Trunk Sequence, and you’re all set. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

We don’t think you will but, if you need assistance setting this up, head over to the PIAF Forum where there’s a lively discussion about Obivoice already.

The OBi110 setup is just as easy. Plug in sms.intelafone.com as the ProxyServer and OutboundProxy in your ITSP Profile, add your SIP credentials in the SP1 Voice Services dialog, and forward (or transfer) your existing Google Voice number to Obivoice. Done! Obivoice’s complete tutorial is available here.

Let us close with our own customer service story. We were so excited about this new service when it was announced yesterday that we actually clicked the wrong button and signed up for the wrong plan. Of course, it only takes a minute to get that sinking feeling in your stomach when you know you’ve screwed up. So late yesterday (Sunday night!) I opened a support ticket and asked to either cancel the wrong plan so that I could reenlist or to transfer to the $60 two-year plan. At 1:30 a.m. this morning, I got an email back from customer service indicating that the plan had been adjusted and that I had been billed for the price difference. WOW!

Run, don’t walk, to sign up for Obivoice. It’s that great!

p.s. The Obivoice jingle in their YouTube video is as good as their calls. We want it for our Music on Hold!

Originally published: Monday, January 13, 2014




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


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for all of us.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. 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. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road 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 PBX in a Flash 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 for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this 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 and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity. 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

netTALK to the Rescue: Dumping Google Voice for Less Than 10¢ a Day

The Google Voice Adventure with Asterisk® has been disappointing to put it charitably. Google never really saw the benefit of providing free phone service to millions of Americans because they never could quite figure out how to monetize the project. In the meantime, shady call centers were eating them alive with dozens if not hundreds of Google Voice trunks that were placing endless calls around the clock. The final straw was Microsoft deciding to keep Skype proprietary while adding free Google Voice connectivity to its communications products. This meant Microsoft customers had the best of all worlds while Google’s platform had no way to access Skype except through Microsoft’s proprietary client. Google decided to pull the plug on XMPP beginning May 15 of this year and more or less blamed it on abuse by the open source community for using Google’s own open source development toolkit for Google Voice.

We’ve never been one to sit around crying about spilt milk when there are plenty of other excellent choices available to the VoIP community. Today we begin our exploration of alternatives with a look at all-you-can-eat VoIP. There still are a few pure VoIP service plans available, but every one that we’ve tried leaves a bait-and-switch aftertaste. The first year may be reasonable, but once they’ve got you hooked, look out. Quite literally, they have your number. For this reason, we’ve chosen a hardware hybrid approach that still relies upon VoIP for the actual calls. Below the stratospheric pricing of the Bell Sisters, Comcast, and Vonage, there still are several wallet-friendly, all-you-can-eat VoIP products to choose from including netTALK, Ooma, and magicJack.

We know. Nothing beats free even with a little pain. But we think you’ll love today’s alternative especially given its expanded feature set and modest long-term cost. Up front hardware cost including service for the first year is about $100. Amortizing the hardware and service costs over three years reduces your investment for unlimited U.S./Canada/E911 phone service to roughly $1 a week. After recovery of your $100 hardware investment, the cost is $29.95 a year which works out to less than 10¢ a day… forever. This compares quite favorably to today’s best all-you-can-eat VoIP deal. AxVoice charges $99 for equivalent first year service and then the price escalates to over $150 for subsequent years. It doesn’t take a math major to figure out that’s 5 times the netTALK pricing beginning in Year 2.

That brings us back to Google. If you had several million happy customers already using your VoIP service and you saw a small company that was still in business charging $30 a year for a VoIP feature set that was better than yours, wouldn’t you think you might try to cash in on $100 million a year in new revenue rather than flushing the project down the toilet while shafting the open source developers that got you the customers in the first place??

Earth to Google: Few on the planet are ever going to use a web browser with Hangouts to make traditional phone calls regardless of how many places you plaster the Hangouts logo. Before you hire another Marketing Genius, read a good book or two. The well-deserved 2013 Lame Foot of the Year Award goes to Google. </rant>

Overview. Today we’ll be pairing an old friend, the OBi110, with the unlimited calling options provided by netTALK. When we’re finished, you’ll have a drop-in replacement for Google Voice on your Asterisk server that provides unlimited calling within the U.S. and Canada, plus free calling to other netTALK and OBi users around the world, plus free 911 emergency service for you and your family, plus voicemail delivery by email, and fax support. And you can keep your existing phone number! All of the existing PBX in a Flash and Incredible PBX features still work exactly as they do today without worrying about Google pulling the rug out from under you… again. With the OBiON app for iOS or Android, you can make free calls from your cellphone using today’s netTALK-OBi110 setup. And, if calls from a cellphone aren’t your thing, when you go on vacation to anywhere with an Internet connection, you can slip the netTALK device into your suitcase and plug it in to the Internet at your destination without ever losing the ability to make and receive free calls. We’ll cover all these magic tricks and more today so hang on to your hat. Let’s get started.

Legal Disclaimer. This is not legal advice. Consult your own attorney for that. We have reviewed netTALK’s Terms of Service and find nothing that would preclude your using the services as described in this article so long as the device is used in the United States, usage is under 3,000 minutes per month, and usage is limited to “normal residential or home office usage patterns” without “auto-dialing, continuous or extensive call forwarding, telemarketing, fax broadcasting or fax blasting.” Terms of service can and do change from time to time. Review them regularly.

BY IMPLEMENTING THE TIPS IN THIS TUTORIAL, YOU AGREE TO ASSUME ALL RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH THE METHODOLOGY INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE LEGAL AND FINANCIAL CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR ACTIONS. IF YOU ARE UNWILLING TO DO SO, STOP READING HERE!

Hardware Requirements. Here’s what you’ll need. First, purchase a netTALK device. You have several choices. The netTALK DUO is still available for under $50 and includes a full year of unlimited calling in the U.S. and Canada. The netTALK DUO II is the newer model (with the same feature set). It sells for about $30 but only includes three months of free calling. The netTALK DUO WiFi is about $60 and adds WiFi support. Additional years of free calling in the U.S. and Canada are $29.95 with a guarantee of no price escalation as long as you continue the service without interruption. You can add free calling to 60+ countries for an additional $10 a month. Unlimited SMS messaging in the U.S. and Canada is an additional $2.50 a month. AT&T charges $20 a month for unlimited SMS messaging, and it only works on a single cell phone.

In addition to your Asterisk server, the other piece for today’s puzzle is OBiHai’s OBi110, a terrific analog telephone adapter that we’ll use to connect the netTALK adapter to your Asterisk server. If you want to connect a Google Voice account for a few more months, it can do that as well. It also supports a connection to another SIP provider of your choice for redundancy. For today, our focus is getting a Google Voice replacement service in place for your Asterisk server. You can scour the Internet to add the other pieces. The OBi110 is available through Amazon for under $50.1

Installing and Configuring the netTALK Duo

Before your netTALK Duo will work, it has to be registered on the netTALK web site. Locate your temporary username and password for the NetTalk DUO inside the box. Log into the web site and click Start Activation. Plug in your credentials and click LOGIN. Fill out the registration information and create a username and password for your new account. Then press CONTINUE. Complete the E911 information and click SAVE. Select a phone number and ASSIGN it to your account. Now plug a plain-old phone into your netTalk Duo, connect the device to your LAN, and then connect the power adapter. Some routers are problematic. Be sure SIP ALG is disabled on your router. It took about 5 minutes for ours to change from alternating green and red lights to a solid green light and the one-ring call indicating that the device is operating properly. Once you get the solid green light, make a call to the device and from the device. Nothing else works if the netTALK can’t make calls! Once it’s working, you can unplug the phone and use it to configure the OBi110 in the next section.

Installing and Configuring the OBi110

There are a number of steps to the OBi110 setup, but it isn’t difficult. If you can handle slice-and-bake cookies, you can do this. Just follow the recipe and don’t skip any steps. We’ll be configuring the OBi110 in two phases using the OBiTalk web site first and then using the OBi110′s built-in web server. Plug the OBi110 into your LAN and then attach the power adapter. Plug a POTS phone into the PHONE port of your OBi110. Once the OBi110 has booted, pick up the phone and make sure you have a dial tone. Then hang up.

IMPORTANT: Make sure that you restore the OBi to its factory default settings if you have previously used the device! ALWAYS keep your OBi110 behind a hardware-based firewall with NO Internet port exposure!

Now head over to the OBi web portal and set up an account if you don’t already have one. From the OBi Dashboard, click ADD DEVICE. Uncheck the box to set up a Google Voice account. You can do that later if desired. Now pick up the phone connected to the OBi110 and dial **5 plus the 4-digit number shown in your browser. This will identify your device to OBiTalk. Your OBi110 will appear in a dialog box for confirmation. Click CONFIRM promptly, or start over.

In the Device Configuration window that appears, add a Device Display Name, Webpage Admin PW, OBi Attendant PIN, and your TimeZone. SAVE your settings. The OBi110 should now appear in the OBi Dashboard with its assigned OBi number and speed dial number together with a Green status icon signifying it’s working.

Now is a good time to download the OBiON app to your iOS device or Android phone. Launch the app and login with your OBiTalk account information. In the OBi Dashboard, you will note that your softphone now has appeared and was assigned a 9-digit OBiTALK number. Write it down. You’ll need it in a minute to complete the OBi110 setup. Click on the Edit icon for the softphone and assign your OBi110 as the OBi Voice Gateway. SAVE your settings.

For the remainder of the OBi110 setup, we’ll be using the web interface built into the OBi110. If you don’t know the IP address of your OBi110, pick up the phone connected to your OBi and dial ***1.

1. Use your browser to log into the OBi110′s web interface. Log in with admin:admin as the username:password.

2. Once you’re logged into your OBi110′s web interface, the Setup Wizard will display. Expand the first five headings in the left column by clicking on the + icons for Status, System Management, Service Providers, Voice Services, and Physical Interfaces. Then expand ITSP Profile B under Service Providers.

3. Download the latest firmware from here to your desktop. Currently it’s 1.3.0 (Build: 2824). Install it on your device: Device Update -> Firmware Update. Your OBi110 will restart after loading the new firmware.

4. Disable ALL AutoProvisioning: Auto Provisioning -> Firmware Updates, ITSP Provisioning, OBiTalk Provisioning. Then Submit and Reboot.

This keeps external forces from stepping on your setup once it’s working. If something breaks down the road, you can manually provision your device once you know what’s broken.

5. While not absolutely necessary, we recommend you set a static IP address for your OBi110: Network Settings -> Internet Settings. Submit and Reboot. Using your browser, log back into the new IP address.

Another alternative is to permanently lock the DHCP-assigned IP address to the OBi110 using the web interface of your router.

6. Open the SIP profile under ITSP Profile B. Here you’ll need to insert the IP address of your Asterisk server in BOTH the ProxyServer and X_AccessList fields. Also add a check mark for X_SpoofCallerID. Before you can add these entries, you’ll need to uncheck the Default checkbox beside each entry. This applies to all further steps as well. After making the three entries, click Submit and Reboot.

7. Open the SP2 Service window. For X_ServProvProfile and X_CodecProfile, change the settings to B. Change X_InboundCallRoute to LI. Add a check mark for X_KeepAliveEnable. Change X_KeepAliveServerPort and X_UserAgentPort to 5061.

In the SIP Credentials section, change AuthUserName to obitrunk. Make up a secure password and insert it in the AuthPassword field. Remember the password! We’ll need it to configure your Asterisk trunk in a minute. For the URI entry, use the following with the actual IP address of your Asterisk server: obitrunk@192.168.0.82. Double-check all nine entries carefully and then click Submit and Reboot.

8. In the OBiTalk Service Settings window, change the InboundCallRoute to an entry that looks like this: {pp(ob290999999),li}. We recommend you cut-and-paste our example and then replace 290999999 with the 9-digit OBiTalk number that was assigned to your softphone above. A punctuation error here will block your softphone from ever working. Click Submit and Reboot.

9. Finally, we need to configure the LINE Port. For the InboundCallRoute, insert the following using the 10-digit phone number assigned to your netTALK Duo: SP2(6781234567). For the SilenceTimeThreshold, set the number of seconds you want the OBi110 to wait before disconnecting a call where nobody at the other end of the call says anything. We recommend 600 which is 10 minutes. Click Submit and Reboot.

10. Now it’s time to connect your netTALK Duo to your OBi110. Unplug any phone connected to the netTALK Duo. Using a telephone cable, connect the PHONE port of the netTALK Duo to the LINE port of the OBi110. Never plug the netTALK Duo into the PHONE port of the OBi110, or your OBi is (burnt) toast!!!

11. Test your configuration. Pick up the phone that’s still connected to the OBi110 and dial either a 10-digit or 11-digit number of someone you love: 8005551212 or 18005551212. Do the same thing using the OBiON app on your cellphone or tablet. Be patient! OBiON connections are not instantaneous. Your connections have to be authenticated through OBiHai’s servers before they go through.

Interconnecting Asterisk with the OBi110

There basically are three pieces you need to add to Asterisk so that it can communicate with your netTALK Duo and OBi110. You need a Trunk to which the OBi110 will register. You need an Inbound Route to tell Asterisk how to handle incoming calls from the netTALK Duo phone number. And you need an Outbound Route to tell Asterisk which outgoing calls should be routed out through the netTALK Duo. We’re assuming you will be using the netTALK Duo as your primary trunk for outbound AND emergency calls. We’re also assuming you will not be making international calls. Finally, we’re assuming you are using FreePBX 2.11 with either PBX in a Flash or with one of the Incredible PBX builds on the CentOS 6.5, Raspbian, or Ubuntu platforms. Other FreePBX 2.11 setups should work in much the same way. If any of these assumptions don’t apply, you’ll obviously need to make the necessary adjustments for your environment.

Trunk Configuration. To set up the obitrunk under FreePBX 2.11, log into FreePBX and choose Connectivity -> Trunks -> Add SIP Trunk. For the Trunk Name, use obitrunk. For Outbound Caller ID, enter the 10-digit phone number assigned to your netTALK Duo. For Maximum Channels, use 1. For Dialed Number Manipulation Rules, add the following Match Patterns: 1NXXNXXXXXX, NXXNXXXXXX, and 911.

In Outgoing Settings, use obitrunk for Trunk Name and enter the following PEER Details:
type=peer
host=dynamic
port=5061
disallow=all
allow=ulaw
dtmfmode=rfc2833

In Incoming Settings, enter your actual 10-digit netTalk phone number in the User Context field: 6781234567. Enter the following USER Details replacing mypassword with the password you set up in OBi110 step #7 SIP credentials above and adjusting the permit entry to match your LAN subnet:
type=friend
secret=mypassword
host=dynamic
context=from-trunk
canreinvite=no
nat=yes
port=5061
qualify=yes
dtmfmode=rfc2833
disallow=all
allow=ulaw
deny=0.0.0.0/0.0.0.0
permit=192.168.0.0/255.255.255.0

Click Submit Changes and Apply Config to save your entries.

Inbound Route Configuration. If you already have a default inbound route on your Asterisk server, then you can skip this step unless you want incoming calls from the netTALK DID routed in a special way. To create an inbound route for the netTALK phone number, choose Connectivity -> Inbound Routes -> Add Incoming Route. For the Description, enter netTALK-OBi110. For the DID Number, enter your 10-digit netTALK phone number. For CID Lookup Source, choose CallerID Superfecta if you’re using this module. For Set Destination, choose how you want FreePBX to route the incoming calls, i.e. an extension, ring group, IVR, etc.

Click Submit and Apply Config to save your entries.

Outbound Route Configuration. If you want all 10-digit, 11-digit, and 911 calls placed from your Asterisk server to be routed out through the netTALK Duo, then you’d Add a Route under Connectivity -> Outbound Routes that looks something like the following. Don’t forget to move this Outbound Route (in the right column) to the TOP of your list of Outbound Routes to make certain it is processed first by FreePBX.

For Route Name, use obiout. For Dial Patterns, use the same ones you used in your Trunk setup above: 1NXXNXXXXXX, NXXNXXXXXX, and 911. For Trunk Sequence, select obitrunk.

Click Submit Changes and Apply Config to save your entries.

While still in Outbound Routes, drag obiout to the top of the outbound routes list in the right column. Then click Apply Config again to save your trunk processing sequence.

Verifying Connectivity. Let’s be sure everything works. First, log back into the IP address of your OBi110 and verify that System Status -> SP2 Service Status shows the OBi110 is registered to your Asterisk server. Next place a 10-digit call using an extension on your Asterisk server and monitor the Asterisk CLI to make certain that the call went out using the netTALK Duo trunk and was completely successfully. Finally, use your cellphone to call the number assigned to your netTALK Duo. The call should ring on the devices you configured in the Inbound Route above. Enjoy your new freedom from Google Voice!

Special Thanks. We want to express our appreciation to ObiHai for an excellent Administrator’s Guide and to the numerous individuals who have wrestled with the OBi110 setup over the years. This includes Adrian Li, Ad_Hominem and MichiganTelephone on the OBiTalk Forum as well as the reference articles which now are available here.

Originally published: Tuesday, January 7, 2014




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


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for all of us.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. 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. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road 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 PBX in a Flash 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 for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this 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 and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity. 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. Many of our purchase links refer users to Amazon when we find their prices are competitive for the recommended products. Nerd Vittles receives a small referral fee from Amazon to help cover the costs of our blog. We never recommend particular products solely to generate Amazon commissions. However, when pricing is comparable or availability is favorable, we support Amazon because Amazon supports us. []

IVR 101: Six Quick Steps to Building Incredible IVRs for Asterisk with FreePBX

As more and more Asterisk® platforms enter the open source community, it seems as if we spend a lot of energy covering the basics of getting those new systems into place, and there’s little time left for tutorials that really make the difference in a great telephony system and one that just makes calls. So our New Year’s Resolution is to try to devote a column every month to smelling the roses and pushing out some information that actually helps newbies in the VoIP community learn something while getting them up to speed on creating important pieces of a PBX themselves.

For today, IVR 101 tackles Interactive Voice Response systems (IVRs) and AutoAttendants. These are the tools that let callers interact with a PBX without assistance from a receptionist. What’s the difference in an IVR and AutoAttendant? Both offer unattended call processing, but an IVR is more sophisticated typically offering much more than a menu tree of connection options to the caller. For example, some of the options in today’s demo IVR let the caller interact directly with the computer to retrieve customized responses. Call by Name lets the caller speak the name of a person or company to dial, Weather by City lets the caller choose the City and State, Province, or Country of a weather forecast to retrieve, and Wolfram Alpha lets the caller ask about almost anything you’d find in your favorite almanac. Twenty years ago, companies were spending $100,000+ to get this functionality from the Bell Sisters and companies like Nortel. Today you can do it with a Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone Black running Incredible PBX for less than $50. Much has been written about IVR Hell and how to build effective IVRs that don’t drive callers crazy. We’ll leave that one for you to explore on your own. But we can’t stress enough how important this really is. It can make or break a company! If you’re unwilling to invest the time in the IVR design, there are companies such as CallFire that will do it for you. For do-it-yourselfers, you’ll want to start with Allison’s 15 Commandments (for ease of reference, we have linked to the individual articles on Digium’s site below) and then do a little Googling on your own. There’s a wealth of information on the topic.

Allison’s 15 Commandments of IVR
 
1. Don’t Overestimate Your Listener’s Attention Span
2. Thou Shalt Not Create Fake Mailboxes
3. Keep Things Simple
4. Always Give Callers an Opt-”In”
5. Front-Load Important Information
6. Understand What Constitutes a “Prompt”
7. Understand The Effects of Proper Punctuation in Concatenation
8. Thou Shalt Not Give Directions To Your Office/Facility
9. Give a Pronunciation Guide for Proper Names and Place Names
10. Name Your Company Something That Needs No Special Instruction
11 Don’t Go Overboard with Niceties
12. Read The Copy Out Loud
13. Be Clear on Your Company’s Vision/Image — And Be Able To Explain That To Me
14. Don’t Front-Load Too Much Information in The Opening Greeting
15. Write in a Conversational Tone

Step #1: Documenting What You Want Your IVR to Do

Our task today is to cover the mechanics of building an effective IVR. That, of course, starts with a pencil and paper. Before you can build anything, you need a blueprint for what you’re trying to accomplish and how we go about getting there. What choices do you want to give callers that dial into your PBX? Do you want all of these options announced to every caller, or should some of them be left hidden (perhaps behind passwords) that let certain users interact with your PBX in ways that casual callers won’t know about. Keep in mind that the bad guys have telephones, too. So, even though an IVR option may not be mentioned, that doesn’t mean that the curious caller won’t push buttons you didn’t describe as available. Unless you have deep pockets, for example, you probably wouldn’t want to make a DISA call-out option available, whether hidden or otherwise, without protecting it with a very secure password. Similarly, an IVR option that lets anybody schedule a reminder to any phone number of their choice is not too smart.

Rule #1: The very first question you need to ask yourself with every IVR option is “Can this function end up costing me money?” If the answer is “yes” then you need a very secure password before any caller can access that feature.

For today, we’re going to build a call tree that shows off some of the features included in Incredible PBX. When a caller dials into a certain number on your PBX, we’ll play a message that describes the available options. Then we’ll let the caller play with the Incredible PBX feature set. You probably would want to set this system up on a phone number that supports unlimited inbound calls at no additional cost. In short, ask yourself: “Do thousands of 30-minute calls to my demo IVR end up costing me money?” If the answer is “yes” then don’t build a non-essential IVR without first securing a DID that doesn’t cost you by the minute. There are lots of choices including Google Voice which happens to still be free and available until May 15, 2014. There’s also IPkall that still gives out free DIDs in the Seattle area to anyone with a SIP URI. If you haven’t already guessed, we’re trying to get you in the mindset of always assuming the worst case from every potential caller. After all, it’s your phone bill.

We started with our pencil and paper and sketched out what we wanted to include in our Demo IVR. And, by the way, you would never want to position “speak to a real person” as the last option in a real IVR unless you just love pissing off your customers. Today’s IVR wasn’t designed to let you speak to a real person… other than Lenny. :wink:

Test Drive: Demo IVR with Incredible PBX on the $45 BeagleBone Black RasPBX

Step #2: Recording the Voice Prompt for the Demo IVR

When people call your phone number, they expect someone to answer the call. In the case of an IVR or AutoAttendant, you’ll need a voice prompt to tell callers what options are available. The options need to be concise keeping in mind that the average attention span of callers is about 30 seconds. You don’t want callers hanging up before they’ve even reached the end of your schpeel. You also don’t want callers to have to listen to a dozen options when the option they wanted was #1. We’re going to be using FreePBX® to create the IVR so it will automatically permit callers to interrupt the talking head by pressing a button. If you’re doing this with Asterisk dialplan code, make sure you use the Background function to play your voice prompt rather than Playback which forces callers to listen to the entire recording before making a choice.

In recording voice prompts, you have a number of options. The most professional is to hire Allison to record the prompts for you. Then it matches all of the other prompts on your Asterisk system. You can do this through Digium’s web site, and the cost is quite reasonable. For bigger projects, contact Allison directly through her web site. Another alternative is to record the prompt yourself. This can be done with professional recording equipment or using an ordinary phone with FreePBX: Admin -> System Recordings -> Extension Number. Who knows? You may want to break into the voice-over business yourself.

The other alternatives involve use of a text-to-speech engine to create the voice prompts. A synthesized “Allison voice” is available from Cepstral®; however, due to a change in licensing, you now will need three different licenses in order to record voice prompts. If you want on-the-fly prompts using Cepstral, you also will need additional licenses for each simultaneous caller. Other than in the corporate environment, we can no longer recommend Cepstral. And, even for business use, Allison’s custom recordings are far superior to the TTS renditions in our opinion.

Two free text-to-speech alternatives are available on Incredible PBX platforms. Flite sounds much like Herman Munster. You can understand him. That’s about it. GoogleTTS is a female voice that actually does a good job. For demo projects, we typically use GoogleTTS although you won’t have to today. GoogleTTS voice prompts can be created from the command line by logging in as root. The following command would build an ivr.wav voice prompt for this demo IVR that is suitable for use on all Asterisk-based systems:

googletts-cli.pl -t "Hi: Thank you for calling. To call by name, press 1: To join the conference, press 2: For Wool From Alpha: press three: To speak to Lenny: press four: For today's news headlines, press 5: For today's weather forecast, press 6. For today in history, press 7. Or press 8 for the house phones and speak to a real person." -r 8000 -o ivr.wav

As a Christmas present to all of us, Allison has actually recorded the voice prompt for this demo IVR, and you are more than welcome to download it and use it in building a Demo IVR for your own computer. It provides a great example of the quality of Allison’s recordings. Night and day pretty much sums up the difference between Allison’s recording and the GoogleTTS version, but you can judge that for yourself. Here’s the download link for the ivr-Allison.wav prompt. And here’s the download link for the GoogleTTS ivr.wav prompt. Just import the files into FreePBX as outlined below.

Step #3: Importing the Voice Prompt into FreePBX

Before we actually create our IVR application in FreePBX, we first need to get our two voice prompts from Allison and GoogleTTS imported so that they can be used as part of the FreePBX system. There are two ways to do this. The first is to import a file from your desktop PC using the FreePBX GUI. We’ll use this to grab the Allison prompt you downloaded to your desktop above. Choose Admin -> System Recordings. Then Choose File -> ivr-Allison.wav -> Upload. Now Name the file: ivr-Allison and click Save.

The second option is to create a dummy IVR voice prompt in FreePBX and then replace the dummy ivr.wav file with your actual recording. Let’s create a dummy recording just to show you the procedure to use for GoogleTTS prompts. Choose Admin -> System Recordings. Enter an extension number that is connected to your PBX: 701 then click Go button. Using extension 701, dial *77 and record a few words of gibberish. Press # and hang up. Give the recording the same name as the file we wish to upload (without the extension): ivr. Click the Save button. Finally, from the directory on your Incredible PBX server where you recorded your GoogleTTS ivr.wav file in Step #2 above, move the ivr.wav file to its permanent location: mv ivr.wav /var/lib/asterisk/sounds/custom

Step #4: Creating the IVR in FreePBX

To create the IVR in FreePBX on the Raspberry Pi or BeagleBone Black platform, choose Applications -> IVR -> Add IVR and then fill in the blanks to match this template clicking the + button to add the necessary number of IVR options, SUBMIT your entries, and APPLY CONFIG to reload FreePBX. You will note that, for each of the applications, we already have created a Misc Destination within FreePBX so that it can be used as part of a FreePBX-generated IVR. If you’ve created your own dialplan or AGI applications, you would need to complete this step before creating your IVR. To use Allison’s prompt instead of the GoogleTTS prompt, simply change the top Announcement entry below from ivr to ivr-Allison. Then, Allison’s prompt will play when a call is first answered, and the GoogleTTS version will play for invalid, timeout, and repeat announcements. That makes it easy for you to compare the two alternatives.

Step #5: Linking the IVR to an Incoming DID in FreePBX

Finally, you’ll need a DID that folks can call to reach your IVR. We’ll assume you’ve already set that up on your PBX so all we need to do in FreePBX is create an Inbound Route to pass incoming calls to that phone number. Choose Connectivity -> Inbound Routes -> Add Incoming Route and fill in the blanks using the template below and the actual number of your DID. Click Submit and Apply Config to complete the process.

Step #6: Taking the Demo IVR for a Test Drive

This is a really important final step. ALWAYS try out every option on your IVR immediately after creating it. Be sure you call the IVR twelve times and press every button on your phone to make certain the results match what you expected to create. If not, edit the IVR in FreePBX and then try your calls again. As obvious as this sounds, you probably already know that many “professionally-built” IVR creations seem to have forgotten this step. We couldn’t begin to tell you the number of IVRs we have encountered with dead links, looping menus, and on and on. Do your callers a favor. Test your stuff before you put it in production.

Test Drive: Demo IVR with Incredible PBX on the $45 BeagleBone Black RasPBX



Another Banner Year at Nerd Vittles. As 2013 comes to a close, we want to thank our 500,000+ unique and very special visitors this year from 218 countries around the globe! With an average 5 million page views every month, it’s heartening to see the VoIP story spreading like wildfire. Are you listening VoIP merchants? We wish all of you a very Happy and Prosperous New Year and hope you will join us again in 2014 as the VoIP revolution marches on.

Originally published: Monday, December 30, 2013




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


whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for all of us.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. 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. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road 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 PBX in a Flash 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 for just $3.99 a month. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this 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 and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity. 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Ringbinder theme by Themocracy