Category: Cellular

The Disappointing iPhone 6: Eight Generations of iOS and Bluetooth Still Sucks

Our technology reviews are a little different than the dozens of reviews you’ve probably already seen that read more like Apple press releases. First of all, we typically buy products to actually use. And second, we base our smartphone evaluations on real-world requirements rather than best case scenarios that you’re unlikely to ever experience in the real world.

So we begin our review of the iPhone 6 with the simple question: “Can it make calls?” Funny as this sounds, it’s been a huge problem with previous iPhone models if you planned to use a reasonably priced provider such as StraightTalk instead of one of America’s “Big Four.” To Apple’s credit, they finally got it right in the AT&T model of the iPhone 6. StraightTalk works out of the box, something Android mastered years ago. You still cannot manually configure the cellphone provider specs, but at least it now works.

We’re not going to spend a lot of time on Apple’s continuing push to lock users into the Apple universe. Suffice it to say, the lock in marches on with each new release. To some it’s a good thing. To others, it’s not. If you’re going to fork over $1,0001 for an iPhone 6 in order to use StraightTalk for $45 a month, then you’re probably committed to and comfortable with Apple’s ways of doing things. We’re pretty much an observer of the iPhone cosmos except to assure that our VoIP products still work reliably on the platform. On the other hand, our teenager and all of her teenage friends have iPhones, period. Just the mention of Android conjures up visions of nerds hanging from trees to hear them tell it. In other words, lock in is a good thing in their view. All of their apps work exactly the same on every person’s smartphone. All of their emojis are compatible for texting. And messaging is pure Apple with no worries whether SMS and MMS work or not. By the way, messaging is still a mess if you switch between Apple and Android with your SIM card without first disabling iMessage on the iPhone. It’s almost as if Apple likes it this way. :wink:

Did we mention that the iPhone 6 is gorgeous? Hands down, it is the best looking smartphone ever. We won’t get into whether it bends or not. Ours didn’t, and we carry it in our pocket like every other guy on the planet. Not sure I’d do it if I rode on a tractor all day but in typical everyday use, it holds it’s own.

We were especially curious about the camera given the numerous reviews documenting that the iPhone 6 is not the megapixel wonder you’ve come to expect with Android phones. We’ve typically been able to take much better real-world photos using Samsung’s Galaxy S4. So we’re including two marsh photos taken with a Galaxy S4 as well as iPhone 5c and iPhone 6 portrait shots to let you judge the quality for yourself. Keep in mind that all four of the images below are screen captures rather than the actual photographs. We came away from the experiment very impressed that the newer iPhones can hold their own against the Android devices with far better technical specs. While it’s still a bit of a knuckle drill to export a photo from your photo stream to iPhoto to email to a download to your desktop, it’s at least intuitive. Bottom Line: We no longer worry about photo quality when we don’t have an Android phone along for a trip.

With the camera testing behind us, that left us with two burning questions: how’s the WiFI and how’s the Bluetooth connectivity with cars?

Not to beat a dead horse, but WiFi typically hasn’t been Apple’s strong suit unless you happen to be using their access points. That seems to be resolved with iOS 8. 5G WiFi connectivity worked great with download and upload speeds matching the limits of our broadband service. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Bluetooth is still a mess after years and years of problem reports. If anything, iOS 8 is a step backwards judging from the reports on Apple’s own support forum. Our results with one of the latest General Motors vehicles were terrible. While the iPhone 6 could be paired with the vehicle, nothing worked afterwards. No calls, no Pandora, nothing! When every $100 Android smartphone can pair with almost any vehicle and work, we get back to our initial question: “Can it make calls?” Unfortunately, unless you want to step back in time and hold your shiny, new iPhone 6 next to your ear, the answer is a resounding NO. And, yes, we jumped through all of the Apple hoops attempting to resolve the Bluetooth problems even though nobody should ever have to endure that! For $1,000, one would expect all of the basics on a smartphone to function correctly just as you expect your brakes and windshield wipers to work when you buy a new car. The fact that Apple has dropped the ball on Bluetooth for years is yet another reason we won’t be switching from Android anytime soon. In fact, the Bluetooth problem is a deal breaker for us so we’re returning the phone.

Finally, a word to the Apple fanboys. Don’t post comments. We won’t publish them. We are not Apple haters. Quite the contrary, we have more Apple hardware under our roof than any other brand. What Apple has done in the educational arena and to foster the image of technical support as a good thing is legendary. But you can’t drop the ball on the basics and expect people that depend upon technology to be impressed. Drop everything that deals with the shiny new watch for a few days and fix Bluetooth. It’s that important!

Originally published: Monday, October 13, 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. Actually, the sales price for the 128GB iPhone 6 with AppleCare+ and sales tax came to a whopping $1,028.59 []

The Poor Wise Man’s Burglar Alarm System with Asterisk: Under $10/month

If you’re like us, spending $50 a month or more on a home security system is a bit like pouring money down the toilet. Add to that the complications of getting one to work reliably with VoIP without spending another $50 a month on a Ma Bell vintage telephone line just adds insult to injury.

So perhaps you can share our elation when an email arrived last week announcing Straight Talk’s new Remote Alert System, a $10/month cellular-based system that uses Verizon Wireless to provide SMS and phone call alerts for up to eight numbers. And actually it’s cheaper than that. $100 buys you a year of service. That’s less than $8.50 a month. Today we’ll show you how to transform your Prius-like Remote Alert System into a Tesla that will rival virtually any intrusion detection system on the market… at any price! The extra hardware required: any Asterisk-based server including the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black.

Read and weep, ADT!

If we didn’t already have three Straight Talk lines of service, we would have filed this in the Too Good To Be True pile and moved on. But we’ve had terrific Almost-Unlimited™ AT&T Wireless service with Straight Talk for less than $500 a year. It’s not only indistinguishable from AT&T’s own offerings costing at least 50% more, but it’s also contract-free so we can bring any AT&T smartphone including iPhones to the party and never miss a beat.

We decided to take the bait and ordered the home security bundle. This gets you the Remote Alert wireless controller plus a wireless motion sensor plus a year of service for $229.99. If you prefer a one-month gamble, the bundle is only $139.99. Down the road, you can add additional motion sensors and window/door sensors for about $30 each. The add-ons now are available at Wal-Mart.

Shameless Plug. We obviously don’t charge for access to our articles. But you can assist the Nerd Vittles project financially by using our referral link with eBates® to make your purchase if you decide to try this. It doesn’t cost you a dime but returns 13.5% of your purchase price to the Nerd Vittles project. It’s just a couple of clicks. Start here to access eBates. Then Search for Straight Talk and click on the link. After the Straight Talk web site displays, click on the following link to access the Straight Talk Security Bundle. And, THANK YOU!

So… back to our story. The controller supports four zones for monitoring. Zone 4 is reserved for sensors you want to monitor while someone may still be moving around in the house, for example while only some of your family may be sleeping or if pets are roaming. The other three zones typically would be used for motion sensors that trigger alerts when anything moves… after giving you 30 seconds to leave and return, of course. You can activate Home or Away monitoring using either the controller, an optional $25 key fob, or a free app for your iPhone or Android smartphone.

You get to decide what happens when the system is armed and an alert is triggered either by motion or a monitored door or window being opened. For us, silence was the name of the game. Using the Android Remote Alert System, click the Silent ARM icon once you leave the house, and you’re done. When you return, click the Disarm icon within 30 seconds of opening the door, and monitoring is disabled. You can also enter your 4-digit alarm code on the controller to disable monitoring.

Remote Alert System Setup. Once you get the equipment, it’s a 5-minute phone call to get set up. Install the backup batteries in the controller and motion detector, and plug the controller into an A/C power source. Press the required sequence on the controller to activate it, and you’re in business. The motion detector is already paired with the controller when it arrives, but adding new sensors is a 15-second task. All of the commands are documented in the manual which accompanies the system. But the tutorials also are available on line if you want to have a look.

Step #1 is changing your security alarm password. The next step is entering your phone numbers. Straight Talk goes to great lengths warning you that this is not a home security system because it has no external siren and can’t make 911 calls. They obviously haven’t heard of Asterisk®. :-) But let’s get through the standard setup before we talk about Asterisk integration. You get to set up three numbers to receive SMS text messages when an alarm is triggered. And you get to set up five phone numbers to receive calls when an alarm is triggered. What the called party will actually hear is an obnoxious alarm tone which continues to play for 15 seconds. If you had multiple properties with alarm systems and no Caller ID, you’d never know the source of the alarm! But people with multiple properties probably aren’t smart enough to use this system to begin with so let’s move on. You configure the SMS and phone numbers by entering a special code on the controller to program each of the eight destinations. Then you enter the 10-digit number twice, and you’re done. Easy Peasy!

If you’re new to home security systems, the key to motion sensors is placement. Straight Talk recommends placement about seven to ten feet off the floor with a wide field of view. The range of the motion sensor is about 26 feet. It obviously depends upon the layout of your house or apartment, but we had much better success placing the motion sensor on a window sill at about 5 feet high and aiming it at the center hall of our home. It improved the motion detection dramatically. Trial and error is your friend!

The next step is positioning your controller. A mounting bracket is included so that you can place it almost anywhere you like. Our preference is to hide it so long as it still has Verizon cellular coverage and a source of electricity. You can test it by arming the controller with your smartphone and then triggering the motion sensor. If you get an SMS message or a call, it’s working. We also prefer silent mode. An intruder is obviously going to attempt to destroy your controller if they hear it. Yes, the intruder may leave, but they’ll probably carry some of the family jewels with them. With an Asterisk server in place, we’d prefer to send the police without alerting the intruder that something has gone wrong.

Asterisk Integration. Speaking of Asterisk, here’s what we’ve developed to add 911 alerts and telephone alarms to this system. It’s a 5-10 minute project! The way this works is to first add a phone number to your controller that calls a dedicated DID on your Asterisk server. Calls to that DID trigger the special context [st-remote-alert] which verifies the CallerID number of your alarm system. As configured, if the CallerID doesn’t match, the call is immediately disconnected although you could easily modify our code to use an existing (non-dedicated) DID if you prefer. Just route the non-matching CallerIDs to whatever context you traditionally use to process inbound calls. If the CallerID of the alarm system is matched, then the call is disconnected AND an outbound call is placed to 911. When the 911 operator answers, a prerecorded message is played at least twice that says something like this using REAL information:

This is an automated security request for assistance from the residence at 36 Elm Street in Podunck, Arkansas. The owner of this residence is Joe Schmo at phone number: 678-123-8888. An intruder has been detected inside the home. A suspected burglary is in progress. All of the residents of the home are unavailable to place this call. Please send the police.

The phone number from which this automated call is being placed is 678-123-4567. If the owners have a working cell phone, you can reach them at the following number: 678-123-9999. Please dispatch the police to 36 Elm Street immediately, whether you can reach the owners or not.
A suspected burglary is in progress. Thank you for your assistance. This message will repeat until you hang up…

You can either use Flite and Igor to play the message, or you can record your own message to be played to 911. Use the FreePBX® Admin -> System Recordings option. We recommend the latter especially since you’ll be sending these emergency calls to 911. You obviously want the 911 operator to be able to quickly decipher what’s being said.

Legal Disclaimer. We cannot stress strongly enough that you need to test this carefully on your own server by placing test calls to some number other than 911 until you are positive that it is working reliably as determined solely by you. Be advised that this system will not work at all in the event of an electrical, Internet, or server outage. As delivered, this code will NOT place calls to 911. The choice of whether to modify the code to place 911 emergency calls is solely yours to make. Be advised that false and inadvertent calls to 911 may result in civil and criminal penalties. DON’T BLAME US!


NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING THE IMPLIED WARRANTY OF FITNESS
FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE AND MERCHANTABILITY, ARE BEING PROVIDED.

BY PROCEEDING WITH IMPLEMENTATION AND INSTALLATION OF THIS SOFTWARE, YOU AGREE
TO ASSUME ALL RISK AND COMPLETE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY AND ALL CONSEQUENCES
OF IMPLEMENTATION WHETHER INTENDED OR NOT AND WHETHER IMPLEMENTED CORRECTLY
OR NOT. YOU ALSO AGREE TO HOLD WARD MUNDY, WARD MUNDY & ASSOCIATES LLC, AND
NERD VITTLES HARMLESS FROM ALL CLAIMS FOR ACTUAL OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES.
BEFORE IMPLEMENTING AUTOMATED 911 CALLS, CHECK WITH A LOCAL ATTORNEY TO MAKE
CERTAIN THAT SUCH CALLS ARE LEGAL IN YOUR JURISDICTION.

IN THE EVENT THAT ANY OF THESE TERMS AND CONDITIONS ARE RULED UNENFORCEABLE,
YOU AGREE TO ACCEPT $1.00 IN COMPENSATION FOR ANY AND ALL CLAIMS YOU MAY HAVE.

THIS SOFTWARE IS FREE AND YOU AGREE TO ASSUME ALL RISKS WHETHER INTENDED OR NOT.
YOU ALSO ACKNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTAND THAT THINGS CAN GO WRONG IN TECHNOLOGY.

WE CANNOT AND DO NOT WARRANT THAT THIS CODE IS ERROR-FREE OR THAT IT WILL
PROTECT YOUR PROPERTY, YOUR LOVED ONES, OR ANYONE, OR ANY THING IN ANY WAY.

IF YOU DO NOT AGREE WITH THESE TERMS AND CONDITIONS OF USE, DO NOT PROCEED!

Asterisk Implementation. First, you’ll need a dedicated DID that can be used to receive incoming calls from your Remote Alert System. Hopefully, you won’t be receiving many calls on this number so any of the inexpensive pay-by-the-minute DIDs will suffice. Or you can use a free DID from ipkall.com. The only gotcha with ipkall.com is having to make a call to keep the number active at least once every 30 days. But this could be accomplished with a weekly telephone reminder that only connected for a few seconds. Just don’t make the weekly call using the CallerID of your alarm system. You obviously do not want to trigger a 911 emergency call.

Next, you’ll need an outbound trunk on your Asterisk server that’s previously been registered with E911 support and that already is configured to place outbound 911 calls from your server. Google Voice trunks will not work! Your name, address, and phone number as they were registered with E911 will be important pieces of information to relay in your automated emergency call to 911. You’ll also need a cellphone number that can be provided with your 911 calls so that emergency responders have a way to contact you to follow up on automated emergency calls from your server.

Temporarily, you’ll also need a 10-digit number to which to deliver the automated emergency calls for testing. Your cellphone number would suffice. Once you’re sure everything is working, we’ll show you how to modify the dial plan code to replace this number with 911 when your system goes “live.”

Installation. Once you have all of the required pieces in place, you’re ready to begin the installation. Log into your server as root and issue the following commands to begin:

cd /root
wget http://nerdvittles.com/wp-content/st-remote-alert.tar.gz
tar zxvf st-remote-alert.tar.gz
rm -f st-remote-alert.tar.gz
./st-remote-alert.sh

Once the install is finished, use FreePBX to modify the DID Trunk that will receive the incoming alerts from your Remote Alert System. Change the context entry to: context=st-remote-alert

Test. Test. Test. Testing is critically important before you actually turn on automated calls to 911. Once you’ve installed the software, activate your Remote Alarm System and then trip the motion detector to trigger a call to the dedicated DID on your Asterisk server. There’s typically a 30-second delay between tripping a motion detector and the commencement of the alert calls. Within a minute, you should receive a call on the emergency number you set up for testing. You can follow the progress of the procedure using the Asterisk CLI: asterisk -rvvvvvvvvvv. We recommend testing this repeatedly for at least a month before even considering 911 deployment. Make certain that everyone in your household knows how to disable the alarm system when they return home after arming it. Make certain that everyone in your household knows to never arm the system with motion detectors activated when anyone or any animal inside the house could potentially trip the alarm. At least until everyone is accustomed to these new security procedures and has a proven (successful) track record, NEVER DEPLOY SILENT ARMING OF YOUR REMOTE ALERT SYSTEM! If you change to silent arming of the Remote Alert System, test for at least another full month with no inadvertent failures before considering 911 deployment.

Making Changes. The st-remote-alert.sh installer has been designed to let you run it over and over again to replace or update your settings. So don’t be shy about making changes.

Substituting a Personally Recorded Message. If you’d prefer to record your own message to be delivered to 911, then review the script above and make yourself a cheat sheet before you begin. Then use a browser to open FreePBX. Choose Admin -> System Recordings and enter an extension number on your system to use for recording. Click the Go button to begin. Then dial *77 from that extension and record your message. Press # when you’re finished. Be sure to listen to the recording to make sure it’s what you intended. If not, rerecord the message until you get it right. You can dial *99 to listen to your recording a final time. When you’re sure it’s correct, name the recording nv-alert. Click Save.

Now you need to tell the automated alert dialer to use your recorded message instead of Flite and Igor.
Edit /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf. Search for the line containing “pickrecording”. Change Extension: 4 to Extension: 5. Save the file and reload your dial plan: asterisk -rx "dialplan reload"

Do some additional testing if you have substituted your own recording!

Adding Audible Alarms During Emergencies. If you prefer a little noise sprinkled around your home during burglaries, then we’ve put in place the necessary components to sound alarms on SIP phones that support AutoAnswer after feeding an extension to the speakerphone. For example, assuming you have deployed a Yealink T46G with an IP address of 192.168.0.10 and default admin credentials, you could add this additional line just before the final s,n,Hangup line in the [st-remote-alert] context of /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf:

exten => s,n,System(curl -s -S --user-agent "Alert" http://admin:admin@192.168.0.10/servlet?number=25276)

To add additional Yealink phones, just add additional lines to the dialplan with the IP address of each phone. For other phone models, you’ll need to do a little research. :wink:

Going Live with Automated Emergency Calls to 911. When you and everyone in your household are absolutely comfortable with the arming, disarming, and motion detection procedures, then you can decide whether to reroute the automated notifications to 911. Be advised that, in some states or municipalities, it may be illegal to auto-dial 911 from a non-human caller/system. Before doing this, check with an attorney or local authorities in your jurisdiction to make sure you are in compliance with federal/state/local laws.1 If you elect to proceed, edit extensions_custom.conf in /etc/asterisk. Search for the line containing “SEND-HELP-REQUEST-TO”. Replace the temporary number that you set up with the number: 911. Save the file and reload your dial plan: asterisk -rx "dialplan reload". Sleep well!

Originally published: Monday, July 14, 2014


Support Issues. With any application as sophisticated as this one, you’re bound to have questions. Blog comments are a terrible place to handle support issues although we welcome general comments about our articles and software. If you have particular support issues, we encourage you to get actively involved in the PBX in a Flash Forums. It’s the best Asterisk tech support site in the business, and it’s all free! Please have a look and post your support questions there. Unlike some forums, ours is extremely friendly and is supported by literally hundreds of Asterisk gurus and thousands of users just like you. You won’t have to wait long for an answer to your question.



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. Autodialers that make emergency calls to E911 as part of a burglar alarm system are specifically exempted in some states such as Illinois. This comports with federal law under The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (47 U.S.C. § 227). Emergency robocalls are specifically exempted from the new PSAP Do-Not-Call Registry rules. See also this article about E911 laws in the Northeast. In most cases, but not all, these laws target abuse of the E911 system. Surprisingly, one town that reportedly prohibits ALL autodialing to 911 is Palo Alto, CA. And Paris, Tennessee also has joined the illegal club. Special thanks to @TheMole on the PIAF Forum for his excellent research. []

FMC: The Future of Telephony with Vitelity’s vMobile and Asterisk in the Cloud




If making phone calls from a web browser is what you’ve always longed for, then you’re in good company with Google and its future direction in the telephony space. Call us old fashioned but this strikes us as a solution in desperate need of a problem. What’s wrong with a Plain Old Telephone or a smartphone for making connections with friends and business associates? The real head scratcher is the fact that the WebRTC and Hangouts push demonstrates that the wizards at Google are seriously out of touch with the next generation. Will our 14-year-old daughter use Skype or Hangouts or FaceTime? Sure. About once a month to chat with Grandma or to interact with cousins scattered around the country, it’s a terrific option. And the same is true in the business community. When you need to collaborate with a half dozen colleagues, conferencing applications are invaluable. But to meet 95% of day in and day out business requirements, a telephone or smartphone is the clear device of choice. So join us today in celebrating the end of Google Voice XMPP service and the beginning of a new and even more exciting VoIP era… sans Google.


Of course, if it were up to the next generation, telephone calls might completely disappear in favor of text messaging, Snapchat, Instagram, and any other platform that includes recorded photos or videos. Note the subtle difference. Kids really are not interested in live video interaction. They find posed images that tell a story much more appealing. Why? Because recorded photos and videos let users present their best face, their movie star pose, and their expression of what they want others to perceive they’re really like. In short, live video is too much like real life. Our conclusion for those targeting the next generation is you’d better come up with something better and quite different than Skype, Hangouts, and FaceTime.

It’s Fixed-Mobile Convergence, Stupid!

Now let’s return to our primary focus for today, the current business community. Suffice it to say, there are a dwindling number of what we used to call “desk jobs” where an employee arrives at his or her desk at 9 a.m. and leaves at 5 p.m. As more and more jobs are headed off shore, the telephone and smartphone have replaced the corporate desk as the most indispensable corporate fixture. Particularly in the American marketplace, what we see with most businesses is a management layer and an (upwardly) mobile force of salespeople, consultants, and implementers that interact primarily through PBXs in an office headquarters or home office together with smartphones for those that generally are on the road. Many of these Road Warriors don’t even have a home phone any longer.


The telephony Holy Grail for this new business model is Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC). It’s the ability to transparently move from place to place while retaining your corporate identity. Every employee from the night watchman in Miami to the salesperson making calls from a Starbucks in California to the CEO in New York has an extension on a PBX in the cloud together with the ability to accept and place calls using the company’s CallerID name and number, transfer calls, and participate in conference calls regardless of whether the phone instrument happens to be a desktop phone or a smartphone. Is this even possible? Well, as of last week, the answer is ABSOLUTELY.

Vitelity has been a long-time corporate sponsor of both the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash open source projects so we were thrilled when we were offered a free, Samsung Galaxy S III to try out the new (live) vMobile service that took Best in Show honors at ITEXPO Miami in January. As Vitelity’s Chris Brown would probably tell you, it’s one thing to demonstrate a new technology at a trade show and quite another to bring it into production. But Vitelity did it:

What we want to stress up front is that we’ve received no special treatment in getting this to work. We received the phone, opened a support ticket to register the phone on Vitelity’s vMobile network, and plugged our new credentials into the phone so that it could be integrated into our PBX in a Flash server. Once the smartphone became an extension on our PBX, we could place calls through our PBX with the S3 using both WiFi and Sprint 3G/4G service. Switching between WiFi and cellular is totally transparent. The CallerID for all outbound calls was our standard PBX CallerID. We also could place calls to other extensions on the PBX by dialing a 4-digit extension while connected to WiFi or the Sprint network virtually anywhere. If you have 3-digit extensions, those are a problem over the Sprint network but we’ll show you a little trick to get them working as well.

Keep in mind that every call from the S3 goes out through the PBX just as if you were using a standard desktop phone as a hardwired extension. And it really doesn’t matter whether the S3 has a WiFi connection or a pure cellular connection on Sprint’s network. You receive calls on the S3 in much the same way. It’s just another extension on your PBX. If you want to add it to a ring group to process incoming calls, that works. If other users on your PBX wish to call the S3 directly using the extension number, that works as well. If you want to transfer a call, pressing ## on the S3 initiates the transfer just as if you were using a phone on your desk. When we say transparent convergence, we really do mean transparent. No recipient of a call from the vMobile S3 would have any idea whether you were sitting at a desk in the corporate headquarters in New York or in a seat on a Delta jet after landing in San Francisco. Both the call quality and the corporate CallerID would be identical. And your secretary on maternity leave at Grandma’s house still could reach you using her vMobile S3 by simply dialing your corporate extension.

So that’s the Fortune 500 view of the new VoIP universe. How about the little guy with a $15 a month PBX in a Flash server in the RentPBX cloud1, a couple mobile sales people, and a handful of construction workers that build swimming pools for a living? It works identically. Each has an S3 connected as an extension on the PIAF cloud server. And calls can be managed in exactly the same way they would be handled if everyone were sitting side-by-side at desks in an office headquarters somewhere. The silver lining of cloud computing is that it serves as the Great Equalizer between SOHO businesses and Fortune 500 companies. Asterisk® paired with inexpensive cloud hosting services such as RentPBX lets you mimic the Big Boys for pennies on the dollar. We think Vitelity has hit a bases loaded, home run with vMobile.


vMobile Pricing

We know what you’re thinking. “Since you got yours for free, what does it really cost??” The Galaxy S3 (or S4) is proprietary running Trebuchet 1.0, a (rooted) CyanogenMod version of Android’s KitKat. You can purchase these devices directly from the Vitelity Store. Currently, you can’t bring your own device. The refurbished S3 is $189 including warranty. Works perfectly! That’s what we’re using. Next, you’ll need a vMobile account for each phone. Unless you’re a Nerd Vittles reader, it’s $9.95 per month. That gets you free WiFi calling and data usage anywhere you can find an available WiFi hotspot. And text messaging is free. For calls and data using Sprint’s nationwide network, the calls are 2¢ a minute and the data is 2¢ per megabyte ($20 per gigabyte). For us, a typical day of data usage with an email account and light web use costs about a quarter. YMMV! So long as you configure Android to download application updates when connected to WiFi, data usage should not be a problem unless you’re into photos and streaming video. Android includes excellent tools for monitoring and even curbing your data usage if this is a concern.

vMobile Gotchas

Before we walk you through the setup process, let’s cover the gotchas. The list is short. First, we don’t recommend connecting vMobile devices to a PBX sitting behind a NAT-based firewall, or you may end up with some calls missing audio. The reason is NAT and quirky residential routers. If you think about it, when your S3 is inside the firewall and connected to WiFi, it will have an IP address on your private LAN just like your Asterisk server. When your S3 is outside your firewall on either a cellular connection or someone else’s WiFi network, it will have an IP address that is not on your private LAN. Others may be smarter than we are, but we couldn’t figure a way to have connections work reliably in both scenarios using most residential routers. You can configure your S3′s PBX extension for NAT=No or NAT=yes, but you can’t tell Asterisk how to change it depending upon where you are. One simple solution is to deploy these phones with a VPN connection to your Asterisk server sitting behind a NAT-based firewall. The more reliable solution is to build your PBX in a Flash server in the cloud with no NAT-based firewall. Then use an IPtables WhiteList (aka Travelin’ Man 3) to protect your server. From there, you can either interconnect the cloud-based server with a second PBX behind your firewall, or you can dispense with the local PBX entirely. Either way will eliminate the NAT issues with missing audio. In both cases, use NAT=yes for the vMobile extension.

Another wrinkle involves text messaging. Traditional text messages work fine; however, MMS still is problematic unless you initiate the outbound MMS session with the other recipient. It’s probably worth noting that Google Voice never got MMS working at all despite years of promises. This wasn’t a deal breaker for us, but it’s a bug that still is being worked on.

Finally, there’s Sprint. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em. We really haven’t used Sprint service in about eight years. In the Charleston area, the barely 3G service still is just as lousy as it was eight years ago. But, if you live in an area with good Sprint coverage and performance, this shouldn’t be an issue for you. And vMobile works fine in Charleston. You just won’t be surfing the web very often unless you have hours to kill… waiting. Additionally, dialing numbers with less than 4 numbers is a non-starter with Sprint, but we’ll show you a simple workaround to reach 3-digit local extensions from your vMobile device below.

With a service as revolutionary as vMobile with Sprint’s new FMC architecture, we can’t help thinking there may be other cellular carriers with an interest in deploying this technology sooner rather than later. But, given the vMobile feature set, Sprint is good enough for now especially when WiFi connectivity is available almost everywhere.




vMobile Configuration at Vitelity

For the Vitelity side of the setup, you first configure your smartphone using the (included) My Phone app. When the application is run, your cellphone number will be shown. Tapping the display about a dozen times will cause the phone’s setup to be reconfigured. Vitelity will provide you the secret key to activate your account. Next, you’ll log into the Vitelity portal and choose vMobile -> My Devices under My Products and Services. The account for your vMobile device will already exist. Clicking on the pull-down menu beside your vMobile device will let you create your SIP account on Vitelity’s server. Enter the IP address or FQDN of your Asterisk server and set up a very secure password. Your username will be the 10-digit phone number assigned to your vMobile phone. Save your settings and then choose the Edit option to view your setup. The portal will display your Username, Password, and FreePBX/Asterisk Connect Host name. Write them down for use when you configure your new extension using FreePBX®.




vMobile Configuration for Asterisk and PBX in a Flash

On the PBX in a Flash server, use a browser to open FreePBX. Choose Applications -> Extensions and add a new generic SIP device. For Display Name and User Extension, enter the 10-digit phone number assigned to your vMobile device. Under Secret, enter the password you assigned in Vitelity’s vMobile portal. Click Submit and reload FreePBX when prompted. Then edit the extension you just created. Set NAT=yes and change the Host entry from dynamic to the FQDN entry that was shown in Vitelity’s vMobile portal, e.g. 7209876542.mobilet103.sipclient.org. Update your configuration and restart FreePBX once again. Finally, from the Linux command prompt, restart Asterisk: amportal restart. If you’re using a WhiteList with IPtables such as Travelin’ Man 3, be sure to add a new WhiteList entry for your vMobile Host entry. Finally, add your vMobile extension to any desired Inbound Routes to make certain your vMobile device rings when desired.

You now should be able to place and receive calls on your vMobile device. If you want to be able to call 3-digit Asterisk extensions on both WiFi and while roaming on the Sprint cellular network, then you’ll need to add a little dialplan code since Sprint reserves 3-digit numbers for emergency services and will reject other calls with numbers of less than 4 digits. Here’s the simple fix. Always dial 3-digit extensions with a leading 0, e.g. 0701 to reach extension 701. We’ll strip off the leading zero before routing the call. The dialplan code below works whether you’re calling a local 3-digit extension or a 3-digit extension on an interconnected remote Asterisk server. Simply edit extensions_custom.conf in /etc/asterisk and insert the following code at the top of the [from-internal-custom] context. Then restart Asterisk: amportal restart. Note that we’ve set this up so that, if you have an extension 701 on both the local server and a remote server, the call will be connected to the local 701 extension. If you have different extension prefixes for different branch offices (e.g. 7XX in Atlanta and 8XX in Dallas), then this dialplan code will route the calls properly assuming you’ve configured an outbound route with the appropriate dial pattern for each branch office.

exten => _0XXX,1,Answer
exten => _0XXX,n,Wait(1)
exten => _0XXX,n,Set(NUM2CALL=${CALLERID(dnid):1})
exten => _0XXX,n,Dial(sip/${NUM2CALL})
exten => _0XXX,n,Dial(local/${NUM2CALL}@from-internal)
exten => _0XXX,n,Hangup

Vitelity vMobile Special for Nerd Vittles Readers

Now for the icing on the cake… We asked Vitelity if they would consider offering special pricing to Nerd Vittles readers and PBX in a Flash users. We’re pleased to report that Vitelity agreed. By using this special link when you sign up, the vMobile monthly fee will be $8.99 instead of $9.95. In addition, your first month is free with no activation fee. We told you last week that there was a very good reason for choosing Vitelity as your SIP provider. Now you know why.

And, if you’re new to Cloud Computing, take advantage of the RentPBX special for Nerd Vittles readers. $15 a month gets you your very own PBX in a Flash server in the Cloud. Just use this coupon code: PIAF2012. Enjoy!

Originally published: Thursday, May 15, 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. RentPBX also is a corporate sponsor of the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects. []

Beware the Ides of May: It’s Hammertime for Google Voice


You don’t have to be a soothsayer to appreciate what’s about to happen in the VoIP community. In just two weeks, millions of telephones in the United States are about to go silent. Let’s begin with what we know and don’t know about Google Voice and Google’s May 15 deadline. Google has made it crystal clear that XMPP connectivity to Google Voice is going away on May 15. What that means is that inbound and outbound calling using an XMPP connection to Google Voice will no longer work, period. And the platform really doesn’t matter. That includes Asterisk, FreePBX, FreeSwitch, Yate, and GrooVe IP as well as hardware ATAs such has ObiHai devices. Why? The short answer is because Google says so, and they are/were paying the bills. The longer answer is that companies such as Microsoft and Apple that have proprietary communications platforms were not reciprocating with free connectivity to their services in the same way that Google was providing XMPP service. Another probable reason is that Google was taking a financial bath on Google Voice services which were being abused by many commercial organizations. Reportedly, as many as three to five million DIDs have been handed out as part of the Google Voice project with very little return on investment.



Some have suggested this is just another tempest in a teapot like Y2K. After all, Y2K came and went without many catastrophes. The difference is that businesses spent hundreds of millions of dollars preparing for Y2K to make certain there were no train wrecks. With Google Voice, many individuals have taken the ostrich approach with their heads buried in the sand pretending things are just going to work out. Without some effort on the part of those still using Google Voice, May 15 will be their Julius Caesar moment.

What to Do? One school of thought is that the “old fashioned” Google Voice connections using Python which simulated a web call with Google Chat will still function. If receiving and placing calls using your existing Google Voice numbers matters to you, take the opinions of these self-proclaimed experts with a grain of salt. Here’s what you need to appreciate. First, nobody outside of Google actually knows whether the Python approach will continue to function or not. Second, even if it works on May 15, nothing would preclude Google from making “adjustments” at any time that would disable this functionality. They’ve done it before. They can do it again. And Google has made it abundantly clear that they’re putting an end to the free gravy train. Third, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that PSTN call forwarding using Google Voice may be the next axe to fall. This probably won’t happen on May 15, but who knows. Finally, should you decide to go down this road, be aware that it is a major coding project regardless of your platform. But, if this is the road you wish to travel, you can find some tips on making the transition here. You’ve been warned.

The Smarter Approach. Our recommendations today are limited to those in the United States. Our apologies, but that’s two-thirds of our readership and roughly 95% of those that currently rely upon Google Voice. The same recommendations apply to those in Europe and South America and the Far East if calls to destinations in the U.S. are a major part of your VoIP traffic. What do we recommend? First, become VoIP savvy! The provider you use for outbound calls need not be the provider you use for incoming calls. Not putting all your eggs in one basket is a very good idea in the VoIP world.




Call us Chicken Little if you must, but Outbound Calling with Google Voice is going away on May 15. So, in the next two weeks, you definitely need to come up with an alternative for call terminations in the U.S./Canada market. We think you have two options: purchase an all-you-can-eat plan that includes sufficient outbound calling minutes to meet your existing requirements. Or you can select a provider that offers pay by the minute service for all of your outbound calls. One advantage with most of the pay-by-the-minute providers is that you can set your CallerID as desired. Don’t be misled by the all-you-can-eat claims. Every VoIP provider imposes some sort of cap on outbound calling even if their plan is advertised as “unlimited.” If your outbound calling minutes exceed 2000-3000 minutes a month, you’re going to be looking for a new provider within weeks because every provider that we know will drop you like a hot potato when you are no longer profitable in their business model. The other gotcha is that most, if not all, of the all-you-can-eat plans are restricted to residential (non-business) use.

Full Disclosure: We have a favorite all-you-can-eat provider (Vestalink) and a favorite pay-as-you-go provider (Vitelity), and both of them provide some financial support to the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects; however, both were our favorites before they provided any support to our projects.

All-You-Can-Eat Calling Plans. We continue to like Vestalink (formerly Obivoice) even though their prices have increased since the release of our original article. That’s actually a good thing. There was no way they could have stayed in business with their original pricing model. On a new 2-year plan with unlimited U.S./Canada inbound AND outbound calls, E911 service, and a free DID in your choice of area codes, the current rate for 24 months is $89.99 which works out to roughly $3.50 a month. The service comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Another option which we previously have covered is a hardware device such as the netTALK Duo. With an upfront $100 hardware investment, you get the same features as Vestalink for $30 a year which works out to less than 10¢ a day. With both services, you have the option of porting your existing Google Voice number for a one-time fee. With Vestalink, you also have the option of spoofing your outbound CallerID number with your existing Google Voice number once it is verified as belonging to you. We prefer the latter approach at least until Google gives some hint that their call forwarding of incoming Google Voice calls is going away. Both services are bargains in our view. But, as we noted, for residential service we still prefer the pure VoIP solution provided by Vestalink.

Pay-As-You-Go Call Terminations. Most of the reputable pay-by-the-minute providers charge between 1¢ and 2¢ a minute for outbound calls with charges billed in 6 to 10-second increments. Unless you make an enormous number of lengthy calls, these rates are a bargain. Vitelity remains our favorite provider primarily because of the flexibility their service offers in setting up multiple sub-accounts for use with Asterisk or FreeSwitch. A sign-up link with a 50% discount on most DIDs is provided here and at the end of this article. We appreciate your support of our VoIP projects!!


While it is not yet officially available, the most compelling reason to switch to Vitelity is vMobile, a new $9.99/month cellphone plan that will integrate your Vitelity cellphone (actually a Samsung Galaxy S III) directly into your Asterisk setup. What that means is calls to extensions on your Asterisk server will also ring on your cellphone. And your cellphone functions exactly like any other extension on your Asterisk server whether you’re operating on 3G, 4G, or LTE networks as well as on WiFi at your home or office. You’ll be able to park calls, transfer calls, set up call monitoring, conferencing, and recording just as if you were on a standard VoIP phone in your home or office. And you can’t beat the price. Inbound and outbound calls on WiFi are totally free. Calls received or placed over what appears to be Sprint’s nationwide network are 2¢ a minute, about the same cost as pure VoIP calls.

For pay-by-the-minute terminations, we always recommend you set up accounts with multiple providers. Then, by setting multiple trunk sequences in your outbound routes, you’ll always have successful calls even when a particular provider happens to have an outage. Other than perhaps a small deposit, redundancy costs you nothing since you only pay for calls that you actually place through each provider. For a current list of our favorite termination providers in both the U.S. and Canada, see this thread on the PIAF Forum.

Handling Incoming VoIP Calls. Here’s the bottom line. The one thing you don’t want to do is risk losing your phone number because of the Google Voice train wreck. We have noticed a dramatic difference in call reliability for incoming calls over the past few months. Perhaps it’s an upstream provider problem… and perhaps not. Whatever the reason, get your phone numbers ported out of Google Voice as quickly as you can. It doesn’t have to be in the next two weeks, but you are well advised to begin the porting process soon. The Nerd Vittles Vitelity link will get you a monthly rate of $3.95 for a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls each month and automatic server failover. There are a few less expensive DID providers but, when it comes to our phone number, we’ve always wanted a provider with rock-solid reliability, flexibility, and a proven track record. Vitelity meets those requirements in spades. As we noted at the outset, the other advantage in separating out your inbound and outbound trunks is that, when service gets disrupted (and it happens to the best of providers), you’re not completely dead in the water.

For the short term, so long as you have an existing DID in the U.S. or Canada, you can forward your incoming Google Voice calls to that DID by simply adding it as a call forwarding destination in your Google Voice profile. We also recommend adding your cellphone as an additional call forwarding destination. Finally, be sure to disable the Google Chat option in your Google Voice setup and remove the Google Voice trunk in your FreePBX Google Voice/Motif setup. Good luck!

Originally published: Thursday, May 1, 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…

The New VoIP Frontier: Meet the iPad Mini with Retina Display

Last week was interesting if for no other reason because Apple released an amazing new product without tooting a single trumpet. In fact, the iPad Mini with Retina display was quietly made available on Apple’s web site in the middle of the night. Most believe that the rationale was that the devices were in such short supply that Apple couldn’t afford the PR nightmare of releasing a new product that very few could buy. Guess what? It’s still available. You have to order on the web. Then you can either pick up the device at your local Apple Store, or have it shipped directly to you… from China. We ordered on Tuesday and received the unit on Friday. What struck us about the new iPad Mini is the striking resemblance to the old iPad Mini. One suspects that Apple is running out of magic bunnies to pull from the hat so we’re getting down to one new gee whiz feature per year. In fairness, the new iPad Mini not only has a Retina display, but also has the new A7 chip with 64-bit architecture. The CPU is up to four times faster while graphics performance saw an 800% improvement without sacrificing battery life. To be completely honest, Apple needed the extra horsepower to drive the retina display, and the battery life has been preserved by increasing its size considerably. Almost half of the inside of an iPad Mini is now nothing but battery. Hop over to iFixIt for all the details.

If the new hardware were the only addition, we probably would have had little interest in the new iPad Mini. But we learned a couple of years ago that there’s a dramatic difference in reading on a 7 inch tablet vs. an 8 inch tablet. And, when you add the retina display with 2048-by-1536 resolution and a staggering 326 pixels per inch, the iPad Mini becomes an almost perfect traveling companion for those that do a lot of reading. Apple also bundles an impressive list of business and productivity applications including Siri at no additional cost. For those that work on the Mac platform, the most important enhancement to these apps is that what you see on the Mac desktop using Pages, Numbers, or Keynote is exactly what you’ll see when the document is moved to either the iPad Air or iPad Mini with Retina display. For traveling business folks, that’s a huge improvement!

There have been some equally impressive additions on the communications front for those that enjoy Voice over IP technology. If you’re using PBX in a Flash™ or Asterisk®, we’re pleased to report that the Zoiper IAX client for iOS 7 works flawlessly. Simply set up an IAX extension on your server and enter your credentials in the Zoiper client on your iPad. Screwy as it sounds, Google has released Hangouts on the iOS 7 platform (only) with the added capability to place and receive PSTN phone calls anywhere in the world using a Google Voice PSTN phone number. And calls within the U.S. and Canada are free! Will it disappear? Will Google ever support it on their own Android devices? Who knows? We’ve given up trying to predict what Google will do next, but this addition will probably remain so long as Hangouts continues to be a viable platform. And Google seems to be staking their VoIP fortunes on Hangouts just as Apple has done with FaceTime and Microsoft with Skype. Of course, PSTN calls aren’t possible with FaceTime and, with Skype, PSTN calls are never free. So there is that important difference, and Hangouts fills that niche.

The other major software news is that Google Play Music now is available for iOS 7 as well. In addition to unlimited streaming of almost any music on the planet for $9.95 a month (to a single device at a time), you also can move 20,000 of your favorite songs to the Google Cloud and stream them for free. Apple offers free music alternatives as well including iTunes Radio which now is rolled into the iPad Music app.

There used to be a big reason for buying the cellular addition to the iPads. It made the GPS functionality work. Our Wi-Fi only unit had no problem pinpointing our location with nothing but a WiFi signal. Of course, if you have one of the new Verizon or AT&T bundled data plans, adding an iPad is just $10 a month. That alone would warrant purchase of the unlocked cellular model which now works with all cellular carriers. What a concept!

As you might expect, there are no deals to be had on the iPad Mini with Retina display. But, if you’re looking to buy a new iPad for Christmas, you should probably pay a visit to WalMart or Target on Black Friday. Both retailers are throwing in a $100 gift card with your purchase of the new iPad Air. Nobody other than Apple is yet selling the iPad Mini with Retina display. For another great review, see today’s coverage on The Verge. Enjoy!



Just Released: AstriCon 2013 Videos. Digium has just released all of the videos from AstriCon 2013 on the new YouTube Asterisk Channel.



Originally published: Monday, November 18, 2013




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…

Meet the Goophone: It Walks Like a Duck and Quacks Like a Duck For Under $100

If you didn’t cheat and hover over the images above, then you’d be wrong if you guessed that you now can buy Apple’s shiny, new iPhone® 5c for less than $100. From first-hand experience, I can tell you that the price of the 32GB model without a contract remains $649. You can add another $50 for tax in most states. And you can add another $99 for AppleCare® and another $79 each time your daughter drops the phone on the pavement. No, my friends, this is not an iPhone 5c. It’s the Goophone i5c from DHgate.com and many others brought to you by some enterprising neighbors of the fine folks that manufacture phones for Apple® and Samsung® (among others) in China. As the back of the phone says: “Designed by Goophone in California. Assembled in China.” Sound familiar? Not sure Goophone spent much time in California, but the phones are most definitely “assembled” in China. Total delivered price from DHgate: $89.99. While we had little clue about the similarities when we ordered the phone, with the exception of the Goophone logo emblazoned on the back of the phone and the prominent Goophone boot logo, you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish one duck from the other. My daughter’s iPhone 5c happens to be pink. So that helped with telling them apart.

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, lots. Let’s see. The potential patent, trademark, and copyright issues look like something a sadistic law professor might cook up for a bar exam. However, neither the International Trade Commission nor any American court has (yet) blocked the import of these phones so technically the manufacturer is entitled to the same presumptions as any other merchant. And proliferation of these phones in the United States is the least of Apple’s problems. Remember, Apple has been counting on the huge Chinese market as the Second Coming for iPhone sales. Considering the i5c was available before the iPhone 5c ever shipped, it seems fairly likely that there also may be a technology leak somewhere in someone’s pipeline. Let’s guess where that might be. What should be equally troubling to Apple is that someone could look at your $700 phone and build a perfectly functioning replica for under $40. Did we mention the build quality? It’s similar. Let’s leave it at that. In short, the Goophone knock off appears to be much what Apple claimed in court that Samsung was doing. It just didn’t happen to turn out that way in some of the Samsung litigation. But, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for. It turns out that the Goophone may actually be a better mousetrap than the iPhone especially when it comes to overall performance and battery life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F73sMmb6CS0


We’re not going to get into the morality or legality of buying stuff like this especially with Festivus just around the corner. So sort that out for yourself. Start with this New York Times article and then do some reading on the Freakonomics web site if you’re really curious. Suffice it to say there’s a major difference between a counterfeit and a knockoff. Counterfeit goods are those with someone else’s brand name splattered across the item. Think pocketbooks hidden in the blankets on the street corners around Times Square in New York. Most of these phones are clearly labeled with their own unique brand names. Examining the devices up close or after turning them on would explicitly tell any buyer that Goophones aren’t made or designed by Apple. All of the hardware and most of the software on the inside of the phone is different as well. So we believe the phones rise to the level of a knockoff which keeps buyers out of hot water. Keep in mind we’re talking about buying a phone, not selling one. Don’t even think about reselling them!

To borrow an expression from NASA: “Cupertino. We’ve got a problem.” Before you get too mad at the Chinese, keep in mind that there’s plenty of blame to go around. Apple, for one, chose to make their phones in China to save money. While we were writing this article, Google® ads were popping up all over the place for these phones. And, of course, AT&T® and T-Mobile® are perfectly willing to sell you a nano SIM to use in your Goophone even though they could easily block the devices. The parcel delivery companies are more than happy to bring these phones into the U.S. by the boatload. And finally there’s this little tidbit in the New York Times article referenced above: “Customs in the United States will allow travelers to bring [in] one counterfeit good per category.” Think of it as the “One-Bite Rule” for humans. We’re confident that Apple can muster adequate legal talent to attempt to shut down the import of these phones if they chose to do so. But, so far, that hasn’t happened. There may be a reason. Ironically, Ubergizmo reports that Goophone actually owns the patent in China and is threatening to sue Apple if the iPhone 5 is released in that country. It seems Goophone beat Apple to the Chinese patent office. So this could get interesting.

We actually ordered the i5c and paid a little more to see if the entire operation was fraudulent. From the photos on the web site, the phone looked similar to both the iPhone and a number of Android® phones. But that could be said of hundreds of phones now on the market. A price point of under $100 was our primary consideration since performance and feature set now are fairly standard on many of the Android phones. This phone just happened to be the cheapest.

The good news is the merchant we chose was legitimate albeit a little slow on delivery (but this particular phone had just been released). Of course, you have no idea what is hidden under the covers, and that applies to the hardware and software. There is no guarantee that the phone won’t explode from a sub-par battery. In fact, there is no guarantee, period. The New York Times reports that the typical manufacturing cost for one of these phones is under $40. If you like the NSA snooping on you, then consider the possibilities where all the software in these phones is produced in China. Our takeaway from the experiment was this. The Goophone certainly proves just how inexpensive it is to manufacture a high-quality phone in China when some of the design work appears to have been done elsewhere. :wink:

Since we had the phone, a quick review of its capabilities seemed to be in order. Hardware-wise, it appears to be an excellent phone. We would hasten to add that we would never, ever put our trusted credentials for any account in a knockoff phone from China. Nor would we plug it in without being in the room to monitor its condition. At least on the unit we received, the phone easily lasted all day with moderate use, and it never displayed any signs of overheating. After 8 hours, the Goophone showed 85% battery remaining. As delivered, none of the Google apps were available. Nor could they be loaded. That included the Play Store®, Gmail®, and Google Maps®. There also was plenty of Chinese sprinkled throughout the menus just to keep things interesting. GizmoChina reported that a new ROM supporting Google apps and English has been released, and we’ll get to that in a minute. But the screenshots of the phone above demonstrate what was possible even with the Chinese model and no Play Store.

As you can see below, the Goophone takes magnificent photos even in panorama mode. The side of our neighbor’s home is one of my favorite places to test new cameras because of the difficult morning light situation. With a little cropping and applying a touch of saturation in Photoshop® Elements (about a 10-second task), the end result is pretty spectacular. The displayed image is roughly 20% of the original size of the photograph.

While the phone’s icons may look familiar, this is a pure Android Jelly Bean OS running on a 1.2GHz dual-core MediaTek MT6572 processor with 512MB RAM, 4GB ROM (only about 1GB available), and an 8GB internal SD card. It has an 8 megapixel back camera and a 2 megapixel front camera and supports WiFi and 2G/3G GSM cellular connections. Bluetooth® worked reliably and paired easily with a Jambox®. Both AT&T/StraightTalk® and T-Mobile GSM SIMs were plug-and-play although StraightTalk would require modification of the proxy address just as it would on a standard iPhone or Android device. For experimenters, T-Mobile’s $2/day pay-as-you-go plan was just about right. It provided unlimited calling, texting, and 2G web access which is more than ample for most of the things you’d want to do with a phone like this. For teenagers on a tight budget, it’s pretty close to the best of all worlds. When coupled with a $45/month StraightTalk SIM on the AT&T network, you get a feature-packed phone that looks like a Mercedes® with a price tag like a Volkswagen®. And, for less than the cost of an AppleCare contract, you can buy a spare.


Rooting the device was easy. The YouTube® video above explains the procedure. And the necessary drivers for Windows® are included in the Samsung USB Drivers Collection for Windows. You also need the MT6577 USB VCOM Drivers to load new ROMs.

We apparently got an early release of the phone because much of the user interface was in Chinese and, as we noted, none of the Google apps worked. So the most difficult part for us was finding the .apk Android apps since Google’s Play Store wasn’t available. If you have another rooted Android phone, the simple solution is to grab them from a Titanium Backup. HINT: The filenames end in .apk. Be careful downloading .apk files from strange web sites. That’s about as safe as loading your bank credentials into a Chinese knockoff. All of the apps pictured in the screenshot above work as you would expect. After all, it’s an Android phone. POP3 and IMAP email accounts work fine. The cameras are great including movies and HDR. Skype® video works fine. Zoiper® IAX connections are terrific when linked back to an Asterisk® or VoIP.ms account. Music collections can be loaded using a USB connection to any Mac or Windows machine. Or plug in some earplugs and listen to your favorite FM radio station just like in the old days. For diehard music, sports, and talk radio fans, SiriusXM® Internet Radio works as well. The .apk is available in this thread.

As you might expect, communication with the manufacturer was difficult, but they were responsive. After considerable back and forth, we did manage to secure the newer ROM with Play Store support. Presumably, it is now shipping in phones destined for the United States. To actually load the new ROM, you need version 3.1312 of the Smart Phone Flash Tool. Once that’s installed on your Windows desktop, you can follow along with this tutorial to get the new ROM loaded into the phone. The sequence of events in using SP_Flash_Tool matters. Unzip the new ROM into a new folder on your desktop. Turn off your i5c and unplug it from the USB cable if it is connected to your Windows machine. Then run Flash_tool.exe from the SP_Flash_Tool folder on your desktop. Choose File -> Open Scatter-loading File and select MT6572_Android_scatter.txt from the folder with the unzipped new ROM. Click the Download button. Now plug in your phone using a USB cable connected to your PC. Do NOT turn on the phone. If you’ve properly loaded the MT6577 USB VCOM Drivers from above, the update should proceed within a few seconds, and you’ll see the progress bar changing colors in the flash tool application. It takes about 2 minutes to load the new ROM. Once you get the Download OK dialog box, unplug the phone and close the flash tool app. Before turning on the phone, be sure you’ve inserted a SIM card from either T-Mobile or AT&T/StraightTalk, or the phone will boot into Chinese (permanently) when you turn it on. Guess how we know? Now hold down the Power and Home buttons simultaneously for 10 seconds. Release the buttons and power on the phone in the usual way by pressing the Power button for a few seconds.

Just a couple more gotchas, and you should be good to go. First, DO NOT USE GOOGLE CREDENTIALS IN THIS PHONE THAT MATTER TO YOU! Based upon the performance of the browser using a very fast WiFi connection, our testing suggests that all browser activity and perhaps other activity (WiFi and GSM) may be routed through a proxy. Guess where? Second, do not use a Google account with two-factor authentication. It won’t work. Third, we’ve had excellent results with Zoiper IAX connections to an Asterisk server, but the setup is problematic. The Zoiper keyboard for data entry doesn’t have a period on it. Keyboards shown for other apps include the period so this is a Zoiper-specific problem, not an inherent limitation of the phone. To enter the IP address or FQDN of a host with Zoiper, you’ll need to send an email to the phone with the information. Open Gmail or your other mail client and copy the text to the phone’s clipboard. Then set up your Zoiper account. A long press on the host field will let you paste in the appropriate data. If you experience compatibility errors that prevent loading certain apps from the Play Store (Instagram is one example), then you’ll need to root your phone and load App Override from the Play Store. Then tell the app to override Play Store install restrictions. Finally, wade through the notification settings for the apps and reset them. After that, notifications worked as expected. GPS still no worky.

We did a quick-and-dirty video on YouTube to show off our CallWho™ Speech-to-Text Dialer coupled with SMS messaging and GoIP to test the message capabilities of the iPhone 5c and the i5c. CallWho is included as a standard feature using Incredible PBX 11™ with PBX in a Flash™. Enjoy!


 



iGoogle Added to Google Graveyard. Google has added (yet another) corpse to the Google Graveyard. This time it’s iGoogle, the need for which (according to Google) “has eroded over time.” The iGoogle demise also means that Nerd Vittles TTS Google News Feed bit the dust. As much as we’re troubled to admit it, it would appear that Microsoft got it just about right in their spoof:


For the complete list of Google carnage, see last week’s Nerd Vittles article. Just in TTS applications for Asterisk, we’ve lost phone directories, sports scores, weather reports, and now news feeds. Can stock listings be far behind? And, coming next week, Google’s JavaScript Maps API gets put out to pasture. Then, of course, there are the text-to-speech and speech-to-text tools themselves. Wouldn’t make any long term plans using those platforms or any other Google platform for that matter. For those (formerly) enjoying the Nerd Vittles text-to-speech Google apps or Incredible PBX, this means that dialing 951 now returns “From, from, from” as the latest news headlines. There’s a simple fix that now is available. We’ve replaced Google News with Yahoo News! To replace the news app, simply run this update script.



Banner Day at Nerd Vittles. Today we’re delighted to announce that we’ve logged over 200,000 unique visitors from the United States this year alone! And we’re especially pleased to now have fans visiting from 216 countries. Thank you!

Originally published: Monday, November 11, 2013




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