Category: Cellular

Finally a 100% Portable PBX: Introducing GoIP, a SIP-GSM Gateway for Asterisk

How far we have come! The original Asterisk® claim to fame was its ability to interface with proprietary phone systems and legacy telephony hardware, the glue that literally kept companies stuck to their overpriced PBXs. And, just as wired phone systems began to lose their edge, along came the Bell Sisters to introduce cellular communications with billing that began when the phone started ringing and an end to toll-free calling and extra fees for text messaging on top of exorbitantly priced data service. The piece that traditionally has been missing from Asterisk deployments has been interconnectivity with cellular data services. Well, that was then, and this is now. Meet the GoIP GSM Gateway in one, four, eight, and 16-channel flavors to meet your every need. Our focus today will be the one-channel GoIP device, but the larger units work almost identically so, once you’ve mastered the device, it’s not rocket science to move to the 4-channel or 8-channel device (or even larger) if the extra GSM ports better meet your office’s requirements.1

Let’s begin with the basics. What does it do? What does it cost? Why do I need it? How steep is the learning curve?

What Does It Do? In a nutshell, GoIP is a SIP-talkin’ GSM gateway that sits on the same network as your Asterisk server. Once you configure a trunk and a few special Asterisk settings to support SMS messaging, you’ll have another full-featured provider for your PBX, only this one happens to be GSM cellular-based. The good news is GoIP brings to your PBX most of the same feature set that is available using your favorite GSM cellphone except now every extension on your PBX in a Flash™ server can share the cellular connection both for calls and messaging. That means inbound and outbound cell calls as well as inbound and outbound SMS messaging for every extension on your PBX.

With today’s Nerd Vittles additions, here’s the new feature set using a GoIP device from any extension on your PBX:

  1. Make outbound calls through the GoIP cellular trunk from any PBX extension
  2. Receive incoming cellular calls and redirect them to any number on your PBX
  3. Dictate text by phone and deliver SMS messages to any SMS-capable device
  4. Use a browser to create and deliver outbound SMS messages to any SMS device
  5. Receive incoming SMS messages and forward the messages to any email address
  6. Receive incoming SMS messages and forward the messages to any SMS number
  7. Send an SMS message with a password and receive a callback with DISA dialtone

What Does It Cost? As much as we love Amazon for its referral revenue support of our blog and open source projects, we couldn’t find a single-channel GoIP offering at a reasonable price. The Amazon links provided above for the larger units are competitive (about $100 per port). For the single-channel model, eBay® is your friend. You’ll find multiple providers in the $150 price range. All of the units we’ve found ship from China. We used this provider who got the GoIP device to us exactly 14 days after we ordered it. Ours shipped with the latest firmware, but firmware updates are available here. AliExpress also sells the devices for about the same price. We’ve had good luck with them in the past.

The other expense with the GoIP devices is cellular service. For each channel, you’ll need a GSM SIM card just like what your GSM, AT&T, or T-Mobile cell phone uses. The good news is there are lots of other choices now. See WalMart for some options. Another option for low frequency use would be T-Mobile’s pay-by-the day plans. The $1 (unlimited SMS messaging) or $2/day (unlimited calls and unlimited SMS messaging) plans are almost perfect since you don’t need data. Just be sure to choose a GSM carrier, AT&T or T-Mobile in the U.S. market. Both are supported by StraightTalk. Our favorite remains the (almost) unlimited calling, text, and data $45 plan from StraightTalk. With their AT&T-compatible SIM (don’t buy it in a StraightTalk-locked phone!), it’s a simple matter of moving the SIM card from your cellphone to the GoIP’s GSM slot (connectors facing down). The GoIP unit can spoof an IMEI for picky providers.

Why Do I Need It? The two major advantages of adding a cellular trunk to your PBX are redundancy and portability. Except in the Hurricane Katrina situation, chances are that your Internet service provider and your cellular provider won’t both be dead in the water2 at the same time. The good news is that even with a hurricane, you can pack up your PBX in a Flash server or Raspberry Pi together with your GoIP device and move to higher ground. As fast as you can say “George Bush is a compassionate conservative,” you’ll be back in business.

And then there are the mobile users such as construction site workers, mobile firefighters deployed to a site far from home and other first responders, or even the nomads that manage conventions in a different town every week. Think AstriCon! Rather than relying on crappy hotel WiFi service or paying an arm and a leg for installation of cable or DSL Internet service which often isn’t available anyway, now you have the flexibility to deploy a full-featured PBX at almost any temporary site with nothing more than a $30 Wi-Fi firewall/router, a PBX in a Flash Server or Raspberry Pi, and a GSM SIP trunk courtesy of GoIP. The only other ingredient you need is a little electricity. That could be a wall outlet, or a generator, or an inexpensive AC inverter for your vehicle. Did we mention it’ll work identically on the next site without spending an extra nickel. Hardware cost for the Mobile Communications Center (as shown below): about $250.

Last but not least are all of the organizations that could benefit from an SMS-based emergency messaging service. A dollar a day is a small price to pay to deploy a service that can alert the public, employees, or parents and students of emergency situations. Before you read about the next mass shooting or midnight tornado, give it some thought. We’ve already introduced SMS Blaster to make the job easy. Or you can roll your own by building a simple text file in /tmp/callees.txt with a 10-digit3 callee’s phone number on each line. Then add the following snippet to your Asterisk dialplan code and put your emergency message in line 2. You’ve just replaced a $100 a month message blasting service with a totally portable, self-managed solution. And you’ll recover your hardware costs in less than three months.


[goip-sms-blaster]
exten => s,1,Answer
exten => s,n,Set(SMSMSG="Here is where your emergency message goes.")
exten => s,n,ReadFile(callees=/tmp/callees.txt)
exten => s,n,Set(callees=${URIENCODE(${callees})})
exten => s,n,Set(callees=${REPLACE(callees,%0A,-)})
exten => s,n,Set(SMSNUM=${callees:0:10})
exten => s,n,While($[${LEN(${SMSNUM})}>9])
exten => s,n,NoOp(Here's where we send SMS message to: ${SMSNUM})
exten => s,n,Set(SMSOUT=${SMSNUM}%0A${SMSMSG})
exten => s,n,Set(SMSOUTRAW=${URIDECODE(${SMSOUT})})
exten => s,n,Set(MESSAGE(body)=${SMSOUTRAW})
exten => s,n,MessageSend(sip:goip_1)
exten => s,n,Set(callees=${callees:13})
exten => s,n,Set(SMSNUM=${callees:0:10})
exten => s,n,Set(SMSNUM=${REPLACE(SMSNUM,-,0)})
exten => s,n,EndWhile()
exten => s,n,Hangup()

How Steep Is the Learning Curve? Lucky for you, you’re not going to have to worry about the learning curve. After all, that’s why you come to Nerd Vittles, isn’t it? We’ve spent the better part of a week getting the GoIP to sit up and bark. If you’re a slow typist, it might take you 10 minutes to get everything set up and functional once you have your GoIP device and SIM card in hand. When we’re finished, you’ll have an easy way to make and receive calls through your GoIP device using any extension on your PBX. And you’ll have a simple utility to send and receive SMS messages. In fact, you’ll be able to dictate your SMS messages from any phone connected to your PBX and send them out to any number supported by SMS including the millions of Google Voice numbers. Last but not least, we’ll provide a utility to send password-protected SMS messages to GoIP and receive a return call with DISA dial tone to make outbound calls using any available trunks on your PBX.

A Word About Security. We’re a little paranoid when it comes to security so bear with us. Without impugning anyone’s integrity, suffice it to say this device is manufactured in China. Although the device reportedly runs Linux, none of its other firmware is open source, at least not that we could find. There also are three back doors into the system which can be triggered by SMS commands to the device itself. These are well documented in the GoIP User’s Manual. Whether there are other backdoors or whether the device “phones home” are questions we have neither the time nor the money to explore. Unless you do, you are well advised to treat the device in the same way you would treat a new employee on their first day at work. Don’t put the device on a private LAN in which other computers or devices on the LAN are not protected. Don’t use a SIM card with an automatic renewal feature or with authority to post charges against your credit or debit card. Change your Admin password to the device immediately. Don’t use a password you use elsewhere! Anyone can reset the device to factory defaults by knowing the default credentials and sending RESET admin in an SMS message to the device. We love the device, but be careful.

Initial Setup of the GoIP Device

To begin, you’ll need cellphone coverage in the place where you intend to connect your GoIP device. Verify this while the SIM card you plan to use is still installed in a working cellphone. Make a call and send an SMS message to verify that the site is appropriate. Next, verify that you have a place to connect your GoIP device to your LAN in the same location. Both of these are important first steps, or you’ll be wasting your time continuing on. Once the connectivity issues are out of the way, turn off your cell phone, remove the GSM SIM card, and insert it into the GoIP device with the connectors pointing downward. You should hear a click when the SIM card is properly seated. Now connect the device behind a hardware-based firewall/router that provides DHCP service. Plug an Ethernet cable into the LAN port of the GoIP device and connect it to your network. Finally, using the power adapter provided, apply power to the device. Watch the blinking lights. While booting the RUN light will flash on and off every 100 milliseconds. Once the RUN and CHANNEL lights flash GREEN once per second, you’re in business. Now use another cellphone to send a text message with the word INFO to the phone number associated with the SIM card you plugged into the GoIP Device. You should receive a return message telling you the DHCP LAN address associated with the GoIP CHANNEL port where you plugged in the SIM card. Write it down! We’re not going to use the PC port so you can ignore its IP address for now.

Asterisk Prerequisites for Today’s GoIP Project

We’ll be using PIAF-Green with Asterisk 11 and FreePBX 2.11 today so you’ll have to read between the lines if you’re using a prehistoric release or a non-FreePBX system. We’re also assuming you’ve installed Incredible PBX™ 11 which provides the necessary components to get Google’s text-to-speech and speech-to-text features working. If you’d prefer to roll your own, then start by installing Lefteris Zafiris’ GoogleTTS and Speech Recognition components for Asterisk. For PBX in a Flash users that aren’t using Incredible PBX, you can follow this tutorial to install all of the necessary components in one click.

Initial Setup of FreePBX for the GoIP Device

We’ve found that it’s easier to configure the FreePBX® side to support the GoIP, and then configure the GoIP unit. There are seven simple steps. If you don’t want SMS DISA callback support in your setup, skip the last two steps.

  1. Add GoIP SIP Trunk
  2. Add Custom SIP Settings
  3. Add GoIP Outbound Route
  4. Add GoIP Custom Destination
  5. Add GoIP Misc Application
  6. Add GoIP DISA Context
  7. Add GoIP DISA Misc Application

1. Start by adding a new SIP Trunk to support the GoIP device. Be sure to match the device names we’ve shown exactly, or nothing will work. Our special thanks to samyantoun for his initial work on this. Replace 192.168.0.107 with the IP address of your GoIP. Replace 77 with whatever dialing prefix you want to use to make calls through the GoIP trunk. And add the phone number associated with your GoIP in the Outbound CallerID field. If you’re using the GoIP device behind a hardware-based firewall with no Internet port exposure, then you can leave password as the secret. Otherwise, you would want something very secure!4

2. Add a couple of custom SIP entries at the bottom of Asterisk SIP Settings to support SMS messaging with Asterisk. Set accept_outofcall_messages=yes and outofcall_message_context=sms_message. Then Submit Changes.

3. Add an Outbound Route to make calls using your GoIP device using the dial prefix you chose for the trunk:

4. Next we need to add a FreePBX Custom Destination to support the Nerd Vittles speech-to-text module which we’ll be using to dictate and send SMS messages using any telephone on your PBX. Under Admin -> Custom Destination, add an entry that looks like this:

5. Then we need to associate an extension number with the custom destination we just added. We’ve chosen 4647 which spells GoIP. Choose Applications -> Misc Application and enter the following:

6. DISA is an Asterisk function that lets someone call into your PBX and obtain dial tone to place an outbound call using the available trunks on your PBX. In the case of the GoIP device, this gets a little fancier. We’ll actually be sending an SMS message with a custom password to the GoIP device, and it will in turn call the SMS sender’s number and provide DISA dialtone after the user enters a special DISA PIN. Make the PIN and password very secure. We’ll get to the password in a minute. On the FreePBX side, add a DISA context in FreePBX under Applications -> DISA that looks something like the following with a secure PIN (not the one in the example):

7. In order to use DISA with GoIP, we’ll need an extension associated with the DISA function. We add this number using FreePBX Misc Application. You can use any available extension number you like. Just remember what you chose when we configure the GoIP side to support SMS DISA access. Here’s what we use:

Configuration of the GoIP Device

All of the GoIP device configuration is handled using a browser pointed to the internal IP address of the GoIP. If you haven’t already done so, send an SMS message with the word INFO to the phone number associated with your GoIP device. You will get a return message with the private IP address of the unit. Using a browser, point it to the IP address and login with username admin and password admin. It’s probably a good idea to reset your unit to factory defaults before beginning the setup just to make sure you’re starting with a clean slate. Send an SMS message to the device with the words RESET admin to initialize the hardware.

As we’ve mentioned, sending the admin password to the device with the RESET keyword forces a total reset of the device so you obviously want to change this admin password immediately unless you want to risk a total stranger sending a reset command to your device. Do it now under Tools -> Change Password -> Administration Level. It’s probably a good idea to change the other passwords as well.

Next, click Configurations. This is the screen on which you set everything. The Preference pane has the country-specific settings for both the network and your cellphone carrier so set them carefully. The IMEI will default to the actual IMEI of your unit. If your cellphone carrier requires registration of a specific IMEI before your SIM card will work, then you can spoof the IMEI using the IMEI of the cell phone that was previously used with this SIM card. For the East Coast of the United States, our setup looks like this:

If you’re using DHCP for the GoIP, the Network Configuration pane shouldn’t require any changes. We do recommend that you lock the DHCP address to the GoIP in your router so that it doesn’t inadvertently change down the road. You will note that a PPTP VPN tunnel for the device is supported although we haven’t yet played with it.

The Call Settings pane has all of your SIP settings for the GoIP. These have got to be right or nothing will work. Our setup (that works) is shown below. Start by clicking on each of the Settings and Preferences links to open up the sub-menus. Both 192.168.0.180 entries should be replaced with the IP address of your Asterisk server. The Phone Number and Authentication ID both need to be goip_1 as shown. The password is password unless you changed your secret in the FreePBX trunk setup. DTMF Signaling should be changed to Outband and DTMF Type should be RFC2833. Ours still doesn’t work reliably, but that may be the lousy cellphone signal in our office. We recommend ULAW and ALAW exclusively for the Audio Codecs. You don’t want the overhead of codec translation particularly if you’re using a Raspberry Pi. On a normal server, G.729 would obviously reduce the bandwidth of GoIP voice calls. Get it working first and then experiment! The RTP port range should be 10000-20000 to match your Asterisk default setup.

The Call Divert pane is where we configure all of the Nerd Vittles magic. Forward Number(PSTN To VoIP) should be the number on your PBX to which you want inbound GoIP calls forwarded when someone calls the cellphone number associated with your GoIP device. This could be an extension, ring group, IVR, or even the DISA number we set up above. Just be sure you have a verrrrrry secure DISA PIN if you go this route! It’s your phone bill. The SMS Mode must be changed to Relay, and SMS Forward SIP Number must be s to work with the Nerd Vittles apps.

Once you have all of your settings entered, click the Save Settings link under Configurations. The unit will reload its SIP setup. It usually takes about 30 seconds. We recommend you now test the setup to make sure you can make a call to the GoIP number and have it forwarded to an extension on your Asterisk server. Then use an extension on your PBX to place an outbound call using the GoIP dial prefix you assigned above. If either call fails, check your settings for typos in both the FreePBX and GoIP configurations.

Adding the Nerd Vittles Apps to Support the GoIP Device

Now for the fun stuff. We’ve built a little shell script that sets up all of the Nerd Vittles applications we outlined above. It’s licensed as GPL2 code so you are more than welcome to make any changes or additions which you believe would be useful. We hope you’ll share them with the rest of us. The script puts everything in the proper place on Incredible PBX systems to support SMS messaging with Asterisk. You’ll be prompted for the following information:

  1. Email address to which to forward incoming SMS messages
  2. SMS number to which to forward incoming SMS messages
  3. Very secure password to trigger PBX callbacks
  4. Extension number to ring on callbacks

1. When incoming SMS messages are received by the GoIP unit, Asterisk will forward them to this email address.

2. When incoming SMS messages are received by the GoIP unit, Asterisk will forward them to this SMS number. You can disable either the forwarding email address or the forwarding SMS number (not both!) by editing the [sms_message] context in extensions_custom.conf and commenting out either of these lines with a semicolon:

exten => s,n,system(echo "SMS Message From ${SMSDID}: ${SMSMSG}"...

exten => s,n,MessageSend(sip:goip_1)

3. This password is what must be sent as an SMS message to the GoIP device to trigger a return call from Asterisk. Do NOT include any spaces in the password and make it very secure!

4. This is the extension number that will be used to place the return call from Asterisk. For DISA service, it would be 3172 in today’s setup. It could also be a regular extension on your PBX if you simply want to trigger a return call from your home or office extension when you send this password via SMS to the GoIP device. Note that the home or office extension must answer the call before the return call will be placed to your SMS device or phone.

Installation. To install the components (a one-minute job!), log into your server as root and issue the following commands:

cd /root
rm GoIP-install.sh
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/GoIP-install.sh
chmod +x GoIP-install.sh
./GoIP-install.sh

If you ever need to make changes to your setup, just run the script again and answer the prompts.

Kicking the Tires. To make sure everything is working, try sending an SMS message to the GoIP with your secret password from #3 above. You should get a return call within 30 seconds. Next, from an extension on your PBX, dial 4647. Dictate a brief message and then enter a phone number for delivery of the message via GoIP to some SMS device (not your GoIP unit!). Finally, send a “Hello World” SMS message to your GoIP device. It should be forwarded to both your email address (#1) and SMS number (#2) within a few seconds. Enjoy!

Deals of the Week. There’s still an amazing deal on the street if you hurry. A new company called Copy.com is offering 20GB of free cloud storage with no restrictions on file size uploads (which are all too common with other free offers). Copy.com has free sync apps for Windows, Macs, and Linux systems. To take advantage of the offer, just click on our referral link here. We get 5GB of extra storage, too, which will help avoid another PIAF Forum disaster.

Originally published: Monday, September 30, 2013




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


 

We are pleased to once again be able to offer Nerd Vittles’ readers a 20% discount on registration to attend this year’s 10th Anniversary AstriCon in Atlanta. And, if you hurry, you also can take advantage of the early bird registration discount. Here’s the Nerd Vittles Discount Code: AC13NERD.


 
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. Some 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. []
  2. With apologies for the tasteless photo and pun. []
  3. The length of the phone numbers obviously can be adjusted to meet your local requirements. Just replace the 10’s with the length of the phone numbers you wish to use. Then replace 13 with 3 more than the phone number length you chose. []
  4. We have engineered today’s GoIP solution for users in the U.S. and Canada. It obviously will support international deployment as well by making adjustments to the dial strings and cellphone settings in both the FreePBX and GoIP configurations. []

Amerika the Beautiful: An Insider’s View of What Went Wrong and How To Fix It

UPDATE: Following a week of almost daily new disclosures, we are republishing our original article with some additional observations from us and others who have been following what will almost certainly turn out to be one of the most shocking and important revelations in the history of our republic. Much of this story has unfolded on Twitter, one of the few companies that stood up to the government and refused to participate in the PRISM data collection enterprise. So it seemed only fitting to retell the events of the last few weeks through the tweets that have brought this story to life and fleshed out many of the details pertaining to Mr. Snowden’s original revelations. –Ward Mundy


As the cellphone and NSA scandals continue to unfold, we’ve wrestled with a number of emotions probably much as many of you have. This isn’t so much a liberal versus conservative controversy as it is a question about what type of society we all want for our families and for those that will come after us. Having grown up in a military family, I came in contact with individuals from literally all walks of life, commanding generals to sergeants and privates. Most did their jobs very well and took pride in their accomplishments and those of others. After high school, I attended Auburn University and then went on to law school at the University of Alabama, two schools known more for their football teams than their academic credentials. Even though the country was in the midst of the George Wallace era of states’ rights, I actually got a well-balanced legal education at Alabama. Much to the chagrin of the governor, many of my law professors were Yankees from the most liberal bastions in our country including Harvard and Yale. So it was probably not surprising that more than half of my law class of 130 became card-carrying liberals. In fact, I only remember one ultra-conservative classmate, and we never were sure whether he believed all the things he was saying or was just doing it for attention and to establish his pedigree for future political races.

We were up to our eyeballs in Vietnam when I graduated so my career path was chosen for me. Those with political connections and those from well to do families got to join the National Guard and stay home. The rest of us got drafted. If you were a lawyer, you had the choice of serving two years as an infantry officer or four years as a lawyer. That was an easy choice at least for me because I owed the military four years anyway because of a college scholarship. There was a great book at the time, Military Justice is to Justice as Military Music is to Music. You really didn’t have to read the book to figure out the message. As an appellate lawyer, I got to witness it up close and personal. Military courts have special rules. Military commanders decide who gets tried and then they hand-pick the military juries who also happen to be soldiers working for the same commander. If a criminal case went to trial, your odds of not being convicted were about the same as being struck by lightening or winning the lottery. The same held true for the criminal appeals. All of my clients were already serving time in Fort Leavenworth while I “represented” them in Washington. A handful saw their sentences reduced on appeal while one or two actually had their cases reversed. Despite the odds favoring the military, I actually worked for an appellate judge that would hide problematic cases in a bottom drawer until the soldier had served all his jail time. Then the case would magically reappear, and justice would be done by reversing the errors in the trial proceedings. Several of us finally filed a complaint against the judge, and he was “retired.” This was my first exposure to the “Rewards System.” Many folks are promoted into prestigious jobs in the government not to do future good work but as a reward for past service. In short, it’s treated more like a medal than a job. Suffice it to say, you don’t see a lot of boat rocking from the honorees.

At the time, I chalked this up as yet another military anomaly. It was reinforced by the decade I spent at all levels of the military justice system including a stint as the Court Executive of the U.S. Court of Military Appeals, the civilian court that oversaw the whole process. What was surprising to me were the extremes to which many individuals in the most important legal positions in the military were willing to go in order to rig the system in favor of what they perceived to be the desires of the military commanders. My dad had been a military commander. He and all of the commanding generals I have known would never have tolerated such a setup had they known about it. While the President technically appointed judges to the Court of Military Appeals, in actuality the judges were selected by members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Because the Court had become too liberal for some of the senior people in Donald Rumsfeld’s Defense Department, they decided to change the name of the court to make it sound more like a real federal court. While they were at it, they expanded the number of judgeships in order to get rid of the “liberal problem.” Killing two birds with one stone wasn’t hard with the enthusiastic support of Strom Thurmond and the armed services committees. They “promoted” the most liberal judge to a district judgeship with life tenure to get him out of town.

When the court packing began, I left and joined the staff of the newly created U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta. There I served for more than 20 years as the technology guru. During my tenure, we introduced personal computers, networks, VPNs, video conferencing, cellphones, automated case management systems, and the 20th century to many judges and lawyers that still were deciding cases in much the same way they had been handled since the founding of our country.

Unlike the military system, the federal courts were different. These judges weren’t wearing medals. They took their jobs seriously. All were appointed for life by the President, and most had come from cream of the crop positions in the most prestigious law firms and law schools in the country. Many that I worked for had single-handedly desegregated the South: its schools, its lunch counters, its water fountains, and even its bathrooms. No small feat considering there were still Ku Klux Klan signs announcing evening meetings when I would drive back to school on Sunday afternoons.

I had almost daily contact with these judges because our courts in the southeastern United States were handling caseloads at least 10 times what other courts across the country were experiencing. And, without the very best technology, these courts would literally have been buried by the paperwork associated with these legal proceedings. It began with civil rights cases, then voting rights, then drugs, then bankruptcies, then death penalties, and on and on.

But something changed at about the time Ronald Reagan became president. Many of the new judges that were appointed had come from prior government jobs. Some had been magistrates. Others had been state court judges. Many had been former federal or state prosecutors or lawyers in the Department of Justice. Some were small town lawyers who happened to serve as a community campaign manager for the president or a staff assistant to a U.S. Senator. There was even a former nun. What was different was that many of them came with an agenda. And many of the selections were more about ideology than legal accomplishment. We’ve now seen that process play out for more than 30 years. With some notable exceptions, many “medalists” have crept into the federal judiciary at all levels. Free resort junkets for judges sponsored by organizations with their own agenda are all too common. As we saw in the military setting, the perks of the office and living the country club life style started mattering more than doing the job. Keep in mind that these judges serve for life with almost no outside scrutiny. When you then add secret tribunals to the mix, it makes for a dangerous concoction with no checks and balances.


There also was a metamorphosis underway in Congress. Southern Democrats became Republicans largely because of the civil rights statutes championed by Lyndon Johnson. Southern Democrats had always held their nose and gone along with the agenda of the Democratic Party as long as separate-but-equal was left in place. When “the deal” changed, they bolted. Big business was getting a very different foothold in Congress. A law school classmate of mine who became a very prominent lobbyist on Capitol Hill once told me that there was no bill he couldn’t get passed if his client had deep enough pockets.


The Oligopoly Revolution was also underway. Virtually every American industry now has less than a handful of players which has led to skyrocketing prices: Big Oil, Big Banks, Automobiles, Airplane Manufacturers, Airlines, Technology, Communications, Hospitals, Drug Manufacturers, Health Care Providers, Fast Food, Grocery Stores, Hardware Stores, and Drug Stores to name just a few. There really is no space left for the little guy and the entrepreneur. Price fixing by manufacturers now is perfectly legal. Software patents appeared out of thin air and have essentially killed off independent software development unless you work for the handful of leading technology companies that can afford a patent portfolio.


And then there was 9/11. In response to the threat of terrorism and under the convenient umbrella of national security, Congress has all but repealed the constitutional protections laid out in the Bill of Rights while establishing a National Security Agency that would have been the envy of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin. The “new” federal courts have routinely rubber-stamped every piece of this legislation. And then came the secret FISA court with secret proceedings and secret decisions and secret court orders and no public appeals. If you read nothing else, read this article in The Verge. Here’s an excerpt:

The 9/11 terrorists should be proud. They have single-handedly changed our entire security apparatus (not to mention our judicial system) to one that looks frighteningly similar to what you would find in Pakistan, China, or North Korea. And the response from the President and Congress… “Gosh, we’re all so much more secure when we can identify the calling history of every single cellphone user and can intercept every email communication in the universe.” And the American Technology Oligopoly appears to have gone right along with it while lying their asses off about what has happened. Who needs the keys to your house? They’ve already got access to every piece of personal data you create!

We obviously hope some of this story turns out not to be true, but then there’s this:


The problem is that Congress and some within the judiciary have so tilted the playing field that it’s hard to have much faith in any of our public institutions any more. Just to reemphasize, this has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans. It has to do with almost all of our national politicians who have sold themselves out to the highest bidder.


So how do we fix this mess? For the short term, stop using browsers to generate or read email. Encrypt your email and stop using Gmail, HotMail, and Yahoo. Use VPNs for communications whenever possible. And Silicon Valley needs to take a careful look in the mirror. They are a major part of the problem.


Then it’s time to take our country back. Those of us that continue to sit on the sidelines deserve what we get. What we really need is a new Constitution that actually has some meaning. Every person in the United States should get to vote on it, and it shouldn’t be based on gerrymandered political districts that favor a particular political party. As part of the process, throw all of these bums out. Every one of them regardless of political party! Then dismantle their retirement benefits and healthcare perks. Limit future elected officials to six years in office with no special benefits of any kind. It’s service to your country, not a career or mutual admiration society. Promulgate strict laws outlawing all lobbying of Congress by paid individuals. Force congressmen to write their own legislation rather than relying upon the work of corporate America. Pass laws that severely penalize companies that ship American jobs and corporate revenue overseas. Corporations are not people. Nor are they U.S. citizens. Stop pretending they are. Establish minimum tax rates for every person and every company doing business in the United States. Everybody who lives here should have to pay their fair share of the costs. Get rid of all the tax loopholes that have rigged the system in favor of special interest groups that literally have bought Congress. The rest of the problems will fix themselves hopefully in time for our kids to once again enjoy living and prospering in our great country.

We share the sentiments and recommendations of Hendrik Herzberg in The New Yorker:

Calling for a national commission can be the last refuge of the high-mindedly perplexed, but this is one instance when such a commission—independent, amply funded, possessing subpoena power, and with a membership and a staff deeply versed in both national security and civil liberties—may be precisely what is needed. The N.S.A. programs represent a troubling increase in state power, even if—so far, and so far as we know—they have not occasioned a troubling increase in state wrongdoing. Obama’s “difficult questions” have a new urgency. Are the programs truly efficacious? Do they truly provide an extra margin of safety sufficient to justify the resources poured into them, to say nothing of the domestic and international anxieties they inevitably provoke? Is it wise to entrust so many of their activities to the employees of private companies, which are ultimately answerable not to the United States and its Constitution but to corporate stockholders? Did it make sense to construct an intelligence behemoth that apparently cannot operate without giving an enormous number of people—more than a million—top-secret security clearances? And in what ways, exactly, might an ill-intentioned yet formally law-abiding Administration use its powers for nefarious purposes? From what we know so far—well, we know far too little, still.

Finally, let us close by pointing you to Steve Wozniak’s commentary on this mess. We couldn’t have said it better…

Originally published: Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: 2013 Cellphone Navigation Guide

Every year or so we like to take a fresh look at the cell phone landscape and reassess what makes the most sense for business, personal, and family use in terms of cost, functionality, and performance. Last year’s favorite based upon both cost and feature set was StraightTalk which offered unlimited talk, text, and data (sort of) on either the AT&T or T-Mobile network for $45 a month. Since that article was released, StraightTalk has quietly dropped the AT&T offering reportedly at AT&T’s request due to reported changes in the phone unlocking law. To date, existing StraightTalk users of the AT&T service have not been affected. Whether that will continue, of course, is anybody’s guess. Suffice it to say, when you could get identical or better functionality from StraightTalk for less than half the cost of buying directly from AT&T, customers were leaving AT&T in droves. So this may be nothing more than an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging. For those that may be interested, you still can buy an AT&T StraightTalk SIM on eBay for $30-$100.

What has also changed in the last year is the data plan landscape. Both of the Bell Sisters, AT&T and Verizon, have moved to shared data plans with unlimited talk and text. In the U.S. market, there are no more unlimited data plans except from the second tier providers, Sprint and T-Mobile. You basically pay a base fee for a bucket of data and then a per device fee for each cellphone or tablet you wish to use. It should come as no surprise that the costs are nearly identical whether you choose AT&T or Verizon. See this Engadget article for the details. If you’re a heavy consumer of data services or if you have kids that frequently stream music or movies, the pay-as-you-go shared data plans are bad news. Similarly, StraightTalk advertises unlimited data on their monthly plans but, in the fine print, bars use of any phone for tethering or any streaming services. We’ll leave it to you to decide whether this is deceptive advertising. Suffice it say, it hasn’t bothered the Federal Trade Commission thus far.

So what is a heavy cellphone data user to do? For the moment, there is a solution, but who knows what the future holds. Verizon has grandfathered in those customers who previously had $29.95 unlimited data plans, and this applies to 3G and 4G data services. For $30 more a month, you also can add tethering with unlimited data. For the record, if this sounds expensive to you, keep in mind that Verizon’s latest MiFi JetPack pricing for 10GB of data per month is a whopping $90. The only condition (thus far) for keeping an unlimited data plan is that customers cannot take advantage of new phone subsidies when renewing or extending a contract. But customers are free to purchase a new phone at full price and transfer an existing unlimited data plan account to the new phone. More importantly, for those of us not on a Verizon unlimited data plan, there is no restriction on transferring an existing account to someone else. It should come as no surprise that clever, long-time Verizon customers quickly started selling their unlimited data plan accounts on eBay. And we bought one to determine whether the transfer process actually works. It does!

Before we get to the details, we’ve got to share our latest Best Buy adventure to purchase the new Samsung Galaxy S4 which we will review in a few weeks. As with previous episodes, we continue to swear we’ll never again set foot in a Best Buy store. Here’s why. Thinking we’d save a little time, we ordered the GS4 on line at bestbuy.com with delivery to our local store. The site showed the store had the units in stock. Within minutes, we got an email confirmation that the order had been received. The original email noted that we would receive another email when the phone was ready for pickup but also included a link to actually schedule a pickup time. Certain times were blocked out, and we picked an available time slot which was roughly four hours after the phone had been purchased. So far, so good.

Silly us, we thought scheduling a pickup time might actually bear some relationship to the ordering procedure. It didn’t. When we arrived at the store, the customer service rep indignantly insisted that we had arrived too soon. The approval process had not been completed despite the fact that PayPal already had approved the transaction. The Best Buy web site actually showed that the order was awaiting confirmation (from the store) that the phone was in stock. The store employees claimed no knowledge of such a request. When would the process be completed? We were told it usually happened almost instantly, but this was “an expensive phone.” Who knows? Four hours later, there still was no confirmation email. Because we were leaving town, the on line order was cancelled, and we returned to the Best Buy store to purchase the phone directly. The Verizon SIM card was an additional $20. The salesperson slipped it into the bag with the phone. Hours later, we discovered that Best Buy had taped a different SIM chip onto the credit-card sized card that usually contains both the SIM chip and the SIM card device ID. Because they didn’t match, we suspected that someone had returned a defective SIM card, and Best Buy had swapped out the bad SIM chip for the original one on the card. Guess where the bad one went? We’ll never know because we didn’t want to take a chance since we needed a working SIM card to complete the Verizon transfer procedure. Trip #3 to Best Buy plus an online order and a cancelled online order minus $823 for a phone, $290 to eBay, and $10 for gasoline, and we finally had all the pieces. Never again. Honest! In her usual sympathetic voice, my wife inquired, “How does Best Buy stay in business?” I responded that the stores were convenient. She reminded me that the process recounted above was anything but convenient. Amen.

If you decide you want a Galaxy S4, do yourself and Nerd Vittles a favor. Use the link in the right column to head over to Amazon. You’ll not only avoid the Best Buy aggravation, but you’ll save over $170 in the process while providing a little financial support to the Nerd Vittles project. If you’re a Prime member, you even get free 2-day shipping. Don’t forget to purchase a Verizon 4G SIM card. They’re $4 at Amazon instead of $20 at Best Buy. :roll:

When we purchased the grandfathered data plan on eBay, the seller had indicated that the plan would not be available for transfer for a couple of days. What we were told we needed was the IMEI of the phone plus the SIM card ID. Actually, you need a few more things unless you have an existing Verizon account. Remember, you have to pass a credit check to get Verizon service. And this requires your name, social security number, date of birth, home address, and phone number. In short, it’s everything anybody would want that was interested in identity theft. We have credit monitoring services so we weren’t too worried. If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t repeat the procedure we used since you’ll be on the phone with both the eBay seller AND the Verizon rep that’s handling the account transfer. Ideally, a seller should be able to provide you the cellphone number associated with the account, and you could provide the IMEI and SIM card ID to the seller for relaying to Verizon. Then you could call Verizon directly, plug in the cell phone number, and complete the transfer and credit check. This avoids the potential man-in-the-middle problem. In any case, the process was effortless. Changing the phone device and phone number on the account was a breeze. We chose a Calling Plan and Messaging Plan to go with the Unlimited Data Plan, and we were off to the races. Available plan pricing is shown above.

Still wondering why unlimited data with 4G LTE service matters? Take a gander at the performance numbers above from one of the most remote areas in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and the answer should be obvious. Waynesville is a town with a population of under 10,000 people. Impressive indeed, Verizon!

Pioneer Alert. We’re pleased to announce the release of the new PIAF-Green Virtual Machine with PBX in a Flash 2.0.6.4.4, Asterisk 11, and FreePBX 2.11. This version incorporates important security updates including a new Linux kernel and patches to protect against the Apache SSL attacks plus the latest Google Voice Motif additions for Asterisk and FreePBX. Grab a copy to play with on your Windows, Mac, or Linux desktop. You can download it now from SourceForge and provide feedback in the PIAF Forum. Documentation is provided both in the SourceForge readme and in the Nerd Vittles article covering the previous release. We’ll have a new tutorial available next week on Nerd Vittles.

Deals of the Week. There are a couple of amazing deals still on the street, but you’d better hurry. First, for new customers, Sangoma is offering a board of your choice from a very impressive list at 75% off. For details, see this thread on the PIAF Forum. Second, a new company called Copy.com is offering 20GB of free cloud storage with no restrictions on file size uploads (which are all too common with other free offers). Copy.com has free sync apps for Windows, Macs, and Linux systems. To take advantage of the offer, just click on our referral link here. We get 5GB of extra storage, too, which will help avoid another PIAF Forum disaster.

Originally published: Thursday, June 6, 2013




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


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

Paradise Found: The Holy Grail of Mobile Communications » Meet the OBi202

Much has been written about the quest for Unified Communications where all real-time communications services are transparently accessible by phone, by email, or via the web using multiple devices and various media types. But the Holy Grail of Business Communications is a bit different from our perspective. For the modern business person, business telecommunications comes down to a 3-way time slice between a home or home office, a real office with a real phone, and a cellphone whenever the person morphs into a road warrior or telecommuter. What the business person really wants is transparent integration of his or her smartphone into existing home and office phone setups. In other words, when we’re at home with a cell phone, we want to answer incoming cell phone calls on a house phone rather than scrambling to find a ringing cellphone on the other side of the house. And when we’re at the office, we want incoming cellphone calls to either ring on our desktop phone or be redirected to the office PBX when we’re unavailable. For many businesses, the only phone number that a customer ever has is the business person’s smartphone number. So, when we place outbound calls from home, or the office, or the cellphone, we want the customer to always see the cellphone number in the CallerID display. For accounting purposes, we’d also like all of the calls to be recorded in the cellphone log so that we can actually track call activity without reviewing logs in three different places. Well, we’ve finally got it!

Google Voice™ solved some of this cellphone integration with its new service. You can actually have calls ring on multiple devices simultaneously including your cellphone, your office phone, and your home phone. But there are several limitations. First, it’s only available in the United States. Second, some folks just don’t want Google knowing everything about your call history. Third, there’s a flexibility issue when using Google Voice to forward calls to your home or office. Without a lot of hands-on daily management, the incoming calls get forwarded to your alternate numbers whether you’re there or not. So, for example, if you’re on the road, you probably don’t want incoming business calls to your cellphone picked up by either your spouse or the office switchboard because there’s no way to easily route the calls back to you.

 

And that brings us to a pair of terrific new products from ObiHai. Last year we were provided a prerelease version of the OBi202™ at no cost, but frankly we hadn’t had time to play with it until a business opportunity presented the perfect case for the OBi202. In addition to being a terrific standalone VoIP phone system, the OBi202 also supports an analog fax machine using Google Voice as well as T.38 digital faxing with a CallCentric trunk. And then we discovered the OBiBT™ Bluetooth® Adapter which we actually purchased. Lo and behold, for under $100, the Holy Grail of Mobile Phone Communications was staring us in the face. So let’s begin with a quick summary of how all of this works, and then we’ll show you how to do it yourself. As with all of our Amazon links, you are obviously free to buy products wherever you like. Where prices are competitive or availability is a factor, we often recommend Amazon because Amazon provides financial support to Nerd Vittles through its referral links. That really does help keep the lights on so thanks in advance for your understanding.

The way The Holy Grail works in our SOHO setup goes something like this. I carry a Bluetooth-enabled, Galaxy Note II smartphone. While away from the house, the smartphone works like any other cellphone. I can make and receive calls as well as email and SMS messages. The only difference is that I have the phone connected through a Google Voice number so that incoming SMS messages are also delivered as Gmail messages. When I return home, the OBi202 with the OBiBT adapter senses that a smartphone is within range. You can pair and prioritize up to 10 of them. Incoming calls still ring on the cellphone, but they also ring on some POTS cordless phones scattered around the office. The POTS phones are connected to the first of two phone connections on the OBi202. CallerID actually shows the same thing as the cellphone CallerID. And incoming SMS messages also appear in the CallerID display of the cordless phones. If an incoming call is not answered in two rings, the OBi202 transfers the call to our Incredible PBX™ running on a Raspberry Pi®. It then processes the call through an AutoAttendant and delivers the call either to all of the house phones or to the desired person in the house. If there’s no answer, the call is handled by the voicemail system in Incredible PBX, and the message is also emailed to the desired recipient.

While at home base, outbound calls from the POTS phones in the office are always placed through my cellphone using the Bluetooth connection in the OBi202. Depending upon how you set up your Google Voice interaction with your cellphone, outbound calls will show either your cell phone number or Google Voice number as the CallerID. When we leave the office, the office phones no longer ring, just the Galaxy Note II. And outbound calls from the SOHO cordless phones are handled using a preconfigured SIP provider or Google Voice trunk in the OBi202 instead of via Bluetooth and the smartphone.

This may sound trivial to some of you. Suffice it to say, it’s not. You won’t find any commercial PBX that can do it. And the Asterisk Dev Team has been working on a Bluetooth connector called chan_mobile for as long as we can remember. It still doesn’t work reliably. You can follow the progress of our half dozen chan_mobile pioneers here.

Getting Started with the OBi202. Before you can tackle Bluetooth, you need to get a perfectly functioning OBi202. Plug it in with a network cable behind your router which must provide a DHCP address to the device. Plug a POTS phone into PHONE 1. Now make a test call to OBiTALK by dialing **9 222 222 222. Next, decipher the IP address of your device by dialing ***1. Make sure your device is running the latest software by dialing ***6. Using a browser, go to http://www.obitalk.com. Create an account and then log in. Choose Add Device and follow the prompts to get your new device registered. If you want to use Google Voice, now is the time to set up your account. Choose Configure Voice Service Providers, choose your provider, and specify what phone port to use for the service. By default, both phone ports will work with whatever service provider you first configure. If you want to register your OBi202 as an extension on your Asterisk® server, now’s the time to do that as well. We also recommend you create an account with VoIP.ms and obtain a free INUM trunk. You can read how to set this up and why in this Nerd Vittles article. The advantage of having this trunk is that you can use it to route calls between your OBi202 and your Asterisk server at no cost. Just create and then register separate subaccounts on VoIP.ms for both your Asterisk server and your OBi202. Build a trunk and an inbound route on your Asterisk server to route calls from your INUM DID to wherever you’d like incoming INUM calls to go, e.g. an extension, a ring group, or an IVR. INUM DIDs look like this: 88351000XXXXXXX where the last seven digits are your personal number. Use SP4 on your OBi202 to set up your VoIP.ms subaccount. Be sure all of the accounts you create get properly registered.

Configuring Bluetooth on the OBi202. Setting up the Bluetooth functionality is straightforward. Plug in the OBiBT. Dial *28 from a phone connected to the OBi202. Within two minutes, open the Bluetooth network settings menu on your smartphone and pair it with the OBi202. If prompted for a passcode, it’s 0000. Refresh your OBi Dashboard, and click on Edit BT icon in the Voice Service Providers frame. Set the device up as shown above. Click the Submit button.

At this point, incoming calls on your cellphone will also ring on the POTS phones connected to your OBi202. And calls that you place using a phone connected to the OBi202 will be routed out through your cellphone. This may be sufficient for many of you. We wanted the added functionality of routing inbound calls to our PBX when there was no answer on the OBi202-connected phones. At least with AT&T and StraightTalk, two rings is about the most you can allow without risking a voicemail pickup through your cellphone provider. Here’s how to set it up.

From the OBi202 Device Configuration Menu, click on the blue OBi Expert Configuration button. Acknowledge that you know what you’re doing and then click on the blue Enter OBi Expert button. In the left column under Voice Service, click OBiBlueTooth. Edit the Calling Features section and make it look like what’s shown above, replacing xxxxxxx with your personal INUM DID assigned from VoIP.ms. Click the Submit button when you’re finished. Now incoming calls will ring twice on your OBi202-connected phones and then be transferred to the INUM DID configured in Asterisk.

You can check the status of your OBi202 at any time by launching OBi Expert and clicking System Status. Enjoy!

Originally published: Monday, February 4, 2013


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 Forum. It’s the best Asterisk tech support site in the business, and it’s all free! Unlike some forums, ours is extremely friendly and is supported by literally hundreds of Asterisk gurus and thousands of users just like you.


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 new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
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…

Straight Talk: Keep AT&T Humming While Chopping Your Cellphone Bill in Half

It takes a lot to get us excited about a cellphone service deal these days. But, we’ve got two terrific deals to tell you about today, and both of them are thanks to WalMart. If you have an iPhone or Android smartphone or any other GSM phone plan with AT&T in the United States and you’re the lone wolf or only have a few phones on your plan, you don’t want to miss this opportunity. You can cut your monthly rate as much as 2/3 while remaining on the AT&T network. Here’s our recent Speed Test using an iPhone 4S with the $14.99 $4.99 StraightTalk SIM. Coupon code: SIMSAVE

To put it down where the goats can get it, let’s review the current AT&T subscription plan. With an iPhone on a 2-year plan, $70 a month buys you 450 anytime minutes and 2GB of data per month. Actually the 2GB data plan is no longer available so it’s $75 a month with 3GB. If you want text messaging and anticipate sending or receiving more than a couple text messages a day, then that’s another $20 a month. After taxes and fees, it comes in just under $100. If you actually talk a lot on your phone, then add $30 more for unlimited calling in the U.S. only. That brings you to $135 a month after taxes and fees.

Would you believe you can get the exact same service on the exact same AT&T network for $45 a month by switching to Straight Talk? Did we mention there’s no long-term contract? Does your phone have to be unlocked from AT&T? No. Does your iPhone have to be rooted? No, unless you want to receive multimedia messages. But that’s a 2-minute drill thanks to Absinthe. Rooting an iPhone also gets you FaceTime using 3G. If you like the assurance of a long-term plan, you can prepay for a year’s service for $495. Want to add unlimited international calling to many (not all) countries, just pay another $15 a month (includes Mexico wireless). To get started, purchase a StraightTalk SIM and AirTime Bundle.

We hear you. So what’s the catch? Well, if Fox News is your idea of Fair and Balanced™, then you’ll feel right at home with StraightTalk. But, if reading Terms of Service is your thing (we happen to enjoy it), then Straight Talk is anything but straight in describing their offering as “Unlimited.” Of course, if you’ve ever read AT&T’s terms of service, you’d come away in a cold sweat as well. The bottom line is Straight Talk doesn’t want you using their plan for streaming music and videos to your phone all day. And they don’t want you tethering your PC to your phone and using it as your primary Internet connection. Can you do any of these things once in a while? According to the message threads, probably so. Most users report no problems so long as your monthly data usage is under 2GB and daily consumption does not exceed 100MB. Is it a good idea? Probably not, especially if you purchased an annual subscription and Straight Talk has an absolute right to drop you like a hot potato. The bottom line is this. If your primary use of your smartphone is to make phone calls, send text messages, read your email, and look up stuff on the Internet, then this plan has no equal. And you will save a pile of money while continuing to enjoy AT&T’s network as if you never left. In fact, you haven’t. If you happen to have AT&T’s 3G MicroCell to improve calling in your home or office, then Straight Talk works with that, too. It will display as “ROAM” on your cellphone. Just remember that dropping all of your AT&T cellphones will also result in your MicroCell being disabled as well. The one thing we haven’t quite gotten used to is getting better performance with StraightTalk using AT&T’s cell towers than we do through a MicroCell connection with 20GB Comcast Business Class Internet sitting behind it. Go figure.

Early Termination. The question arises whether it makes sense to cancel your existing AT&T Plan and switch to Straight Talk now. AT&T’s current policy goes like this. The Early Termination Fee is $325 minus $10 for every full month you’ve been on your plan. If you’re on the Full Enchilada Plan™ (unlimited talk, unlimited messaging, and 2GB or more of data per month), then you’re spending $130 a month versus $41.25 for the StraightTalk annual plan. So it’s costing you $88.75 for every month you delay switching. As you can see, you make up more than the Early Termination Fee in less than 4 months even if you just signed on with AT&T this week. For those that have been with AT&T at least 15 months, your time to break even on the $175 early termination fee is less than 2 months! So, unless you’re within a couple months of fulfilling your 2-year commitment on the Full Enchilada Plan, you’ll save money by ditching AT&T.

You can run your actual numbers using your AT&T phone bill. Subtract $41.25 from your current phone bill. The result is your Monthly Savings, i.e. how much you’ll save each month with StraightTalk. Next, calculate how many months you’ve been on your current AT&T Plan. Multiple that number by 10 and subtract the result from $325. That’s your actual Early Termination Fee. Finally, divide your Early Termination Fee by your Monthly Savings, and that will tell you how many months it’ll take you to start saving money by switching to StraightTalk.

Best of Both Worlds. So how do we do it? Simple. We keep one phone on an AT&T Plan with minimal features so that we can buy discounted cell phones as they are released and keep our MicroCell humming along in our office. Remember, it works with AT&T and StraightTalk cellphones as long as it is activated. For the phone plan that we actually use to do Real Work™, it’s StraightTalk all the way. Even with two phones and two separate phone plans, it’s still cheaper than an unlimited plan for one phone with AT&T. And the service is identical.

The T-Mobile Stealth Plan. We told you we had two specials to tell you about, and this next deal is equally amazing especially for kids and those that don’t talk on the phone very much. Through Wal*Mart, T-Mobile offers a pay-as-you-go plan with 100 voice minutes, unlimited texting, and unlimited data (5GB at 4G speed and 2G speed thereafter) for $30 a month. Extra voice minutes are 10¢. It’s not only an amazing deal, but the fine print doesn’t seem to preclude tethering. You can use it with any T-Mobile phone including all of Google’s Android phones. For tethering support, any rootable Android phone works as well as the unmodified $349 Galaxy Nexus purchased directly from Google. The Galaxy Nexus gives you 4G performance as well. If you don’t care about tethering but want 4G performance, then take a look at the $189 Samsung T679 available at WalMart. Beware: Most AT&T GSM phones will also work, but you’ll only get 2G data performance because of the different radio frequencies used by AT&T and T-Mobile for 3G and 4G service.

If you have T-Mobile coverage in your area or if you spend a lot of time on the interstates and want network coverage for your laptops while you’re on the move, this is the plan for you. We call it the Stealth Plan because neither WalMart nor T-Mobile says much about it. It’s only available when you first sign up for service with your newly purchased T-Mobile SIM. Despite lots of chatter to the contrary, this plan is available (but unadvertised) by purchasing a 99¢ SIM directly from T-Mobile. Trust us. You’re only risking a buck. But, beware, if you ever switch to a different plan (or if you sign up for the wrong $30 plan originally… T-Mobile and WalMart both push a lousy plan that includes 1500 talk minutes with 30MB of data for the same $30), you can never go back to the good plan without purchasing another T-Mobile SIM. To activate your T-Mobile SIM once you have your T-Mobile phone in hand, go here. Remember. Make your initial selection carefully. To buy $30 refills, here’s the link. Enjoy!

Originally published: Wednesday, July 18, 2012



Astricon 2012. Astricon 2012 will be in Atlanta at the Sheraton beginning October 23 through October 25. We hope to see many of you there. We called Atlanta home for over 25 years so we’d love to show you around. Be sure to tug on my sleeve and mention you’d like a free PIAF Thumb Drive. We’ll have a bunch of them to pass out to our loyal supporters. Nerd Vittles readers also can save 20% on your registration by using coupon code: AC12VIT.




Need help with Asterisk? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.
Or Try the New, Free PBX in a Flash Conference Bridge.


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


 
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 Bluetooth Revolution: Watch What We Can Do

If ever there’s been a sleeping technology giant still worth watching, it’s got to be Bluetooth. Originally developed by Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications company, Bluetooth is a proprietary wireless technology for exchanging data over short distances using fixed and mobile devices. If you use it at all, it’s probably to answer phone calls and play music in your car using your smartphone or to walk around looking like a lunatic talking to yourself because you have a Bluetooth headset for your cellphone hanging out of your ear. Or you may be using our Bluetooth Proximity Detection utility to automatically forward calls from your PBX in a Flash server to your cellphone when you leave the office. Well, that’s so last week!

What’s coming in tomorrow’s vehicles (unless the federal government gets too crazy) is literally a revolution in the way vehicles interact with your smartphone. Rather than buying all of your existing cellphone technology again in every car you own, Bluetooth will give you a dashboard with the rich feature set of your existing smartphone without another monthly cellphone bill. That’s right. All of the data will be delivered to your dashboard via Bluetooth using middleware that translates existing information on your cellphone to a display on your dash. And you’ll be able to control the flow and type of information using a touchscreen in your car or truck that bears an uncanny resemblance to the display on your iPad or Android Tablet. See why you might really need a quad-core processor on your next smartphone?


I’m sorry. Did we say in tomorrow’s vehicles? You actually can get it right now in the Prius V with Entune. Of course, Toyota would like to replace your cellphone carrier and charge you monthly fees for services you’re already paying for on your cellphone, but that will sort itself out shortly. Why? Because there are some new open source experiments underway using Android instead of our old friend Micro$oft.

Meet The Watch. Suppose you were a nerd and just graduated from college with nothing to do except beg for a job flipping burgers. But then you had this idea to create a Bluetooth-enabled watch that could display content from your cellphone while you were driving, or running, or swimming. Well, you’d probably turn to KickStarter and try to raise $100,000 so you could build your dream watch. That was six weeks ago. They raised nearly $1 million the first day. And, by the time the fund-raising campaign ends in mid-May, it looks like this project will have raised nearly 10 million dollars!

Nice Surprise. So now you have the background on coming attractions. But there’s more. There’s the company that inspired Steve Jobs doing what they once did better than anyone on the planet, quietly churning out incredible products while nobody was looking. Meet Sony and the SmartWatch.

If you want a glimpse at what tomorrow’s vehicles will look like, the Sony SmartWatch is the one to follow. It’s in living color. It’s feature-rich. And it just works! Released in the United States three short weeks ago, there already are nearly 50 available Android applications (mostly free) that you can display on your watch. Here’s a sampling to give you some idea of the scope. We loaded a dozen on our SmartWatch in minutes!

You actually manage and download apps for your SmartWatch using Sony’s LiveWare Manager which lives on your Android phone. And, yes, almost any Android phone will work although a higher end device with more memory is a definite plus. You won’t want just a couple of apps once you get started.

We, of course, took one look at this watch and decided it was a perfect platform on which to display network management information about your PBX in a Flash communications servers or any other server. Keep reading!

One of the terrific apps for the SmartPhone is called Traffic Cams which does just what you’d think. It displays live web cam images from traffic cameras using GPS technology to figure out which ones are closest to you. Very slick! As you can see, we have some stunning ones within a mile of our home. And if you depend upon bridges to get to where you need to go, you’ll soon learn how indispensable these traffic cams really are. The camera shown above actually faces due east. For a real treat, come visit Nerd Vittles at 6:30 a.m. EDT (this time of the year) and enjoy the sunrise. Stunning!

HINT: The image shows the local time if you are timezone-challenged. It is refreshed every 3-4 minutes during the day.

Update: Wondering why this bridge is so empty? Check our SmartWatch! Pays to use more than one traffic camera when you set this up.

A bonus from the app is the ability to display your own 200×200 images on the watch from any public web site. So we whipped together a quick-and-dirty script that extracts status information about your PBX in a Flash server and converts it with ImageMagick (Don’t Forget: yum install ImageMagick) into a couple of jpeg images. Using FTP, these images then can be uploaded to a public web server and displayed on the phone. If you like the code and want to see what else is possible using the SmartWatch, come follow our progress on the PBX in a Flash Forum. Enjoy your new watch! Here’s a short list showing where to get a great deal on one.

Originally published: Monday, April 30, 2012




Need help with Asterisk®? Visit the NEW 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 new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
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 discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

Ringbinder theme by Themocracy