Category: Smartphones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Configuring Your Phone for RingPlus Service

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

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

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

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

Configuring a RingPlus SIP Trunk with Asterisk

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

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

Originally published: Monday, February 8, 2016





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


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


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published: Monday, January 18, 2016





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


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


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

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

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

Surfing the Internet Aboard Ship

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

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

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

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

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

Surfing the Internet from Your Car or Motorhome

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Originally published: Monday, December 28, 2015





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


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


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

The Voice Recognition Revolution: Move Over Siri and Meet the New Kids

The automobile manufacturers had the right idea years ago. Make it easy to change the temperature in your vehicle. Just say “cooler” or “warmer.” That project went about as well as their GPS interfaces are progressing today. So let’s give credit where credit is due. Apple’s Siri revolutionized voice recognition by making it something really useful on the smartphone. If you’ve wondered who Siri actually is, wonder no more. You’re in for a pleasant surprise. Meet Siri from Australia. And Siri U.S.A.:

Google, of course, is not one to be left behind. There was a reason they were offering to transcribe your voicemails for free all those years. They were putting in place the building blocks for a similar system on Android-based phones. Hey, Siri. Meet “OK, Google.” And the competition has transformed both products into incredibly useful additions to every smartphone.

Then the latest Silicon Valley Wannabe got into the picture. Let me introduce Alexa for your kitchen or living room masquerading as Amazon’s Echo, a fascinating new half-baked product. If the Echo weren’t so transfixed with selling you music and other stuff from Amazon, it could be a terrific product. Not to be outdone, Google wasted little time introducing their look-alike, OnHub, which makes half-baked look really useful. OnHub does absolutely nothing but serve as a home router with more antennas than the Mars Rover. And now both Apple and Google are circling back to the automobile promising to revolutionize the way in which you talk to or even drive your car. Stay tuned. It’s going to get interesting. And, on the living room front, you’re probably going to need to buy another round of hardware. Even though many building blocks were in place with OnHub, Google left out a microphone… unless they use the one on your smartphone or watch. 😉

So what does all of this have to do with Asterisk® and VoIP telephony? Well, nothing actually… until today. Most of the cool things you can do with your smartphone or sitting in your living room simply weren’t available using a Plain Old telephone. We decided to fix that.

For the tinkerers and experimenters of the world, Google has generously offered free access to their voice recognition software. And today we’ll show you how to put it to good use. In the time it takes to drink your morning coffee, you’ll have a platform on your PBX that’s every bit as capable as Siri. And it’s all free!

Meet Star! When we’re finished today, you’ll be able to pick up any telephone and dial * to obtain the latest weather, news, stock prices, sports scores, time of day, and anything else that an almanac at your fingertips provides. In addition, you’ll be able to call anyone by saying their name or phone number. Not bad for free, huh? Down the road, we’ll work on adding text messaging, email, and scheduling reminders. But today’s release should whet your appetite for what’s possible.

Putting in Place the Star Platform

We don’t own or control most of the components that actually make Star work! That means you’ll need to sign up (for free) for a couple key pieces before the puzzle actually takes shape. Here’s the three-step process.

First, install one of the Certified Incredible PBX builds on either a dedicated server, a virtual machine, or in the Cloud. This tutorial will walk you through the easiest 20-minute installation procedure.

Second, you’ll need to obtain and set up the credentials for two of the third-party components that will bring Star to life. You’ll need a Google Speech Recognition key and a Wolfram Alpha App-ID. Then add an AsteriDex entry to tell Star the zip code of your hometown, and you’re ready to go.

Third, you’ll spend less than a minute installing the Star software on your server.

1. Adding Speech Recognition Support to Incredible PBX

To support many of the Star features, we rely upon Google’s speech recognition service and Lefteris Zafiris’ terrific speech-recog AGI script. Unfortunately (for some), Google now has tightened up the terms of use for their free speech recognition service. Now you can only use it for “personal and development use.” If you meet those criteria, keep reading. Here’s how to activate speech recognition on Incredible PBX. Don’t skip any steps!

1. Using an existing Google/Gmail account to join the Chromium-Dev Group and Chromium-OS-Dev Group.

2. Using the same account, create a new Speech Recognition Project.

3. Click on your newly created project and choose APIs & auth.

4. Turn ON Speech API by clicking on its Status button in the far right margin.

5. Click on Credentials in APIs & auth and choose Create New Key -> Server key. Leave the IP address restriction blank!

6. Write down your new API key or copy it to the clipboard.

7. Log into your server as root and edit the speech recognition script:

nano -w /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/speech-recog.agi

8. When the nano editor opens, go to line 70 or so and look for: my $key = "". Insert your API key from Step #6 above between the quotation marks and save the file: Ctrl-X, Y, then Enter.

9. Finally, let’s be sure you have all the necessary packages in place to support text-to-speech and speech recognition:

yum -y install perl-XML-Simple libesd.so.0 sox perl-libwww-perl

If you’re not on the Incredible PBX platform: yum -y install mpg123

2. Adding Wolfram Alpha Support to Incredible PBX

To use Wolfram Alpha by phone, you first must obtain a free Wolfram Alpha APP-ID. Then issue the following command replacing APP-ID with your actual ID. Do NOT change the yourID portion of the command:

sed -i "s|yourID|APP-ID|" /var/lib/asterisk/agi-bin/4747

3. Adding Your Hometown ZIP Code to AsteriDex

1. Using a browser, visit the IP address of your server.

2. Click on the Nerd Vittles AsteriDex button in the Kennonsoft GUI.

3. Click on the Admin tab in AsteriDex.

4. In the Add Entry column, enter the following data using your hometown ZIP code:

Contact Name: Weather
Contact Phone: 947
Dial Code: your local 5-digit ZIP code

5. Click the Add New Record button to save your entry.

Installing or Upgrading Star

We’ve designed the Star install so that you also can easily update the application by simply running the install-star command again. After logging into your server as root, here are the commands to install or upgrade your Star application:

cd /root
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/install-star.tar.gz
tar zxvf install-star.tar.gz
rm -f install-star.tar.gz
./install-star

10/10 UPDATE: Star apparently was too popular for Google to absorb, and they’ve imposed new limits on TTS playback. So, for the time being, we’ve switched Star back to FLITE for text-to-speech. To update your server, just run the installer again: /root/install-star

Taking Star for a Spin

Here’s a quick summary of the available commands that Star currently supports:

And here are some sample Wolfram Alpha queries to get you started:

Weather in Charleston South Carolina
Weather forecast for Washington D.C.
Next solar eclipse
Otis Redding
Define politician
Who won the 1969 Superbowl? (Broadway Joe)
What planes are overhead? (flying over your server’s location)
Ham and cheese sandwich (nutritional information)
Holidays 2015 (summary of all holidays for 2015 with dates and DOW)
Medical University of South Carolina (history of MUSC)
Star Trek (show history, air dates, number of episodes, and more)
Apollo 11 (everything you ever wanted to know)
Cheapest Toaster (brand and price)
Battle of Gettysburg (sad day :-) )
Daylight Savings Time 2015 (date ranges and how to set your clocks)
Tablets by Samsung (pricing, models, and specs)
Doughnut (you don’t wanna know)
Snickers bar (ditto)
Weather (local weather at your server’s location)

For late-breaking updates and news about the Star platform, visit this thread on the PIAF Forum. Enjoy!

Originally published: Tuesday, October 6, 2015



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


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


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

A Firsthand Look at Disaster Recovery: Tethering and IAX with Asterisk

One of the exciting challenges of building a swimming pool is knowing that it’s just a matter of time until your Internet connection dies. As you might imagine, swimming pools are major construction and involve a lot of digging. And digging usually means some oops moments when cables get cut. In our case, we had watched the folks digging the trenches for all of the pool plumbing to be sure they didn’t accidentally whack one of three coax cables coming into our house. And, when it came time to cover up the trenches, we pointed out the orange cables to the Bobcat driver knowing we were finally home free. Not so fast! Two minutes later, Mario had driven the Bobcat right over the primary Internet cable leaving the shredded remains sticking up through the dirt. Oops. Sorry. Shit happens!

Looking on the positive side, we chuckled, “What a perfect opportunity to test our backup Asterisk® system!” Our backup system is pretty clever if we do say so. It relies upon a Verizon WiFi HotSpot running on our Galaxy smartphone and a duplicate of our Asterisk-based PBX in a Flash™ server running as a virtual machine under VirtualBox on an iMac desktop. The entire setup takes less than a minute to activate. Well, that was the plan anyway.

It turns out that Verizon does SIP a little differently with a SIP ALG in the path so Asterisk couldn’t register with all but one of our dozen SIP providers. Congratulations, CallCentric! The workaround is to enable STUN. That is now possible with Asterisk 11. Short of that, you’re left with CallCentric. Unfortunately for us, we don’t do much SIP trunking with CallCentric, and none of our primary DIDs are connected through them. The other option is to add port=5080 to your trunk setup with any SIP trunks you register with VoIP.ms using a username and password. Our attention span was too short to tackle STUN in the middle of this crisis. But there’s good news. Verizon doesn’t mess with IAX network traffic at all. Since a couple of our primary DIDs are registered with VoIP.ms using IAX trunks, restoring these IAX trunks to full functionality took less than a minute. That is step one of a three-step process. You need inbound trunks, phones, and outbound trunks to get your redundant VoIP server back in business.

Getting phones to function on what is now a purely WiFi network (through the Verizon HotSpot) can be problematic unless you’ve done your homework and sprinkled a few WiFi-capable SIP phones around your home or office. In our case, we still have Grandstream’s GXP2200 Android phones scattered everywhere so it was just a matter of plugging in the WiFI adapters and rebooting. The newer GXV3240 would work just as well.1

All that remained was enabling several trunks for outbound calls. Since VoIP.ms IAX trunks support both incoming and outgoing calls, we were home free. And, with Google Voice trunks, it was simply a matter of jumping through Google’s security hoops to reenable the connections on a new IP address.

Lessons Learned. Here’s a quick checklist for those of you that think about disaster recovery for your home or for clients and businesses. Nothing beats some advance planning. If money is no object, then WiFi tethering from a smartphone with one of the major providers whose service works well in your home or office environment is the way to go. 4G is a must!

In our case, money was an object so we had the foresight to acquire a Verizon SIM card from eBay that included an unlimited data plan. With this setup, it costs only $1 a day extra to add WiFi tethering, and you can turn it off and on as often as you like without any additional fees or surcharges. There also are no additional charges for using boatloads of data! We’re actually writing this column with a tethered connection from a hotel in Washington (results above). To give you some idea of why an unlimited data plan is important, our home operation burned through 4 gigs of data in less than 24 hours once we activated WiFi tethering. Of course, there were people doing things other than making phones calls, but tethering enables 5 connections to function just about like the cable modem service you originally had in place. So expect the data usage to be substantial. Everybody likes 24/7 Internet service.

Loss of phone calls through a PBX is more of an annoyance than a crisis these days because almost everyone also has a smartphone. Even so, the SIP gotcha with Verizon Wireless was a surprise because we hadn’t really tested our super-duper emergency system in advance. That wasn’t too smart obviously. The old adage applies. Do as we say, not as we do. Unplug your cable modem or DSL connection and actually test your backup system before D-Day arrives.

On the VoIP provider end, now is the time to set up an account with a provider that offers both SIP and IAX connectivity. Step 2 is to actually configure an IAX trunk (as a subaccount to use VoIP.ms parlance) and test it. IAX trunks actually have fewer headaches with NAT, but there are only a handful of providers that still provide the service. Find one now and make certain that your primary DIDs will roll over to the IAX trunk in case of an outage. I’m always reminded that we have Mark Spencer to thank for IAX. It was his brainchild. Thank you, Mark! With VoIP.ms, you also can spoof your CallerID so that calls will still appear to originate from your primary Asterisk PBX.

Keep in mind that a VirtualBox-based Asterisk virtual machine and a Desktop computer both need an IP address and will have to be started on WLAN0 rather than ETH0. Remember, your wired connection is now dead.

You’re also going to want to acquire at least a couple of WiFi-capable SIP phones that can be connected with your Asterisk server using your WiFi HotSpot. Also make certain that you have a preconfigured IPtables firewall on your backup system. Remember, your hardware-based firewall connected to your cable modem won’t provide any protection once you switch to HotSpot operation. Lucky for you, Incredible PBX™ servers come preconfigured with a locked-down IPtables firewall and a WhiteList. Just add the new IP addresses of your server and phones, and you’re secure on the public Internet.

Finally, let’s do the HotSpot connection math. You’ll need an IP address for your desktop computer running VirtualBox. You’ll need a second IP address for the Asterisk virtual machine. Then you’ll need an IP address for every WiFi-enabled SIP phone. If the maximum number of connections is five on your HotSpot, that means you’ve got the necessary capacity for at most 3 WiFi SIP phones assuming you don’t enable a WiFi printer and if nobody else wants to use a computer during the outage. The other option is to add an inexpensive travel router with bridge mode to your mix of 5 devices. We always keep one handy for extended trips. A properly configured travel router provides an additional WiFi network with some extra WiFi connections. Good luck!



Security Alerts. Serious SSL and FreePBX security vulnerabilities have been discovered AND patched during the past week. If you have not patched your server and Asterisk, FreePBX, Apache, and/or WebMin are exposed to the public Internet, you have a serious problem on your hands. See this thread for details on the FreePBX vulnerability. And see this thread for the steps necessary to patch SSL in Asterisk, Apache, and Webmin. While Incredible PBX servers were automatically patched for the FreePBX vulnerability, the SSL issues require manual patching and an Asterisk upgrade. A script for upgrading Asterisk 11 servers is included in the message thread linked above. ALWAYS run your VoIP server behind a firewall with no Internet port exposure to Asterisk, FreePBX, SSH, or the Apache and Webmin web servers! And, if you think all of this security stuff is just a silly waste of your time, then read about the latest lucky recipient of a $166,000 phone bill.

Originally published: Monday, October 20, 2014



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


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


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

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

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. 😉

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.


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


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

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