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!
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!
— Ward Mundy (@NerdUno) February 9, 2016
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.
Official RingPlus WARNING: Starting April 17, 2016, per our carrier partner Sprint, Members and potential Members will no longer be able to activate prepaid devices which are not eligible under Sprint’s FED policies [Requires activation of prepaid phone on original Sprint MVNO network for at least one year!]. Such prepaid devices will no longer pass FED until actual eligibility date is met.
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. Many Sprint post-paid phones also work, such as the new iPhone SE (Sprint Model) from any Apple Store.
If store employees will let you, find the Sprint postpaid 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! Make certain there is a return policy in case things don’t work out as expected!
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 a 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 out at least once every 60 days to keep your account active. The simple way to do this is to set up a monthly reminder using your RingPlus trunk. Schedule the reminder to call out once every month using Telephone Reminders in Incredible PBX.
RingPlus Gotcha Checklist
Free service wouldn’t be free without a few land mines. So here’s a checklist to keep things running smoothly without any problems down the road. First, link your account to one of the social media options (Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn) when you sign up for service. You’ll find the link on your Dashboard under the Your Social Networks icon. Second, make at least one outbound call a month on every line you activate. As noted, this can be accomplished automatically using the Telephone Reminders application in Incredible PBX. Third, keep a valid credit card on file in your account at all times. Fourth, keep a positive balance in your account for each phone that you activate to avoid automatic replenishment at the original rate when you signed up for your plan. Fifth, be mindful of the Domino Effect. With some plans, if you allow a related plan to end (for example, Queen of Hearts when you also have an Ace of Hearts plan), then your better plan will be demoted in its feature set. Enjoy the Free Ride!
Originally published: Monday, February 8, 2016
— Ward Mundy (@NerdUno) April 22, 2016
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Special Thanks to Our Generous Sponsors
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3CX is a software PBX that’s easy to install & manage. It includes integrated softphones, WebRTC conferencing and essential add-ons out of the box, at no additional cost. Try the free edition at www.3cx.com. Better yet, download the PIAF5 ISO powered by 3CX. Free version includes support for 8 simultaneous calls with a SIP trunk.
Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…
- Be advised that future upgrades of these “free” plans may go away after February 15 unless you join the Member+ program, the cost of which changes almost weekly. This will not affect those that already are participating in the program according to RingPlus. [↩]
- 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! [↩]