We interrupt our Incredible PBX coverage this week to bring you a summer roundup of the best and worst VoIP softphones for use with an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch in conjunction with Asterisk®. We’ve tested all of these products with Asterisk sitting behind a NAT-based firewall/router which introduces some additional wrinkles unless your softphone and server are connected through a virtual private network. We’ll leave the VPN discussion for another day. None of these products has native support for the iPad although all will work with any iPad as will any standard iPhone app in either 1X or 2X mode.
three four products we’ll be evaluating are Acrobits SIP Softphone, the WiFone from Snizmo.com Ltd., the Media5-fone, and CounterPath’s just-released Bria softphone. All support SIP dialing, and the WiFone provides IAX connectivity as well. We were a bit surprised that, despite their reliance on SIP to connect calls, SIP URI support was minimal to non-existent in all but the Bria product. Before diving into the individual products, we should note that, in conjunction with our product evaluations, we received no compensation or discounted/free software from any source. We are a beta site for CounterPath’s next Bria release.
Acrobits Softphone. The Acrobits Softphone requires iPhone OS 3.0 or later and was recently updated on June 3, 2010. The softphone only supports SIP but works with both WiFi and 3G connections which makes it a perfect complement to current generation iPhones as well as the iPad-3G. The softphone also supports push notifications for inbound calls until multitasking is available with iOS 4.0. Multiple SIP accounts can be registered, and the softphone has SIP proxy, VPN, and STUN server support, a must with Asterisk sitting behind most NAT-based routers. G.711, GSM, and iLBC audio codecs are supported in the standard configuration, and we experienced excellent call quality using WiFi with no DTMF issues. As with all of these VoIP phones, 3G call quality was all over the map depending upon the reliability of your nearest cell tower. SIP URI’s can be called by cutting-and-pasting dial strings from entries in the Contacts list email address fields provided the SIP URI destination name is numeric. Quirky but it works. There’s also a speed dial feature for your 12 favorite contacts. Flexible dial strings are supported to smooth the path for international calling. With iOS 3.1, a bluetooth headset can also be used. The application sells for $7.99 in the App Store, and G.729 support can be added for an additional $9.99. G.729 is a must-have if you’ll be using a 3G network for most of your VoIP calls.
While call quality is obviously subjective, the Acrobits Softphone was our personal favorite for daily use. We routinely use it on an iPad to check Asterisk voicemails and to make outbound calls through our home Asterisk server while traveling. Setup is as simple as entering the IP address or FQDN1 of your Asterisk server and an extension number and password to handle the calls. We added a public STUN server entry because of our NAT-based Asterisk setup.
Snizmo’s WiFone. A very close runner-up in voice quality was the WiFone from Snizmo.com Ltd. This softphone has the added advantage of supporting both SIP and IAX2 connections to Asterisk. If security and ease of use matter most to you, then you can’t go wrong with this softphone. IAX2 connections are much less vulnerable to attack from the Internet and are considerably easier to configure because of the elimination of thorny NAT issues. If we had found this softphone first, we probably would have looked no further. As you can see from the screenshot, this softphone supports multiple SIP and IAX connections and is easily set up using the configuration menu. For our European friends, it also supports SMS using a dozen different providers. Echo cancellation and STUN support are available, and G.711 and GSM codecs can be individually configured for SIP and IAX connections. An Outbound Proxy is also available as well as support for international dial strings and prefixes if you need it.
For SIP accounts, simply provide the server address, a username, and password. Authorization name, SIP port, and proxy server settings are optional. For IAX accounts, server address, username, and password are the only required entries. Each account can be toggled ON and OFF to meet your individual requirements. SMS Settings provides a listing of a dozen SMS providers. Simply add your username, password, and a CallerID and SMS just works. The contacts list also synchronizes with your Mac Address Book as well as MobileMe. The call quality of both SIP and IAX connections using WiFi was excellent. 3G support is not yet available. The web-based tutorial is excellent, and the application is available in the App Store for $6.99. An international version also is available.
We could not get the SIP URI functionality to work because the Contacts list phone numbers do not support SIP URI syntax, and there’s no way to manually enter or cut-and-paste a dial string from an email address in the Contacts list. While the polish of the application was not quite up to the Acrobits Softphone, the call quality was uniformly excellent with the SIP URI limitation that we’ve noted.
Media5-fone. Our final softphone in today’s roundup is Media5-fone from Media5 Corporation. It can be downloaded from the App Store for $4.99. While the application is exclusively a SIP phone, it does have preconfigured setups for dozens of providers in the event your requirements extend beyond the Asterisk universe. Unfortunately, there is no STUN support in the current version which makes it unsuitable for use with Asterisk implementations that sit behind NAT-based routers. Multiple SIP connections are supported as are second call, call waiting, and call toggle. In the current version, both SIP over WiFi and 3G are supported using iLBC, G.711, Enhanced G.711, G.722, and iSAC codecs. SIP Info, RFC 2833, and RTP Inband DTMF methods are configurable for each SIP account. Dialing prefixes are flexible and the phone has language support for English, Arabic, French, German, Italian and Spanish which facilitates international use. The phone also includes a nice implementation of visual voicemail; however, the SIP password and voicemail password would have to be the same to function properly with Asterisk. Automatic gain control and echo cancellation also are supported. With the addition of STUN and SIP URI support, Media5-fone would be a worthy competitor.
Update: CounterPath’s Bria. As luck would have it, CounterPath released their new Bria softphone for the iPhone today. It also is iPod Touch and iPad-compatible and supports both WiFi and 3G. The softphone is available at an introductory price of $3.99 in the App Store. It’s the best bargain in the softphone market. G.729 support can be added for an additional $8.99. G.722 wideband support reportedly is coming in August. You may recall CounterPath’s terrific and free X-Lite offerings for Windows, Macs, and Linux. They’ve been one of our favorite developers ever since, and we are actually serving as a beta tester for their next release. As usual, the Bria interface offers what is hands-down the best UI in the business. The voice quality of the calls is impeccable. Our only criticism is that out-of-the-box, Bria doesn’t work for placing outbound calls with Asterisk. Registration of credentials works fine, inbound calling works great, but outbound calls to either an extension, a phone number in the Address Book, or a SIP URI all just hang with no error message or notation in the log. Only after tracing down an obscure link on their web site did we discover the problem. It turns out that one simple change of a single default setting gets things working as they should. To make the change to support Asterisk, click Settings, Advanced Settings, Network Traversal Strategy, User Specified. Then change ICE:ON to ICE:OFF. Click the Advanced button, and then Apply Changes. Aside from this one default configuration glitch, the Bria softphone would be our Editor’s Choice. We highly recommend you make your purchase while the softphone still is available at the introductory price. For an excellent review, see Alec Saunder’s Blog today.
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