Posts tagged: Cellular

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

2/9/2016 Update: You may wish to put off signing up until 3:00 PM Eastern time today (Tuesday, Feb. 9) so you can take advantage of the new Giuseppe Farina monthly plan with 1,200 free minutes, 1,200 free text messages, and 1.2GB of free data per month with a $20 deposit. Also provides tethering for an additional $0.49 per day.

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…

Santa’s Technology Roundup: The Best Products of 2014 with Some Surprises

Once a year we like to pause and take a look back at 10 technology products that really grabbed our attention. 2014 will be remembered as a spectacular year. So here’s what made the Nerd Vittles short list for 2014…

Smartphone of the Year: It’s a 5-Way Tie

And the winners in no particular order… Galaxy Note 4, iPhone 6+, LG G3, HTC One M8, and Moto X.1 So which should you choose if you can only have one? Visit AndroidHeadlines.com for a detailed feature comparison. You can’t go wrong with any of them. In our family, there’s one of almost all of them.

Desktop Computer of the Year: Apple’s 27‑inch iMac with Retina 5K display

If you work with a computer for a living, there is no competition. It scales to any feature set you may need. Run, don’t walk, to your nearest Apple Store and get in line. We waited two months for ours!

Portable Computer of the Year: Apple’s MacBook Air with Retina Display

Hah. Just kidding. It would have been the hands-down favorite in 2014 except for one minor detail. It hasn’t been released… yet. If you absolutely have to have a retina display-quality notebook, then you’ll have to settle for the slightly thicker Macbook Pro this Christmas. For us, we’re waiting for 2015 and what will surely be the MacBook Air with Retina Display.

Tablet of the Year: iPad Air 2

If you’re starting to think we’re charter members of the Apple FanBoy Club, then you haven’t been following Nerd Vittles for very long. We can be one of their harshest critics. But the bottom line is that Apple products are compelling because of their tight integration to Apple’s closed society. If you’re a member of that club, then you’ll want the iPad Air 2 to add to your collection. It’s a terrific tablet at a compelling price.

Multimedia Device of the Year: Roku 3

If you’re into Netflix and Amazon Prime and movies, nobody needs to tell you that the streaming device hardware market is a crowded place. The Roku 3 isn’t the cheapest device in the market, but it’s still the one we always drop into our suitcase when we hit the road. It’s simple to configure and supports WiFi almost anywhere. It just works!

VoIP Product of the Year: Vitelity’s vMobile

It’s taken a few starts and stops to get the kinks out, but Vitelity’s vMobile smartphone is a truly revolutionary offering. It provides seamless integration of the smartphone into your PBX infrastructure. The phone becomes “just another extension” on your PBX except the device is 100% mobile which means it works with WiFi or it works anywhere Sprint has a tower. For any organization with staff that travels, this is a must-have device. Anything you can do with a traditional PBX extension, you can do with your smartphone using the vMobile technology. It’s the hands-down winner as VoIP Product of the Year. Use our special signup link and help support the Nerd Vittles, PBX in a Flash, and Incredible PBX projects.

VoIP SOHO Hardware of the Year: CuBox-i

We’ve tested lots of small footprint hardware in search of the perfect VOIP platform for the home or SOHO office. The search is over. The hands-down winner is the CuBox-i. It’s tiny, powerful, quiet, and has every feature you could possibly want in a VoIP server. Read our full review here. They’re 25% at NewEgg if you hurry.

VoIP Deal of the Year: $15 Pogoplug with Incredible PBX

If there’s one thing all of us have in common, it’s a burning desire to find the best bargain on the planet. In the VoIP marketplace, look no further than here. Repurposing a PogoPlug for less than $20 (and some of them went for $5), is the perfect way to learn about VoIP without breaking the bank. Our tutorial on the VoIP Deal of the Year will tell you everything you need to know to get started.

Must-Have Product of the Year: Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo is still an invitation-only device, but you need to get in line NOW. During the introduction, Amazon is selling them for $99. Or you can get one on eBay for about triple that amount. It’s money well spent. Think of it as a desktop version of Siri. But it’s so much more. With Amazon Prime and Prime Music accounts plus a free iHeartRadio account, you get access to a collection of over a million songs just by saying the name of the artist or song or playlist or radio station of interest. You also can upload 250 of your own songs not purchased through Amazon Music at no charge. Or, for $25 a year, you can upload up to 250,000 tracks much like iTunes Match. The sound quality of the device is nothing short of spectacular. My teenage daughter and I spent over two hours playing with it the first night it arrived. And the excitement hasn’t waned. It’s the go-to device for all of our visitors to explore new and old music. And, yes, Amazon Echo knows the weather, the time, and just about anything else you care to ask about. You’ll have it in your living room in no time. Not only will it speak the results while playing your favorite song, it’ll send the results and to-do list to your smartphone.

2014: Cloud Computing Reinvented

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a gradual migration of server platforms to the cloud thanks in large part to ever falling prices on the Amazon EC2 platform. But 2014 saw some new cloud strategies. First came the pay-once-use-it-forever platform of CloudAtCost.com. Wait for the next sale and save half on almost any of their server platforms. If you follow us on Twitter, we’ll let you know when it happens. We’ve had several servers for almost a year with no hiccups. In fact, we now keep backup images of the Nerd Vittles, PBX in a Flash, and Incredible PBX web sites running 24/7 on these Canadian servers. Check out the performance for yourself.

Then there was Digital Ocean with its pay-by-the-hour pricing coupled with the ability to create virtual machines for almost any platform in under a minute. It truly is a developer’s dream come true. Frankly, it’s our platform of choice for development of all the great software you read about here. Use our signup link and get a $10 credit to try things out. The beauty of the technology is you can create a server with 512MB of RAM and a 20GB drive, work for a half a day, take a snapshot of your project, and then delete the server until you feel like working again. Total cost for use of the platform and storage of your snapshot: about 2¢.

With any great new technology, of course, competition is not far behind. Meet Vultr, the Digital Ocean knock-off promising more memory, more server locations, and more features for less money. Is Vultr really better? We’ll let you know after we’ve had more time to play. Our first look uncovered a few wrinkles. First, you had to request enabling of port 25 for outbound SMTP mail support. Not a big deal if it were documented that you had to request it, but it isn’t mentioned anywhere on the site. Second, virtual machines take a bit longer to create and much longer to become fully functional on Vultr. We got spoiled by the one-minute spin up at Digital Ocean. But, the good news is a penny-an-hour server gets you a gig of RAM, 20 gigs of storage, and 2 terabytes of data transfer a month for $7. And it is fast! So stay tuned for a full review and…

Merry Christmas!

Originally published: Monday, December 22, 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 purchase links refer users to Amazon and other sites when we find their prices are competitive for the recommended products. Nerd Vittles receives a small referral fee from merchants 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 Amazon and other merchants because they support us. []

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

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

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

Read and weep, ADT!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally published: Monday, July 14, 2014


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



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


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

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




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


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

It’s Fixed-Mobile Convergence, Stupid!

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


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

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



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

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

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


vMobile Pricing

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

vMobile Gotchas

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

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

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

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




vMobile Configuration at Vitelity

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




vMobile Configuration for Asterisk and PBX in a Flash

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

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

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

Vitelity vMobile Special for Nerd Vittles Readers

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

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

Originally published: Thursday, May 15, 2014





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


 
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. RentPBX also is a corporate sponsor of the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects. []