Posts tagged: vitelity

VoIP Hardware Deal of the Year: Meet the $20 Pogoplug 4 with Incredible PBX

This week’s project is not for mere mortals. It’s for techies that also happen to be cheapskates frugal. You may recall the Pogoplug from yesteryear. Well, the Pogoplug 4 still is around and can be yours for under $20 with free 2-day shipping if you’re an Amazon Prime member. But the clock is ticking on these bad boys. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.1

UPDATE: There’s more good news. Now the cost with the Pogoplug Backup & Sharing model is just $10.95! For our purposes, the main difference is one less USB port, but it still has one which is all you need for wireless networking.

So we took the dare and decided to see whether the Pogoplug 4 could actually run Asterisk 11® and FreePBX® 2.11 and Incredible PBX™. And guess what? It may not be pretty, but it works. If you happen to have a Google Voice number and a kid away at school or a grandma in a distant city with an Internet connection or if you have a vacation home or rental property that needs phone service (but not often), then this $20 project may be for you. Configure the device, add a cheap SIP phone, and presto! You’ve got free calling in the U.S. and Canada with your very own phone number for as long as you have Internet service and Google chooses to keep paying your phone bill. :wink:

Don’t take our word for it. Call our Pogoplug for a quick IVR demo compliments of Allison:

  1. Call by Name (just say “American Airlines” to try it out)
  2. Conference Call (enter 1234# to join the conference)
  3. Wolfram Alpha (try this: “What planes are overhead?”)
  4. Lenny (the Telemarketers’ Worst Nightmare)
  5. Yahoo News Headlines
  6. Weather Forecasts (say a city and state or country)
  7. Today in History
  8. Ring the House Phones (sends you back to Lenny)

Our tip of the hat this week goes to Qui Hong without whom none of this would have been possible. His tutorial on transforming the Pogoplug 4 into a Debian server is a true masterpiece. And his blog is where we begin our adventure once you have the correct Pogoplug 4 in hand: POGO-V4-A3-01. Our link has the correct one, but double-check the Model Number just to be sure.

Converting the Pogoplug 4 into a Debian Platform

Once you have your Pogoplug, you’ll need to scurry over to Qui Hong’s blog and carefully work through his tutorial to convert your Pogoplug into a Debian server. As we’ve said many times before, if you can follow a cookie recipe and end up with edible cookies, then you can do this. Just be very careful of typos. One bad keystroke can turn your Pogoplug into a burnt cookie. Then it becomes a $40 project. :-)

Installing Incredible PBX 11.12.0 on the Pogoplug 4

Once your Pogoplug has been Debianized, there are five simple steps to get Incredible PBX up and running on your Pogoplug 4:

  1. Purchase a storage device
  2. Download Incredible PBX image
  3. Untar the image on your desktop
  4. Burn the image to an SD card
  5. Insert the SD card in the Pogoplug and boot

Choosing a Storage Platform. The first step is to purchase a suitable SD card. We recommend at least a 16GB Class 10 card from Transcend, SanDisk, or Kingston. All of them are about $10 on Amazon and many include free 2-day shipping for Prime customers.

Downloading Incredible PBX for Pogoplug. From your favorite desktop computer, download the latest build of Incredible PBX from SourceForge. Depending upon your network connection and the SourceForge mirror, it can take awhile. It’s a whopping 1.5GB image!

Untarring Incredible PBX for Pogoplug. Depending upon your desktop platform, untarring incrediblepbx.4.pogoplug.D7.latest.tar.gz is as simple as double-clicking on it in the Downloads folder (on a Mac). On the Windows platform, here are 3 utilities that will do the job. On a Linux desktop, open a Terminal window and…

tar zxvf incrediblepbx.4.pogoplug.D7.latest.tar.gz

Burning the Incredible PBX image to SD card. Once you’ve untarred the file, you’ll find two scripts that make burning the image to an SD card simple if you’re on a Mac or Linux desktop. On a Windows machine, it’s a little more complicated. Most SD cards come preformatted with a DOS partition so your Windows machine should recognize the SD card when it’s inserted. If not, format the card using a utility such as SD Card Formatter. Next, you’ll need Win32 Disk Imager to burn pogoplug.img to your card. Once the image has been transferred, gracefully unmount the card from your desktop.

Booting Incredible PBX on the Pogoplug. Insert the SD card (electronics side down) into your Pogoplug 4. Then apply power to the device after connecting an Ethernet cable to a network with Internet connectivity that can also hand out DHCP addresses. Visit your router to decipher the IP address assigned to the Pogoplug and reserve the IP address so that it doesn’t suddenly change down the road. Log into Incredible PBX as root with pogoplug as your password. Your SSH credentials, Asterisk DUNDI secrets, logs, and network connection options will be initialized. When prompted, press Enter to reboot your server. With some SD cards, you may find yourself waiting an eternity for the promised reboot. After seeing the “rebooting” message, count to ten. If your server still hasn’t rebooted, remove and reapply power. This quirk goes away after the first reboot.

After the reboot, log in again as root with password: pogoplug. Your firewall setup will be initialized to lock down your whitelist to your server’s public and private IP addresses AND the IP address of the machine from which you’re logging in. All of your FreePBX passwords will be randomized as well. The whole process only takes a few seconds.

When the second pass configuration is complete, you will be greeted by a welcoming message. STOP and read it. It has loads of important information about your server’s configuration and your next steps. Press ENTER to review status:

The Next 10 Steps. Before you do anything else, complete the following steps. It only takes a minute to secure and properly configure your server:

  1. Change your root password: passwd
  2. Change your FreePBX admin password: /root/admin-pw-change
  3. Set your correct time zone: /root/timezone-setup
  4. Expand partition to match SD card size: /root/resize-partition
  5. Add any desired IP addresses to WhiteList: /root/add-ip
  6. Decipher the randomized password for extension 701. It’s in the data field:
    mysql -uroot -ppassw0rd -e "select * from asterisk.sip where id=701 and keyword='secret'"
    
  7. Decipher the randomized voicemail password for extension 701. It’s the first entry:
    cat /etc/asterisk/voicemail.conf | grep 701 | cut -f 3 -d " "
    
  8. Enable Windows Networking, if desired: /root/samba-enable.sh
  9. Configure PPTP Network, if desired: cat /root/pptp-faq
  10. Check status to be sure everything is working: status

A Few Important Tips. Every operating system and service provider has their quirks. Ask Bill Gates! Debian and especially Comcast are no different. Fortunately, with Debian, it’s a very short list.

1. Use the following commands (only!) to shutdown and restart your server: halt and reboot. These commands are reworked in Incredible PBX to gracefully shutdown important services so that files don’t get damaged. Please use them!

2. If you ever want to move your server to a different network, complete these steps before you leave your existing network. First, using add-ip or add-fqdn, add the new WhiteList addresses for your new location using Option 0 (all privileges). Otherwise, you won’t be able to access your server once you move. Then issue the commands below. This will trigger a new Phase I update (outlined above) on the default network (eth0) using DHCP the next time you boot your Pogoplug.

touch /etc/update_hostconfig
halt

3. You really do need email connectivity to get the most out of Incredible PBX. It’s the way you receive important notifications from FreePBX, and it’s also how voicemail messages are delivered. From the Linux CLI, test your server to be sure you can send emails reliably:

echo "test" | mail -s testmessage yourname@gmail.com

After checking your spam folder, if you really didn’t get the email, it may be that your service provider is blocking downstream SMTP traffic. You can use your provider’s SMTP server as a smarthost to send out mail with Exim4. Just run the following program to reconfigure the Exim mail server: dpkg-reconfigure exim4-config. Choose the SmartHost option and enter your provider’s SMTP address, e.g. smtp.comcast.net or smtp.knology.net. Exim will restart.

4. If you’d like to activate ODBC support for Asterisk including our ODBC sample applications including Speed Dial, here are the steps. Log into your server as root and issue the following commands:

cd /root
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/odbc-pogoplug.tar.gz
tar zxvf odbc-pogoplug.tar.gz
rm odbc-pogoplug.tar.gz
./mysql-sample
./mysql-odbc
./odbc-gen.sh

Now you can try things out by dialing 222 from a phone connected to your server. When prompted for the employee number, enter 12345. Or dial 223 and, when prompted for the AsteriDex Dial Code, enter 263 (the first 3 letters of the American Airlines entry).

5. Want a list of your completed calls without using FreePBX? It’s easy:

mysql -uroot -ppassw0rd -e "SELECT SUBSTRING(calldate,6,11) AS calldate,clid,src,dst,duration from asteriskcdrdb.cdr WHERE disposition='ANSWERED' ORDER BY calldate DESC"

6. There may be situations in which it is desirable to use wireless networking instead of a wired connection with your Pogoplug. For under $10, you now can add WiFi. Here’s our post on the PIAF Forum to show you how.

Managing FreePBX with Incredible Backup and Restore

Unlike other releases of Incredible PBX, the backup and restore tools can be helpful on the Pogoplug platform. Even though Asterisk runs smoothly, calls sound great, and performance is pretty amazing, the FreePBX GUI is usable but a bit sluggish on the Pogoplug platform. If the performance bothers you, there’s a workaround. Create an Incredible Backup image of your Pogoplug, restore that image on a more normal Ubuntu 14 platform with ample RAM, and then make your FreePBX changes there using the FreePBX GUI. When you’re finished, make a backup of the changes, and then restore that backup to your Pogoplug. It sounds more complicated than it actually is. In essence, you’ll be transforming FreePBX into an Asterisk code generator. In fact, once a backup is restored, you can shut down your web server, and almost everything will still work. We were able to perform the entire procedure including updating all of the FreePBX modules and adding a Google Voice trunk in about 15 minutes using a snapshot of an Incredible PBX for Ubuntu 14 droplet we previously had created. Here are the actual steps to perform the first time:

1. Take an image snapshot of your server with Incredible Backup: /root/incrediblebackup

HINT: No need to do it initially. One is included: /backup/DU-2014.09.07.19.46-A11.12.0-F2.11-I11.12.0.tar.gz

2. Create a 512MB Droplet on Digital Ocean using Ubuntu 14 and Incredible PBX for Ubuntu. Follow the Nerd Vittles tutorial which also has a signup link to assist our projects. Coupon code: ALLSSD10 gets you a $10 credit this month. Once you’re up and running, you may want to take a snapshot so that you can quickly recreate droplets while also avoiding hourly charges for the one you’ve previously built (whether running or not!). Digital Ocean 512MB droplets cost less than a penny an hour so this is not a big ticket item. When you finish with the droplet, just destroy it (once you’ve made a snapshot!). Then the money meter stops. First time build takes about 30 minutes.

3. After creating /backup folder on DO droplet, copy your backup image from step #1 to this folder.

4. Restore the image: /root/incrediblerestore /backup/DU-somefilename.tar.gz

5. Open FreePBX on DO with a browser and log in as admin with your admin password.

6. Make all the changes desired using the tutorial below. Reload FreePBX (red bar) when prompted before exiting!

7. Make a DO backup of your new setup: /root/incrediblebackup

8. Copy the DO backup file to /backup on your Pogoplug.

9. Restore the DO backup: /root/incrediblerestore /backup/DU-somefilename.tar.gz

10. Log out and back into your Pogoplug as root.

Getting Started with VoIP and FreePBX

To access FreePBX, just point to the IP address of the server. The main control panel looks like this:

As configured, the default user account for FreePBX administration is admin. The password is whatever you set in the initial setup above. If you ever forget it, you can reset it easily: /root/admin-pw-change.

For those new to Asterisk and FreePBX, here’s a brief primer on what needs to happen before you can make and receive calls. If you have an existing Google Voice account, lucky you. This gets you a phone number for your PBX so people can call you. And it provides a vehicle to place free calls to plain old telephones in the U.S. and Canada so long as Google continues to provide the free service.

If you don’t have a Google Voice account or a shiny new smartphone, then you will need to purchase a SIP trunk from one of the numerous vendors around the world. Our favorite (because they provide terrific service at a modest price AND provide financial support to the Nerd Vittles, PBX in a Flash, and Incredible PBX projects) is Vitelity. Their special rates and a link for a discount are included at the end of today’s article.

Unlike POTS phone service from Ma Bell, the SIP World is a little different. First, you don’t need to put all your eggs in one basket. A trunk that gets you a phone number for incoming calls need not be with the same vendor that provides a trunk to place outbound calls. In fact, you may want multiple trunks for outbound calls just to have some redundancy. A list of our favorites in the U.S. and Canada is available on the PIAF Forum. Of course, there also are providers that offer all-you-can-eat calling plans. Two of our favorites are Vestalink and Future-Nine.

You’ll also need a softphone or SIP phone to actually place and receive calls. YATE makes a free softphone for PCs, Macs, and Linux machines so download your favorite and install it on your desktop.

Phones connect to extensions in FreePBX to work with Incredible PBX. Extensions talk to trunks (like Google Voice) to make and receive calls. FreePBX uses outbound routes to direct outgoing calls from extensions to trunks, and FreePBX uses inbound routes to route incoming calls from trunks to extensions to make your phones ring. In a nutshell, that’s how a PBX works.

There are lots of bells and whistles that you can explore down the road including voicemail, conferencing, IVRs, autoattendants, paging, intercoms, CallerID lookups, announcements, DISA, call parking and pickup, queues, ring groups, and on and on. And then there’s all of the Incredible PBX applications which are covered separately in this Nerd Vittles article. Once you’re comfortable with one server, you or your company will want some more. This Nerd Vittles article will walk you through interconnecting them into a seamless mesh network so that you can call from one office to another transparently. Yes, those articles were written for the Raspberry Pi. But the beauty of Incredible PBX is that it runs (almost) identically on every server platform.

Here’s our 7-Step Checklist to Getting Started with FreePBX:

1. Setting Up Google Voice. If you want free calling in the U.S. and Canada, then you’ll need an existing Google Voice account that includes the Google Chat feature. You’ll need one dedicated to Incredible PBX, or it won’t work. Log out after setting up the new Google Voice account! Also note that Google Voice may cease to function at any time after May 15, 2014. You can read all about it here.

  • Log into existing Google Voice account
  • Enable Google Chat as Phone Destination
  • Configure Google Voice Calls Settings:
    • Call ScreeningOFF
    • Call PresentationOFF
    • Caller ID (In)Display Caller’s Number
    • Caller ID (Out)Don’t Change Anything
    • Do Not DisturbOFF
    • Call Options (Enable Recording)OFF
    • Global Spam FilteringON

  • Place test call in and out using GMail Call Phone
  • Log out of your Google Voice account

If this fails, then Google may have blocked your IP address. Here’s how to unblock it.

2. Activating a Google Voice Trunk. To create a Trunk in FreePBX to handle calls to and from Google Voice, you’ll need three pieces of information from the Google Voice account you set up above: the 10-digit Google Voice phone number, your Google Voice account name, and your Google Voice password. Choose Connectivity -> Google Voice (Motif) from the FreePBX GUI. The following form will appear:

Fill in the blanks with your information and check only the top 2 boxes. If your Google Voice account name ends in @gmail.com, leave that out. Otherwise, include the full email address. Then click Submit Changes and Apply Config.

To activate a Google Voice trunk, you must restart Asterisk on the Pogoplug platform: amportal restart.

3. Setting a Destination for Incoming Calls. Now that you’ve created your Google Voice Trunk, we need to tell FreePBX how to process inbound calls when someone dials your Google Voice number. There are any number of choices. You could simply ring an extension. Or you could ring multiple extensions by first creating a Ring Group which is just a list of extension numbers. Or you could direct incoming calls to an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. By default, Incredible PBX is configured to route all incoming calls to extension 701. You can change the setting whenever you like by choosing Connectivity -> Inbound Routes -> Default. In the Set Destination section of the form, change the target destination from the pull-down lists.

Always click Submit and then click Apply Config to save new settings in FreePBX. This is especially important on the Pogoplug platform because you cannot actually do it once you restore the backup image to the Pogoplug.

4. Activating Additional Trunks with FreePBX. As we mentioned, there are lots of SIP providers to choose from. Once you have signed up for service, configuring the trunk is easy. Here is a quick Cheat Sheet courtesy of Kristian Hare, who translated our original setups into a spreadsheet. Just click on the image below to open it in a new window. Then click on the redisplayed image to enlarge it. The left and right cursor keys will move you around in the image. Click on the image again to shrink it.

5. Changing Extension Passwords. From the main FreePBX GUI, choose Applications -> Extensions. Then click on 701 in the Extension List on the right side of your display. You’ll see a form that looks like this:

For now, we only need to make a few changes. First, you need a very secure password for both the extension itself and your voicemail account for this extension. The extension secret needs to be a combination of letters and numbers. The Voicemail Password needs to be all numbers, preferably six or more. Replace the existing password entries with your own (very secure) entries. You also need to lock down this extension so that it is only accessible from devices on your private LAN. You do that with the deny and permit entries which currently are filled with zeroes. Leave the deny entry the way it is which tells Incredible PBX to block everybody except those allowed in the permit entry below. For the permit, we need the first three octets of your private LAN address, e.g. if your LAN is 192.168.0.something then the permit entry will be 192.168.0.0/255.255.255.0.

Finally, you need to plug in your actual email address in the Voicemail section so that voicemails can be delivered to you when someone leaves a message. You can also include a pager email address if you want a text message alert with incoming voicemails. If you want the voicemails to automatically be deleted from the server after they are emailed to you (a good idea considering the disk storage limitations of your microSD card), change the Delete Voicemail option from No to Yes. That’s it. Now save your settings by clicking the Submit button. Then reload the dialplan by clicking on the red prompt when it appears.

In case you’re curious, unless you’ve chosen to automatically delete voicemails after emailing them, you can retrieve your voicemails by dialing *98701 from any extension on your phone system. You’ll be prompted to enter the voicemail password you set up. In addition to managing your voicemails, you’ll also be given the opportunity to either return the call to the number of the person that called or to transfer the voicemail to another extension’s voicemail box. And you can always leave a voicemail for someone by dialing their extension number preceded by an asterisk, e.g. *701 would let someone leave you a voicemail without actually calling you.

6. Eliminating Audio and DTMF Problems. You can avoid one-way audio on calls and touchtones that don’t work with these simple settings in FreePBX: Settings -> Asterisk SIP Settings. Just plug in your public IP address and your private IP subnet. Then set ULAW as the only Audio Codec.

7. Configuring CallerID Superfecta. In order to match names with phone numbers, Incredible PBX includes a FreePBX application named CallerID Superfecta. Out of the box, Incredible PBX will work fine if you remember to activate CallerID Superfecta whenever you create a new Inbound Route. The CNAM entries also will be displayed in your CDR reports. For those not in the United States, you may prefer to use a lookup source for your numbers other than the ones preconfigured in CallerID Superfecta. You will find all of the available modules on the POSSA GitHub site. Just download the ones desired into /var/www/html/admin/superfecta/sources and then activate the desired sources in Admin -> CID Superfecta -> Default. You can test your results and the performance using the Debug facility that’s built into the module.

If you’re using FreePBX on an Ubuntu server in the Cloud, now is the time to drop down to the Linux command prompt, log in as root, and make a backup: /root/incrediblebackup. Copy the backup from /backup to the same folder on your Pogoplug and restore it: /root/incrediblerestore /backup/DU-somefilename.tar.gz. Then restart Asterisk on your Pogoplug: amportal restart. Finally, log out and back into your Pogoplug to assure that FreePBX will function properly on that platform.

Adding Speech Recognition for Incredible PBX Applications

We used to include Google’s Speech-to-Text service in earlier Incredible PBX builds. Unfortunately, Google has changed the rules a bit. Assuming your server still meets the “personal and development” standard, you can obtain an API key from Google and reactivate speech-to-text functionality for many of the Incredible PBX applications including Weather Reports by City (949), AsteriDex Voice Dialing by Name (411), SMS Dictator (767), and Wolfram Alpha for Asterisk (4747). To activate the STT service, just complete the steps in our tutorial. Then sign up for a Wolfram Alpha App ID (tutorial here), and run the following install scripts:

/root/wolfram/wolframalpha-oneclick.sh
cp /root/pygooglevoice/bin/gvoice /usr/bin
ln -s /usr/bin/gvoice /usr/local/sbin/gvoice
cd /root/pygooglevoice
python setup.py install
/root/smsdictator/sms-dictator.sh

Configuring a YATE Softphone for Pogoplug

As we mentioned, the easiest way to get started with Incredible PBX is to set up a free YATE softphone on your Desktop computer. Versions are available at no cost for Macs, PCs, and Linux machines. Just download the appropriate one and install it from this link. Once installed, it’s a simple matter to plug in your extension 701 credentials and start making calls. Run the application and choose Settings -> Accounts and click the New button. Fill in the blanks using the IP address of Incredible PBX on the Pogoplug, 701 for your account name, and whatever password you’re using for the extension. Click OK.

Once you are registered to extension 701, close the Account window. Then click on YATE’s Telephony Tab and place your first call. It’s that easy!

Introducing Incredible PBX 11.12.0 for the Pogoplug

For those of you that missed last week’s article on the CuBox platform and are new to Asterisk and the world of VoIP telephony, let us take a moment and explain how Incredible PBX fits into the puzzle. For lack of a better term, Incredible PBX is a turnkey aggregation in a bootable image that is based upon a superset of Debian 7 packages plus Asterisk, the FreePBX GUI, and a sizable collection of applications for the Asterisk platform. You download a tarball, decompress it, write the image file to an SD card, insert the card into your Pogoplug 4, and presto! You’ve got a turnkey PBX. Add credentials for a trunk or two to make and receive calls, connect some phones, and your SOHO office or home will come alive with a versatile PBX platform that used to cost organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars. What’s included in Incredible PBX? Glad you asked. Here’s a 3-minute video showcasing a few of our favorite Incredible PBX text-to-speech applications:


The Incredible PBX 11 Inventory. Here’s the current feature set on the Pogoplug platform. In addition to its superset of hundreds of Debian 7 packages, Asterisk 11, and FreePBX 2.11 with the Lighttpd web server, Exim 4 mail server, MySQL, PHP, phpMyAdmin, and the IPtables Linux firewall, check out these additions:

A Few Words About Security. Thanks to its Zero Internet Footprint™ design, Incredible PBX is different. It remains the most secure Asterisk-based PBX around. What this means is Incredible PBX has been engineered to sit anywhere, either behind a NAT-based, hardware firewall or directly on the Internet. No device other than those on your private LAN, a few of the major (trusted) SIP providers around the world, and those that you authorize on your WhiteList can even see your server. Additional IP addresses can be added to the WhiteList by the administrator registering new IP addresses using add-ip or add-fqdn from the Linux CLI. Read about this $100,000 VoIP phone bill, and you’ll better appreciate why WhiteList-based server security has become absolutely essential. WhiteList Security means only those devices with a registered IP address in your WhiteList can get to your server’s resources. To the NSA and everyone else, your server doesn’t even show up on the radar. Their only way to contact you is a POTS telephone using your published phone number. Our complete tutorial on Travelin’ Man 3 is available here. With Incredible PBX for the Pogoplug 4, it’s installed and preconfigured. Enjoy!


Don’t forget to List Yourself in Directory Assistance so everyone can find you by dialing 411. And add your new number to the Do Not Call Registry to block telemarketing calls. Or just call 888-382-1222 from your new number.

Originally published: Monday, September 8, 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. Our forum is extremely friendly and is supported by literally hundreds of Asterisk gurus. In fact, we already have a thread underway on the Pogoplug adventure.



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


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


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

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

Hardware Device of the Year: Meet the CuBox-i with Incredible PBX for Ubuntu

It’s been many years since we’ve written back-to-back articles about the same device. That should tell you how really special the CuBox-i is. After two weeks of 14-hour days developing the new Incredible PBX platform for CuBox, we are thrilled to crown this jewel as Nerd Vittles Hardware Device of the Year. Flawless design, incredible performance, tiny size, feature-rich components, minimal power consumption, and completely silent operation are merely the tip of the iceberg with this 2x2x2 cubic zircon. On the $130 CuBox-i4PRO, there’s a Quad Core processor, 2 gigs of RAM, a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port, a 1080p HDMI port, two powered USB 2 ports, an eSATA II port for an external drive, a realtime clock with backup battery, an Optical S/PDIF Audio Out port, a microSD port, an infrared receiver and transmitter, WiFi 11n, and Bluetooth plus a power adapter to match either American or European power sources. Whew! And here’s the best part. Everything works while squeezed in a tiny case that’s a third the size of Rubic’s Cube.

A SOHO Swiss Army Knife That Fits in Your Cupholder: Voice, Fax, SMS, TTS, Email, PBX, Incredible!

Did we mention it’s a near perfect VoIP platform for any home office or small business? Well, it is. And everything we’ve learned about Asterisk® and FreePBX® and Internet security over the past decade is rolled into today’s release of our crown jewel edition of Incredible PBX™ for the CuBox. First, you’ll need to purchase one and we strongly recommend the CuBox-i4PRO with its Quad Core ARM processor and built-in WiFi and Bluetooth. In the U.S, there’s NewEgg or NewEgg (10% off on i4PRO with promo code SW829NE10 = $117 until 9/4). In the U.K, there’s NewIT. For everyone else, you can buy directly from SolidRun, the creator.

Before we dive into Incredible PBX, we want to express our deepest appreciation to Zhando and Josh North of PIAF Forum fame. Zhando’s pioneering efforts with Ubuntu and Incredible PBX on the CuBox platform and Josh North’s morphing of Incredible Fax for deployment with Ubuntu paved the way for everything you’re about to read. It reinforces the spectacular results which can be achieved in the open source community when a talented group of even a few folks put their heads together. The Ubuntu developers and the tens of thousands of open source contributors from around the world also deserve a well-earned tip of the hat for producing a Linux platform that is rock-solid reliable and incredibly versatile. Nearly 1,000 open source packages are included in the latest Incredible PBX build. Click on the link to view the package list in PDF format and prepare to be amazed. We couldn’t have done it without all of you!

Introducing Incredible PBX 11.12.0 for the CuBox-i4PRO

If you’re new to Asterisk and the world of VoIP telephony, let us take a moment and explain how Incredible PBX fits into the puzzle. For lack of a better term, Incredible PBX on the CuBox platform is a turnkey aggregation in a bootable image that is based upon a superset of Ubuntu 14 packages plus Asterisk, the FreePBX GUI, and a sizable collection of applications for the Asterisk platform. You download a tarball, decompress it, write the image file to a microSD card, insert the card into your CuBox-i, and presto! You’ve got a turnkey PBX. Add credentials for a trunk or two to make and receive calls, connect some phones, and your whole office will come alive with a versatile PBX platform that used to cost organizations hundreds of thousands of dollars. What’s included in Incredible PBX? Glad you asked. Here’s a 3-minute video showcasing a few of our favorite Incredible PBX text-to-speech applications:


The Incredible PBX 11 Inventory. Here’s the current feature set on the CuBox platform. It’s the most robust ever! In addition to its superset of nearly 1,000 Ubuntu 14 packages, Asterisk 11, and FreePBX 2.11 with Apache, SendMail, MySQL, PHP, phpMyAdmin, Fail2Ban, WebMin, and the IPtables Linux firewall, check out these additions:

A Few Words About Security. Thanks to its Zero Internet Footprint™ design, Incredible PBX is different. It remains the most secure Asterisk-based PBX around. What this means is Incredible PBX has been engineered to sit anywhere, either behind a NAT-based, hardware firewall or directly on the Internet. No device other than those on your private LAN, a few of the major (trusted) SIP providers around the world, and those that you authorize on your WhiteList can even see your server. Additional IP addresses can be added to the WhiteList in three ways:

  1. An administrator registers new IP addresses using add-ip or add-fqdn from the Linux CLI
  2. A remote user sends the (correct) randomized PortKnock code assigned to your CuBox
  3. A remote user dials in from a standard telephone to register a new remote IP address

Read about this $100,000 VoIP phone bill, and you’ll better appreciate why WhiteList-based server security has become absolutely essential. WhiteList Security means only those devices with a registered IP address in your WhiteList can get to your server’s resources. To the NSA and everyone else, your server doesn’t even show up on the radar. Their only way to contact you is a POTS telephone using your published phone number. Our complete tutorial on Travelin’ Man 3 is available here. With Incredible PBX for CuBox, it’s installed and preconfigured.

Installing Incredible PBX 11.12.0 on the CuBox-i

There are five simple steps to get Incredible PBX up and running on your CuBox:

  1. Purchase a storage device
  2. Download Incredible PBX image
  3. Untar the image on your desktop
  4. Burn the image to a microSD card
  5. Insert microSD card in CuBox and boot

Choosing a Storage Platform. Unless you plan to run your server with an external eSATA hard drive (CuBox-i4PRO tutorial here), the first step is to purchase a suitable microSD card. We recommend at least a 32GB Class 10 card from Transcend, SanDisk, or Kingston. All of them are under $20 on Amazon and most include free 2-day shipping for Prime customers. If using an eSATA drive, you still need a microSD card to boot up, but any 4GB or 8GB card will suffice.1

Downloading Incredible PBX for CuBox. From your favorite desktop computer, download the latest build of Incredible PBX from SourceForge. Depending upon your network connection and the SourceForge mirror, it can take awhile. It’s a whopping 1.3GB!

Untarring Incredible PBX for CuBox. Depending upon your desktop platform, untarring incrediblepbx.4.cubox.U14.latest.tar.gz is as simple as double-clicking on it in the Downloads folder (on a Mac). On the Windows platform, here are 3 utilities that will do the job. On a Linux desktop, open a Terminal window and…

tar zxvf incrediblepbx.4.cubox.U14.latest.tar.gz

Burning the Incredible PBX image to microSD. Once you’ve untarred the file, you’ll find two scripts that make burning the image to a microSD card simple if you’re on a Mac or Linux desktop. On a Windows machine, it’s a little more complicated. Most SD cards come preformatted with a DOS partition so your Windows machine should recognize the microSD card when it’s inserted. If not, format the card using a utility such as SD Card Formatter. Next, you’ll need Win32 Disk Imager to burn cubox.img to your card. Once the image has been transferred, gracefully unmount the card from your desktop, and then remove the card from the SD card adapter.

Booting Incredible PBX on the CuBox. Insert the microSD card (electronics side up) into your CuBox-i. Then apply power to the CuBox after connecting a USB keyboard, HDMI monitor, and Ethernet cable to a network with Internet connectivity that can also hand out DHCP addresses. Log into Incredible PBX as root with cubox as your password. Your SSH credentials, Asterisk DUNDI secrets, logs, and network connection options will be initialized and then your server will reboot. You may need to hit the Enter key once or twice during the SSH credentials initialization to move things along. And, with some SD cards, you may find yourself waiting an eternity for the promised reboot. After seeing the “rebooting” message, count to ten. If your server still hasn’t rebooted, remove and reapply power. This quirk goes away after the first reboot.

After the reboot, log in again as root with password: cubox. Your firewall setup will be initialized to lock down your whitelist to your server’s public and private IP addresses AND the IP address of the machine from which you’re logging in. All of your FreePBX passwords will be randomized and your secret PortKnocker codes will be generated. The whole process only takes a few seconds.

When the second pass configuration is complete, you will be greeted by a welcoming message. STOP and read it. It has loads of important information about your server’s configuration and your next steps. Press ENTER to review status:

The Next 10 Steps. Before you do anything else, complete the following steps. It only takes a minute to secure and properly configure your server:

  1. Change your root password: passwd
  2. Change your FreePBX admin password: /root/admin-pw-change
  3. Set your correct time zone: /root/timezone-setup
  4. Expand partition to match microSD card size: /root/resize-partition
  5. Add any desired IP addresses to WhiteList: /root/add-ip
  6. Put PortKnocker credentials in a safe place: cat /root/knock.FAQ
  7. Change AvantFax admin password: /root/avantfax-pw-change
  8. Set Email Address for Incoming Faxes: /root/avantfax-email-dest
  9. Check status to be sure everything is working: status
  10. If using an eSATA external drive, do the migration drill (note the free disk space in status above)

A Few Important Tips. Every operating system and service provider has their quirks. Ask Bill Gates! Ubuntu and especially Comcast are no different. Fortunately, with Ubuntu, it’s a very short list.

1. Use the following commands (only!) to shutdown and restart your server: halt and reboot. These commands are reworked in Incredible PBX to gracefully shutdown important services so that files don’t get damaged. Please use them!

2. If you ever want to move your server to a different network, complete these three simple steps before you leave your existing network. This will trigger a new Phase I update (outlined above) and set the default network back to wired eth0 using DHCP the next time you boot your server.

touch /etc/update_hostconfig
/root/enable-eth0-only
# press Ctrl-C when prompted to reboot. then type:
halt

3. You really do need email connectivity to get the most out of Incredible PBX. It’s the way you receive important notifications from FreePBX, and it’s also how faxes and voicemail messages are delivered. From the Linux CLI, test your server to be sure you can send emails reliably:

echo "test" | mail -s testmessage yourname@gmail.com

After checking your spam folder, if you really didn’t get the email, it may be that your service provider is blocking downstream SMTP traffic. You can use your provider’s SMTP server as a smarthost to send out mail with SendMail. Just edit /etc/mail/sendmail.cf, search for DS, and add the provider’s SMTP server address immediately after it (no spaces!), e.g. DSsmtp.comcast.net or DSsmtp.knology.net. Then restart SendMail: service sendmail restart.

Once you’ve logged into FreePBX below, be sure to set your default email address in the right margin of Admin -> Module Admin and save your entry. This will assure receipt of timely notifications of FreePBX updates for your server.

4. If you’re sure you’ll never need remote access in an emergency, you can disable PortKnocker at startup and save about 5% of your processing cycles. Our complete PortKnocker tutorial is available here. To disable startup on boot, issue the following command from the Linux CLI:

update-rc.d -f knockd disable

5. The same applies to WebMin. We actually introduced one of the first tutorials for WebMin… over 9 years ago. A word to the wise: WebMin is a terrific tool for looking at stuff about your system. But be very careful making system changes with WebMin. You usually will break some of the customized settings in Incredible PBX. This is particularly true in the case of the IPtables firewall. To access WebMin, use a browser and the actual IP address of your server to go to: https://12.34.56.78:9001. Log in as root with your root password. To disable automatic startup of WebMin on boot:

update-rc.d -f webmin disable

Setting Up WiFi with the CuBox-i4PRO

This may sound simple now, but two weeks ago it was quite a different story. For those with a CuBox-i4Pro, WiFi is built into the hardware. The trick was getting it to work. Well, with Incredible PBX, it does. In the /root folder, you’ll find several self-explanatory scripts to do the heavy lifting for you. For options 2 and 3, you’ll need the SSID of the WiFi network you’ll be using as well as the SSID password.

  1. enable-eth0-only (the default setting)
  2. enable-wifi-eth0 (enables both but eth0 works with Asterisk)
  3. enable-wifi-only (runs your server purely on WiFi)

Getting Started with VoIP and FreePBX

Up to now, all of your time has been spent using the Linux CLI. That will be a rarity once you get this far. Henceforth, 90% of your time setting up Incredible PBX will be done using the FreePBX GUI and your favorite web browser. To access it, just point to the IP address of your server. status will tell you the address if you’ve forgotten it. The main control panel looks like this:

As configured, the default user account for both FreePBX and AvantFax administration is admin. The passwords are whatever you set in steps #2 and #7 above. As configured, email delivery of faxes with AvantFax is automatic so no further setup is required other than setting a delivery mechanism for faxes within FreePBX.

For those new to Asterisk and FreePBX, here’s a brief primer on what needs to happen before you can make and receive calls. If you have an existing Google Voice account or a smartphone that’s less than 2 years old, lucky you. This gets you a phone number for your PBX so people can call you. And it provides a vehicle to place calls to plain old telephones at little or no cost.

If you don’t have a Google Voice account or a shiny new smartphone, then you will need to purchase a SIP trunk from one of the numerous vendors around the world. Our favorite (because they provide terrific service at a modest price AND provide financial support to the Nerd Vittles, PBX in a Flash, and Incredible PBX projects) is Vitelity. Their special rates and a link for a discount are included at the end of today’s article.

Unlike POTS phone service from Ma Bell, the SIP World is a little different. First, you don’t need to put all your eggs in one basket. A trunk that gets you a phone number for incoming calls need not be with the same vendor that provides a trunk to place outbound calls. In fact, you may want multiple trunks for outbound calls just to have some redundancy. A list of our favorites in the U.S. and Canada is available on the PIAF Forum. Of course, there also are providers that offer all-you-can-eat calling plans. Two of our favorites are Vestalink and Future-Nine.

You’ll also need a softphone or SIP phone to actually place and receive calls. YATE makes a free softphone for PCs, Macs, and Linux machines so download your favorite and install it on your desktop.

Phones connect to extensions in FreePBX to work with Incredible PBX. Extensions talk to trunks (like Google Voice) to make and receive calls. FreePBX uses outbound routes to direct outgoing calls from extensions to trunks, and FreePBX uses inbound routes to route incoming calls from trunks to extensions to make your phones ring. In a nutshell, that’s how a PBX works.

There are lots of bells and whistles that you can explore down the road including voicemail, conferencing, IVRs, autoattendants, paging, intercoms, CallerID lookups, announcements, DISA, call parking and pickup, queues, ring groups, and on and on. And then there’s all of the Incredible PBX applications which are covered separately in this Nerd Vittles article. Once you’re comfortable with one server, you or your company will want some more. This Nerd Vittles article will walk you through interconnecting them into a seamless mesh network so that you can call from one office to another transparently. Yes, those articles were written for the Raspberry Pi. But the beauty of Incredible PBX is that it runs identically on virtually every server platform.

Here’s our 10-Step Checklist to Getting Started with FreePBX:

1. Setting Up Google Voice. If you want free calling in the U.S. and Canada, then you’ll need an existing Google Voice account that includes the Google Chat feature. You’ll need one dedicated to Incredible PBX, or it won’t work. Log out after setting up the new Google Voice account! Also note that Google Voice may cease to function at any time after May 15, 2014. You can read all about it here.

  • Log into existing Google Voice account
  • Enable Google Chat as Phone Destination
  • Configure Google Voice Calls Settings:
    • Call ScreeningOFF
    • Call PresentationOFF
    • Caller ID (In)Display Caller’s Number
    • Caller ID (Out)Don’t Change Anything
    • Do Not DisturbOFF
    • Call Options (Enable Recording)OFF
    • Global Spam FilteringON

  • Place test call in and out using GMail Call Phone
  • Log out of your Google Voice account

2. Activating a Google Voice Trunk. To create a Trunk in FreePBX to handle calls to and from Google Voice, you’ll need three pieces of information from the Google Voice account you set up above: the 10-digit Google Voice phone number, your Google Voice account name, and your Google Voice password. Choose Connectivity -> Google Voice (Motif) from the FreePBX GUI. The following form will appear:

Fill in the blanks with your information and check only the top 2 boxes. If your Google Voice account name ends in @gmail.com, leave that out. Otherwise, include the full email address. Then click Submit Changes and Apply Config.

There’s one more step or your Google Voice account won’t work reliably with Incredible PBX! From the Linux command prompt while logged into your server as root, restart Asterisk: amportal restart

3. Setting a Destination for Incoming Calls and Managing Faxes. Now that you’ve created your Google Voice Trunk, we need to tell FreePBX how to process inbound calls when someone dials your Google Voice number. There are any number of choices. You could simply ring an extension. Or you could ring multiple extensions by first creating a Ring Group which is just a list of extension numbers. Or you could direct incoming calls to an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. By default, Incredible PBX is configured to route all incoming calls to extension 701. You can change the setting whenever you like by choosing Connectivity -> Inbound Routes -> Default. In the Set Destination section of the form, change the target destination from the pull-down lists.

If you want your default inbound route to also handle incoming faxes, then go to the Fax Detect section of the Default inbound route. Change Detect Faxes to Yes. Change Fax Detection Type to SIP. Leave the Detection Time setting at 4. And change the Fax Destination to Custom Destinations: Fax (Hylafax). To Send Faxes, open AvantFax in FreePBX’s Other pulldown menu.

Always click Submit and then click Apply Config to save new settings in FreePBX.

4. Activating a Smartphone Trunk Using Bluetooth. One of the more exotic features of Incredible PBX on the CuBox platform is the ability to add your smartphone as an Asterisk trunk using Bluetooth. We’ve written a short recipe to get things working. So have a look at our Bluetooth tutorial and see if you’re up for the challenge. Moral of the story: the newer the cellphone, the better.

The LG G3 is the best of the lot, at least of the numerous cellphones we tested. Even better is an LG G3 paired with StraightTalk’s (AT&T-hosted) unlimited talk, text, and data plan for $45 a month. With Samsung smartphones older than a Galaxy S4, don’t waste your time. Ditto with Apple iPhones other than perhaps the very latest. Our iPhone 4S failed miserably. We gave up on Apple phones after that. Someday I’ll test my daughter’s 5c and report back.

5. Activating Additional Trunks with FreePBX. As we mentioned, there are lots of SIP providers to choose from. Once you have signed up for service, configuring the trunk is easy. Here is a quick Cheat Sheet courtesy of Kristian Hare, who translated our original setups into a spreadsheet. Just click on the image below to open it in a new window. Then click on the redisplayed image to enlarge it. The left and right cursor keys will move you around in the image. Click on the image again to shrink it.

6. Changing Extension Passwords. From the main FreePBX GUI, choose Applications -> Extensions. Then click on 701 in the Extension List on the right side of your display. You’ll see a form that looks like this:

For now, we only need to make a few changes. First, you need a very secure password for both the extension itself and your voicemail account for this extension. The extension secret needs to be a combination of letters and numbers. The Voicemail Password needs to be all numbers, preferably six or more. Replace the existing password entries with your own (very secure) entries. You also need to lock down this extension so that it is only accessible from devices on your private LAN. You do that with the deny and permit entries which currently are filled with zeroes. Leave the deny entry the way it is which tells Incredible PBX to block everybody except those allowed in the permit entry below. For the permit, we need the first three octets of your private LAN address, e.g. if your LAN is 192.168.0.something then the permit entry will be 192.168.0.0/255.255.255.0.

Finally, you need to plug in your actual email address in the Voicemail section so that voicemails can be delivered to you when someone leaves a message. You can also include a pager email address if you want a text message alert with incoming voicemails. If you want the voicemails to automatically be deleted from the server after they are emailed to you (a good idea considering the disk storage limitations of your microSD card), change the Delete Voicemail option from No to Yes. That’s it. Now save your settings by clicking the Submit button. Then reload the dialplan by clicking on the red prompt when it appears.

In case you’re curious, unless you’ve chosen to automatically delete voicemails after emailing them, you can retrieve your voicemails by dialing *98701 from any extension on your phone system. You’ll be prompted to enter the voicemail password you set up. In addition to managing your voicemails, you’ll also be given the opportunity to either return the call to the number of the person that called or to transfer the voicemail to another extension’s voicemail box. And you can always leave a voicemail for someone by dialing their extension number preceded by an asterisk, e.g. *701 would let someone leave you a voicemail without actually calling you.

7. Eliminating Audio and DTMF Problems. You can avoid one-way audio on calls and touchtones that don’t work with these simple settings in FreePBX: Settings -> Asterisk SIP Settings. Just plug in your public IP address and your private IP subnet. Then set ULAW as the only Audio Codec.

8. Configuring Your YATE Softphone. As we mentioned, the easiest way to get started with Incredible PBX is to set up a free YATE softphone on your Desktop computer. Versions are available at no cost for Macs, PCs, and Linux machines. Just download the appropriate one and install it from this link. Once installed, it’s a simple matter to plug in your extension 701 credentials and start making calls. Run the application and choose Settings -> Accounts and click the New button. Fill in the blanks using the IP address of Incredible PBX, 701 for your account name, and whatever password you created for the extension. Click OK.

Once you are registered to extension 701, close the Account window. Then click on YATE’s Telephony Tab and place your first call. It’s that easy!

9. Configuring CallerID Superfecta. In order to match names with phone numbers, Incredible PBX includes a FreePBX application named CallerID Superfecta. Out of the box, Incredible PBX will work fine if you remember to activate CallerID Superfecta whenever you create a new Inbound Route. The CNAM entries also will be displayed in your CDR reports. For those not in the United States, you may prefer to use a lookup source for your numbers other than the ones preconfigured in CallerID Superfecta. You will find all of the available modules on the POSSA GitHub site. Just download the ones desired into /var/www/html/admin/superfecta/sources and then activate the desired sources in Admin -> CID Superfecta -> Default. You can test your results and the performance using the Debug facility that’s built into the module.

10. Adding Speech Recognition for Incredible Applications. We used to include Google’s Speech-to-Text service in Incredible PBX builds. Unfortunately, Google has changed the rules a bit. Assuming your server still meets the “personal and development” standard, you can obtain an API key from Google and reactivate speech-to-text functionality for many of the Incredible PBX applications including Weather Reports by City (949), AsteriDex Voice Dialing by Name (411), SMS Dictator (767), and Wolfram Alpha for Asterisk (4747). To activate the STT service, just complete the steps in our tutorial. Then sign up for a Wolfram Alpha App ID (tutorial here), and run the following install scripts:

/root/wolfram/wolframalpha-oneclick.sh
/root/smsdictator/sms-dictator.sh

Enabling SAMBA Windows Networking with Ubuntu

It only takes a minute to enable SAMBA Windows Networking on your CuBox. We’ve reproduced our quick tutorial to show you how. Just follow the steps below to interconnect Incredible PBX with all the other computers on your LAN.

apt-get -y install samba samba-common python-glade2 system-config-samba
cd /etc/samba
mv smb.conf smb.orig.conf
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/samba-ubuntu.tar.gz
tar zxvf samba-ubuntu.tar.gz
rm *.tar.gz
sed -i '/# End of Trusted Provider Section/r '/etc/samba/smb.iptables'' /etc/iptables/rules.v4
iptables-restart
service smbd restart
service nmbd restart
sed -i 's|/usr/local/sbin/amportal restart|service smbd restart\nservice nmbd restart\n/usr/local/sbin/amportal restart|' /etc/rc.local
# set up root password for SAMBA access with full RW privileges
smbpasswd -a root

Incredible Backup and Restore

Once you have everything configured, it’s time to take a snapshot of your system and store it in a safe place. The new Incredible Backup lets you do that. From the Linux CLI, login as root and run: /root/incrediblebackup. The backup image will be saved to the /tmp folder and can be copied to a different server easily. To restore the backup to another system, you simply bring the other system up to the same version of Asterisk (11) and FreePBX (2.11), and then run /root/incrediblerestore with your backed up image. It’s the cheapest insurance you can buy! For detailed instructions on restoring backups, see this thread on the PIAF Forum.


Don’t forget to List Yourself in Directory Assistance so everyone can find you by dialing 411. And add your new number to the Do Not Call Registry to block telemarketing calls. Or just call 888-382-1222 from your new number.

Originally published: Monday, September 1, 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. Our forum is extremely friendly and is supported by literally hundreds of Asterisk gurus.



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


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


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

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

Incredible PBX 1.8: New OpenVZ and Cloud Editions

Another exciting week in the Asterisk® community with the introduction of Asterisk 1.8.2 last Friday. It's now the official PIAF-Purple payload so you can simply download the current ISO to take it for a spin. Most of the pesky bugs in Asterisk 1.8.0 and 1.8.1 now have been addressed. Let us know if you find some new ones.

While the Asterisk Dev Team has been hard at work on Asterisk 1.8.2, we've turned our attention to the cloud and VoIP virtualization. We have three new products to introduce today. The first lets you install PIAF-Purple with Asterisk 1.8.2 using a new OpenVZ template. The second lets you run Incredible PBX 1.8 as a virtual machine using the new PIAF-Purple 1.8.2 OpenVZ template. Finally, we'll show you how to run Incredible PBX 1.8 in the cloud with hosted VoIP service from RentPBX.com for $15 a month with a free local phone number and free Google Voice calling in the U.S. and Canada. So let's get started.

Using the OpenVZ PIAF-Purple Template. If you haven't heard of OpenVZ templates before, you've missed one of the real technological breakthroughs of the last decade. Rather than wading through the usual 30-minute ISO installation drill, with an OpenVZ template, all of the work is done for you. And it's quick. You can build a dozen PIAF-Purple systems using an OpenVZ template in about 15 minutes with a per system cost of less than $50. See Comment #2 below for an extra special Dell half-price server deal this week. And it's incredibly easy to then tie all of these systems together using either SIP or IAX trunks. Just follow our previous tutorial. For resellers and developers that want to try various Asterisk configurations before implementation and for trainers and others that want to host dedicated Asterisk systems for customers, the OpenVZ platform is a perfect fit. Read our original two-part article to get up to speed on Proxmox, virtualization, and IPtables with OpenVZ. Then continue on here.

Thanks to Darrell Dillman (aka dad311 on the PIAF Forums), there already is a 64-bit OpenVZ template of PIAF-Purple with Asterisk 1.8.2. Just download the template to your Desktop and then, using the Proxmox console, choose Appliance Templates, Upload File to upload the OpenVZ template into your Proxmox server platform. Once installed, you can build Asterisk 1.8.2 virtual machines to your heart's content... in less than a minute apiece. Just choose Virtual Machine, Create to create a new virtual machine using the OpenVZ template you just uploaded. In the Configuration section, choose OpenVZ for the Type and pick your new OpenVZ template from the pulldown list. Fill in a Host Name, Disk Space maximum (in GB), and (root) Password. The other defaults should be fine. In the Network section of the form, change to the Bridged Ethernet (veth) option which means the VM will obtain its IP address from your DHCP server. Make sure your DNS settings are correct for your LAN. Here's how a typical OpenVZ creation form will look:

Once the image is created, start up the virtual machine, wait about 70 seconds for the system to load, and then click on Open VNC Console. Asterisk will be loaded and running. You can verify this on the status display. You can safely ignore the status messages pertaining to IPtables assuming iptables -nL shows that IPtables is functioning properly. With the exception of text-to-speech (TTS), you now have a PIAF-Purple base platform running Asterisk 1.8.2 and FreePBX 2.8. Be sure you always run it behind a hardware-based firewall with no port exposure to the Internet.

Before you do anything else, run passwd-master to secure the passwords for FreePBX GUI access to your system. Don't forget!

If you're planning to install Incredible PBX below or if you don't need text-to-speech on your system, you can skip this next step which gets 64-bit TTS installed. Otherwise, here are the commands to get it working:

cd /root
./install-flite

Note to Our Pioneers. To those that tested the new OpenVZ template this past week, THANK YOU! Be advised that we now have incorporated several of the recommended tweaks which were documented in the PIAF Forums. The install procedure outlined above explains the new behavior of the slightly improved OpenVZ template which now is available for download. We recommend you switch.

Asterisk CLI Change. Finally, just a heads up that (once again) the Asterisk Dev Team appears to have changed the default behavior of the Asterisk CLI. With Asterisk 1.8.2, if you make outbound calls after loading the CLI, you will notice that call progress no longer appears in the CLI. To restore the standard behavior (since Moses), issue the following command: core set verbose 3. :roll:

 


Installing Incredible PBX on OpenVZ Systems. We won't repeat the entire Incredible PBX article here. If you want the background on the product, read the latest article. To get everything working with an OpenVZ system, there are only three steps:

1. Set Up Your Google Voice Account
2. Run the Incredible PBX VM Installer
3. Configure a Softphone

Configuring Google Voice. You'll need a dedicated Google Voice account to support The Incredible PBX. The more obscure the username (with some embedded numbers), the better off you will be. This will keep folks from bombarding you with unsolicited Gtalk chat messages, and who knows what nefarious scheme will be discovered using Google messaging six months from now. So why take the chance. Keep this account a secret!

We've tested this extensively using an existing Gmail account, and inbound calling is just not reliable. The reason seems to be that Google always chooses Gmail chat as the inbound call destination if there are multiple registrations from the same IP address. So, be reasonable. Do it our way! Set up a dedicated Gmail and Google Voice account, and use it exclusively with The Incredible PBX. Google Voice no longer is by invitation only so, if you're in the U.S. or have a friend that is, head over to the Google Voice site and register. If you're living on another continent, see MisterQ's posting for some tips on getting set up.

You must choose a telephone number (aka DID) for your new account, or Google Voice calling will not work... in either direction. Google used to permit outbound Gtalk calls using a fake CallerID, but that obviously led to abuse so it's over! You also have to tie your Google Voice account to at least one working phone number as part of the initial setup process. Your cellphone number will work just fine. Don't skip this step either. Just enter the provided 2-digit confirmation code when you tell Google to place the test call to the phone number you entered. Once the number is registered, you can disable it if you'd like in Settings, Voice Setting, Phones. But...

IMPORTANT: Be sure to enable the Google Chat option as one of your phone destinations in Settings, Voice Setting, Phones. That's the destination we need for The Incredible PBX to work its magic! Otherwise, all inbound and outbound calls will fail. If you don't see this option, you may need to call up Gmail and enable Google Chat there first. Then go back to the Google Voice Settings.

While you're still in Google Voice Settings, click on the Calls tab. Make sure your settings match these:

  • Call Screening - OFF
  • Call Presentation - OFF
  • Caller ID (In) - Display Caller's Number
  • Caller ID (Out) - Don't Change Anything
  • Do Not Disturb - OFF

Click Save Changes once you adjust your settings. Under the Voicemail tab, plug in your email address so you get notified of new voicemails. Down the road, receipt of a Google Voice voicemail will be a big hint that something has come unglued on your PBX.

Running The Incredible PBX Installer. Log into your server as root and issue the following commands to set up The Incredible PBX:

cd /root
rm incrediblepbx18-vm.x
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/incrediblepbx18-vm.x
chmod +x incredible*
./incrediblepbx18-vm.x
passwd-master

When The Incredible PBX install begins, you'll be prompted for the following:

Google Voice Account Name
Google Voice Password
Google Voice 10-digit Phone Number
Gmail Notification Address
FreePBX maint Password

The Google Voice Account Name is the Gmail address for your new dedicated account, e.g. joeschmo@gmail.com. Don't forget @gmail.com! The Google Voice Password is the password for this dedicated account. The Google Voice Phone Number is the 10-digit DID for this dedicated account. We need this if we ever need to go back to the return call methodology for outbound calling. For now, it's not necessary. But who knows what the future holds. :roll: The Gmail Notification Address is the email address where you wish to receive alerts when incoming and outgoing Google Voice calls are placed using The Incredible PBX. And your FreePBX maint Password is the password you'll use to access FreePBX. You'll actually set it by running passwd-master after The Incredible PBX completes. We need this password to properly configure the CallerID Superfecta for you. By the way, none of this confidential information ever leaves your machine... just in case you were wondering.

Now have another 5-minute cup of coffee, and consider a modest donation to Nerd Vittles... for all of our hard work. :wink: You'll find a link at the top of the page. While you're waiting (and so you don't forget), go ahead and configure your hardware-based firewall to support Google Voice. See the next section for what's required. Without completing this firewall configuration step, no calls will work! When the installer finishes, READ THE SCREEN just for grins.

Here's a short video demonstration of the original Incredible PBX installer process. It still works just about the same way except there's no longer a second step to get things working.

One final word of caution is in order regardless of your choice of providers: Do NOT use special characters in any provider passwords, or nothing will work!

Before you do anything else, run passwd-master again to resecure the passwords for FreePBX GUI access to your system. Don't forget!

Firewall Configuration. We hope you've taken our advice and installed a hardware-based firewall in front of The Incredible PBX. It's your phone bill. You'll need to make one adjustment on the firewall. Map UDP 5222 traffic to the internal IP address of The Incredible PBX. This is the port that Google Voice uses for phone calls and Google chat. You can decipher the IP address of your server by logging into the server as root and typing status.

Extension Password Discovery. If you're too lazy to look up your extension 701 password using the FreePBX GUI, you can log into your server as root and issue the following command to obtain the password for extension 701 which we'll need to configure your softphone or color videophone in the next step:

mysql -uroot -ppassw0rd -e"select id,data from asterisk.sip where id='701' and keyword='secret'"

The result will look something like the following where 701 is the extension and 18016 is the randomly-generated extension password exclusively for your Incredible PBX:

+-----+-------+
id         data
+-----+-------+
701      18016
+-----+-------+

Configuring a SIP Phone. There are hundreds of terrific SIP telephones and softphones for Asterisk-based systems. Once you get things humming along, you'll want a real SIP telephone such as the $50 Nortel color videophone we've recommended above. You'll also find lots of additional recommendations on Nerd Vittles and in the PBX in a Flash Forum. If you're like us, we want to make damn sure this stuff works before you shell out any money. So, for today, let's download a terrific (free) softphone to get you started. We recommend X-Lite because there are versions for Windows, Mac, and Linux. So download your favorite from this link. Install and run X-Lite on your Desktop. At the top of the phone, click on the Down Arrow and choose SIP Account Settings, Add. Enter the following information using your actual password for extension 701 and the actual IP address of your Incredible PBX server instead of 192.168.0.251. Click OK when finished. Your softphone should now show: Available.

Incredible PBX Test Flight. The proof is in the pudding as they say. So let's try two simple tests. First, let's place an outbound call. Using the softphone, dial your 10-digit cellphone number. Google Voice should transparently connect you. Answer the call and make sure you can send and receive voice on both phones. Second, from another phone, call the Google Voice number that you've dedicated to The Incredible PBX. Your softphone should begin ringing shortly. If not, make certain you are not logged into Google Chat on a Gmail account with these same credentials. If everything is working, congratulations!

Here's a brief video demonstration showing how to set up a softphone to use with your Incredible PBX, and it also walks you through several of the dozens of Asterisk applications included in your system.

Solving One-Way Audio Problems. If you experience one-way audio on some of your phone calls, you may need to adjust the settings in /etc/asterisk/sip_custom.conf. Just uncomment the first two lines by removing the semicolons. Then replace 173.15.238.123 with your public IP address, and replace 192.168.0.0 with the subnet address of your private network. There are similar settings in gtalk.conf that can be activated although we've never had to use them. In fact, we've never had to use any of these settings. After making these changes, save the file(s) and restart Asterisk: amportal restart.

 


 

Running Incredible PBX in the Cloud. We've saved the best for last today. For many folks, you may want to experiment with VoIP technology without making a hardware investment and without having to master the intricacies of managing your own server and network. That's what Cloud Computing is all about. And we've searched far and wide to find you the perfect platform. As with many of you, one of our top priorities is always cost. While many providers were willing to provide Nerd Vittles with a few sheckles for pitching their product, only one stepped forward with a price point that we think is irresistible. And, for the record, we waived any compensation other than a few test accounts to get things working properly, so that all of the savings could be passed on to you! So here's the deal. $15 a month gets you your own PIAF-Purple server in the cloud at RentPBX.com. Just use this coupon code: BACK10, pick an east coast or west coast server to host your new system, choose the PIAF-Purple 1.7.5.5.4 install option, set up a username and very secure password, and you're off to the races. Once your account is established, here's the 5-minute procedure to install the special RentPBX-edition of Incredible PBX to begin making free calls in the U.S. and Canada through Google Voice.

Begin by Configuring Google Voice as outlined above. Then log into your RentPBX account using SSH and the port assigned to your account. For Windows users, download Putty from here. The SSH command will look something like this:

ssh -p 21422 root@209.249.149.108

Issue the following commands to download and run The Incredible PBX installer for RentPBX:

cd /root
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/incrediblepbx18-rentpbx.x
chmod +x incrediblepbx18-rentpbx.x
./incrediblepbx18-rentpbx.x
passwd-master

Now just follow along in the Incredible PBX virtual machine tutorial which we've included above. Remember that your new Incredible PBX is sitting directly on the Internet! So don't forget to run passwd-master when you finish the install, or your system is vulnerable. Ours was attacked within minutes!

Securing Your RentPBX Server. With the exception of our WhiteList application, everything is working on your RentPBX server. While we continue to work on the WhiteList component (reread this section of the article in a week or so to get the latest updates), you need to secure your system to avoid endless hack attempts on your SIP resources. Here's how. First, write down the IP addresses of your RentPBX server and your home network. Second, print out your existing IPtables configuration. The file to print is /etc/sysconfig/iptables. Third, make a backup copy of the file. While logged into your server with SSH, the easiest way is like this:

cd /etc/sysconfig
cp iptables iptables.bak

Now we need to edit the iptables file itself: nano -w iptables. Then search for the line that contains 5060: Ctrl-W, 5060, Enter. At the beginning of this line, add # to comment out the line. With the cursor still on this line, press Ctrl-K then Ctrl-U twice. This will duplicate the line. Move to the second commented line and remove #. Use the right cursor to move across the line to --dport. Then insert the following using the IP address of your RentPBX server, e.g.

-s 229.149.129.248

Be sure there's at least one space before and after the new text. Now duplicate that line with Ctrl-K and Ctrl-U twice. Change the IP address on the second line to the public IP address of your home or office network. Repeat this process for every IP address where you intend to use a SIP phone connected to your RentPBX server. Make additional entries for your SIP providers as well. If you want to sleep better, you can make similar changes to the SSH port entry to restrict it to your home/office IP address. It's the line immediately above the 5060 entry. Ditto for port 80 which is web access. Be very careful here. A typo will lock you out of your own server! When you're finished, save the changes: Ctrl-X, Y, Enter. Then restart IPtables: service iptables restart.

As always, we strongly recommend that you not put all of your VoIP eggs in one basket. Google Voice does go down from time to time. Vitelity is a perfect complement because the costs are low and you only pay for the service you use. A discount sign up link is below. And Vitelity has contributed generously to both the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects. So please support them. Enjoy!

Originally published: Monday, January 17, 2011




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


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


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you're seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity's DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here's a deal you can't (and shouldn't) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won't get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity's rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest...

The Ultimate Asterisk Telephony Appliance

gPC miniWe’ve been quietly waiting for Everex to finally get its act together and deliver the Ultimate Asterisk® Telephony Appliance for SOHO users and organizations. Truth be told, it’s the reason we shelved our original VPN in a Flash desktop unit from last August. Thanks to NewEgg, it’s now available and it’s dirt cheap… if you hurry. Would you believe $339 for the gPC mini ET2400. And with this coupon link, you can knock off another $11 and some change. Just sign up for a free eBates account and follow the eBates link to NewEgg to save 2% on your total order plus another $5 for signing up. We, of course, get five dollars wealthier in the process as well.

In addition to a fantastic-looking, small-footprint mini knockoff of your favorite fruit-inspired hardware, here’s what $339 buys you if you act quickly:

  • 2.0GHz Intel® Pentium® Dual-Core Mobile Processor T2450
  • 2MB L2 Cache
  • 160GB SATA Hard Drive
  • 2GB DDR2 667 SDRAM
  • Slot-In DVD-ROM/DVD-RAM/DVD±RW Drive (Double Layer support)
  • Intel® Graphics Media Accelerator GMA950
  • Realtek ALC268 High-Definition Audio
  • 10/100/1000 Ethernet Port
  • 802.11 b/g Wireless LAN
  • Bluetooth Wireless
  • DVI-I Port with DVI to VGA/D-sub Adapter
  • S-Video Port
  • IEEE 1394 Firewire Port
  • (4) USB 2.0 Ports
  • 4-in1 Media Card Reader (SD, MMC, MS, MS Pro)
  • Headphone/Line-Out Port
  • Microphone/Line-In Port
  • Windows Vista Home Premium (for your nearest trash can)

gPC miniYes, you won’t be needing Windows for your new Ultimate Asterisk Telephony Appliance. Very shortly, Nerd Vittles will introduce its turnkey USB flash installer which brings you every Asterisk bell and whistle on the planet in under 15 minutes. We had hoped to introduce the new flash drives this week to celebrate the beginning of Nerd Vittles Fifth Year. But the pricing on 8GB flash drives that provide the compatibility we need to facilitate duplication just weren’t there so we’ll just wait a few weeks until they are. In the meantime, you can order up your new system and enjoy Windows at its very worst for a week or two while realizing a substantial $150 savings on your system. Enjoy!


Want a Bootable PBX in a Flash Drive? Our bootable USB flash installer for PBX in a Flash will provide all of the goodies in the VPN in a Flash system featured last month on Nerd Vittles. You can build a complete turnkey system using almost any current generation PC with a SATA drive and our flash installer in less than 15 minutes!

If you’d like to put your name in the hat for a chance to win a free one delivered to your door, just post a comment below with your best PBX in a Flash story.1

Be sure to include your real email address which will not be posted. The winner will be chosen by drawing an email address out of a hat (the old fashioned way!) from all of the comments posted over the next couple weeks. All of the individuals whose comments were used in today’s story will automatically be included in the drawing as well. Good luck to everyone and Happy New Year!!


New Fonica Special. If you want to communicate with the rest of the telephones in the world, then you’ll need a way to route outbound calls (terminations) to their destination. For outbound calling, we recommend you establish accounts with several providers. We’ve included two of the very best! These include Joe Roper’s new service for PBX in a Flash as well as our old favorite, Vitelity. To get started with the Fonica service, just visit the web site and register. You can choose penny a minute service in the U.S. Or premium service is available for a bit more. Try both. You’ve got nothing to lose! In addition, Fonica offers some of the best international calling rates in the world. And Joe Roper has almost a decade of experience configuring and managing these services. So we have little doubt that you’ll love the service AND the support. To sign up in the USA and be charged in U.S. Dollars, sign up here. To sign up for the European Service and be charged in Euros, sign up here. See the Fonica image which tells you everything you need to know about this terrific new offering. In addition to being first rate service, Fonica is one of the least expensive and most reliable providers on the planet.
 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. This offer does not extend to those in jurisdictions in which our offer or your participation may be regulated or prohibited by statute or regulation. []

Free At Last: The Emancipation of the Apple TV

We’ve never quite forgiven Apple1 for bricking some of the original iPhones because some owners chose to jailbreak their private property to learn how it worked or to add additional functionality. It may turn out to be Steve Jobs’ billion dollar blunder! The stunt was especially egregious when one considers that both the iPhone and much of Mac OS X are based upon open source software for which Apple didn’t pay a nickel. Apple certainly added a pretty wrapper, but the internals of both the iPhone and Mac OS X contain loads of pure open source code including dozens of Mach 3.0 and FreeBSD 5 applications. Destroying people’s cellular phones for accessing soft- ware that was licensed to Apple as open source code just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Courtesy of Apple, Inc.

Thus it was with mixed emotions that we unwrapped our Apple TV during Christmas 2007. Like the iPhone, it was locked up tighter than a drum even though the internals of the product read like a Who’s Who of the Open Source Movement: awk, bzip, cut, grep, find, ftp, finger, gzip, more, nano, openssl, perl, sed, tail, tar, touch, uname, whois, zip, and on and on. In fact, Mac OS X arguably is a better Linux than Linux. Suffice it to say, we read numerous articles outlining the lengths to which some talented users were going to unlock their Apple TVs. The process required disassembly of the unit, removal of the hard disk, and then a tedious unlocking scenario that was akin to breaking into Fort Knox. We chose to leave our Apple TV in its shrink wrap.

So what’s wrong with the Apple TV? Well, nothing… if you don’t mind paying Apple over and over again to reacquire media content which you already have licensed and if you don’t mind jumping through the iTunes hoops to transfer that content to a device which is perfectly capable of being self-sufficient. Let’s see. $1.99 to watch a TV show or play a music video that’s already sitting on your TIVO machine or that’s already freely (and legally) available from numerous sources on the Internet. Apple has added YouTube access, but the design really limits you to the most popular content. That makes it unsuitable (or worse) for anyone under the age of 13… or over the age of about 25. :roll:

Fast forward to 2009, and we decided it was time to take another look at the Apple TV landscape. WOW! What a difference a year makes. You now can create a bootable USB flash drive in a couple minutes, plug it into your Apple TV, and have a perfectly functioning, (true) open source appliance with DIVX and AVI support in less than 15 minutes. The FrontRow-enhanced Apple TV provides access to virtually all media content in every format imaginable with incredibly slick user interfaces thanks to the XBMC Media Center, Boxee Social Media Center, Nito TV, and Hulu. Most were originally designed for Microsoft’s Xbox. Uploads and downloads of media content can be performed using either your Apple TV controller and a television, or a web browser, or SAMBA networking, or SSH. So thanks to a resourceful bunch of talented, open source developers, we finally have an Apple TV worth owning that also happens to be fun to use. Incidentally, this whole metamorphosis can be accomplished without damaging the Apple TV’s existing user interface or its out-of-the-box functionality… at least until the next update from Apple. :-)
So proceed at your own risk!

Freeing Your Apple TV. Since October, 2008, the emancipation of the Apple TV has become a simple, 5-minute exercise. What you’ll need to get started is an Apple TV2 with version 2 software, a 1GB USB Flash Drive, and ATVUSB-creator which is free. The drill here is to create a bootable flash drive that can be used to reboot the Apple TV and transform its closed and proprietary shell into an open source platform. The preferred machine for creating your bootable flash drive is a Mac running Tiger or Leopard although a Windows XP/Vista solution is also available now. The only precaution we would add is to unplug all of the USB drives connected to your PC before creating the bootable flash drive. Then you won’t accidentally reformat the wrong USB drive. The one-minute CNET tutorial is here. A better one is here.

Once you have your bootable USB flash drive in hand, unplug your Apple TV and plug the USB drive into the unit. Now connect your Apple TV to a television. Power up your Apple TV and marvel at the installation process which takes under a minute. Whatever you do, don’t boot your Apple TV with the flash drive more than once! When the install completes, you should see a message indicating that your Apple TV can be accessed with SSH within a few minutes at frontrow@appletv.local. The password is frontrow. The IP address for your Apple TV also can be used for SSH access as well. Remove the flash drive and reboot. You’ll see a new menu option for XBMC/Boxee. Just follow the menu items to install both applications. After another reboot, you’ll be all set. Click on the CNET video above to watch a demo.

After installing the apps, launch and then configure XBMC. If you get an error that reads “Cannot launch XBMC/Boxee from path,” it means you forgot to install the software through your TV menu. If you enable the web interface, you’ll be able to go to any browser on your LAN and manage XBMC through the following link using the IP address of your Apple TV: http://192.168.0.180:8080. For complete documentation, check out the XBMC Wiki.


Before you can use Boxee, you’ll need to visit their web site and sign up for an account. A tutorial on the application is available at UberGizmo. As luck would have it, this application only became publicly available in Alpha last week so we’re just in time. Don’t sweat the Alpha status too much, it previously ran on the XBox platform as well as Windows, Macs, and Linux. There’s social networking support via Twitter, FriendFeed, Tumblr, and NetFlix. While it’s running on your Apple TV, you can access the interface remotely with a browser from anywhere on your LAN at http://ipaddress:8800 assuming you have enabled the web server interface.

Hulu is another terrific resource for movies, TV shows and music videos. It is available through Boxee. There are a few ads but not many. For a lot of the movies, you’ll also need to set yourself up an account there and configure your uncrippled Apple TV accordingly.

But What About Asterisk®? We knew someone would ask. Sure. An Asterisk for Mac solution should work on the Apple TV if you don’t plan to use it as a media center. For best results, compile everything on a separate Tiger Mac, and then move it over. Keep in mind that the device is limited to 256MB of RAM so simultaneously using the Apple TV as both an Asterisk PBX and a media center more than likely will cause unacceptable performance degradation in both your phone calls and your music and video streams. Someday perhaps we’ll give it a try. In the meantime, enjoy your new open source media center!


Want a Bootable PBX in a Flash Drive? Next week to celebrate the beginning of Nerd Vittles’ Fifth Year, we’ll be introducing our bootable USB flash installer for PBX in a Flash with all of the goodies in the VPN in a Flash system featured a few weeks ago on Nerd Vittles. You can build a complete turnkey system using almost any current generation PC with a SATA drive and our flash installer in less than 15 minutes!

If you’d like to put your name in the hat for a chance to win a free one delivered to your door, just post a comment at this link with your best PBX in a Flash story.3

Be sure to include your real email address which will not be posted. The winner will be chosen by drawing an email address out of a hat (the old fashioned way!) from all of the comments posted over the next couple weeks. Good luck to everyone!


New Fonica Special. If you want to communicate with the rest of the telephones in the world, then you’ll need a way to route outbound calls (terminations) to their destination. For outbound calling, we recommend you establish accounts with several providers. We’ve included two of the very best! These include Joe Roper’s new service for PBX in a Flash as well as our old favorite, Vitelity. To get started with the Fonica service, just visit the web site and register. You can choose penny a minute service in the U.S. Or premium service is available for a bit more. Try both. You’ve got nothing to lose! In addition, Fonica offers some of the best international calling rates in the world. And Joe Roper has almost a decade of experience configuring and managing these services. So we have little doubt that you’ll love the service AND the support. To sign up in the USA and be charged in U.S. Dollars, sign up here. To sign up for the European Service and be charged in Euros, sign up here. See the Fonica image which tells you everything you need to know about this terrific new offering. In addition to being first rate service, Fonica is one of the least expensive and most reliable providers on the planet.
 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. Disgruntled customers reportedly have filed over a billion dollars’ worth of lawsuits over their bricked iPhones claiming Apple did it intentionally. Great PR move there, Steve! []
  2. The Apple TV actually runs a modified version of Tiger (aka Mac OS X 10.4). []
  3. This offer does not extend to those in jurisdictions in which our offer or your participation may be regulated or prohibited by statute or regulation. []

What PBX in a Flash Brings to the Asterisk Table

As 2008 comes to a close, PBX in a Flash celebrates its First Anniversary and continues to be the only Asterisk® distro that offers users a choice of Asterisk 1.4 or 1.6 in either 32-bit or 64-bit flavors. In addition, you can choose our Lean, Mean Asterisk Machine or a preconfigured turnkey implementation with every VoIP bell and whistle on the planet. It’s all about choice and flexibility, and we offer both. For a preview of coming attractions, see the end of this article or take a look at the screen capture below. But today we hand over the editorial reins to some of our PBX in a Flash users to express in their own words why they chose PBX in a Flash and what their return on investment has been. We think you’ll be surprised by some of the responses. We certainly were.

You Never Know How Things Will Work Out

During the time of PBXIAF 1.0, I had been working with Trixbox for about 6 months. By the time PBXIAF 1.1 came out, I had learned enough about the way Trixbox can’t be updated to develop a healthy appreciation for the PBXIAF “compile on site, update as prudent” approach.

I happen to be a techno-nut -– but that notwithstanding, our small business was experiencing telephonic growing pains. After 7 years in business, an opportunity to expand our private label help desk product was easily ready to overrun the terrible copper lines we had for telephone service.

Since it was obvious VoIP was the only way to go – we began to explore what was out there. Vonage was riding high, Packet8 and many other competitors all got us around the limited copper into the office, each one we looked at had their own special quirks. All of them were using analog telephone adapters (ATAs) and either regular or slightly customized Analog phones.

We began a year of exploration that started with the BigGreenBox – hoping to learn enough about VoIP and this strange creature called FreePBX to be able to use it. But, with time marching on, Packet8’s Virtual Office product was selected, and put into use in a 10-phone system.

Although pretty much always under development, the web application that was provided was a little twisted, but worked once you got over its way of looking at call flow – rudimentary ring groups could be arranged in such a way as to simulate queues provided nor more than 8-10 callers were on hold. And so it went for a good year. We definitely used all our creativity to connect various IVR’s ($15/month each) to give the caller a good experience, but we were already clearly operating at the very limits of flexibility and capacity for the Packet8 system.

The average telephone bill during this period was approximately $380 per month (about 1/3 of what copper lines had cost) and almost nothing in hardware ($1,000 in proprietary telephones and ATAs).

Then the balance was broken when Packet8 rather arbitrarily stopped supporting a type of IVR transfer that was crucial to our work flow. At the same moment, the unthinkable happened. The help desk grew a little more. Less flexibility + even more demands for non-achievable call flow changes was the death knell for Packet8 at our office.

During this same time we had deployed several ISOs of the GreenBox in the lab and with field technicians….Several ISO’s! In a very short time. So many ISO’s, so fast – and a complete reinstall to go with each one. Yikes. It had become apparent to me that my career would suddenly change from network engineering to “PBX Upgrade and Reconfigure Monkey” if we deployed that distribution. Also – the forums were unproductive and negative much of the time. There are ways to disagree and still remain civil. Then, I rediscovered Nerd Vittles. This was about the time PBXIAF 1.1 was released.

The difference in the environment and team spirit – even when disagreements occurred – is very palatable. The community is full of people who are so wonderfully giving of their experience. The difference in the distributions – well- they can be summed up in about 6 words. Ward Mundy, Tom King, and Joe Roper.

This trio has brought together a remarkable set of skills and disciplines that produced a really, really good distribution, not solely RPM-based so knuckleheads like me can follow simpler instructions. [Asterisk code is] updated and compiled right on the box – and fully scripted. Security flaws get fixed in hours – sometimes minutes (when they find them – there’s been so FEW), not DAYS like the other guys. And all of it is based on FreePBX, arguably the most evolved UI for managing Asterisk.

Together – they got stability, reliability, and repeatability, and decorated it with enough solid features and functions to be a platform whose feature-function-benefit points are all top notch. Linux, Asterisk, Mysql, Apache, Text to Speech (2 different flavors), Voice Reminders, Wake Up Calls, Weather Reports, Tide Reports, Email by Phone, Headline News by Phone, and scripts that make it all go together just the way it needs to be: “stable and reliable”.

PBX In a Flash is a gift – an opportunity for our technical staff to learn a new area of our field, with the camaraderie of some genuine experts in the arena. We are 8 people, doing the work of 12 – just like a million small businesses. As an old network guy – learning a new skill has been tremendously exhilarating. And this technology is so flexible that I’m continually exhilarated learning new things… and for a long time to come! The professional growth has been great for all of us.

Now, the money. Way back up in the top of this [post], I told you the phone bill with Packet8 was on a good month $380 with barely the [functionality] needed to do our professional best.

Today, thanks to PBXIAF, we run 6 queues every day, with tremendous customer and client satisfaction. We use every part of the system to provide our customers with the best telephone interaction experience they could get anywhere. While handling about 10% more traffic, and with far superior call handling and work flow support, our average phone bill is $120 month.

Here’s the good part. With the $260 a month being saved, the company was able to afford to bring in group medical insurance for all our employees. How’s that for positively impacting 8 people every single day of their lives?

Ward, Tom, Joe – I could never have done it without you.

–tshif

And then there was this testimonial from a venue that all of us are thinking about these days:

Our small public middle school in Washington, DC has to make every penny count. I’m in charge of our technology and its meager budget. This past summer we moved to a new and bigger building and needed to migrate our phone system. We had an existing NEC Aspire system with 15 extensions that worked just fine – nothing fancy – and it hooked up to a single POTS line.

At the new building we needed to double the size to 30 extensions. As the Aspire system used VOIP, it should just be a matter of buying the handsets and a little labor to configure them. Right? [Wrong!] $17,000 is what they wanted to hook up the existing equipment that we moved over and add the 15 new extensions. My response: “Hell no!”

I’d wanted an excuse to setup an Asterisk server for a while, but I had heard how complicated it was. School was close to opening. I had a lot of other things to take care of. And I needed a solution that would most likely work the first time. I found PiaF then read up on the wiki and Nerd Vittles. I ordered a set of Aastra 57i’s and a used Dell PowerEdge 2650. We decided to go “pure VOIP” for flexibility and signed up with Vitelity.com.

I followed the great step-by-step directions for PiaF. I wanted to set mine up inside a Virtual Machine which added some complexity, but I found lots of helpful users in the forums that had documented their experiences before me.

Now we’re 5 months in. The system has more capabilities than our old NECs. The sound quality is better, and it’s easier to use. I had some problems with my server crashing, but I was able to rebuild it on different hardware and transfer our entire configuration in about an hour. Now everything is great. I love that we’re implementing more open source tools, open standards, and aren’t limited to vendor BS when we’re ready to expand. Other schools thought we were “crazy” to setup our own system. Now they want all the details to try and do it themselves.

The best part, of course, is that our whole setup was under $7K. That’s a $10,000 savings. To translate that with regards to the school, that savings allowed us to buy and set up four desktop machines in each of ten classrooms. Now THAT is making a difference.

Thanks to the PiaF team and community!

–jcasimir

And then there’s this one:

TODAY I TOOK CONTROL OF MY VOIP…..

I’ve been a happy VOIP user for 4 years running on Vonage. Even got my son hooked up on Vonage while he was in the Army stationed in Japan. But, when the lawsuits loomed over Vonage’s head, I started looking for something else, and I found Nerd Vittles. WOW! Being kind of a gadget junkie to start with and always looking for something interesting to do with my PCs, I started with Trixbox from Ward’s “build” and fumbled along. When PIAF came along I naturally followed.

I have two important successes that have made me love this VOIP/PIAF stuff.

1) When my grandson was diagnosed with a heart condition my daughter and her husband were stuck in hospital emergency rooms for hours at a time. Being about 500 miles from both our family and the other grandparents, they had a very difficult time getting news out to us since hospitals usually restrict the use of cell phones and don’t allow long distance calls from their phones. That only leaves (yuck!) pay phones. In just a few minutes time, I was able to buy a local DID to the hospital and connect it to my PIAF. I then set up an IVR that gave them access to a DISA. That way they could call us using a local number or call through the DISA to contact the other grandparents. Keeping everyone informed really eases your mind when the grandkids are ill!

2) When I got tired of my wife continuing to ask me for phone numbers when calling our family and friends, I finally decided to set up an IVR for her. So far, both of our kids’ home and cell numbers (as well as my cell number) have kept her happy. When she asks for more I’ll just add them. So far the “Wife Acceptance Factor” is high and I’m having great fun. Hanging up on recognized telemarketers is great, the Callerid Superfecta works great, and I like getting the Weather Forecast from Allison.

The port from Vonage was completed today. I’m using Future-Nine as my primary provider. So, like I said, today is the day I took control of my VOIP.

–jeffmac

And, speaking of role reversal…

PIAF to the Rescue!!

Here is a twist for you.

First, the problem:

My company has a ShoreTel system in place, 48 extensions. They have 2 PRI’s bonded together with dynamic channel allocation. Eight channels are dedicated to the phones, the rest to the Internet. When we have more calls than 8, the system robs channels from the Internet, up to 23 channels max, and returns them as the call volume drops. This all works well.

Monday, a pole a few blocks from our office had the transformer catch fire, and the provider’s equipment was affected. We lost both Internet and phones for several hours. Much of our business is time critical. With no incoming phone calls and no email, we almost lost out on a chance to bid on a VERY large deal. Fortunately, the customer knew the L.A. branch number and after being unable to get in touch with us, he called L.A.

Anyway, now it is critical to management that this NEVER happen again.

The Solution:

Tuesday: I studied the issue and wrote a proposal.

Wednesday: I fired up a PIAF box, established a 10 channel SIP trunk group to the ShoreTel system, and got everything setup for intersystem routing, etc.

Thursday: I am picking up a pay-as-you-go service with 10 channels from a VOIP provider with a single DID and setting our Telco service for failover/rollover to the VOIP DID. I am then ordering a second Internet circuit, 2meg x 2meg, to bring in the SIP trunks from the provider. As soon as that is done, I will dual-home the mail server so that we can get and send email via both Internet providers.

The End Result:

If the primary connection fails, phone service rolls over to the DID from the VOIP provider, rolls into PIAF, and cross trunks to the ShoreTel – AUTOMATICALLY!! Email switches to the secondary MX record and keeps right on rolling. One change in the firewall for the public NAT address and gateway and Internet [and phone service] is back up and running.

THANK YOU Ward, Tom, Joe and gang for making this possible.

–Greg Keys

And, last but not least…

You made my Grandma Cry!

My wife and I are currently living in Germany, and we’ve been using a Skype-In number so our friends and family can call us. For my wife it is important that the solution just works like a regular phone and so I had setup a Siemens M34 to interface with our DECT phone and it worked, mostly, for a few days until the entire system needed to be restarted. For most of our family, this solution works. But my grandmother is living in a different area code and can’t afford to call us as often as she would like.

I stumbled upon the PBX in a Flash project a few weeks ago and, after I found two old Grandstream GXP-2000 in the company junk closet (we are an Internet startup – someone is always buying new toys), I installed PiaF 1.2 using VMWare. I set up a Vitelity DID, the CallerID Superfecta, the Callerid Creep Detector, experimented with ring groups, routing, IVRs and was so impressed that I knew our Skype-solution days were numbered.

Last night, I took the plunge, reformatted the Skype system, and deployed PiaF 1.3. The install was so fast and painless. I copied the old configuration information into the new system. And, my new PBX was up and running in under and hour.

I had so much time left on my hands that I figured I might as well experiment. I followed another Nerd Vittles tutorial and created a few cell phone extensions for my family back in the states. I went to Vitelity and purchased another DID. I recorded a quick message, setup an IVR, and a new corresponding route. That’s when the fun started.

I called my grandmother and told her: “Grandma, we’ve got a new telephone number. Will you please call me right back at…”. She was a little surprised when I told her that the number was now going to be a local call for her. The real surprise came when she called the number and heard, “Hi Grandma, welcome to your phone system. For Martin and Ashlee, please press 1, for Rachel please press 2,…”. By the time she pressed 1 and Asterisk was ringing our home ring group, she was in tears.

We talked for quite a while about our lives, the Olympics, the hurricane, and everything else. This morning when I got up, I checked the call logs and saw that she had systematically called every single IVR point after we got off the phone.

I didn’t deploy PiaF as a mission-critical business application yesterday–though that day will come for me, but I did what the open-source Internet ideology is all about in my mind. I used the knowledge and experience others have gifted the community to create a solution that fit my situation.

Thanks Again, PiaF Team, from the bottom of my heart!

–Martin Modahl

For those of you that still need a New Year’s Resolution, we hope our fans have given you some ideas. And, when my wife again asks why I continue to work for 5¢ an hour, I’ve got something great for her to read.

Thanks, everybody. You’ve made it all worthwhile.


Want a Bootable PBX in a Flash Drive? Early in 2009 to celebrate the beginning of Nerd Vittles’ Fifth Year, we’ll be introducing our bootable USB flash installer for PBX in a Flash with all of the goodies in the VPN in a Flash system featured a few weeks ago on Nerd Vittles. You can build a complete turnkey system using almost any current generation PC with a SATA drive and our flash installer in less than 15 minutes!

If you’d like to put your name in the hat for a chance to win a free one delivered to your door, just post a comment below with your best PBX in a Flash story.1

Be sure to include your real email address which will not be posted. The winner will be chosen by drawing an email address out of a hat (the old fashioned way!) from all of the comments posted over the next couple weeks. All of the individuals whose comments were used in today’s story will automatically be included in the drawing as well. Good luck to everyone and Happy New Year!!


Nerd Vittles Fan Club Map. We hope you’ll take a second and add yourself to our Frappr World Map. In making your entry, you can choose an icon: guy, gal, nerd, or geek. For those that don’t know the difference in the last two, here’s the best definition we’ve found: “a nerd is very similar to a geek, but with more RAM and a faster modem.” We’re always looking for the best BBQ joints on the planet. So, if you know of one, add it to the map while you’re visiting.


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. This offer does not extend to those in jurisdictions in which our offer or your participation may be regulated or prohibited by statute or regulation. []

Ringbinder theme by Themocracy