Posts tagged: Wi-Fi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Originally published: Monday, October 20, 2014



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


 
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. []

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. []

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: 2013 Cellphone Navigation Guide

Every year or so we like to take a fresh look at the cell phone landscape and reassess what makes the most sense for business, personal, and family use in terms of cost, functionality, and performance. Last year’s favorite based upon both cost and feature set was StraightTalk which offered unlimited talk, text, and data (sort of) on either the AT&T or T-Mobile network for $45 a month. Since that article was released, StraightTalk has quietly dropped the AT&T offering reportedly at AT&T’s request due to reported changes in the phone unlocking law. To date, existing StraightTalk users of the AT&T service have not been affected. Whether that will continue, of course, is anybody’s guess. Suffice it to say, when you could get identical or better functionality from StraightTalk for less than half the cost of buying directly from AT&T, customers were leaving AT&T in droves. So this may be nothing more than an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging. For those that may be interested, you still can buy an AT&T StraightTalk SIM on eBay for $30-$100.

What has also changed in the last year is the data plan landscape. Both of the Bell Sisters, AT&T and Verizon, have moved to shared data plans with unlimited talk and text. In the U.S. market, there are no more unlimited data plans except from the second tier providers, Sprint and T-Mobile. You basically pay a base fee for a bucket of data and then a per device fee for each cellphone or tablet you wish to use. It should come as no surprise that the costs are nearly identical whether you choose AT&T or Verizon. See this Engadget article for the details. If you’re a heavy consumer of data services or if you have kids that frequently stream music or movies, the pay-as-you-go shared data plans are bad news. Similarly, StraightTalk advertises unlimited data on their monthly plans but, in the fine print, bars use of any phone for tethering or any streaming services. We’ll leave it to you to decide whether this is deceptive advertising. Suffice it say, it hasn’t bothered the Federal Trade Commission thus far.

So what is a heavy cellphone data user to do? For the moment, there is a solution, but who knows what the future holds. Verizon has grandfathered in those customers who previously had $29.95 unlimited data plans, and this applies to 3G and 4G data services. For $30 more a month, you also can add tethering with unlimited data. For the record, if this sounds expensive to you, keep in mind that Verizon’s latest MiFi JetPack pricing for 10GB of data per month is a whopping $90. The only condition (thus far) for keeping an unlimited data plan is that customers cannot take advantage of new phone subsidies when renewing or extending a contract. But customers are free to purchase a new phone at full price and transfer an existing unlimited data plan account to the new phone. More importantly, for those of us not on a Verizon unlimited data plan, there is no restriction on transferring an existing account to someone else. It should come as no surprise that clever, long-time Verizon customers quickly started selling their unlimited data plan accounts on eBay. And we bought one to determine whether the transfer process actually works. It does!

Before we get to the details, we’ve got to share our latest Best Buy adventure to purchase the new Samsung Galaxy S4 which we will review in a few weeks. As with previous episodes, we continue to swear we’ll never again set foot in a Best Buy store. Here’s why. Thinking we’d save a little time, we ordered the GS4 on line at bestbuy.com with delivery to our local store. The site showed the store had the units in stock. Within minutes, we got an email confirmation that the order had been received. The original email noted that we would receive another email when the phone was ready for pickup but also included a link to actually schedule a pickup time. Certain times were blocked out, and we picked an available time slot which was roughly four hours after the phone had been purchased. So far, so good.

Silly us, we thought scheduling a pickup time might actually bear some relationship to the ordering procedure. It didn’t. When we arrived at the store, the customer service rep indignantly insisted that we had arrived too soon. The approval process had not been completed despite the fact that PayPal already had approved the transaction. The Best Buy web site actually showed that the order was awaiting confirmation (from the store) that the phone was in stock. The store employees claimed no knowledge of such a request. When would the process be completed? We were told it usually happened almost instantly, but this was “an expensive phone.” Who knows? Four hours later, there still was no confirmation email. Because we were leaving town, the on line order was cancelled, and we returned to the Best Buy store to purchase the phone directly. The Verizon SIM card was an additional $20. The salesperson slipped it into the bag with the phone. Hours later, we discovered that Best Buy had taped a different SIM chip onto the credit-card sized card that usually contains both the SIM chip and the SIM card device ID. Because they didn’t match, we suspected that someone had returned a defective SIM card, and Best Buy had swapped out the bad SIM chip for the original one on the card. Guess where the bad one went? We’ll never know because we didn’t want to take a chance since we needed a working SIM card to complete the Verizon transfer procedure. Trip #3 to Best Buy plus an online order and a cancelled online order minus $823 for a phone, $290 to eBay, and $10 for gasoline, and we finally had all the pieces. Never again. Honest! In her usual sympathetic voice, my wife inquired, “How does Best Buy stay in business?” I responded that the stores were convenient. She reminded me that the process recounted above was anything but convenient. Amen.

If you decide you want a Galaxy S4, do yourself and Nerd Vittles a favor. Use the link in the right column to head over to Amazon. You’ll not only avoid the Best Buy aggravation, but you’ll save over $170 in the process while providing a little financial support to the Nerd Vittles project. If you’re a Prime member, you even get free 2-day shipping. Don’t forget to purchase a Verizon 4G SIM card. They’re $4 at Amazon instead of $20 at Best Buy. :roll:

When we purchased the grandfathered data plan on eBay, the seller had indicated that the plan would not be available for transfer for a couple of days. What we were told we needed was the IMEI of the phone plus the SIM card ID. Actually, you need a few more things unless you have an existing Verizon account. Remember, you have to pass a credit check to get Verizon service. And this requires your name, social security number, date of birth, home address, and phone number. In short, it’s everything anybody would want that was interested in identity theft. We have credit monitoring services so we weren’t too worried. If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t repeat the procedure we used since you’ll be on the phone with both the eBay seller AND the Verizon rep that’s handling the account transfer. Ideally, a seller should be able to provide you the cellphone number associated with the account, and you could provide the IMEI and SIM card ID to the seller for relaying to Verizon. Then you could call Verizon directly, plug in the cell phone number, and complete the transfer and credit check. This avoids the potential man-in-the-middle problem. In any case, the process was effortless. Changing the phone device and phone number on the account was a breeze. We chose a Calling Plan and Messaging Plan to go with the Unlimited Data Plan, and we were off to the races. Available plan pricing is shown above.

Still wondering why unlimited data with 4G LTE service matters? Take a gander at the performance numbers above from one of the most remote areas in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, and the answer should be obvious. Waynesville is a town with a population of under 10,000 people. Impressive indeed, Verizon!

Pioneer Alert. We’re pleased to announce the release of the new PIAF-Green Virtual Machine with PBX in a Flash 2.0.6.4.4, Asterisk 11, and FreePBX 2.11. This version incorporates important security updates including a new Linux kernel and patches to protect against the Apache SSL attacks plus the latest Google Voice Motif additions for Asterisk and FreePBX. Grab a copy to play with on your Windows, Mac, or Linux desktop. You can download it now from SourceForge and provide feedback in the PIAF Forum. Documentation is provided both in the SourceForge readme and in the Nerd Vittles article covering the previous release. We’ll have a new tutorial available next week on Nerd Vittles.

Deals of the Week. There are a couple of amazing deals still on the street, but you’d better hurry. First, for new customers, Sangoma is offering a board of your choice from a very impressive list at 75% off. For details, see this thread on the PIAF Forum. Second, a new company called Copy.com is offering 20GB of free cloud storage with no restrictions on file size uploads (which are all too common with other free offers). Copy.com has free sync apps for Windows, Macs, and Linux systems. To take advantage of the offer, just click on our referral link here. We get 5GB of extra storage, too, which will help avoid another PIAF Forum disaster.

Originally published: Thursday, June 6, 2013




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 for all of us.


 
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…

Google Nexus 7 Review: State-of-the-Art Features, Performance & Price

What a difference a Jelly Bean can make! Home runs don’t come easy in the technology arena especially in the tablet market with a third-generation, 800-pound gorilla named iPad® already sitting in the room and an upstart Kindle Fire® threatening to burn the house down. But, if you’ve been disappointed by the fit and finish of previous Android releases, then it’s time to have another look. Whether you’re a road warrior or a couch potato, you’re gonna love the new Nexus 7 quad-core tablet from Asus. Open the case and look into your Nexus 7’s eyes. Blink once1 and boom. Your desktop appears. Incredible features. Stunning performance. And unbelievable price.

We like to start with the bad news. There’s not much: no rear-facing camera, no microSD expansion slot, and no HDMI port. Don’t make the mistake of buying the 8GB tablet. While $199 is appealing, you’ll quickly wish you’d spent the additional $50 to purchase the 16GB flavor. Remember, the storage is not expandable. But, if you hurry, you’ll get a $25 gift card to Google Play. So go for broke and splurge. You’ll want to fill all 16 gigs with lightening fast Android apps. And there’s no longer a shortage of choices. Almost anything that you’d find on an iPad is available for the Nexus 7… and then some. The one missing feature in Jelly Bean is Flash support. That’s Adobe’s doing, not Google’s. But there’s an easy fix. Load the Firefox Beta browser and side load the Adobe Flash Play 11.1 apk, and you’re back in business.

If you follow our musings on Nerd Vittles, you know that we eat our own dog food. So our Nexus 7 has both a PPTP VPN and NeoRouter VPN activated. We connect back to our PBX in a Flash server through one of the VPN connections and log in as an extension on the home Asterisk® server using Bria for Android. We activate a Google Voice account using GrooVe IP. And we connect back to an OBi device in the home office using OBiON. That makes three active phones for inbound and outbound calls right on the Nexus 7 desktop. Incoming calls to our home office pop up using Gtalk with the new Nerd Vittles’ GV Call Notifier.

As you can see from the above screenshot (actual screen size), our most recent Gmail messages, Google Calendar, and today’s weather forecast for our current location are displayed whenever the tablet is opened for use. The PIAF Forums are one click away with Tapatalk as is access to your favorite dozen apps and 20,000 of your favorite songs.

Drooling for Apple’s Siri? You’ll love the new, voice-activated Google Search which puts Siri to shame. Watch the video above and decide for yourself. And then there’s Google Now:

It tells you today’s weather before you start your day, how much traffic to expect before you leave for work, when the next train will arrive as you’re standing on the platform, or your favorite team’s score while they’re playing. And the best part? All of this happens automatically. Cards appear throughout the day at the moment you need them.

The Nexus 7 also sports a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, NFC, Bluetooth 4.0, and a GPS chip that can take advantage of Google Maps new off-line mode when WiFi isn’t available. Want to take a high-res screenshot? Just hold down the Power and Vol/Down buttons at the same time, and presto, your screenshot is saved. Video conferencing also is a breeze using either Google Talk or Skype. File transfers are equally easy thanks to NFC. Just tap two Jelly Bean devices together and the file transfer is on its way wirelessly. And then there’s Google Wallet which lets you pay for purchases with the tap of your Nexus 7. In a revolutionary move, there’s also a well-written, real User’s Guide (as in book) at your fingertips. Just click the Book icon to access your entire book collection including the User’s Guide. We could go on, but you get the idea. It’s revolutionary as is the price!

We can’t really show the near instantaneous response that a quad-core processor provides. Suffice it to say, this isn’t a Kindle Fire brimming with compromises to save on production costs. It’s a fast, no-compromise, state-of-the-art tablet with battery life that rivals any iPad. Because of web constraints, the above screenshots really don’t provide an accurate rendering of the actual screen resolution. Simply put, the 1280×800 WXGA screen leaves the Kindle Fire in the dust. Watching 720p videos of the Summer Olympics is nothing short of amazing with images literally jumping off the screen. For those of you that still wear suits to work, the Nexus 7 will fit comfortably in your inside suit pocket. Weighing in at just 12 ounces, you won’t be listing to one side from carrying the Nexus 7 in your pocket. In fact, it’s about 20% lighter than a Kindle Fire which makes a huge difference with the form factor of this device.

Last but not least, the setup process is now as smooth as silk. In about 5 minutes, everything is configured, your Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Music and photo collections are all synced and ready for use. Run, don’t walk, and buy this tablet. It’s that good. And it’s less than half the cost of the cheapest, entry level New iPad. Does it replace a desktop PC or Mac? No. Could it replace an iPad? In a heartbeat.

Originally published: Monday, July 30, 2012



Astricon 2012. Astricon 2012 will be in Atlanta at the Sheraton beginning October 23 through October 25. We hope to see many of you there. We called Atlanta home for over 25 years so we’d love to show you around. Be sure to tug on my sleeve and mention you’d like a free PIAF Thumb Drive. We’ll have a bunch of them to pass out to our loyal supporters. Nerd Vittles readers also can save 20% on your registration by using coupon code: AC12VIT.




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 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. In case you’ve forgotten, one of the criticisms of the original face recognition device security was the fact that you could hold up a photo of the person with another device and walk right into the tablet. Forcing the person to blink once pretty much solves that. Most photos don’t blink. :-) []

The Perfect Valentine: $149 Android + $25 Virgin Mobile Plan

LG Optimus VJust when AT&T and Verizon thought they’d suckered everyone on the planet into paying $100 a month for 24 months to get a functional cellphone with either an iPhone or Android phone, along comes a breath of fresh air. Close your eyes and try to picture Google’s Nexus One paired with a $25 3G cellphone plan with unlimited data, unlimited messaging and 300 minutes a month. Did we mention NO CONTRACT? Flash support? Nope.1 But tethering is possible for talented geeks and nerds as well. For those that don’t spend their whole life yacking on a telephone, this combination hits the sweet spot. It’s especially appealing for both the older generation who need the security of a cellphone but rarely use it and those under 25 that seldom converse other than in sparkling text messages.

With the addition of the free CSipSimple app from the Android Market, you can place SIP calls through your favorite SIP provider or PBX in a Flash server for little or no cost using either a WiFi or 3G data connection. Or you can use the free OBiTalk for Android app in conjunction with a $49 OBi device we previously reviewed to make free Google Voice calls in the U.S. and Canada.

First, the bad news. It’s not a Nexus One. And now the good news. It’s even better. It’s LG’s new $149 Optimus V for Virgin Mobile. Yes, it weighs an ounce more and is perhaps a few millimeters thicker than a Nexus One, but in return you get Android Froyo 2.2. Aside from that, the phones are virtually identical: beautiful screen, quality feel, 3.2 megapixel camera, Facebook, Twitter, full integration of Google Apps including Google Market, Gmail, Google Voice, Maps, Latitude, Voice-Enabled Navigation with GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth (cell phone and audio pairing finally work reliably in Froyo!), and 3G service on Sprint’s rock-solid nationwide network. The phone is rated at 6 hours talk time and 168 hours standby… and it can be rooted in a couple of minutes if you hurry. The phones went on sale this week at Best Buy, Radio Shack, and other Virgin Mobile retailers. But they won’t last long at least without a patch to close the rooting door. So, yes, it is the Perfect Valentine’s Day gift. Stop reading and start calling until you find one. They’re that good, and they’re available on line as well. Best Buy currently has them for $129.99. Be sure to check out the Comments to this article for late-breaking discounts.

Virgin Mobile actually offers three cellphone plans for the Optimus V. All are contract-free! And all include unlimited messaging, email, data and web services. The only difference is in the cellphone minutes per month. $25 a month gets you 300 minutes. $40 gets you 1200 minutes. And $60 gets you unlimited minutes. The signup process only takes a couple of minutes, and you have the option of recurring billing by credit card only if you choose it. Unlike AT&T and Verizon, international calling is downright reasonable. The big cities in Mexico are 2¢ a minute, most of Europe is 25¢ and other countries are all over the map (literally). Pakistan, for example, is 5¢. So there are no gotchas, at least that we could find.

Once the phone is enabled, you’ll want to hurry over to the Android Central Forum which will walk you through rooting the phone using your favorite Windows machine. The only trick is finding the Windows USB drivers for LG phones. HINT: Look here. Once you get Sun’s JRE and the Android SDK installed, SuperOneClick handles the heavy lifting in a few seconds. Once the phone is rooted, you can download SuperUser, TitaniumBackup, and Barnacle WiFi Tethering from the Google Market. The only trick to Barnacle is to choose Skip wpa_supplicant in Settings. Finally, you’ll want to disable over-the-air (OTA) updates so that the provider doesn’t mess up your perfect phone down the road. Here’s how. Renaming the keys file is all that is required, and the easiest way to do it is using Root Explorer (available in the Google Market for a couple bucks) which is money well spent. Happy Valentine’s Day to all. We’ve listed a few of our favorite Android apps below to get your started. Enjoy!


Originally published: Friday, February 11, 2011


Need help with Asterisk®? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum or Wiki.
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…

  1. Incompatible processor precludes Flash. Sorry. []

Samsung Galaxy Tab: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Photo courtesy of Samsung

We purchased AT&T’s U.S. edition of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab on the release date in November, 2010. It’s been a wild ride ever since. First, the good news. Steve Jobs is dead wrong. A 7″ tablet is far from being DOA. In fact, the Galaxy Tab is the ideal form factor for a business person that wears a suit, sport coat, or jacket. The device fits perfectly in almost all coat pockets. Unlike the iPad, you can hold the Galaxy Tab in one hand rather than balancing the device between your knees. The screen is dazzling. Performance is respectable, Flash works reliably, two cameras are included (even though no app yet uses the front-facing camera), and at least so far, the SIM chip in your AT&T iPad is interchangeable with the AT&T Galaxy Tab using a $2 Micro SIM to SIM card adapter. So all of the shortcomings of the iPad have been addressed. With more than 200,000 apps in Google’s Market, you now can find comparable applications to most that are available for the iPad. And, while the Android apps weren’t specifically designed for a tablet, we never noticed. This contrasts dramatically with the half-baked iPhone/iPad app conversions that Apple attempted to pull off.

Photo courtesy of Samsung

With Android’s open platform and near perfect hardware, what could possibly be wrong with this device? Well, just about everything unfortunately. Between Google, Samsung, and AT&T (and we assume the other U.S. oligopolists aren’t far behind), the device has been crippled in just about every possible way. Not only is the tablet locked to the specific carrier even though you paid full retail ($700+) for the unit, but cell phone usage also is blocked by all four U.S. carriers. No collusion, of course. :roll: This functionality is available on all European models. Fortunately, for those in the U.S., Bria for Android will let you make SIP phone calls using any SIP provider you wish to use.

To add insult to injury, applications for the device are locked down to only apps available in the Google Market. This means, for example, that you cannot load thousands of tech books available in .apk format from O’Reilly. More importantly, you can’t restore your device from a backup. And, yes, Google has been quick to respond to requests to remove any apps that would let you root or tether the device. All of this might be understandable if AT&T offered an unlimited data plan and had to worry about users eating up their precious bandwidth. You may recall that AT&T’s only unlimited data plan offering lasted less than a week with the iPad. But AT&T now charges for Internet service on a pay-as-you-go basis. So there’s really no rational explanation for crippling the device for which you paid full retail and which you own.

While you still can root the device with a little creativity, flipping the setting to permit downloads of non-market apps using the latest Samsung firmware now bricks the unit since Samsung has added a checksum to the configuration file.

It would be easy to blame AT&T for being evil. They seem to regard it as a badge of honor. But Samsung and Google have aided and abetted the carriers’ wishes enthusiastically, albeit secretly. In fact, Samsung reportedly will announce the Galaxy Tab II this week at the Consumer Electronics Show with checksummed firmware that will take device crippling to new lows, far beyond what Apple has been willing to do on the iPad platform. In other words, you can kiss custom ROMs goodbye on Samsung’s “open” Android platform. For all of these reasons, AT&T’s device wins our 2010 Award as the Most Crippled Device of the Year, with dishonorable mentions to both Samsung and Google.

Fortunately, U.S. consumers have a choice. Just refuse to buy any more of this junk until the carriers and manufacturers clean up their act. We really could love this device, and it’s puzzling why the carriers and the manufacturer and Google feel compelled to cripple these devices in the U.S. market when all four of the major service providers offer the same device at the same price with the same (crippled) feature set. It’s almost like it’s part of their DNA to cripple everything they sell that has their name on it. Little wonder that folks are looking elsewhere to purchase new technology.

The other sad reality is that the technical writers in the U.S. for the most part roll over and play dead with these companies in order to secure the latest story and to get the free pass to the Vegas tea parties to yuck it up with their pals. And, of course, for some there are still loads of free toys. It’s easy to find glowing reviews of the Galaxy Tab from so-called pundits, but just try to find an article laying out what we’ve documented. We’re not tooting our own horn here, just wondering why folks that get paid for reviewing these products as their livelihood don’t do their homework instead of regurgitating manufacturer press releases. Unfortunately, it’s much the same reason that all of the cell phone companies are so chummy and cookie cutter comparable.

We couldn’t end this disappointing review without a word about Samsung’s service operation. Apple it’s not! A week after purchasing our device, we accidentally dropped it down a flight of brick steps. HINT: Buy a case. It’s too bulky to hold in one hand while you’re walking unless you have hands the size of Seinfeld’s old girlfriend. One-handed operation works fine sitting in a chair. If you’ve ever seen what a baseball can do to a plate glass window, then you have a pretty good image of what our Galaxy Tab looked like. The device still worked perfectly if you didn’t mind slicing your finger. That was Thanksgiving Day. Three weeks later we still were arguing with the Samsung Repair Facility in Texas which insisted that the IMEI number of their own device wasn’t in their computer system. Thus, they refused to repair it even though we were willing to pay for the repair. After dozens of calls, we finally reached the head of Samsung USA service who managed to manually enter the IMEI into the system so that we could get a quote on the repair. Samsung has only sold a million units. Wouldn’t you think someone might have thought about repairs? Incidentally, the cost was $170 including shipping in both directions which we thought was quite reasonable. And a week later the device arrived with a new screen AND the new crippled firmware which everyone else will get to enjoy shortly.

As for us, thanks to a law degree, it’s only a quick trip to the courthouse next week to drag Samsung into court to explain why they erased our device and installed newly improved crippleware rather than simply replacing the screen which we contracted with Samsung to repair. We’ll keep you posted.

Our Bottom Line for those that haven’t been to law school: JUST SAY NO!

Originally published: Monday, January 3, 2011




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