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The Most Versatile VoIP Provider: FREE PORTING

VoIP Prioritizing The World’s Best Traveling Phone

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We follow a lot of really smart geeks on Twitter. As you might imagine, there’s a good bit of chatter about the world’s best cellphones. About half are die-hard iPhone users, and the rest are all over the map. Our iPhone is now a glorified iPod and, when you finish reading today, you’ll understand why.

What always has set Macs apart from PCs in our humble opinion is flexibility. So why is it that Apple has gone out of its way to strip that feature from the iPhone? Well, we all know the answer. AT&T and the iTunes Store. Or in a word, money. So what’s missing? For openers, there’s no tethering, the ability to connect your PC to your cellphone when the power goes out so you can send an emergency message or check on your servers at work. And then there’s free calling: the ability to place free SIP calls or Google Voice calls using your cellphone from almost anywhere. And then there’s the money thing. If you’ve traveled to foreign countries with an AT&T-powered iPhone, we don’t have to finish this story. For everyone else, let’s just say the cost of using your iPhone in a foreign country or on a cruise ship is stratospheric.

We’ve watched our friends and colleagues purchase all sorts of add-on gizmos to make up for the shortcomings in the iPhone. These have included secondary cellphones and more recently the MiFi devices which let you pay one of the companies in the American cellphone oligopoly another $60++ per month to tether your notebook and netbook to the cellular data network. Let’s get this straight. We pay a cellphone provider for an unlimited data plan as part of our service, but to transmit data to or from our PC through the plan, add another $60 a month for another data plan with a bandwidth cap. Huh? This is for a service that most of us use intermittently and would prefer to never use because of the lousy performance. Here’s our #1 traveling rule. Never stay in a hotel that doesn’t have WiFi, period. Why would you? The one next door has it!

So let’s go about this by the book… with a requirements analysis first! We want a cellphone that makes cellular calls from most locations, and we want the ability to decide which cell provider we use depending upon where we are. We want the option to make phone calls through our own SIP provider, or Asterisk® server, or Google Voice whenever we feel like it with or without a Wi-Fi connection. And, of course, we want VoIP Prioritization. This means we want our cell phone to prioritize incoming and outgoing calls by attempting to use VoIP services first, cellphone carrier second. Good luck with that one! We also want to be able to check our email using POP3 or IMAP servers. And, when we need to send or receive something on our notebook computer and there’s no WiFi around, we want our cellphone to provide data connectivity. We’re not going to be downloading movies and 1,000-page books all day long. We just want to get an important file attachment from the office so we can read it on a normal screen. And, finally, we’d like a QWERTY keyboard for messaging, and we want to be able to change our own battery, add a memory chip, and swap out SIM cards whenever we’d like. And the music, camera, and GPS functionality would be nice-to-haves on a phone.

Is this so hard? Well, if you’re in the United States and you’re planning to purchase a phone through Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T, or Verizon to get one of those sign-away-your-life phone discounts, the answer is IMPOSSIBLE! And, to those that are chomping at the bit to tell us how they’ve accomplished some of these miracles with their hacked iPhone, let me just remind you that Apple considers it a national security threat to hack your iPhone thus explaining why Apple also considers it honorable to brick your hacked iPhone at any time despite the fact that you paid for it. Ask yourself if you really want to invest your cellphone dollars with a company spewing forth this kind of bullshit stuff.

And the answer is…

The unlocked U.S. version of the Nokia E71 costs $289.99 at NewEgg, and it’s worth every penny. We’ve been using ours all day, every day for the better part of a year. We’re not going to do a full review of the phone when there’s already an excellent one out there. Start with the allaboutsymbian review and then pick up again here. What isn’t covered in that review is the critical component that we believe sets this phone apart from everything else out there: incredibly simple SIP connectivity and VoIP setup with an Asterisk server because of the native SIP stack and SIP client which is built into the E71’s firmware. And, as you will soon discover, this transforms the E71 into the perfect traveling companion because it makes the E71 just another telephone extension on your home office Asterisk PBX. If secure communications matters, there’s VPN support as well.

Implementing Incoming VoIP Prioritization. Here’s how we’ve set up connectivity to our E71. First, create an extension on your Asterisk server that will be dedicated to remote SIP access from your E71. Let’s use extension 371 in this example. Give it a very secure password because the IP address of your E71 will change as you move from place to place so we can’t really lock down the extension with anything other than a secure password, or you won’t be able to connect. Next, create another extension (372) and forward all incoming calls to that extension to the regular phone number of your E71, i.e. the one provided by your cellphone provider. Then create a Ring Group on your Asterisk server (373) and set up 371 as the only number in the ring group extension list. For the destination if no answer, choose extension 372. Finally, set up your Google Voice number with a destination extension that forwards calls to ring group 373. So the way this will work is that incoming calls to your Google Voice number will ring the SIP connection on your E71 (371) if your E71 is registered to your Asterisk server via SIP. And, when it’s not registered, the calls will be forwarded to the regular phone number of your E71 (372) without any delay since extension 371 isn’t registered with your server. If you get in the habit of searching for WiFi wherever you happen to light and connecting back to your Asterisk server, (as you’ll see, this is a one-click operation), then you’ll have dirt-cheap remote cellphone service on your E71 almost all of the time. And, if you travel to foreign countries, it means that any time your E71 is registered with a WiFi HotSpot, all incoming calls will be free instead of costing an arm-and-a-leg in per minute international roaming fees.

SIP Setup for Nokia E71. John Rogers over at geek.com has written an excellent piece with lots of pretty pictures to show you how to configure your E71 with Asterisk. Rather than reinvent the wheel, here’s the link. It only takes a couple of minutes. We do have a few tips to get you started on the right foot. Make certain that the IP address you enter for your Asterisk server is the public IP address or fully-qualified domain name for your server, not the private IP address inside your firewall. As you roam from one WiFi network to the next, the E71 will automatically configure the phone for the new networks as soon as you choose WLAN Scanning, select a WiFi network, and choose to Connect to your Asterisk server. This is performed from the default screen on your phone so there’s no wading through layer upon layer of menus. After linking and unlinking to different networks about a dozen times, we have found it’s a good idea to shut down the phone, remove the battery momentarily, and then restart the phone. It keeps awkward connect problems from ever occurring. To enable VoIP Prioritization for outbound calling, all you have to do is change one default setting on the Nokia E71: Menu, Tools, Settings, Phone, Call, Default Call Type: Internet Call.

Depending upon your choice of router, using the public IP address of your Asterisk server may cause connectivity issues when you attempt to make a connection through the same WiFi network on which your Asterisk server resides. You can solve this by investing in one of dLink’s Gaming Routers which also provide the necessary tools to prioritize VoIP traffic on your network. Second, make sure you load the latest Nokia firmware for the E71 before you begin configuring your phone. You can check which firmware is installed on your phone by pressing *#0000#. If it’s less than 200.21.118, you need to upgrade, and you’ll need a Windows machine to do it. Here’s the link to Nokia’s upgrade site.

Where To Go From Here. Once you have your E71 performing as a remote Asterisk extension, there are some other must-have’s for your phone. First, you’ll want to purchase JoikuSpot Premium for 15.00€ (about $20). It turns your phone into a WiFi HotSpot whenever you need tethering. Next you’ll want to load Nokia’s OVI store which includes a number of free downloads including Internet Radio, Fring, Nimbuzz, and Web Server. With the web server, you can actually create a blog and let visitors share photos and take pictures using your E71. Try ours to get a taste of what’s available. We think you’ll also find Google Latitude to be a fascinating addition. It lets you produce a free, GPS-enabled map with your current location just like Where In the World Is Nerd Uno. In fact, that map is produced from GPS data generated on our Nokia E71.

A Word of Caution. Finally, we’ll close on a cautionary note. Tempting as it may be to buy Nokia’s latest and greatest cellphone, DON’T! Nokia quietly has dropped the native SIP stack and SIP client on almost all of its newest cellphones presumably to win the love and affection of companies like AT&T. These are the same companies that continue to claim in FCC filings that they have nothing against VoIP on cellphones. The list of VoIP-impaired Nokia cellphones includes the N97 as well as the AT&T-branded E71x. Nokia also has been less than clear about the new N900. Historically, this has meant that SIP functionality has disappeared. So beware of shiny new things… that may not work worth a damn. It’s too bad. Nokia was one of our favorite companies, but it looks like they’re ceding the VoIP technology business to Google’s Android which happens to be next on the Nerd Vittles Radar. Here’s a complete list of Nokia’s SIP-compatible phones. Enjoy!

Enhanced Google Maps. In case you haven’t noticed, we’ve added yet another Google Map to Nerd Vittles. Now, in addition to showing our location with Google Latitude, we also are displaying your location based upon your IP address. We’ll show you how to add something similar to any LAMP-based Linux system in coming weeks. It’s a powerful technology that has enormous potential. If you’re unfamiliar with Google Maps, click on the Hybrid and Satellite buttons and then check out the scaling and navigation options. Double-click to zoom. Incredible!

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.

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