In our unending quest to find the best and cheapest VoIP providers that work reliably with Asterisk®, today we turn our attention to dialpad, a company which recently was acquired by Yahoo! As it turns out, that may not be a good thing for Asterisk lovers, but it was probably a pretty good day for the dialpad owners. For those that don’t know, dialpad offers the least costly (aka cheapest) unlimited U.S. and Canada outbound residential VoIP service on the planet: $11.99 a month for all you can eat with no hidden fees or add-on’s. For those that enjoy legal mumbo jumbo, if you review their Terms of Service, you’ll see lots of language that looks vaguely familiar to what you’ll find in the BroadVoice language minus the $100 penalties which BroadVoice lawyers seem to have concocted on their very own.
It used to be you could subscribe to dialpad and had your choice of a Sipura SPA-2000 ATA or a softphone client. Since the Yahoo purchase, the ATA option has quietly disappeared even though (to date) they still are supporting customers with ATA’s. Yahoo apparently wants dialpad to integrate a softphone into their instant messenger service to compete with Skype. Skype is free so you do the math. What does all this have to do with Asterisk, you might be asking. Well, plenty. As long as there is an ATA configuration floating around, we can usually look at the settings and make the service work equally well with Asterisk. And it turns out that is still the case with dialpad. Just don’t expect it to last forever… but, you’ve heard that advice with other providers as well so welcome to the VoIP rollercoaster. And, for those who care, Dialpad’s terms of service don’t (yet) prohibit use of a PBX. Didn’t know you were going to have to go back to law school just to use your damn Asterisk server at home, did you?
So how do we get dialpad to work with Asterisk? Well, first you sign up for the service. That gets you an account with a username and password. Then you’ll need a quick lesson in how to install the G.729 codec for Asterisk. This is the codec that dialpad uses for communications so you have to use it at your end, too. Otherwise, you get a fast busy every time you connect through dialpad. Unless water torture is your thing, you have to pay for G.729, but it’s only $10 for one simultaneous connection which is what you get with dialpad anyway. Once we get G.729 working, you add a trunk for dialpad and then integrate dialpad into your outbound dialplans. And presto, dialpad works!
Before we begin, let me take my obligatory moment to again rail against VoIP providers who are so short-sighted that they don’t see the Golden Opportunity they are missing by not supporting Asterisk directly. Asterisk users are pioneers. VoIP users are either pioneers … or idiots. Which would you rather deal with? Asterisk users have money. Almost half of American families with median incomes over $150,000 a year and residential broadband service also have some type of PBX in their homes! Skype is free and competing with free isn’t a big money-maker. So why is it that most VoIP providers can’t figure the rest of this out for themselves? Beats me.
Signing Up for dialpad Service. To get a dialpad account, just visit their web site and make a selection. The only real deal is the all-you-can-eat U.S. and Canada dialpadUSA plan for $11.99, and you have to live in the U.S. or Canada to subscribe. Remember, too, that this is for residential use only. The rest of the offerings are reasonable but not the best deals available compared to providers such as Voxee and BroadVoice which we previously have covered. Don’t bother to download the softphone client. We won’t be using it. Just write down your username and password. That’s what we’ll be needing to connect through Asterisk.
Installing the G.729 Codec for Asterisk. The G.279 codec is used to reduce the bandwidth necessary to process voice calls. Instead of 64Kbps of data for a voice call, G.729 stuffs the call into 8Kbps. What MP3 did for music, G.729 does for voice calls. To install the G.729 codec, you first need to download the version that matches the processor in your Asterisk box. There are codecs available for both Linux and FreeBSD systems here. You’ll also need to download the registration utility. If you’re using Asterisk@Home, you’ll need the glibc_2.3 utility available here. If you don’t know what version of glibc is running on your Asterisk server, go to a command prompt and type ldd –version. Note: There should be two dashes before the word "version." Now that you’ve downloaded codec_g729a.so, you’ll need to copy it to /usr/lib/asterisk/modules on your Asterisk server while logged in as root. Next, copy the register program to any convenient place on your Asterisk server, e.g. /tmp will do. Modify the permissions for the register program so that it is executable: chmod a+x register. Now pay your $10 and wait for your registration key to be emailed to you. When you get the key, go to your Asterisk server and issue the following command from the directory where you placed the register program: ./register G729-1234ABCD substituting your actual key for G729-1234ABCD. Your Asterisk server must have Internet access to complete the registration process. Once you get a message that the registration was successful, restart Asterisk, and you’re in business: amportal stop then amportal start. Finally, note that the G.729 registration is locked to the MAC addresses of the network cards in your Asterisk server. If you change NICs, you’ll need to reregister the G.729 codec. You get two bites at the apple without contacting Digium® for a new code.
Adding the dialpad Trunk. Fire up your web browser and point it at your Asterisk@Home server now. Go to AMP->Setup->Trunks and choose Add SIP Trunk. You can leave the CallerID field blank since you set this on the dialpad site. For maximum channels, enter 1. For the Dial Rules, enter the following:
In the Outgoing Settings, name the Trunk: dialpad. For the Peer Details, enter the following substituting your own username and password where necessary. The only trick here is that we’re going to tell dialpad that we’re a Sipura ATA device instead of an Asterisk server just to avoid anyone at dialpad getting their panties in a wad if Asterisk PBX entries started appearing in the dialpad log files. Right now dialpad doesn’t block Asterisk devices but who knows what the future holds so we’ll just masquerade as the device the dialpad service already supports and avoid any future problems.
Leave the Incoming Settings section blank since we won’t be receiving calls from dialpad. For the Registration string, enter the following using your username and password: yourusername:email@example.com. Now save your entries and then click the red bar to restart Asterisk. Almost done.
Adjusting Your Dialplans To Support dialpad. If you’re using the Outbound Dialplans that we’ve built in the last few episodes, then it’s a simple matter to move dialpad up this list of priorities. Using AMP->Setup, click the Outbound Routing tab and then select each of the following routes: Local, Tollfree, and US. For each route, add a new Trunk Sequence by clicking the Add button and choose SIP/dialpad. Then move it to the top of your Trunk Sequence list for each route to make it your first outbound dialing priority. Save your changes and restart Asterisk.
Making a Test Call Using dialpad. To be sure everything is working swimmingly, start up Asterisk in interactive mode using the Command Line Interface (CLI) so that you can actually watch what’s happening when calls are placed and received. This works best if you connect to your Asterisk server through SSH from a Mac or PC. SSH comes with every Mac and the syntax is simple: ssh root@AsteriskIPaddress. If you’re still chained to Microsoft, download Putty from the Mother Country, and you can do the same thing using a Windows machine. Once you’re logged in as root, issue the following command: asterisk -r. Quit ends your Asterisk CLI session, and exit logs you out of your SSH session. Now issue the command: set verbose 5 to get maximum information. Now place a U.S. long distance call and watch what happens. You should see something similar to the following which shows that the call was placed using the new dialpad trunk:
-- Called dialpad/16785551212
-- SIP/dialpad-a47a is making progress passing it to SIP/101-d762
-- SIP/dialpad-a47a answered SIP/101-d762
Call Quality with dialpad. Now that we have everything working, you’re probably asking, "Well, How Is It?" On a scale of 1 to 10, we give dialpad sound quality a 5. This is always a subjective thing, but there seem to be considerably more echoing calls, calls without sound at one end, and other annoyances that remind you of the snowy television era. Your mileage may vary, of course, depending upon where you are and who you’re calling. Just keep in mind that dialpad doesn’t have a trial period, and they don’t give refunds so you’ll end up spending $11.99 for the experiment, whether it works out or not. Instant messaging isn’t the same technology as voice calls and, if the voice calls are managed similarly to Yahoo’s IM traffic using the same type servers and bandwidth management techniques, that would probably account for the mediocre voice quality, but the price is right.
Coming Attractions. If you’ve already got dialpad or BroadVoice service, then enjoy the rest of your current month subscription using Asterisk, but start lacing up your switching shoes. If you’re new to VoIP, we’d recommend you pass on dialpad despite the price. We’ll have a rock-solid performer for you next week for $3 more with real Asterisk support and unlimited U.S. residential calling plus two free incoming DID’s from any of the blue states shown on the U.S. map (inset). For all the poor BroadVoice users out there, you’ll finally have something to cheer about. And this provider offers simultaneous outbound calling at no extra cost! Are you listening Teenagers of America? It’s all backed by a company with in-depth Asterisk know-how which doesn’t mean you can bug them to death for $14.95 a month, but it does assure all of us that the Asterisk@Home configuration we lay out is one which has passed their scrutiny with flying colors. The good news for businesses is that these folks know their stuff and have an infrastructure to assure that your communications system remains rock-solid reliable … even with VoIP. They’ll even preconfigure phones for you. And it all runs on the best fiber backbone in the country. Last but not least, the dialpad and BroadVoice (obnoxious) terms of service will be just a bit of ancient history once we introduce this provider so I can take off my legal eagle thinking cap for a while. Did we mention their calls sound better than Ma Bell?
Also coming soon, we’ll cover Digium’s S101I, affectionately known as the IAXy√¢‚Äû¬¢ Version 2, a NAT-transparent, FXS device providing a POTS telephone interface to your Asterisk PBX using an IAX connection. The real beauty of the IAXy is that you can travel with it and never again have to worry about firewalls, NAT, and STUN servers. Just open one UDP port, and you’re done. Remote access to your Asterisk@Home server from anywhere on the planet becomes a one-minute drill instead of a nightmare. For parents bankrupted by college kids’ cell phone bills, the IAXy is the perfect addition for that college dorm room or apartment.
Oldies But Goodies. There are numerous additional articles in this Asterisk HOW-TO series to keep you busy. You can read all of them by clicking here and scrolling down the page. We recommend reading the articles from the bottom up so that the learning curve is less painful. Enjoy!