VoIP cheap and simple, sort of… (update)

Small update to my VoIP setup. I discovered a brilliant initiative by Voxbone. iNum offers an international phone number not linked to any geographic location, in essence, a telephone number that should follow you anywhere in the world. I quote from their web site

iNum is an initiative launched by Voxbone, supplier of local telephone numbers to communications services providers and businesses worldwide. Voxbone is a privately held company with offices in Brussels, Singapore and Los Angeles. The iNum.net website aims to inform about the iNum initiative and its members and will centralize the communication between iNum members.

Of course I jumped at the opportunity and got my free number from one of the participating VoIP providers. In my case its Localphone. They offer the usual cheap local calls to most international destinations, cheap incoming numbers and free iNums. As with some other providers they will assign you a free iNum without a purchase.

So now I have two phone numbers incoming, one from TelfreeSA for local incoming calls from friends and family, iNum for all international calls and one outgoing through Rynga.

I was very surprised, all the VoIP providers I tested are able to call my iNum, not that I tested that many. Predictably, traditional telcos here do not honour the +883 5100 numbers and fail.

So, my numbers +27 87 750 6002 (SA number so don’t call if you don’t have above mentioned or similar cheap international calling plan) and +883 5100 904 4687 iNum.

VoIP cheap and simple, sort of… (part 2)

Having struggled a bit with version 1 of my VoIP system I decided a new approach was in order. Keep in mind my requirements, somewhat expanded from the initial plan:

  1. I need to be available regardless of my location
  2. No roaming charges
  3. I would like my cellphone number in South-Africa to reach me where ever I might roam.
  4. Cheaper calls than the cell provider offers would be a bonus.
  5. Additional phones around the house would be great too.

The above meant version 1 would’ve been perfect if only I could get chan_mobile to reliably work for extended periods of time. Since I could not quickly stop at the office to restart the bluetooth link and disruption is not really acceptable I abandoned that approach.

I spun up a droplet at Digital Oceans. It is a very cost effective virtual server apparently running on KVM offering 512 MB (I know its not a lot) and 20 GB SSD drive. Because its a VM in KVM swap space is possible making this virtual server very useful for small web hosting, and running an Asterisk server.

At the moment it is hosting this web site, my Asterisk and also has a couple of console apps making mail, gtalk and skype available from any workstation with an ssh client.

My requirements above are met the following way.

  1. To be available regardless of my location I acquired a free VoIP number from FreetelSA. This is the local option to South-Africa. Telfree offers a similar service to the rest of the world however, at the moment their web site seems to be down.
  2. Obviously, no roaming charges apply to VoIP. All I need is a cheap 3G sim card in the country I operate in. If not available there must be wifi available somewhere.
  3. Having my cellphone number reach me in another country on my VoIP turns out to be easier than I expected. I have a positive balance of almost R2k on my phone atm so to help me burn through those all I need to do is forward my cellphone number to the local VoIP number when the phone is not reachable on the MTN network.
  4. Now the cheaper calls is not really a big concern as my phone contract is much bigger than I really need. However, the contract period ends in April so I’d like to have everything in place to reduce my telco costs. I found Rynga offering 120 freedays for every 10 euros purchased. The freedays offer free calls to landlines in most countries and for all other calls local tariffs to most countries competing very favourably with anything MTN or any other local telco can provide. In addition, once my phone number with MTN was verified calls through Rynga appear to come from my cellphone number.
  5. Additional phones around the house are a breeze with Asterisk as I can add as many sip accounts as I want. At the moment I have one analogue phone in my study, and one VoIP account for my cellphone. I can call between the phones and receive calls.



VoIP cheap and simple, sort of…

While I still enjoy playing with my X less system I also started to play with VoIP. I put together a VM with Asterisk earlier this year to replace the functionality that our VoIP provider was offering, mostly because it is way easier to manage ourselves than to keep asking for changes at the provider. And also, they charge per VoIP number and there really is no need for each and every one of our office phones to have its own number.

Having successfully completed this I decided I’d like VoIP for myself. Specifically, my wife and I are heading off to Europe for our 2nd anniversary in June and I would like to be able to stay in contact.

Asterisk is the obvious way to go. Version 1 of my VoIP server is illustrated below:

This works quite well. A cellphone with bluetooth is paired to the PC running Asterisk, employing chan_mobile, a plugin allowing the PC to act as a bluetooth headset for the phone. I roam all over the place with my cellphone using 3G from another operator and Sipdroid as my VoIP client.

Unfortunately, the bluetooth stack, or the chan_mobile module, is somewhat temperamental depending on the bluetooth and phone combination in use. I was most successful using my trusty old Samsung D500 with a Cambridge Silicon Radio bluetooth device. Since it kept losing its mind and generating static when I answer calls I eventually decided to abandon this project. It is just too unreliable for day to day use. It might be worth pursuing at a later stage to link my cellphone to my desk phone when at the office the way it is usually used. I did however manage to use it this way for a week as my work phone (although there were a couple of crisis that resulted in somewhat flared temperaments when I couldn’t hold calls reliably).