Is mobile substitution slowing?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Associated Press reports that a new federal study finds that more than one out of eight households have cell phones, but don't have the old-fashioned phones. However, the study also finds that the number of households relying solely on cell phones may be growing more slowly than in the past.

What do you think? Could you get by with just a cell phone, and without your traditional landline telephone?

Skype dominates VoIP (at least outside US)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

According to IT Wire, Skype accounts for 95% of all VOIP on the net, but only 1% of the bandwidth. The study claims to have looked at three petabytes of anonymous data representing over one million users in Australia, Eastern Europe, Germany, the Middle East and Southern Europe during August and September 2007

P2P (file sharing) is the dominant consumer of bandwidth, accounting for over 90% of Internet bandwidth during the night, according to the research.

VOIP.COM customer story

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

These stories happen all the time. There is probably at last one such case for every service provider ever. One customer can have all the bad luck, so one story doesn't make or break a product, but I found this saga by a VOIP.COM user almost moving: I Give Up!

One of the striking things I saw in there is this:

when the techs do talk and they tell you we really don't guarantee you phone service - you should only use a regular land line for any communications because VOIP.COM is not to be considered reliable (actually had one person tell me that)

If that's true, it's pretty incredible. What does it say about the state of VoIP?

Jaxtr - the dirty details

Saturday, October 27, 2007

With all the "free calls" sites and services out there it can be very confusing. A lot of people are looking for free calls to India. Most services don't include places with higher costs such as India, in their "free calls" supported countries. Jaxtr is (or at least was) an exception. Except now people are starting to report problems:
** You cannot call to the same number second time.
** US Local number what they provide never function.
** Sudden disconnect the calls while talking.
** only US people have 100 Minutes, all other country they allow only 3 - 16 minutes per month as rollover.

Comcast messing with VoIP?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Where there's smoke, is there fire?

It's a story that won't go away and the complaints are getting louder.

Andy Abramson:

I'm not at all surprised to read that one of the nation's largest cable operators is getting accused of packet shaping. Nor am I surprised that their support folks are being mum on the subject.

It seems thought some unhappy Comcast customers are happy to write about their issues which directly impact the ability to use real time apps like video conferencing and VoIP rather well.

Earlier, Light Reading reported on the issues too. “We’re not blocking access to any application, and we don’t throttle any traffic,” said Charlie Douglas, a Comcast spokesman. Note that Douglas didn’t explicitly deny the use of deep packet inspection or traffic shaping products. ”Comcast has a responsibility to manage our network to ensure our customers have the best service, and we use available technologies to do so.”

Their marketing tends to center around faster speeds than DSL, but the practice of download caps and traffic shaping could neutralize that advantage for real customers.

Voip hacker headed for jail

Friday, September 28, 2007

His boss supposedly ran off with one million bucks, but Robert Moore, the operation's technical muscle, only got $20,000 - and federal prison.

Moore hacked 15 VoIP companies and allegedly stole and then sold more than 10 million minutes back in 2005.

Information Week has the full story and an interview (very interesting stuff)

Moore, 23, will begin his two-year jail sentence this week.

MartinTibbitts: Ooma is a "leaky PBX"

I've never heard this term before, but Martin says "Leaky PBX" was a term from the mid 90s that applied to PBX systems that did toll-bypass through "back door" means - as a result they were shut down. He says ooma is doing essentially the same thing and adds:

Neat trick! But will it fly? Honestly, I fully expect lawsuits to fly here. Ooma is clearly violating the intent of the law here…as well as engaging oblivious users to violate their agreements with the local phone companies (RBOCs) and engage in unlicensed long distance termination. Honestly, knowing how the RBOCs legal strategies work, I expect them to jump on this hard….after waiting to see if Ooma makes any impact at all.

Indeed. That last point is a key one. The phone companies are not going to waste a lot of time and money on ooma, if they don't end up being much of a player, and simply fade into oblivion on their own.

How can I get free VoIP?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

As someone said, there is no free lunch. However, there are some companies providing free, or near free calling, usually with certain limits.

Before we get to that, let's talk about what's not free. Paying $25 per month to get "free" calls is not free. Therefore, we're not talking about such things here.

The main reason that VoIP companies offer free calls of one kind or another is to lure customers into purchasing credits to make calls to paid destinations. But we have to realize that while VoIP calls are very cheap, they are not completely free. Somebody is paying for the "free" calls and eventually those chickens have to come home to roost.

PC to PC, and PC to Phone calls

There are many services available for calling from a PC to someone on a PC, Skype being the most well known. You can call inside the Skype network for free. But if you want to make calls to regular landlines, you'll have to pay. The subscription fee for calls in North America is $30 per year. It's not a great deal of money but it still isn't free (this option applies only to calls made from within the US and Canada).

Other services in this group include GizmoProject, Free World Dialup, and dozens of others.

Phone to Phone

There are fewer choices for free calling from a regular phone to a regular phone. Here are three of note:


Jajah doesn't push their free calling aspect very much. They are more often described as a way of making cheap calls. The way the service works is you register your number and if the person you're calling also registers, you can call each other free, if you initiate the call at the Jajah website. There is a lot of fine print on "free" calls and perhaps this is why the service isn't well known for this feature - but supposedly you can do it.


PhoneGnome is a very inconspicuous service that works like Jajah above, but the service appears to focus on free calls between members more than paid calls (which are almost hidden on the website). People can register their numbers and then call each other free. The service is free for both mobile phones and landlines in the US and Canada, but landlines-only outside the US. Other numbers can use the service, but they must pay a per minute fee to place calls.

Both PhoneGnome and Jajah have somewhat complicated pricing schemes for paid calls, that is, calls made from or to numbers that are not free (for whatever reason).

Both companies also have so-called "Fair Use" policies that put restrictions on the volume of free calls - but this is reasonable given that these companies are giving us something for nothing.

Jajah says the following:

JAJAH asks its customers to pay from time to time. If you choose not to pay, JAJAH may need to limit your free minutes. To take advantage of free minutes, users should deposit funds into their JAJAH account.

Again, I'd say that's fair. A lot of people complain that this kind of thing is a "rip-off", but I disagree. When they start playing bait and switch, that's one thing, but I think placing reasonable limits is perfectly fine, as long as they are transparent about it. You are getting a free service after all.

One thing I don't think is reasonable is the practice of random charges out of the blue, without warning, which has been reported about some of the services like VoIPcheap, VoIPbuster etc.


Jaxtr is another similar service, except instead of the service calling your phone when you place a call and then connecting you to the called party (which is how the above two work), with Jaxtr, the people that want to call you get a local telephone number to call you on. Instead of phone numbers, you know "friends" on Jaxtr by their email address. Jaxtr gives you a number for each "friend" (that is supposed to be local to you). When you call one of these numbers, it rings to that friends real phone (but you never need to give out your actual number).

Jaxtr limits users to a certain number of free calling credits each month and this seems to vary with the kind of account one has (they call them "jax") And, again, there is a complex scheme for the actual call costs (reminds me of "message units"). At this time, Jaxtr is still in Beta, and doesn't offer a way to buy additional credits.

Final Thoughts

Another important note. All this free calling generally applies to the same set of countries, or more directly, it always excludes places where there are few low-cost calling options, such as India, Africa, and the Middle East. There are VoIP options, including those listed above, that might be able to save some money for calls to/from these regions, but there are no free options. (If you're willing to buy a $99 hardware box, you can use the PhoneGnome service free in any of these regions).

In conclusion, as we state above, there really is no such thing as completely free VoIP, but there are ways to make zero-cost calls and significantly reduce your phone bills using a combination of free and low-cost calling options. This means that you will need to put some time and research into it, but in the end you can achieve almost free calls using VoIP technology and services.

Voipbuster - Free for the mathematically challenged

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

We often see people talking about getting "free" calls by using Voipbuster.

I don't get it. If I understand correctly, the way it works is you have to give them 10 EUR (about $15 USD) and that qualifies you for a maximum of 300 minutes of "free" calls per week to specific "free" locations for a few months (each call limited to one hour). Then you have to "top up" (put in another $15) to make more "free" calls.

When I do that math, it sounds more like I'm paying $60 per year for a limited amount of "free" calls. Regardless of the annual total, it sure as heck isn't "free" - and you still have to pay for calls to "non-free" numbers (most mobiles outside the U.S., India, etc).

Wikipedia says

"company continuously increases its prices in some hidden ways. It changes terms constantly without notice"


"Latest feature seems that the 10 euros you pay to get 'free nations' can no longer be used as credit, you lose the money after 90 days. Any non-free destinations need a separate 10 euro credit."

I don't understand how this company has such a great reputation on the blogs.

In short, caveat emptor.

Note: The company behind Voipbuster, Betamax GmbH & Co KG, runs dozens of other services under many different names, all with a similar scheme (see this site for more information).

A ShoePhone? Really?

Well, not really. If you thought the VoIP company and product names weren't already bad enough, the latest is ShoePhone - no seriously.

Unfortunately, it doesn't have anything to do with Maxwell Smart... or shoes. It's a VoIP conference call system, or something like that. They call it "Interactive Conversations".

It looks like you can call it with SIP at the address sip:123@ so you could use it free (I think) from an Asterisk PBX or any voip system that lets you call SIP addresses. For now, the service is free and allows up to 250 people to participate in a session (talk, listen, text-chat).

I have to say, the website is pretty confusing. I can't figure out how to use the service or software (or whether the service can be used without their software) but it looks like there might be something under there, once I do figure it out.

FierceVoIP - VoIP devices

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Two similar but different VoIP devices to augment home wireline with VoIP:
PhoneGnome: PhoneGnome answers ooma's call
ooma: ooma chief talks with FierceVoIP

There's a bit of a debate in the comments to both articles, with rabid supporters in each camp.

There is a really interesting tidbit in one of the comments from the PhoneGnome CEO:

The PhoneGnome box could be plugged into the Ooma box to enhance (or augment) the ooma service with additional features and capabilities, whereas the reverse doesn't apply to the ooma box. A PhoneGnome box would augment the user of ooma service with new features like (1) softphone (use your ooma account on your PC at Starbucks); (2) use ooma service on your mobile phone; (3) use an alternative VoIP provider for international calls to get cheaper rates (or even free); (4) use your Ooma service from alternative locations (say outside the US to make free calls to anyone in the US, or on a wi-fi phone from a hotspot).

I think this means that one could connect the PhoneGnome box to an Ooma service and then set it up so one could place calls via SIP to anyone in the U.S. In other words, I could use a wi-fi phone at work to make free calls to anybody in the U.S. Or I could call any U.S. number free from outside the U.S. (say from India to the U.S.) I guess I could do the same thing by connecting the PhoneGnome box to a Vonage account for that matter, but it's an interesting twist to the Ooma line sharing scheme.

Two Jons Disagree About Ooma

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Just as Jon Arnold reports that he likes Ooma, another Jon, Jonathan Greene at atmaspheric | endeavors complains about several annoyances including: "an audible buzzing background sound [that makes] it very difficult to hear the other party" and issues with outbound caller ID (the Caller ID the person he calls sees).

CallerID is apparently hidden for “Security Reasons” by default, but you can enable it on outgoing calls by dialing *82. I expressed my discontent with this option and suggested it be a one time activation with the option to block as needed - the way everyone else handles it.

Jon Arnold, on the other hand, says:

Ooma works, and I think it's a well designed product. That's the easy part in my mind. Getting this to market and convincing people to spend this kind of money upfront from an unknown company will be the real challenge in my mind. Right now, Oooma is very Voice 1.0

We should note that neither person actually paid the $400 for their Ooma box - they got it free as a beta tester.

Brett Arends recommends DIY VoiP

Monday, August 27, 2007

In his article “Skip Skype, Vonage: Get VoIP for Next to Nothing” Brett Arends describes how easy it is to setup VoIP on your own and wonders

"how any telephone companies, including voice over Internet providers, are going to make any money at all down the road."

In this case, he must mean by "voice over Internet provider" companies like Vonage because he uses a VoIP service provider account in the DIY setup too (a Gizmoproject/SIPphone account).

It should be noted that Brett's DIY setup is a bit of an apples and oranges comparison with a Vonage service, because Vonage (and all the other companies offering more or less the same thing) offer a full replacement for a landline, including services like forwarding, voicemail, and (in particular) 911. Also, if you are paying Vonage $25 a month, it's more likely that they will take your call if you need technical support, whereas most DIY service providers offer little or no support (ironically, almost none of them have telephone numbers that you can call).

The DIY setup described in the article WILL NOT provide 911 service (or 411, 511 etc.) That's something to be aware of. Depending on the provider, it may or may not include voicemail, but even it it does, it is unlikely to be as seamless or integrated as a Vonage service.

I also think the article overstates how "easy" it is. While the Voxilla configurator is a terrific tool, many (most?) mainstream users would be overwhelmed in trying to repeat the setup Mr. Arends describes. And if anything goes wrong, they will be up a creek.

I'm not suggesting that Vonage (or one of their competitors) is a better choice, I'm simply pointing out that, to be fair, it is not a apples to apples comparison.

Emails to go unanswered

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Ooma claims to be different than all the other VoIP startups. However, just like most the rest, they ignore queries from customers. I have sent several emails to and have yet to receive a single reply.

Update: I did finally get a response to one of my questions. I asked about 911 when using ooma without a landline. They don't support this usage yet (they require a landline) but when they do, then your 911 calls will be routed over the internet with the address you register with ooma - so it seems that ooma essentially gives you the equivalent of a Vonage-type "broadband phone service" (in FCC lingo this is a "replacement" service) with unlimited calls to the U.S. for the price of the box up-front, instead of a monthly fee. Like Skype and their supernodes, it would seem that if nobody actually has a lineline, the ooma business model falls apart.

Techie puts up "Ooma Revealed" site

Mike Pierce has started a web site at where he dissects the new "free US domestic calls for life" startup Ooma

Mike says:

I hope that this provides the information that prospective subscribers will need to evaluate the product in regards to its pros and cons.

Although I have to say I don't see many "pros" on the site, mostly just "cons". The site details various technical, operational, legal, and security/privacy "issues" (i.e. problems) with the Ooma approach, characterizing many as "fundamental errors in the plan... that cannot be fixed by engineers."

Mike points out one of the biggest ironies with the Ooma's claims.

They further claim that they are letting everyone have "the right to screen calls" and then define a system in which normal calls from an Ooma subscriber to a PSTN subscriber will have the Calling Line ID blocked, thus denying the PSTN subscriber this "inalienable right".

The site includes some interesting recommendations for using the service, including this tidbit:

Whenever placing a call over the Ooma network, begin the call with *82 to force the call through a "secure" Ooma Gateway and to include Calling Line ID so that your friends who screen their calls will answer.

Update: per the comment from Mike P to this post, the site was taken down - a copy of the website is available for download here (per Markus Göbel's Tech News).