Sunday, October 7, 2007

VoIP - Voice Network Inc

In order to connect your asterisk to real people with real telephones you are going to need to do at least one of two things: Put some hardware into your Asterisk box that allows you to connect your computer to one or more standard telephone lines (or POTS; Plane Old Telephone Service;) or subscribe to a VoIP provider that you can connect to over the Internet and which in turn provides the hardware that connects to the regular telephone system.

Now, there are advantages and disadvantages to both options which basically boil down to features, flexibility, and cost advantages for the VoIP provider, vs quality and simplicity for your standard POTS provider.

Since I am mainly concerned with cost and flexibility, I have decided to go with VoIP.

There are various levels of VoIP providers, but in the end, the basic services they all offer are what are known as DID (Direct Inward Dialing) services and PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) gateway services. Many vendors provide other services on top of those basic services, but as long as you have the basic services and you are willing to do a little work, you can pretty well build yourself a system with all the same services the big VoIP vendors provide, and at no (or little) extra cost.

Those basic services, DID and PSTN gateway services provide the following functionality:

DID (Direct In Dial:) gives you a phone number and allows people to dial that number. When they dial that number it connects them to the VoIP provider, which in turn passes that call over the Internet to your VoIP phone or PBX (Private Branch Exchange - which in my case is my Asterisk box.)

PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) Gateway: This service allows you to connect your VoIP phone or PBX to a VoIP providers server, which in turn connects to the PSTN and allows you to call other people connected to the regular PSTN using their POTS phones.

Once you have subscribed to these two services (and they don't necessarily have to be from the same VoIP vendor,) and your VoIP phone or PBX are configured properly, you have the ability to make and receive phone calls from anyone with a phone.

Of course, when you subscribe to a "full service" vendor such as 'Rogers Home Phone', or 'Vonage', you also get some fancy "bells and whistles" such as voice mail, call waiting, call forwarding, etc. All of which are provided for by those vendor's big PBX systems, but since you also have a PBX system (Asterisk) you now have the capability to provide those same features and options without having to pay the high "all in" cost, or "additional charges" usually associated with the "full service" vendors.

So what's the difference? Why should I do it myself rather than let Rogers or Vonage do it for me? Simple ... the basic charge for a DID service can be as low as $5 a month ($1 if you meet certain traffic requirements) and PSTN Gateway services can go as low as $0.01 per minute. So instead of paying $20 a month for a Rogers / Vonage service, plus extra if you want any fancy options, you can pay $10 or less for the basic DID & PSTN Gateway services and build your own fancy options as needed.

So doing some basic research on VoIP providers available in the Greater Toronto Area, I decided I'd give 'Voice Network Inc' a try, and subscribed to their DID and PSTN gateway services.

At this moment I do not have any feel for the quality of their VoIP network, so I cannot really make any positive or negative recommendations as yet on their service. My rational for going with this company was based on them providing features that seemed to best meet my needs.

Some of the reasons I picked Voice Network Inc.

Payment methods: The included the regular methods, including CC, Paypal, and online banking. They also offered EMail money transfer which works best for me. You simply email them a deposit of either $15, $20, $25, or $100, into your account balance, and use the balance to pay for monthly DID and phone call charges. In my case since I'm evaluating the service I went with a small $15 deposit, and purchased one DID number (any charges for making calls is deducted from your balance.) I sent the EMail money transfer Friday evening, and the amount was deposited in my balance at 5am Saturday morning.

Local Calling Charges: Incoming calls are free (I paid $1 a month for the DID, but there are usage conditions that mean that I will likely be charged about $6 a month in the end, but this is "up front" information and will not be a surprise,) and outgoing calls to just about anywhere in Canada will be charged at $0.01 per minute.

Long Distance Charges: My wife's family lives in SouthEast Asia, and the charge for calling her family in that particular city is just slightly over $0.02 per minute; cheaper than your average phone card ... we shall see if the quality is any better.

My initial testing with ths service for local calling seems to be working out quite well in terms of quality ... my first call did sound a little "broken", but when I checked, I was making the call while my wife was streaming live TV from Asian, and the MythTV box was running a "full bore" bittorrent "upload" ... as soon as I turned off the bittorrent client the quality went to "excellent" ... seems that a project for the near future will be to get a hold of a DD-WRT compatible router and configure some QoS (Quality of Service) parameters for my home network.

Upcoming post: My Asterisk config files, which I used to build a basic dial in, dial out, multi extension, voice mail enabled, VoIP system.


Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I also just subscribed to the Voice Network Inc DID and PSTN service and also agree that their billing is clear, up-front and straightforward. Their customer service is also pretty good, I've had several interactions and their online support guy was the same one at each point, so he had a sense of the issues and we could build from shared knowledge (as opposed to the usual, "what was your problem again and what steps did you take to rectify it?" ground zero tech support some companies provide).

However, I was wondering whether you've had a chance to really evaluate their sound quality? You mentioned in your post that you hadn't yet had the opportunity. I've been trying to use them but there seem to be significant voice delays and echoing. Have you had the same issues? I haven't started to troubleshoot yet (will be playing with this over the holidays, starting with increasing my bandwidth and server upload rates and going from there).

Please share your experiences calling Southeast Asia as well.

Cheers, and thanks for the post --


NY said...

Good questions. Unfortunately I can't completely answer these questions, but I will give you my experience so far.

First, I abandoned using Asterisk for now and simply run x-lite softphone directly from a pc. Asterisk was choppy and unusable as a connection to Voice Network Inc, but I don't think this was VNI fault as soon as I switched over to using the softphone directly the sound quality instantly became pretty clear. Probably because I was using this machine for Mythtv, bittorrents, VNC virtual sessions, music player, apache server, and NFS server, and Asterisk just couldn't get enough resources to work properly.

Some calls do have a bit of echo, but I attribute that to the crappy USB phone I am using ($12 at my local outlet. ) I do have a decent quality Senhauser headset that I use at work with that IP Phone system, so next time I notice any echo I will switch over to the headset and see if that clears things up.

My wife makes all the calls to South East Asian, and every time I ask her about the quality she says it is fine, but she is used to using those "phone card" services, and that quality can be quite rough at times, so all I can say at this point is that it is far better than a "phone card" service.

FYI: My Internet connection is DSL and runs at around 3-4MB down and 500-700K up. Sometimes if there is heavy torrent usage, it can cause a bit of stuttering, but overall my only issue so far has been some echo, and nothing too serious, and since it is always on the other side, that tends to put the fault on my cheap USB phone.

My only other complaint is a firewall issue, where for some reason I can't seem to forward all the proper TCP and UDP ports with the router I am using, so I have to make the PC I am using with the softphone a "DMZ" host (ie. technically it means that PC is virtually sitting outside of the firewall and is somewhat exposed, but that's not a big deal as I have it well protected and closed down with nothing important on it.) I will eventually get around to putting a sniffer on this and see what is not being forwarded, but since it's working, and if I want to run the VoIP on another computer, I simply go into the router and make it the DMZed computer for the duration of the call, so I am in no real hurry to get it working perfectly ... but I will eventually get around to it.

Cynthia said...

Hi again,

Thanks for the post -- I now ditched Vonage entirely, have upgraded my internet connection (7MB down, 512kb up) and am very happy with Voice Network's call quality. I'm sorry that Asterisk didn't do what you wanted on your linux box -- I just installed it over the holidays and am excited at the prospect of using my old desktop as my new linux server for many different reasons. I was looking forward to seeing what Asterisk had to offer. I probably will still tinker with it anyway just for curiosity's sake.

I am having an issue getting X-lite to work on my Linux box though -- I'm sure this is a configuration issue; X-Lite on Linux is not the same as windows. Have you installed X-Lite on your Linux box as well? Would you mind if I went through some configuration questions with you? I tried contacting Voice Network but unfortunately have not received a reply... Perhaps my previous good tech support experience was a fluke rather than the standard operating procedure --? Hope not.



NY said...

Sure ask away you may have noticed I'm a bit slow getting back to comments (I only visit here a couple of times a week) but I'll try to visit a bit more often in the next few days.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I gave up on configuring X-lite on my Linux box and went with Ekiga instead, which seems to work just fine.

Now my next project is trying to figure out what I should do with an old Motorola VT2442 VoIP router previously locked to Vonage. I've been trying and trying to make it work with VoiceNetwork, to no avail. (See my post here:

Your advice would be very much welcome!


NY said...

Update: I was having a very occasional problem with my VoIP in that every once in a while while making out going calls the outgoing voice would be blocked.

I recently went online to my router manufacturer site to check into an unrelated issue and discovered that there was a new bin for my router, which included a fix for some VoIP problems (Netgear WPN824v2)

I downloaded and installed, and so far I've had no further problems.

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