Wednesday, November 28, 2007

VoIP & ISP update

I made a couple of changes to my configuration, one for practical purposes, and the other I was more or less forced to make.

The first change was that instead of using Asterisk to handle my SIP phone, I connected the SIP phone directly to the service. I did this as there seemed to be some jitter and "sputtering" going through Asterisk, probably because I am trying to do too much on that one Linux system (Mythtv, torrents, DVD burning, file sharing, video server, dynamic DHCP client, and so on.) The good news is that this so far is working great. The sound quality is very good, even when my wife called her sister over in Asia (for 2 cents per minute) ... and this is with a $12 cdn USB phone connected to a slow computer running X-Lite softphone.

The other change is with my ISP.

Teksavvy have changed pricing for some of their high-speed connection services. I was using "unlimited" for $29 /mth, but they are going to up the price for that service by $10 starting next year. Their Premium service, which runs at the same speed, but uses improved routing and better "ping times", also goes for $29/mth, and still does. I went with unlimted originally as the premium package was limited to 100GB download per month. To make up for the raise in pricing for unlimited, they bumped the premium package up to a 200GB / mth download limit, with prepaid upgrades of $10 per 100GB if needed. Since I usually use just over the 100GM per month in most cases, the 200GB should do me just fine.

So all in all, things are looking good ... I may put together another PC I have sitting in my closet unused to run as a dedicated Asterisk server to see if that works without degrading sound quality and stability, but that's for later on.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bell Mobility - WARNING

I have a teenage daughter, and naturally she wants to be able to chat with her friends on a "hip" cell phone. She readily admits that real functionality has little to do with what she wants. She already has an 30GB video iPod, a 6 or 7 Mega pixel pocket sized digital camera and a functional cell phone, but it's not cool enough to be used with her friends around ... so off we go this weekend to find her a Cherry LG Chocolate 800.

Well, when she approached me with the request, she had already done some research and showed me the Bell Mobility plans that included this phone ... I should have done my own research, but she came to see me late in the week, and I was busy trying to figure out what to get for my wife's birthday this weekend, so I gave it a quick going over and said we'd drop in and pick it up as we were doing our regular weekend chores.

So I drop into the Bell store in the Eaton Centre, go through the nonsense that Bell puts you through in order to obtain the privilege of paying them too much for their crap, and about 45 minutes later my daughter had her Cherry LG.

So I get home, and my daughter disappears into her bedroom to play with her phone. A few hours later she come out and asks if I can help her with her phone as she can't seem to find any easy way to get media on and off the phone.

I start reading the manual and going on line to see what can be done (there is a USB cable that comes with the phone, and it supports bluetooth, but there is no CD that comes with the Bell Mobility version of this phone, so there is nothing obvious as to how to manage your phone from your computer.

First I try bluetooth from my laptop ... I figure out how to do this, so I at least have a way to add music to the phone, and get the pictures and video off if it as well, without having to pay Bell for storage and transfer surcharges.

Next, I try to figure out the ringtones. There are a few built in ringtones, but no obvious way to use your own ringtones. Supposedly the only way to get ringtones on a Bell Mobility phone is to pay Bell for their rigntones and download them paying data rates for the download as well.

Now, that's not acceptable in my opinion ... I buy a phone, it is my phone, and there is no way the person who sold me the phone should be allowed to prevent me from using that phone to its full capacity. Bell Mobility also cripples the phones by hard coding the network information into them, ie, no sim cards on Bell Mobility phone, if you are dissatisfied with Bell Mobility service and cancel your account, your cell phone is pretty well useless. You either resell it to someone who has a Bell Mobility account, or throw it in the garbage.

Anyway, back to the ringtones. I was able to find some software that allowed me to look at the file system of the phone, and with a little experimenting I was able to get an mp3 file into the "Downloads" folder of the phone, which then allowed me to select that file as a ringtone (the actual ringtone directory on a Bell Mobility phone has been modified to be located in the phones firmware, so you can't add ringtones the easy way, simply adding MP3 files to the ringtone folder ), but when I have this file selected as a ringtone, the phone doesn't actually "ring" while it is selected (the phone does everything it should when a call comes in, it lights up, shows the number, etc, it just doesn't make any sounds.)

It was getting late, so I gave up for the night, but I will get back to it tonight or tomorrow night, and see if I can fix this problem (I'm assuming that it's the format of the MP3 file that is unsuitable for use as a ringtone, or it may be that I need to edit some of the other files in the Download folder to "describe" the file for the phone. Worst case I believe I can download a normal ringtone or two and just replace the MP3 files that were downloaded with my own (the displayed information will probably be wrong, but the MP3's should work.)

I have purposely left any information on the tools I used so far out of this post as I don't want people wasting their time on something that doesn't work (yet.) After I finish playing around with this I will post all the information (successful or not) so others can either make use of my work, or in the case of failure on my part, maybe pick up where I left off and possibly find a solution.

Anyway, Bell Mobility ... you really suck. It's my damn phone and who the hell do you think you are breaking it and then charging me a premium for doing so? This will certainly be the last Bell Mobility phone I will ever own, and I would advise anyone who is the least bit interested in using their phones for the purposes they were designed to be used for, to avoid Bell Mobility as well.

Speak-out 7-11 pay-as-you-go

I believe I've mentioned this before, but if not, I was searching for a cheaper cell phone plan when I happened upon The Unofficial 7-Eleven Speak Out Wireless Canada Consumer Page. It spoke of a deal from 7-11 where for $100 you get $100 of air-time ($0.20 per minute local) plus a new phone (which also included 5 minutes air time.) So for $100, you get a free phone and $105 of air time. And, the air time has a 365 day expiry "limit".

Since I don't spend a lot of time on the phone, nor does my wife, and we are paying $100 /mth ($1200 a year) for two cells phone, this $100 deal, even if I need to add an additional $200 or $400 of air time over the year (doubtful) I still come out ahead.

So my first attempt to get this deal (about a month ago) failed, as all the phones were sold out, and the deal was not on any more. The lady behind the counter did tell me that they were going to bring back the deal and the phone shipment was due in on Nov 15th.

So this weekend I head down to the local 7-11 and sure enough, the deal was on and phones were available. $228 later ($100 each for the two phones, plus taxes) and away I go with two active working phones each with 525 minutes of airtime (well, not really as there is about a $0.99 per month 911 charge, so you lose 3 minutes a month, but I can live with that.)

I should mention, the lady that sold me the phone was very friendly and seemed to be quite knowledgeable as I double checked on some information such as sim card capability with Rogers and phone number portability and she assured me both should be no problem.

So I get home, pop open my phone, swap out the sim cards, put the phone back together, power it up, and all phones worked as they should. My Rogers cell phones were now on the Speakout network and my new speakout phones were running on the Rogers network (no surprise here as Speakout uses the Rogers network anyway, but you never know.)

Next steps:

1) Get my Rogers phone numbers ported over to my Speakout account. Called Speakout customer service this morning and checked to make sure my numbers were portable ... they are ... and to check all the information they would need from me in order for them to be able to make the change. They need the account number, any password associated with the account, and the INEI/ESN number of the phone (usually found inside the phone under the battery) Since I called from work, and I didn't have all the phones with me I will gather the information tonight and call them again.

2) Cancel my Rogers account. I need to leave this account active until the numbers are ported over (2 or 3 business days from request date.) I suspect that I will have to pay a $200 early termination penalty, but that's ok, I'll still save a bundle this year.

Stay tuned.