18 October 2007

To VoIP or not to VoIP

Yet again I seem to have rekindled my interest in VoIP. This time out of necessity since my families personal circumstances mean we have to be a bit more frugle at the moment.

So my challenge was to set up an IP connection from home to my wok using a pair of Grandstream budgetone 100 IP phones (borrowed of course). I have to say straight off that I think these phones are great. In our networking lab we just set up a couple in the same 192.168.x.x network and they can communicate with each other just by dialling each others IP numbers.

Of course when you get to corporate level, your local network admin has blocked all external access via a firewall for your safety and protection because all of these things you might want to do over the network are a real security hazard (more than a manager sending usernames and passwords via unencrypted email? I don't think so somehow).

This is where an external telephony service provider can be a real life-line. Most firewalls let internal requests out, but block incoming requests. The solution is to connect both devices to the same external 3rd party (basically a SIP server acting as a go-between). This provides an open route from one device to the other, even though they are at different sites behind different firewalls.

So after 2 weeks of trying direct IP links and tunnelling experiments I finally decided to try an external provider and that was when I discovered Free World Dial-up (FWD). FWD was a natural choice because unlike Skype it is an open network and has a whole host of connection options. Once I went down this route I disovered that I needed to use different connection settings at home than at work (the cause of the direct link failing maybe?). I also discovered I can have multiple phones registered to myself (not sure if I'll ever find a use for this but who knows). I also discovered a version of my favourite soft-phone (SJPhone) already comes configured to connect to FWD so its a doddle to install.

Still, the best part of all this is that the Grandstream phones are so very much like a conventional phone that I consider them granny-friendly (once configured that is). My OH is able to just pickup the handset, dial a 6 digit number and press send and we can chat for any length of time at any time of the day and there is no nasty surprise in the following months phone bill; so a very big thankyou to Jeff Pulver (the man behind FWD) and all who work with/for him.

http://www.sjlabs.com/ (SJ Labs, creators of SJPhone - get the FWD version for ease of use)
http://www.freeworlddialup.com/ (register for a free 6 digit number for your IP phones)