VoicePulse – Hasn’t signed new subscribers since November 2005 due to E911?


The VoicePulse signup problem I described earlier today seems both worse and sillier than before. They apparently stopped signing up new subscribers at the end of November 2005, due to non-compliance with the FCC E911 requirements. They’re currently doing integration testing with Intrado for 911 service as well as negotiating with the FCC on what constitutes an acceptable solution, with an expected resolution sometime in January 2006.

Here’s someone who ran into a similar signup problem (although I didn’t get a warning prompt about no E911 today):

It turns out that Voicepulse isn’t selling new service at all right now. Of course it’s all the big bad FCC’s fault (never mind the fact that many other VOIP providers are selling new service at the moment, and many of them are providing usable 911 service.) I’m sure the FCC is making it hard on these providers, since the old-line phone companies are pulling the strings, but a) other companies are currently selling new service (I proved this to myself, I ordered VOIP service from a known-good provider) and b) many of these other companies are providing 911 and E911 services.

I spoke to a Voicepulse representative who did confirm that they’re not selling ANY new service at all, and don’t know when they will be again. Of course, he said it would be “soon” and the delay was entirely because they were waiting for replies from the FCC. When I commented that it might be a good idea to announce that BEFORE potential customers spend 20 minutes filling out information on their site only to be told that they couldn’t buy anything, he said that “had been discussed in meetings and it was decided to put the message where it is because that’s where the 911 disclaimer already was in the ordering process.” I suggested that he start looking at the help-wanted ads, because I didn’t think an inbound phone sales rep was going to have a job very long at a company that isn’t selling anything, and it couldn’t be satisfying to answer calls from irritated potential customers all day.

My existing VoicePulse line has been working fine, and they’ve never asked for E911 location profile data yet. I have been following the news on VOIP E911 requirements over the past few weeks, but was under the (false) impression that most of the US VOIP service providers had gotten various combinations of deadline extensions from the FCC and technical solutions in place.

This thread lists the current E911 status of US VOIP providers as of January 8th:

[VoicePulse] Not Taking New Orders? (DSL Reports)

Tried to order VP today and was rejected because of the 911 fiasco. So I can’t even order it even if I understand and agree to the 911 situation?

Nope, thanks to the FCC they need to get e911 before they can sell service again.

No, applies only to the VOIPs that failed to get their 911 house in order during the time allowed by the FCC. Of the well-known brands that would include Voicepulse, Lingo, Nuvio. The others managed to get it done and are selling right now: Vonage, Sunrocket, Viatalk, Packet 8, Broadvox, ATT CallVantage (in about 70% of their markets.)

I’m astonished that VoicePulse appears to have gone for nearly two months with an known-broken signup process (and presumably no new subscribers) without mentioning that detail on their website. They also appear to have a lot of company.

It looks like I’ll need to do a bit of work to find an alternate provider, assuming that VoicePulse isn’t able to take orders by tomorrow. I’m trying to set up a phone number in the Malibu, California service area, and would prefer to use an existing SPA-2002 or SPA-3000, rather than buying another adapter. The E911 aspect is irrelevant as the physical IP connection will be here in the Bay Area most of the time but forwarded to various other locations.

More Links:

VoicePulse – how not to implement a customer feature transition


I just got off the phone with VoicePulse, my current VOIP service provider. They are demonstrating how not to manage a web service feature transition today, by both turning away new customers and annoying their existing ones.

I’ve been relatively happy with VoicePulse, having signed up with them a few months ago for commercial US PSTN access. The voice quality and stability has been OK, and they also offer IAX access which I was thinking about using for future integration with our Asterisk implementation.

All day today I’ve been trying to add a new device and a new number to my existing account. The sign up process requires entering the serial number and MAC address from the VOIP adapter (in this case, a SPA-2002 I picked up a few days ago), selecting a telephone number, and providing contact and billing information. I noticed that since I signed up for my account a few months ago they’ve started collecting E911 contact information, and added some verbiage explaining the limitations of VOIP’s 911 service (i.e. they don’t really have any idea at all where you are).

The process only takes a few minutes, so I’ve been trying it in between various other tasks today, expecting that it wouldn’t take very long. Each time I’ve tried it, I get an error page at the end.

Sorry!

You have encountered a problem while going through the ordering process. This is usually due to your session expiring if the browser was left unattended for too long.

If you have encountered an error with our ordering system, VoicePulse’s development team has been automatically notified.

Please close this window, go back to www.voicepulse.com in a few minutes and try again. If you continue experiencing problems, please call 732-339-5100 M-F 9am-7pm EST to place your order with a customer service representative.

The first couple of times it seemed vaguely plausible that the session might have timed out, but the third time I went straight through all the forms, now well practiced and fully equipped with all the information. Still got the error message. This time I called the customer service number.

According to the Voicepulse phone rep, their system is unable to accept any new orders at all today. They’re apparently rolling out changes to their order application, related to the E911 service that I observed during the signup process. Here are some observations:

  • The VoicePulse customer service rep I spoke with didn’t learn about their phone order application being out of service until this morning. You’d think that they’d give their own CSR team advance notification about a planned application outage.
  • The VoicePulse web application team didn’t bother to build a page indicating that they were unable to accept new orders, and that customers keying in any user account data (like me) would be wasting their time.
  • The VoicePulse web application team left the existing failed-signup message in place. Although “true”, it’s misleading, since the site failure has absolutely nothing to do with the session timeout, and they know that the order process could never have worked in its current state.
  • It didn’t sound like they had a committed “time to fix” — the CSR said it should be tomorrow afternoon sometime, but the fact that they didn’t tell them about it until this morning makes me think it might not have been planned. They suggested I call back tomorrow to see if it was working before trying to place an order. Ugh.

I can’t think of a good rationale for not blocking new orders on their site and putting up a maintenance message of some sort. Maybe they didn’t want people to know they couldn’t take orders?

I can’t think of a good rationale for not telling the customer service department ahead of time.

I suspect that most customers might be unhappy about keying in the 12-digit MAC, 12-digit serial number, along with their credit card data and having Voicepulse’s order processing application choke on it repeatedly, especially when they already know it won’t work. A lot of them don’t know how to cut and paste from the Sipura’s configuration page, and are vaguely uncomfortable with giving out their credit card numbers online as well.

I am a relatively patient person, but I’m astonished at the poor planning and execution exhibited at Voicepulse today. They either can’t plan and manage basic site upgrades, or they’re trying to hide some unexpected maintenance work.

If anyone has a VOIP carrier that they actually like, as opposed to simply tolerate, let me know. I may be looking for a new service provider soon.

Convert an SPA-3000 to PhoneGnome

In a previous post I observed that the PhoneGnome looks like a SPA-3000, with a simpler configuration process for normal people who aren’t interesting in hacking their phone system.

Today, PhoneGnome is offering to convert unlocked SPA-3000 hardware into PhoneGnome adapters for $34.95. (link)

Not sure if you can undo the firmware change afterwards, or what’s in their load. I may check this out when I get some time for Asterisk and phone hacking.

See also: Using the SPA-3000 as an Asterisk PSTN Trunk, PhoneGnome Analog to VOIP adapter

Update 08-23-2005 – the upgrade offer appears to be temporarily suspended, due to configuration issues between various customer supplied SPA-3000 hardware.

PhoneGnome Analog to VOIP adapter

Om Malik writes about a new product called the PhoneGnome, which combines an analog phone line and a LAN port for use with a VOIP service.

But the best part about the gizmo is that, when you try and outgoing call, it basically uses your selection of service provider to place that outgoing call. For someone else with a PhoneGnome to call you for free. They would not have to dial any different number or address. For instance, if my # is 415-555-1212, (and I have PhoneGnome), as a PhoneGnome user, you call 415.555.1212. In case I don’t have PhoneGnome, your call will get routed over the PSTN. On this website, my.phonegnome.com website, PhoneGnome can select a provider for national long-distance, international calls, or both, and select separate providers and plans for each.

The photo looks pretty similar to my Sipura SPA-3000, which also provides both analog phone interfaces and VOIP and a laundry list of configurable bridging functions. I’ve been using the SPA-3000 as a front end to Asterisk, so I’m not as familiar with it’s standalone modes. The PhoneGnome looks like it might be the Sipura hardware, but bundled as a consumer-friendly solution. The SPA-3000 provides lots of configuration options, but isn’t exactly user friendly.

Yahoo buys Blo.gs, Dialpad

Couple of interesting announcements on the infrastructure and services front at Yahoo today.

Jim Winstead (founder / operator of blo.gs) writes:

the sale of blo.gs has been completed, and i’m proud to announce that yahoo! has acquired the service. as of right now, give or take a few minutes, yahoo! is running blo.gs.

this is the sort of good home that i was looking for — yahoo! obviously has the resources to run and improve blo.gs in pace with the incredible growth of blogs (and syndication in general), and in talking with them it was also clear that we had some of the same vision for the future of the service and the ping/notification infrastructure.

News.com, see also Dialpad Q&A and more at News.com:

Internet portal giant Yahoo has acquired Dialpad, a 6-year-old provider of Internet phone services. The acquisition, which was announced on Dialpad’s Web site, will place Yahoo in direct competition with traditional phone companies such as SBC, as well as Net phone providers like Skype and Vonage.

…it’s unclear what the Dialpad acquisition means to Yahoo’s longstanding relationship with regional dial-up and broadband service provider SBC. Yahoo and SBC have a partnership providing Yahoo-branded broadband access through SBC’s telephone lines. With Yahoo now offering voice calling services, it will be competing with SBC in the voice market–over SBC’s own phone lines.

No terms disclosed for either deal. Dialpad has around 40 employees, blo.gs is just Jim on his own(!). I suspect blo.gs will become a lot more usable and turn up in some interesting applications soon at its new home.

Update 2005-06-15 21:24: more on Dialpad at Om Malik’s

Update 2005-06-15 21:58: comments and links on blo.gs from Scoble

Using SPA-3000 as Asterisk PSTN Trunk

Step-by-step article on using the Sipura SPA-3000 for Asterisk PSTN trunking at GeekGazette, via Sineapps:

For us serious Asterisk PBX geeks out there, the SPA-3000 provides a cost-effective means of bring a PSTN trunk into the PBX while still functioning as an ATA. Not only can you use the SPA-3000 as inbound and/or outbound trunk, you can also easily configure the SPA-3000 as a PSTN failover should the primary trunk into Asterisk fail. Considering what you can buy the SPA-3000 for right now, this is one of the best deals going.

I see from the GeekGazette site that Slashdot has been here as well.

This follows a recent firmware upgrade to the SPA-3000, as described at Voxilla a few days ago:

The enhancements to the SPA-3000, a very popular adaptor among “do-it-yourself” VoIP enthusiasts because of its built-in gateway functionality, includes an often-requested feature allowing PSTN calls to be routed directly to a VoIP destination without the SPA-3000 “answering” the PSTN line until the VoIP destination answers.

Light Reading notes that today’s Q3 report from Cisco had “disappointing” performance in the advanced technology group (VoIP, wireless, security, and other “new” stuff), but

Still, the IP telephony group “blew past” the $1 billion run rate, joining security in the billion-dollar club, Chambers said. Orders in storage networking cooled down, to “mid-single digits” sequentially, but that was after a 40 percent boom in the second quarter. Orders in wireless grew double digits sequentially and in the “high teens” compared with last year’s third quarter.

Cisco is in the process of buying Sipura, which should help grow that $1B run rate as VoIP interfaces sprout in everything on the network.

Update: 08-16-2005 20:46 – You can convert the SPA-3000 to a PhoneGnome, if you’re interested.

Practical IPv6 for the Home via Linksys WRTG54

via Joi Ito’s Web:

David Beckemeyer writes about an R&D activity at Earthlink which has implemented dual IPv4 / IPv6 access on modified firmware for a Linksys WRT54G wireless home gateway router.

The Linksys WRT54G is inexpensive, widely used, and is similar to many other home gateways providing NAT routing and wireless access. (It’s also popular as a platform hacking wireless router code, as it runs Linux internally). After loading the modified firmware, the router still provides IPv4 NAT functionality, but in addition provides a publicly routable /64 IPv6 network, and can directly route to other public IPv6 networks via the experimental Earthlink IPv6 routing service. You do not need to be an Earthlink customer to use the free service.

In general, IPv6 hasn’t been compelling to home users since it’s been obscure, expensive, and didn’t do anything useful for them. Even if one had a computer running IPv6 software, most home users are behind a NAT router. So providing a migration path via the low cost home routers could be a great enabler for actually starting to use IPv6 end-to-end network applications, and could help solve many of the NAT- and QoS-related problems observed in VoIP and video applications.

Here’s how it works: Simply get an account at http://www.research.earthlink.net/ipv6/accounts.html to get your own personal block of 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 IPv6 addresses; install the firmware onto your standard Linksys WRT54G router, and blamo, you have IPv6. With this special code installed on your Linksys router, your IPv4 works as normal; you’ll still have your NAT IPv4 LAN. But in addition to that, any IPv6 capable machine on the LAN will get a real, honest to goodness, routable IPv6 address too. It couldn’t be easier. This works for Mac OS X, Linux/UNIX, as well as Windows XP. You don’t have to do anything special on the machines on the LAN. They just work, as they say.

David adds in a comment on Joi Ito’s post:

We’re not really promising anything with this sandbox (see disclaimers). That said, we don’t expect to have to take these addresses back any time soon. If anything, the main factor that could cause us to have to shut down the testbed would be if the network load or other real costs assocuted with the IPv6 testbed hits the radar of the bean counters.

I’ll have to dig up a WRT54G and give it a try.

Sipura purchased by Cisco for $68MM

I have liked the Sipura products since they first came out a few years ago. The SPA products are widely used by VoIP service providers (Vonage, etc) for their feature set, flexibility, and low cost. We have been testing out Sipura adapters on the Kuppam network for the past few months, with good results, and I just received a new SPA-3000 the other day which I haven’t gotten around to setting up for use with Asterisk yet.

Yesterday Cisco announced they will also acquire Sipura, which will be merged into Linksys.

SAN JOSE, Calif., April 26, 2005 – Cisco Systems® today announced a definitive agreement to acquire privately-held Sipura Technology, Inc. This represents Cisco’s first acquisition for its Linksys division, the leading provider of wireless and networking hardware for home, Small Office/Home Office (SOHO) and small business environments. Sipura is a leader in consumer voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology and is a key technology provider for Linksys’ current line of VoIP networking devices. In addition to Sipura’s valuable technology and customer relationships, their experienced team with extensive VoIP expertise will help build a foundation for Linksys’ internal research and development capabilities in voice, video and other markets.

Under the terms of the agreement, Cisco will pay approximately $68 million in cash and options for Sipura. The acquisition is subject to various standard closing conditions, including applicable regulatory approvals, and is expected to close in the fourth quarter of Cisco’s fiscal year 2005 ending July 30, 2005.

The Cisco/Linksys VoIP router/firewalls already use Sipura technology. Hopefully, this won’t slow down product innovation by the Sipura team, and also leave them a path forward as VoIP capability becomes an embedded feature of other products rather than being a standalone product itself.

The founders, Jan Fandrianto (CEO), and Sam Sin (VP Engineering), sold their previous company, Komodo Technology to Cisco, which became the Cisco’s ATA-186 VoIP adapter.

More at Voxilla, Om Malik

Notes on Building Asterix and SIP Express VOIP PBX

Last updated: April 5, 2005

Here are some notes on building multi-site VOIP PBX services using Asterisk and SIP Express Router.

General approach:
1. Use Asterisk for PBX functionality at each site
2. Use IAX for inter-site traffic to minimize NAT-related issues
3. Use SIP Express as a front end to SIP clients at single sites

Platform technology:
Both Asterisk and SIP Express Router run on Linux and don’t require very powerful hardware. SIP Express in particular can handle hundreds of calls on a small generic Intel-compatible server. Asterisk provides more extensive functionality, including voicemail, transcoding, and conferencing, and requires somewhat more server resource. For a small office scenario, any current Intel-compatible server should be adequate. In the recent GeekGazette article Kerry Garrison implements Asterisk on a Pentium II/450MHz/386MB RAM/12GB HDD/48x CD-ROM/Intel 10/100 system combined with a generic Intel Winmodem card for line access.

The Asterisk@Home project packages a pre-built CD image for Asterisk running on Linux

SIP Express Router installation is simple, and it can easily be downloaded and run nearly out of the box, especially if call accounting is not required.

Continue reading Notes on Building Asterix and SIP Express VOIP PBX

Cheap Power-over-Ethernet adapters for wireless and VOIP

One of the nuisances of installing wireless access points, VOIP phones, and other small networked devices, is the need for power in the vicinity of the device. This can be a major challenge, if you’re building a small wireless ISP using an access point on an antenna mast, which is why wireless user groups have come up with homebrew POE hacks. In the past, power-over-ethernet support has been for relatively expensive equipment geared toward commercial, large-scale installation, such as rolling out a building full of Cisco 7940 IP phones.

There are a some cheap power-over-ethernet adapters available now from Linksys and D-Link:

D-Link DWL-P200 (5V or 12V, list price $39.00)
Linksys WAPPOE (5V only, list price $39.99)
Linksys WAPPOE12 (12V only, list price $49.99)

The 802.11af standard for power-over-ethernet has been published, so products are beginning to come onto the market that can directly accept power and ethernet over a single RJ-45 connection, without requiring a power splitter at the device end. I would be happy to see all the little power cube transformers under my desk go away sometime in the near future…