Bookmarks for March 9th through March 12th

These are my links for March 9th through March 12th:

Bookmarks for February 23rd through February 24th

These are my links for February 23rd through February 24th:

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.

Notes from Barcamp


I spent the whole day this past Saturday at Barcamp, arriving at 10am and not making it all the way out the door until almost 1:30am. I didn’t know any of the organizers beforehand, so it was nice to be met by someone (who turned out to be Andy Smith) keeping an eye out for new arrivals.

I’ve been working with so many either geographically dispersed or very buttoned down corporate teams lately that it’s been a long time since I’d spent this much time in non-stop, face-to-face, somewhat random yet unpredictably creative conversations with a bunch of just-do-it tech hackers. Spent the entire time there going from one interesting presentation to another, with several interesting discussions thrown in along the way.

IMG_3927 The Scheduling Wall

All the talks were informal and held in very close quarters, scheduled by signing up on the scheduling wall. In many ways, the strength and weakness of the Barcamp presentations was the short lead time for the event and the relative intimacy of the discussion spaces. This format put an emphasis on less structured presentations, by people who were comfortable enough with their topic that the slides weren’t the primary content. At the same time, having everyone literally elbow-to-elbow, sitting on the floor, an armslength or two away from the speakers, tends to eliminate random anonymous verbal potshots, and encourages actual conversational questions. Some of the presentations rapidly turned into something like topical roundtable discussions, which would have been hard to set up as such. (The Industry Darlings talk is a good example.)

Among my notes:

  • Tom Conrad’s demo of the Pandora (formerly Savage Beast) music discovery and streaming service, which is based on the Music Genome Project. I’ve signed up for a trial account, which I’m listening to right now. It’s coming up with pretty good selections so far. More on this at TechCrunch. Looks like Scoble likes it too.
  • Chris Messina gave a demo of the Flock browser, which extends the Mozilla platform to provide a lot of blogger- and social-software-friendly hooks. (review by Roland Tanglao here)
  • Demo of Mobido, by Mike Prince. It’s a social photo sharing service for mobile camera phones, as well as e-mailed images. Among other things, it’s could be used for people to other people who attended an event during or after the fact if they’re using the service. The service also includes provisions for anonymizing contact info.
  • Demo of a personal phone management system (forgot the name) by Brad Templeton. The general idea is to allow people to advertise their availability for making or receiving calls, and having the system set up calls when both parties are actually available, rather than having them play phone tag. The system is built on Asterisk, and uses Caller ID to invoke its rules, which may have some future problems based on…
  • Jake Appelbaum’s demo of phone insecurity and other security hacking, in which he walked us through the social engineering and general weaknesses in most cell phone systems, Paris Hilton’s Sidekick, and US airline security, and also demonstrated the Asterisk hack for Caller ID spoofing, which makes your calls appear to come from anyone you choose.
  • Nicholas Chim demoed The Personal Bee, an aggregator for building your own version of something like Google News. It appears to scan a collection of feeds to assign weights to “interesting” keywords, which it uses to build the page. More on this at TechCrunch.
  • Riana Pfeffercorn’s on buying and writing ads for search engine, and Google Adsense specifically, with a few bonus tips on Yahoo Paid Inclusion by Beau Lebens
  • Caught pieces of discussions on making AJAX-y applications faster, KaPing Yee’s presentation on improving web security (anti-phishing), a discussion on how to visualize the effects of social behavior to help save the world (resource consumption)
  • Other conversations with Bill Lazar, Ross Mayfield, Kevin Burton, Brendon Wilson, Rashmi Sinha, Wolfgang Zeglovitz, and many others.
  • Ran into a couple of other Koreans there: Eugene Eric Kim, and Min Jung Kim. Pleased to meet you.

Although there’s a constant background question of “how do you make money doing this”, the basic feel of the weekend was about sharing interesting ideas and work in progress with other people interested in making something new and better. These days, that attitude may be a bit old school, but it could be the cure for what ails Silicon Valley. And there’s apparently interest in organizing similar events elsewhere.

Lots of appreciation goes to Andy, Chris, Eris, Ryan, Ross, and all the Barcamp organizers, sponsors, and other contributors!

Update 08-27-2005 00:05 – Barcamp – The Video

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.

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