YAISP — Yet Another Internet Soft Phone

Another week, another Internet Soft Phone. Gizmo competes with Vonage and Skype. I’ve had this working for a week installed on my laptop, and using a headset with microphone. Here are the FAQs.

1. What is a soft phone?
A soft phone is a “phone in software”, or a phone emulator. It runs on the computer and interacts with the computer’s on-board sound hardware. A soft phone requires a microphone and speakers, at a minimum, or, ideally, some kind of headset.

2. Any other requirements?
You really need a broadband connection, DSL, Cable, T1, whatever.

The Gizmo software is available for Linux, Mac and Windows. I’ve been playing with the Windows version.

3. What about firewalls?
So far so good…the application seems to be able to go through my router/firewall without any difficulties.

3. What does it cost?
Gizmo is a free download. Once you have installed it, you can make calls to other Gizmo users (i.e. from computer to computer) for free. To call regular phone numbers, you need to purchase their Call-Out service of pre-paid minutes. A minimum purchase is US$10.00. Domestic U.S. calls are counted down at 1.8 cents per minute. U.S. to Europe are 2.9 cents.

I was interested in Gizmo, because I have an MCI WorldCom account for business long distance calls. These are billed at 8 cents/minute, and I usually run about $20.00/month. European overseas calls are expensive under the WorldCom plan, or my ATT plan on my home phone line, running about $1.20 per minute.

4. What is the call quality?
Variable, but generally good. The connection does not appear to always be full-duplex, that is, if both parties are trying to talk then somebody has to back off until the other person has stopped. I’ve tried this on:
a. a 90 minute tech support call from Vermont to Maryland
b. a call to my mother-in-law in Albany N.Y.
c. several calls home from various client sites.
d. an in-state call to my brother.
e. several calls from home to in-state clients.

In each case, when I’ve made a connection, I’ve asked the other party about the call quality. All reported that there was no difference in quality compared to a “regular” phone call. A couple people thought that the call “sounded like a cell phone call”, with some echo or breakup.

5. Any connection problems?
Several. Enough to make me not want to rely on this as my only phone. One problem is the whole caller id thing. The calls will either show an empty ID, or will show a “weird” ID. This was enough of a problem for my brother’s cordless phone, which deals with caller-id, to reject my call from an unknown or invalid ID. A second problem came up when I was calling home from a site that had a DSL broadband connection. For some reason this call triggered a direct call into my voice mailbox, and didn’t allow the called party to pick up. This happened twice in one day, a third time I got through.

Gizmo appears to be a follow-on project from SipPhone. SipPhone originally used the XLite software program, however, Gizmo is much more user friendly than XLite. I’m looking forward to continue trying it, especially via a wireless connection. If it works, I’ll be able to work in the coffee shop not only with an internet connection but a phone connection as well.

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