After waiting a couple days after applying, I received an eMail invitation for Google Voice. This service, formerly called GrandCentral before it was acquired by Google, allows you have a phone number which is independent of your actual phones. It allows you to create a phone number in an area code of your choice. Calls from this number are forwarded to any or all of your phone lines (home, work, or cell).
Domestic Long-Distance Calling
Using Google Voice, I’ll finally be able to ditch MCI long-distance service on my work landline. Calls within the U.S. and Canada are free. The way this works is that you enter the calling number from your list of contacts on the web site, and designate which phone (work, home, mobile) that you want to talk from. Google Voice will then ring your phone. Once you pick up you’ll immediately hear a dial-tone as it attempts to ring the called number.
Calls from the U.S. to Germany landlines and Hong-Kong are 2 cents per minute. Some African countries (Gambia) are 33 cents per minute. Rates for to mobile numbers can be much higher; German calls are 18 cents when the recipient is a mobile phone.
Google Voice includes a full-fledged voicemail service. There is a text to speech service which attempts to render messages into text, and then display them in an eMail-like list. I tried a similar service that was provided with a standard TrixBox installation.
The standard greeting isn’t anything like the graceful “Alison” provided with TrixBox and Asterisk installs; instead it something like, um, “yenta-in-a-hurry”. I’ll have to redo my own voice greeting shortly.
You can send SMS messages to mobile phones by typing the message into a web page. Great for those of us who don’t text.
You can screen all unknown callers (i.e those with out an entry in the contact list which include their caller ID), or you can screen blocked callers.
Notifications of new voicemails can be sent to an eMail address, and/or mobile phone via text message.
Of course some of the usual things are also included, such as the ability to listen to voicemail from your phone, variable greeting by caller, the ability to forward voicemail. You can also record calls and store them online and create conference calls
So, Google Voice has definitely passed the Five Minute Test…. and it looks quite promising.
Especially during a recession, it amazes me the utter contempt company call centers show toward their customers. I spend a lot of time on calls with technical support people, and it remains as irritating as ever to get to them. Once I get a live person, however, I can usually calm down.
I really hate hearing that “This call may be monitored or recorded for training or quality control purposes”. Especially right at the outset of a call. Maybe for my broker… (what broker?) when giving financial instructions. For all the “training” that is going on sitting in phone tree hell doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. And quality control purposes? It makes me uneasy that I’m being recorded at all.
On hold, I really hate hearing every 15 seconds that “We appreciate your patience, and thank you for waiting during this brief delay”. and “We know that you are very busy, we appreciate your call”. Or worse, blabbing on about the web site, or the new product, or alternate ways to contact us, or whatever. These constant interruptions makes it impossible to concentrate on other work while waiting. What ever happened to playing Vivaldi and not inserting commercial messages?
While there are “secret” phone numbers floating around the internet for various services, I can’t imagine a company would want these internal numbers published; they would get spammed quickly.
So, I’m holding for Fairpoint right now, and have had 5 dumb “Thank you for holding messages” in the previous minute.
“Thank you for holding, your call will be answered in just a moment”
“We know your time is important, and appreciate your patience while on hold”
“Every effort is being made to ensure that your wait is as short as possible… Thank you”
“Thank you for holding, someone will be right with you.”
“Your call is very important to us. Thank you for waiting and bearing with us during this brief delay”.
And then the cycle starts again. All this accompanied by ear-splitting muzak (tacky fake FM-synthesized saxophones.)
Don’t know how this stacks up against suppliers like VoicePulse. For one thing the pricing model is slightly different, with VoIP Supply looking for a minimum $25.00 per month, but with unlimited local and long-distance calling in the lower 48 states. VoicePulse, at least the version for Asterisk/Trixbox, was on a pre-paid model but charges 2 cents or so per minute.
What about the quality of these calls though? Maybe I’m just cranky, but I’ve had literally dozens of calls from vendors in the past year that clearly were low-quality VoIP calls. I would be appalled if my own calls to my clients and prospects sounded like many of these calls.
In one case, I was (supposedly) working with a sophisticated and highly-paid consultant who was using either Vonage or the Comcast VoIP. The guy couldn’t get out of his own way…I just couldn’t understand him, over multiple calls. How are we supposed to conduct business this way? And, where is the savings per month, at $25.00 or $125 or even $1025 per month that the person is supposedly saving, when as a result a client drops this person, after originally looking forward to a multi-thousand dollar contract? False economy.
Bottom Line: The landline isn’t dead yet. Use VoiP for long-distance calls to friends and family, and non-critical overseas calls. If there is any question, during a VoIP call, have a back-up landline available.
And if you have contracted out any functions to a call center (perish the thought…my local newspaper has done this to verify authorship of letters to the editor), be sure you get yourself on the receiving end of such calls to assess the quality. Nothing turns off customers and prospects more quickly then struggling with foreign-based tech support, heavily accented, with stupid calling scripts, and bad sound quality.
The Trixbox Wiki has a number of digestible pages of advice on how to successfully deploy a VoIP application. Here are recommendations for remote sites.
Formula for the best remote telecommuter Experience
- Use T1 internet access at the main location, not DSL or Cable.It’s worth the additional expense in order to ensure good, steady performance at your main location.
- If your routers and/or firewalls support QoS features, activate them. Give priority to the SIP and RTP protocols. Consider replacing equipment that lacks VoIP-aware QoS features. See Also: How do I use QoS on my network?
- Consider using one of our Suggested Routers with QoS on both ends of your connection.
- If your QoS solution allows you to limit total bandwidth, set the limit to slightly less than the line speed of your internet connection. Use a DSL line speed test to determine where you should set your limits. Setting it about 5-10 Kb below your maximum speed will keep the packet buffers from filling up on your DSL/Cable modem. This will yield better overall performance.
- Consider having two internet connections… one for your existing data application, and one for your VOIP phone and trixbox Pro servers. You can use this approach in your main location, as well as your remote locations. If you use this approach, you may not need any QoS capable equipment.
- If possible, connect your main office and your remote office using the same internet provider. Usually performance on the same provider’s network is superior to the performance when traffic needs to traverse multiple internet backbone networks.
- If possible, remove NAT devices between the trixbox Pro system, and the remote telecommuters.
- If you must use a NAT configuration, consider using a “DMZ Host/Server” configuration rather than port forwarding. This uses less CPU power in the router/firewall and yields optimal performance.
- At the main location, the setting will forward all unknown packets to your trixbox Pro server.
- At the remote locations, the setting will forward all unknown incoming packets to the IP Phone.
- Reserve the phone’s IP address in DHCP or give the phone a static IP Address on your private network in the remote location so the IP Address does not change. If you use a static IP Address, pick one outside of your dynamic DHCP IP Address range.
- For mission critical remote employees, consider using a fractional T1 internet service at the remote office instead of a Cable/DSL connection.
Just unwrapped the new baby here… a Trixbox appliance (the so-called “base” model for about $999) that comes without landline interface cards. In its base configuration it is suitable for those who want to implement a fully IP-based VoIP system. I’ll be adding hardware to this; an existing Sangoma A200 card which provides two landline connections. I’ll only be using one of the two connections to start. I couldn’t resist starting it up, and sorry, but contrary to all the assurances; the thing is noisy. Too noisy to have setting next to my desk. Damn.
The dual power-supply version that was demonstrated back in June sounded like a jet engine. Definitely that one is a unit for the server room, not deskside.
We had our first real snow that stuck today, about three inches. The Trixbox will be a great project on those cold winter days.
Kerry Garrison at Trixbox conducted a webinar last Wednesday on HUD, the Heads-Up-Display… a computer interface to the TrixBox PBX. HUD gives you a display of all current calls, allows you to forward calls, and make calls to others on the PBX without having to dial your phone. The client version interfaces with OutLook, but the whole application is cross-platform; it will run on a Mac, PC, or Linux box. It includes an instant messaging system, which allows you to IM all the people who are on the system. Although they are currently using a proprietary IM protocol, an update will use the jabber protocol….which will allow you to include IM participants on AOL and other instant messaging systems.
One thing addressed in the webinar is a way to integrate your phone system with web applications, so you can use HUD with Salesforce, and SAP or other “customer relationship management” or CRM products. So, what might HUD be used for?
- Call centers; inbound and outbound
- Suicide and rape crisis lines
- Counseling centers
- Outbound solicitation (blood donors)
- Clinic phone systems
Even if you never would consider using Trixbox, the webinar is useful to show the kind of functionality that is available in similar systems. The possibilities are mind-boggling.
There is an interactive demo.
The webinar is located here. It requires registration.
Hmm..if you are ever wondering what to do to with a Trixbox…
Community Voice Mail is a service that provides free phone numbers and voice mail boxes to clients without reliable access to a telephone.
Their phone may have been cut off; they may live in a group shelter; they may be fleeing domestic violence. For many poor, homeless, or otherwise needy people, the privacy afforded by a personal voice mailbox is an impossible luxury.
CVM is a hosted service which is run out of their national office in Seattle. They reserve blocks of phone numbers in their host cities. Local programs are hosted by an existing social-service agency or program, who must provide one FTE person as staff.
From the CVM web site:
The CVM Model
Each CVM site around the United States is hosted by one main social or health service agency (“Host Agency”) which is responsible for funding and managing the CVM service for the whole city/community. The host agency gives out the voicemail boxes to other participating agencies who then give them to the end users/clients. The key to the program is the fact that clients receive a local telephone number at which to receive messages from potential employers, landlords and others –and case workers can utilize CVM to stay in contact with their clients, doubling the impact of the service.
In addition to the new Trixbox training mentioned the other day, Fonality is now offering commercial versions of TrixBox…called Trixbox Pro. This is offered as a “hybrid hosted” model, in which you supply the server and other hardware, but the server is more or less permanently in contact and managed from their hosted server application.
As they are rolling this out, they seem to have upgraded the help support wiki, with some very specific information gleaned from their experience of deploying over 60,000 phones. For example, here are recommendations for routers suitable for use with VoIP.
They have also published a hardware compatibilty list, which lists certified, (fully supported) hardware and uncertified (supported by at a 25% cost premium) hardware. Of interest are several HP servers that are certified, and the Dell SC440 (tower), and 1950 (1-U rackmount). Aastra and Polycom phones are on the certified list, as are Sangoma interface cards.
On the suggested router list at the low end are the Linksys BEFSR81, D-Link DI724U and Fortinet Fortigate 50B.
They also have a “blacklist”…stuff that they don’t recommend for various reasons. These include problems with firmware (notorious with some low-end routers), and design incompatibilities. Sure enough, my BEFSX41 is on the blacklist.