How to Use Twitter and Asterisk for Call Notification

200903101607.jpg I’m still old school enough to think that voice conversations still matter. So I call people, and they call me. When I’m out and about I like to know who has called me back at my office (no I don’t want my cell to ring EVERY TIME someone calls my home number, my cosinity number or my home office number). That way I can see who it is and give them a ring right back if it was really something we needed to discus.

200903101608.jpgI’ve had a number of solutions in place for this over the last 2 years or so. From IM messages to SMS messages. The problem with IM is the lack of great notification on mobile devices. The problem with SMS is paying 2-5 cents each.

This led me to think – maybe using Twitter and @ messages or DM’s was a better answer.

Before I give you the code let me first explain how this works. If you are not comfortable with Asterisk, Asterisk AGI, and customizing extensions.conf you should probably stop here.

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Mission accomplished – VoIP Softphone for Mac

One of my greatest frustrations with Mac has been the lack of a VoIP SoftPhone. To be completely clear, when I say VoIP SoftPhone I mean that the way you would mean “email client”. I’m not interested in a SoftPhone tied to a particular service provider or network.

This search has been frustrating me for almost two years now. In that time I’ve tried and rejected so many SoftPhones I’ve lost count. I know I’ve been to Pure-Mac’s VoIP page about 600 times. I’ve also been to VoIP-Info’s phones page about 600 times. I’ve tried everything from CounterPath to Ubiquity and had not found any SoftPhone that was both high quality and configurable.

I’m happy to say the search is over. iSoftPhone from Call4Mac is a robust SIP SoftPhone. It supports everything you would expect and enables peer to peer calling on the LAN via Bonjour. Configuration is a snap (see screen-shots below) and the implementation of SIP is flawless. I’ve connected iSoftPhone to OpenSER, SER, Asterisk, BroadVoice, Teliax, and Gizmo with no issues.

Perhaps most importantly, the call quality is excellent. Even over wifi on my MacBook Pro – with the usual complement of just about everything running – the call quality is excellent, even with the built in microphone/speakers. There is a slight echo for the other party, but this is easily overcome by plugging in headphones and using the built-in microphone.


Admittedly – this is for the geek crowd or the SMB IT folks. If you don’t have a SIP server/PBX Skype/Gizmo is still the right choice for you. But having said that, this SoftPhone is as easy to install and configure as the average email client. This makes it ideal for those who have a VoIP account/server and Mac Clients in their house/organization.

Why is the Real-Time Web Community Shooting Itself in the Foot?

2008 was supposed to be the year we began to see real-time web take shape. And while Twitter and FriendFeed have begun to show us some bits of what a real-time web might look like mostly it has been a year of discontent.

While I hate year end/beginning “predictions” (what am I Nostradamus?) I’m predicting 2009 won’t be much better. Why? Well that is the interesting part.


I’ll let you in on a secret (shhh, this is just between you and me). Real-time services on the “web” are nothing new. We have a pretty good idea how they work (and don’t work). We know what the challenges are – and to a large degree how to architect/engineer the solutions. The problem is we aren’t leveraging the work that has already been done.

More after the jump…

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Skype begins un-walling the Walled Garden

I’ve said it before – and I’ll say it again. Walled gardens are great for developing a market – but the outcome is inevitable (barring anti-competitive regulation). The walls fall.

Skype announced yesterday that they are introducing a Skype interface (know as a channel driver) for Asterisk. This is great news – it enables Skype to work within the larger VoIP environment.

I’ve applied to have cosinity beta test this solution – it will allow us to use a Skype account as a business “phone number” for page2call. Hopefully Skype won’t attempt to defend their network in the Terms or EULA.

Voice Is Data – STOP THE PRESSES (Alexander Graham Bell would be so proud)

From Techdirt…

With increasing attempts to turn internet access on in the sky, there’s been some concern about people making VoIP calls from airplanes, just as there is a concern over mobile phone use in the sky being too “annoying.” Some of the companies providing internet-in-the-sky have claimed that they would block VoIP calls, but that’s going to be pretty difficult. As we’ve pointed out in the past voice is just data and you can always find a way to disguise the data, such that it won’t be blocked. And, indeed, that seems to be exactly what’s happening. Andy Abramson talks about how he got around AirCell’s VoIP blocking when talking to a friend who was on one of these wired airplanes. There’s always going to be away around those things, so unless Congress really decides to ban all voice calls on phones, why not wait and see if people chatting really is a problem?

[From Voice Is Data: Tech Won’t Be Able To Stop VoIP In The Air]

There are two points here worth considering:

  1. VoIP is data and any attempt to block it can be worked around
  2. Phone calls on planes may not really be a problem

First – saying VoIP is data is (perhaps) the most obvious statement I’ve ever heard. But let’s clarify one thing. Transmitted (by any means, analog, digital or IP) SOUND is DATA. Always has been, always will be. We shouldn’t confuse the fact that it is now on an IP network with some kind of transition to “voice as data”.

The valid point is that because the sound (voice) is being transmitted over an IP network blocking is only as effective as the ability to detect the transmission of sound (voice). If everyone plays be the rules and uses RTP over UDP – it is simple to block. However, there will always be profit in circumnavigating IP blocking technologies – to the extent that there is profit, there will be people willing to create VoIP services that defeat the blocking.

The linked article points out the the reported “hack” is no more than RTP over TCP – which is fairly pedestrian. Imagine when RTP is tunneled over HTTP (I’ve done it) or SSH.

The simple reality is making the network the arbiter of acceptable use is never going to work.

Second, I’m not sure how we got to “people chatting on a plane is a problem”. Not too long ago, every flight seemed to have those air to ground phones in the back of the seat in front of you. People never used them – because the per minute charges were insane. But I’ve been on a flight where someone used that phone… and there was no lynching.

I’m wondering if “no calls via cell or VoIP” on a plane is about social norms and people being rude… or the airline’s inability to charge for it…

Free World Dialup moving to $30 annual membership

From Jeff Pulver’s blog this morning comes news that FWD (Free World Dialup) is going to begin charging for VoIP Service. FWD has long had a very large user base and significant challenges generating any revenue from that base… they’ve seen Vonage, Broadvoice etc create businesses from the basic idea they’ve been working since 2001.

Full post from Pulver’s Blog

I do not see this as a bad thing… FWD will need to generate revenue to survive in the near/mid term. This, however, doesn’t really change the reality that the cost of making a call is on a steady march to 0.

more after the jump…

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Just because someone miss-uses something doesn’t make it bad…

Articles like this make me nervous:

VoIP scam bilking Islanders – from CBC News

Caller ID unreliable

Caller ID on your phone will not help you identify the origin of the caller, said MacLean.

“In some cases, these fraudsters will actually use spoof legitimate-looking numbers,” he said.

“On your caller ID it may appear that there is a legitimate number on there, but it could actually be a totally different number from a totally different place.”

Once the information is stolen, charges can start appearing on your credit card overnight, and you may not find out until you get your next statement. MacLean said several Islanders have already been cheated out of thousands of dollars.

Let’s get realistic here. It isn’t that caller id is unreliable, or even that “spoofing” caller id is inherently bad… it is simply that criminals used caller id and “spoofing” to scam people into doing something they should NEVER DO:

In this latest scheme, when you answer the phone, an automated voice claims to be calling from your bank or credit card company. An offer is made to reduce bank fees or consolidate debts, or the recording might claim to be an alert over a problem with your card.

Then it asks you to punch in your bank or credit card number on the phone.

Needless to say I do not approve of scam artists using caller id as a tool to create confidence in their targets – any more than I approve when they use sweepstakes schemes or any other such misleading tactic. The solution is NOT to outlaw caller id spoofing, sweepstakes or speaking (in the case of slick talking telemarketers that swindle your grandmother out of her life savings). The solution is to outlaw the swindle, scam and fraud.

To be completely transparent, both page2call and callRecord (our communications applications from cosinity) spoof caller id. We do if for a perfectly respectable reason – individuals and small businesses purchase our services to make (and receive) phone calls on their behalf. Who would want page2call if we couldn’t set the caller id to be the phone number for their business?

We are not misleading people, we are providing valuable services – as will many other companies – which use caller id “spoofing”.

Verizon targets Fixed VoIP Services

Jeff Pulver gives us his thoughts on Verizon’s continued patent assault on VoIP providers.

This case against Cox is significant because rather than seeking the same win it got from Vonage from other similarly situated companies, Verizon is now seeking to expand the breadth of its winning patent portfolio to fixed VoIP. To the extent that Verizon wins here, this could have broad implications for other fixed services using DOCSIS (as Cox and the rest of the cable industry generally use), presumably other fixed VoIP that doesn’t use DOCSIS, and depending on which if any patents are upheld – to VoIP billing systems, routing systems, network management, and other technologies. So while this is the first major suit against a fixed VoIP services, my quick read of the patents suggests that only in a few cases (like the 930 patent) are the patents limited to fixed functionality. Among analysts, there is still speculation as to why Verizon chose to go after Cox cable instead of a cable company like Comcast who presumably uses the same technology, shares a greater competition footprint, and has a larger number of customers.

Jeff’s post contains links to the suit and each disputed patent.

This activity continues to stifle adoption and investment in VoIP services in the US – with the net effect that only the legacy fixed line carriers (with their patent arsenals) are able to effectively able to offer these services. That being said – they have little or no profit motive in innovating voice communications – after all their revenue is generated from fixed PSTN service.

One of the key differences as TeleGeography points out is that in Europe, incumbent service providers have had to compete against VoIP providers and now themselves account for 26% of VoIP subscribers, while in the US incumbents have remained largely on the sidelines in terms of VoIP.

This is – in my opinion – another attempt to shield a business model using legislation. Verizon is not trying to protect their VoIP offering (business model) by enforcing these patents… they are protecting their existing fixed line business model.

Instead of embracing innovation and using their patents to develop superior offerings – and winning in the marketplace – they are using their patents as blunt instruments to blunt the effect of innovation.

The bad news is that Verizon can not – long term – win this battle. All they will do is force the innovation to locales outside the influence of the US patent system. Verizon is doing VoIP providers in Europe and Asia a huge favor and the US consumer a huge disservice.

The sad state of Voice Communication

If you really stop to think about it, voice communications is – by comparison with all of the other communication mechanisms available to us – hopelessly rudimentary.

The reality is – even with the advent of VoIP and services like Vonage, Skype and Gizmo – the basic phone call hasn’t changed very much Alexander Grahm Bell placed the first call in 1876. We have a few more basic features (voicemail, caller id) but still lack many of the basic functions that have made email and instant messaging so valuable.

More after the jump…

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