VoIP at home with a Linksys SPA3102, trails, tribulations but it's working now

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So far my experiments with sipgate VoIP have been good. The next step has been to buy an adapter that will convert our home phone into a VoIP phone. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the sipgate softphone is fine for me when I’m using my laptop but it doesn’t have the same convenience of picking up a phone and dialing. Secondly, we make quite a few calls between the family (my house, mums house and the office) and all those calls soon add up. If VoIP works, we should be able to call each other for free (or at least no more than the one off hardware costs).

Just making and receiving VoIP calls isn’t the whole objective though, I need our home phone to continue to ring on our home phone number. We’re still keeping the line (it’s our broadband connection too) and many of our friends know to reach us on this number. So, I wanted to use VoIP when it works for us, and our traditional line if ever it doesn’t.

This is where choosing the right adapter comes in. I had to find an adapter that had an FXS port, and FXO port and an ethernet port. What do all these acronyms mean?

  • **update – read Gareth’s comment below!**
  • Your normal analog phone plugs into an FXO port (eg the BT Plug on the wall) You could think of the O meaning ‘office phone system’ if you like, or perhaps ‘O’h what a big phone company.
  • The BT Plug on the wall can only be connected to FXS equipment, that is your regular phone. You could think of FX’S’ as ‘S’imply my desk phone or ‘S’ubscriber/customer to the networks plug on the wall
  • I didn’t mention it earlier, VoIP = Voice over Internet Protocol if you didn’t already know
  • and SIP = Session Interaction Protocol, which is one method for VoIP to work, much the same as you can send a letter in a white envelope or a brown envelope and it’s still a letter, you can SIP or you can Skype and it’s still a VoIP call

I needed an adapter that had both an FXO port (so I could plug our regular phone into it) as well as an FXS port (so the adapter could be plugged into the wall like a normal phone).
Via the Ethernet cable it gets plugged into our home network (and onto broadband internet via our home router). The adapter has to log into the SIP service (sipgate in my case) so that it can receive calls over VoIP. You’ll notice that from my earlier post I now appear to be online( 7808060 ) all the time. That’s because our home phone is logged into sipgate ready for the next call.

Anyway, onto which adapter I chose.
I found a linksys SPA3102 which had all the required features. It’s the latest incarnation of devices from a company once called Sipura who specialise in Voice of IP products. Sipura were bought by Cisco (Cisco are big in business networks, Linksys is their lower end home/small office brand of networking equipment) and are now a part of Linksys. Most importantly I could find users with some experience of the linksys/sipura devices amongst various forums. Although lots were having problems and there seemed to be a fair few needing to do or waiting for firmware updates, many of the replies were giving solutions. I am always more worried when there is a a lack of forum/troubleshooting activity than I am to see it, I don’t like being at the leading edge of technology any more than I have to and forum activity shows a product is being well used. It was also within my budget (free wasn’t an option, but the 50 price tag was close enough for me to give it a whirl). Being part of the huge Cisco corporation probably isn’t a bad thing either, at least I can have an expectation that the device will be around and supported for a while.

I consider myself a pretty network savvy person but this little grey box (photo at the top) had me confused for several hours.

  • Step 1: open the box, gasp in awe at the simple instructions.
  • Step 2: plug the provided wire from SPA3102 into phone, plug original phone wire from SPA3102 into BT wall outlet (well, actually, the broadband filter but let’s not get picky).
  • Step 3: wonder why there is no dial tone and nothing happens.
  • Step 4: decide it must need to be enabled from within the web interface. The next problem was entirely of my own making. I departed from the instructions. The device has TWO ethernet ports. one for “internet” one for “computer”. Now, if I had a cable modem that presented an ethernet port as it’s connection to the world I could probably follow this part, but I, along with many others have ADSL and a wireless router. I plugged the “internet” part into my router and didn’t bother moving my PC’s ethernet wire from the router to go via the SPA3102. I couldn’t connect to the web interface, I couldn’t hear any dial tone on the phone (the instruction said I could configure things through a voice menu). I could see the unit had collected it’s IP address from my router but I just couldn’t connect.
  • Step 5: Decide to read the instructions and do it the strange way. Web configuration now working! Realisation now dawns, it’s not strange at all, the device has a firewall and can only be configured from it’s LAN side, not the Internet WAN side. It doesn’t know that it is already behind a firewall router so the creators took the sensible approach of making it be configured only from it’s own Ethernet side. It looks like
  • Step 6: Lesson learnt, now how to configure it so i get a dial tone…
  • Step 7: Realisation dawns that it is already configured to give the regular phone a dial tone. I don’t hear a dial tone…. “Houston, I have a problem”. Is the unit faulty? Not likely, electronics are pretty good in my experience, it’s normally something obvious… like the wire. Unplug everything and look very closely… yes, it’s the wire! The wire they provided is an RJ11 plug. It’s a small squareish plug with 4 wires, or at least 4 slots where wires can connect. Except telephones only use 2 wires. My old cordless dect phone (a couple of years old BT Freelance XD 500 as it happens) uses the outside two slots of the connector. The SPA3102 uses the inner two slots. Ho hum, off to the web to order 9 worth of wire adapters, most of the cost made up from carriage (BT to RJ11 so the phone can use it’s own wire to plug into the SPA3102, and an RJ11 to BT so I could plug the SPA3102’s supplied wire into phone line).
  • Step 8: The instructions at this point became very vague. Well, actually, they didn’t exist (note to self, never again gasp in awe when technical instructions look simple). I had to log on to the Linksys web site to find answers of how to do things. As the device needs broadband to work, that’s not so big a deal but it would have been nice to have a PDF manual or at least where to go for a PDF manual.

On the plus side, the device is cleverer than I thought. It let’s me:

  1. Receive a POTS (Plain old Telephone system) call – and ring my regular phone.
  2. Receive a VoIP call – and ring my regular phone
  3. Make a VoIP call – once configured
  4. Make a POTS call – once configured (I made it so we have to dial #9 to get the regular phone line for calling, VoIP is cheaper but POTS has tried and tested reliability)
  5. Receive a POTS call – forward it to another VoIP destination
  6. Receive a VoIP call – forward it to another POTS destination

There are hundreds of settings on this thing, but very little documentation. Without the Linksys web site I would have never been able to guess how to configure the dial string (so we dial #9 then phone number for POTS call).

So, was it worth the 50 (+ wire adapters!)? Yes. I just wish they’d made the instructions more available.

Next stage of my VoIP experiments, finish making our new Avaya IP Office 500 phone system work as a SIP endpoint

One of our Australia photos was photo of the day on another web site

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When sister sharon got married, the whole family flew out to celebrate with her and watch the big day. While around sister my fantastic parents paid for Rhonda and me to go in a helicopter flight around sydney. I’m not sure who took the photo (I think it was Rhonda) but we have a nice a photo of sydney harbour, opera house and city from the flight. I posted it in my Australia holiday postings and I just discovered it’s was posted as picture of the day on this persons blog. It’s a great feeling knowing things we do and share are appreciated.

Welcome to the Christmas Party Season

Was it 12 months ago already since last Christmas? Sure is, so Sunday was the day for the Roots Christmas party. As Root’s has grown our parties have gone from a small gathering at mum and dad’s house to international travel and superstars for the entertainment.

Last year we hired a 70 seater coach and took everyone (at least, everyone who had a valid passport!) to Bruges for the day. Every year we like to do something a little special so this year we hired the upstairs restaurant of one of our favourite local pubs (The Red Lion, Hernhill) for Christmas dinner.

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Musical entertainment provided by the talented “Gez“… I have no idea what his surname is, but I do know he has a superb repertoire of music. He played at a big party we had this year to celebrate by Dad’s 60th (even his friends from Australia booked flights to join in) and he played a song I’d never heard before called “Roots” as well as one of my favourites “The JCB Song“. I was really pleased when Mum said she’d booked him for the Christmas party as well. I made sure I got a good view of how he plays. (I keep dreaming I can play guitar like he does one day… but I know I wont put the effort in to learn it!). Anyway, if you’re organising an event and are looking for a musician, Gez should be high on your list, just don’t book him for a day we want him please!

We often book two entertainers and a few years ago Mum managed to get a Party Magician named Etienne. As you may have guessed from the name, he’s French. He’s also talented, performed regularly to members of the Royal Family, won lots of awards for his magic across Europe and he’s booked a long way in advance. When Mum said she’d asked if he was available I didn’t think he’d be coming.

A few years ago he did a trick which left a playing card on the ceiling of my parents oast house (the part inside the cowl, that’s an apex roof about two stories high) with my dad’s signature on it. I’ve no idea how he did it, but my dad signed the card, put it in a pack that was shuffled and at the end of the trick the whole pack was thrown into the air and the one card stuck to the ceiling (think 6 metre high ceiling!) was the one Dad signed. 51 other cards floated down. The card is still stuck to the ceiling.

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(In the picture, Etienne makes coins appear and disappear much to Nicola’s delight)
His magic is impressive, but so is his personality. He arrives and quietly starts mingling with people and showing his magic, captivating everyone around him. My judgement on his impressive personality was what happened when we started to get everyone upstairs to the restaurant. Bear in mind this was a Sunday night in a pub that doesn’t normally open on Sunday nights. Almost everyone there was there with us but there was one family who just happened to stop by and be having a drink. Their children were amazed by Etienne and while all the Rooties went upstairs, Etienne spent a few minutes with them showing them some more magic. He didn’t have to, he could have had a few minutes break (I’m pretty sure he came to us having been doing his magic somewhere else), but instead he took a few minutes to entertain the children. A superstar in every way.

Spam wars – court date set

I haven’t posted about this for a while and thought I should just say what’s happening. The company in question ignored letters from the court, or at least, they chose not to reply. That’s right, no defence, no counter claim, nothing. So, the court have set a date to make a judgement on the case. I have no idea if they’ll turn up to the hearing (it’s a long drive – they’re based in Lancashire and the case has been set in Canterbury). Seeing as they didn’t contest the location of the hearing, I guess they’re not coming. I can give them the benefit of the doubt though and assume they will though.

It does bring another question up though. As a limited company (as well as individuals, they could never make up their mind who they were trading as so I brought the claim against all of them) what happens if it doesn’t respond? I have a feeling (I’m not certain) the directors are responsible for the company responding and if they don’t (or the company, as it’s own legal entity doesnt) respond, they may have to answer to a criminal court which can fine them personally (I’ll have to look though the detail of the companies act)

Messiah (Boris Starling)

If a book has been serialised on TV I rarely choose to buy it. I don’t think it’s logical not to choose a book because it’s been on TV, especially when I never saw the series. The mere fact it has been turned into a TV Drama must be because it has a very good story. Still, I avoid them in the bookshop. This one was given to me with a pile of other books and has sat on the shelf for almost a year being unread. Still, when every other book has been read these less attractive titles have to have their turn.

What a turn! Superb crime story with our fictional detective out to catch a killer. Initially there seems to be no link to the killings and eventually our hero detective works things out… almost. The really nice thing about this story is how human the detective is. He makes mistakes (quite a few) but gets there in the end. As a reader, I made them myself trying to figure out who did it.

I’m not normally one to choose Crime Fiction so please understand that me giving this book a Rootie Rating of 4 out of 5 shows just how good a read I found it to be.

Coyote Frontier (Allen Steele) & Spindrift (Allen Steele)

Parts 3 and 4 of a series of 4 (why do I rarely get to read them in order?)

Part 3, A distant colony grows following a revolution. Times are hard, technology they once took for granted is no longer available from mother earth. Isolation will not remain forever though, a new startship travels from Earth which will change their relationship. No longer isolated, we get to follow how the colonists react and the changes (for better and worst)

Part 4, The colonists discover they are not alone in the universe, beings other than than human are not far away. How does first contact go? First contact isn’t at the new colony of Coyote though, it happened many years before Coyote was settled, it’s just the people who made first contact didn’t send a message home.

A story worth reading? Yes, for both of them and I’ll be keeping my eye out for the first two. Rootie Rating 3 out of 5 and 3 out of 5.

The End of Eternity (Isaac Asimov)

Imagine time travel was possible. Would changes in the past affect the present? Most books assume that is the case. However this book assumes that the controlers of time travel are not affected by changes to their history. They use this to constantly prevent the errors of history. What sort of errors? War, they can prevent that from happening. Famine, by studying the factors that affected the events of the time a small change as insignificant as moving the position of a jar of beans would prevent a famine. Side effects? There were a few, millions would live, but billions would never get the chance to live. What would happen, in the past, and the future?

Yet another fascinating set of ideas presented by Isaac Asimov, well worth the time of reading, Rootie Rating 4 out of 5

VoIP – testing sipgate

I’ve been playing with VoIP for a while now. VoIP = “Voice over Internet Protocol” and it’s essentially using computer networks as your phone network. Skype is a form of VoIP. The one thing I have against Skype is it’s closed protocol that means only Skype things will work with Skype. The more open standard is called SIP, and lots of companies make software and devices that will work with each other through SIP. Our new office telephone system can connect to SIP in the same way it connects to our BT phone lines (actually, there’s no physical connection as the SIP calls would come in via our internet connection rather than a physical BT line plug).

One of the downsides with learning anything new is the time it takes to learn. The downside with any communication network is that it’s only as good as the number of people that are already using it (I have only a half dozen contacts on my Skype account and my MSN Messenger account).

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My recent VoIP experiments brought me to the www.sipgate.co.uk website. They’ve really made the set up easy. I signed up for an account in less than 3 minutes. I downloaded their version of the X-Ten softphone. They’ve made it so that it downloads including your account settings. All I had to do was install, no settings to change, it worked immediately! Superb! Anyway, less than 5 minutes after discovering sipgate, I called myself from the office to my new sipgate phone. I picked up one of their free local numbers, so you can call me too on 01227 808060 from your real phone(s). If you already use a SIP service, you can call that number free by using whatever prefix you need to connect from your service to sipgate.

That means you can call me on one local number wherever I happen to have my laptop set up. At the office, at home, In a hotel while visiting suppliers around the UK or even if I’m working abroad. Therein lies the one problem, I need to have the laptop turned on for the phone to be working and available. The good thing is that SIP doesn’t require a specific computer, there are devices that will connect SIP to your normal house telephone (and even let you use both networks together), as I said our office phone system already works with SIP (or will when I figure out how), my mobile phone has software that allows it be used as a SIP phone, our ADSL router will also let us connect a regular phone to the SIP services. You can also buy dedicated SIP phones from around 50 (and DECT cordless SIP phones are around 100).

I’ve still lots to learn about SIP and making it work. One little gadget I just found on the sipgate site is a snippet of code that may* tell you if I’ve got my SIP device connected to the internet….. may, or may not.
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