VOIP phone hangs up after 10 minutes

For some unknown reason, in the past few weeks our ViaTalk VOIP phone started hanging up after *exactly* 10 minutes. After a little bit of searching I found this page which under the promising heading of “VoIP call disconnects after 10 minutes” had a link to this document.

I already had the VOIP unit set up in the DMZ, so that wasn’t the problem. The document also talks about turning off the “SIP ALG” method. Well, buried deep on the Dlink DIR-655 router’s Advance > Firewall Settings page, I found a SIP checkbox under the Application Level Gateway (ALG) Configuration section. I unchecked it, saved the settings and this seems to have fixed the problem! We’ll see if it stays that way. I’m hopeful. Thought I’d post this in case anyone else runs into this issue.

ViaTalk update

Well, the ViaTalk service got put through it’s paces the last couple days…by my wife ;-) I wanted to see if she would notice the difference and did she.

The problem we are seeing is that it sometimes takes 30-45 seconds to connect on outgoing calls. Much longer than our analog phone line. I think it’s something we’ll just get used to. On the oncoming side, we haven’t noticed any difference.

Based on my research, this seems to be fairly common with no magic fix. I contacted techsupport and they promptly replied asking me to put the VOIP box in DMZ and to turn off SPI on my router. That didn’t seem to make much difference.

In the end, my wife and I felt that the connection delay is a small price to pay considering how inexpensive the service is.

On the positive side, I’m really liking all the bells and whistles. One thing I found is that you can bring up a call log and easily create custom routings to, for example, block calls, which is handy if you get a lot of solicitation calls like we do.

I still highly recommend the service assuming one understands the issues that go with it. I just sent in my phone number transfer request so I am now officially jumping in with both feet.

After disabling SPI and putting the device in DMZ, all of a sudden my PC modem is recognizing caller ID info. Coincidence? I hope not.

I had the been routing the phone cable into my PC’s modem and using the pass-thru to connect the phone. It occurred to me that maybe somehow that was interfering with the phone-to-VOIP unit connection and thus contributing to the connection delays. Well, I connected it directly and it appears to be working better. Got my fingers crossed.

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ViaTalk pretty cool so far

Got my Linksys PAP2T VOIP box from ViaTalk a couple days ago and AT&T *finally* turned on the call forwarding feature I ordered–2 DAYS?! C’MON! LAME! Anyways, I forwarded my landline number to the ViaTalk number and unplugged my landline…hopefully for good. All my home calls should now route through ViaTalk. If there are no showstoppers, I’ll transfer my landline number and close my AT&T account.

Although I’ve clued my wife into the fact that I’m trying something new with the phone, she rarely pays much attention to me, so I’ll only hear about it if there are problems. The only real difference she should notice is that voicemails won’t be on the physical answering machine–not that she checks them regularly anyways. I think that if a week goes by and she doesn’t even realize the difference, I’m good to “go”…and so is AT&T HAHA.

ViaTalk has some very cool features and it only cost me $199 for two years for an unlimited plan. After that, I’ll probably go for a fixed minute plan since we don’t really use the landline that much. The $199 deal just ended up being cheaper initially.

So what’s cool about ViaTalk? Well the voicemail is neat. I’ve got it set up so that all messages are emailed to me. They also include anonymous caller handling which I had to pay extra for with AT&T. It’s more powerful too. You can have them authenticate where the caller will be prompted to enter a series of numbers to confirm that it is a real caller and not an automated dialing system; send them directly to voicemail; give ’em a busy signal; or, just block their asses with a recording informing them they are blocked. HAHA. Love it. You can whitelist numbers too.

The Custom Call Routing feature allows you to route callers using patterns and not just a full phone number. So if you want to block all area code 877 callers you just enter 1877. Similar to anonymous calls you can set what happens. Send them to vmail; give them a busy signal; tell them they have been blocked or “BLACKLISTED” (not sure what the implications are); or, my fav, tell the caller to stop calling.

These are some of my fav features, but there are a ton more and you can check them all out here.

Why keep my landline? Well I thought about ditching it, but I find it’s often nice to give out a central number and it helps keep people from calling my cell phone unless I really want them to be able to reach me. For less then ten bucks I month, it’s not too much of a luxury. AT&T was costing me $70/mo! (My cable company also offers a VOIP service, but that was $22 extra a month.)

What do I miss? Well, we won’t be able to monitor messages on the phone’s built-in answering machine anymore. I guess I still could use the physical answering machine with ViaTalk, but then I’m gaining the ability to get messages via email. I also have my landline running through the Misterhouse home automation app on my server and the PC’s modem doesn’t recognize incoming calls now. However, ViaTalk can handle blocking and logging, so it’s not a big deal. I may try a different modem card, but I suppose it’s time to give up an arguably arcane set up.

So far, I’d highly recommend ViaTalk to replace your landline. Get in on their unlimited 2-year $199 special while it lasts.

Magic Jack VOIP service ok, but definitely not magic

I’ve been looking for a way to ditch my $70/month land line and a neighbor made the switch to Magic Jack, so I decided to try it. Basically, you get a USB adapter that you can plug any standard phone into.

I had a heck of a time getting it to install. It’s basically like a USB thumb drive with autoboot. Initially, it installs the software, or if already installed, it runs it. If you haven’t registered yet, it brings up the Registration wizard. You select your area code and area prefix during this procedure. I kept getting this error: “An error occured while processing your request”.

I spent a couple hours trying to troubleshoot, including a hour or so with tech support using their chat. While fumbling behind my PC, I accidentally hit the power on my UPS so my PC shut off. I was already ready to quit so this was really a blessing. I decided to give it one more try and on a hunch I tried a different area code. Voila! It worked. I got a new number assigned and was making calls nearly instantly. You would think that tech support could have figured out something so simple. Duh!

Basically, it works pretty well. You can make a call on your normal phone or you can use the PC app. What it appears to do is use your phone as a remote control. Your phone gives instructions to the PC software which actually makes the call. In the beginning, it had a hard time recognizing the number 0. It does not turn the RJ11 jack on the unit into a standard phone jack. This is important to understand.

If I’m right, the device is very ingenious. The adapter basically just converts the phone button pushes into actions the PC app can understand. All the hard work is handled by the PC. This would make it much cheaper to manufacture than a full VOIP external unit that must handle all of the conventional phone to Internet conversions. The downside for Magic Jack is that you have to keep your PC on all the time and you can only plug a phone into the RJ11 jack. That is, you couldn’t plug, say, a modem into it.

Because Magic Jack totally relies on the PC app, it causes issues if you use Windows Remote Desktop and remote into this PC, which I do all the time. When Remote Desktop redirects audio to the remote client, Magic Jack thinks there is no audio device on the host PC. Since it depends on it for input/output, it won’t work, even using a physical phone. There is a workaround if you are using the standard Windows client: you can turn off sound redirection. However, this is not possible if you are using the web client. This is a deal killer for me.

I also didn’t like that it only shows the caller ID phone number, but not the name.

Magic Jack is not a terrible device. I works ok and my Remote Desktop issue is probably relatively unique. Not sure why they don’t support CID name, but guess that could be fixed with a sofware upgrade. I got a 30 day trial so I’ll only be out the shipping when I return it.

I considered adding a line to my cell phone plan and getting a cell phone docking system, but I’m going to try ViaTalk. It’s a lot more expensive than Magic Jack, but they have a $199 for two years special right now. I’ll switch to the $10/month plan when it expires. This is a traditional VOIP phone and doesn’t require your PC to be on. Just plug in a network cable and your standard phone. Lots of features and it looks much more promising. 14-day trial period, so I’ll get to try it out first.