Ooma shows off new SOHO product

ooma boxOoma has been around a few years now and many of you may have heard the name — it is a way of cutting the cable, but in this case it is the telephone cable, much the way some people do with services like Skype. In other words, it is home phone service that uses the internet.

This year the company has expanded its service with a new Ooma Office which is targeted at small business and can provide ten extensions and five lines. It can reduce the costs in an office by up to 75 percent per month, if Ooma’s calculations are correct. Of course this can vary slightly based on service level and current pricing of the local carrier.

Ooma is now in over 50 countries and is frequently used by those working abroad as a way to maintain a U.S. phone number. Head over to Ooma to learn more.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine and Scott Ertz of F5 Live

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Second Line App for Smartphones from Line2

Line2 PhoneIf you’ve ever wanted a second line on your smartphone but don’t have a dual SIM phone (and let’s be honest, who does?), you’ll be interested in this app from Line2. Andy and Don get a demo from Peter on what the app offers.

The Line2 app provides a second line by using a VoIP connection over 3G or wi-fi. All the features of a telephony service are present with a phone number, voicemail, text messaging, call-forwarding and so on. There’s also HD audio if you are calling another Line2 user.

Being a data service and able to use wi-fi means that it’s possible to send and receive calls where there’s no mobile phone signal but there is a wireless connection. SIM-less devices such as iPod Touches or wi-fi-only tablets can become phones too.

Available for both iPhone and Android, monthly subscriptions start at $9.95 a month.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and RV News Net, and Don Baine, the Gadget Professor.

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Invoxia VoIP Desktop iPhone Dock

Invoxia Logo

Todd talks with Eric from Invoxia about their latest office product, a stylish dock that converts iPhones and iPads into a VoIP desktop phone. Winner of a CES 2012 Showcase Engineering Award, it’s really quite stunning.

The NVX 610 can use Skype or a SIP telephony provider and control of the desktop phone is via an app on the iPhone which uses Bluetooth to communicate with the dock. The unit has built-in speakers, creating a hands-free phone and a music dock all in one.

Available on-line now for $599. Cool but pricey.

Invoxia nvx-610 Desktop Phone and iPhone Dock

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Microsoft Buys Skype

Today Microsoft announced that it had purchased Skype for 8.5 billion dollars. Skype will be run as a separate business division with in Microsoft and its CEO Tony Bates will report directly to Steve Balmer Microsoft’s CEO. For those of you that are not familiar with Skype it is a soft ware application that allows users to make voice calls and chats over the Internet. Calls that are to other users on the Skype service are free, while calls from Skype to landline or mobile phones do cost a small fee. It had over 663 million register users as of 2010 with 170 million that are active and it continues to grow. According to Microsoft they plan to bring the Skype support to Xbox, Kinect and Windows Phone. They did indicate that Skype will continue to develop and work on other platforms. Whether this remains true only time will tell. There is always the fear that over time development for the other platforms like Linux and the Mac OS X will fall by the wayside and become after thoughts.

One of the biggest problems when a company the size of Microsoft buys a company like Skype is that the smaller company will simply be swallowed up by the Microsoft culture. That what has made Skype popular with users will get lost and the urge to make it more popular with Wall Street will override the users interest. An Ars Technica article also bring up the point that Microsoft already has a its own voice and chat platform Window Live, which has more active users then Skype at 330 monthly active users. So where does Skype fit in, will it be its ability to do Skype to landline calls, which Windows Messenger doesn’t do. No one knows, there was no mention of it at the announcement. The more I think about this the more I believe that the only group that this announcement is good for are those who own stock in Skype. Unfortunately for the users and employee of Skype I don’t see a rosy future. I certainly hope I am wrong. Hopefully Microsoft can use it expertise to improve Skype UI and security.  The last Skype update was to say the least not very popular with most users.  It is possible that Microsoft will do everything it says it will and Skype will become an even better product for everyone.  I am just not holding my breath on it.

 

Whistle Free Calling

I recently installed a VOIP phone app on my iPod called “Whistle.” Whistle is gives you a free incoming phone number that can be called from other phones, along with free domestic phone calls within the U.S.

Since my Sprint “Simply Everything” phone plan gives me unlimited voice calls within the U.S., I don’t really need the free voice calling feature. However, I installed it because it’s nice to have alternatives available, just in case. Whistle is free. It works, but the call quality is poor.

Nonetheless, a few days ago I found myself unable to use my cell phone, but still needing to make a call. Since I had WiFi available, I remembered I had the Whistle app available and was able to make my call via Whistle without any trouble.

Whistle has poor call quality on my iPod Touch. However, it is a free app and you can make free calls if you are willing to listen to short audio ads just before your call is placed. I like having extra options which can sometimes come in handy, and Whistle worked for me when I needed it to.

Whistle also offers very cheap rates on international calls.

Whistle doesn’t offer the voice quality of Skype, but Skype costs money to place calls to telephones as well as to have an incoming phone number. Whistle offers both of those features for free.

Make Your Smartphone Even Smarter

I know you’ve seen it – someone using the “Push To Talk” feature on their company phone that essentially turns it in to a sort of high-tech walkie-talkie.

Would you like to be able to do something similar with your Android or iOS device? Enter a free iOS/Android app called “Heytell.”

Heytell is sort of a cross between “Push To Talk” and voicemail. Think you’ve already got enough communication ability with your phone’s existing features? Think again.

I find there are times when I’d like to send a 30 second or shorter voice message to a friend or relative, perhaps asking them a question or just saying good morning, but I don’t have time to make an actual phone call. Heytell fills the bill. If they are there and answer back immediately I can end up carrying on a real-time, back-and-forth, two-way-radio-like conversation. Or, they might answer me hours later. It’s sort of like texting with voice instead of typed words.

The app has both Android and iOS versions and works completely cross-platform. The biggest problem I’ve found with the app is getting other people to understand what it is and how useful it can be. Once I’ve effectively explained to them what it is, how it works, and that it is free, then when I send the email invitation to them directly from within the Heytell app they will be prepared to accept the invitation and start using it.

Since installing Heytell on my iPod a few weeks ago, it has turned out to be my most frequently-used iPod app out of the 124 apps I have installed so far on my iPod Touch.

Skype at CES 2011

Skype

Todd Cochrane interviewed Rick Osterlash, VP of Consumer Products for Skype at CES 2011. Skype announce several new products and partnerships either at CES or just prior to it.

The first product Mr Osterlash talked about was a new version of Skype for the iPhone, which allows two-way video calling. The calls can be either phone to phone or phone to desktop. This update was issued just before New Years and over the New Year’s holiday there were more than 1 million video calls made from the iPhone. Apple was very helpful in getting the application on the iPhone. Second Skype announced a partnership with Verizon which will enable Skype on LTE Advance devices including Android. Furthermore they announced a partnership with various TV manufactures. Skype will come installed on certain TVs, allowing consumers to make video Skype calls directly from these TVs.  At the same time they also announced partnerships with some Blue-Ray manufactures which would allow customers to use Skype on older TVs. Finally they announced that the new version of Skype on the desktop will allow group video calls. This is available for both Windows and Mac, although the Mac version is still in beta.

Skype is doing very well in fact there was a study done by TeleGeography which said that 25 percent of all international calls are now done through Skype, and that number is only increasing.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central.

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Plantronics .Audio 1100M Review

Plantronics .Audio 1100MThe Plantronics .Audio 1100M is a simple USB VoIP telephone handset optimised for use with Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 and Lync 2010, though it will also work with Skype and other softphone applications.  Habitual users of these systems will recognise the benefit of having a dedicated handset rather than relying on speakers or built-in microphones.

As you’ll see from the photos, it’s functional rather than aesthetically pleasing, with just a numeric keypad plus buttons for mute, speakerphone, call and hang-up.   There are also volume and ringer controls on the left and right sides respectively.

The handset has a good weight to it – not so heavy as your hand gets tired, but it feels like a solid product that isn’t going to break the first time it hits the floor.  The back of the phone is curved and fits nicely into the palm of your hand.

Phone in Monitor HookAlso in the box is a cradle which can be attached to your monitor or other vertical edge.  This keeps the handset handy for when a call comes in without cluttering up your desk.  The picture on the right shows the handset in the cradle.

On both Windows 7 and Ubuntu 10.10,  the .Audio 1100M was instantly recognised and the drivers loaded.

The 1100M has been optimised for Microsoft Communicator 2007 or Lync 2010, as it’s now called.  This means that when used with either of the two Microsoft products, all the buttons work as expected and allow you to dial numbers, pickup and reject calls and so on.  Call quality was good and the person on the other end of my call could hear me well.  I’d definitely rate it as one of the better handsets I’ve used for call clarity.

When used with Skype, the 1100M works as a basic USB audio device in that you can have a conversation but the numeric keypad and the accept / reject buttons don’t work.  Call quality was still high.

A few colleagues suggested that an LCD screen would be useful to see the number being dialled but I’m not sure that it’s essential.  When used with Communicator and Lync, you can see the number displayed on the PC screen so I think you’ll be more likely to look at that to check the phone number.

The online price is just under £60 or $70 going by Amazon.  Clearly, there are cheaper handsets on the market, but this device is not aimed at the individual consumer.  The .Audio 1100M is for businesses implementing unified communications where a lower cost device is needed for basic phone calls.  One scenario I can imagine is someone who works from home occasionally but connects to the work network via a VPN.  This handset would suit them.

If there were a couple of things to improve…first I’d make drivers available so that all the functions work with Skype or similar softphones.  To be fair, the .Audio 1100M is designed for Microsoft Communicator / Lync and it doesn’t try hide this.  Second, I’d make a curly USB lead available to make the device more phone-like.  And finally, I hope the next version of the handset is a little bit more attractive.

Other than that, the .Audio 1100M is a good solid device with better-than-average call quality.

Thanks to Plantronics UK for the device.

Calling With Style

This week’s unofficial style and design award goes to Native Union and their beautiful Moshi Moshi range of handsets for mobile phones, USB VoIP and Bluetooth.

There’s four in the range, the first three created by designer David Turpin and the last by Michael Young.   They’re a stylish mix of retro and modern and I think they’re reasonably priced for a well-designed item.   I’m tempted to get the Bluetooth handset (MM03) myself.

Two of them have 3.5mm jacks and two are Bluetooth.  A range of adaptors are also available from the web site, including one for converting to USB for Skype, GoogleTalk and so on.

Here are a few pictures to whet your appetite but the website has full photo galleries.

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MM03MM04MM01H

And if you are wondering what “Moshi Moshi” is, it’s what Japanese people say when they answer the phone.  You can read about the myth behind this phrase over on WikiAnswers.

No Room For Domestic VoIP in the UK?

On Saturday, Tesco emailed the users of its internet phone service to tell them that the service was being closed down at the end of April.  Although it’s certainly not the only VoIP outfit in the UK, it’s one of the few who have sold directly into the domestic market and are a household name.

Tesco is a major supermarket in the UK which has branched out into telecoms, primarily as an mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), but has also offered a VoIP service.  This was a rebranded Freshtel service and it appears to be the difficulties with Freshtel that have led to the closure.

Tesco made the system as painless as possible.  You could buy dedicated handsets, converters for standard phones and the usual USB handset or headset.  It was a good system with no technical knowledge required and a web interface to configure what there was.

From reading the various forums, it’s clear that many of the users were running small business through the system as an easy way to get second phone lines without incurring huge cost and I can see this is a real market.  A number of VoIP services have already posted to say that they are happy to take on ex-Tesco users (allegedly at even better rates!).

However, I’m uncertain as to the market for domestic VoIP services.  At the moment, I have a landline and I have a mobile.  On the landline, I pretty much get free off-peak calls and on my mobile I have a monthly contract which entitles me to certain number of “free” calls.  The only time the Tesco service gives benefit is on international calls, which I don’t need to make that often.  So I can see why it might be difficult to make money from the service within a purely domestic market.

Of course, Skype has been successful but I think it’s success has been through free Skype-to-Skype connections and that’s not quite what is needed here.

I suppose where it might be beneficial to both parties is when the customer gives up their landline and relies on VoIP for all their voice traffic but that’s still quite a hard sell, especially when landlines work so well.  Unless you have cable, you need your landline for your ADSL broadband anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of companies successfully offering SIP and other VoIP services to individual consumers for business use or as a cheap second line.  It would be too simplistic to say that if Tesco can’t make it work, no-one can, yet I just can’t see domestic VoIP services replacing landlines in the UK anytime soon.  Anyone else any thoughts?