Category Archives: voip

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.


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?

British Broadband Tax

In his pre-Budget report, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer has confirmed that there will be a 6 GBP tax on all households with fixed-line phones in order to setup a fund that will be used to ensure that even the uneconomical parts of the UK will get fast fibre connections.

Note for readers – the incumbent UK Government is Labour, who come from a socialist or left-wing background.  The Opposition is the Conservatives (aka Tories), who come from capitalist or right-wing background.  For a good few years, it was hard to tell which policies came from which party but now the economy is down, they’re reverting to type.

While the aims of the Chancellor may be laudable, I think he’s completely wrong to setup a broadband fund.  All it will do is line the telecommunication companies’ pockets and it’s not as if they’re short of a penny.  In each of 2007 and 2008, one of the major British telecoms companies, BT made 2.5bn GBP (before tax) on 20bn GBP.  Ok, things are bit tighter in 2009 so far but they’re still making millions.

If the past 30 years of technological advancement has taught us anything, the pressure on technology to make things smaller, faster or cheaper has come from competitive pressures, not by throwing subsidies or government money at companies.  These companies ought to be trying to figure out how to make the uneconomic parts of the country into economic parts, by delivering more efficiently or delivering differently.

Around 30% of households are believed to be in this uneconomic category but that’s only for fibre connections – the figures (and Government) totally ignore the possibilities of wireless technologies.  Rather than let the best technology win out – and it’s for the market to choose what “best” means – the fund will be used to connect up with fibre whether it’s appropriate or not.

And even if the property is miles from anywhere why not simply charge the customer the true price of bringing fibre to their home.  That’s what happens for electricity – if you choose to build your house two miles from the nearest electricity line, the utility company will bill you the cost to install the cable to your house.  For a non-essential service to be given this kind of subsidy seems bizarre.

And I’m sure an extra side effect will be increasing numbers of people dropping their landlines in favour of mobiles and VoIP.  I’m definitely thinking harder about it – if I didn’t have ADSL broadband I would have done it years ago.

T-Mobile @ Home

Todd is going to love this, but T-Mobile’s Hotspot @ Home service has morphed into something that actually works, and might just replace that landline we’re all so hot to get rid of. Labeled T-Mobile @ Home, it allows you to have unlimited nationwide calling for just another $10 more on your existing T-Mobile bill.

It works with a Linksys-based VOIP router that then lets you plug in any corded phone (or cordless base station). The router costs about $50, and they even sell V-Tech cordless handsets at a pair for $60. I already have the V-Tech cordless handsets all over my house.

But I don’t have T-Mobile service, which is pretty sucky in this area (not many bars). Now if AT&T would offer something like this, I’d be on board.

Who am I kidding, AT&T giving up their landline money-makers? Never gonna happen. But a girl can dream!

Look for the T-Mobile@Home service to launch July 2.

GNC-2006-12-19 #226

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GNC-2006-11-10 #215

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Show Notes:
End of the Road
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