Home Networking And IT Information And Discussion

Articles about home, SOHO and small-business IT and networking issues

A step in the right direction towards unified messaging for personal and residential telecommunications

 Neufbox de SFR : la messagerie vocale évolue – DegroupNews.com (Language: French)

I have read this French-language article about improvements to SFR’s voice-mail service for their NeufBox residential triple-play customers and one feature that stood out was interfacing the voice-mail with the customer’s home computer.

Typically the voice mail service that is available with most personal / residential landline and mobile telephone services can only be managed through the user pressing buttons on the phone keypad in response to voice prompts. Business-grade setups typically have a “unified messaging” setup where their voice mail and e-mail messages are managed through the same interface, typically their computer workstation or their smartphone. Some PC-based answering-machine setups could achieve this through a “voice modem”, essentially a data modem with built-in sound-card functionality that can work with the phone line, answering all of the voice calls and communications software that can work with the “voice modem” capturing all of the messages.

This setup allows the user to receive their voice-mail messages as an e-mail message through their regular computer interface and/or an MMS message through their mobile phone. This kind of service will typically pack the message the caller leaves as an e-mail attachment or MMS multimedia attachment, which can be of use for replaying (through other devices) or archiving. SFR are extending the functionality to cover 5 different e-mail or mobile-phone destinations. This would typically allow for reception of the messages at work or for a couple to receive their home landline messages on both their mobile phones.

This kind of “unified messaging” service can be of benefit to telecommunications providers who want to encourage their customers to “have all their eggs in one basket” and subscribe to their personal / residential / SOHO telephone and Internet services through them. It is also future-proof when it comes to handling wideband VoIP telephony or videophone services because messages from these services can be distributed in the same manner as regular e-mails or MMS messages.

28 January 2009 Posted by | IP-based telecommunications, Unified Messaging | , , | Leave a comment

ASUS and Skype launch dedicated AiGuru SV1 videophone – Engadget

 ASUS and Skype launch dedicated AiGuru SV1 videophone – Engadget

My Comments

Previously, I had talked about the concept of Skype / Windows Live Messenger video conferencing as a tool for communicating with distant relatives. I was even citing a television newscast that was broadcast on the night when I published the article where there was an elderly relative in a care home communicating with their family that was a long distance away with this technology. Think of things like presenting the new baby to Grandma who is living a long way away or simply celebrating Christmas with distant relatives.

This device is one step in delivering Skype’s videophone functionality in a reliable, easy-to-use box that can appeal to technology-shy users who may find using a computer a very daunting task.  Similarly, the Skype or Windows Live Messenger video-conferencing functionality could be ported to a set-top box platform so that it can be implemented in to a set-top box or PVR (“personal TV” device) sold or leased out as part of an advanced TV service. The user then connects a good-quality webcam compliant to the USB Video Device Class so they can use the regular TV set for this kind of video-conferencing.

This kind of setup would definitely appeal to families who want to use it along with the large-screen TV set to celebrate the family occasions over longer distances.

Another form factor that would appeal to this device class would include electronic picture frames that are VoIP-based Skype-compatible speakerphones. The device could be able to work alongside an existing VoIP handset such as a WiFi phone; have a DECT cordless-telephony base so it can work with a digital cordless handset or have an RJ-11 FXS phone socket so it can use a regular telephone as part of a VoIP / videoconferencing system. This form factor would come in handy in the kitchen or on the desktop as an alternative to the orthodox videophone form factor which is based on the desktop telephone.

24 December 2008 Posted by | Video-conferencing | , , , | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas from Simon Mackay

I am wishing you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

There are some important issues to think of during this gift-giving season, especially when you open those computer-related gifts on Christmas Day.

1: When you set up that new router, make sure that you set it up in a secure manner. The wireless network segment must be secured to WPA-PSK standards and using an SSID unique to the premises as described in the “Making Sure Your Home Wireless Network Is Secure” article.

2. Make sure that the administration front-end for the router is secured with a good password rather than the default “admin” password that the manufacturer sets it to. This should also be set up for any other network devices like network-attached storage boxes that are able to be managed from the Web browser.

3. When you set up a new computer, make sure it is running the latest version of an anti-malware program and that there is a desktop firewall in place. A good anti-malware program that I would recommend for home use would be the free AVG program (http://free.avg.com) or the Avast Home Edition (http://www.avast.com/). Also make sure that Apple Macintosh computers are running anti-malware programs because of the latest crop of malware that is now targeting this platform.

It is worth knowing that the recent crop of anti-malware programs integrate “sure-surf” functionality that warns you if you are heading to dangerous websites or if an item in a Google search list is a trap Website.

4. Make sure that operating systems are set to obtain update files automatically. This can be achieved by going to the “Live Update” menu in Windows or going to the “Software Update” under the Apple menu in MacOS X.

5. Don’t think that the Webcam is just for weirdos. Think of it now as a tool for communicating with distant relatives and allowing them to be part of your life. Consider them being on Skype or Windows Live Messenger and you could easily save heaps on the phone bills.

6. Enjoy a safe and happy New Year

With regards,

Simon Mackay

16 December 2008 Posted by | Network Management, Network Security, Uncategorized, Video-conferencing | , | Leave a comment

Making VoIP easier for the home, SOHO and small-business user

A new networking trend that is approaching the small network user is VoIP (Voice Ovr IP). It will typically include IP-based videoconferencing and offer such benefits as free or very low-cost calls, “local number anywhere” and wideband (FM-grade) telephony. Businesses of all scales are moving away from the classic PABX or key system which has its own wiring infrastructure and moving towards an IP-based business telephony system which uses existing local-area-network infrastructure. For them it also reduces the need to rent extra telephone lines for such requirements as inter-location “tie lines”.

The main problem with current VoIP setups is that they are hard to configure. Typically, you have to determine the network configuration for your VoIP service provider and work out particular “dialling plans” such as whether to use VoIP or standard telephone to make a particular call. The other factor you have to work out is which number your VoIP handset rings to. Most of these setups involve awkward interfaces and terms, including remembering certain parameters to be set across multiple devices. In some situations, this kind of work still needs one who has technical knowledge of all things to do with business telephony.

A lot of VoIP service providers have responded to this issue by selling pre-configured VoIP hardware that is locked down to their services. This situation ends up with the hardware being useless if you decide to move to a better deal offered by a competing service provider or decide to expand and evolve the system.

One way of improving the setup is to provide service-plan data packages that can be uploaded to VoIP hardware. This can be useful when it comes to signing up to a new service provider or upscaling the existing VoIP service. Another improvement that can exist could be preset outbound dial plans such as “VoIP for calls other than local & emergency / service”, “VoIP for calls other than emergency / service” or pre-defined “VoIP tie-lines”. These can be selected through a wizard-style interface.

The inbound call plan would be set up through a service-extension map for “direct inward dial” or simple “one-click” options for basic “all-call” setups.

As far as the provisioning of new VoIP telephone extensions goes, VoIP systems should consider use of UPnP and similar IP-based technologies for this purpose. The other issue that also needs to be considered is a standard data package for supplying the extensions (VoIP handsets or analogue telephone adaptors) with the necessary data. This avoids the requiement to have a system that can only work with telephones from a few vendors and can allow innovation in this field. It is more of concern as far as WiFi-based VoIP handsets, including “fixed-mobile convergent” mobile phones, are concerned.

The data packages would be an XML-based configuration file that contains information about SIP / STUN provider details, handset identity details and outbound / inbound dial plans.

Once measures are taken to make VoIP telephony easier to deploy, this can lead to system owners being able to have home and business telephony their way.

15 December 2008 Posted by | Voice Over IP | , , | 3 Comments

50 years since the first self-dial long-distance telephone call in the UK

Links

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/3548287/Long-distance-telephone-call-without-the-help-of-an-operator-is-50-years-old-today.html – The Telegraph

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7766147.stm – BBC

My Comments

Today has been the 50th anniversary of the self-dial long-distance telephone service in the UK, where telephone subscribers culd call across the country without needing the help of an operator. The demonstration call that was made on this day in 1958 was made by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who was located at Bristol to the Lord Provost who was located in Edinburgh. A re-enactment of this call will take place between the same people at the same locations but using video-conferencing technology, not just as a celebration of accessible cost-effective long-distance telephony for all but as a proof of concept that this can be done with today’s video-conferencing methods.

The reason that this event is being celebrated is because it is one of the major milestones in telecommunications, where these calls had transcended many barriers. It was about bringing the business centres of a country together and simply bringing country areas to the city, just by lifting that telephone handset and dialing the correspondent’s number. It has then paved the way for such technologies as computers, the Internet and home networks.

I had talked about in a previou article on how to go about setting up your computer and your home network for video-conferencing with distant relatives using Skype or Windows Live Messenger. This, like VOIP (Voice Over IP) is now making long-distance telephony so much more affordable for most that we can even take this kind of service for granted.

Happy 50th Anniversary for the Self-Dial Long-Distance Telephone Call!

6 December 2008 Posted by | IP-based telecommunications | , , , | Leave a comment

Feature Article – Video conferencing in the home network

You might be thinking of using video conferencing as a way of talking with distant relatives or friends. Infact, there was an article on TV Channel 7 News (Melbourne, Australia) on 4 December 2008 regarding the use of this technology to allow families to communicate with elderly relatives who are in nursing homes that are a significant distance from the family.

Is your network ready?

You shoud make sure that you have a broadband service of at least 512kbps ADSL or standard cable specification. As far as your router is concerned, it needs to support UPnP IGD / NAT traversal behaviour. This may be easier with most home-use and SOHO / small-business routers bought from retailers. But you may have to be careful about routers supplied by Internet service providrs, especially if the equipment is not available for general retail sale.

Also check that you are getting good WiFi reception if the computer you intend to use is to be connected to the network via WiFi wireless. This may include making sure that the aerial(s) on the wireless router is upright and, perhaps, considering setting up a wireless network with two or more access points. This has been talked about in my feature article on multple-access-point wireless networks. If the computer is a desktop unit located far from ther router, such as a home theatre computer, and you don’t want to pull Ethernet cable out to it, it may be worth considering a HomePlug powerline network kit. This kit uses the AC wires in the home as a network segment and still provides Ethernet stability in a “plug and play” manner.

What hardware to use

Computer with properly-performing video and audio subsystem and and a decent-quality webcam like a Logitech or Microsoft unit. Most recent laptops have a webcam built in to them for this kind of activity. If you don’t have a microphone attached to your desktop computer, the microphone that is part of a decent-standard webcam can do the job for picking up the voices.

What software to use

There are three different platforms to work with for video conferencing. One is the Skype platform which has existed mainly as an international free-telephony platform. But now it has become more popular as a video-conferencing platform. This one is available for the common computing platforms such as Windows, MacOS X and UNIX / Linux as well as some devices like the Sony PSP and would be the preferred choice if you want to be sure of accessibility.

The other two are the Yahoo Messenger and Windows Live Messenger. Both of these are popular instant-message platfrms but have voice and video telephony built in to them. The main problem with them is that they work only with the Windows platform and the MacOS X platform, which may preclude UNIX / Linux users from using them. Windows Live Messenger is at the moment being rolled out to the XBox 360, mainly as a text chat system but could be rolled out for full video chat.

Going about it.

You will have to complete the setup wizard for the conference program and this will typically require you to use your e-mail address as your identifier.

As well, you will need to complete an audio-video check which allows you to make sure that the microphone is going to pick up the sounds and that the speaker is loud enough without causing unnecessary echo or feedback “howl”. This test simply requires you to set the microphone gain to a proper level by you saying a test passage in to the system at your normal voice and checking a level meter on the user interface. It also requires you to set the speaker volum by you hearing an audio test signal and adjusting the volume for personal comfort. At this point, the system sets itself to avoid the echo or feedback “howl”.

There will usually be a “video” test to make sure that the webcam is working properly and can see you. This will typically be a “mirror image” showing up on your screen of what the camera can see, so you can focus the camera and determine how much lighting you may need for proper visibility.

Then you exchange your video-conference ID with your family and friends who are running the same software. Typically, when a user adds a contact to one of these programs, the program sends a message to the contact asking for permission to add them to the list. This is to protect the contact’s privacy and make sure they are dealing with the right people.

Other issues to consider

If you are planning to engage in “group” video conferencing such as when your family is talking to a distant relative, it may be worth using the large-screen TV set for this purpose. Such a TV set should have a VGA connector or HDMI connector and can be connected to the computer via the VGA socket or a DVI or HDMI socket. If you are not using HDMI as the connector or your computer doesn’t pass audio through the HDMI connector, the sound should just be connected to the TV set or home-theatre receiver via a standard audio lead. Most older CRT-based sets can only be connected to a computer via a composite or S-video cable and the video driver set up for work with the composite / S-video output.

As well, you will have to make sure the webcan stays on top of the TV set. This may involve the use of a USB extension lead to connect the camera to the computer and the use of Blu-Tack or double-sided tape to keep the camera from falling off the set. This issue is more real with flat-screen sets which don’t have much space on top of them

If you are concerned about your privacy and security, you may need to keep the webcam disconnected while you are not involved in video conferencing so that rogue software doesn’t “open” the camera up.

5 December 2008 Posted by | Feature Article, Network Activities, Video-conferencing | , , , | Leave a comment