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The End of WiMax: What I Did

Since Sprint turned off WiMax last November, I had to make a change.  LTE was one choice.  I’ve done some LTE testing; with newer MiFi units such as the ZTE Z915 device it can be faster than DSL with excellent voice quality for VoIP.

But LTE performance is still much more variable than DSL or Cable Internet, while the cost is comparable to DSL/Cable, and more than WiMax.  With WiMax, I could go cheap, fast, and limited (10G for ~$20/month) with FreedomPop or cheap, slow, and unlimited with Clear (~$35/month).  Average LTE rates are around $40/month for 5GB at decent speeds.

My choice is LMI.net’s PHLO+, which is around $51-$55/month (including all the annoying taxes) for unlimited DSL as fast as you can get, and an analog phone line (I didn’t want the analog phone line, because it’s the reason for all the taxes, but I didn’t have a choice).  It is very similar to Sonic.net’s Fusion service, but since I had already had good experiences with LMI as a previous DSL customer I went with LMI.

I also liked that LMI was open to bringing or buying your own modem, while Sonic emphasizes rental.  So after discussing which modems LMI preferred, I bought a Smart RG SR510N for ~$20 from eBay.  The Smart RG  has worked perfectly so far.  I highly recommend both companies; Sonic does have its advantages, such as more service options (FTTN, FTTH).

My peak speeds are about 18Mbps down and 1.25Mbps or so up using my favorite speed test from DSLReports.

Since PHLO+ comes with a full featured POTS phone line, I bought a ObiLine for my Obi 202.  Some people complain about echoing on the ObiLine; I have noticed occasional echoing but overall the quality has been acceptable.  However, I found I didn’t like how it handles incoming calls forwarded from Google Voice.  (To be fair, I haven’t tried much troubleshooting on these issues, but since I’m happy with my setup, that’s a low priority).

Some other service changes from my last update:

  • I dropped Anveo.  Anveo still has excellent rates for E911 service and unlimited person DID (incoming phone numbers), but I wanted CNAM and didn’t care about Anveo’s features such as advanced call flow.
  • I ported the Anveo number to Ring.to, which was quick, easy, and free.  I’m not using that number a lot, but I value it so it’s a good match for Ring.to with their new usage restrictions (but since Ring.to is free, no complaints from me).
  • I dropped VestaLink after my contract ran out.  VL did work well for me, and since they offered a great deal for a 2-year pre-pay I thought about renewing, but I don’t need it now, and it’s hard to commit to 2 years to a company that isn’t actively looking for new customers.
  • I added CallCentric’s free New York DID, which includes CNAM (Caller ID name lookup).  It’s working well so far, and I’m fine with paying $1.50/month to CC for E911 service.
  • I played around a bit with VoIP.ms; right now I’m not actively using it, but there’s a good chance I will in the future.  I also thought about trying out CircleNet, but decided against it because they don’t offer California DIDs.

So my current Obi 202 setup is:

  • Callcentric DID for primary incoming calls.  Both Google Voice and Ring.to forward to CallCentric, which provides CNAM.
  • Google Voice is the primary line for outgoing calls.
  • Localphone is the backup line for outgoing calls (so I have two outgoing lines).
  • The Obiline (LMI analog line) is used for 911, and backup.
  • One Service Provider is currently empty; I might put VoIP.ms back in here.

The system is working well enough, but my “I’ll do it someday list” includes:

  • Different ring tones for different incoming lines.
  • Automatic switch over (ring on one phone first, switch to second if first line is busy).
  • Maybe add a PBX such as Asterisk.

I know it’s not that hard to do these things, but they just aren’t a high priority.

 

April 29, 2016   3 Comments

Obi, Codecs,WiMax, and the End of GV XMPP

It’s time for an Obi update.  As I’ve mentioned before, I really like my Obi 202; it’s a nice combination of reasonable simplicity and flexibility.  However, Google is dropping the XMPP interface to Google Voice on May 15, and Obihai isn’t going to try any work arounds, so I’ve had to re-configure my system.

What I’ve ended up with is this:

  • Currently keeping the Anveo DID (incoming phone number) which I’ve had for several years.
  • I’ve added Vestalink as my main service (incoming and outgoing).
  • I’ve also added Localphone, currently on a 800 minute/month subscription for outgoing ($1.60) and DID for incoming ($0.99/month; I’ll probably drop the DID).
  • Both Vestalink and Localphone are set up spoof our Google Voice number for outgoing calls.
  • I’ve set Google Voice to forward to Vestalink for incoming GV calls.

It’s working pretty well, especially by the most important standard: my wife hasn’t been complaining.

Consider I was paying >$20/month for basic metered local telephone service, I’m not worried about saving every penny.  I like having some redundancy, so if say Vestalink is having trouble, we can always use Localphone.

I did not use any install wizards; I prefer to enter the information in by hand, so I can tweak it if necessary, move things around, etc.

Codecs and Wireless

The only big tweak I’ve done is with codecs: I’ve setup both Vestalink and Anveo to only use the G.729 codec (GV and Anveo only support G.711).  The G.711 codec might have slightly better quality than G.729 (according to one study I found, 4.3 vs 4.0) on a fast wired connection, but it doesn’t recover well from lost packets, jitter, etc.

So I’ve been happier running VoIP on FreedomPop WiMax after I’ve switched off the direct Google Voice connection to my new G.729-based services.  I give the credit to the Obi forums; I’ve learned a lot from them recently.

I will also be experimenting with Android SIP clients.  In the past, my experience wasn’t too great, but I think using G.729 might help.  Vestalink provides their own client (a customized version of Cloud Softfone), and allows two simultaneous calls (so if I’m talking on Android, my wife will still be able to call at home).  For Localphone, I am evaluating CSipSimple and Zoiper.  I’m not planning on using SIP for incoming; SIP apps appear to significantly decrease battery life.

Vestalink

Vestalink has had its issues such as a few outages and issues with delays with calls forwarded from Google Voice, so YMMV (your mileage may vary), but I’ve been satisfied.

So far Google Voice forwarding to Vestalink has been great, with almost instant or very short delays.  Voice quality has been fine (considering I’m on WiMax).  It’s easy to set my outgoing Caller-ID.  I like the incoming CNAM (name lookup).  Vestalink does have a 30 day trial period.

Localphone

So far Localphone has been working fine, too.  I’ve tried some Google Voice to Localphone DID forwarding, and it’s been fine, even though the packets supposedly have to go Europe and back.

Other Options

I chose based on my priorities and current usage.  There are a number of other options worth considering, especially if you have different needs, including:

  • The Obi plans.  Current choices include three plans from Anveo and two plans from PhonePower.
    • The Anveo plans have fairly limited outgoing minutes.
    • You have to sign in to see the details.
    • These plans are setup over the internet, so it’s almost as easy to use as Ooma (but still more flexible).
    • I thought about the PhonePower plans, but passed  because I want to be able to tweak settings, including my Caller-ID spoofing (PhonePower doesn’t allow easy spoofing changes).
  • A free Callcentric DID for incoming + Localphone or CircleNet for outgoing.  Note: if provide a US or Canadian address, Callcentric charges $1.50/month for E911.  Localphone is typically about $0.005/minute, with US packages of 800 min/month for $1.60, and 5000 for $5.00.  CircleNet says most calls are under $0.005/minute.
  • Future-9, although you have to check the Obi forums or DSL Reports forums if you are interested in their interesting $5/month plan.
  • Callcentric.
  • voip.ms
  • Skype via a bridge.  I had thought about this, but decided it was too much hassle.
  • I’m sure there are others; I highly recommend participating in the appropriate Obi forum; for North America, it’s here — I have learned so much from there.

Additional Notes (Added Later)

  • Google Voice is currently still working with Obi ATAs, but there is no guarantee how long this will last.  I think it’s better to switch now; I have no regrets paying a bit and getting more (such as a better CODEC for my internet connection and  incoming caller name lookup).
  • With all services, results may vary.  For example, I’ve seen reports that LocalPhone has problems calling some Verizon land line numbers.

Even More Notes (October 2014)

  • After Obi changed the authentication method for Google Voice, it’s now officially supported again.  However, that could change yet again….from what I’ve heard, Google really was planning on shutting down XMPP, but changed their mind.
  • So if you want to save maximum money, Google Voice is probably the way to go.  However, you can get many extra features (such as Caller ID lookup (CNAM), E911, and such) with a SIP provider.  I’ve found I really like having CNAM.

Dec 2014 Notes

  • Looks like Future 9 is out of business.  Vestalink is still in business, and I hope they can find a sustainable business because VL has worked well for me.
  • My Anveo DID seems to be having substantial lag reporting the Caller ID number.  I’d also like CNAM on that number, so I’m considering porting it to another carrier when my pre-paid account gets down to $1 or so (possibly CircleNet.  Yes, they’re another small provider, but I think their business model is sustainable).
  • Newer Obi’s can also use Ring.to  service; it’s likely older Obi’s (like mine) will get it eventually.  I’ve played around with it a bit on my phone (since I’ve had GrooveIP for a long time), and so far it’s been a bit flaky (won’t authenticate over my LTE MiFi, but will over WiMAX).  Opinions on the Obi forums are mixed.

April 27, 2014   1 Comment

FreedomPop WiMax and VoIP

I’ve been on a quest to find the best match for my home internet needs.  At home, we don’t use the internet much, because I don’t have time (too busy doing non-geeky things), my wife only does e-mail, internet radio, browsing and the occasional Youtube video, and we try to keep our kids in the real world as much as possible (Legos! Drawing!  Parks!).  We only use about 5G/month, so I don’t want to pay for a lot of Gigabytes we won’t use.

As I’ve mentioned before, we were on the Clear WiMax basic plan ($35/month for unlimited 1.5M down / 500K up), which helped since I could dump my rip-off of a basic phone plan (~$23/month for metered local calls).  Note that Clear service is no longer available since they are now fully owned by Sprint.

A couple months ago, I finally found a better fit: FreedomPop’s Home plan, which uses Clear (now Sprint) WiMax.  I’m on the top plan, which is 10G of whatever speed you can get for $19/month.  Here are my comments so far:

  • FreedomPop’s website and sign up process really reminds of GoDaddy.  You need to read carefully and know what you want so you don’t pay for unneeded extras.
  • Speed is good; I have maximum signal strength, and can get 12-14Mbps down and 1.3-1.5Mbps up (based on running speed tests a couple times).
  • Latency can still be an issue for VoIP (see below for more).
  • I like the modem’s included 2-port switch.  Its built-in WiFi has good speed, but seems to have poor range.  My Obi 202 ATA is still on power line adapters instead of WiFi.
  • FreedomPop’s plans are niche: if you do much streaming, you’ll quickly pay a lot, good WiMax coverage is limited, and FreedomPop’s LTE plan is way too expensive for my usage (5G/month would be ~$65/month).
  • If I need to change, I’ll probably go to LMI.net’s Fusion service.  It’s a pricier (~$52/month with taxes), but has good customer service, high speed, no usage caps, and unlimited long distance calling.

VoIP Notes

Even with the extra speed, Google Voice on the Obi isn’t perfect.  Most of the time it’s good enough.  I note that Clear was promoting Ooma for VoIP over WiMax, although I think only the newer Ooma models have the wide-band codec that’s better for wireless.

I still really like my Obi; I like knowing I can configure it myself, I like having 2 lines, I like the USB options (Bluetooth, WiFI, analog phone line adapter (FXO/FXS)  and I like having up to 4 service providers.

Initial voice quality using the FreedomPop HomeBurst wasn’t so great.  I made two changes that helped: I changed to  Obi’s configuration so that the Ethernet port was always at 100Mbs, and I paid for the mysterious FreedomPop “SpeedBoost”, which can’t boost my speed, but does seem to increase packet priority (voice quality improved — and even with the added expense, it’s still a deal: the cost is about the same as I was paying for just local phone service).

Sometime I want to try using LTE for VoIP, because it supposedly has much better latency than WiMax.

New Problems

Now the news is out that Google is dropping XMPP support for Google Voice during May 2014, so the Obi will no longer work with Google Voice.  I’m going investigate one or two options (which is easy, since my Obi 202 still has a couple free service slots).

  • I will definitely try LocalPhone.
  • I might try using Skype using the SipToSis bridge (Obi notes here).  This will require having a computer on all the time, but I have an old laptop with a broken LCD that should work.

I will write a new post when I have results.

October 2014 Important Notes

  • Google decided not to drop GV XMPP support (at least, not yet – there is no guarantee how long it will be available), so it’s still available on the Obi (with a better authentication method).
  • I strongly do not recommend getting a FreedomPop WiMax service (Home Burst Hub or WiMax MiFi) now, since there are reliable indications Sprint will be shutting down all WiMax service in November 2015.  The FreedomPop LTE services will still work, but the pricing is higher (and you need different equipment).

November 17, 2013   1 Comment

VoIP On Clear WiMax Tip

The tip: make sure all your cordless phones are DECT 6.0 models.

I’ve dumped AT&T and switched to Clear’s WiMax service.  At first, I had a lot of problems when using VoIP telephony and my normal cordless phone: I could almost always hear the other person fine, but they often had a lot of noise and dropouts on their end.

After doing a lot of testing, I found if I used a corded phone or DECT cordless phone, the quality was good; I had the problems described only when using normal phone, an older 2.4 GHz cordless model.  My theory is that the 2.4 GHz phone’s signal was interfering enough with Clearwire’s 2.5GHz signal to impact the upstream speed and latency.

July 7, 2012   No Comments