Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Most recently in the VoIP Category

David Beckemeyer's PhoneGnome just did a pretty substantial upgrade. You can now use any SIP device to call PhoneGnome users for free. The new website lets you set up the call easily. You can also register all of your phone number (mobile phone, etc.) and not just the land line that your PhoneGnome is connected to.

Here's an announcement on their blog.

Disclaimer: I'm involved in this company.

The Sony mylo ships in the US September 15. No plans for distribution in Japan.

The mylo is a nifty little device that does wifi, Skype (you can hold it up to your ear or use a headset), GTalk (no voice), and Yahoo Instant Messenger. It also has a browser (Opera, no flash), has a photo album, plays mp3 and Windows Media Player music, and plays video formatted in the weird mp4 video format that the PSP uses. (I think. I have yet to successfully convert and play a video file.) I used it for Skype on a conference call today and it worked really well with Skype-Out. For some reason I don't see my contacts list on Skype. The other IM clients seem to work fine (GTalk and Yahoo IM).

The audio and video playback is good. The screen is a bit small but very clear. The device has a speaker on the back which is not stereo, but makes up for it in sound quality. In a relatively quiet room, playing music on speaker works well - much better than most cell phones designed for this kind of use.

It is rumored to be running some flavor of Linux inside. It mounts on your system via USB, but doesn't have bluetooth. It has wifi, but no GSM/GPRS. Definitely a downside, but an interesting twist after using the Sidekick for so long that has GPRS but no wifi. It also doesn't have email. It has about a gig of memory, but you can buy a 4 gig memory stick Pro Duo.

Overall I like it so far. The keyboard is a bit hard to use, but maybe it just takes getting used to. I like the way it flips out. The size is great. It is about the size of a largish cell phone, but much more pocketable than a PSP, DS Lite or Sidekick 3. I wish it had AIM and MS Messenger too, but I can live with Gtalk/Skype/Y!. The media playback is nice, but I wish it were more format friendly on the video. The interface is pretty fast and nice. The industrial design is pretty cool. The white bands glow in different colors for different states. When you are peer-to-peer wifi'ing, it glows orange. When you are connected to the Net in infrastructure mode, it is blue.

I'll post more updates after I play for it some more, but thought I should post this before everyone else got one and diminished the amount of envy I could muster with this post. I was able to get ahold of one though a secret source at Sony who I am not allowed to disclose. And before you ask me if I can get you one, I can't. You can pre-order them on for $349.99.

Gnome News is Good News
SoftGnome is out of the bag

Our latest PhoneGnome add-on, SoftGnome, is now available for testing by PhoneGnome owners.

SoftGnome let’s PhoneGnome owners take their home phone service with them wherever they go (wherever there is an Internet connection).

I've been waiting for this for awhile. This will let me mess around with my PhoneGnome a bit more. David's been focused on getting the easy to use part of it working first, for geeks SoftGnome is an important piece.

Disclosure: I'm an investor and advisor.

All I wanted to do was forward my telephone calls. I decided to dive into Asterisk. I realized that all of the "easy configure" setups were limited for my purposes. Then I realized I should probably get my head around what Asterisk is actually doing and play with Linux. Before I knew it, the folks on #joiito had convinced me to install Ubuntu Linux. I finally routed my first call from my bottom-up install of Asterisk.

What a Yak shave.

So... what's the best laptop for running Linux?

I am on the advisory board of and an investor in TelEvolution which has just announced a device called the PhoneGnome. PhoneGnome is the brainchild of David Beckemeyer. He was co-founder of EarthLink, where he was Vice President Engineering and Chief Technology Officer. I first met David on #joiito and got to know him when he built the Hecklebot.

Later, he approached me with his PhoneGnome idea and I was immediately fascinated. The PhoneGnome is box that you connect to your phone line and your Internet connection and attach a phone to. The magic happens when PhoneGnome figures out your phone number and auto-configures everything so that in the future, all calls to other PhoneGnome users go over the Internet instead of the phone line. "Auto-configure" is a non-trivial thing and is the difficulty standing between normal users and SIP/Asterisk goodness and freedom. Under the hood, PhoneGnome is open standards based and is extendable in various ways, but David has kept it EXTREMELY simple so that anyone can use it and doesn't require you to have your computer turned on. You just pick up your phone and call like you normally would.

As you can see from my endeavors with trying to configure Asterisk and pushing the limits of Skype, I'm extremely excited by voice over IP. So far, nothing I had seen had passed the following test:

1 - Easy to use
2 - Open standard
3 - NOT a service model (no monthly fee)

I think that voice should be easy to use. It should be a piece of hardware or an application, not something you have to pay extra for. It should be open standards and allow innovation and interconnection.

Skype passes 1 and maybe 3, but not 2. It is extremely easy to use (yay!) but they are not open standards based.

Asterisk passes 2 and 3, but not 1. Asterisk and other SIP servers are EXTREMELY hard to set up (at least today) and SIP phones generally suck and/or are extremely hard to configure.

Vonage passes 1 and maybe 2, but not 3. Vonage and other so-called VoIP phone companies are still charging you a monthly fee and seem to me to be wannabe phone companies that are trying to lower costs by using VoIP. Now they're having trouble with having to act like a phone company and provide 911 etc.

I think that we can keep the plain old phone system in place as an emergency backup system when other things fail. Let them have 911. All other nifty voice things should go over the Internet and should be open standards based and free. Don't use voice to make "internets" like we have with instant messenger. Don't cheat customers and charge for a service that costs nothing. Let's use VoIP as the killer app to drive further broadband and network service adoption in the same way that email and the web did and not let it become yet another victim of walled gardens and telco FUD.

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Last night I got Asterisk working on my PowerBook with the help of Benjamin who runs Asterisk is an open source PBX. It allows your computer to send, receive, route and provide services on a wide variety of voice connections including SIP, IAX and various interfaces for normal phone lines. I've always had fairly complicated phone line and call management needs and now I can program everything myself. There is an amazing feeling of liberation when you realize how much control of your phone system you can actually have. Asterisk is a bit difficult to do without some help, but once you start to get your head around it, it feels like you're running a mini phone company. They even use legacy words like "trunk lines" which were named after the cabinets in the phone companies that held the groups of 9999 lines. It's going to take me awhile to get it completely configured, but I'm not going to feel truly VoIPy until I am in total control of my phone system.

Take THAT telephone monopolies! ;-)

UPDATE: François asked for more detail in the comments.

I'm using the PowerBook now mostly to play around. It will eventually be on a stationary machine. The first step will be to forward all of my calls to Asterisk. These include Vonage, Free World Dial, Voice Pulse and a few other VoIP things that I have. I will also try to find a service provider who will take all of my business lines and convert them to VoIP and forward them to my PBX. Vonage and Sound Pulse will allow me to dial out. The idea is to have all of my calls aggregate at my Asterisk PBX. Then, I can have various profiles on Asterisk that I can change in a number of ways. I'm hoping I can use, email, phone, Jabber presence, SMS and various other methods of changing my profile. The profiles will be set up to forward calls appropriately to me or my assistants. The calls can forward to a soft phone on my computer, my cell phone or any other phone that I register with Asterisk. I can also send calls to voicemail. If I can get caller ID working properly, I can set up different groups to allow me to let certain people through for emergencies.

Because the system is so flexible, there are a variety of configurations so I'm trying to figure out what I really want and how best to do it before investing in a bunch of interface cards. One key point will be whether I do the POTS termination myself or have a service provider manage my POTS lines. (POTS = Plain Old Telephone Service)

Skype's Echo / Sound Test Service (echo123) used to have a woman with a wonderful Estonian accent. They've replaced it with a faceless corporate sounding voice. (via pt) Eek. Kerli has many fans. We want Kerli! Anyway, for any geeks who miss Kerli, you can fine an Echo Test with a face for Chinese Skype. Just call echo-chinese.

Update: There is now a Japanese soundtest. (soundtestjapanese) The voice is definitely a Japanese woman, but she is also incognito. Also, if you IM "callme" to any of these sound test accounts, they will call you.
via Kengo

I don't know if this already old news but have you ever called echo123 on Skype? (It's on their support page.) It's a test account that talks to you and plays back a message you record. The woman on the Echo Test Service has a cool Estonian accent. So for all of you lonely Estonian guys out there... I THINK her name is Heidi, but I'm checking now.

UPDATE: Her name is Kerli.

David Beckemeyer
BT appears to be blocking third-party VoIP

I've been biting my tongue on this since I first ran across it several months back. But now I have to say something. If someone can prove me wrong on this, fine, I'll post a retraction, but now I'm going to say it: British Telecom appears to be explicitly blocking VoIP for their DSL subscribers.

I've worked with an associate to examine the situation and all signs point to an explicit blocking of VoIP. In Cisco ACL-speak, it appears there is a rule somewhere in the BT network being applied to inbound packets of the form:

deny udp any eq 5060 any
If this is true, this is VERY bad behavior. 5060 is the port that SIP uses. I can understand why a phone company wouldn't want "free phone calls over the Internet" running on their system, but this is exactly the kind of behavior that makes Internet folks dislike telephone company control.

Can anyone else corroborate this fact?

VoIP stands for "Voice over IP" and SIP is the open standard "Session Initiation Protocol" used to set up calls over the Internet

UPDATE: Looks like it is a customer router issue, but still may be BT driven. Update on Mr. Blog.

David Weinberger
VoIP crime

US citizen Ilya Mafter has been detained by the Belarusians for committing the crime of Voice over IP. The government says that he caused about US$100,000 in damage to the country's telephony providers "as a result of illegal communications services using IP telephony that were organized by Mafter."

Such illegal communications services hurt telephone companies and in many countries these telephone companies are run by the government or wield a great deal of power. Sometimes it's easy to forget that competition with monopolies is illegal in many countries.

Dr. Mark Petrovic and David Beckemeyer at Earthlink R&D have developed a proof of concept P2P application using SIP called SIPshare. SIP stands for Session Initiation Protocol and is one of the key technologies for the open standards around Voice over IP (VoIP). This application is pure P2P use of SIP. It is completely decentralized. According to David Beckemeyer this project is quite important.

David Beckemeyer in email
This may not sound like that big of a deal, as file sharing has been done, but I think this is a really big event. It's not about file sharing. Nobody is really going to use the demo app Mark built. It's about demonstrating that pure P2P can be done over SIP and that SIP is about more than just voice and video.

In some sense, the SIP wars to me are about sneaking in some aspects of the original "stupid network" baack into the NAT hell we've created. If we can do what it takes to get NAT boxes to support SIP (be consistent in how they do NAT so the edges can use STUN et al), then we have reclamied the ability to have individually addressable nodes, where we use SIP as the new IP network almost. This may be getting carried away, but anyway...

SIP has been waylaid in regulatory and execution problems in the past and many people have written it off as a non-starter. I'm seeing more and more companies who are actually using it for cool stuff and proving that it's ready for prime time now. If you written off SIP and haven't taken a look at what people doing with it for the last six months, I suggest you take another look.

via David Beckemeyer

Skype for Mac is out. Yay!

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