Hack 1. Get Connected
If you've got broadband, you're already using the Internet for data communication. Wouldn't it be great to use it for telephone calls, too?
Internet telephony service providers (TSPs) get your voice onto the Net, allow you to make and receive phone calls just like traditional phone companies, and tend to shrink your phone bill to boot. Some of these service providers give you a basic, free service that enables you to call other users over the Internet. Others allow you to make toll-free calls free of charge, but charge for local and long-distance calls.
TSPs that allow you to call traditional telephone service subscribers do so by connecting your standard home phone to the Net. Some TSPs also let you use a special piece of software called a softphone to place calls with your PC. To get connected to a TSP, you need a broadband Internet router configured as a DHCP server, a spare Ethernet port either on your router or on a nearby switch, and a good old-fashioned analog telephone.
TSPs are data centers with telephony servers that route calls to and from your home network or broadband VoIP device. The real-time packets that carry each call's sound over your broadband link use IP and User Datagram Protocol (UDP) protocols, and the TSP communicates key moments in the calllike dialing, connecting, and hanging upusing signaling protocols that are similar in some ways to the ones your browser uses to surf the Web.
The VoIP device that most TSPs provide to connect your home phone is known as an analog telephone adapter, or ATA. These little boxes allow you to connect a residential-style analog phone to your broadband Internet connection, and they are normally supplied by your VoIP TSP when you sign up for their service.
In addition to an ATA, some TSPs permit you to place VoIP calls using the following:
For this hack, I'll concentrate on connecting to a TSP that provides an ATA, allowing you to use an analog phone to place and receive calls via the Internet. Table 1-1 lists domestic (U.S. and Canada) TSPs that provide broadband VoIP calling.
"Bring your own device" means the TSP allows you to make phone calls across its VoIP network using your choice of equipment, such as an IP phone, a PC, or your own ATA. TSPs that don't allow you to bring your own device will provide an ATA to make the connection.
Once you've subscribed to a VoIP TSP service (many allow you to subscribe on the Web) and you've received your ATA in the mail, you'll probably be itching to hook it up and use it. Most of the time, setting up an ATA is straightforward. All ATAs have an Ethernet interface, for connecting to your network via an eight-wire CAT5 patch cable with two RJ45 connectors, and one analog telephone interface, for connecting to a residential-style, single-line phone using a four-wire patch cable with two RJ11 connectors. 8x8 Inc.'s DTA-310, standard equipment for Packet8 service, is such a device. So is the Sipura SPA-2000 [Hack #62], pictured in Figure 1-1.
Figure 1-1. The front and rear panels of the Sipura SPA-2000 ATA
But other ATAs might offer additional capabilities. For instance, the Sipura SPA-2000, standard equipment for VoicePulse service, offers an extra analog phone connector, so you can easily connect two phones, or perhaps a phone and an answering machine. As shown in Figure 1-1, the SPA-200's front panel has two phone connectors and a status LED, which indicates whether one of the analog phones is off the hook. The rear panel has an Ethernet connector, an Ethernet activity/link indicator LED, and a DC power connector.
More elaborate ATA devices integrate broadband routing and firewall functions, allowing you to consolidate your VoIP ATA and residential firewall into a single unit. The Zoom 5567 is one of these. It has a broadband IP router with a firewall, a four-port switch, an analog phone connector, and a pass-through connector for placing calls on a traditional Bell phone line in the event the Internet service fails.
So, depending on your service, setup could be a little more elaborate than just connecting the phone and the Ethernet to your ATA. However, in most cases, the ATA is a simple, no-frills device designed to accomplish one thingget your analog phone connected to the world's biggest VoIP carrier network, the trusty ol' Internet.
After you've gotten the ATA out of the package, find a good place for it. It should be close to where you intend to use the analog phone, though a long-enough phone cord would afford you more distance.(In "Wire Your House Phones for VoIP" [Hack #3], you'll see how to use your house's existing phone wiring to hook up several phones to a single ATA.) Your ATA also needs to be close enough to your Ethernet switch or broadband router to connect to it with a CAT5 patch cable.
Once connected, most ATAs will automatically register with your VoIP service provider's server the first time they are powered up. Don't interrupt this process. If the initial registration is interrupted, it could render your ATA useless, and the TSP might need to exchange it for a new one. Some ATAs will download firmware patches during the initial registration, too. Refer to your ATA's instructions for indications on when this process is complete, making it safe to power off the ATA. Usually, if you can hear a dial tone on the connected phone, the process is complete and it's safe to place a call or power down the ATA.
If you can't hear a dial tone on the connected phone, check that it is connected to the appropriate port on the ATA. Make sure your broadband router is configured as a DHCP server. Without DHCP running on your network, the ATA will be unable to obtain an IP address, crippling it.
Once you hear a dial tone, it's probably best to investigate any features that are included with your calling planvoicemail especially. Then, try calling a buddy to see if you can hear any difference between a traditional call and a VoIP one. Chances are that the person on the other end won't notice the difference unless you tell him you're on a VoIP call. Then, he might say he suspected you were on a cell phone. The sound quality on a VoIP call is only as good as the network carrying it, and many unsuspecting participants mistake VoIP calls for cell phone calls.