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Posts from April 2009

Speaking about Voxeo Prophecy 9 in webinar tomorrow (Apr 21, 2009)...

voxeologo.gifIf you are free tomorrow at 11am US Eastern / 8am US Pacific / 5pm CET, and want a glimpse into what we all are doing over at Voxeo, we are offering a free webinar about what is new in the upcoming Prophecy 9 and VoiceObjects 9 product releases. I am speaking in the first part about Prophecy 9 and then will be followed by Stefan Besling from our VoiceObjects team to talk about what is new in VO9.

As I put together the slide deck, I realized that the engineering team has filled this release with some great features:

  • our voice application platform now works across all three major operating systems: Windows, Linux and MacOS X
  • the new management console has some graphical features to aid in managing large premise installations that simply have to be seen to be believed (think... three dimensional walls...)
  • the new "virtual platforms" feature makes adding new capacity as drop-dead simple as installing a new server and adding it in
  • the new log analyzer tool lets you dive deep into logs to find what's going on - and to generate pretty pictures out of the activity as well

I'm definitely looking forward to talking about it tomorrow... and the more I use it on my home system (the beta is available at, the cooler I think it is. (And I'm not saying that simply because it's my job now! :-)

Anyway, please do join us if you can - and if you can't, an archive will be available on the VoiceObjects Developer Portal soon.

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Digium takes on the "fax issue" with Fax For Asterisk...

digiumlogo.gifI can't stand fax. I can't. It's a technology that I just wish would go away. It kills me that fax is one of the main reasons I didn't drop my landline in my move. Yet the reality is that fax usage is everywhere... and probably will be for quite some time if for no other reason than the complete and utter simplicity of fax usage. Print out your message, or write your message (you know... that thing we all used to do... take a writing tool (pen, pencil, crayon, charcoal, etc.), grasp it in your hand and make marks on some writing surface...), just stick that message in your fax machine, punch in the number and press Send. It's hard to get much simpler than that.

But the lack of fax has been a barrier to many a premise-based IP-PBX deployment. Everything's going great... people are looking at all the great things they can do with VoIP and Unified Communications, etc. They are figuring out distributed architectures that are all IP-based. It's all looking really cool technically and will save money, too. All is going well and then someone asks "What about the fax machines?" And so people wind up with kludge solutions using analog breakouts or local lines or attempting Fax-over-IP or keeping some TDM around or... or... or...

We as an "IP communications industry" have to figure out a way to address the "fax issue" if we really do want to build our big interconnect and move beyond the PSTN into a richer communication experience. (And the SIP Forum, by the way, has formed a FoIP Task Group to look at this issue.)

In this context, I was intrigued to see that this week the folks at Digium announced a new service called (Duh!) "Fax For Asterisk". Here's the standard blurb:

Digium's Fax For Asterisk is a commercial facsimile (Fax) termination and origination solution designed to enhance the capabilities of Open Source and commercial Asterisk as well as Switchvox. Fax For Asterisk bundles a suite of user-friendly Asterisk applications and a licensed version of the industry's leading fax modem software from Commetrex. Fax For Asterisk provides low speed (14400bps) PSTN faxing via DAHDI-compatible telephony boards as well as VoIP faxing to T.38-compatible SIP endpoints and service providers. Licensed on a per-channel basis, Digium's Fax For Asterisk provides a complete, cost-effective, commercial fax solution for Asterisk users.

Translation: You can send and receive faxes through Asterisk using either TDM or Fax-over-IP (T.38), licensed on a per-channel basis.

In a rather smart move on Digium's part, they've also rolled out "Free Fax For Asterisk" where you can get a free 1-channel license for Fax For Asterisk for an Asterisk installation. This will let people at least play with FFA and may be all that some small offices need.

I'm naturally intrigued by the FoIP side of the offering, which the FAQ dives into in a bit more detail. Unfortunately I've been doing some work on my home network and my Asterisk installation isn't operational right now, but I expect I'll be bringing that back online soon and expect I'll then be experimenting with this a bit more as well. So if I could get termination with a SIP service provider who offered T.38.... could I at least solve the receiving side of the picture? (And yes, I can also solve that through eFax and a zillion other providers.) The sending side still requires some hardware changes on my end to scan it in...

Now if we can just make it ultimately as simple as sticking the papers to send in the document feeder and pressing Send...

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Skype on the iPhone: Some initial thoughts...

Unless you remained under a rock last week, you know that Skype was released for the iPhone, somewhat predictably rocketed to the #1 downloaded iPhone app, shot past 1 million downloads in two days and then just today went past two million downloads. As Skype's Peter Parkes' writes:
I’m back with an update – and it’s no surprise that we’ve stormed past the 2 million download milestone. This means an average rate of 2-3 downloads per second since the app first appeared on the 31st March.

2-3 downloads per second! You have to think Skype's got to be rather happy about those numbers. Jim Courtney had a good post rounding up some of the Skype for iPhone coverage.

The good news, for me, was that Skype for the iPhone did include support for persistent group chats, which I noted was my one big desire for the iPhone client.

I've been using the client now off and on for the past week, and thought I'd write down a few initial impressions:

  • Audio quality - I've not actually used it for too many calls, but when I have the audio quality (over WiFi) has been great. I'm looking forward to trying it out more whenever I next travel. Interestingly it seems to use the G.729 codec versus any of the ones that Skype developed themselves.

  • Group chats are supported, but are buggy - As I said above, the good news is that group chats, both public chats and also non-public group chats, are supported by the iPhone client. The bad news is that the groupchat support is still a bit buggy (and yes, I realize that it's a 1.0 release). I found a wacky behavior (which I reported) where the iPhone client would only show you the 10 last updates in a group chat, which made it kind of useless.

    I've also noticed that when I go into some group chats in the iPhone client, they don't have the most recent updates in them, which you could expect... but they don't ever seem to update. Now, this could be part of the known issue Skype has with multiple Skype clients simultaneously using the same Skype ID. The updating of groupchats between multiple Skype clients sharing the same ID is a bit funky with regular PC/Mac clients, so it's probably no surprise that it could be strange with the iPhone client in the mix. I'll have to try it sometimes without being signed into Skype anywhere else.

    Still, the great thing is that I can update group chats while I am mobile and, if things work right, also catch up on what's been written in those chats.

  • Battery life - Somewhat predictably, I've found that keeping the Skype For iPhone app running does eat up the battery a good bit. At one point when I left it sitting on my desk for a while purposely, I did see that the battery went down considerably - and my iPhone got a bit warm, too. Now perhaps this is because I do have so many chats open. I did, however, expect this to be the case. I can see myself using the Skype For iPhone client primarily for dipping into the Skype flow to send messages or catch up on what's going on. I don't see myself using it for an extended period of time while mobile... although of course I can always plug it in.

All in all I've been quite pleased with how the Skype For iPhone client works in my initial usage. I need to use it while traveling to really get a sense of how well it performs. It does, of course, suffer from the two inherent issues in the Apple iPhone platform: 1) you can only use the voice portion over WiFi; and 2) there is no background processing - any app has to run in the foreground. Of these, #2 is really the larger annoyance because you can't be doing something else on the iPhone and still receive Skype IM messages or calls. Still, it's great to have a Skype client on the iPhone.

What do you think? Have you installed it and tried it out? What have you found works well? Or doesn't work well?

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