Categories
End User gadgets

32GB micro sd card for £11 from Tesco

32GB micro sd card from Tesco only £11

Needed some memory expansion on the S7 Edge whilst on holiday in Peel. Mine has 32GB and only 5GB left. These vids take up a lot of space.

Moreover whilst here in the IoM I am backing up to Google Drive but not my NAS box. pics and vids stay on the phone for a month after backing up to the NAS and are then automatically deleted. So whilst here I need some Bytes.

I’m just flabbergasted really at how cheap this stuff has become. I was after a 200GB job but Tesco didn’t have one. The electrical accessories section of the Douglas store is about 3 foot wide. The sd card I bought was actually the only one in the store. Not the only type, the only one. Must have ha a run on them:) I bought it. For eleven quid it will do the job.

I now feel a lot more relaxed. It’s how you should be when on holiday. I’ll be posting pics and vids on Facebook and www.philosopherontap.com (where art collides) where you are welcome to check them out.

Now my only issue is my dad’s 50GB broadband data allowance. I’ll smash that. Will have to call Manx Telecom and upgrade to unlimited for the month. May as well wait until it hits the buffers.

Data isn’t something one has to think about these days as I have an unlimited package on my 200Meg down 12 Meg up Virgin media connection. I have broadband only at £43 a month. Who needs a landline these days?

This is one of the things that annoys me about consumer broadband providers with their fantastic offers. They always forget to mention the line rental.

It’s only Anne’s friend Julie who ever calls us on the landline these days (I still have a geo number – it’s just voip based).

That’s all for now. I’m off to take some pics.

Categories
End User fun stuff servers

BT speaking clock is 80 years old on Sunday

At the third stroke lets all sing happy birthday

I usually ignore the zillions of press releases I get in my trefor.net inbox. I made the mistake of once agreeing to go on some PR database and I get lots of crap from people I’ve never heard of.

On this occasion however I am going to republish verbatim the whole press release because I find it of interest. I’ll just add that it would make sense to me to provide an octogenarian voice to the clock for the day. Something along the lines of “hello dearie, at the third stroke it will be time for my weak tea and a biscuit”. All spoken in a shaky voice.

No offence intended to the many fit and healthy octogenarians still in possession of all their teeth and faculties.

Whilst feeling nostalgic and warm towards the speaking clock I must say it is probably thirty years since I rang them. Who needs it with the time on your phone and pc being right on the beep.

Anyway here’s the press release – happy birthday to the speaking clock.

AT THE THIRD STROKE… BT’S SPEAKING CLOCK WILL BE 80 YEARS OLD

Speaking Clock celebrates its 80th birthday on July 24, 2016

Audio and images can be found here

Britain’s famous Speaking Clock celebrates its 80th birthday on July 24, 2016. Now a national institution and part of Britain’s heritage, the Speaking Clock was the first of the pre-recorded information services in the UK, provided through telephones.

Created for people who wanted to know the time and did not have a watch or clock to hand, the clock was initially only available in the London directory area, with the first British Speaking Clock introduced on July 24, 1936.

The Speaking Clock was designed and constructed at the Post Office Engineering Research Station at Dollis Hill in North London. The time announcements were automatically co-ordinated on the hour with Greenwich meantime signals.

In order to access the service, subscribers would dial the first three letters of the word ‘time’ as dials at the time included letters as well as numbers to aid automatic calls. Dialling T. I. M. led to its common name ‘TIM’. The service went national six years later.

David Hay, head of BT Heritage, said: “The BT Speaking Clock is a national treasure. Even though we live in the digital age, more than 12 million calls are made each year to the BT Speaking Clock to get an accurate time check.

“Eighty years ago BT’s technology created the Speaking Clock which remains a much loved part of British life today. The Speaking Clock has reached octogenarian status and celebrating its birthday demonstrates BT’s determination to preserve the heritage of the world’s oldest communications company.”

Jane Cain was the first voice, winner of a Post Office ‘Golden Voice’ competition, and used from 1936 until 1963. Pat Simmons, a London telephone exchange supervisor, became the second voice from 1963 until 1985. The third voice belonged to Brian Cobby who became the first male voice at 11am on April 2, 1985. An actor by profession before he joined BT as an assistant supervisor at a Brighton exchange, Brian was selected from 12 finalists in BT’s competition on December 5, 1984. Users who were around in the 1960s who listen hard enough might detect a familiarity – Brian was also the voice of “5-4-3-2-1 Thunderbirds are go!” in the famous Gerry Anderson TV series.

The fourth and current voice is Sara Mendes da Costa from Brighton & Hove. She became Speaking Clock voice at 8am on April 2, 2007. Sara won a BT competition during 2006 to find a new voice from the public, which had almost 18,500 entrants, simultaneously raising more than £200,000 for BBC Children in Need.

Sara Mendes da Costa, said: “I am very proud to be the fourth permanent voice for the Speaking Clock and have been since April 2, 2007, nearly ten years ago.”

Originally the accuracy of the BT Speaking Clock was one-tenth of a second, but it is now accurate to within 30 microseconds.

 

Permanent voices

 

First voice             Jane Cain                                1936 – 1963

Second voice        Pat Simmons                          1963 – 1985

Third voice                        Brian Cobby                            1985 – 2007

Fourth voice          Sara Mendes da Costa           2007 – to present

 

Quick facts

 

  • The BT Speaking Clock has been ticking 24-hours a day, seven days a week since 24 July 1936 – which is 80 years, more than 29,000 days, more than 700,000 hours or more than 42 million minutes, more than 2.5 billion seconds
  • Big Ben checks its time with the Speaking Clock
  • The Speaking Clock is accurate to within 30 microseconds
  • In its first year the service registered nearly 13 million calls
  • Initially only available in the London area and went nationwide in 1942
  • The Speaking Clock is also known as TIM and Timeline

 

Temporary voices

 

There have been a number of temporary Speaking Clock voices, recorded for charity:

Lenny Henry: March 10 to March 23, 2003 (Sport Relief)

Alicia Roland (12-year-old schoolgirl): October 13 to October 23, 2003 (Childline)

Mae Whitman: October 26, 2008 until February 9, 2009 (to promote Disney’s Tinker Bell)

Kimberley Walsh, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Gary Barlow, Chris Moyles and Fearne Cotton: February 3 to March 23, 2009 (Sport Relief)

David Walliams, Gary Barlow, Chris Moyles, Kimberley Walsh and Fearne Cotton: March 7 to April 9, 2012 (Sport Relief)

Clare Balding: February 12 to March 15, 2013 (Comic Relief)

Davina McCall: January 27 to March 23 2014 (Sport Relief)

Sir Ian McKellen: February 24 to March 13, 2015 (Comic Relief)

Jo Brand: January 20 to March 20, 2016 (Sport Relief)

Categories
chromebook End User

He’s dead jim

He’s dead Jim & Captain I cannae hold her

This He’s dead Jim is getting to be a bit of a nuisance. I often find tabs have crashed on my Chromebook with the message “He’s dead Jim”. This is usually a memory issue.

Google reveals that lots of people have the same issue. Indeed my lovely daughter Hannah has the same problem and she has the same model of Chromebook as me.

Now the thing is I only paid £150 plus VAT for this Chromebook. It’s a low end job but serves me perfectly apart from this bit about getting my name wrong. My name as you all know is not Jim.

Problem is that references to Jim are becoming more frequent and a pain in the proverbial. Online advice suggests rebooting my Chromebook more often to get rid of unnecessary background processes. I’ve just done this and it remains to be seen whether it has an effect. I will have to tell you later.

In the meantime I’ve been thinking about upgrading my Chromebook. They are very cheap but this is part of the problem. What I’d really like is a Pixel but that costs over a grand and in my mind shies away from the whole concept of disposability of hardware which I am a fan of.

If I lose or break (difficult) my Acer I just buy another, log on and hey presto I am up and running. If my device costs a thousand pounds this principle doesn’t apply.

The Pixel does have some benefits – 12 hours battery life (wtf omg!!!), a better screen resolution and better audio. I’m not sure the touch screen functionality is an attraction.

Whether it will cure the He’s dead Jim problem I am not sure – I wouldn’t be very happy if the problem persisted on a device I paid that much cash for. It could push me toward the dark side (ie the fruit).

I’ll have a think about it and if a conclusion is reached be sure you will be the first to know.

Check out more Chromebook posts.

PS I just chucked in that comment re “Captain I cannae hold her” for a laugh. If you don’t understand you are not on my wavelength 🙂

Categories
End User fun stuff gadgets

iBeani

iBeani pirate product

Sick and tired of having a cushion on your lap to prop up the iPad or laptop but don’t want to risk radiating your gonads? Look no further. Introducing the iBeani™ – a stylish bean bag, specifically designed to hold tablets or e-readers on any surface at the perfect angle.

Tired of holding your iPad or tablet whilst lying in bed or sitting on the sofa? The iBeani is the perfect solution. Whilst other tablet stands will only work on flat surfaces, the iBeani is able to shift its shape to support and keep your device in the position you want, wherever you are. On the train, on the sofa or on a kitchen worktop, the iBeani works everywhere!

What more can I say. Oh ok then.

The iBeani is manufactured entirely hand made in the UK from carefully selected quality fabrics to ensure customers get the highest quality and durable product possible. There are 16 different variations of the iBeani with different materials and designs such as Harris Tweed tartan, faded blue cord, butterfly, techno black, denim, and many more coming soon to appeal to men, women and children of all ages.

iBeani pirateThis blurb is lifted from the press release. I’ve started getting millions of them occasionally. The gonads bit is mine. Not the gonads themselves you understand. Just the sentence, though I am a bloke obvs.

I only noticed the release because a) it’s manufactured in Nottinghamshire, just over the county border from my parish, and actually it isn’t a bad idea. I do have a cushion on my lap when using the laptop whilst sat on the settee. There ya go. A market need being fulfilled by a British company. A simple idea that just works.

pirate flagI liked the iBeani pirate version that you see in the featured image. Goes with the pirate flag we have when we go camping (also see it inset in this post). I’m going to have a week of writing posts in pirate speak in September in the run up to International Talk Like A Pirate day on the 19th of the month. Maybe we will see if we can do a promo and sell the iBeani pirate version that week. Sounds like a plan to me.

PS lets hope they don’t get pirated – we don’t want the market flooded with cheap imitations from China do we? The modern day pirates!

PPS there are over 20 designs to choose from if Piracy isn’t your game, or it’s a bit frightening.

Categories
Business business applications gadgets

I bought a printer

HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw

Good news – Your order for the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw has been accepted and we will start processing it now.  We will send you an email once your order has been dispatched.

You can track to your order online at any time by signing in to your account and then in the top right hand corner of the page hover over “Your Account“ and select “My orders” from the drop down menu.

If you provided a mobile telephone number you will receive a text message* the night before your order is delivered giving you the option to:

  • Select an alternative delivery date
  • Opt for delivery to a nominated neighbour
  • Collect the parcel from your local depot

You’ll also receive a text message on the delivery day giving you a 1 hour delivery window so there’s no need for you to wait in all day*.

I bought a printer. It’s the first one I’ve bought in 3 1/2 years. When I bought the last one I took out a 3 year warranty and it died on e earlier this week. It wasn’t in fact the printer that I originally bought that died but the fourth incarnation of the original. None of em lasted a year.

The warranty is up now so I figured I’d invest in something a little better. I bought a HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw. Still took a 3 year warranty though. Good value if you ask me.

In some respect this is a small admission of failure. I’ve been working as a paperless business. It isn’t totally possible to do that as legal documents often need printing. Moreover the family has specific needs. Printing boarding passes, homework etc I know boarding passes can be electronic but it isn’t always practical especially with a youngster flying to Madrid quite soon. Youngsters don’t always have phones suitable for airline apps/electronic boarding passes.

I am now strangely excited by the fact that I am about to be the owner of a HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw laser printer. This printer has a NFC interface so I should be able to tap it with my droid and print off a doc/photo/something else. Good eh?

None of this is what prompted me to write this post. It’s just the fact that I am going to get a 1 hour delivery window. Simple innit? Why can’t other vendors do the same? So do I know but not all. My daughter is about to return home from her year abroad and is sending a suitcase by courier in advance (so her mum can get a load of washing done probs). Mum, or someone has to wait in all day because we don’t get a delivery window. We do get a tracker on that one but not a 1 hour window.

I’m even tempted to “collect the parcel from a local depot”. Fwiw. I’ll let you have an update on the HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw printer once I get it installed. Does double sided printing you know? 🙂

Categories
End User gadgets

Pebbles, Pebbles, Pebbles everywhere.

Pebble smartwatch review – @Baskers compares 1st & 2nd gen

 

When Tref first approached me to write a guest blog post for Women in Tech week, to be honest I was kind of scratching my head a bit about what to write about.

Where to begin? What should I say? What to choose?

I’ve been reading all the other guest blog posts this week on here and just been in awe of what these women have achieved so far and what they are doing. I sort of feel like a bit of an interloper/false imposter syndrome being here. As I’m not in a tech company, I’m not a coder, developer, hacker and I don’t work in Telecoms. I’m a Civil Servant in Westminster, responsible for the Department for Transport’s Business Intelligence Systems.

So, not exactly the “sexy” part Women in Tech. But hey, we can’t all have the sexy jobs. However, as a great believer in the Public Sector, I want to make sure that whenever decisions are made that ultimately impact the people of the UK, that these are made with the best damn Management Information (MI) that I can deliver to my colleagues. Whether that be internal to Business Partners, Boards etc or externally for DfT Publications, HM Treasury, Cabinet Office and Parliament.

There are a lot of challenges around that I’m currently facing:

  • around Data Migrations from legacy ERP systems to the new Shared Services ERP offerings
  • Connectivity between various systems via SFTP, VPN, Citrix Clients, CSV Interface Flatfiles (No API’s yet)
  • how that interacts with my Business Intelligence System (SAP BPC for those of you that want to know),
  • how best to build upon the rich MI Data that I have and turn that into valuable information through Data Visualisations and Predictive Analytics.

Ultimately I want to make MI more open, transparent and accessible to my Department. That’s my Finance/MI “tech” thing. That’s what I’d like to make awesome over the next few years. But that’s not why I’m here today.

 

The Pebble Time

pebble smartwatchSo, why am I here writing on Tref’s blog today? Because I also have a weakness for all things shiny and tech, when I’m not dealing with Finance and BI Systems. Only the other week a new shiny arrived on my doorstep. The Pebble Time. Which is quite timely given Tref asking me to contribute to his blog this week. I was an original backer of the first Pebble smart watch back in 2012, when it finally arrived in 2013 (after a year of delays) I was ecstatic. It was the first proper smart watch that totally changed how I used my phone, and for the first time in years I’d started wearing a watch on my wrist again.

I’ve been wearing a smart watch for a good 2 and half years and in that time there’s been a whole lot of new smart watches come onto the market as competitors to the Pebble and ultimately the Apple Watch. But I was still excited by the arrival of the new version of the Pebble.

Why? Because even though there are other smart watches out there I liked the simplicity of the Pebble. There are a whole slew of reviews out there telling you the pros and cons comparing against other watches and all the tech specs, but I’m here to tell you about my experience.

Likes

What I like about the Pebble Time (and it’s earlier version the Pebble) was that no instructions were really needed:

Simplicity – it is simple to use with a good UI and a mature and stable OS. If I wanted complex, that’s what my Phone/Tablet/Laptop is for (disclaimer here, am a total Apple fan with iPhone 6, iPad, MacBookPro, Timecapsule).

Price – But the Apple watch simply doesn’t appeal to me (and certainly not at the price tag from near £300 upwards). As a Kickstarter backer, I got the Pebble Time for $159. Comparing that to the entry price for an Apple watch is simply a no brainer. It will retail at $200 (£180?), with pre-orders now open at GetPebble.com and due to ship July/August.

pebble smartwatchBattery Life – Apple Watch 1 day. Pebble 5-7 days. Again, no brainer. I find I tend to get around 3-5 days on my watch, but I am a fairly heavy user of the Pebble.

Volume Control – One of the things that bothered me with the 1st generation Pebble is that I couldn’t control the volume of my music directly from my watch. Which is a bit of pain in the arse if you’ve not got a volume control on your headphones and then have to fish out your phone from your pocket to sort the volume out. They’ve sorted that out with the PebbleTime OS. It works a charm.

Apps – The platform has been around for 3 years + now, and the Apps for the Pebble OS are diverse and I think it’s great that the watch will work with iOS, Android and Windows. Often when I was out cycling I’d have the Bike + App connected to my phone and was able to check out my speed and mileage at the flick of wrist instead of grappling with my phone whilst trying to not fall off of my bike.

Notifications – Oh these are fabulous and one of the main reasons why I love the Pebble. Being an App junkie (+300 on my iPhone at last count), I was being overloaded with notifications and always taking my phone out of my pocket to see what was popping up on my screen. The Pebble Time deals with this effortlessly, showing me what the Notification is and content. A quick glance to my wrist to see whether or not I need to deal with it right away or leave it to later. The phone stays in my pocket.

Dislikes

Watchstrap – I really don’t like plastic watch straps. Really, really, don’t like them. The Pebble Time comes as standard with the plastic strap, but on the upside, there’s a quick release button on each strap at the back and you can exchange the strap for a normal standard 22mm band of your choosing. I had swapped the old Pebble watch strap with a standard leather one, so will probably do the same here when I get around to it. And there’s also possibility of “smart straps” that can be used in conjunction with the Pebble Time App on the phone. I’m looking forward to seeing how that develops.

Screen lamination – I know this isn’t an Apple Watch or other higher end smartwatch. It is an ePaper screen and I accept the limitations of that, but wish that I could choose how long to keep the backlight on. For me, it dims too quickly.

Charging Cable – it’s a propriety charging cable. Pain in the arse if you lose/break it and have to wait for a replacement. I would like to see in the future more universal type of chargers for smart watches. Like most phones gadgets with micro USB ports.

Notifications – I don’t like how when they pop up that they stay there. I would like them to disappear after a set period of time that I could set and for the watch to return back to the previous screen (either music or watchface for me). Perhaps this will could be new functionality the developers can bring to the App in the next update?

Comparing 1st Gen vs 2nd Gen

As I was an original backer, and have using my Pebble since 2013 I was looking forward to seeing how the 2nd gen version of the Pebble compared the original.

Sizepebble smartwatch review – Overall the PebbleTime is smaller than the original Pebble which is a much welcome feature to me. I have small wrists and did find the Pebble just that little bit too big for m. It’s okay for blokes who tend to have larger wrists but for me it was an annoyance.

The smaller size of the Pebble Time just suits me perfectly, and is far more comfortable to wear.

Graphics & Animation – Obviously having a colour display is a BIG win. And opens up the possibilities of far more innovative watchface designs. Looking at the same watch face on both the 1st and 2nd Gen Pebble right away you can see the difference. I’ve totally fallen for the Pebble Time BIGTIME in that respect.

pebble smartwatch animationHaving an ePaper colour screen just rocks. It’s early days yet, and new watchscreens are just starting to get developed using colour and I can’t wait to see what the developers come up with here. From what I’ve seen in the Pebble App store already it’s looking very promising.

The animations on certain watchface Apps could be better, but it’s still early days. One of my favourites has to by Nyan Cat. Check out the 1st Gen vs 2nd Gen here.

 

The App –The Pebble Time App has had a bit of an overhaul compared to the original Pebble App. The new watch can hold a lot more (1st gen was limited to 8 watchfaces only). I’ve been download loads of new Apps and watchfaces and have yet to fill the watch up.pebble smartwatch review app

You can see that the screen is split between watch faces and Apps. Which makes it easier to filter through your selection and load up the correct one. Slightly more intuitive than before. And searching for new watchfaces and Apps is slightly better with the clearer category breakdown between each selection.

One thing I don’t like, and it was the same for the original Pebble App is the performance. When you do make a selection from the Pebble App store it does seem to hang on the iPhone. Now I don’t know if that is just iPhone specific or if it does the same on the Android and Windows App version.

I would like to see the performance of the App addressed when switching between the watchfaces/apps in the Pebble App store.

Weight – For me the by far the biggest feature that has made ALL the difference is weight. I’m not a fan of clunky heavy watches, and that was a bit of downside of other smartwatches.

  • Old Pebble & band = 38g
  • New Pebble & band = 45.5g
  • Apple Watch (lowest spec, and band weight) = 62g

Far lighter and less clunky that an lot of other offerings out there. Another killer feature for me.

Round up

I’m currently on a train from London up to Dundee (escaping the heatwave) and soon to run out of juice on the old laptop and disappear into relatively little connectivity so I’d better wrap up this post and get ready to disembark my train.

Owning a smart watch is a very personal thing. I’ve told you why I like my Pebble Time and why I’m sticking with it, but it’s entirely down to your likes and preferences to which would be the best smart watch for you. I like the fact that the Pebble was completely crowd funded and was way ahead of the game before the big companies finally caught up. I want to stick around for now and see how the Pebble Time develops. But ultimately, if it doesn’t offer what the consumer wants we’ll will jump ship onto other brands so I’m keeping a close eye on this and as always the Apple Watch 2nd Gen.

About the Author:

Baskers picSarah Baskerville aka Baskers is a Dundonian Civil Servant, lives and works around London. She is one of the organisers of UKGovcamp and Teacamp. Sarah is also a supporter of 300Seconds, Rewired State, Open Data and the Open Rights Group.

She also likes Doctor Who, blues music, wine and can often be found down the pub. Sarah intensely hates the colour pink.

Other posts in our women in tech week include:

Geeks do drink prosecco by Liz Fletcher
Network filter bypass solutions by Rhosyn Celyn
Network Automation by Leslie Parr
IX model defended by Valeria Rossi
Board level veteran sees progress by Lesley Hansen
Rural broadband solutions by Chris Conder
Experiences as a Siemens IT graduate by Zoe Redfern

Categories
Engineer gadgets phones

Supermarket scanner screen surprise

Supermarket scanner thrills and spills

The beauty of modern mobile intergalactic communication devices is that they have cameras. This means that when a photographic opportunity comes along (that doesn’t require lightning reflexes) a device can be whipped out and the moment captured. Such an opportunity presented itself at Waitrose over the Bank Holiday weekend. Entering the high class superstore I swiped my pre-registered credit card at the bank of scanners and waited for one to flash.

Sometimes when I have a kid in tow we play the “guess which scanner it’s going to be” game. This time I was alone but running my eyes over the array of handheld devices in front of me I found that one of them had an error message on the screen. Thrilling1.

Quick as a shopper spotting the last bargain chicken in the reduced items shelf I drew the camera from its pocket shaped holster and speedily took a number of photographs. I had to be quick because I didn’t want to find myself explaining to a growing queue of shoppers waiting to pick up a scanner. I got lucky. No queue formed. I got the pic, picked up the flashing scanner and moved on.

Now, in the comfort of my front room, flicking through the gallery on my phone I’ve found the photos and am prompted to write this post. I Googled “QuickCheckHHTApplication.exe”, the on scanner screen message, but very disappointedly found nothing. Not a surprise really considering the secure nature of the transactions the device is required to process. With hindsight I should have had a play with the scanner and selected “details” as suggested on the screen.

The screen shot isn’t quite as bad (or embarrassing) as the Windows XP screen that sometimes comes up when ATMs need rebooting but it is interesting in its own right. In an ideal world I’d now write a nice little technical appraisal of the functionality of a supermarket scanner but I know noottthinnngg. Could look it up I s’pose but then again I did Google QuickCheckHHTApplication.exe and got nowhere which is more than enough prep for this post. As much as it deserves anyway.

If anyone has a photo of any public device that requires a reboot by all means share. Also if you know anything about supermarket scanners feel free to suggest a guest post. It will be given top priority/stop press2 etc.

ATM posts here and here. ATM images on Google here (I searched on your behalf). Supermarket scanner images here.

1I know I know. Little things eh?
2 won’t be long before the term stop press will be consigned to the history

Categories
Business voip hardware Weekend

No such thing as a SIP sausage

How now brown cow

It’s that Thursday afternoon lethargic feeling where really you want it to be 5pm on Friday so that you can legitimately be somewhere else. ie the pub.

There is probably lots going on but it’s all passing me by. The Summer test cricket has started. We got off to a terrible start but are recovering some ground. I glance at it occasionally on my screen.

Here in the office it’s getting pretty quiet. My office is at the University of Lincoln campus. The little darlings students are either all in an examination room somewhere or have already gone home to mummy and daddy. Pile of dirty washing no doubt.

This isn’t the time of year to throttle back though. Lots of business still to be done before the summer entertainment season starts followed by the holidays. I am still waiting for my invitations to Wimbledon, Lords etc etc. I’m sure they will come. Probably in the post. I also fancy a bit of sailing and maybe a golf day or two. Nothing too onerous. A stroll round a links course somewhere.

It’s already the BBQ season. I noted someone on Facebook earlier this week informing a group that they were getting their deck ready to put out the barbecue. Huh. Ours has been out for at least a month! My brother in law leaves his out all winter and cooks his roasts on it. This year I’m going to buy a spit.

The weather outside is gorgeous. Must be because it’s exam time. I’ve restarted walking to work. I used to walk to work every day but during the depths of winter I weakened and bought an annual car parking season ticket. Only £72. Barg. It was not the right thing to do as since then I’ve driven more than I’ve walked. I have a hill called Steep Hill between the office and my house. In the morning I walk down the hill but that return journey is a killer.

I mostly walk to work on a Friday anyway which allows flexibility in decision making re whether to stop off for a beer or not. Which is where we came in isn’t it?

Before I go, and to legitimise this post, I’ve just received a snom SIP DECT phone (mouthful that!).  I’ll be getting it up and running and reporting on it in due course, once I figure out how to do it. I need a PoE adapter thingy as it hasn’t got a separate power supply. My Chromebook doesn’t have an Ethernet socket and runs off a separate WiFi subnet. Don’t worry I’ll sort it out.

I used to have loads of SIP phones. Used to test them. There was a time where there were only a handful of handset makes. Then the flood gates opened. We in the industry thought SIP had finally arrived. Really took years more for real SIP services to become available and for the tech to become mainstream. It’s there now.

So kids. Thassit for now. This is more of a weekend post than a businessy one but it’s all yer getting this afternoon. I have that Thursday afternoon lethargic feeling…

PS don’t ask me where I got the post title from – totally random. snom dect phone.

Categories
Engineer gadgets webrtc

Hacking together a WebRTC Pi in the sky – keevio eye

WebRTC on a drone

Team ipcortex put together the keevio eye hack for the TADHack London mini hackathon at Idea London on 11-12th April. The idea was to develop a proof of concept for WebRTC running headless on small embedded devices and talking to our keevio video chat interface. Hardly mission critical but TADHack is a load of fun, and a good way of trying stuff out that pushes the technology envelope a bit which inevitably ends up feeding back useful ideas and techniques into our core platforms. There was also a lot riding on this after our success with RTCEmergency at TADHack last year. Matt Preskett is one of our lead developers and the guy behind the hack, and this is his write up of the experience of developing the app.

On the Tuesday evening before TADHack we hadn’t had time to think about possible hacks. We’d been busy with other events and the process of progressing our core keevio platform towards release. A few months ago we were playing with the idea of a WebRTC Raspberry Pi security camera for our bike shed, so as I walked out of the office I suggested, perhaps to my detriment, that it might be a fun idea to use our JavaScript API, running on a Raspberry Pi strapped to the bottom of a quad copter feeding live video via WebRTC…

I did a bit of research on Tuesday evening, but decided with the timescales involved and some of the parts/equipment needed that perhaps we were biting off more than we could chew. Also I wasn’t really sure how I was going to run our API on a headless Raspberry Pi 50ft in the air. Even if that could be overcome I wasn’t sure the ARM processor would be up to the task of decrypting and encrypting the streams.

Wednesday morning I had all but written off the idea. At the time I was working on load testing our UC platform, which required running our API on a headless server. I set about looking into running headless Chromium, and, by the end of Wednesday with the help of Xvfb I had our API running and automatically accepting video chat from keevio.

Thursday was a busy day we didn’t really have an opportunity to discuss the hack. Rob as perhaps a sign of desperation speculatively ordered a Pi and Pi camera.

Friday morning and we still hadn’t concluded what we’d be doing for the hack, after a quick meeting we gave Pi copter (Pi in the sky?) the go ahead. We had just over 48 hours to put all the pieces together. I started off with Raspbian; I don’t really like the extra gumpf that comes with this distribution but I didn’t have time to piece a fresh instance of Debian together. Raspbian only offers Chromium 22 in its repositories; this was when WebRTC was in its infancy. I looked at compiling the latest Chromium, but this would require either a cross compile environment or compiling on the Pi, neither of which I had time for. I looked around again for an alternative distribution and settled on Arch after checking that they offered an up to date version of Chromium for ARM. It’s a bit bleeding edge but more than sufficient for our requirements.

After getting the Pi installed the first thing was to get Chromium to recognise the camera. Chromium talks to video devices through the V4L component of linux.

I inserted the following lines to /boot/config.txt to enable the camera:

gpu_mem=128

start_file=start_x.elf

fixup_file=fixup_x.dat

Then I added the camera module to /etc/modules-load.d/raspberrypi.conf:

bcm2835-v4l2

After rebooting the Pi, udev created a /dev/video0 device, so it was looking good. The next step was to install Chromium, Xvfb and lighttpd. I setup lighttpd to listen on loopback as I was going to be hard coding the username and password into the webpage: not nice but necessary.

This is the JavaScript I wrote for the hack, due to using our API I could keep it short and sweet.


var keevioShare = (
  function(username, password) {

    function avCB(av) {

      console.log('INFO: avCB with', av);

      if ( av.get('existing') )
        return;

      av.hook(
        function() {
          if ( av.get('status') != 'acknowledged' )
            return;
          getUserMedia(
            {
            video: {mandatory: {maxWidth: 640, maxHeight: 480}},
            audio: false
            },
            function(stream) {
              av.accept(stream);
              console.log('INFO: Accepted request with', stream);
            },
            function(e) {
              console.log(e);
            }
          );
          console.log('INFO: Getting user media.');
        }
      );
    }

    function authCB(authenticated) {
      if ( authenticated ) {
        IPCortex.PBX.startPoll(
          function() {
            if ( ! IPCortex.PBX.enableFeature('av', avCB, ['chat']) )
              console.log('ERROR: av not enabled!');
            /* Set myself online */
            IPCortex.PBX.enableChat(function() { });
          },

          function(number, description) {
            console.log('ERROR: API reports ' + description + '!');
          }
        );
        console.log('INFO: Authenticated.');
      } else
        console.log('ERROR: Failed to authenticate!');
    }
    onAPILoadReady = (
      function() {
        IPCortex.PBX.Auth.login(username, password, null, authCB);
      }
    );
  }
);

Next I needed Chromium to start automatically on boot, I cheated a little bit by using cron. I’m not overly familiar with systemd so writing a startup script didn’t seem a priority with the time scale involved. I added the following to crontab:

@reboot /usr/bin/xvfb-run –wait=15 /usr/bin/chromium –use-fake-ui-for-media-stream –disable-default-apps –remote-debugging-port=9222 –user-data-dir=remote-profile http://

localhost &

Chromium required a few switches to allow it to run headless:

1) To stop Chromium asking for permission to access the camera:

–use-fake-ui-for-media-stream

 

2) To stop Chromium asking to be set as default:

–disable-default-apps

 

3) For remote debugging (it only listens on loopback):

–remote-debugging-port=9222

 

4) Place the users Chromium profile in a defined location:

–user-data-dir

At this point I started running into trouble with the camera. Every time I started up Chromium I could only get a maximum resolution of 16×16 no matter what v4l2-ctl commands I ran, which wasn’t going to be a good experience. After quite a lot of searching I found the solution and added the following to /etc/modprobe.d/bcm2835.conf:

options bcm2835-v4l2 gst_v4l2src_is_broken=1

 

We needed to serve everything over https as Rob was going to be in London and I would be back in Buckinghamshire flying the quad. That caused me another headache as you can’t load secure and insecure content in the same page. I setup lighttpd to serve pages via https using a self-signed certificate for localhost. Due to Chromium running headless I couldn’t accept the certificate security warnings; I needed access to the Xvfb instance. Installing x11vnc enabled access to the X display. I started the service using the following command on the Pi:

# x11vnc -localhost -display :99

By default xvfb-run starts on display 99. I port forwarded VNC via SSH:

# ssh [email protected](hostname) -L 5900:127.0.0.1:5900

Then I connected using vncviewer to localhost; this allowed me to import the localhost certificate into Chromium’s certificate authority to stop the security warnings.

I settled on netctl to setup the wireless network as this was quick and easy, after having a bit of a nightmare with an access point I borrowed from work I ended up using an old Sky router I had lying around.

keevio eye - the Pi in the sky
keevio eye mk II: no zip ties in sight!
keevio eye - the Pi in the sky
Special lightweight case and minimal gubbins inside due to payload limitations

Finally I put everything together. Feeding power from the balanced charging port of the LiPo battery to a 5V UBEC into the Pi’s GPIO interface. In the process, I managed to accidentally reverse the polarity into the GPIO… which felt like game over as it was now midday Saturday. Luckily something in the supply saved me and it was OK. Attaching the Pi to the quad was an engineering challenge in itself but inventive use of zip ties and self adhesive pads worked out. After a quick test run we got clean video up to 150M and still received video up to 300M.

Here’s a quick video of keevio eye in action!

Previous posts from the ipcortex WebRTC week:

Wormholes, WebRTC and the implications of algorithmical analysis

Matrix.org: Defragmenting today’s communications

WebRTC – where are the real world applications?

Welcome to ipcortex WebRTC week on trefor.net

Check out all our WebRTC posts here

Categories
Business voip voip hardware

Practical IP Phone Design

ip phone hot-desking ip phone roi ip phone interoperability ip phone security lesley hansen on designing an ip phonePractical Applications for Your IP Handsets

In the last of her articles on IP handset design Snom Marketing Manager Lesley Hansen talks about practical applications including ip phone hot desking.

IP phones are unique in that they were built to support IP first and telephony second. When businesses embrace the richer world of unified communications the benefits of IP phones become evident. With IP phones business users can use converged services which incorporate voice into data and video applications.  Advanced IP phones are really multimedia endpoints that bring these capabilities together with a single interface. IP phones interface with IP Telephony servers or IP PBXs and they can deliver features to your phone that are not available with more traditional office phones. Business productivity features such as Auto Attendants, Music on Hold and Automated Personal Attendant services, but also user productivity features such as caller id, voicemail, voice to email, transfer announcements and speed dial.

Beyond the elegant feature list on an IP phone there are certain practical applications that the handset needs to be designed to accommodate in order for the business to get the most from their IP handsets.

Hot Desking

In IP Telephony hot-desking can be best described as when your extension is whatever phone you’re logged onto. Hot desking means that a business can make efficient use of office space allowing workers to use available desk space rather than deploying one desk per user and having empty unused desk spaces when employees who spend time in other offices or at customer sites are not in their local office. Hot desking in an office environment can save on lighting, heating, and power and space costs and promote improved interaction between employees.  In a call centre where a desk space may be expensive because of the tailored equipment, Hot desking is an excellent way of using the resources available to best effect.

IP phone hot desking does not only save money for the business it also make the individual more productive. Any small business with multiple locations will see a great benefit in hot desking.  A person may have a number of offices and travel and work out of each of them, depending on the day of the week or week of the year.  With hot desking, they’re always connected to their voice mail, and easily accessible via their extension number.  They have all the features and functions that they are used to having on their IP phone.

Hot desking also benefits the end customer, the employee can log in on any phone in any office and be fully connected.  No more problems for the end customer searching and guessing to find out what office their contact is working out of today.

When designing an IP phone for hot desking it needs to accommodate multiple IDs simultaneously and to be able to download user profiles from the switch when a new user logs on.

Home Working

Home working is the scenario where you live and work in the same place and brings new challenges to the design of IP Telephony handsets. Enabling home working allows for a reduction in commuting charges and mobile bills. As calls on your private IP network are free you can also make savings on call costs. Home working requires an IP phone to be easy to setup and reliable to use. There is no technical resource in most homes and to keep costs down and productivity up the IP phone needs to be a plug and play device. Once a phone is plugged in needs to be fully operational with the same features and functionality as the user has when in the office. The principle behind home working is that the user is allocated a single IP extension on the IP Switch which is retained no matter whether working on a home extension or logged in to an office extension.

Moves, Adds and Changes

Moves, adds and changes (MAC) is the general term for the routine work performed on items such as Telephony handsets in an enterprise, including installations, relocations and upgrades. MACs can cost a business valuable time and can involve reconfiguration, physical relocation and testing and setup. Using an IP phone the costs for MACs can effectively be eliminated since users can log themselves onto any handset and so effectively manage the move or change themselves. Costs savings from user empowerment through IP in moves such as office relocation or re-organisations, staff rotation and data centres moves are considerable. It is important when selecting an IP phone to ensure it has been designed to easily accommodates remote deployment and remote management facilitating low cost moves, adds and changes within the business.

Support for Multiple Profiles

It is not uncommon for a business to employ people who work representing more than one role or business venture. In these situations the IP phone can be designed to allow the user to have multiple identities so that they can have calls coming in to multiple incoming numbers over multiple lines and can recognise which line the call is coming in on and answer the calls appropriately for the businesses. When making calls in this type of situation it is also important that the outgoing caller id is appropriate to the business being represented. The ability to support multiple identities is a simple feature of IP phones but one that is easiest to use when designed into the handset.

Speaker or Conference Phone

Clear communications is critical if business calls or meetings are to be productive. The audio quality achieved through a speaker-phone or a specially designed conference phone is different, they are optimised differently to handle multiple voices and background noises. Therefore understanding the use of a phone is an important consideration in phone design and selecting a phone that is optimised to the task being performed is key to experiencing good voice quality. With a High Definition voice codec in use by all conference participants, combined with decent quality microphones and speakers, you will experience much clearer audio.

This post on practical ip phone applications is the 8th and last in our series on how to design an ip phone. Other posts in the series are linked to below:

How to design an ip phone
How to design an ip phone for voice quality
IP phone design for it departments
IP Phone Security
IP Phone Interoperability
IP phone ROI
IP Phone aesthetics

Check out all our VoIP posts here.

Categories
Business voip voip hardware

IP Phone Aesthetics

ip phone roi ip phone interoperability ip phone security lesley hansen on designing an ip phoneDesigning IP Phones for Beauty and Practicality – IP phone aesthetics

In the 7th of 8 posts on how to design an IP phone Snom Marketing Manager Lesley Hansen talks ip phone aesthetics.

Design is at the service of the user and the product functionality. In order to reach a good design, we must give priority to decisions that are taken during the products development. A design that is artistically pleasing is one of the criteria that is considered by Snom when we design any new handset or conference phone.

All telephone handsets have at their base the model used by Siemens in their first handsets for traditional telephony 30 years ago. Siemens invested in the development of the technology from day one. They set great store by ergonomics, intent on making the telephone more convenient. They started with the introduction of the hand receiver, followed later on by the scoop-shaped receiver which typified the design for many years.  This investment in design and interest in the ergonomics and practicalities of handset manufacturer is an approach emulated by Snom Technology to this current day.

The handset designer is not working with a blank sheet of paper on which to fashion their creations.  Each new handset has a specification which details the features and functionality that are required in the handset. These features and functions dictate the chipset to be used and the memory and circuit board content that has to be incorporated into the unit.  The designer typically works with a telephone engineer who has an awareness of the audio rules to achieve best quality audio. For example every speaker needs a chamber and the chamber design can fundamentally affect the voice quality.

IP phone aesthetic design is a trade-off between artistic and audio quality. It is in this area more than any other that Snom pushes at the limits in IP Phone design. Snom add uniqueness to their product offering in the quality of audio achieved improving and enhancing the basic CODEC quality.

Once a drawing of the design is approved a prototype is made and the handset is tested mechanically to ensure the design is practical and efficient. There follows a series of tests and modifications aimed at achieving an optimum balance of audio quality, practical efficiency and beauty in design.

It is during this stage that unique elements can be added into the handset design to enhance it’s usability in the workplace. For example some of the Snom handsets have a unique stand that enables them to be either desk or wall mounted at the angle best suited to the user.  This makes them more comfortable in use for some workers. There are also differences between handset models based on the environment in which they are to be used.  For example a phone designed for voice use in noisy offices is designed to reduce interference from outside noise.  One intended for use in an office where users have to concentrate has a handset designed to be put down quietly without disturbing other people in the office.

Another example is that a handset designed for use by service providers and on premise installations with remote office must avoid the need for local provisioning or configuration, and one designed for use in a local office environment must include abilities to interface with other devices in the office. Mobility is the main design feature that users focus on as a differentiator.  However in a professional handset range there are numerous other features that make one handset more appropriate for use than another.

The design of the handset is critical.  If a handset feature is incorrectly optimised by the manufacturer then new software can be introduced to make the change needed to improve the sound or usability.  Although this is inconvenient to the customer, and unprofessional from the manufacturer’s perspective the costs incurred are low.

This is not an approach used at Snom but some manufacturers do release multiple software upgrades using just this model – test and change at the expense of the customer in order to keep their own costs low and speed to market rapid.

If the basic phone design changes the costs incurred for replacement of the expensive and specialist tools used to inject the plastic components are irrecoverable.  This high cost of error is one reason that Snom keep all our design and prototype manufacture in house in Berlin. Hence we have the control to ensure the design is tested in small quantities tool production before it moves to mass production elsewhere. This approach ensures we have a tight control over the quality of our handsets and are able to ensure that we produce professional and enterprise IP phones.

This post on ip phone aesthetics is the 7th in our series on how to design an ip phone. Other posts in the series are linked to below:

How to design an ip phone
How to design an ip phone for voice quality
IP phone design for it departments
IP Phone Security
IP Phone Interoperability
IP phone ROI

Check out all our VoIP posts here.

Categories
Business UC voip voip hardware

Designing for the Financial Director – IP Phone ROI

ip phone roi ip phone interoperability ip phone security lesley hansen on designing an ip phoneWhy does the Finance Director care about IP Phone Design? It’s all about IP Phone ROI

In her sixth post this week the SNOM’s prolific Marketing Manager Lesley Hansen talks about IP Phone ROI (Return on Investment).

The best quality and most elegantly designed IP Phone in the world will not be widely accepted unless it meets business expectations regarding cost. Cost in its broadest sense will include cost of acquisition, cost of deployment, cost of ownership and return on investment. Any IP Phone design must consider each and every one of these aspects. It is because of the pressure on all businesses to meet financial targets that the Finance Director is a critical player in our considerations as we design and manufacturer each new IP handset.

Since much of the motivation for moving to IP telephony is cost related building an accurate business case, including capital, implementation, and operational costs, is crucial to selecting the best vendor and architecture for your organization.

Cost of Acquisition

There are hundreds if not thousands of IP phones on the market and they range in price from around £50 for standard phones to several thousand pounds for secure encrypted handsets for use by government employees.

Soft phones are the simplest and least expensive type of IP telephone since many are available free of charge. Soft phones work through specialised software installed directly onto a PC, laptop, or mobile phone handset. With a soft phone no handset is required, but for the comfort of the user and for improved voice quality soft phones are best used with a good quality headset or USB telephone.

One you start looking at an IP handsets at the bottom of the range you find the standard phone without many bells and whistles.  Typically standard features include caller ID, limited conferencing capabilities and speed dial.  As you move up in price you gain capabilities such audio capabilities and audio quality for features such as speaker phones, wider conferencing capabilities, history memory, programmable options and support for hearing aids.

Even further on you get advanced functionality such as support for voicemail and CTI options.  You also gain connectivity options as the price increases, moving from a connected IP handset with an Ethernet port to ones that supports WiFi and Gigabit Ethernet, multiple Ethernet USB connections and even Bluetooth.

At the top of the range, excluding specialist phones such as the security handset already mentioned, are complex professional handsets with high quality audio provided through noise cancelling capabilities making them ideal for the busy and noisy office. Some come with programmable options for integration into your business processes as well as colour display screens with web access.

Depending on the role of the person using the IP Phone, there will be a different set of needs and each person will be looking for something different in their handset. An executive may want the latest and greatest IP Phone, while a receptionist may only be concerned with the number of total calls they can handle at one time. Most people want the standard features in a phone such as Call Waiting, Call Transfer, Call Parking and Conferencing. The items that will most effect the cost per handset are needs such as a high quality speakerphone, a large display and the capability for extra extensions.

So the selection of the right IP Phone is likely to involve a number of different handset types,  a range of costs to meet the difference requirements of different employees and a degree of integration with your business functions. Doing your homework on what handsets are needed by the business is likely to save the company money in the long run. Providing handsets where the price reflects the importance of features to the business is paramount.

Cost of Deployment

Hosted VoIP is increasingly being adopted to avoid the excess costs and complexities of deployment of on-premise solutions. This is great from the end customer’s point of view as they get predictable costs.  For the IP phone manufacturer it simply moves the demands for easy to  deploy handset to the service provider rather than the end customer. The need is still there. The installation, provisioning and training costs for IP handset deployment varies greatly from vendor to vendor as well as from installation to installation. For example the question of how many remote deployment teams are needed and the complexity of the server/PBX installation will affect costs.

To reduce the costs of deployment Auto Provisioning can be used to provide general and specific configuration parameters (“Settings”) to the phones and to manage firmware actualization. Deployment applications enable enterprise customers and service providers to reduce deployment costs with automated remote configuration and ongoing management of the IP phones.

The Auto Provisioning application provided by Snom allows remote administration (configuration and maintenance) of an unlimited number of distinct Snom phone types. This application enables the user to unpack a Snom handset from the box, connect it to a local network and get it up and running without the need to configure anything.

The phones can be set up manually but the easiest way to provisioning the IP Handsets is to use the built-in plug and play provisioning functionality. The phone configures itself by retrieving a PBX generated phone configuration file from interoperability partners or using the phones DHCP.  The provisioning manager needs to approve the handset registration and assign an extension. The server will send a provisioning link to the phone. Once the phone receives the link, it will apply the configuration on the fly, and will be ready to use. If a firmware update is needed, a restart will be performed.

Selecting handsets designed for remote provisioning is critical in the long term cost of any IP Telephony solution.

Cost of Ownership

A lot has been written about the ongoing costs of owning an IP Telephony systems. It’s tough to get accurate operational costs before actually incurring those costs, but we do know based on experience that operational costs tend to be highest during the first two years of usage of a new technology. Once staffs gain expertise from using the technology, the operational costs drop by about 20%.  Reports indicate that without installing a solution offering ease of operation and remote management it is easy for a company to simply spend the money they have saved on Moves, Adds and Changes (MACs) by moving to IP Telephony on the management and monitoring of the new IP telephony system. External MACs for an old TDM environments use to cost £120 on average, and range from £50 to £200 each. IP MACs typically cost under £10 each.

The Graphical User Interface of an IP-PBX or Telephony Server will be much more user friendly than traditional PBXs.  This allows for easier changes and additions. Because phones are IP based, they are like PCs, and when they are moved from one connection to another they connect right back up to the PBX server.

These offer considerable savings compared to a time when a simple phone move needed to have cross connects changed and a phone technician making a billable service call. However if the IP Handset is at a remote site and local configuration or a remote restart is needed then there can still be costs incurred.  The best way to control these costs is with the selection of a handset with remote management and configuration capabilities and from a vendor who is not prone to excessive numbers of firmware updates which require handset resets or reconfiguration.

Here the recommendation is that to keep operational costs low you ensure that the phone´s interface allows remote users to simulate the usage of the phone´s keypad and special features.

IP Phone ROI

The idea of moving to IP Telephony solely to save money has slowly subsided, although it has not gone away entirely. In the early years of VOIP, companies had to find an ROI in order to justify replacing tried-and-true equipment for new technology. Now, they’re more often already in a TDM-replacement phase, so ROI becomes less important as organizations are focusing on other benefits, such as streamlined features, improved productivity, and integrated voice/data/video collaborative applications.

To be clear, there can be a net savings, and this is typically achieved after the first two years. But this net saving is easily eroded if the IP Handset selected is not suitable so that handsets have to be replaced, possibly because the wrong model for the role was selected in the first place or because the usage levels experienced in a busy office.

While the eventual costs savings for installing IP Telephony can be substantial, the start-up costs of deploying an IP telephony solution depend on a number of variables, including the size of the enterprise and the choice of vendor. To help organizations understand the total cost of ownership (TCO) of an IP telephony.

Other posts in our IP phone design week:

How to design an ip phone
How to design an ip phone for voice quality
IP phone design for it departments
IP Phone Security
IP Phone Interoperability

Check out all our VoIP posts here.

Deployment is a key contribution of the Value Added Reseller involved in the sale. Anyone interested in becoming a Snom VAR can check out their site here.

Categories
Business voip voip hardware

IP Phone Interoperability cc @snom

No man is an island – IP Phone interoperability explored

ip phone interoperability ip phone security lesley hansen on designing an ip phoneIn the fifth article of the series SNOM UK Marketing Manager Lesley Hansen talks about IP Phone interoperability.

Ensuring that you make the most out of your investment is important and is often a consideration as you shop for a new phone system. Budget-conscious business decision makers will want to protect their investment in existing hardware or applications. Forward looking companies plan for the longer term and want to ensure today’s investment remains part of tomorrows solution,. IP phone interoperability is therefore an important issue.

Gateways can be used to help businesses connect a legacy PBX, take the first step towards SIP, or even connect to a Unified Communications(UC) solution. However using a gateway is like involving an interpreter in a conversation. The information will get across but it is slower and more likely to be subject to misunderstandings.#

Optimum performance and simplicity is achieved by selecting products that have been tested and proven to interoperate together.

There is no unique definition of ip phone interoperability because the word has different meanings depending on the context. There are also different shades of interoperability. What can be interoperable in one given system implementation may not work with another, different implementation.

The glossary of telecommunications terms, from NTIA’s ITS defines interoperability as “the ability of systems, units, or forces to provide services to and accept services from other systems, units or forces and to use the services so exchanged to enable them to operate effectively together” and as “the condition achieved among communications-electronics systems or items of communications-electronics equipment when information or services can be exchanged directly and satisfactorily between them and/or their users.”  To me the interesting words here are effectively and satisfactorily.

 The more diverse networks, products and vendors exist, the greater the need to ensure that they can interoperate to ensure that end-to-end communication is possible. At the same time, the more difficult the problem becomes.

So what happened to the standards?

Standards enable interoperability in a multi-vendor, multi-network, multi-service environment. Good standards should leave little room for options and should be universal, produced in consensus with other interested bodies. Of course, this needs time, so a proper balance between quality and speed is needed otherwise a standard that takes too long to produce becomes obsolete.

In a competitive situation not all vendors will choose to comply to all parts of the standards. Moving away from a standard in small ways is what often produces competitive differentiation. It is often non-compliance with standards that secures a long term customer unable to incorporate other vendors’ products into the network. Often, particularly  with larger vendors, a divergence from a standard will over time evolve into a new standard, further confusing business user with a wide array of incompatible standards.

End points in the telephony solution are one of the low cost high volume items in the network.  As such IP Phones are one of the aspects of the IP Telephony solution where standards and interoperability should give the business choice and flexibility without loss of functionality.  Here there is little if any justification for  the use of non-standard based products.  Even standard products however can still have interoperability issues.

Is Interoperability Important to IP Handsets?

There are two possible approaches to IP handsets.  One is to regard the handsets as disposable with a write off period of 12 or 18 months. In this case durability and interoperability are probably both moot subjects as long as the handset functions as well as needed when purchased.  The handset will effectively be written off in the first year of the project and there is no need for it to be interoperable with any other part of the network.

Alternatively there are professional and enterprise handsets where the investment in the handset is recognised as being not only the cost of the hardware but the provisioning and support and maintenance costs. In this case the build quality of the handset is likely to be considerably higher and the life of the handset considerably longer. The Snom 300 series handset for example has a life expectancy in excess of 8 years, a fact that considerably improves the ROI for any IP Telephony project.

If you make the decision to invest in a short life, low cost end points then it is possible using an Audio Lab to have the solution tested with the PBX and IP network to ensure you are not sacrificing voice quality. In a fully equipped Audio Lab you can measure the quality of your VoIP phones and VoIP accessories including wired and wireless headsets, speakerphones and conference audio-devices by utilizing state-of-the-art audio quality measurement equipment and an anechoic chamber facility.

Leading measurement technology combined with the know-how and experience of the audio quality team enables comprehensive subjective and objective testing to determine audio quality parameters to maximize VoIP device potential. The measurement system should use the IP phone specifications published in the latest ETSI and TIA releases.

Establishing IP Handset Interoperability

VoIP systems employ session control and signalling protocols to control the signalling, set-up, and tear-down of calls. They transport audio streams over IP networks using special media delivery protocols that encode voice, audio with audio codecs. Various codecs exist that optimize the media stream based on application requirements and network bandwidth.

So we must look beyond the standardised elements such as session control, signalling and codes when we look for IP Handset interoperability. This is where testing comes in and why most vendors are committed to working with partners to establish and maintain the inter-operability of their products for effective and satisfactory working. Effective and satisfactory implies the need to support the features of the device without any loss of voice quality or service or any degradation to the advertised features of the products.

For example the Microsoft Unified Communications Open Interoperability Programme tests and qualifies devices, infrastructure components, online solutions, services, and solutions provided by third party companies for interoperability with Microsoft Lync Server and clients. Their qualification programs for enterprise telephony services and infrastructure ensure that customers have seamless experiences with setup, support, and use of qualified telephony infrastructure and services with Microsoft’s unified communications software.

Testing IP Handsets

Typically only products that meet rigorous and extensive testing requirements and conform to the specifications and test plans will receive qualification in a vendors interoperability programme. While the specifications are based on industry standards, the programs also define specific requirements for interoperability with third party devices and testing requirements for qualifying interoperability. To qualify as interoperable with third party PBXs or telephony servers IP handsets must meet enterprise-class standards for audio quality, reliability, and scalability. Basic interoperability testing for IP Handset with a PBX would include items such as

  • Call Origination
  • Call Termination (calls are terminated correctly)
  • Call failure handling
  • Hold – Unhold a call
  • DTMF functionality

Additional to these basic interoperability tests the following functions are recommended for IP Handset/PBX interoperability testing:

  • VoiceMail integration
  • attended/unattended transfer
  • Music on Hold
  • Busy lamp field

As a footnote the VoIP industry periodically gets together to test ip phone interoperability. This get together was originally called the SIP bakeoff until a certain bakery products manufacturer threatened legal action. These “test fests” have long since been called SIPITs, details of which can be seen here.

Other posts in our IP phone design week:

How to design an ip phone
How to design an ip phone for voice quality
IP phone design for it departments
IP Phone Security

Check out all our VoIP posts here.

Categories
Business security voip voip hardware

IP Phone Security

ip phone security lesley hansen on designing an ip phoneIP Phone Security ensures IP Telephony is not compromising the business

She’s back again. Guest editor Lesley Hansen discusses what needs to be considered in ip phone security design.

VoIP or IP phone security is a hot topic. Security attacks continue to evolve and attackers find ever more sophisticated ways of attacking systems. VoIP is only an application running on the IP network, and therefore it inherits the security issues of the IP network. This means VoIP security is only as reliable as the underlying network security and if the IP network has security vulnerabilities, these can be exploited once VoIP is implemented.

The goal of every IP network component manufacturer should be to build a product that maintains a high level of security and provides relevant data to tools to monitor the system for attacks.  Once the system in in place ongoing IP telephony security maintenance is primarily related to the IP PBX or telephony servers; keeping up-to-date with operating system and third-party service packs to eliminate well-known security holes, implementing critical support patches on servers, updating anti-virus definitions to protect against well-known worms and viruses and performing daily backups of servers with periodic data recovery tests.

But the IP handset is an important point of access into the IP network. End points such as IP handsets provide a point of vulnerability and a number of standard exist to secure the telephony network, but these are not always supported in the IP Handset, and where supported they are not always implemented by the network manager.

Avoiding Denial of Service Attacks

Denial of Service (DoS) attacks can take down telephony. A distributed DoS (DDOS) attack is a concerted and coordinated effort to flood a network with requests. Though the attacked network may not be penetrated, these attacks can “busy” a system rendering it unusable. To protect against this it is important while implementing the IP handsets to ensure that ports are not unnecessarily left open, all unnecessary ports and services should be shut down and unused services should be deactivated. This is where interoperability partners become key.

For example PBX manufacturers like 3CX and Vodia Snom 1 and Asterix PBXs support the Snom security settings from the handset – out of the box.  This means there are no configuration requirements so delivering a rapid roll out while ensuring the system is up and running with full security and minimum disruption or delays. Not all PBX manufacturers and IP handset vendors will be interoperability partners.  To ensure a wide number of PBXs can be supported and provide the business with a high degree of choice handset vendors should work with the TLS and SRTP standards for configuration setup.

TLS and SSL encrypt the data of network connections in the application layer. They use X.509 certificates and hence asymmetric cryptography to authenticate the other party with whom they are communicating, and to exchange a key. This session key is then used to encrypt data flowing between the parties.

Protect Against Unauthorised Access

When deploying an IP telephony system IT personnel and voice administrators need to take appropriate measures to prevent threats such as toll fraud. Toll fraud refers to internal or external users using the corporate phone system to place unauthorized toll calls. Toll fraud can occur with both TDM and IP-based voice systems and a standard method of protecting against it is the ability to control call type’s for example banning mobile or international calls.

This call control is sometimes handled by low cost routing within the PBX but it can also be done within the IP handset dial plans. A handset with this capability helps to protect against telephone fraud even when the PBX does not have low cost routing.

Ideally in a well-designed handset the telephone will provide security beyond that provided by the firewall. Security at the handset ensures protection from people on the inside network who have physical access to phones and can bypass the firewall. This means the handsets provide a higher level of security against phone tapping/unauthorised access. Supporting the 8021x standard helps avoids fraudulent use of the network and protects against 3rd party/un-authorised devices. Handsets that supports 8021x, where the PBX also supports the standard, will allow the device to request authentication from the switch. This ensures that if a device connecting to the switch does not have the credentials then the switch does not allow access.

Encryption Against Eavesdropping

VoIP systems that don’t use encryption make it relatively easy for an intruder to intercept calls. Any protocol analyser can pick and record the calls without being observed by the callers. In man-in-the-middle attacks, an internal user spoofs the IP address of a router or PC to spy on voice traffic as well as data entered on the phone keypad during a voice conversation, such as passwords. After copying the information, the user forwards the voice traffic to the intended destination so that neither the sender nor the recipient knows that the conversation was intercepted. Typical motives include espionage and harassment.

Eavesdropping has become easier because of widely available packet-sniffing tools. The method used to combat this is encryption. Provided that both the handset and the PBX supports the standards, encryption ensure that the audio and the signalling traffic are both protected. Products can be configured as enabled for security so that signalling is in TLS and audio in SRTP. These security encryption standards means that all communications from the handset to the PBX/Server is protected from snooping and tapping.

Greater levels of encryption are available but at a cost. At the top of the pile Secusmart in Dusseldorf provides an encryption technology currently used by the German government that can be incorporated into the IP Handset, these handsets are forbidden for sale to counties under embargo and the end users need to be checked and validated before despatching handsets. At CeBit a Snom handset with GSMK Cryptophone technology was presented, this provides an internationally accepted secure IP handset solution that sells to sells to organisations such as military, government, pharmaceutical and broadcasting where the information has such a high value that the increased cost for the handset and call manager with encryption is justified.

Once end points with the required standards are selected, for many organisations attention to detail during set up and use of passwords, plus a controlled rollout of the handsets and strictly following instructions when installing the endpoints plus using the SRTP protocol or VPN tunnels to increase network security will provide a secure solution without the additional investment in these higher levels of encryption.

Other posts in our IP phone design week:

How to design an ip phone
How to design an ip phone for voice quality
IP phone design for it departments

Check out all our VoIP posts here.

Categories
Business voip voip hardware

What the IT department is looking for in an IP phone design

lesley hansen on designing an ip phoneIP Phone Design for IT Departments

In her third post of the week on IP phone design SNOM Technology AG Marketing Manager Lesley Hansen explores the issues that have to be taken into consideration to keep the CIO happy – IP phone design for IT departments.

The average Information Technology (IT) Department is a busy places, especially since IT and Telecoms have now come together in one area of responsibility within most organisations. The challenges posed by telephony have increased since hot desking and mobile working have become an intrinsic part of business life.

The scale may change but the same challenges apply whether you are an individual running IT for a small business or a team running IT for a large company. In addition to maintaining existing systems and handling moves, adds and changes most IT departments are actively working to introduce new systems and applications and they often also provide a helpdesk function for assistance to all staff with use systems and application software.

So when we introduce the IT department to a new IP handset it is important to have recognised the demands and pressures they are under and so we need to have made sure we have incorporated their requirements while designing the product. Critical considerations for IT are those characteristics that facilitates the easy and cost effective operation of their department. In practical terms this means we need to consider issues of support, adds, moves and changes, return on investment, configuration, maintenance and use of the handset in multiple scenarios and situations.

Supporting Moves, Adds and Changes

Moves, adds and changes (MAC) is the general term for the routine work performed on computer and telephony equipment in a business and includes installations, relocations and upgrades. The professional handset must be easy to set up and administer ongoing and must not break the IT budget and MACs can be one of the most costly aspects of supporting a telephone system.

Adding additional IP handsets involves the configuration and installation of the new handsets and it’s synchronisation with the PBX or Telephony server. With professional IP handsets today this can be done remotely by the network manager or by the Value Added Reseller using predefined user characteristics and then the preconfigure handset can be despatched directly to site to be plugged in by the user. The saves the IT specialists from travelling to site and allows them to have a central controlled view of the installations.

Change is inevitable in business as organizations grow, expand, and adapt to new market demands. Whether the changes involves moving staff or equipment in the present location or moving to an entirely new location there is a potential cost involved to the IT Team as they deploy new IP handsets or allocate users to new handsets. One of the advantages that can be designed in to an IP handset it that it can be relocated by plugging into a new Ethernet port and will automatically re synchronise with the PBX or Telephony Server.

Security Considerations

Security is a big issue today – so it is important to design IP handsets to support encryption and Snom handsets are all designed in accordance with the EU privacy recommendations. A risk of MACs is that it introduces an opportunity to security attacks. Remote Provisioning delivers substantial benefits for ITSPs & End Users, but Provisioning Servers must be secured. As a vendor we are aware that Provisioning Servers are a prime target for attack to steal SIP credentials which can then be used to make fraudulent calls.

Key protection considerations according to the Internet Telephony Services Providers’ Association (ITSPA) recommendations for provisioning are authentication of provisioning requests which should ideally be using HTTPS client certificates, ensuring that SIP passwords are deleted from SIP servers as soon as provisioned and avoiding the use of TFTP for remote provisioning. All of these considerations are important to the IT department when selecting an IP handset and Snom’s provisioning application is fully compliant with the ITSPA Recommendations for Provisioning Security, released in July 2014.

Securing VoIP communication minimizes threats to the network and the risk of theft of private information by a hackers. Security issues with a VoIP implementation often have little to do with the telephony system. If an existing network has security vulnerabilities, these can be exploited once VoIP is implemented. Your choice of handset can play a vital part in addressing security concerns. For example the Snom 710 comes with a preinstalled security certificate for quick and secure provisioning without manual interaction. It also supports the latest VoIP security protocols to ensure secure desktop communications.

Support and Cost of Downtime

Another concern for the IT specialist is downtime, a report from a major telephone supplier last year indicated that one in five companies fire an employee when a network outage occurs. The sectors where IT staff were most at risk of losing their jobs due to core network errors were the natural resources, utilities and telecoms sectors, where one in three companies fired employees. This is because network downtime is costly to the business. Gartner analyst Andrew Lerner in mid-2014 cited a figure of  $5,600 p/minute, which extrapolates to well over $300K p/hour. Even if these figures seem excessively high for your business it makes the point that the reliability, resilience and durability for all components of the network are key to the business and if neglected risk business profitability, and so the IT specialist is looking for an IP Handset that is reliable and easy to support.

Snom handsets are designed to have an have exceptionally low RMA’s – we ensure this is the case to reduce the cost to the business both in downtime and in support costs.

Costs of Ownership (COO) and Return on Investment (ROI)

A solution that will be cost effective and easy to roll out means considering not only the cost of acquisition, but the cost of ownership and life of the product but also the durability of the handset and it’s connecting network, as they effect the cost of operation and their IT budgets.

Interoperability is also key as it effects not only the cost of the solution today but also the cost to the business if changes are needed in the future. Only when all these aspects are taken into account will the IP Handset be considered to deliver value for money to the IT department. Ensure the handsets you are considering are compatible with a large number of SIP components and VoIP systems of other manufacturers. Standard based handsets reduce operational cost and complexity and so have the ability to reduce the cost of building and supporting a telephony infrastructure. Interoperability enables “best-of-breed” deployments, this best-of-breed environment meets the requirements for rapidly deploying IP Telephony solutions. Interoperability also empowers you to leverage existing investments effectively extending the life of existing components and protecting the investments you’re your business has made.

IP Handset durability is also important in this area because if reduced this increases the exchanges required due to faulty handsets, with knock on costs for repair or replacement. To keep the cost of ownership down a vendor need to ensures that the product life is sufficiently long to provide the project with a return on investment.

Further posts in this week’s guides to how to design an IP phone can be found below:

How to design an ip phone

How to design an ip phone for voice quality

Categories
Business voip voip hardware

Designing IP Phones for Voice Quality

lesley hansen on designing an ip phone designing an ip phone for voice qualityDesigning IP Phones for Voice Quality

In the second of this week’s posts on designing IP phones SNOMTechnology AG UK Marketing Manager Lesley Hansen explores the subject of designing IP phones for Voice Quality.

Voice quality is not a single thing, and it can be highly subjective. Although you can measure the voice quality of a codec used in the IP Phone each vendor’s implementation of these codecs may be different, resulting in higher or lower voice quality. But voice quality is one of the primary requirement in IP Phone design for a professional and enterprise handset and skimping on voice quality testing is one of the easiest ways for a vendor to avoid development costs and produce a sub quality handset.

What is Toll Quality?

Toll Quality is the panacea. The aim of every VoIP Vendor, and the claim of many vendors is to provide Toll Quality Voice. That is voice quality equal to that of the analogue long-distance public switched network. But it is not measurable. A common benchmark telephony vendors and carriers use and the ITU has adopted to determine the quality of is the mean opinion score (MOS). MOS is a test that has been used for decades in telephony networks to obtain the human user’s view of the quality of the network. A MOS score of 4 is perceptible but not annoying and 5 is rated as excellent. But MOS provides a subjective measurement based on a single set of circumstances. For instance the MOS score given in a quite office and that given in an office with extensive background noise would be different.

Measuring Voice over IP (VoIP) is more objective, and uses a calculation based on performance of the IP network over which it is carried. The calculation is defined in the ITU-T PESQ P.862 standard. Like most standards, the implementation is somewhat open to interpretation by the manufacturers. Even more significant, depending on the implementation by the IP Phone manufacturers, a calculated MOS of 3.9 in a VoIP network may actually sound better than the formerly subjective score of > 4.0 that was considered to be the equivalent to Toll Quality.

Building the Handset

The design of the handset will also affect audio quality, this includes aspects such as the thickness of the plastic selected and the shape of the phone. For best quality IP Phone design an audio engineer is involved with the industrial designer from the first stage of each new phone design. The audio engineer can explain the audio rules to the designer.

For instance every speaker needs a chamber to create depth of voice, the curves on the phones will affect how audio signal is reflect, and the thickness of the plastic used is critical to the final audio quality achieved.

Handset design is a trade-off between the rules of audio and the aesthetic vision of the designer. It is this seeking for high quality audio combined with pleasing aesthetic design that forces IP Phone developers to improve and come up with new solutions that take them beyond today’s knowledge on achieving high quality audio.

Selecting the CODECs

The word codec is a shortening of ‘compressor-decompressor’ or, more commonly, ‘coder-decoder’. A codec encodes a data stream or signal for transmission, storage or encryption, or decodes it for playback or editing. As with conventional telephony, with VoIP the speech is initially captured in analogue form with a microphone. This analogue information is then transferred into a digital format by a converter and changed through codecs into corresponding audio-binary formats.

In order for the data to be converted correctly back into speech after being transported, the receiver must use the same codec as the sender. Depending on the codec used, the data can be compressed to differing extents in this process. Most codecs use a procedure through which information not important for the human ear is omitted. This reduces the amount of data and thus reduces the bandwidth required for transfer. However, if too much information is omitted, the speech quality will suffer.

Different codec procedures handle the audio compression with different levels of efficiency. Some are specifically designed to achieve a low bandwidth at any cost. Depending on the codec, therefore, the bandwidth needed and the speech quality will vary. The design skills of the IP Phone manufacturer in the management of codecs creates a clear differentiation between vendors.

Refining Voice Quality

Methods such as jitter buffers, echo suppression, echo cancellation and packet loss concealment can be used in IP handset design to improve voice quality.

Echo suppressors work by detecting a voice signal going in one direction on a circuit, and then inserting loss in the other direction. This added loss prevents the speaker from hearing his own voice. Echo cancellation is based on recognizing the originally transmitted signal that re-appears, with some delay, in the transmitted or received signal. Once the echo is recognized, it can be removed by subtracting it from the transmitted or received signal.

When silence suppression is on, comfort noise needs to be generated locally by the IP Handset at the other end of the call so that the other party will not mistakenly believe that the call has been terminated. By preventing echo from being created or removing echo if it is already present voice quality is improved, at Snom we call this Automatic Noise Reduction.

IP Phones echo controls are implemented digitally using a digital signal processor (DSP) or software and at Snom we implement to the ITU requirements. Digital signal processing is the mathematical manipulation of the information signal to modify or improve it. DSP is not one size fits all. Different DSP coefficient pre-sets are needed for different room types. Refining the voice using these techniques will improve the subjective quality, as an additional benefit the process also increases the effective use of bandwidth as silence suppression prevents echo from traveling across the voice network.

Transmitting high quality voice over IP is made more difficult due to packet loss and jitter. A technique used to reduce jitter involves buffering audio packets at the receiving handset, so that slower packets arrive in time to be played out in the correct sequence at the appropriate times. The objective of jitter buffering is to keep the packet loss rate low and so improve the voice quality. A fixed method, which uses a fixed buffer size, is easier to implement than an adaptive method, but will result in less satisfactory audio quality because there is no optimal delay when network conditions vary with time.

Snom handsets support adaptive jitter buffers which although more complex and expensive to implement perform continuous estimation of the network delays and dynamically adjust the playout delay at the beginning of each transmission so ensuring a high quality of voice.

Packet loss concealment (PLC) is a technique to mask the effects of packet loss in VoIP communications. Because the voice signal is sent as packets on a VoIP network, they may travel different routes to get to destination. At the receiver a packet might arrive very late, corrupted or simply might not arrive. This could happen where a packet is rejected by a server which has a full buffer and cannot accept any more data. In a VoIP connection, the receiver should be able to cope with packet loss.

All these voice techniques enhance and improve voice quality, and are quantifiable and measurable components of high quality IP Phone design and should be viewed as absolute requirements in professional and enterprise handsets.

Testing the Voice Quality

Testing voice quality on a new product should begin as soon as a first injection of plastic is produced and continue throughout the life cycle of the product.  In Snom we believe in the value of doing our testing house and have made a considerable investment in German engineered state of the art Audio equipment that will simulate not only the voice from the phone handset and speaker phone and in relationship to the human head, but also test for voice quality under different conditions such as with background noise from a busy office or factory and in a variety of network conditions. Ongoing testing ensure the quality of voice provided by VoIP phones and VoIP accessories and end points including wired and wireless headsets, speakerphones and conference audio-devices.

Accurate and effective audio measurements require time, preparation and patience. Snom’s testing in done in our Head office in Berlin using our state-of-the-art audio quality measurement equipment and anechoic chamber facility. Leading measurement technology combined with the know-how and experience of the Snom audio quality team enables comprehensive subjective and objective testing to determine audio quality parameters to maximize VoIP device potential. The measurement system uses the IP phone specifications .published in the latest ETSI and TIA releases.

Check out a past article on SNOM audio quality testing here. Also the first post in this series of designing IP phones can be found here.

Categories
Business voip voip hardware

How to design an IP phone

lesley hansen on how to design an ip phoneWhat is involved in designing an IP Phone?

Lesley Hansen is UK Marketing Manager of German SIP handset vendor SNOM Technology AG and is this week guest editor of trefor.net. This role of guest editor is one that I have introduced to bring a focus on specific themes and is an enhancement of the “themed weeks” that have become so successful on this blog.

Lesley is a time served veteran of the telecoms industry and SNOM are one of the oldest players in the SIP game. SNOM were there right at the beginning of the SIP industry before commercial services were available. When SNOM introduced their first handset the only other vendors around were Siemens and Pingtel (long since deceased). SNOM and Lesley are uniquely positioned to talk about their subject.

This week Lesley  has at my invitation put together  a series of posts outlining the issues and challenges involved in the design and manufacture of IP Telephony handsets. SNOM are obviously going to get a lot of mentions in this series but the intent is not to be a sales pitch for the company. It is natural for Lesley to refer to her own company’s experience in writing the pieces. In this first post Lesley outlines the areas that she is going to cover this week.  She refers to articles that are coming during the week and to which I will link as they go live. I leave the rest to her…

This is the introduction to a multi-part series of articles looking at the issues involved in designing an IP phone. Founded in 1996, Snom Technology AG manufactured the world’s first SIP Handset and continues today to provide a market leading brand of professional and enterprise IP Handsets. As such we are exceptionally well qualified to discuss the concerns and challenges of designing IP Phones.

What is an IP Handset?

A VoIP or IP phone is simply a handset that uses Voice over IP (VoIP) technology to allow calls to be made and received over an IP network (like the Internet) instead of using the traditional Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The audio signals from the voice calls are digitized into IP data packets, the handset is connected to an IP network and these IP packets are routed through a private IP network or over the public Internet creating a connected voice call.

IP Phones look very much like traditional office handsets but they are based on a different underlying technology. The use of IP Technology raised potential issues of call quality due to the breaking of the voice into small data packets and these have to be managed in the handset design, and since IP Phones interface with VoIP system telephony software, they have to be able to support features and capabilities that were not provided by traditional office phones. This additional functionality makes the user interface more critical to ensure an easy to use and reliable handset. A good quality of design in an IP Phone can make the IP Handset a valuable resource for many years. A poor design can deliver poor quality voice and become an expensive resource to support and a source of much frustration from business users.

Designing to meet user expectations

Users have clear demands. They want their IP Phones to work and they want them to look good. The problems in designing an IP Phone arise when we try to quantify what working and looking good really means. Elegance and simplicity are very important in phone design but must be balanced with practicality and ease of use this is one of the challenges of IP Phone design. (Further Information: Article on Designing for Beauty)

People are very finicky about voice quality in VoIP because they were used for years to the impeccable quality of landline phones.  The standard for voice quality on a telephone handset has therefore been set by the PSTN and this is what we refer to as toll quality voice.

Voice quality was one of the darkest spots on VoIP’s reputation the early years after its introduction. Now there has been much improvement. For toll quality voice to be achieved on an IP Phone the issues created by using a packet based network where there are no inherent controls on the order or speed of delivery of the packets have to be considered in the phone design. Echo, choppy voice, broken voice, buzzing and delayed speech are common descriptions of problems experienced with the early VoIP connections.  Although some of these factors are the result of a variety of factors not all related to the handset itself, the handset design must minimise the effect of each of these. The one of these most attributed to the IP Handset is echo and designing for echo cancellation and control is key. (Further Information:  article on Voice Quality)

Designing for the demands of IT

One of the challenges with an IP Phone is that the handset has to be configured before the phone can talk to the IP Telephony PBX or IP Server, so before the phone can be used. Provisioning is critical, at its core, the provisioning process monitors access rights and privileges to ensure the security of an enterprise’s resources and user privacy. As a secondary responsibility, it ensures compliance and minimizes the vulnerability of systems to penetration and abuse. In a good quality phone design it is possible to configure phones centralised, which saves a lot of time and money in sending personnel to site.

But the demand is not only these during setup, the design should also ensure updating phones or setting special configurations is easy. This is possible because of this centralisation. Auto-provisioning or auto-configuration is the name we give to this easy and time-saving way to configure IP-phones for IP-PBXs. With auto-provisioning, all user information is entered at the central web interface of the PBX or form the IP Phone management software.  Required data includes the MAC address of the IP-phone, the desired extension and the caller ID which is displayed on the called party phone display. The IP-phone receives the configuration over the local IP network. (Further Information:  Article on Designing for the IT Department)

Ensuring IP Telephony is not compromising the Business

The growing reliance on VoIP has reduced business telephony costs, but it also increases their complexity and this needs to be kept in mind in the IP Handset design. Security has become one of the hottest issues in telecom management. IP telephony not only increases the complexity of data networks, particularly in hybrid telephony environments built with equipment from multiple vendors but it increases security risks. For IP telephony management to be effective it cannot focus solely on reporting on network usage, ensuring dial tone availability and managing call quality, it must place an emphasis on security and protecting the enterprise from telephony-borne attacks.

Today telecom managers face pressure to protect the organization from telephony-related threats, and to do it all while cutting costs and improving ROI. Security measures such as encrypting voice services, placing VoIP equipment behind firewalls, and defending against Denial of Service (DoS) attacks are just some of the steps you can take when introducing VoIP into your organization’s network infrastructure.  Other measures include guarding against toll fraud, securing phone records, and protecting the phones. While there is no such thing as a bulletproof VoIP implementation, you can protect your business by selecting IP Handsets designed to provide high quality security to the business. (Further Information:  article on Designing for Security)

No man is an island – and neither is an IP Phone!

Many solutions using IP Phones are hybrids. A hybrid telephony solution could be mixing either IP or PSTN, it could involve a mix of hosted and on premise telephony services and to get the fully set of functionality needed by the business it is likely to include hardware from multiple vendors. Even if an IP Telephony solution is deployed as single vendor, single deployment single technology it is highly likely that over time elements of third party products or new technologies will be introduced.

It is therefore very important when designing an IP Handset that standard are complied with consistently to ensure the IP Phone is able to operate in a mixture of existing and potential environments. Snom’s operates an interoperability program that gives customers the opportunity to find out which components work with each other. To assure the interoperability between the IP Phones and other elements of the IP Telephony solution, all Snom handsets undergo a range of interoperability tests in our labs. Advanced features such as transfer and Music on Hold are required to work. For our partners gaining the Snom Advanced level of interoperability means that the customer can be assured that the tested functionality works smoothly. (Further Information:  article on Designing for Interoperability)

And the final design criteria – cost

The best quality and most elegantly designed IP Phone in the world will not be widely accepted unless it meets the business expectations regarding cost. Cost in its broadest sense will include cost of acquisition, cost of deployment, cost of ownership and return on investment. Any IP Phone design must consider each and every one of these aspects. (Further Information:  article on Designing for the Financial Director)

Snom’s investment in Handset design is significant and over 45% of our workforce is focused on Handset design, testing and development. This approach has made Snom a leader in the market and unique software and hardware developments on the Snom handsets are emulated by many other IP Telephony and Handset manufacturers.

Lots and lots of VoIP posts on trefor.net – check em out here

Categories
Business events fun stuff gadgets

Friend of mine called Robert

Friend of mine called Robert signed up for a World Hosting Days London conference a couple of years ago. His motivation was that they were giving out free Samsung Galaxy tablets to anyone who would go around each exhibitor boot and get a card stamped.

When he signed up he put the words “I’m only here for the free tablet” in the field reserved for the company name. In the end he didn’t go but I hear that they ran out of tabs so it was probably a good thing.

Wind the clock forward and he now gets snail mail to the name and address supplied when he registered for the London gig. Except that instead of “I’m only here for the free tablet” some wily marketing data base cleanser has changed the text to “I am not allowed to get a free tablet”.  He he he.

I spoke at the conference last year on behalf of LONAP. Had quite a good chat with a few people who came to hear the talk.

That’s all folks.

Categories
End User gadgets

Of mice and, well mice

The wireless mouse conundrum

I haven’t bought a mouse for donkeys years. In fact I’m not sure I’ve ever bought a mouse. There has always been one around to use. This weekend I found it convenient to buy a mouse. I’ve been borrowing one of the kids’ and he has understandably periodically been nicking it back.

In order to purchase a mouse I went to MiceRUs otherwise known as Maplin in Lincoln. Maplin is a shop you can happily browse in for hours before buying what you originally went in for. Niche cable fittings sit comfortably next to remote controlled helicopters, disco sound gear, electric heaters and a plethora of other useful and essential gadgets and paraphernalia of modern living.

Eventually I found my way to the mice section of the shop. I wasn’t expecting there to be a mice section. I thought it would be a couple of plastic boxes on a shel next to other PC accessories. Nope. Mice had their own section. There were roughly twenty different products on shale at prices ranging from a tenner to fifty quid.

This is a problem. How on earth do you chose from such a range of devices all of which essentially do the same thing. Moreover they were all wireless mice. I’d thought that the choice would be wired versus wireless and maybe a couple of colour options. Nope. It was all wireless. Yes colour options but no wired. I didn’t really mind the absence of a wired mouse. Hey we all have to move on. My problem was how on earth do you choose.

I flagged down a passing expert member of staff who was able to offer advice. They major on staff training at Maplin. “You have to choose one that feel right in your hand” he said. Only problem is they are all contained in the rigid plastic wrapping that requires a combination of  uber sharp chisel and a pneumatic drill to open.

Staring at the display for another minute or so I ended up buying a red one. Not the cheapest one, at £15 but I figured I didn’t want to be seen as a cheapskate. Anyway I got home, dug out my set of chisels and am now the proud possessor of a new cordless mouse. It works.

The photo below is of the wireless mouse in situ next to the Chromebook. Enjoy:)

cordless mouse

Categories
Business H/W

Oh God it’s CES again

Hey anyone going to CES Las Vegas?

The list of exhibitors at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas extends to 125 pages with 27 companies named on the front page. That’s a lot of exhibitors.

You wonder who goes. Most media organisations with a tech section send someone. It’s probably mostly journalists plus exhibitors looking at each others’ stands if my experience of trade shows is anything to go by. The official blurb says 150,000 = 160,000 visitors and over 3,600 stands. That’s around 40 visitors per stand. Some exhibitors will send more people than that (I am a cynical so and so aren’t I:)).

People like to talk about CES because it’s something to talk about rather than because of anything really newsworthy that comes out of it. It’s the self perpetuating hype. I can’t recall hearing of any significant new development that has been announced at the show.

TVs with a few more pixels. Slightly different shaped phones. More watches that can do a bit more than the previous watch. I read a GigaOm article this morning that majored on the fact that Lenovo had reintroduced its little nipple style trackball button/feature. There was nothing wrong with the article. It was just another piece in the rush to find new things to say to us in our 24×7 connected world.

Reality is that although marketing departments would not agree with me nothing ground breaking is introduced at these shows . Ground breaking rarely involve a step function. Something that wasn’t there yesterday but is today.

The iPhone and the iPad blazed a trail. However their early functionality was nothing like it is today. If today’s iPhone (6?) was introduced as the first model then that would be ground breaking. In fact Apple would have 100% market share. The iPhone can only be seen to be revolutionary by looking back at what has been achieved years after its first release.

CES is an expensive game. Lets say the average spend per stand was $50,000. Lots will be less than that but the big guys could easily hit seven figures and the costings have to include travel, accommodation and, this being Vegas, entertainment. That would make the total cost of showing up at CES to be $180 million.  I don’t think I’m far off. CES quote their net exhibitor space as being 2 million square feet and their undiscounted cost is $42 per square foot. That’s $82 million just for the floor space. I suspect my $180 million is on the low side.

While we’re on the numbers game lets assume that none of the 150,000 attendees actually work for exhibitors and that the journalists pay their own costs which isn’t necessarily the case as vendors often pay for journos to come as a way of getting their attention for a while. The average cost of being in Las Vegas for a week is probably $2,000 – $3,000 a head. So you can add between $300m and $450m to the economy of the show making it a half a billion turnover event all things considered. Gosh. And that’s excluding the cost of the gambling.

For the exhibitors it’s all one big gamble. It’s the old adage about only half the advertising spend being effective but you wish you knew which half. It’s the VP marketing being seen to do the right thing. I doubt that thy can measure the return on the investment at the show.

In our early days at Timico we used to look back to see how much business would arise from our investment in trade shows to inform next year’s spending decisions. Eventually we gave up and realised that much of the point of being at a trade show is for punters to see that you are in the game.

It’s a difficult one for start ups because for the spend to have any effect you have to repeat the activity on a continuous basis. Ok for established businesses with deep(ish) pockets but not so easy if you are pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The one positive reason for being at a trade show is that you do get a concentration of people in one spot to get your message across. However with 3,599 others competing for the same webspace you do have to question whether it is money well spent.

If anything is worth looking at the market will reveal it. Twitter, YouTube and Facebook will spread the word. My friends will tell me. I’m more likely to buy something that way than to find out from CES that a life changing curved phone sits better in my hand.

I can’t see it changing though. Fear will win through. Fear of anonymity, failure. Fear that someone else’s announcement of a slightly modified TV or mobile phone will get more airtime than yours. Much of the money spent at CES will be wasted. Half of it if the old adage is anything to go by but I suspect more. Still I’m sure there are a few good shows to go and see. I note that Britney Spears, Elton John, Enrique Iglesias, Justin Timberlake, Rod Stewart, Styx and Santana are all playing Vegas this month. I wonder if you can still get tickets…

PS it isn’t just CES. Mobile World Congress is the same.

Categories
broken gear chromebook Engineer google

This Chromebook is Dead

Deceased, kaput, no longer of this world – dead Chromebook motherboard

It is with a tinge of no real sadness that I present to you an image of a dead Chromebook motherboard. The Samsung Chromebook too is dead, on account of the non functioning motherboard.

It wasn’t a huge loss because these things are so cheap they are almost disposable. And disposing of it I am indeed doing. The dismembering of the Chromebook, I hesitate to call it a computer because that makes me think Microsoft, has been done for two reasons.

Firstly out of simple curiosity to see what it looks like inside. Secondly although I didn’t keep much data on the 16GB solid state drive there would have been some files of I know not what provenance and so it seemed to make sense to permanently delete this memory. Just what you would have done in the old hard drive days but slightly different.

As you can see the ssd now has a nail in it, driven firmly in by my handy Leatherman Multi-tool. No one should be without one.

The dead Chromebook motherboard itself is worth dwelling on. It’s diminutive nature represents beauty and the plastic shell in which it was mounted, consisting mostly of screen, keyboard and a couple of speakers, evidence of how cheap these things really are to churn out.

It is the future. Low cost, disposable computing resource and User Interface.

I include an earlier photo of the dead Chromebook motherboard for comparison together with

Categories
Business security voip voip hardware

VoIP Security and Your IP Phone

Concerns about massive growth of telephone tapping incidents has led to a growing demand for IP telephone handsets that provide VoIP security.

Trefor.net welcomes VoIP Week contributor David Kirsopp, Technical Director snom UK Ltd

An IP-PBX can be reached from potentially anywhere in the world, and your communications network is vulnerable if not properly secured. As such, making sure you enhance security through your choice and implementation of your IP handsets is one of the security measures you should be considering when introducing VoIP into the organization’s network infrastructure.

Concerns about massive growth of telephone tapping incidents has led to a growing demand for secure telephone handsets. The practical availability of secure telephones is restricted by such factors as politics, export issues, incompatibility between different products, and high prices.

When the VoIP traffic over the Internet is unencrypted, anyone with network access can listen in on conversations. Unauthorized interception of audio streams and decoding of signaling messages can enable an eavesdropper to tap audio conversations in an unsecured VoIP environment, a common threat. And eavesdropping is how most hackers steal credentials and other information; for example, customers reciting their credit card numbers to an airline booking attendant. All that’s needed is a packet capturing tool, freely available on the Internet, or switch port mirroring, and hackers can save the files, take them home, and cause disaster with the stolen information.

Equally or more dangerous than the hacking of the phone calls themselves is that the phone system may enable entry into the company network, and thus the phone connection becomes as portal to all data within the company.

Of course, there are solutions and safeguards that can reduce or even eliminate security weaknesses within VoIP systems.

Authentication-Based IP Addresses

Static configuration of your IP phones to your extensions will prevent easy access by intruders into a conversation. Specifically, you can specify at the IP-PBX which IP address can use a particular extension as a trusted address.

Confidentiality

Unlike PSTN calls which traverse dedicated circuits, VoIP calls are really just data going across the Internet…data that must be protected. By using encryption techniques like TLS and SRTP, you can protect both the signaling and the media stream, preventing others from listening in on the conversation using simple tools such as port mirroring and an RTP trace.

SIP packets contain private information: the IP address of the phone, the SIP server, the signaling and media ports that it’s expecting to listen on, the MAC address of the phone, and in some cases even the management port of the phone. This information should be sent over a TLS tunnel to hide it from snoopers, who though they will be able to see TLS packets will have no idea what’s in them.

Well-designed IP phones provide secure SIP signaling via TLS and audio stream encryption by incorporating SRTP (Secure Real-time Transport Protocol), a security profile that adds confidentiality, message authentication, and replay protection to the RTP protocol. SRTP is ideal for protecting Voice over IP traffic because it can be used in conjunction with header compression and has no effect on IP Quality of Service. These factors provide significant advantages, especially for voice traffic using low-bit rate voice codecs such as G.729. Ensure your phones provide TLS-based SIP signaling (SIPS) with a SIP proxy server and audio stream encryption using secure RTP based on 128-bit AES. SIPS not only prevents message manipulation and eavesdropping, but it also assures the proxy server of the identity of the client phone; hence, identity spoofing threats are also subdued by this mechanism. Some phones, including those produced by snom, also use AES in counter mode (AES-CM) for secure RTP, which creates a unique key stream for each RTP packet and thus makes it almost impossible for eavesdroppers to retrieve the original RTP stream from the encrypted SRTP stream.

Secure Media (over UDP)

If you want to increase security further, then purchase a certificate from a Certificate Authority (CA) like VeriSign, which is equivalent to having your documents signed by a Notary Public who is a trusted third party, verifying that you are who you say you are.   Getting the certificate into the IP phones is currently the tricky part, as some phone vendors are not burning them in at the factory using the MAC address as part of the key.

Plug and Play and Certificates

Plug and play of phones on the wide area network is nothing new. The phone presents a MAC address, and based upon that MAC address the IP-PBX automatically provisions the phone so that it can make calls. The IP-PBX, however, is not able to verify the MAC address of the phone since it came from the WAN. In this case, the MAC address reflects that of the router as that is where it came into the LAN. This is a security risk, however some handsets have certificates burnt in at the factory, so after a key exchange the IP-PBX can be assured that the phone is who it says it is and that a certain MAC address belongs to a particular phone.

Centralised Security

Alternatively, security can be guaranteed from a central point independently from the individual applications and end devices. The advantages of this centralized approach is that it will be a one-off implementation with low maintenance costs and the possibility to secure communications from multiple manufacturers. One option for centrally provided security is a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which are typically used for connections with field bases employees in which a company network connects the branch offices to the computer centre or connects geographically separate servers or computer centers.

Categories
End User H/W phones voip voip hardware Weekend

VoIP Hardware: Giving a British Icon a 21st Century Makeover

Repurposing a 20th Century British classic for the new millennium.

Trefor.net is pleased to welcome “VoIP Week” contributor Mark Williams, Director of Sales at Obihai Technology.

The GPO746 is loved by many – it’s hard to ignore the classic look and high quality construction of the original — but with most of us now using VoIP it is often left to sit there as an ornament and gather dust.  But we can give it a 21st century upgrade!

The GPO poses a few challenges for VoIP hardware enthusiasts. First, it requires a ring capacitor to drive the bells when it rings. Also, the GPO is a rotary dialer, which most modern ATAs don’t support. But where there is a will there is a way, and here I will offer detail on two approaches that can be taken to ready this classic for the world of IP.

The Easy Approach

The easiest way to get your classic phone to work with VoIP is to plug all the adapters inline, external to the phone. To convert the rotary dial clicks into DTMF you can use a Dialgizmo, a device that sits inline between the ATA and the phone. It works well, though it will occasionally detect the hook flash as a “1” and send the DTMF so you need to be careful when taking the handset off hook.

Along with the Dialgizmo you’ll need to find a ring capacitor. You can either purchase an inline ring capacitor from an online store, or you can repurpose a master socket if you have one lying around.

Finally you’ll need an ATA.

mw1-GPO746 plugged into a re-used master socket
The GPO746 plugged into a re-used master socket, which in turn in plugged into the Dialgizmo, which is plugged into an Obihai OBi202 ATA.

Using this simple conversion approach you can get your classic phone working over VoIP.  But you want a more elegant solution, I hear you say?

The Advanced Approach

You say you don’t fancy having a string of adapters connected to your classic phone? Well, if you are handy with a soldering iron, the Rotatone offers another method, an integrated solution, installed inside your GPO746.  And if you’re not handy with a soldering iron, don’t worry – they also have a service where you can send in your classic phone to have the Rotatone and a ring capacitor installed (after making a ham-fisted attempt at soldering — It’s been many years — I chose the send-in option).

The Rotatone is the black box on the left.  It is wired between the rotary dialer and the control board of the GPO746.
The Rotatone is the black box on the left. It is wired between the rotary dialer and the control board of the GPO746.

The Rotatone has the advantage of not suffering from hook switch triggering DTMF tones, and having the ring capacitor installed in the device also removes another item from the daisy chain between the phone and the ATA.

So how about we go a step further an install the ATA within our classic phone as well!

The OBi200 (and OBi300) ATA both fit perfectly between the hook switch of the GPO746.  If we remove the line cable from our phone we can wire this plug internally straight into the back of the ATA and route the power for the OBi via the line cable’s port.  Rather than drill into the case to create a hole for an Ethernet cable we can instead plug an OBiWiFi adapter into the back of the ATA to allow it to operate wirelessly.

Everything installed inside the GPO746.
Everything installed inside the GPO746.

We now have our WiFi-enabled GPO746 IP Phone, repurposed and ready for the 21st century.  And you can even take it a step further by installing an OBiBT USB adapter into the USB port.  To do this you’ll need to use a USB hub to allow plugging the OBiWiFi and OBiBT adaptors into the one port. If you can find a place to squeeze that in you will have a GPO746 that’s not only wireless but that can also pair with your mobile phone via Bluetooth.

So what are you waiting for?  Winter is just around the corner, and there are few better excuses for spending an afternoon converting your phone in a small room filled with solder fumes.  Best of luck!

Conversion Complete 1     Conversion Complete 2

Categories
broadband Business H/W UC voip voip hardware

Why the Desktop VoIP Telephone isn’t Going Away

Major leaps in technology allow business phones — the desktop VoIP telephone — to serve a rapidly growing range of needs.

Trefor.net welcomes “VoIP Week” contributor Jeff Rodman, Polycom‘s Chief Technology Evangelist. Since co-founding the company in 1990 Jeff has been instrumental in the realization of Polycom’s iconic products for voice, video, network communications, and other media.

The death of the desktop telephone has been predicted for decades. Technology has steadily advanced, business processes and communications needs have grown, and it’s actually rather surprising how that stodgy old friend the “desktop phone” has prospered. Look at its challenges: the PalmPilot, mobile phones and the Blackberry first, then on to Skype and other soft clients, unified information systems, mobile iOS, Windows and Android devices, teleworking, personal video calling, open-air workspaces, multiple Unified Communications and Control (UC&C) platforms, and the internet itself. And, of course, an always-growing need for specialised applications and consistent, efficient globalisation.

The desktop device remains firmly in place, though. What has actually happened is something that many didn’t see coming, yet is obvious in hindsight. The question was never really about when the desktop telephone would disappear, but rather how changing work needs and new technologies would shape its evolution.

“Personal transportation” did not disappear when Karl Benz introduced the Motorwagen in 1885, it evolved as technology moved beyond the horse. A broad range of personal transportation solutions emerged, from the motorbike to the motorhome, addressing such specific needs as the sedan, snowmobile, and all-terrain vehicle along the way. Similarly, the phone (which we might describe as a personal desktop live communications device) is not vanishing. It is, rather, becoming even more critical to business success, as it has advanced from its roots. Once merely the “black phone on a desk,” there is now a range of devices to cover an assortment of user needs from a basic desktop VOIP telephone to the rich integration of essential capabilities known as the Business Media Phone.

What is a phone today?

Modern business phones exist in many forms, but the most basic requirements they all share are durability and reliability. They are always on and ready for use, unlike cell phones, which require charged batteries and wireless connectivity. Similarly, soft clients or UC clients running on PCs must be running to accept calls or place calls. A phone is one thing we expect to always work, which is why they have traditionally been built like “brick houses,” never knowing who might slam down the handset, douse them with tea or drop them off of a tall table. Any phone is designed for a tightly defined set of uses, which it flawlessly performs. Whether a particular phone today supports only voice or a full bouquet of functions and applications, it is expected to do those jobs with unblinking confidence. As we will see, any device that might hope to take its place must be measured against this simple but essential standard of absolute reliability and responsiveness, one which we might call the “phone’s prime directive.”

Beyond this, major leaps in technology allow business phones to serve a rapidly growing range of needs. The adaptations to serve these can be broadly categorised in three directions— extensibility, unification, and media. Manageability and reliability, looking at the centralized support model removes the hassles from the end-user who can simply use it and doesn’t have to worry about software updates or configurations.

Extensibility

Whether PSTN, SIP, or some proprietary network, the most basic analogue phone needs only a handset and a phone cable. The underlying vision usually supports a much larger assortment of abilities, though, and different models within the same family will express different combinations. These can take the form of additional interfaces to support Bluetooth, wired, and DECT headsets, memory stick hosting to preserve conference audio, additional Ethernet jacks, “sidecar” accessories to provide one-touch selection of additional lines, and even add-on interactive HD video. Each of these extends the usefulness of a phone, by enabling future enhancement without burdening the initial purchase. The extent to which a phone can support this kind of evolution is one measure of its suitability for an organisation.

Unification

Although the range of abilities, environments, and platforms that might be supported by contemporary phones is much broader than it was just a few years ago, the user still expects them to work together simply and reliably. This means that functions must tie together transparently, and any complexity has to be neatly and efficiently concealed. The functions performed by the desktop phone must be able to connect to a wider set of networks; but more than that, the user’s experience has to remain consistent—a user cannot be confronted with wildly different behaviour just because, for example, SIP dialling and the Microsoft Lync platform are both in use within the organisation. For this reason, one essential requirement of a properly-implemented phone is that it retains compatibility with existing infrastructure. This means that interoperability among different UC and UC&C host platforms and simple, predictable behaviour is essential for a successful phone, whether it is a basic voice phone with enterprise directory access, or a full-fledged Business Media Phone, such as the Polycom range of VVX Business Media Phones.

Media

Today, conversations can take place among almost any combination of styles and environments (i.e., HD or narrowband voice, accompanying charts and presentations, HD video, small-screen video from a handheld device, or even Immersive Telepresence rooms). They can be between two people in only two places, or among a gathering of groups and individuals everywhere (i.e., at airports, desks, homes, workspaces and conference rooms).

Although there is today a growing expectation that participants will join meetings with video, a phone must give its user a clear perception of the meeting and also present its user as a competent, efficient participant in that meeting, whether the user has joined with video or only audio. This means that whether sitting in open spaces or quiet offices, phones must reject surrounding noise while allowing their users to speak clearly. Further, if video capable, they must send a clear, high-fidelity image even if their display is compact. Just as a user does not want to sound like they’re on a muffled Smartphone, they also want to look as if they’re working from a professional HD video system, not shaking and blurry with a precariously- mounted camera.

Conclusion

The desk phone has changed and today it does enormously more than it did in the past, yet it remains a keystone of effective business operation. By providing consistency, reliability, comfort, and an easily managed connection, there are few tools in business that prove their continuing worth as well, or as quickly, as well-built table-top voice or Business Media Phones.

Over the past three years, the tables have turned. Savings that some organisations had expected to gain by leveraging employee BYOD’s have evaporated as enterprises are often now the ones who buy those smartphones for employees, often at considerably higher life-cycle cost than a well-built desk phone. This is one reason that we’re really not entering a “smartphone world,” and why the market for real desktop phones of all descriptions continues to grow. Organisations that experiment with smartphones discover that they’re no panacea, and they return to the purpose-built and IT-friendly desktop phone — and especially to its powerful newer sibling the Business Media Phone — as the tool for doing what they do best, communications without compromise…

The bottom line is that regardless of what the final decision for each employee turns out to be, the first step toward making correct choices is to carefully investigate, taking care to understand what is important to the organisation and to each user, and get the facts about the options available when making a long-term investment such as a phone system.

This is a VoIP week post on trefor.net. Check out other VoIP themed posts this week:

Why are major telcos afraid of encrypted VoIP? by Peter Cox
Emergency calls and VoIP by Peter Farmer
VoIP, the Bible and own brand chips by Simon Woodhead
Why the desktop VoIP telephone isn’t going away by Jeff Rodman
Small business VoIP setup by Trefor Davies
VoIP fraud-technological-conventionality-achieved  by Colin Duffy

Categories
Business voip voip hardware

trefor.net/itspa voip security workshop sponsors announced as Yealink

Yealink announced as trefor.net/itspa voip security workshop sponsors at Sandown Park on 8th October

Further to last week’s announcement, IP phone vendor Yealink have come on board as ITSPA/trefor.net VoIP security workshop sponsors. The workshop being held during Convergence Summit South at Sandown Park on 8th October.

This is quite apt as Yealink are one of the first IP phone vendors to introduce security certificates as standard on their handsets. This means that when properly provisioned people can’t spoof your CLI because the proxy server is expecting to see a particular certificate to accompany your account credentials.

Yealink are a company that have been creeping up on the rails over the last few years. In the early days of SIP there were only a small number of handset vendors including one or two from the Far East. Then the number of players exploded as the market climbed the curve of expectancy (or whatever it is called). Now however we only see a few active vendors, at least in the UK and some of the Enterprise manufacturers don’t really appear much in the hosted market which is what ITSPA is all about.

The emergence of Yealink from the Far East is quite significant. I’m sure they must have been around for donkeys years but they have slowly grown to be one of the vendors getting most of the attention in the low end market. This is in no small part due to the team they have here in the UK.

Having Yealink on board as VoIP security workshop sponsors is a big help to the industry  as these events do cost hard cash to put on. Although the market is potentially huge – ultimately VoIP will replace the PSTN, it is still a relatively small community of players and events such as the ITSPA/trefor.net voip security workshop do represent great opportunities to get face time with stakeholders.

Anyone wanting to come to the VoIP security workshop can sign up free of charge here.

Categories
Business events gadgets H/W Mobile phones wearable

A Virtual Tech Gadgets Smorgasbord!

September brings word of new gadgets — smartphones, tablets, cameras, wearables, whatever else — and it all looks so tasty!

Ah, September. Summer holidays fading into memory, work ramping back up, children getting settled into new school routines, a hint of a nip in the air (at least once the sun goes down) as autumn begins baby-stepping into place, and the usual blast of new gadgetry hyper…er, news…no, had it right the first time.

Thick and furious, it seems that this week new smartphone goodness was announced by every player in the space (save for Apple, which has its circled-on-every-calendar iPhone event set for next Tuesday). Most if not all of this activity is in conjunction with IFA Berlin 2014 — Europe’s largest consumer electronics event — though it seems that none of the interested parties could be bothered to wait for the start of the actual event (today, that would be). Among the smartphony gadgets soon to show up on shop shelves are:

  • Samsung: Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy Note Edge
  • Sony: Xperia Z3, Zperia Z3 Compact
  • Microsoft/Nokia: Lumia 830, Lumia 930, and Lumia 730

And those are just the smartphone devices put up for media scrutiny fawning prior to the IFA Berlin 2014’s official opening. Over the next five days similar smartphone announcements are due from HTC, LG, Acer, Lenovo, Huawei, Asus….pretty much everyone except Big Daddy Apple.

As if all of that is not enough, a kit-n-kaboodle of tabletish shiny things are also set for intro (or have already been intro’d), along with some wearable whatnot, and all kinds of digital fun that lies outside of phones and tabs.

It doesn’t take much in the way of deductive reasoning to understand why we as consumers get tech-dumped on during September every year. The mechanisms of hype need a bit of oiling up in preparation for the holidays, interest has to spread from those who are too-in-tune to those who listen to and/or depend on those who are too-in-tune, and the marks…no, no, no…the buying customers need time to get their heads around the cost of the new delights (and time to save coin to buy them).

Only 100 shopping days until Christmas*!

*And 7-8 fewer until Chanukah…but I couldn’t find a website for tracking that.

Categories
Engineer gadgets peering

BYOD strategy revealed at LONAP board meeting

BYOD strategy revealed at LONAP board meeting.

Lonap held its regular board meeting on Wednesday at Will Hargrave’s house. These are very long days but worthwhile. We have a lot of stuff to plough through. LONAP operates a BYOD strategy. The IXP is very leading edge especially when it comes to HR and IT.

The featured image illustrates the byod strategy at work showing Will, Andy (Davidson) and Rich (Irving) sat around the board table in front of the various notebook computers. Andy is a Microsoft guy. He has a Windows computer with a touch screen Needs to be to get the most out of Windows 8 or so I’m told. Will is an Apple fanboi. He is actually sat in front of my Chromebook but you can see his Mac on the table next to Rich. The various makes of notebook have a white letter near them to denote flavour.

Rich has a letter T next to his. That’s because his notebook is made of tree. It’s quite nifty. Comes with its own advanced carbon based stylus which has a neat way of erasing mistakes. The stylus has a soft plastic top to it which when moved back and forwards across the lines on the page left by the carbon erases the carbon marking, or most of it anyway.

Tree based notebooks aren’t perfect but nobody expects the finished goods so early on in the product lifecycle. The stylii for example still have some way to go. The sharpened front end does have a tendency to break although Rich seems to have mastered the art of applying just the right amount of pressure to avoid damaging the tip. These stylii do represent a marketing opportunity to sell accessories. The product team must have all worked at Apple at some point in the past. They seem to know their stuff.

Available for purchase are a sharpening device (v handy in the post 9/11 security conscious world of the global internet executive) together with a nifty case that can hold multiple stylii. Rich pointed out that you can get them in a huge range of different colours. They also sell storage containers known colloquially as bookcases. These are also made of carbon although like in any market there seem to be cheap imitators on sale made of something called MDF.

Being a fan of cloud technology myself I did ask Rich whether there was a virtual version of his Tree technology. He mentioned something about Carbon offset which I didn’t completely get and not wanting to look stupid in front of the others I kept shtum. There’s bound to be a cloud version available or at least coming soon.

Readers looking to implement their own byod strategy should at least take a look at Tree technology when considering notebooks. The one at the LONAP meeting certainly had a nice feel to it. They have the weight just about right and Rich says it is totally customisable. You adjust it by simply tearing out pages until you get to the weight that suits you. I should warn you that this process is irreversible so you do need to take care. If in doubt consult a qualified Tree surgeon.

That’s in regarding the LONAP byod strategy. Lots happening in the Autumn. Stay tuned for loads more useful tips’n stuff though not necessarily anything to do with LONAP’s byod strategy.

LONAP is a Global top 20 Internet Exchange. Read about them here. Also loads of LONAP content on this site – check it out here.

Categories
Apps broadband End User fun stuff H/W internet Mobile Net phones

The Hump Day Five (23-July-2014)

The Hump Day Five this week goes to the pictures, gets the picture, migrates the pictures, wants a phone that takes the pictures, and offers a picture of Paris on Summer holiday.

1

A few days ago a filmmaker friend of mine asked if I would be interested in screening a rough cut of a documentary he has been working on for some time. I was somewhat flattered that he would ask, of course, and I have quite a strong propensity for documentaries, so I instantaneously responded with “Yes, please.”

Not long after I received the details of screening the documentary, and it was at that point that it all started to tweak my interest beyond the subject matter of the film itself, for two reasons. One, the film was presented to me as a video stream via Vimeo (password access, naturally). And two, my friend specifically requested that I promise to watch the film straight through with no breaks and without distraction.

So this is where we are today. Able to grant immediate access to video works in progress via the Internet, and as a result of that delivery method needing to beseech the viewer to take special care to not multi-task when viewing said film via the Internet. Not that I don’t get the reasoning, because I absolutely do, though it does have me thinking that in the not-too-distant future there will be technology deployed to tighten such tasks up. Insistent Streaming? You can watch vwxyz, but you have to do so in Full Screen mode and without screen deviation lest you have to start over from the beginning.

The screening request came across five days ago and I have yet to watch my friend’s film. Really, it is pretty sad that I am finding the idea of being-connected-yet-essentially-disconnected from AppleKory for 90 minutes straight to be daunting!

2

I’ve been hush-hush for a while now regarding my search for my next smartphone, waiting patiently for the one I had mostly settled on — the Samsung Galaxy K Zoom — to become available in France. I did manage to put my hands on a GKZ while I was in London for trefor.net’s Pissup in a Brewery last month, and this helped to both move me closer to pulling the trigger and towards establishing a sharper perspective on my decision.

In short, I realized that as much as I would love to have a Galaxy K Zoom as my next smartphone friend, I will only do so if my carrier (Bouygues) can offer it to me at a subsidized price. They do this with a good many other Samsung smartphones, including the flagship S5 (which costs €599 unlocked, without subsidy, but only €221 paid out over 24 months with a correlating commitment), so I came to expect I could put myself into a Galaxy K Zoom for under €200 (versus €499 unlocked, without subsidy).

No dice. Or, at least, no dice yet. Despite my best efforts to make such a deal happen, and the encouragement of a Bouygues drone who told me he could do so but in truth could not (seems that he was willing to say just about anything to me over the phone to get me to walk in the shop), I remain wanting. And with the Summer holidays descending quickly in France, it seems I will remain saddled with my iPhone 4 at least until the start of September. And with the iPhone 6 announcement likely to take place that month…?

3

A few months back I made one of those big decisions. You know, the kind that changes everything, after which nothing will ever be the same and from which there is no going back. A paradigm shift of immense magnitude.

Thick, running irony, like motor oil straight from the can.

I decided to change photo management software, from Apple’s not-bad-for-a-toy iPhoto to Adobe’s truly terrific Lightroom 5.

For a good long time iPhoto worked for me. There were some significant bumps along the way, to be sure, such as dealing with the product’s generosity when it came to gobbling up AppleKory hard drive space with it’s need to maintain two copies of any photo that was modified in any way (including simple rotation). For the most part, though, iPhoto and I got along fine, even as my photography skills outgrew the software’s cutesy function set.

I suppose I knew that at some point I would need to move from iPhoto into something more robust, however in dabbling with other photography management packages over the years — window-shopping, as it were — I became fully aware of how difficult and tedious an endeavor it would be, fully switching over. Man, that is one deep and dark path to walk down, and if it wasn’t absolutely necessary…well, I could make iPhoto continue to work for me. That is, until I couldn’t.

For reasons unknown, at right about the same time I was beginning to explore shooting in RAW (though this had nothing to do with the issue), iPhoto stopped accepting modifications made to picture files. The changes I made — upping the contrast or vibrancy of a photo, for example, or cropping an image — would stick, but only until I exited iPhoto. Thus, when I would start the application again, any modifications I had made during the previous session were gone.

Naturally, I google-binged my problem, and I discovered that I was not alone. A great number of my fellow iPhoto users had been dealing with the same problem, and as far as I was able to tell in my digging none of them had come up with a solution short of abandoning iPhoto for one of its competitors..

The writing, as they so (too?) often say, was on the wall. iPhoto, it has been nice. Enter Lightroom 5.

It has taken patience and time to do it to do it to do it to do it to do it right, child…er, move everything over, and I have hit my share of lulls, but a marvelous documentary I saw last Friday about the recently-discovered photographer Vivian Maier kicked me back into it, and finally I am finished. And nothing will ever be the same.

4

It has now been three weeks since I took AppleKory into the Apple Store at Opera to have one of their supposed Genius folk render opinion and possible solutions for a fan and heating problems. For reasons unknown, the poor girl’s CPU was running regularly at about 90 degrees Celsius and her fan was blowing at the maximum 6204 rpm. A friend who is also my OSX Guru has long told me that I run too many apps and processes simultaneously (foreground and background), and he was convinced that was the problem, but even when I turned just about everything off the CPU heat spiked and the fan in response ran loud enough to her in the next room (quite strange for a MacBook Pro).

The Genius who attended me ran some diagnostics and found no problem. He then, though, suggested that it could be a problem with the thermal paste in conjunction with the heat sink, and that such a repair would only cost €29…and a three separation. Wanting to have a happy and healthy AppleKory, I swallowed hard and handed her over. I then went home and told my Guru that he was wrong (Wrong! Wrong!), and that the problem was not running AppleKory too hard, but that it had to do with a hardware issue.

HAH!

Two days later the Apple technician called. He told me in broken-but-not-bad English that the thermal paste was fine, and that as far as he could tell there was no problem with my system. “Perhaps you are asking it to do too much at the same time?”, he said. “Anyway, it is ready for you to pick up anytime.”

Grr.

I retrieved AppleKory soon after, and — go figure — since then she has been purring like a kitten (so to speak…that is, without the noise). I have changed nothing with regard to the software I run or the intensity of such (over 20 Google Chrome tabs open as I type), and yet it is a rare occurrence when her temperature exceeds 80 degrees Celsius or her fan exceeds 5000 rpm (and most of the time both of those numbers are significantly lower…at this moment, 72 and 2588 rpm).

Like the child whose symptoms disappear upon realizing a visit to the doctor is in the offing? Or the sick cat who seems to get better when a visit to the vet is imminent? That Apple technician must be one scary dude, indeed!

5

Approaching the end of July, it is evident that the France Summer holiday has begun to take hold. Signs are appearing in the windows of shops and restaurants announcing date ranges of closure, the foot traffic on the street is significantly lighter, there are fewer people in the Metro (and fewer trains running, as well), there is a lot less ambient and incidental noise leaking into Chez Kessel. You would think, though, that with fewer people in town taxing Internet pipe capacity that my broadband service would be much improved, wouldn’t you?

Categories
Apps chromebook Cloud ecommerce End User gaming google H/W internet Mobile mobile apps mobile connectivity Net phones social networking

The Hump Day Five (16-July-2014)

The Hump Day Five is on Red Alert this week, getting all Google-y powerful on music in the cloud, Leftovers, and Ping Pong Mania.

1

Started watching a new TV show a couple of weeks back called “The Leftovers”. If you haven’t haven’t seen or heard of it, the premise is quite simple. On 14-October at a precise moment in time approximately 2% of the world’s population randomly disappears without a trace. Drivers from moving vehicles, criminals from prison cells, babies from car seats, one moment there the next moment gone. It doesn’t take much imagination to see compelling story elements in such a framework, and in fact it is easy to see how the utter chaos of such a situation could become too much of a good thing (entertainment-wise, that is). The creators, though, very smartly opt to confine the drama to a single small town somewhere in America and how “The Departure”, as it is called, has affected and continues to affect the populace three years down the line. Succulent details are offered via ancillary media — overheard radio, television news programs being watched by this-or-that character, etc., not a small amount of Internet-y stuff — and go so far as to include a list of celebrities who number among the 2%. Dark stuff riddled rich with despair, sure, and as television goes it isn’t for everyone, but if you like your diversion disturbing and in-your-face I highly recommend checking it out.

2

Since late June a new application for both iPhone and Android has been making its way through the zeitgeist in direct response to the once-again-heightening tensions between Israel and Palestine: Kobi Snir’s Red Alert Israel. The idea behind this new app is to alert users of incoming rockets so they can stop whatever it is they are doing and take shelter*. The alerts received (tied directly to Israel Defense Forces and Homefront Command) can be configured quite tightly — there are a great many individual areas, considering the country’s small land mass — and each alert offers allows for comments, which can include prayers and encouragement, as well as — not surprising, but enraging nonetheless — inflammatory notes full of disparagement and outright hatred. Red Alert Israel also includes streaming Israeli radio (in Hebrew) to supplement its alerts with more detailed information (I assume). All in all, it is a noble idea that falls definitively on the side of the angels (and I say this even knowing that there is no Red Alert Palestine equivalent).

So I am sensitive to the dead-serious nature of Red Alert Israel and applaud and support its above-reproach mission, but I would be fibbing BIG-time if I said the image of people running for cover from flying ordinance with their hands flailing high above their heads clutching their phones didn’t loosen a small smile. Got too many episodes of The Simpsons under my belt, I suppose. Please excuse (or feel free to flame me up but good in the Comments).

The Red Alert Israel app is free, as you would expect, though it does run shifting banner advertising, because in these times absolutely nothing should go unsponsored. I mean, think about it…is there an advertiser out there who wouldn’t want their product or service to be associated with the saving of lives? And thus a new business model is born!

*The users in Israel, that is, as it is quite evident that Red Alert Israel is being downloaded and put into use by people living elsewhere..for purposes of showing solidarity, inspiring prayer and greater empathy, to stoke flames of outrage, to feed whatever vicarious needs, perhaps to serve as the basis for gambling or drinking games, etc.

3

For someone who spends as much time driving keyboards and mice as I do, I really can be late to the party at times. Take cloud-hosted music (aka online music lockers, aka online music storage services). Available in various flavors for a few years now (the majors all bowed in 2011 — Apple, Amazon, Google — whereas an early achiever called AudioBox left the starting block in 2009), it was only this past weekend that I started to consider the idea of throwing some of my music up into the ether for ready access across my computers and smartphone. Naturally, I was aware of the cloud-hosted music concept, but that awareness was mostly relegated to Apple’s iTunes in the Cloud/iTunes Match service, and as I trust Apple’s software and service offerings about as much as…well, not at all, actually, I put up a willful “blind spot” to the whole idea. Of course, it also helped that my music collection far exceeded the 25,000 song limit put on the $25-per-year service by Apple, and that at the start – as is unfortunately so often the case — the service was available to U.S.-based users only.

A couple of years passed, and then along came KoryChrome. And with KoryChrome came promotions for Google services. And with the promotion in particular of Google Play Music — which I learned is now available in France and which includes the ability to load/match 20,000 songs absolutely free — came my revisiting the subject of cloud-hosted music this past weekend. 20,000 songs for uploaded/matched for free? Songs I can access from any Internet-connected computer capable of running a browser (Google Chrome need not be that browser, either), or from any Internet-connected smartphone? All without commercials or listening limitations?

Yeah, I know this party started ages ago, but as far as I am concerned there is still beer in the fridge and it’s still ice-cold.

4

On the subject of KoryChrome, La Famille Kessel returned to our Pays d’Auge family hovel in Blangy-le-Château this past weekend, and my keen and cool new Chromebook was thus reunited with its power source. And this time that power source made it into my computer bag for the trip back to Paris at weekend’s end. No doubt, a great many of you will now breathe easier and will stop wanting for sleep.

5

Got struck hard by a serious wave of irony a few hours ago when My Missus and I put The Boy on a train to summer camp. The camp he is attending is called “Ping Pong Mania” (translate from French), and it promises to be exactly that, with 90+ minutes of table tennis play and training each morning and another such session each afternoon. I blush with a certain amount of pride in saying that my kid is really quite masterful at the game, in no small measure because other than ping pong his free time these days is overwhelmingly consumed by Minecraft, Clash of Clans, SimCity 4 Deluxe Edition, youtube videos galore rooted in gameplay and game parody and what-have-you, and a bevy of other sofa-bound veg-and-play games and experiences.

My hope is the next 10 days will find The Boy matched up with other kids his age who are at or near his level. Otherwise, his hesitance to get off the couch and get out in the world (read: separate from his MacBook and iPad and Nintendo DS3) will have been justified…or so he will say and think, anyway. And this is where the irony lies as 32 years ago I remember feeling similar hesitation at heading off to summer camp, too…summer computer camp!

Categories
Apps End User fun stuff gadgets google H/W internet piracy

Yes, I Read Super Hero Comic Books

There are far worse things you can carry from childhood to adulthood than super hero comic books (and fewer that look better on your tablet screen).

For me, super hero comic books are just one of those things. I loved them as a child in single digits, continued to look in on them occasionally (and sometimes more often than that) through my teens, and plugged in harder than ever when Frank Miller and Alan Moore took them to the edge of serious dark pop art in my early 20s. I suppose I lost the thread somewhat as my 30s approached, though I am not sure if that was me or the simple fact that both Marvel and DC jettisoned creative storytelling during the 1990s in favor of marketing tricks designed to make every issue a collectible (not to forget to mention doubling the price of single issues…and then doubling it again). Regardless, moving to Paris — a land where reading comic books is less a geek tattoo and more proof of an enlightened mind — hooked me back in kinda-sorta, a side effect of my haunting the English language comic shops in and around the Rue Dante lying in wait for the latest can’t-miss graphic novels by the likes of Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, and Daniel Clowes, among many others. And I am sure that is where I would be today — hooked back in kinda-sorta — were it not for the darn things all going digital.

I don’t recall the first time I read a comic book on a computer, though it certainly predates my 2008 Mac re-entry. I do remember, though, how awkward it felt, viewing each scanned page one at a time before moving on to the next page using the → key or the Space bar. I also remember how annoying it was to have to hit the ← key repeatedly to go back to check some plot detail I skimmed past (annoyance that was multiplied by having to then hit the → key repeatedly to return to where I had left off). It all felt so trivial at the start, so “Take it or leave it.” And I left it. For a while, anyway, I left it.

Mostly, I left it. OK, every now and again, usually nipping at the heels of 3AM, I would download some issue in the Batman or Daredevil scheme of things and indulge (won’t say how or from where or whether it was a legal happenstance or not, no way). Just to stay up on the story, you know? Keeping up with the characters, these old friends of mine from childhood/teenagehood/young adulthood..whichever ‘hood I am inhabiting as I barrel towards 50.

And then My Missus brought home the iPad.

Like so many of us, I was tuned into the whispers and rumors of the iPad that were flying thick and furious during the back half of ‘09 and up through its introduction by Steve Jobs in late January of 2010. By the time of that announcement, though, I had driven an iPhone around the town a little bit without falling under its spell, and at first blush the iPad looked like nothing more than an iPhone on growth hormone. Interesting? Sure. Curious? You bet, because it was the birth of a new gadget category (and, naturally, because it was a new Apple product). Necessary? Uh…no. Not for anyone who had access to a computer and/or smartphone, anyway.

Not long after the iPad announcement I was able to put my hands and fingers on one of the first to make it to France. I can slide the apps pages back and forth. Smooth. I can touch an icon and open an app. Expected. It plays music and movies. Hmm. OK. Here you go, and thanks for letting me play with your new iPad. Enjoy. Oh…uh…can you make phone calls with it?

So getting back on track…a first-generation iPad made its way past over the Chez Kessel moat towards the end of ‘10, courtesy of My Missus, who as a publisher had been tasked with starting down the path of developing textbooks for the darn thing. Again, I held an iPad in my hands, and again I swiped the screen from side to side, touched app icons to watch the apps open, and clocked that it could be used to input music and video content. Then just as I was about to hand it back I had the thought, “I can read .pdf files on it, and book files in Amazon’s .mobi format…maybe…YES!”

Digital comic books, most often traded in .cbr (Comic Book Reader) and .cbz (Comic Book Zip), had proved to be a somewhat strange experience on a computer screen, but the iPad looked like it just might be a worthy delivery vehicle for suchness. And when a short google-bing turned up info on Cloudreaders, a free program able to read files in these two file formats (.pdf, too), I was on my way back to regular sustained web-slinging, shield-wielding, power-ringing, bataranging, billy-clubbing, hammer-throwing, repulsor-raying…OK, I’m OK. Can stop that now.

Now I had the means and the method, but what about the content? Well, as I stated earlier WITHOUT ADMITTING TO ANY INAPPROPRIATE ACTION OR BEHAVIOR, at some point I became aware of ways in which a person with an interest in doing so could easily obtain digital super hero comic books and at no cost. Speaking further about that person and their interest, it is a fact that pulp science fiction and comic books were among the very first pieces of “analogue” reading materials to be fan-digitized, to the point now where it is seriously difficult to think of content that cannot be had, ripe and ready for e-reading (and quickly, at that). Just to illustrate, do-do-that-goo(gle)goo(gle)-that-you-do-so-well on the following terms: “Complete Marvel Chronology” and look for links to Internet file-sharing destinations that I AM NOT TELLING YOU TO CLICK-THROUGH TO.

To close, I will share here that I really was (am!) one of those cliched kids whose now-priceless super hero comic book collection fell victim to tragic circumstances. In my case, “tragic” means a parental ultimatum issued: I could sell my comics at our “We’re Moving” yard sale or I could give them away, but there was no way they were being placed on the truck that would complete our summer 1976 family transfer from Chicago to Dallas. I unloaded hundreds of valuable pulpy friends* for $0.07 to $0.10 each on that August day, imagining not for a moment that I might be reunited with them someday down some dusty ol’ digital road (feel free to replace “digital road” with “information superhighway” if you must, because I just cannot bring myself to do so).

*Valuable to me, that is. Despite all of the ballyhoo I offer, my comic book collection wasn’t priceless…most of the issues were in tattered well-read condition, in fact, and fewer than five pre-dated 1970. I did, though, have issues 121, 122, and 129 of “The Amazing Spider-Man”, and you most assuredly did not.