Thursday, July 28, 2005

VoIP and the future

I've been doing a lot of reading on VoIP and I'm seeing a lot of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) articles on VoIP. I read one on why you shouldn't implement VoIP, another on why VoIP is insecure and another on the cost of VoIP. While these articles have at least a shred of truth they really are just articles that play on our fears (so we'll read them). I read them for a different reason, just to see what the articles were blathering on about. The reality is that VoIP is the future of telephony. Right now it's in its infancy and it's got a lot of growing pains to work through. But once it works through those problems we should see an acceptable product. At the moment I'm befuddled by the concept that people would accept poor quality telephony services simple because it's cheaper. Yet I hear about droves of people who have dropped their land line and switch to a VoIP service, a cellular service or both. For now I'm sticking with my land line and working with Asterisk and various VoIP equipment. When I'm sure the access and service of VoIP is stable and reliable then I'll switch. I figure I have a few more years yet.

On that note I will say that I am excited with the prospect of Asterisk and the VoIP phones I have. So far I have the Grand Stream BT100 working, The Sipura 3000 (SPA-3000) was working for accepting calls but my browser crashed in the middle of changes and put a password on the SPA-3000 and I had to factory reset it (ARGH!). And I have a 4 port ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter) working. I now need to get the SPA-3000 to work with it's line 1 (to accept calls, initiating calls to the other VoIP devices works fine), placing calls on the land line, getting FWD added back in and then various clean up of the dial plan (I've grafted lot of other people's work into my dial plan). I hope to say bye-bye to telemarketers and their ilk once I have the dial plan properly working and a few other useful features.

Oh while I'm at it let me add another log on the fire. This time on the issue of whether broadband is a luxury or a necessity. It is my opinion that it will be a necessity like that of a phone service. While we don't need it to live our day to day lives it will be needed to communicate with everyone around us. The added services like TV over broadband will be staples even in the lower income homes. Now TV isn't a necessity, never was, but it is a high priority item. There will be those who can live without it but most won't. So I think broadband will become a necessity for day to day life in the US (for better or worse). It's not there right now but we're moving in that direction.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Fun with laptops III

OK, this is getting a little weird! I was working with my laptop yesterday and didn't make any headway into the Broadcom ndiswrapper issue. At least that's what I thought. Today I booted up the laptop to do some work on Asterisk (installing Asterisk, AMP and getting it working with my Sipura 3000) and during boot I noticed that the wireless LED above the keyboard was turned on during the init.d sequence (it shut off shortly there after). So I toyed with ndiswrapper some more and I now have a working 54M wireless network connection. I'm not sure what I did or why it suddenly started working (reboot?) but I'm happy to say that I now have the same equipment working under both Windows XP and Linux.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Fun with Laptops part II

Well to my surprise I managed to get the ndiswrapper/wpa_supplicant combo to work with my PCMCIA Linksys WPC11 (Yeah, I have 11M!). Strange thing is I also managed to get ndiswrapper & Linux to recognize the Broadcom card (54M). It shows up under IRQ 10. So that's a major step. The Broadcom card is a BCM43xG1 (BCM430G - Vendor ID 14E4, Device ID 4318, Subsys 103C 1355). I can't get the Broadcom card working, wpa_supplicant can't find anything. But I now have a network connection. :-) I'll spend more time working on the Broadcom card and see if I get it to work properly.

So the score so far: I used SystemRescueCD (yeah it's spelled that way) to repartition the 40G drive, loaded Fedora 4, fixed the X screen (removed the Hort & Vert settings, added 1024x768), sound isn't working but seems to be recognized, the USB, network and just about everything else seems to be working. I now need to work on SELinux (I'm not familiar with it) and I need to get a few new apps running (Asterisk).

So let say me thanks to the ndiswrapper and wpa_supplicant folks (Thanks!).

Fun with laptops

Well I'm working on an interesting problem! I recently purchased a new laptop to put Linux on and I've got it installed with few problems (need to do some research that's all). OK, so far so good! Well I did some fooling around with NDISwrapper and I've gotten to the point where it will recognize a PCMIA card (the Linksys WPC11 V4) but I get stuck after that (I'm trying to use SPA). I also tried NDISwrapper with the Broadcom card but I'm having problems there. So I went another route, I picked up an Intel 2100 802.11b mini PCI card. Well the Compaq Presario M2105US won't boot with the card in. Says something to the effect that it's an unauthorized card (???). I contacted HP and they said it wasn't supported and alluded to something like the AMD Mobile Semperon won't work with the Intel cards. What the heck? I could go all conspiracy theorist but that won't get my card working. I'm not a happy camper now and I'll have to figure out another way of getting wireless connectivity for my laptop! ARGH!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

A new toy (laptop)

Well I needed a laptop (but didn't want one) and finally broke down an purchased one. I ended up with a Compaq Presario M2000 (M2105) with a 40G disk and 256M RAM. I've purchased another 256M but it's the wrong part (only 128M is recognized) so back that goes (do-do happens, ka-ka occurs ;-). It has an AMD Sempron 2800+ (1.6G), Broadcom 802.11 b/g, 2 USB (w/2.0 support), DVD R/W & dual layer, CD R/W burner, 15" screen, LAN, modem and no serial ports (argh!).I paid ~$800 with tax plus 256M RAM and a 256M memory card for my camera (I needed more storage). If I purchased it from Compaq/HP it would have cost me ~$900 before tax and without the extras. Overall not a bad deal (and I have a $30 rebate I have to mail in still). I did get everything I wanted and the Windows XP OS which I didn't want but needed. I already have a Intel Pro Wireless 2100 Mini PCI 802.11b card so I'll be using both WiFi cards. Just one at a time. I'll explain that and the reason I need Windows another day.

So at this moment I'm busy repartitioning the drive for Linux & XP. XP has 23G and Linux 15G. I'm installing Fedora Core 4 (FC4) and it seems to be going well (it's not done but I'm on CD 4 of 4, oops now it's done and both OS's work fine). I needed to burn a a copy of SystemRescueCd to repartition the NTFS to the above settings. I tried the FC4 rescue CD but parted doesn't support NTFS.

After I get Linux loaded I'll start setting up my HA stuff. Since I don't have any serial ports I'll either need to purchase a USB dongle or use a nice terminal server (I have several such as a Cisco ASM, a Cisco 500-CS and a Digi Etherlite 162). I've run into similar problems in the past when I had ISA RS232 ports and my new machines has PCI slots. This time I'll take it one extreme further and use real a terminal server.

As I've said I'm working on various stuff and I hope to be able to explain what in the next few weeks.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Summer time musings

During the Summer I tend not to do much in the way of electronics or computers. That's because I prefer to be outside and enjoy the wonderful weather (it's been very nice here). But I did come across two things that I found interesting. The first is Asterisk with speech recognition. I haven't tried it yet but I will in the next few months. Then I'll be putting together and making sure the entire Asterisk setup works (the difference being that I must get everything to work ;-). While I won't need the Speech Recognition it will have have high geek value and sometimes that's the point. :-)

The second item is a Broadband Reports discussion about Next-gen Broadband. I always find these discussions interesting, usually they're wrong, but they're always interesting. Here's the summary: ADSL2+, VDSL2, Fiber to the Curb, Fiber to the Home, DOCSIS 3.0. Verizon has Fiber to the home, SBC has fiber to the node/copper to the home, Bell South has copper (I think) and cable is cable. Verizon looks to be the technical best and directly competing with cable. SBC in second but they may be able to cut costs and that might be their edge. Bell South is next.

First let me state I have Comcast Cable (3M/384K usually much less. BTW, why does my cable bill keep climbing a few dollars every month?). I work for AT&T Labs in managed network service (layer 2 & 3 (IP) type networks the very thing I'll be talking about in a minute but for Business customers), so my opinions are a bit biased but knowledgeable. I think DSL has a better chance of winning than cable but it's more because of what the Bells are doing and what the cable companies are not doing than anything technical. I like SBC's design, fiber to the neighborhood and copper to the home (that makes it less expensive). Every time I look up the speeds and distances over copper are rising and fiber to the home is problematic (fiber breaks easily). But all of this is just the technology and the best technology doesn't always win (Microsoft vs MAC OS, 68000 vs 8086).

What's really important is service. My opinion of consumer broadband is that nobody really takes the service portion too serious. The stuff I hear on BBR from all quarters is that customer service is an after thought by most providers. I will say that my recent dealings with Comcast have been pretty good (I've been with them since the last 90's) and the connectivity has been very reliable. But we still get long waits on the phone and people who barely understand anything other than the script that is before them. They hinder any attempts to escalate to the next tier Even with Comcast I attempt to send emails of complicated problems such as having problems with email being sent to this Blog. I've since resorted to sending my email though my hosting site, there it works. I'm not sure the problem isn't my own but I can't even get them to communicate with me properly to fin out. It's easier to come up with a work around than to work with them.

Bandwidth isn't the real problem That's right, it's not bandwidth. Currently I have 3M/384k (I never get 384, maybe 276) and I hear rumors of higher bandwidth speeds. Great but I don't need more bandwidth to download with. I need more to upload with. If I try to have 2 VoIP calls running using G711 I need about ~200k for both calls. That doesn't leave me with much for everything else. If I could really get 384 on a consistent basis that would be great. So all this new bandwidth is nice but I doubt I'll actually ever seen it.What I need is Quality of Service (QoS) and traffic shaping. I can traffic shape on my WRT54G so I've got that licked and I can mark the packets for QoS. Unfortunately the broadband network will just ignore it so it doesn't do me much good. Right now QoS is lacking and for now it may not be too important but in the future it will be. That is what the broadband providers need to offer. A way of guaranteeing bandwidth and/or latency for different types of IP traffic to the general public. The hard part is that the general public doesn't even know what it is or why they need it. The reason for it is so that services such as VoIP (voice and soon video over IP), gaming and other uses of broadband can work properly. This is one place where the Bells have the advantage as they have real business services. They deal with small through very large companies with voice and data networks. It is their bread and butter so they understand a thing or two about networking. Currently we hear that some providers are blocking connectivity to VoIP providers such as AT&T Call Vantage or Vonage. Well the FCC isn't going to permit this and for a very good reason it's where the future of communications is (actually it will be VoIP, IPTV and other services {XoIP]). To allow the providers to block these service would be the worst thing for our economy.