January 16, 2008

Comms solution found!

As mentioned in an earlier post, I was looking for a comms solution to keep in touch with clients (and friends!) back in France and elsewhere in Europe. I believe I have now found that solution in the form of a VoIP account.

The idea behind VoIP is, instead of using a network of copper wire to transmit audio between two end points, that audio is converted into digital data, which is transmitted across a computer network such as the Internet. Users can then connect to their VoIP providers using their computers to do the conversion of the audio signal to and from digital data, so-called A/D (analog/digital) conversion.

The job of A/D conversion and relaying the data between the end user and the VoIP service provider is relatively simple, it doesn't require much computing power. That is why there are dedicated telephones that don't connect to a phone line like normal phones but to a network instead. Most of them are SIP phones (because SIP is the most frequently used of all the VoIP protocols available) and the Grandstream Budge Tone-100 that I use is no exception to the rule. With devices such as this, there's no need for your computer to be switched on in order to place or receive calls because the SIP phone connects directly to the network, without going through your computer.

The VoIP provider I decided to sign up with is an outfit called IdeaSIP. By using their service I can place calls to French land lines for $0.02/min or to French cellphones for $0.15/min. At the exchange rate at the time of writing this, those prices equate to 1p/min and 7.5p/min approximately. I can call other IdeaSIP users and they can call me for free, which is something that a client and friend of mine based in Paris who introduced me to IdeaSIP in the first place is going to take advantage of.

However, the main reason I looked into this solution was not in order to place calls but so that many clients of mine who are still in France and who don't necessarily have VoIP solutions can call me without having to go to the expense of dialling an international number. How is this achieved? Simply by renting a phone line in France. The number is a geographic number starting with "04" (therefore based in the Southeast of the country, where I lived for 15 years). French people can call that number with their land lines at the cost of a normal national call, which is becoming more and more often free with ISPs throwing free national calls in with their deals, and mobile phone users calling me will have the call deducted from their monthly allowance (as they would do anyway if I was physically in France) instead of it being billed on top of their contracts as international calls usually are.

So, whenever anyone calls that "04" number the call is routed straight to IdeaSIP, who knows that it's for my account, and it is forwarded straight to my SIP phone at no cost to me. The same applies to a local toll rate number (0845 number) I rented here in the UK. If anyone calls that number, too, then my SIP phone will ring. The line rental is cheap, it costs me $39 per semester, which works out at just over £3 per month, per line.

I don't need to miss a call, ever. I can set up call forwarding and have any inbound SIP calls redirected to another SIP account or even to a straightforward PSTN phone line, to my mobile for example. In this case, the forwarding of the call to the PSTN line is billed to me and deducted from my pre-purchased call credit, but at 1p/min to a UK land line or 10p/min to my mobile, the cost isn't prohibitive.

DID phone numbers and call credit can be purchased online by credit card or by PayPal, so even if you're not at home you can still use a web-capable mobile phone to purchase these things as and when needed.

VoIP is well worth looking into if you don't already have it. IdeaSIP is just one of many VoIP providers out there but they were, however, recommended by someone whose opinion matters to me. I recommend them too. If you don't want to go to the expense of purchasing a dedicated SIP phone, you can download a soft phone application, which is how your computer becomes your phone. If you do want a "hard" phone then there are several available here, for example. If you want to use a hard phone and you don't already have a broadband router with multiple ethernet ports then you'll also have to buy a hub/switch in order to connect both your computer and the phone to the Internet.

1 comment:

Pamela said...

Too technical for me, but I'm looking forward to your not so technical posts. specially those with pictures... ;-)

Take care!
Groetjes, Pamela