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Moving my phone service to CallCentric

innomediaI wasn’t simply speculating about my phone bill last month. Yesterday I got myself together and went on with the change. I didn’t however take the easy route of buying a packaged deal from a normal “layman’s VoIP company” like Vonage. The true bargain hunter is always looking for a challenge ;-) and so I signed up for an account with one of so called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) VoIP providers and used my old SunRocket gizmo for the equipment. Below is my experience with the transition.

1. Unlock your SunRocket gizmo

First I had to unlock my old VoIP router so I could provision it to use with the new VoIP provider. You can skip this step if you buy off the shelf VoIP router. The gizmo I had was InnoMedia MTA6328-2re and these are the exact steps that I had to follow to unlock it:

1. Unplug cable from gizmo WAN port (so you are disconnected from Internet).
2. With PC connected to gizmo LAN port, go to http://192.168.251.1 , log in with user and welcome.
3. Open this URL: http://192.168.251.1/restore2.ssi ; after about 15 seconds you should see a message about reset to defaults. Wait another 30 seconds.
4. Close browser window. At this point your gizmo should be in the same state as when SunRocket first shipped it to you.
5. Open a new browser window, go to http://192.168.251.1/Voice_adminPage.htm (do not open gizmo home page first).
6. When prompted for password, use user: admin and password: slapshot
7. Go to IP Network->Provisioning Setting. Uncheck Enable Provisioning. Click Save & Reboot. Click OK to warning.

2. Sign up for CallCentric account

I suggest signing to the Pay Per Call plan first so you can try out the call quality first without spending too much money. The only fee to pay during the sign up is 911 Cost Recovery Fee ($1.50). Other than that the costs are just $0.0198 per minute when you call within the US and you can deposit as little as $5 into your account.

3. Configure your gizmo for CallCentric

When you sign up to CallCentric they will prompt you to go through the setup guide which has instructions for a number of popular routers. I didn’t look at all of them but the instructions they had for InnoMedia were very detailed and had several screenshots. It was really a piece of cake to follow them and get my gizmo up and running.

4. Make a few test calls

Once your gizmo is configured and provisioned with CallCentric, use it for a while to see if you like the service quality. You will not at this point be able to receive incoming calls (you will have to buy a phone number or port your existing number) but you still can test incoming calls with their ClickToDial tool. Another way to test incoming calls is if you know somebody who is already a CallCentric customer (they are giving you an internal 777 number that can only be used within the network).

5. Port your phone number

The last thing I did was buy a real phone number. The “Pay Per Minute” version is just $1.95 per month and $0.015 per minute. As you order the service you have a choice of buying a new number or porting your existing one. If you choose the latter CallCentric will ask you to provide some information about your current provider (name, address, a copy of recent statement) and will submit a LNP request which in my case is estimated to take 2 weeks to process. If you port – the porting fee is $25, if you buy – the new number fee is $3.95.

6. Enjoy your new phone service!

I have not had much time to use the phone yet but I love the service (my LNP request was processed withn hours) and the web interface is one of the best I have seen. In fact I am going to borrow some of the dashboard ideas for my own project. As my phone number gets ported, I will post in the comments my experience with the service quality.

Do I really need $24.99/mo home phone service?

I just looked up my phone bill and realized that the $24.99 unlimited service plan I have is not adequate for me any more given all the recent advancements in wireless data communication and subsequent increased cell phone use. I get my service via 8x8 (former Packet8), a VOIP telephony company that picked up many of the SunRocket’s customers (myself included) after the company went bankrupt in 2007.

Even back then $24.99 wasn’t such a bargain and now considering this is what Vonage (a heavy lifer in VOIP world) charges for unlimited service, one can surely find a better deal, especially if they are willing to give up the ‘unlimited’ part of it. At least this is the kind of assumption I made before I went on my bounty hunt last week. A couple of days later and I am happy to report that my assumption was correct and so far it looks like I will be switching my service.

Why $24.99/mo is an overkill

  • First of all, I use my cell phone more than I use my home phone these days. My home number is sort of a legacy I am carrying with me. At one point I even considered abandoning my phone number altogether but it turned out no so easy to do. Too many people and businesses have it and to make things worse some businesses still require a registered home number for verification purposes and so terminating it would be a disaster. Either way I am not ready yet to take on the challenge.
  • Second, companies like Vonage and Packet8 take you by convenience. They will send a pre-configured phone adapter and absorb the equipment expense just to get you on the hook. If you have a bit of a DIY skill you can save yourself some $$ by taking the initial hit (and by exploring some less known providers). Can you do it? If you ever configured a wireless router yourself and you felt comfortable doing so then the answer is ‘yes’ because the skill set required from you is not much different.

What I am going to do about it

Here is my plan so far and I know it works because one of my friends went this route.

  • Buy a VOIP Ethernet adapter (e.g. this Linksys 2102) and sign up for a Pay Per Call account at CallCentric. There is no setup or monthly fee (except $1.50 charge for 911 service). All I will be paying is 1.98 cent per minute for US domestic calls and very competitive international rates (9.35 cent per minute to Ukraine). This will give me plenty of time to test the service quality before I make the final step.
  • Transfer my current phone number to CallCentric and will start receiving phone calls as well ($1.95 per month extra if you use Pay per Minute plan). Comparing this to what I currently have, $24.99 will last me over 1000 minutes per month and if I talk less (which is the exactly my case) then I will save $$.

What do you think? Will this work? Any details I am missing? Any alternative providers to consider? There is an open question I need to clarify - will two VOIP adapters (the new for CallCentric and the old I have from 8x8) work on the same network while I test the service.

Meltdown at SunRocket

SunRocket logoThis development affects me directly and thousands of others who signed up to SunRocket VoIP phone service at their bargain rates. Om Malik at GigaOM writes that the situation at SunRocket corporate headquarters reached the point of no return.

The facts:

  • February 2007 - SunRocket co-founders leave the company
  • July 3, 2007 - SunRocket lays off a fourth of its work force
  • As of July 5, 2007, LinkShare, the affiliate network handling SunRocket places the company on “hold.”
  • As of today SunRocket is not taking customer service or sales calls at their number (800) 786-0132

I have been a customer since April 2006. I signed up to 2 year contract for $199 and have been very happy with the service. It will be sad to see a good company go. There is an extensive discussion at SlickDeals forums with people speculating about what to do next.

Those of you who just signed up may consider filing a complaint with the credit card company. Others who have been with SunRocket for a while (like me) should be looking at alternatives (Vonage and Vita Talk are two I know about). In either case we should start looking at how to port our old numbers to another service provider. This will be item number one on my list when I return from my trip to Ukraine.

Save on your phone bill with a dual mode phone

T-MobileT-Mobile is rolling out a new service that will allow you to make free phone calls from a cell phone using your home WiFi network. While the technology is not new and some companies have been playing with it for a while this is so far the first attempt to offer such service nation-wide in the US. The trial is currently underway in Seatlle area but if successful I would expect T-Mobile to roll it out fast. What is the catch?

First, you cannot use just any phone. The phone has to support two standards, GSM (that is what T-Mobile is using for their cellular network) and 802.11 (your WiFi network at home). At this time T-Mobile is offering a choice of two handsets: Nokia 6136 and Samsung T709 for $49.99 with a two-year contract, or $99 with a one-year contract. T-Mobile is also offering a WiFi router for free with a mail-in rebate however any home WiFi router should do.

Second, you have to pay for the WiFi connectivity which is an additional $19.99 a month. T-Mobile right now charges $19.99 for unlimited access to the Internet via their cellular network and WiFi HotSpots (which I pay for my plan). I wish this was the same access charge that they are talking about. I would jump on the plan as soon as it is available in my home town.

One has to wonder why they want this kind of service at all. Here is how NYTimes explains it:

Though consumers conceivably will use fewer cellular minutes with these phones, Mr. Entner said T-Mobile still benefits because consumers have to buy some kind of rate plan. T-Mobile can also lower its costs because some phone traffic that would otherwise travel on its cellular network will move to a competitor’s broadband network.

The second reason I think is the competitors. If it is not T-Mobile then some other company will start offering the same or similar service. Wireless communications is a very tough business to be in right now.

I think it is a very smart and timely move on the part of T-Mobile. As it doesn’t only put them in the lead over existing cellular providers but also takes market share from Vonage, SunRocket and other companies that offer phone plans over high speed Internet connections.

If you are lucky to live around Seattle you can use this sign-up page that T-Mobile have set up specially for the early adopters. If you do sign up, please let me know how it works for you. :-)

Read more about this new offer from T-Mobile here and here.




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