Archive for May, 2009

AT&T/BellSouth DSL Ultra is not so Ultra…

I recently ordered DSL direct from AT&T (formerly BellSouth in my area).  DSL direct is their name for naked DSL.  It costs $5 more than if you had it with a regular phone line.  So, I chose the “Ultra” level of service.  It has a whopping 1.5 Mbps downstream and 256Kbps upstream, according to their marketing materials.  I ordered this because I thought it would be sufficient for our uses, figuring that one VoIP call was about 64K – 96K or so.  Yes, it would be a major step down in speed and a small step down in cost (about $10/month less than Comcast), but I thought it would actually be fine.

Color me wrong.  Using Speedtest.net, I’m maxing out at 1.25 Mbps download and 210 Kbps upload.  That’s about 83% of the advertised rate. Sometimes this test has returned rates as low as 800 Kbps download and something like 120 Kbps upload.

To be completely fair, when it was originally installed, I had issues with the DSL sync light dropping out on me at random, dropping me off the Internet with it.  This was annoying, but AT&T does seem to have cleared this up (or perhaps it’s better because the weather has improved).  And I don’t think I’ve had any of the 800/120K speed tests since they’ve fixed the DSL Sync issue.

Now, I’m thinking that I’d need to upgrade to AT LEAST their 3 meg service to have enough bandwidth for our needs.  (Apparently, Hulu thinks you need 2 Mbps to get their videos down in HD with Hulu Desktop.)  So, I’m seriously considering scrapping the whole DSL thing…  I’ve not put the Ooma system on DSL yet, so I can’t say if calls through it are any better, but I’ll try to test that this week.

May 31, 2009 at 12:10 pm Leave a comment

Tame the IM Jungle

iChat is a really nice chat app that Apple includes with every copy of Mac OS X.  I rarely use the video or audio capabilities, typically using it strictly for instant messaging. But iChat can’t communicate with MSN Messenger, or Yahoo Messenger contacts.  Another annoyance is that if you add accounts for the various services that iChat supports (AIM, ICQ, Jabber, and Google Talk), they show up in separate windows.  (There may be a way around this, but I could not find it.)  Assuming you have friends on MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger, you could end up with a pile of windows on your desktop to handle basic IM tasks (several of them being iChat windows).

You might say “Just switch to Adium”.  That would be one solution, since it supports literally butt-load of IM protocols.  Literally.

For many people, changing to Adium is a fine solution.  But I had other needs:

1.  My wife REALLY likes iChat.
2.  I need a private IM network.
3.  I wanted a centralized way of controlling all the IM that takes place on my network out to all the major IM services.
4.  And I wanted to log it all.

If you have similar needs and a server laying around to use that runs either Windows, Mac OS, or Linux, then the answer to all these things is OpenFire.

My wife home schools several of our children and the majority of their school work is done on computer using the excellent program Switched-On Schoolhouse (which I highly recommend to anyone interested in home schooling their children).  We wanted an instant messaging system the kids could use for school work that was completely separate from the public IM networks.  This way, they can IM my wife with quick questions and get a quick answer without the worry of anyone on the outside talking to the kids when they should be working.  Openfire took care of this easily.

It wasn’t until my wife mentioned how annoying it was that she had an iChat windows for every service that I paid attention to the plug-ins available for Openfire.  I discovered the “IM Gateway” plug-in, which lets you register an internal (openfire) user with their corresponding external IM services.  So, a single openfire user can be linked to multiple external services, but as far as iChat (or any other Jabber-enabled chat client) is concerned, all your MSN, Yahoo, AIM, ICQ, etc. friends are accessible through the same IM service.  This gets rid of the multiple window problem my wife had with iChat.

Perhaps I’m a control freak, but I wanted all IM services on my network to run through a central server.  I haven’t locked down the outgoing firewall ports for these IM services yet (to only allow them from the openfire server), but that’s probably coming soon.

I have a teenage daughter and son, and I’m concerned about who they are chatting with.  I’m not terribly interested in the messages they send back and forth to their friends, but I’d like to have the ability to check up on them if I suspect anything is going on, or if, heaven forbid, one of them goes missing.  Openfire’s “Monitoring Service” plug-in handles this nicely, allowing you to either just keep statistics, or to actually log entire conversations.  And, you can search the logs by date, keyword, participants, etc.  Oh, and don’t worry about the privacy of my kids…  I specifically told them I’d log their IM, so they are aware.

Anyhow, there are a bunch more plug-ins for openfire, many of which would be more useful in a business setting (like the one to integrate it with Asterisk, or the FastPath plug-ins for managing chat queues, such as a support team might use).

So, if you have any of these needs, tame that IM Jungle and get openfire!

May 30, 2009 at 10:05 pm Leave a comment

Three weeks with Ooma

After having Ooma now for a few weeks, I can say that I’m pretty impressed.  The majority of the time, the call quality is as good as (or better than) landline quality.  Since I use Google Voice, I don’t really use the voice mail that comes with Ooma so I can’t comment on that.  With my previous VoIP setup, I found that sometimes incoming calls were not making it.  (I knew this because Google Voice calls go to both my Cell and my VoIP line.)  With that VoIP setup, I also had many issues when I picked up the line to make an outgoing call.  I had dial tone and dialed, but the call never went through.  So far, Ooma has not had any of these kind of reliability problems.  Plus, it supports E911 (though I hope to never use it).

I have had issues with echos when I speak occasionally, I have had a few calls with spotty call quality, and there was one time where the incoming voice quality was very poor for about 2-3 minutes during a call (the overall call was over an hour, I think).

But, I’m not entirely convinced this is all Ooma’s fault.  Several years ago I got my first taste of VoIP with Vonage.  I started using Vonage with Comcast (a cable company), and later switched to DSL.  After the switch, the call quality on Vonage increased noticably.  As luck would have it, the special recently ended, so I’ve just put in an order for DSL service.  It should be active before the end of May, so I’ll probably update again about mid-June.

May 20, 2009 at 7:40 pm Leave a comment


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