Networking

Do-it-yourself VoIP


The usual way for consumers and small businesses to obtain VoIP service is to select a provider -- such as Vonage, Lingo, or Packet8 -- and sign up for a plan. You typically pay a setup fee, the company sends you its hardware, and you plug it in and start talking.

If you decide a few months down the road that you want to switch to a different provider that's offering lower prices or more features, the box you bought from your current VoIP carrier is useless. You can't use it with a new provider's service because it's "locked."

Unlocking VoIP

However, for the technically savvy, there's a different route you can take that gives you more flexibility. Generic, unlocked VoIP boxes are available from vendors such as Linksys (Cisco).

The Linksys PAP2T-NA is a SIP-based ATA (that's Analog Telephone Adapter) that you can configure to work with the VoIP provider of your choice. It replaces the more expensive and less functional PAP2, which Linksys officially retired last month. Like the ATA boxes supplied by VoIP companies, you plug it into your router and connect your analog phones (or a fax machine, if you like) to its ports.

In addition, since it has two completely independent ports, you can even set it up with two different VoIP lines from two different providers. This is one way to have some fault tolerance in case one provider has an outage; you'll still have phone service from the other provider.

Unlike the provider-supplied boxes, you can continue to use the same device if you decide to change providers. You also have more control over the configuration of the device since you enter your own dial plan and have administrative access to the device's settings.

It's compatible with all of the advanced telephony features offered by VoIP providers, such as the ability to add virtual phone numbers in other area codes, voice mail, distinctive ring, caller ID, call forwarding, three-way conference calling, callback on busy, music on hold, and so forth. For secure calling, it also supports SRTP encryption.

Configuring an unlocked device

You might be thinking, this is all well and good, but how do you configure the device to work with the provider you've chosen? Your VoIP provider should be able to give you instructions for configuring the device to work with its service.

You can also use the Configuration Wizard provided by Voxilla. However, you'll still need a SIP username and password from your VoIP provider; you'll also need to know the IP address of the Linksys box on your LAN.

In fact, Voxilla provides wizards for setting up a number of different VoIP devices in addition to the Linksys PAP2T-NA. You do have to register with the site and agree to the rules in order to use the wizards. Registration is free, and the rules are very basic (you agree not to post offensive or illegal content to the site's forums).

Unfortunately, Voxilla's wizard doesn't list all VoIP providers. If yours isn't listed, it may not support open device configurations.

Probably the most difficult part of the configuration is entering a dial plan. The Voxilla wizard does include a generic dial plan that will work with most providers, but you'll still need to do a little tweaking. Once you complete the wizard in a browser on any LAN computer, you can upload the configuration information directly to the device.

Expanding usability

One way to expand the usability of this or any ATA is to plug a cordless base station that supports multiple handsets into the box itself; then you can use your VoIP line from any of the handsets anywhere within the cordless range. If you get a two-line cordless system, you can plug both the VoIP box and your landline into it -- and access either VoIP or PSTN from any handset with the touch of a button.

This is particularly handy if there are some numbers you call where VoIP doesn't work as well, which  sometimes occurs through certain corporate telephone systems. When you call those numbers, use the landline; for other numbers (especially long distance), use the VoIP line.

Or you can check out a cordless system such as the AT&T EP5632, aimed specifically at the SOHO market. Although it's a single-line system, it's special in that it supports Bluetooth connections.

You can use a Bluetooth headset to make calls from the base unit, or you can pair up a Bluetooth cell phone with it. Then, as long as your cell phone is within a few feet of the base station, calls that come in on the cell line will actually ring on the AT&T system. An added advantage is that it supports more remote handsets than most cordless systems, up to 12. And because it uses 5.8-GHz technology instead of the more common 2.4 GHz, there's less chance of interference with other devices such as your wireless networking components.

Summary

For most VoIP users, the box that you get from your VoIP provider will do the trick. Setting it up is quick and easy, and it already works with the provider's network. Sometimes it's even free.

But if you're a bit of a do-it-yourselfer with decent networking skills and you want the fun of configuring your own device as well as complete control over its settings and the ability to continue to use it if you switch providers, you might want to consider an unlocked ATA such as those from Linksys.

Deb Shinder is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. She currently specializes in security issues and Microsoft products, and she has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) status in Windows Server Security.

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About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

8 comments
steven_gilshenan
steven_gilshenan

This is relevant but short on detail. The class before me when I progressed through Australian Technical College did this project where they set up VoIP to utilise many providers. I will just say they used a PII specification machine as a server and a Linux based program named Asterix (I think) to control the operation. From the demo given it worked a treat handling multiple connections. I never had cause to investigate.

patrickhilmanabat
patrickhilmanabat

Good day! theoritically speaking, I think it is possible that if you have a dsl line you could use VOIP. you just need the equipment and assigned it with a public IP.

tingweyw
tingweyw

Well i thinks that is very good but what is the cost to get working. How much can i make from such a system if am a resaller. Thanks Walter

Ezrest
Ezrest

I guess I am stupid, but once you get the phone hookup at home, then you must have a POTS provider at the other end to call telephone numbers etc. I know that with my current VoIP, I have a third party provider who buys bandwidth on the real provider, one in MA, who has all the switches to connect to the telephone networks such as an AT&T. With the home system, wouldn't one still need the "connection" to the telephone systems somewhere? That is not always the IP that one uses and is a link this article seems to have left out.

basil_poly
basil_poly

Too complicated ? I know of at least one VOIP provider (Vonage) who currently supply free hardware with their consumer contracts. The objection of unnecessary expense in case of provider change, no longer holds true. ALso I find it hard to imagine a cosumer that wants to have two simultaneous VOIP providers (usually the second service is a "normal" telephone line) ! The independent ATA adaptor therefore, although academically challenging represents an extra "botheration" step that most consumers would not enjoy taking unless absolutely necessary ! Added to this I doubt that many VOIP providers would be glad to release the user names, passwords etc. mainly in order to lock their clients into their own service and safeguard easy escape !

Huntsman.ks
Huntsman.ks

Anyone who buys a locked ATA hasn't done their homework. VoIP rates from most VSP's are constantly changing, so you need the flexibility to switch providers. Thank goodness LinkSys has dropped their PAP2, at last, for a better box with better user flexibility options. No one needs to be locked to their VSP. It's just a racket to fleece the unfortunate user who doesn't understand the technology. A well designed ATA with good Wizards makes it straight forward to set up.

ckizziar
ckizziar

The box is not designed too creatre your own VoIP service, you will still be signing up with one of the VoIP providers that handle all the backend, you are simply providing your own VoIP access point as opposed to buying one from the specific provider. Sort of like buying your own cable/dsl modem, you're not creating your own internet service....just not paying your cable/phone company the $200 they want for theirs.