I’ve been meaning to provide an update on the Tesco Internet Phone (“TIP”) saga for a while, but never quite got around to it. The last you heard from me was here, where I was waiting for a voucher code. So, with apologies for the tardiness, here’s the current state of play:
TIP sent me the voucher code through the mail; it took about a week to arrive, but it did actually arrive. Entering the code into their website caused the promised upgrade to take place, allowing me to upgrade my Pay As You Go account to a pay monthly all inclusive UK calls plan. This works quite well, though the quality of the call is generally no better than a normal POTS line, and sometimes lower, which is rather disappointing. But then it is only costing £3 a month, so I don’t feel I can complain too much 🙂
I now have my Siemens Gigaset phones set up with both the POTS line and the TIP line, and they are working well. Incoming calls on the POTS line ring 4 of the handsets, while an incoming call on the VoIP line rings just the other handset. Unanswered POTS calls go to the POTS voicemail, while unanswered VoIP calls go to the in-built answering machine. This setup means the kids can have a handset dedicated to them, with the rest of the handsets remaining “ours”. Outbound calls currently default to the VoIP line (ie, free) but overriding this and using the POTS line (eg, when calling a non-geographic number, or if the VoIP line is already in use) is as simple as holding down the call button rather than just briefly pressing it.
Calls to numbers that would incur charges (non-geographic) are currently barred on the VoIP line, but there is a simple call routing system built into the phones which looks like it could be sufficient to automatically route such calls to the POTS line, which is currently unrestricted. That’s something I need to spend an hour or two playing with.
Update: 10 minutes this morning have shown that the dialing plan function built into the Gigaset is very basic, but enough to allow me to effectively route outgoing calls between the POTS and VoIP lines. So, calls to 07* and 08* numbers now go via the POTS line, as do local calls (because the VoIP service needs the full STD code, and none of us remember to enter it!) and the access codes for the POTS answerphone. 09* calls (premium rate stuff) are now blocked too.
This isn’t perfect as it will make it less simple to use both outgoing lines simultaneously, but at least it makes the phones work the way everyone expects them to, which stops the frustrated shouts of “The phones aren’t working again!”. Once I get a better dial plan working (ie Asterisk) then I can route everything by cost & line availability, adding in STD codes for local calls as necessary.
Update 2: It occurred to me that if we had all our frequently called local numbers entered in the handsets phone directories, with the STD areas codes pre-filled in, then almost all our calls would go via the free VoIP line. It also turns out that you can provision the handsets attached to the Gigaset base-station over the network using a file of VCARDs. The system is very picky about the format of the files, but once that was cracked (it requires file with MSDOS line terminations, not Unix ones) it was a simple but tedious job to create the 140-odd VCARD entries, and about 5 minutes to provision all the handsets.
And this simple solution now all works pretty much perfectly.
Meanwhile my plans to integrate Asterisk are still ongoing. I have my Asterisk 1.6 installation up and running, and defining another VoIP service on the phones to connect to the Asterisk server is trivial. I just need to spend more time on understanding, configuring and documenting a basic Asterisk system. As the moment I feel I’ve over-complicated the issue by adding the Asterisk GUI to the system, as this seems to do a lot of automatic configuration of the system, complicating the system considerably and making it much harder to understand. Removing this, and getting back to basic configuration files seems like the right way forward here. The good news is that the way the Gigaset system implements VoIP connections means that I can connect specific handsets to my Asterisk server, and whilst they are easy for me to access, they will not interfere with the (concurrent) normal use of the handsets. Which is probably a good thing for family harmony!
So, in the short term it’s working well, but longer term Asterisk can clearly add a whole new level of intelligence to the system, if only I can get my head around it all.