Thursday, April 20, 2006

Free internet searches over the telephone

If you love 411, and mostly free 411 (see my previous post) then you’ll love for sure this new service: free internet searches over the phone.

In the beginning I didn’t believe so I picked-up the phone and called the number 1-888-ISP-FOR-U ( 1-888-477-3678 ). Just to spice the things a little bit (and also due to the fact that the landline was occupied by my wife) I used GizmoProject to call the number. After only two rings a lady operator answered and welcomed me to the system. I was very impressed by this: not only because a human operator answered directly (a rarity these days) but also because she looked like a native English speaker.

Without having prepared any question from ahead of time I just asked her to find me a good price for my digital camera ( a Sony DSC-F717 ). Using free conversation she gave me a good price. Curious about the ways she obtained the information I asked her. I was impressed to find out she used EBay, Froogle, etc. (like probably any other internet user). She offered also to send me the search results by email. I considered is not necessary at this moment.

Even if personally I will not need somebody else to make the searches for me I still consider is a good service targeting mostly beginners and travelers. Maybe someday, even myself, when in front of a product at Best-Buy, I will call the number to search reviews of the product.

For more information visit their website at

FREE 411

If you are used to call 411 to get information then this is good news: Jingle Networks launched a free (advertisement based) 411 service. The service works basically like regular directory assistance. You dial the number; say the location and listing name. The only difference is that you must listen to a short advertisement from a related service.

You can find more information on their site at or by simple trying the service calling 1-800-FREE411 (1-800-373-3411). Being a 1-800 number you can invoke the service for free using a telephone line or GizmoProject/ SIPphone network.

After some research in this direction I discovered other 2 services that claim to offer free 411 assistance. Feel free to test them and drop me a comment with your findings.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Make FREE long-distance phone calls using any phone set

A new player in the VoIP arena offers (at least for the moment) the possibility to make free long-distance phone calls to US and other several countries. To give a try to this service simply go to and create a new account. Make sure you put a valid phone number in the registration form, or at least don’t forget what you typed there. After confirmation your account is ready to be used.

The email that will arrive shortly will contain brief instructions about how to make long-distance phone calls. There you’ll also find several local access numbers that you need to call from the phone you typed during the registration process.

The second nice feature offered by the service is the ability to use a SIP client to do the calls. All you have to do is to set up your preferred soft/hard phone (take a look here for a short review of two good and free SIP soft phones that you can use with this service) using this information:

User: [your phone number from the registration form]
Pass: [your password]

Although the website and received emails lack the professional aspect, the voice service seems to work. In the end it’s a good deal for a free service.

Send SMS notifications for each received voice mail

Using a VoIP service as a PSTN landline replacement is a common practice these days. The majority of VoIP providers offer free voicemail boxes with the ability to deliver messages by email as attached .wav files. Although some providers send also wireless notifications, not all of them have this option.

Using the following trick is possible to implement wireless notifications (via SMS) no matter if the VoIP provider supports it or not. All you have to do is to configure your VoIP account to send voice mails to a Yahoo mail address ( ). Then, setup a filter on your Yahoo account options page to match all emails containing voice mails and make sure you specify to forward them to your wireless device.

Tip: Don’t delete those voice mails from your account. The 1GB storage capacity offered by Yahoo! should be enough to receive hundreds of voice mails.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Quickly get a customer representative on the line

It is almost impossible these days to call a company and hear immediately the voice of an operator. To minimize costs and ‘improve’ company image most of today businesses implements complex IVR systems for their phone systems. With all of the features offered by these IVRs sometimes you just need to talk with an operator.

This is the reason behind the gethuman website. The site offers several tips for quickly get an operator on the line and also maintains a database ( ) with known shortcuts for several well known companies.

I don’t know if those companies are happy with this information exposed on internet or if the database reflects latest IVR system changes, but the site worth at least a visit, even if only for this joke:

“gethuman psychiatric hot line.

If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly.
If you are co-dependent, please ask someone to press 2.
If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5 and 6.
If you are paranoid-delusional, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call.
If you are schizophrenic, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.
If you are manic-depressive, it doesn't matter which number you press. No one will answer.”

Email to SMS

Although not a news and not really VoIP is still worth mentioning again the way of sending SMS messages from E-Mail clients. The following are the email addresses format for the top six US cell providers:

Virgin Mobile

Just replace the phonenumber with the actual number and send the email.

As you can probably noted you need to know the carrier of the phone number. If you don’t know it and you are fine with a small advertisement appended to your SMS you should consider Just send the SMS to and they’ll handle the rest.

Alternatively you can use the service provided by and send the email to

Although these Email to SMS services have nothing to do with VoIP, you can easily use them as a notification services for VoIP applications. For instance if your Email provider allows to forward each received email to a second address you can make use of the Email to SMS feature to receive notifications on your cell each time when a voice mail is delivered to your email inbox.

Comprehensive list of email to SMS
T-Mobile Send SMS online form

OnDO SIP Server

In a previous post I presented you a simple to use SIP proxy that can be installed even by beginners on any Windows machine. Another very easy to use SIP Server is coming from brekeke.

Called OnDO SIP Server the product is a SIP Registrar and Proxy Server that registers and authenticates users, and routes calls between user agents. Although the product has by far less features than Asterisk, is still an interesting option for VoIP beginners, especially because OnDO SIP Server is free for personal and educational use.

You can download the software from and in a few minutes you’ll be your own VoIP provider.

Friday, April 14, 2006

DIY VoIP projects

DIYThe Internet is full of DIY articles covering all imaginable topics. The following is a short list with interesting DIY VoIP articles. Most of them have Asterisk as main subject.

Build Your Own PBX.

How To: Building an Embedded Asterisk PBX

How To: Asterisk Answering Machine

Build a Skype Server for Your Home Phone System

Extend legacy business applications to send voice notifications

A bunch of three new voice services provided by a VoIP startup captivated my attention in the last days. The services are not addressed to end users, but to software developers who want to easily implement voice notifications.

All services are basically one and the same application exposed via three different interfaces.


This is the first one in the package. As the name suggests is an SMTP server doubled as an email-to-phone gateway as well. The service is addressed to developers who want to extent legacy applications or applications for which the source code is not available with new services such as voice notifications. If a legacy application is able to send notifications via emails by configuring an SMTP server and the message text then integration with Voice-SMTP is as easy as 1-2-3.

The first step consists in setting Voice-SMTP as the SMTP server of the application. Then, the second step is setting the message that is sent to the SMTP server. The Voice-SMTP will receive the message but instead of treat it like an email it looks into message content and interpret the enclosed text.

The message content should be written in a simple XML format that instructs the Voice-SMTP server how to deliver the voice message. One of the tags represents the phone number that should be called, while the rest describe the message that should be delivered.

For a pleasant human voice the Voice-SMTP server accepts prerecorded audio messages. The prerecorded audio messages may be stored ahead of time on the SMPT server itself for repetitive use or sent as email attachments for one time use. The user has the ability to select these messages by adding a few tags in the XML message. Voice-SMTP server comes also with a text to voice engine that can read a text with either a female or male voice. The system is able to deliver the message to both humans and answering-machines (by instructing the system to wait for silence on the line).

Email to Phone

Instead of using the Voice-SMTP server to deliver the voice message, use any SMTP server but send the message to a particular email address where a bot application will read all the emails and process them as described earlier.

Web Services Phone Gateway

The same story with this service as well. This time, though, targeted are not legacy applications but newer applications capable to consume a Web Service. This is because the platform is exposed this time like a Web Service.

To the reader: If you know any other similar services or just want more information about these ones just drop me a note.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Skype and your privacy

In our times, when an average email account is flooded with tens of spam emails each day, and people are afraid to post their email addresses on internet, Skype offers to potential spammers tons of valid details about Skype accounts.

Just try to do a simple search in Skype and in an instance it will be displayed to you entire lists of people that match your search. Using all the parameters available in the search tools, such as language, age, country a potential spammer may find targets in an easy way.

Of course, Skype offers you in Settings -> Privacy options section the ability to specify that you want to accept chats or phone calls only from people on your list but I couldn’t find any option to make my entire profile private. Skype states that the fields from your profile are optional but the fact is that a lot of persons fill up those fields to show more information to their friends.

In a recent post in Skype journal, somebody discovered a way to find out if a person is online or not, even if the status is set to Invisible. He used the information provided by the webcam symbol which apparently due to a bug in Skype stays visible even if the person turned invisible.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Running multiple Skype instances on the same computer

This is one of the most requested features not only by Skype users, but also by other voice and IM applications users. Having the ability to simultaneously run multiple Skype instances on the same computer has certain advantages to those who have multiple accounts.

For instance you may have a Skype Work account and a Personal account and normally you want to communicate with peoples from both lists in the same time. Until this feature will be supported by Skype you may use one of the following workarounds to accomplish this:

Mode 1: Double click on the Skype shortcut to start the application as usual. For starting the second instance, right-click on the shortcut and select “Run-As…” from the contextual menu if you have Windows XP (or check the appropriate option in the property window if you have Windows 2000). Select another user account and type the corresponding password. You’ll end up having 2 Skype instances running on the same computer.

Mode 2: Alternatively you may use virtualization software such as VMWare Workstation or Player to create a virtual computer on top of your physical one. Install Skype as usual in the virtual machine.

Note: Don’t forget to check also the article “Skype is Call-center ready” where you’ll find out how to register with the same account simultaneous from multiple locations.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Skype is Call-center ready

One of the least used features of Skype is its ability to register simultaneous from multiple locations. By contrast other VoIP software allows only one registration at a time. Although this feature may say nothing to a home user, a small call-center business can make use of it by implementing the call-center business on top of Skype.

The setup required to implement the call-center is minimum and basically consists only in registering Skype with the same user name from multiple computers. From this point on the call-center functions as expected, having features found only in more expensive setups.

When user calls in, all available support Skype installations begin to ring. In this moment any available customer representative may take the call. Successive calls ring only the remaining support team members.

Send emails from any phone

The young space of online voice recording and publishing services is crowded by companies who try to bring all sorts of audio recording and sharing instruments to web. Although most of these companies address to podcasters, some of them offer features that may seem appealing to other categories of users as well (see my previous post about

Springdoo Phone Service offered by ( ) gives you the ability to send emails even if you are not in front of a computer. Any DTMF phone can be used to send an audio email. Unfortunately the service is not free and I didn’t have the opportunity to test it better but according to company’s site, in order to send an email a user has to do the following steps: upload or add contacts to Springdoo, then to send an email call Springdoo and start talking, pressing # when done, then select a contact using the phone key pad. Springdoo sends your selected contact(s) an email with a link pointing to an audio file hosted on Springdoo site.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Get a free real phone number for GizmoProject

Having a real phone number that terminates on your PC is an extra feature for your GizmoProject software.

For adding a free incoming phone number to GizmoProject you may use one of the following methods.

Get a free number from IPKall

IPKall lets you receive free calls over the internet from any phone. The service provides a truly free phone number in Washington state area that can be forwarded to almost any SIP account. To make use of the IPKall phone number in GizmoProject you need to configure the service page with SIPphone SIP number and proxy information.

Area775 number from GizmoProject

The second option is to use Area775 service provided by GizmoProject itself. As name suggests the service gives you a free number in area 775 (as well as other area codes). The particularity of this service consists in the fact that incoming calls simultaneous ring computer and a regular phone. Answering a call on the PC is free but answering from the regular phone cost you $2 per call answered (if you have the free Area775 account).

Alternatively, people without a PC may reach you via an Access Number provided by a PSTN gateway such as these ones (dial first the gateway number, then the SIP number):

Friday, April 07, 2006

Throw away your cell and get a WiFi VoIP phone

If you live in San Francisco this may look like good news. After EarthLink and Google will complete their project to offer WiFi throughout the entire San Francisco city ( ) you’ll be able to cut the costs associated with mobile phones by switching completely to VoIP.

In the same way you are now carrying your mobile phone with you in a pocket you can put a nice VoIP handset. The cost advantages may be tremendous especially if you are doing a lot of international phone calls.

And the market of small VoIP hardware and software phones is on the rise. If you are carrying around all day long a PDA then you’ll carry also a phone. Both Skype and SIP based services run happily on any WiFi enabled PDA.

If you prefer a hardware phone you should take a look at latest models coming from Linksys and DLink.

For a more complete offer you can always take a look in your favorite VoIP supply online store.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Bridging Skype and SIP

You are addicted to VoIP, you like SIP and all those wonderful SIP devices but you cannot ignore Skype user base? Try bridging Skype and SIP using free software from NCH Swift Sound:

The software lets you connect calls between the two systems. It connects both incoming and outgoing calls to the Skype network. Can be used to make SkypeOut calls from a SIP device or PBX or receive SkypeIn calls and direct them to your SIP extension.
In my tests the software performed in general well with a few crashes (related to playback/recording devices) reported by Skype.

Online chat tools for businesses

With all voice advantages some companies have found that sometimes a little chat is a more efficient way to guide lost customers on a seller site. Being lost on a web site or calling the support number and hear a message like this: “Please listen carefully because our menu has changed. Press 1 for…” is not fun at all.

The solution offered is via real time online chatting with support personnel. Although is possible to use already made chat tools (such as MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, etc), the companies prefer to implement solutions with a more business like look. The advantages are for both customer and company. The company is able to answer faster to customer requests and the associated costs are always lower.

The following list is just a small offer of business chat tools for web sites:

Although this solution has some advantages, serious sellers should not use it exclusively. Almost always the presence of a phone number in the contact section of a web site increases customer’s trust.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Have fun on chats with voice alteration software

Voice Changer Software from is a voice alteration program that may bring lots of fun if is used in addition to a chat or VoIP software. It lets you tweak your speaking voice in real time by adding echos and other sound effects. You can download a trial version from the web site and if you like it you can purchase it.

To maximize the fun and help those with no technical audio knowledge the software comes already packed with several alteration presents tuned for both male and female voices.

You can use this application with virtually any chat or VoIP client.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

VoIP rates with Romania as of April 01, 2006

Either if you have a small business or just keeping in touch with family you need to make a lot of phone calls to the destination. For US or Western Europe all providers are offering now low rate deals but finding a good deal to calling an Eastern European country such as Romania is not always an easy task.

The following information addresses to individuals or small companies calling Romania. The table lists several well known VoIP providers available on subscription or prepaid and their rates (as of April 01, 2006) to Romania.

Subscription 13¢ 12¢ 14¢ 14¢ 14¢ 13¢ 13¢

Prepaid 14¢ 14.80¢ 12.9¢ 14¢ 11¢ 13.8¢ 12.9¢ 16.3¢ 12.4¢

Create a virtual PABX for free

Create your virtual PABX online in a few minutes using the free service offered by

This Aterisk based service gives you all the features you’d expect from such system. To speed up the testing of the service, the site allows you to create a preconfigured demo system. The demo system quickly introduce you to the benefits of using easyPABX (for home of business) including extensions, direct dial in, opening hours, hunt groups, IVR menus, wake up call, etc.

Caller ID Spoofing

It is supposed that any technology is designed with good intentions in mind but no matter how hard you try to impose that, some people find ways to use it for a wrong purpose.

VoIP is emerging like a very appealing replacement to traditional telephony by its low costs and offered features. Being easily implemented in software, the technology gained a big number of adepts ranging from corporate users to hobbyists. Open source server software such as Asterisk makes the technology available to an even bigger number of users. It’s easy nowadays to become your own ‘telco’ with only an old computer and a copy of Asterisk.

Unfortunately some people out there thought at implementing not so legal public services using this technology to offer a very dangerous service to anonymous users: the ability to spoof the caller ID. Any non technical person may do an account with such caller id spoofing service and have the ability to call any number and appear to the destination with any identity he chooses.

I’d consider this act of doing a phone call with a false caller id an identity theft. Imagine what’s happening if a possible attacker calls your bank disguised like you (by using your bank registered phone number as caller id). Many financial institutions use to authenticate the users based on their caller id. But not only banks are sometimes dependent on caller id, other services is using it in a very heavy way: 911, voice mail systems, business systems, etc.

While some services may not change their operation way, it’s advisable for the others to understand that the caller id doesn’t guaranty the identity of the calling person. In a short run authorities will probably shut down this kind of public spoofing services but in the long run the problem should be addressed at technology level.