Monday, November 08, 2004

Exorcising Graham Bell

I had a real difficult time a couple of months ago. I called SBC to cancel my landline because I was switching to VOIP. I guess they are more used to people calling to cancel because they are moving, because it was next to impossible to convince them that I did not need a landline anymore.

I was passed around the telephone chain like the proverbial hot potato. I almost thought I'd need to speak with a VP. It took speaking with 5 people to get disconnected. I was offered options galore that ranged from a barebones plan to a choice to keep my number at a fee, in case I wanted to come back later.

I haven't had any problems since with the service itself. I'm using Lingo, and I got a pretty good deal - Unlimited Western Europe & USA, and the first 3 months free for $19.99 per month. Setup was not too bad - I walked through the process of setting up my VOIP box behind my broadband router, and then hooking up the wireless router to the box. I needed to switch to static IP addressing for my machines, which isn't such a bad thing.

I noticed an odd problem though with my telephone. The darn thing would run out of charge less than 5 or 10 minutes while talking to someone even though I left it on its charging cradle all the time. This was very exasperating and made me feel as if the ghost of Alexander Bell was displeased with my departure from his fold, as it were.

I hacked around until I figured it out. Cordless telephones come in about 3 frequencies. The most common are the 900 MHz ones - these are somewhat out-dated and have some interference issues. The FCC opened up the 2.4 GHz part of the spectrum to alleviate this problem. My telephone was a 2.4 GHz model. I learnt that this frequency range is also used by wireless LANs - the 802.11b variety. I postulated that somehow, the telephone was in an 'always-on' state because of my wireless network, even though I've set mine to work in b/g mode. This was causing the telephone to fizzle out in almost no time when I actually used it.

I also learnt that the FCC has opened up the 5.8 GHz part of the spectrum to reduce interference. A good read on 5.8 GHz telephones is here. I went out and picked up a pretty neat 5.8 GHz phones. I've had no problems since and love being on VOIP. The convenience, cost & better utilization of my bandwidth are driving factors in my choice.

Of course, being free of the ghost of Alexander Graham Bell helps, although I think he might be pleased with this new application of his invention. After all, the first Friendster VoIP Call was made between the Friendster founder and the great-grandson of Alexander Graham Bell

Good article on the Metaphysics of VOIP and its regulation is at CNET.

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