Category: Voice Over IP

Amazon now provides Alexa improved access to landline and mobile telephone services

Article

Using the common household phone

Amazon now is the first voice-driven home assistant to provide a fully-functional equivalent to the traditional household telephone

You Can Now Place Outbound Phone Calls to Most Numbers With Your Amazon Echo Devices | Droid Life

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Echo Connect product page

My Comments

Recently Google stepped ahead by providing North American Google Home users the ability to make landline and mobile phone calls across the USA and Canada from their Google Home device. Amazon couldn’t take this lying down so they added the ability to call any landline or mobile phone in the USA, Canada and Mexico to their Alexa Calling and Messaging functionality. Here, you can say a phone number that you want Alexa to call and she will call that. This also applies to any contact in your mobile phone’s contact list that is bound with your Alexa setup.

Amazon Echo Connect adaptor press picture courtesy of Amazon

The Amazon Echo Connect box enables your Amazon Echo speakers to be your traditional household telephone

You still had the same limitations that were associated with Google Home’s calling functionality where your caller wouldn’t see your phone number on their Caller ID display. Nor could you take calls through Alexa or use the 911 national-emergency-number service to call for help.

But Amazon took this further by offering the Echo Connect which is a telephony interface device that connects between your home network and your standard telephone line or VoIP adaptor’s “FXS” socket. What this box really does is create a connection to your regular telephone service so you can use any Alexa-based device to make or take calls as if you are using your ordinary old telephone.

But they could improve on this by offering the Echo Connect functionality as software to be integrated in VoIP-capable Internet gateway devices so you don’t have to add extra boxes to your home network in order to provide this functionality. Similarly, they could look towards providing exchange-side software for telephone exchange / central-office equipment to facilitate a full-function landline telephone bridge for existing telephone-service customers.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

Then this device now becomes your home telephone

When you make calls using the Echo Connect, your phone number will show up in your caller’s phone’s caller-ID display. In most cases, this would show up as a reference to whoever is calling you. Similarly, if someone rings you, Alexa will announce who it is that is calling you including the name of the contact in the previously-mentioned mobile contact list. Then you just ask Alexa to answer the call if you want to and your Echo device works like a speakerphone. Add to this the ability to call 911 from your Amazon Echo if you had to.

Again, this would be seen as retrograde with millennials who see the maintenance of a home phone line as being too quaint and outdated, whereupon you should “get with the program” and use a smartphone, preferably an iPhone, as you only telephony device. But these phones are still being seen as a common “catch-all” contact number for a household or for older people who have lived with the traditional telephone. The latest Amazon and Google efforts are carrying this concept of the traditional landline number over to the current online era. Infact, through the use of the Echo Connect device, Amazon have been the first company to enable their voice-driven home assistant platform serve the role of the traditional landline telephone in the context of both making and taking calls.

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The Google Home becomes a VoIP landline telephone

Articles

Google Home – to be an alternative to the landline telephone

(Update: Officially announced) Google Home’s calling feature might be coming soon | Android Authority

Google Home voice calling starts rolling out today | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

Google Home

Introducing Free Calls With Your Assistant On Google Home (Blog Post)

My Comments

Using the common household phone

Could Google serve this role?

In May, Amazon launched an “over-the-top” VoIP system to allow you to call other Echo users as part of the Alexa platform. In my coverage of them launching this service, I saw it as another weapon in the battleground between the various voice-driven home assistant platforms.

Now Google have launched in to the USA and Canada a VoIP calling service which allows you to place calls to other USA or Canada phone numbers using your voice. At the moment, it is only an outgoing-call service.

As well, unless you are a Google Voice or Project Fi user, the person on the other end of the line won’t be able to see your number on their Caller-ID-capable telephone, but this will be enabled for other users to have their mobile number displayed by the end of the year. It is seen as a problem with most telephone users because robocalls and telemarketers conceal their Caller ID and users are not likely to answer calls which don’t relate to a person they know.

Here, the Google Home telephony setup works from the user’s Google Contacts phonebook which you could easily build up through your Android phone or through a Web-based user experience if you use an iPhone. There is support for multiple users with the Google Assistant differentiating them via their voiceprint.

Google still has a lot to do with making their Google Home voice-calling service catch up with Amazon Echo, such as supporting inbound calls, text and voice messaging, along with videocalls. In the case of videocalls, it may be about integrating Chromecast in to the equation, perhaps with support for a camera accessory which would be considered if they want to head towards dual-device large-screen videocalling.

But I do see Apple and Microsoft using their established VoIP platforms to make their forays to the voice-driven home assistant become communications devices.

Of course, the idea of integrating this kind of IP-telephony functionality in to Amazon Echo and Google Home platforms could be seen as retrograde by the millennial generation who are used to living without the traditional landline telephone. But such setups could be about maintaining a “catch-all” contact number for a physical location or older-generation users maintaining the idea of the traditional telephone but carrying it forward to the online era. Yet the mobile phones will simply serve as the private communications link while Google Home complements them for short calls where the privacy doesn’t matter.

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Amazon positions Alexa as the landline phone replacement

Articles Amazon Echo Show in kitchen press picture courtesy of Amazon

Echo Show

Amazon officially unveils touchscreen Echo Show | The Verge

Amazon launches Echo Show smart speaker with touchscreen and video calling | The Guardian

Alexa Calling And Messaging

Amazon now lets you make hands-free calls on all Alexa devices | Mashable

Amazon enables free calls and messages on all Echo devices with Alexa Calling | TechCrunch

From the horse’s mouth

Amazon

Product Pages

Echo Show

Alexa Calling And Messaging

My Comments

Amazon is treading in hot water here by taking the Alexa voice-driven home assistant platform further as an IP-telephony platform.

This has come about with the arrival of the Echo Show videophone which is equipped with a 7” colour LCD touchscreen. For its audio, it is equipped with a pair of Dolby-optimised speakers and an eight-microphone array.

Amazon Echo on kitchen bench press photo courtesy of Amazon USA

The Amazon Echo with the Alexa platform now expected to be an IP telephone

The video functionality allows it to be an IP videophone that is part of the Alexa Calling And Messaging IP-telephony platform but be able to show Daily Flash news reports which I would see as being similar to those “newsbreaks” you see on TV. There is also the ability to run YouTube videos including those many cat videos, but Amazon is adding to the Alexa API the ability for any of the Skills to show visual information on the screen when you summon her. It can also show vision from network security cameras that are compatible with the Amazon Alexa ecosystem.

But the driver feature behind this device is that Alexa platform is running its own IP-telephony system that is driven by your voice. Here, you can place free calls or send voice messages to others who have any Amazon Echo device or the Alexa iOS or Android mobile-platform app, with the ability to place videocalls between Amazon Echo Show devices. There is a “Drop In” functionality where you can speak through to another Alexa-platform subscriber during a time window that the subscriber specifies without the subscriber doing anything to answer the call.

Social networks and mobile messaging

Amazon to become part of this crowded space of IP-messaging and social networking platforms

This service is another IP telephony platform that is competing with Skype, Viber, Facebook Messenger, Apple iMessage/Facetime and others. Here, I see this as the start of a highly-crowded field where your smartphone will end up with many IP-telephony apps and you will have to decide which one to use to call your friends.

Some of the computer press also see it as a virtual landline telephone which may be seen as superfluous in the iPhone age. But there is a reality where these services are seen as a “catch-all” connection for a household or business. Similarly, a significant number of the older generation of telephone users place importance on these services due to these people relying on them for most of their lives. I also see it as being similar to various “smart landline telephone” efforts like the Telstra T-Hub and the Archos 35 Smart Home Phone, something that telcos are pushing as part of offering multiple-play consumer telecommunications services.

Using the common household phone

But do we expect Amazon Echo to serve a similar role to the traditional household telephone

What Amazon could do is either use one of the established over-the-top IP-telephony services for their Alexa Calling And Messaging service and say that it is powered by that platform. Or they could offer “gateway functionality” to one or more of these platforms so users can call people who are on these platforms for free. It would allow for a consolidated user experience for people who have contacts existing across one or more platforms. Similarly, Amazon could provide an on-ramp that telcos can exploit to allow Alexa users to place calls to landline or mobile telephony users including leaving messages on the telephony-service users’ voicemail services.

It is showing that a crowded marketplace is starting to exist for over-the-top IP-telephony services with customers having to place themselves on multiple IP-telephony platforms to be able to be reached in this manner.

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WhatsApp to go native for regular computers

Article

Acer Switch Alpha 12 tablet press image courtesy of Acer

WhatsApp to work natively on your Windows 10 tablet

WhatsApp Has A New Desktop App For Windows And OS X | Engadget

From the horse’s mouth

WhatsApp

Blog Post

Download link

My Comments

I have provided some previous coverage about the issue of native client apps that run on desktop operating systems for messaging platforms. As I have highlighted in the article, I underscored the performance issue which will benefit heavy multitaskers and gamers, the ability to work tightly with the operating system’s functions and abilities and the existence of 2-in-1s and ultraportable computers as a viable alternative to mobile-platform tablets.

Apple MacBook Pro running MacOS X Mavericks - press picture courtesy of Apple

.. or your Apple Macintosh computer

The regular computer was the class of compute that benefited from the instant-messaging app but mobile-platform smartphones and tablets took over the role of personal-communications devices with the different messaging platform vendors focusing on these devices as their terminal of choice. Skype and Viber have kept the desktop (regular-computer) usage case alive and now Facebook offered a Windows 10 desktop native client for their Messenger platform.

WhatsApp Android screenshot courtesy of WhatsApp

for secure online communications so you don’t have to rely on your smartphone or tablet

Now WhatsApp have answered this call for their secure communications platform by offering native clients for the Windows (8+) and MacOS X (10.9 Mavericks + ). Like with Viber, these desktop native clients are pitched to be a secondary user interface for your WhatsApp account that is set up on your smartphone. This means that once you install WhatsApp on your Windows PC or Mac, you then have to bind the desktop app to your WhatsApp account by using your smartphone’s WhatsApp client to scan a QR code shown on your regular computer by the desktop WhatsApp client.

For WhatsApp users, using these native clients rather than the WhatsApp Web application means that you have the benefits of this platform on your regular computer without the unnecessary overhead that the typical desktop Web browser can impose on your session. Nor do you need to keep a Web-browser tab or session open for desktop-based WhatsApp communication.

This is a sign that regular desktop and laptop computer users, including multitaskers and gamers, are not being forgotten about when it comes to mobile messaging networks.

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Older people using the Internet to link with relatives and friends

Article

The rise of the ‘GranTechie’: closing the generational gap | NBN Press Releases

My Comments

Skype Android

Skype for Android – one of the popular videoconferencing clients

It is now being identified that older people are finding computers and the Internet as valuable communications tools.

One technology that has allowed for this is videocalling that has been facilitated by Skype and Facetime. Both these popular IP videocalling applications have been engineered for simplified operation such as not needing any setup or configuration as far as the network is concerned. As well, Apple baked Facetime in to newer versions of the iOS mobile platform and made sure it had hooks to the user’s contacts directory on their iPhone as well as providing integrated behaviours for this solution. Similarly, Skype is being written to take advantage of application-programming interfaces that the various platforms offer as regards with directory management and other things are concerned. As well, there are smart-TVs and video peripherals that can work as Skype videophones once you add a camera / microphone accessory. These have made the process of making and taking videocalls more simplified and task-focused.

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 tablet

The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 tablet – good for Skyping to relatives

As the article has said, the main driver with this is for people and families to communicate with relatives and friends who are separated by distance. An example of this that I have seen for myself was seeing a friend of mine in an armchair at home using their iPhone to engage in a long Facetime videocall conversation with another interstate friend who had a young child. Here, she talked to that friend’s child as though she and the child were in the same room. Similarly, an Italian who is my barber and whose computer I regularly support also makes use of Skype to keep in touch with his family in Italy.

Old lady making a video call at the dinner table press picture courtesy of NBNCo

A video call at the dining table

Other technologies that were being embraced were Facebook and email as ways to share messages and photos. They were also raising the issue of the Internet being used to allow this kind of connection on a highly-frequent basis such as every week. The article also highlighted the smartphone and tablet as an enabling form factor due to their highly-portable nature – they can use these devices from where they are highly comfortable as I have cited before. In some cases, it has become possible to show the distant relative around the house simply by carrying one of these devices around during the videocall.

A technique worth investigating and showing to older people and their families is the use of Dropbox and similar services as a way to distribute high-resolution photos and video footage in a manner that allows the relatives to “take it further” like creating high-resolution prints. I highlighted this in an article about making Dropbox and similar services work with a DLNA-capable NAS highlighting the applications like printing, showing on a DLNA-capable TV, or maintaining occasion-based photo/video content pools consisting of images contributed by many people.

What has been shown in the article is that a killer application has been identified for personal-computing and Internet technology amongst a certain class of users. This killer application is for older people to use this technology to maintain contact with distant relatives and friends in an improved manner.

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Unlimited calls to France from Australia like they have with that “box” there

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Telstra

Product Page

My Comments

Telstra T-logo courtesy of Telstra Corporation AustraliaThose of you who regularly follow HomeNetworking01.info have seen me draw attention to various “triple-play” plans being offered by Orange, Free. SFR & co in France as part of my coverage on the competitive telecommunications and Internet-service market there.

Most of these plans offer a landline telephony component with unlimited national calling and international calling to various countries, mostly Western Europe, France’s “Outre-Mer” regions and the main business hubs of the world like USA,  Depending on the plan and the carrier, these may be for landlines only or both landline and mobile numbers for some destinations.

Telstra have now provided a “bolt-on” option for home landline customers where they can have unlimited calling to various overseas destinations. Here, you could call all regular landlines and mobiles in France and the USA while you could call regular landlines only in Germany, Italy, UK and New Zealand on this plan for AUD$15 per month.

At the moment, this is targeted mainly at home users with a regular Telstra landline but could be expanded to small businesses who make regular overseas calls such as dealing with overseas suppliers. It is a service that I would see pleasing a lot of the expats out there who want to call home regularly.

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Assistance Journal–Using a separate network connection to troubleshoot Skype

A few weeks ago, I had visited my barber to help him out with this home IT needs as part of a “quid pro quo” arrangement. He had a few issues with Skype underperforming because with him being an Italian migrant, he relies on this videoconferencing tool to communicate with his family back in Italy.

A test I had done as part of troubleshooting Skype was to run an Internet-based videocall. This was done using my smartphone running the Android version of Skype and connected directly to the Telstra 4G network while his laptop was connected to the home network via Wi-Fi and the network was serviced by a cable-modem broadband Internet service. Here, I had started the Skype videocall further away from the laptop so as to avoid acoustic feedback or unnecessary echo while using my headphones to hear my barber on my smartphone when he was speaking in to his laptop.

Here, I hadn’t noticed any problems with the Skype conversation when the Internet connection was used, with the call not sounding stuttery or the video not being choppy. But an international VoIP connection can show up problems at different times of the day such as during peak Internet times like daytime for one of the countries.

This is similar to a Skype “dry-run” I suggested to someone else whose daughter was heading off to the UK as part of an exchange-student programme. Infact, doing a test call where both devices are on a separate Internet connection can be used to determine whether Skype, Viber or similar VoIP applications are behaving properly. In the case of Viber, there is a desktop softphone client available for this VoIP service.

Separate Internet connection

The requirement is that one device is connected to a wireless-broadband modem or another network serviced by a separate Internet connection. This can be easy for a smartphone or tablet that is associated with a wireless-broadband service, but you would have to disable the Wi-Fi network functionality so that the mobile device doesn’t associate with the home network. In the case of a laptop, you may have to connect via a wireless-broadband modem, “Mi-Fi” router or another network service by a separate Internet service. This could be your work’s network, a neighbour’s home network or a wireless hotspot at a library or café.

Acoustic isolation between the devices

Similarly, headphones or a handset like one of the “trendy old-look” handsets that you connect to a smartphone can come in handy here to avoid echo and acoustic feedback if you are in the same house. Here you would need to use this with one of the devices or use one device well away from the other device such as in another room, preferably behind a closed door.

These arrangements can he useful for either practising the use of Skype or similar VoIP software on a new device or interface; or troubleshooting a balky VoIP connection,

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Viber now competes with Skype as a free desktop softphone program

Article – From the horse’s mouth

Viber – Free calls, Free text messages, photo and location sharing

My Comments

Viber 3.0 Desktop Client for WindowsPreviously, we have known of Viber as an “over-the-top” VoIP telephony program that offers a free telephony and SMS path for smartphone users. This has been of strong appeal to overseas travellers who want to escape the horrendous roaming charges that most mobile operators are charging people who use the phone out of their home country.

Now Viber have reached version 3.0 and released a desktop version of the softphone which will run on Windows or Macintosh regular computers. This has provided features like desktop-to-desktop videocalls and the ability to transfer a call between the regular computer and a mobile device. This is a sign that Viber has matured and started to approach Skype.

But for Viber to answer Skype, they have to offer IP-based videocalls on mobile clients. Similarly, they would need to provide the client software “knowhow” to enable the user interface to work on devices other than platform-based regular or mobile computing devices. This is somewhere where Skype has a considerable strength in with the Samsung and Sony smart TVs, the Panasonic Blu-Ray players, the desk phones, and the Logitech TV Cam HD Skype camera.

It can be easy to state that Viber’s free IP telephony model isn’t sustainable but they could offer services like partnership with some of the carriers like the French “n-box” carriers. They can also offer paid-for off-ramp services where a Viber customer could dial a regular phone that isn’t part of the Viber ecosystem. It can extend to a software-based “trunk” or “tie-line” for IP-based business phone systems as a subscription-driven business-to-business service.

Now that Viber has hit the stage of maturity, we could be seeing the opening of lively competition on the “over-the-top” IP-based voice and video telephony front for both consumers and small businesses.

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Gigaclear to partner with Vonage in providing VoIP service to the FTTP-enabled villages

Article

thinkbroadband :: Vonage and Gigaclear in partnership deal

From the horse’s mouth

Gigaclear

Press Release

Vonage

UK company webpage

My Comments

As you may already know, Gigaclear have been known for rolling out focused fibre-to-the-premises deployments to various Oxfordshire and Berkshire villages in the UK to enable them for next-generation broadband. A lot of these services are known to provide up to a gigabyte in upload and download capacity.

Now they have partnered with Vonage, a US-based over-the-top VoIP telephony provider to exploit this bandwidth for providing VoIP telephony. One would see this as a way to eliminate dependence on British Telecom for landline voice telephony for people who sign up to Gigaclear FTTP services.

Here, the main advantage would be for the new Vonage customers who are behind the Gigaclear services to avoid having to pay the £9.99 activation fee when they set up for VoIP service and will benefit from calling anywhere in the UK for £5.99 per month. As well, Vonage do sell a VoIP analogue-telephone adaptor that is set up for these services as part of the service so you can use that existing landline phone with your VoIP service.

But one could easily ask whether Gigaclear could resell the VoIP service on behalf of Vonage so that customers could buy the telephony and Internet as a package. Similarly, another question could be asked whether Gigaclear could also partner with an IPTV provider to resell pay-TV to the customers.

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Canal+ providing its own triple-play service to France

Article – French language

Canal+ prépare une offre triple play – DegroupNews.com (France)

My Comments

Canal+, France’s main pay-TV provider and known for the Engrenages (Spiral) crime drama, now is in on the Internet-service game.

This service will be primarily based around the SFR infrastructure, which means it will be available in areas that are “dégroupée” (fully unbundled) to SFR or have FTTH fibre-optic established by SFR. To understand this for anyone setting up in France, have a look at my feature article about what these terms and requirements are about in this highly-competitive market.

In this keenly-priced market, the prices range from €32.99 / month with 25Mb/s and the typical free landline calls to France and most destinations to €44.99 / month with the LeCube hardware. Expect this to have things like high-definition viewing, Wi-Fi home network and a personal-TV service as well as multi-screen and other features.

This shows that the competitive market can even allow for many service operators to exist using other providers’ infrastructure on a wholesale basis; and many of these operators could exist on such capabilities like content provision.

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