Category: Unified Messaging

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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Microsoft gives street-cred to the Hotmail service by relaunching as Outlook.com

Articles

Microsoft goes cold on Hotmail as it rolls out Outlook.com | The Australian

Outlook.com preview: Microsoft reinvents its online email offerings | Engadget

Microsoft previews Hotmail successor, Outlook.com |CNet

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http://www.viddler.com//v/8848680/

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Outlook.com

My Comments

Microsoft has launched a brand-new consumer webmail service called Outlook.com which is built from ground zero but to be an improved experience compared to the typical Hotmail or Live Webmail user experiences.

It is intended to answer Google’s Gmail.com by providing that same clean user experience rather than the cheesy look that Hotmail and Yahoo Mail were known for. This was where there were plenty of gaudy targeted ads including TV-commercial “video ads”. Instead, there will be less space devoted to ads and there wont be those TV commercials. Similarly the user interface will also have a “Metro” look similar to the Windows 8 touch-screen user interface.

New users would be assigned an email address with the Outlook.com domain rather than the Hotmail.com which is, in some areas, is treated with disgust. As well, they would get a virtually-unlimited Inbox and 7Gb SkyDrive storage,

Existing Hotmail and Live users can upgrade to the new user interface but would have to preserve their current email address, not just for continuity’s sake but so that other Microsoft Live ecosystem services that they are part of still work. This is because these haven’t been migrated to the new domain name. Of course, there will be a question raised about whether Microsoft will cease the Hotmail service or run it side-by-side with the option to use the new user experience or fully merge to an Outlook.com account.

One key drawcard with the new Outlook.com service is its Social Web integration where you can work Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Gmail contacts from this service. You also have “one-click” access to these services so you can post or share material to these social networks. There is work in progress with integrating Skype in to the service so you can start a Skype videocall from your Outlook.com session.

One improvement I see of this is an attempt to work over an “old-dog” Webmail service in a manner to make it fresh to today’s expectations and throw away the cheesy look of yesteryear.

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UPnP Telephony DCP–One step towards easy-to-implement IP telephony

Another step towards easily-configurable IP telephony systems has been taken with the UPnP Forum just releasing the UPnP Telephony Device Control Protocol this week. Here, this provides the management of telephone-related devices that are connected across a small network in a heterogenous manner. This involves the ability for the devices to make or take phone calls, be notified of incoming calls, send and receive text and multimedia messages as well as updating local user-presence status.

It is also intended to be service agnostic so as to cater for phone services based on IP-Telephony (VoIP), cellular wireless or classic landline (ISDN or Plain Old Telephony Service) technology; as well as being device form-factor agnostic.

As with the whole of the UPnP ecosystem, this DCP provides increased room for innovation due to a logical “building-block” approach in designing these systems.

Logical Devices

Telephony Client

A UPnP Telephony Client is a device that is used by the end-user to interact with the caller at the other end of the line. A multi-handset phone system would have these devices referred to as an “extension”. This could be a device like a VoIP handset, a “softphone” program run on a computer, a TV or set-top box with IP-based video speakerphone function or a “legacy-handset-bridge” like an analogue telephone adaptor or DECT base station.

The UPnP Telephony system allows different clients to be media-specific, thus allowing for situations like an electronic picture frame that has a Webcam to become a videophone adaptor with the voice part of a videocall placed using this device being hosted through a regular VoIP handset.

Telephony Server

A UPnP Telephony Server device represents anything that can provide a telephone service to the local IP-based network. This can be in the form of a 3G mobile phone connected to the home network via WiFi, a regular telephone that has integrated PSTN/ISDN – IP bridge functionality, but would typically be in the form of a device that works as an “IP-PBX” with VoIP lines and servicing VoIP handsets.

A physical device can have multiple logical “Telephony Server” devices, with one for each “service” that calls come in on. It doesn’t matter whether the calls come in via VoIP or a classic telephony service like a 3G mobile service or the “Plain Old Telephone Service”.  This can cater for the VoIP-enabled router or “IP-PBX” that can handle a few VoIP services as well as a “Plain Old Telephone Service” line; or a mobile phone or “MiFi” router that "front-ends” its 3G/GSM telephony service to the network.

Telephony Control Point

This is effectively the “control surface” for a UPnP Telephony system and can be integrated with a Telephony Client or Telephony Server or be its own device. Typically this would be the buttons and display on a phone but could be a device with its own display or a “widget application” on a computer showing up the incoming call details or incoming text / multimedia messages.

Functionality provided

This device class manages the creation, management and conclusion of a voice or video call between UPnP-compliant telephony “hub” devices and endpoint devices.

The technology allows for a call to be set up using multiple devices on the local side. A good example of this would be to instigate a videocall with the video display appearing on a videophone-enabled TV with integrated Webcam and the conversation sound coming through the cordless handset. Of course, it will do the usual call-management features like call transfer are able to be performed across a UPnP Telephony-based phone setup.

As well, there is support for a common address book that is based on vCard standards as well as the management of answering-machine / voice-mail setups in these systems. Of course, a UPnP-based IP telephone system can support sending and receiving of text or multimedia messages. This would mean that, for example, incoming messages could appear on devices like networked TVs or a Wi-Fi-based cordless IP phone could send messages through VoIP SMS services or “landline-SMS” services provided on PSTN or ISDN services.

Issues that need to be looked at

Establishment of IP-telephony services

An issue that needs to be looked at is the setup and management of IP-based telephony services. Here, this may include the addition of a new service or the establishment and modification of outbound and inbound call-management profiles associated with multiple phone services.

This may involve the use of predefined call classes like “local” or “international” with the ability to determine which service is used for a particular class. Similarly, there could be the use of “default” outbound dialling plans such as “VoIP for all calls except emergency or service calls”. As far as the small-business owner is concerned, this issue may encompass the creation of IP-based “tie lines” between business locations or the creation of “virtual extensions” which are phone numbers dialled as if one is calling an extension within a business phone setup.

The solution that can be used to answer the problem regarding establishment of such services could be in the form of a standard “service manifest” file. This could be an XML file that is prepared by the ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider) with all of the parameters associated with an IP telephony service including SIP parameters and default call-management plans for that service. The service’s customer would upload the file to their VoIP gateway through a client-side application or the gateway’s Web interface and simply enable the service.

Inter-extension calling

In the same case, another issue that may need to be looked at is the ability for a UPnP-based telephony system to support the placing of calls between Telephony Client devices, as required of a business phone setup.

This question could be answered through the use of a virtual Telephony Server in a gateway device that represents and handles the internal calls. This could have the internal phone book which is simply a user-friendly list of Telephony Client devices on the system as well as handling that traffic.

Conclusion

Now that the UPnP Telephony DCP has been determined as a standard, it now requires industry to set about the task of implementing it in as many IP-Telephony devices and software programs as possible.

This could be made feasible through this standard being part of one or more logo-compliance programs like how the UPnP AV DCPs have become mandatory for devices that are DLNA-compliant or the UPnP Internet Gateway Device standard has become mandatory for various standards encompassing Internet modems and routers.

It can also open up opportunities of innovation for any device that offers some sort of telephony function while facing a small IP network; or any computer program that works as a bridge to a telephony service like Skype or as a telephony endpoint like a “softphone”.

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A step in the right direction towards unified messaging for personal and residential telecommunications

 Neufbox de SFR : la messagerie vocale évolue – DegroupNews.com (Language: French)

I have read this French-language article about improvements to SFR’s voice-mail service for their NeufBox residential triple-play customers and one feature that stood out was interfacing the voice-mail with the customer’s home computer.

Typically the voice mail service that is available with most personal / residential landline and mobile telephone services can only be managed through the user pressing buttons on the phone keypad in response to voice prompts. Business-grade setups typically have a “unified messaging” setup where their voice mail and e-mail messages are managed through the same interface, typically their computer workstation or their smartphone. Some PC-based answering-machine setups could achieve this through a “voice modem”, essentially a data modem with built-in sound-card functionality that can work with the phone line, answering all of the voice calls and communications software that can work with the “voice modem” capturing all of the messages.

This setup allows the user to receive their voice-mail messages as an e-mail message through their regular computer interface and/or an MMS message through their mobile phone. This kind of service will typically pack the message the caller leaves as an e-mail attachment or MMS multimedia attachment, which can be of use for replaying (through other devices) or archiving. SFR are extending the functionality to cover 5 different e-mail or mobile-phone destinations. This would typically allow for reception of the messages at work or for a couple to receive their home landline messages on both their mobile phones.

This kind of “unified messaging” service can be of benefit to telecommunications providers who want to encourage their customers to “have all their eggs in one basket” and subscribe to their personal / residential / SOHO telephone and Internet services through them. It is also future-proof when it comes to handling wideband VoIP telephony or videophone services because messages from these services can be distributed in the same manner as regular e-mails or MMS messages.

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