Connecting existing phones to VoIP

this week, more VoIP, specifically devices to VoIP- enable existing phones. The first of these is the Internet Phone Wizard from Actiontec, which is designed to provide access to two lines: A VoIP line using Skype and an optional plain old telephone service line.

Let us start with a question that arose while we were testing USB drives: Does anyone know how to turn off the stupid Windows alert that says "This device can perform faster if you connect it to a Hi-Speed USB 2.0 port"?

This is shown when you plug a USB 2.0 device into a USB 1.1-compliant port, and it is a really stupid message if you don't, in fact, have a USB 2.0-compliant port, which is something Windows can easily determine.

Another amazingly dumb message we got when we were trying to view an unformatted USB drive with Windows Explorer was "Volume information for this disk cannot be found." OK, we have no problem with the message so far, but that was followed by "This may happen if the disk is a 1394 or USB device on a Windows 2000 machine."

What this alert really says is that the Microsoft engineers couldn't be bothered to test which operating system they were running on and apparently figured that a generic but useless message would cover enough ground so they could get on to a more interesting project.

Anyway, this week, more VoIP, specifically devices to VoIP- enable existing phones.

The first of these is the Internet Phone Wizard (IPW) from Actiontec, which is designed to provide access to two lines: A VoIP line using Skype and an optional plain old telephone service (POTS ) line.

The IPW measures about 4.5 by 3.25 inches by 1 inch and has three ports - two RJ11s for an incoming phone line and telephone handset, and a USB port to connect to your PC (note that the IPW is powered by the USB port - in other words, it doesn't need a power supply, aka a wall wart).

Installing the required USB drivers is straightforward (the IPW runs only on Windows 2000 and XP so far).

Calls can be made and received using either line and you can put either line on hold to take a call on the other.

The IPW is more comfortable to use than the typical Skype PC headset and that makes it worth getting if you are a Skype user, even if you don't use it with a POTS line.

The device is more or less flawless, except that it didn't work as an incoming line to our Siemens Gigaset two-line telephone. We have yet to find out why but suspect the signal-voltage levels generated by the IPW are too low.

This is a great device and at $70 is reasonably priced.

Our other VoIP device is the PhoneGnome from TelEvolution.

Like the IPW, the PhoneGnome handles a POTS line and a VoIP line, but rather than being tied to a single VoIP service the PhoneGnome works with any Session Initiation Protocol (SIP )-based provider. The PhoneGnome provides a SIP service and a gateway to other SIP providers.

But you can't use the PhoneGnome with Skype, because Skype uses a proprietary protocol (see here and here ). Also note that while Vonage is a SIP service, you also can't use PhoneGnome with it because Vonage doesn't allow gatewaying with any upstart VoIP providers.

The PhoneGnome is roughly the same size as the IPW but requires a wall wart. Also, unlike the IPW, the PhoneGnome doesn't require software or, for that matter, a computer. The ports on the PhoneGnome consist of two RJ11s for line in and handset, and an RJ45 for a broadband connection.

One disappointment: the PhoneGnome won't initialize without a POTS line!

The PhoneGnome comes with lots of useful features, including a built-in speech generator to tell you status and configuration details, voice mail to e-mail and telemarketer blocking. If you want to call regular POTS lines, outbound calls are priced comparably to Skype's service. At $120 PhoneGnome provides an interesting, sophisticated and powerful single-line, standards-based VoIP service.

Of course, if your broadband connection stinks, the VoIP service will be disappointing. Guess what next's week topic will be? Wild surmise to gearhead@gibbs.com, and if you're feeling bloggish, check Gibbsblog .

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