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Wireless Networking Communications Software Hardware Linux

Do-It-Yourself VOIP Telco 246

DamnYankee writes "Robert X. Cringley predicts the coming demise of the landline telco monopolies from the grassroots encroachment of VoIP and Linux on the latest generation of Wifi routers. According to Bob, 'The result is a system with economics with which a traditional local phone company simply can't compete'. With Linux capabilities and builtin VoIP any Mom and Pop can become the local equivalent of a cellular phone company for the price of $79 Wifi router. Now how is Verizon going to compete with that? Get the full scoop from the man himself."
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Do-It-Yourself VOIP Telco

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    A carton full of dixie cups and a spool of thread. No one wanted to pay my rates sadly enuff :(
  • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:30AM (#9276499)
    Unfortunately the people that control the bandwith that we could use to support this "grassroots" VOIP campaign have very powerful government lobbies. We aren't going to get very far before the government oversteps its bounds and protects the large conglomerates.

    He mentions that the mobile phone markets were a "disruptive technology" against the 125 year old wired telephone business. The single thing he fails to recognize is that the wired phone companies have the largest stakes in the best wireless networks out there (AT&T/Cingular, Verizon, etc).

    He then glazes over the billing possibilities as you jump from router to router. We aren't talking about a cell phone here. We are talking about the possibility of a wireless card in a pocketPC to be used as a phone. It's a bit harder for Joe Blow to get a hacked/stolen SIM card for his phone. It's not quite as hard to get a software program that doesn't give billing information that is tracked back to that "phone" user.
    • by swordboy ( 472941 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:42AM (#9276574) Journal
      It won't happen - but not because the lobbies are too powerful. It won't happen because its gonna take a long time before we can get five nines reliability and an organized E911 service for VoIP.

      Right now, Intel, TI and Motorola (among others) are working furiously on WiFi/VoIP roaming for their cellular chips. Once such a device is developed and, most importantly, perfected, it is only a matter of time before the PSTN falls into a state of unsustainability. The PSTN (public, switched telephone network) is bulky - requiring about 40 - 60 percent more cost to operate than a typical packet-switching network like the internet.

      However, I shudder when I say "perfected". Like many other technologies, the *theory* will always seem great while everyone will count on someone else for the execution. Currently, there is no system in place for VoIP users to adequately call each other using non-PSTN based dialing. Certainly, we could all start using dynamic DNS based services but without a centralized, non-greedy institution for creation and allocation, it will be a big fat mess that nobody will want to touch.

      I agree that VoIP should be charged telecom taxes BUT ONLY WHEN THE USER INTERFACES WITH THE PSTN. Right now, that is just about every call, aside from the few geeks who are dialing with IP. And that brings up another problem - who's gonna stop spammers from dialing my VoIP phone from China for the sake of playing a pre-recorded advertisement in my ear?
      • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:46AM (#9276597)
        And that brings up another problem - who's gonna stop spammers from dialing my VoIP phone from China for the sake of playing a pre-recorded advertisement in my ear?

        Ahh, the one good thing about VoIP. Full control over what comes in. I get software that is custom. I get to decide who/what/where gets to call me.

        Don't want China ads coming in? Block everything from China. Only want whitelisted people to call you? So be it. Want the phone to ask you if you want to accept a call or block the IP/range?

        All doable.
      • It won't happen - but not because the lobbies are too powerful. It won't happen because its gonna take a long time before we can get five nines reliability and an organized E911 service for VoIP.

        Damn straight. Ever had someone's life depending on a 911 call getting through? It'll be a long time before I rely on VoIP for that.

        The PSTN (public, switched telephone network) is bulky - requiring about 40 - 60 percent more cost to operate than a typical packet-switching network like the internet.

        The PST

      • my friend, you don't have 99.999% availiability with cell phones, and they are eating the telcos' lunch. VoIP moved the same thought patterns to wireline -- if it's cheap enough, you can afford to say "WHAT? Bill, can't hear -- BILL! HELLO ?!?!?" a couple times. that's what big business is saying by changing internal calling to VoIP, and there is a boatfull of that now and more every day.

        surprised some MBA hasn't proposed this to solve the drug price crisis. "Ask your doctor if PILL is right for you.
      • The PSTN (public, switched telephone network) is bulky - requiring about 40 - 60 percent more cost to operate than a typical packet-switching network like the internet.

        Um? The telephone network has been packet-switched for decades. Do you own or work for a small business? You don't have phone lines. You have a T-1. At your home, your phone line goes to a box down the block where it gets muxed into a T-1 or something equivalent.
        • Residential lines aren't muxed into a T1 generally. Services like DSL require copper from the CO to your house. Once at the CO they get muxed into all kinds of interesting multiples.
        • by Elvon Livengood ( 654636 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @10:47AM (#9277122)
          The telephone network has been packet-switched for decades. Do you own or work for a small business? You don't have phone lines. You have a T-1.

          Sounds like you're confusing digital with packet-switched. A T1 is a 1.544Mbps digital circuit, often chopped up into 24 64kbps voice-grade circuits. That T1 that serves your local business is a dedicated circuit from your location to your telco office. Even if you're using that T1 for Frame Relay, or ATM, or TCP/IP, it's still a dedicated circuit from the point it leaves your premise to the point it hits the packet-switching equipment on the other end.

          Plain Old Telephone Service (known as POTS in the industry) gets digitized after it leaves your handset and before it gets far into the local telco central office. For a business system, the digitization could be in the PBX. For a home, it might be in a box on the corner of the neighborhood. The usual conversion is to a 64kbps data stream. No compression, no packetization. When you make a call, it rides on a 64kbps channel all the way until it gets to the final digital-analog jump-off point. If you're calling cross-country, you are the sole user of that 64k channel for the entire time you're on the call. A given T1 will carry 24 of them simultaneously, a T3 will carry 672.

          One of the biggest advantages of packetized voice (be it VoIP, VoATM, VoFrame Relay or whatever) is that using compression, silence supression and a couple of other tricks, an acceptable voice channel can use as little as 8kbps. You get much more efficient use of the bandwidth. But the general Public Switched Telephone Network doesn't do this - it's circuit switching all the way.
          • A T1 is a 1.544Mbps digital circuit, often chopped up into 24 64kbps voice-grade circuits.

            Hm. This is new information for me. I thought a vox T-1 was muxed at the packet level. Now you're telling me that it's muxed in some other way?

            The usual conversion is to a 64kbps data stream. No compression, no packetization.

            But how are these various 64 kbps data streams multiplexed onto a single wire if not by packet-switching?

            But the general Public Switched Telephone Network doesn't do this - it's circuit swi
            • by Elvon Livengood ( 654636 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @11:31AM (#9277526)
              Hm. This is new information for me. I thought a vox T-1 was muxed at the packet level. Now you're telling me that it's muxed in some other way?

              Yup. The term you're looking for is "Time Domain Multiplexing" - TDM. Each channel gets a time slice of the circuit, just under 1/24th of the total. There's a bit of overhead. This 1/24th, or 64k is allocated *whether that channel is in use or not*. And while it's in use, the "user" gets all 64k of it. Even if the mouthpiece of the phone is disconnected and nobody's talking the other way - no use on the 'line' whatsoever - the call is still using the 64k channel.

              Cell or packet switching is a different animal altogether. A given channel may have a certain bandwidth guaranteed, and may be able to use well over that guaranteed amount, depending on the technology and lots of other stuff. Your average cell/packet circuit is only firing cells about 10% of the time.

              The TDM part of a data circuit puts a hard limit the overall bandwidth. If you've got a T1 connection to your ISP, you can't send/receive more than 1.544Mbps, even if the ISP's router can switch hundreds of Mbps and they have an OC12 to their next peer. And if the site you're communicating with depends on an even lower bandwidth connection - such as when a dial-up user hits your ftp server - then *their* circuit is the limiting factor.
            • Maybe "packet switching" isn't the term I want to use. Maybe "cell switching" is the term I want to use. Either way, the telco uses a technology to put multiple voice calls on the same wire, and that technology works basically like packet switching: a little bit of this call, then a little bit of that call, then a little bit of the next call.

              You're on the right track with this statement. "Circuit switching" is the means by which a T1 slices up it's capacity into channels (1-24 typically) and each phone c
        • Actually far more small businesses have a copper pair coming in for each phone line. If they have a phone system they usually don't have a channelized T1 going out for voice, they just have a phone system with multiple trunk lines and even more extension lines. When I worked for Online Partners we had a netphone box which is just a PC-based PBX, each card has however many trunk lines (I think it's either 6 or 8 depending on whether it's A PCI or ISA card) and you just write up your configs and shit goes whe
      • by femto ( 459605 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @10:30AM (#9276977) Homepage
        > ... its gonna take a long time before we can get five nines reliability ...

        Each individual link doesn't have to be 99.999% reliable. Instead, rely on a mesh topology and have parallel (ie. redundant) paths between each node. Say we have 5 alternate routes between two nodes and each route is 90% reliable. The probability of an outage (all routes down) is (1-0.9)^5 = 0.00001. Hence, the network reliability is 99.999%. Each additional parallel route adds a '9'.

    • Although I haven't read the Cringley article, I agree more or less with your assessment of the situation. had a story on VoIP security issues [] and whether it was worth it for a business to take on the increased responsibility of not only securing their data network, but also their voice network. (Because in essence that responsibility shifts from the Baby Bell to you when you go to VoIP.) The general findings of that article was that VoIP was great, but not without some big risks and time a
    • by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:53AM (#9276641) Homepage
      Exactly. The way they'll compete is legislation. Imposing huge fees for operating a telco. This'll come under the guise of protecting national security. You see, if every mom and pop can offer secure voip (public/private key encryption generated per-call), the feds can't wire tap. If you want to offer phone service, you'll have to support some proprietary infrastructure that Verizon or other big bells will be happy to develop for the government free of charge. They'll then be happy to license it to Mom & Pop for $500,000/year for up to 10,000 users, as the base (cheapest) license, then it gets more expensive after that.

      But there's only one version of the softare, so unless you're running VerizonOS, you can't run it. Reversing the encryption (which is actually just an XOR against 0x00) will be illegal under the DMCA, and so there will not be any Linux/FOSS versions of the software, because to get there you have to have violated the DMCA.

      This software will spring up out of Russia as FOSS, but its use within the U.S. will result in jail time.

      Now the nation is protected, you see.

      Following this, you'll see a group of FOSSers who decide that such things really should be free, and you'll find an underground network flying right through the radio waves in the air. Users who rebel against federal legislation and establish VoIP networks across the Internet using 802.11 or whatever the broad range wireless standard is at the time. They'll go on in relative anonymity for a while, but they'll all be struck with how very very cool this technology is, and they'll build steam and momentum, attracting other users to the technology until all of the sudden, someone pays attention, and legislation comes in that starts to restrict the use of such things.

      Users will cry foul, people will claim this violates their first ammendment rights, and then Apple will release iPhone, with pretty colors, in hardware that looks edible, and whose color scheme wouldn't offend a conservative grandmother on a bad LSD trip. People will flock to this "new technology" and sell their souls to it before they realize that it's the same thing as what they had before, only it's got more restrictions.

      Soon Microsoft and Sony will realize that they've been behind the times on this stuff, and they'll release their own alternatives which offer extra features that no one wants or needs. The physical design of the hardware will look like a high school sophomore sketching doodles in the edges of his notebook paper, compared against Apple's Mona Lisa level design. Micorosoft and Sony will have invested several million dollars in to this before they realize that they're always playing catchup, and have never reached the black, financially speaking, on these products, when they discontinue the line, completely stranding those who *had* bought in to it.

      Later, Apple will announce a deal where they buy Verizon and several other major telco's, who are now on the financial rocks, and every time you answer your phone, you'll hear a "Bong" and your phone will smile at you to let you know everything is ok.

      Soon after this, you'll see Apple G7's booting up with a picture of Steve Wozniak with borg implants badly photoshopped over his face.
    • The telcos will have no easier a job monopolizing the IP phones, or the government tapping them, than the RIAA is having banning pirated music, and for exactly the same reasons. You can't tax air.
    • By the way, your NOT talking about a PPC running VOIP software ONLY. Your also talking about WiFi handsets. Cisco already makes these. Here's [] the model I saw at hamvention. This is a PHONE that does VOIP over WiFi. Ritron(I think) can also hook a transciever directly into Cisco routers making Nextels obsolete. You just install a transciver at either end and it coverts the radio to a VOIP stream and sends it to everyone on your network. VOIP is going to make not just telcos obsolete but many campuses
    • Jesus,
      Try signed logons, and a centralised key database.
      Abusers get there key removed.
  • by jgabby ( 158126 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:32AM (#9276505) Journal
    The phone companies will compete by lobbying making sure that any startup VOIP phone company has to pay the same taxes and fees, and has to provide 911 and wiretapping, etc.
  • Ahem... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:32AM (#9276506) Homepage Journal
    Don't you need an ADSL/Cable connection to that little router? Yes, I know you can have your packets hop over to the next router and so on, but the article is still pretty optimistic.

    (and, yes, I did RTFA)

    Let's face it: if the big telcos aren't dead by now, this means they are not going to die anytime soon. I doubt Verizon is quaking in its boots right now...
    • Re:Ahem... (Score:3, Informative)

      by rusty0101 ( 565565 )
      It depends upon the design.

      At the moment the design is that somewhere the connection has to have a broadband connection to interface to the Internet. The software upgrades to these routers allow that connection to be as many as three "hops" away. The possibility is there to reach longer, and even cross more hops, however such a connection requires added cost for improved antenas.

      In the future, (how long is obviously a subject for debate) it is possible that a large enough population of the Internet will b
  • by erick99 ( 743982 ) * <> on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:32AM (#9276509)
    The author gets pretty excited by the opportunities that the router provides. However, it sounded a bit complicated to me and I wonder how well this would work if a lot of people did it. Is there sufficient capacity within the Internet to handle thousands and thousands of little phone companies? And, can you imagine the customer service issues which you would be handling from your spare time. Still, it is a very cool idea the early adopters and the innovators will have fun with it.

    Take care!


    • no it isn't(ready for prime time).

      What do people NEED from a cellular telco? the system must work, at all times, regardless of where they are, automatically, without worries.

      That's how the cellular telcos around here work and it certainly is affordable(12-14 eurocents / minute, no monthly payments..) enough(having thousands and thousands of little phone companies is ineffective and as consequence, not very cheap either except if there are some very stupid decisions made in the 'other way').

      Now, voip+wifi
  • by nev4 ( 721804 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:32AM (#9276511)
    Soon enough they'll regulate the hell out of VoIP and similar to save the phone companies. Next thing you know AIM will be ruled a telephone company because of the "talk" feature.
    • by thedillybar ( 677116 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @10:11AM (#9276786)
      The gov't is already regulating the hell out of the old PSTN networks. Why wouldn't the same regulations apply to VoIP?

      Sure VoIP looks cheaper to us right now, but PSTN would be cheaper if they weren't regulated so much too. VoIP has an unfair advantage right now because it's not being regulated. It's not a matter of regulating the hell out of VoIP because PSTN has friends in the gov't, it's a matter of applying the same regulations to VoIP that PSTN has seen for years.

      Next thing you know AIM will be ruled a telephone company because of the "talk" feature.

      Are you suggesting that VoIP companies shouldn't be considered telephone companies?

  • by magarity ( 164372 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:34AM (#9276523)
    a system with economics with which a traditional local phone company simply can't compete'

    How many times have we heard that (insert some innovation here) will lead to the demise of (insert traditional provider here). Look, the only times when large established providers of a given good or service are eliminated by something new is when entrenched management gets hubris and thinks the new thing is not worth their bother. If/when the existing telcos realise they need to get on this bandwagon they will, and with a vengance. You can't count out the resources they can bring to bear until they don't and are truly out.
    • It can happen both ways. Many of the manufacturers of horse drawn carriages saw the horseless carriage as a fad, but only a relative few realised the truth in time to start making coachware for early cars. Even so, very few of those survive today and most of those that do have long since been swallowed whole by auto manufacturers. On the other side of the coin, you need look no further than the Road to Damascus style revelation experienced about the Internet by Bill Gates. One huge cash infusion later a
      • by Big_Al_B ( 743369 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @10:26AM (#9276936)
        The entrenched telcos seem far more like the RIAA/MPAA to me; they have this new fangled competitor looming on the horizon and instead of pouring money into R&D are pouring it into the legal department and campaign contributions instead.

        The company I work for is a "traditional" regional IXC/CLEC. We've poured mucho dinero into R&D on packetizing and "converging" our network. After much blood, sweat, and tears, we've been able to provide a converged IP service that really doesn't suck. But, packets and Wi-Fi are not the magic bullets that some would believe.

        Sure, anyone with a strong Wi-Fi antenna and a few IADs strewn about can make real-time interactive audio work. That's not the challenge. The challenge really lies in providing carrier-class services over IP. People expect phones to work, 100% of the time, between any two handsets worldwide. And they want audio quality and precision clarity.

        In that regard solutions are still expensive to provide, and expensive to purchase. IP savvy switches are still buggy, feature-sparse, and prone to audio quality issues. Your average DMS and 5ESS may use Model T technology and take up a whole lot of bays, but for making plain old phone calls, it'll outperform the Ferrari's of the IP world.

        Add up consumer broadband transport, untamed Internet ebbs and flows, Wi-Fi frequencies that compete moment-to-moment with cordless phones and microwaves, and you've got a lot of unsatisfied neighbors dropping your shiny new home telco for an old princess phone and an RBOC.
  • I see this (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thebra ( 707939 ) * on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:37AM (#9276538) Homepage Journal
    happening about the same time that cars use an alternative to gasoline. Big business makes the decesions, not us, not the govt. Its a shame...
    • Re:I see this (Score:3, Insightful)

      by magarity ( 164372 )
      Big business makes the decesions, not us

      You mean businesses make decisions on what they think they can convince us to buy. Sometimes it works, sometimes we want to buy something else. When cars that run on alternative fuels and the alternative fuel itself costs less than gasoline and gas powered cars, we'll be happy to buy them and it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:38AM (#9276539)
    so, whats stopping the big guys from buying these in bulk for under $79 (after bulk discount)

    if they get it cheap then they can setup quickly, and still gouge you for the profit.
  • Mesh? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MaestroSartori ( 146297 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:40AM (#9276554) Homepage
    Perhaps the prevalence of wireless networking equipment will eventually lead to huge mesh networks, so that instead of going from me to an ISP to the destination, my voip calls could go from me to my neighbour to the guy down the road. Obviously there are security and privacy issues, but the and even the Internet aren't really needed all of the time for voip to work, and potentially this could work well. It would also mean we could bypass regulation by simply doing it :)
    • Hmm, I meant to say: ...there are security and privacy issues, but the ISPs and even the Internet aren't really needed all of the time for voip to work
    • by swb ( 14022 )
      What's always the missing element is bridging to the POTS world. I've often wondered if you could get a mesh network going where each mesh entity provides a POTS bridge for calls local to their calling area, allowing for "free" long distance calls and connectivity to the POTS world.

      It's not clear how you'd enable bridging POTS to VoIP; perhaps a calling-card type setup where you would call a local access number that would round-robin try various local mesh POTS bridges that would route calls to the respec
  • He wrote this particular column WAY too technically.
    I mean I'm very computer-savvy, but he lost me.

    I picked the wrong day to stop snorting glue.
  • Questions... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hwestiii ( 11787 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:40AM (#9276559) Homepage
    I'm never quite sure just how this is supposed to work. Aren't VOIP carriers actually piggy backing on resources provided by the voice carriers in the first place?

    Are we just talking about a segment of the market or what? I don't know all that much about the telco industry, but it has always been my impression that data lines shadow voice lines and are owned and maintained by the same parties. Is that not the case, or is my info wrong? Are there significant data networks in this country that are not in some way owned by or related to major telcos?

    To this extent are we talking about big players really going out of business, or there simply being a shift in the market whereby the telcos morph into the owners and maintainers of the backbone and little VoIP carriers pop up at the edges. Then how long will it take for consolidation to cull these little ones to the point where we once again have new telco monopoly, but over a different style of infrastructure.
    • Re:Questions... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by grub ( 11606 )

      Aren't VOIP carriers actually piggy backing on resources provided by the voice carriers in the first place?

      If you're using DSL from your phoneco then sure. You have to remember that VoIP goes all over IP. You don't need expensive (and proprietary) TelCo analog switching equipment, just the bandwidth capacity to carry the voice traffic.

      If I worked for a manufacturer of the old POTS switching equipment, I'd be getting ready to look for a new job in a few years. Unless moving to the third world to support
    • Some network connections use telco circuits, some do not.

      My cable modem does not directly connect to a phone company circuit. The Vonage TA hanging off my router does not use phone company resources until after it goes through my cable companies' routers. Asside from the call management traffic, it is even possible that if I call a neighbor, none of my voice traffic will ever cross the phone company's resources.

      As far as data lines shadowing voice circuits, the reverse is actually closer to the truth. In
    • I don't think this is going to happen, but I _think_ the idea is, when the calls are all carried by the data network (even at the prices we pay for symetrical connectivity today) it'll be cheaper and lower-margin than the voice network. So the backbone providers would need enormous across-the-board price increases for data connectivity to recover.

      Of course, what's stopping them from doing exactly that? Then the dreaming really starts. These people, if you get them drunk enough, will admit they believe wire
  • by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:43AM (#9276576) Homepage
    You can always do it cheaper if reliability and availability are not important. My wireline telephone just works. I've had one outage in the past 15 years. I've never had a dropped call. The switch never crashes, get infected with viruses, or demands that I upgrade to MS Telephone 2.0. It provides battery power to my telephone, ensuring that it still works even during blackouts and storms. It provides enhanced 911 service if I need it.
    • I've had one outage in the past 15 years.

      Lucky you!, in my current residence (1 year), I had one outage that lasted 2.5 weeks, had to spend several hours on the damn automated phone/customer service.

      The problem, idiots had my connection plugged into the wrong jack (IDSN or something), compound this with the fact that I told them several Times that I had NO dial tone at the customer port on the back of my house - several times (should have made the problem obvious, or at least verify the proper jack).


      • Add to that, they tried to tell me it was an inside wiring problem, because they assured me there was dial tone coming into the house. Mind you there was light snow on the ground for the time period and no tracks in the snow, how did they check? FLY?

        They lie. Granted, it's an educated guess of a lie, because they've got an automated system that can remotely monitor the line and tell them whether there's a problem on their side or not. The trouble is, the system depends upon there not having been anything

  • by gozar ( 39392 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:44AM (#9276590) Homepage

    I've setup a Linux box and Asterisk [] along with a couple Grandstream IP phones. The quality was as good as a landline phone, and we'll probably be rolling out a test next year sometime, putting phones in all the classrooms (we're a public school). One card in the server to get us an outside line and we're set....

    As soon as wireless VOIP phones come down in price, I'll be running my own wireless service for myself. I plan on setting up an Asterix server at home plugged into my landline. I can then use my VOIP phone anywhere in the world to call!

    Being able to cheaply setup VOIP using your existing landline at home will decimate cell service as soon as more WIFI hotspots get out. IDT is already looking at this as a replacement for cell services [].

  • by parc ( 25467 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:45AM (#9276592)
    You need more bandwidth than you think.
    Remember, ADSL and cable are asymmetric. That upstream bandwith is usually 256-384k. Each VoIP call is going to take anywhere between 24 and 64k of that just for the audio. Add on to that the administration overhead (UDP/IP and whatever stream management protocol you're using), and it starts to chew away at your bandwidth.
    Additionally, the connection you've got is designed for bursty traffic. VoIP is most definitely NOT bursty (unless you use silence suppression, which I've yet to see a vendor get right). If you packet delay gets over 150ms, you're going to be upset. Jitter larger than about 50-80ms is going to screw with your call quality. I've done VoIP networks, and can attest to the catestrophic effects of just a small amount of jitter when you start to get near your 150ms limit.

    Don't get me wrong: VoIP is here and going strong. But it's doing so in high-quality networks that can afford to supply fixed-bandwidth reservation, , not commodity broadband products.
  • quality of service (Score:4, Interesting)

    by martin ( 1336 ) <maxsec@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:47AM (#9276601) Journal
    note there's no QoS with VoIP suppliers...

    if they've not got a highly resilient route onto the 'net then they are at the mercy of their uplink ISP(s).

    Think 911 (or equiv) service going down for days on end as the DSL line driving the VoIP was down.......not good.
  • VoIP to Where? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by lachlan76 ( 770870 )
    Where do you plan to get enough bandwidth to run a public VoIP service? With one or two calls at a time it would be possible, or if a whole group of people combined the routers to make a mesh over the town/city/suburb. But with this king of VoIP implementation, only a few people can make phone calls at a time to areas not covered by the network.
    Perhaps if everyone had a 1500Mbps SDSL line and the whole network was load balanced, it would work, but this will never be able to beat the convenience of my 100g
  • Oh yeah, I see it right before me. It will work right like with the Internet, all those numerous prospering small local Mom and Pop ISPs, no large corporations to be seen. Right ?
  • by ac7xc ( 686042 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:51AM (#9276628)
    They will have to collect 911 taxes, Federal Taxes and buy business licenses. While VOIP may be nice if there is a power failure everyone with a desktop will be offline and the cell phones will become quickly over loaded. Even during the recent black out in the NE USA the local telephone service worked flawlessly. ISP's will need to have reliable backup genarators which are not cheap to buy and maintain.
  • I'm a vonage customer. I shed my dependance on the local telco with great pleasure, and a bit of egotisitcal pride. Still, having used it for about 8 months, I've come to this conclusion: it ain't for everyone.

    Now don't get me wrong, I'm not going back. But I can't imagine my neighbors buying into what RXC suggests. First of all, there's a reliability issue. Folks need to have 911 service available. They need to be able to call the power company in the event of an outage. They need the phone to be a *LOT* more reliable than current VOIP is.

    For me, when the power goes out in our neighborhood, it doesn't matter that I've got my VOIP device connected to a UPS. When the neighborhood loses power, my broadband internet loses connectivity. No internet, no phone. No phone, no way to call the power company to report an outage. It gets worse if you imagine someone needing emergency services (e.g. 911) during a power outage.

    It's a nice theory, but it doesn't scale. And reliability is the limitation. Right now, I (personally) can put up with the lack of reliability because I know that my neighbors have nice reliable land line based phones, and in a pinch, I can pester one of them to make a phone call. (I've got good neighbors, all of whom are willing to help each other out in a pinch.) But if the entire neighborhood were on VOIP, we'd all suffer. VOIP today just doesn't have the reliability to scale. Some of us who are willing to put up with the occasional echoes, inconsistent quality, and lower reliability (in exchange for much lower cost). But we can't all do that. We rely on some of the neighborhood to have a real and reliable phone service. VOIP isn't there yet. So it won't scale as far as a neighborhood. Much less become a "disruptive technology".

  • by twehrle ( 580963 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:51AM (#9276634)
    Just as an example. Comcast, the very company that is talking about larger VOIP rollouts since it has "millions" of customers on its broadband service, can't even keep the broadband service running this morning. They are having nation wide outages. Broadband is not considered by the government to be an Infrastructure service yet, like electricity, natural gas, telco. Thus it does not get the same level of guaranteed uptime. When broadband goes down, so will your VOIP. My telco phone just always works. That is what people expect.
  • by Featureless ( 599963 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:55AM (#9276655) Journal
    I don't know about anyone else - frankly I would love to hear other points of view on this! - but in my experience this technology is about an order of magnitude short on range and power. My hardware (top of the line DLink as of two months ago) barely penetrates two walls in my home. It can't go 50 feet.

    I looked at antennas and amplifiers and wireless geek sites. I discovered two things:
    • I couldn't find any clear, authoritative, useful sites dealing with building and tuning Wifi networks...
    • Amplifiers and antennas cost hundreds, or thousands of dollars. Oh, I sprang for two less expensive "range extender" antennas from major suppliers, but they were useless - 10% observable difference.

    At this point, I would frankly love to hear, "hey idiot, you're doing it all wrong! here's a url, here's what you're missing, etc etc." But I have a sinking feeling I wont.

    This leaves me with the impression that Wifi is entirely not powerful or reliable enough to get anywhere near the neighborhood/citywide meshes that people (even Cringley, apparently) imagine. Like I said, based on my experiences so far, it's off by an order of magnitude. Even if you can fix that by upgrading your gear, it's not cheap, or easy.

    One thing I will say is that I'm impressed with Linksys for going with Linux, and now I understand why I should have bought them, even though they're half as fast as what I bought, and don't support WPA. My DLink router, although it's overcome its notorious problems with 5-minute interval spontaneous reboots, still needs to be rebooted daily, otherwise traffic slows to a crawl. DLink, of course, like most vendors, finds only benign amusement with the fact that their product's firmware is totally boned. It's too late now, but if I could, I would bring everything back and switch to anything that ran linux in the router.
    • I have the DLink DI-624 router at home. It offers both Hard wired access and 54G wireless access. I don't have any problem with it going through walls or around corners.

      The router is in my basement, just under the floors between the joists. My sons room is more than 50 feet away and doesn't have a problem, nor do my two laptops with one in the livingroom and one in the den.

      The only troubles I've had is that my G4 Mac failed to connect using the airport and I was forced to hardwire the connection. (Darn
      • We have the same router. But are you using 108MB/SuperG or WPA? After some research I've come to believe my troubles may stem from what's in my walls, possibly insulation or pipes. It's an old building. But I can decrease the signal strength by over 50% by putting my hand in front of the ("omnidirectional") antenna on either end. And how common are my troubles likely to be?

        I had to place my router in the geomertic center of the apartment, and fiddle with "an inch to the left, an inch to the right" (which r
        • I would say you have a faulty antenna or fauly unit in some fashion. Placement does matter, but not that much. Not if it has two antennas and diversity enabled on the AP. I'd try a different box and see how that works.
          • It's an interesting idea. It's a single antenna, BTW - and I tried replacing the stock rubber duck with alternatives to little effect. But now you have me wondering if I should try to send it back, or buy another and return it if it's the same.
        • One Laptop is 802.11b the other 802.11g. My son's box (furthest from AP) is 802.11g. My guess is that it's the building and not the hardware. There was a story yesterday about building a home cooked wifi antenna (Link []) that might offer you a possible solution. Then you can position your antenna where reception is better and not have to relocate the box.

    • FYI, recent SVEA firmware versions supports WPA. I've been using it for over 6 months. As for the speed, yeah it's only 200Mhz, but that's more than sufficient for the load the WRT54G has.
    • Put that sucker up in the air about 50ft and then tell me how far it goes. You'd be surprised at what a difference it makes. The difference is huge because inside your house everything is blocking and absorbing the radio energy.

      Note that you need to keep the connection from the transmitter and the antenna extremely short because cable loses are very high at the frequencies used for 802.11. What this means is that you should put your router or wireless adapter up there at 50+ ft with the antenna connect
  • by Lodragandraoidh ( 639696 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:56AM (#9276663) Journal
    What about critical services, such as 911 service? Are going to equip all of your customers with backup generators to power their VOIP phones and other network devices (router) during a power outage?

    You might say to me, "well, people today use cellphones as their primary means of communications - and they are responsible to ensure it is charged up in the event of an emergency". That may be true. However, everyone does not have cell phone service - or wants cell phone service for that matter. As a common carrier, phone companies have a responsibility to provide dialtone for everyone who wants it - and as a result provide emergency services.

    It is also prohibitively costly to provide fibre to every location - particularly in rural areas. Given that, broadband service will not be available to drive VOIP solutions.

    If we decide to drop copper as an alternative, then we will lose big when some event occurs that prevents a VOIP user from getting a critical emergency call through - and the resulting lawsuits and regulations will stifle growth and acceptance of VOIP as a viable universal solution.
  • Patented? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Frit Mock ( 708952 )

    Wasn't there some patent, protecting the process to press some buttons on a device without wires and beeing comunicativly connected to some other persons device without wires, enabling both parties to talk with each other?
  • by Etyenne ( 4915 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @09:59AM (#9276693)
    Would I trade the reliability of my landline (I can't remember losing service in the past ... 15 years ?) for some ghetto rig built on consummer-level equipement running over best-effort protocol to shave a few $ from my monthly telephone bill of 25$ ? Thanks, but no thanks.
  • that guy's article almost reads like a "they're coming to steal our jobs and our women!!!1" rant.

    while the dinosaurs were undoubtedly alarmed to see a huge meteor ending their way of life, all the smaller mammals were crying with joy to see their predators massively die.
  • Deja Vu ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MosesJones ( 55544 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @10:01AM (#9276706) Homepage

    Umm does anyone else here remember the Sears/Gap/Borders are dead stories from around 1998/99 because the Mom and Pop stores would beat them thanks to ".com".

    I've read the article and I'm not seeing anything different, and certainly nothing that thinks about the realities of providing secure 911 access and QoS over a WiFi router and ADSL.
  • Baptists? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by chickenrob ( 696532 )
    Or imagine a school or a church distributing routers among parents or parishioners as a fund-raiser. Let's see how long SBC or Verizon lasts against the Baptists. Now THAT's disruptive.

    This guy dosen't know his baptists! Baptists are resistant to change. If this technology takes off huge, the baptists will be the LAST to adopt this heathen technology of the devil...

  • VOIP? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bobej1977 ( 580278 ) * <> on Friday May 28, 2004 @10:03AM (#9276730) Homepage Journal
    Er, this article is talking about replacing the Telco as your ISP, and only touches on VOIP briefly.

    The problem with this is that a big ISP buys $500,000 Cisco routers to keep the internet flowing. If you think a bunch of $70 wireless routers (even $500,000 worth) is going to replace a mega-router, you're kidding yourself.

    Our goal here should be to create reliable grassroots networks. I have phone service because if I need to call 911, I NEED to call 911, whether my neighbor accidentally kicked the wall blister of his router out of the wall socket or not. I've got no love for Telcos, but I do like their reliability.

  • by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @10:05AM (#9276750)
    Cable broadband customers get yelled at for running servers, downloading big things, too much traffic...
    A few things have to change - Comcast and their ilk have to change what they allow or else they'll have more traffic than they can dream of.
    I believe they don't like people actually using the bandwidth they paid for, so that needs rethinking.
  • by supersnail ( 106701 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @10:10AM (#9276773)

    But surely one of the major fuctions of a phone is that people can wring you.

    How is anyone going to find my phone with a roaming v/ip setup?

    Are all those little 400 mz processors with no disks going to implement a CDMA/GSM type roaming protocol? (Phone contacts local base station, via several hops contacts your CDMA/GSM provider and tells it, plus the FBI CIA etc., where your phone is so your calls can be routed to the right base station).
    • Yes, that's exactly what they're going to do; that's what SIP is for. Every time you establish your presence on a new network, whether it's wifi, GSM, work, home, or whatever, your phone will contact your registrar and add this location to the list of places you might possibly be reached. Ideally you'll have a single number that will try to find you at all of your currently registered locations, possibly modified by preferences or priorities you set up. If the network thinks you're reachable on your cell,
    • But surely one of the major fuctions of a phone is that people can wring you.

      Wow, I'm glad my phone doesn't do that to me. ;-)
  • Who owns the copper? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dun Malg ( 230075 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @10:18AM (#9276858) Homepage
    Mom and Pop can become the local equivalent of a cellular phone company for the price of $79 Wifi router. Now how is Verizon going to compete with that?

    What a silly question. Verizon owns the copper. The ISP you're getting your DSL from is leasing the pair and a slot in the DSLAM from Verizon. It's not like they're totally cut out of the action by VOIP. If POTS dies out (which I doubt it will), they'll simply shift their business model to one of "last mile broadband provider".

  • by DamnYankee ( 18417 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @10:22AM (#9276901) Homepage

    Even the mobile phone manufacturers are picking up [] on this trend. By building Wifi into mobile phones we can set the device to use the lowest cost method to make our calls. When a hotpsot is available, use VoIP and drop the cost to next to nothing. Simple economics.

    This is not to say the technical hurdles aren't formidable. But hey, my Grandpa publishes web pages and who could've sold me on that concept in 1994?

  • Maybe I don't know enough about Robert X Cringely, but it seems he's just a popular columnist and writer.

    He focusses too much on the technology and not the logistics of doing something like this. To me, it would have been more effective if such an article came from someone that had success in building a business that had to focuss on customers as much as such efforts would.

    You need to worry about billing, customer service, accounting, marketting, reliability, security, the staff to support all that, et

  • by telemonster ( 605238 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @10:39AM (#9277048) Homepage

    First off, the minute you go from a VOIP endpoint to the POTS phone system (you know, to route calls to legacy landline equipment) you are then classified as a phone company. This is where the tarrifs come in. This might not be the case if you just went from VOIP to Cellular, not 100% positive.

    Next up, while the Vonage/Packet8 endpoints work well, it can be a pain deploying a reliable VOIP network. Qualtiy of service is a must, because a large email with an attachment can totally take out audio in one direction for a few seconds.

    VOIP is neat, I think it will seriously cut into the long distance profits, but *I* firmly believe wireless phones are more of a threat to landline POTS service. I think the phone companies need to replace the legacy ESS5a switches with something newer, capable of dropping 50mbps to each copper customer.

    Personally I plan to move my phone lines to a message rate service, it's incoming only landline. I believe it is about $10 a month. This supports the excuse to have a PBX at home :-)

  • Competition (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jaysyn ( 203771 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @10:40AM (#9277061) Homepage Journal
    "Now how is Verizon going to compete with that?"

    You see there are these things that companies buy called laws....

  • Even though he mentions Linux as a possible solution in providing DIY telcos, it doesn't automatically make his points legitimate, much as the editors would love you to believe. It appears that yet again he is off in lala land.
  • by OctaneZ ( 73357 ) <ben-slashdot2@um ... org minus distro> on Friday May 28, 2004 @11:02AM (#9277274) Journal
    It's important to note that Sveasoft [] is not the only group out there extending the abilities of these boxes. Linksys/CISCO releasing the code has allowed many groups a crack at modifying these systems to their hearts content.
    Wifi-Box [] is incredably stable, and offers many options, taht are also being extended.

    OpenWRT [] aims to be very light, but allow you to add packages to customize anyway you want.

    More info on the router can be found at Seattle Wireless [].
  • by Orion Blastar ( 457579 ) <orionblastar&gmail,com> on Friday May 28, 2004 @11:13AM (#9277379) Homepage Journal
    Ironic that I use the local telco company for DSL, and my wireless router can be used to take away business from them. ;)
  • by spectrokid ( 660550 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @11:22AM (#9277454) Homepage
    I read in a technical newspaper (Ingeniø that the European telcos are slamming the brakes on anything resembling IPV6. Reason: IPV6 means QoS, and QoS means decent quality VOIP. Bye Bye primary source of income...
  • Router Hacking 101 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cytlid ( 95255 ) on Friday May 28, 2004 @11:56AM (#9277771)
    I'll try not to make this OT ...

    I'm insanely jealous that I don't have one of those WRT54G routers. I have a netgear mr814v2 ... not a bad little 802.11b router. I figured today I'd try hacking it a bit, see what exactly it is.

    My interest was piqued because I found services (locally) running on the router I was unaware of ... a UK site says my router has a DNS proxy and cache, something I've seen nowhere else. I used nslookup and dig, and sure enough, it answers dns queries. I also can tftp into it. (No idea names of files tho).

    So this prompted me to take a peek at the .img file for the firmware. It doesn't look like any format I'm familiar with... the linux "file" command calls it a "MS Windows TrueType font" ... well let's run strings on it ... hmm only one word shows up twice at the end of the file "sErCoMm".

    So I head off to Sercomm's site... and lo and behold they make wireless routers! Namely, I think my MR814v2 [] is just a rebadged Sercomm IP706SM []. I know this comes as no surprise, many pieces of hardware are just rebadged and sold under a brand name. But look at the specs, they're identical! Right down to the dimensions, the Netgear router is only a few milimeters off.

    So this is where my hacking hit a wall. Think I might go home and take apart the router and see for myself. Or just sell it and get a WRT54G. (Hey my birthday's next week, you never know.)

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray