Friday, November 25, 2005

Saved by the PhoneGnome

Just a small slice-of-life experience to share about my PhoneGnome. I had some small false starts getting this to work in my home office, and their tech support has been great, but we're fine now.

One of the things I really like about PhoneGnome is how you get the best of both worlds with POTS and VoIP. When you place a call using PhoneGnome, a cute voice informs you if the call is local PSTN, on-net with other PhoneGnome users, or long distance. After that, the call goes through just like normal, and there are no extra digits to dial. Very convenient.

Well, we got our first real taste of winter here in Toronto this week, and the power went out yesterday afternoon. It just so happens that this occurred while I was in the middle of a call with my PhoneGnome line. All around me, the lights went out, the modem went quiet, my PC screen dimmed as I went to battery power, Skype went out, and the screens for my IP phones went dark. I'm sure you've all been through this a few times!

That said, my call continued as if nothing happened. Of course, it was a PSTN call - an on-net call to another PhoneGnome user would have died - I think. When the power went out, I heard a short click sound on the line, which must have been the PhoneGnome cutting out, but the call continued as is. Am not sure if PhoneGnome can do a PSTN failover, and automatically port an IP call over to PSTN if the network goes down - would probably have to have a battery backup for that.

Anyhow, I just thought it was great that my call didn't die, which of course, would have been the case if I was using most broadband phone services. Operators like Bell Canada and EarthLink are offering line-powered VoIP to get around this, but the majority do not.

So, for those of you thinking about replacing your POTS with VoIP outright, I'd say think again - unless you have reliable alternatives, namely a cell phone with some battery life on it.

There's another side to this story that vindicates the tech luddite in me. I have never trusted machines of any kind (there's a classic Woody Allen routine about this from his standup days - don't get me started - "So, I gather all of my possessions for a meeting in my living room..."). We have way too many phones in the house, but I always keep an old one around - the kind that doesn't run off electric power - for emergencies or blackouts. Well, I just bought a reconditioned Nortel Vista 100 for this purpose, and that's what's connected to the PhoneGnome. So, while the PhoneGnome did its job, the real reason the call stayed alive was the Vista phone. Score a point for the old guard!

So, the moral of the story for having a bulletproof contingency plan that optimizes the use of POTS and VoIP is to have a line-powered phone with your PhoneGnome.


ipcom said...

Posted by: Alan Gahtan

In the next few days, I'm either going to strongly back you or take a strong shot against Televolution. I got my unit last Tuesday and am still having a very odd problem that they have not solved. So today, I posted my problem on Voxilla and Televolution's own forum board. Lets see if their tech support lives up to your praises.

By the way, I've got my DSL modem, router and VOIP adapter connected to a UPS. I find that Sympatico usually continues running through a blackout and so as long as my own equipment is powered, I can continue using the net.

ipcom said...

Posted by: Aswath

Line-powered VoIP is not really VoIP from users' point of view. From features point of view, it has all the limitations of POTS. But then ATA based systems have the same limitations, except that users can hope to get a native IP client.

ipcom said...

Posted by: PhoneBoy

In my house, all the phones are either cordless or IP-based. Even if the underlying phone line survives a power outage, the phones won't. :)

ipcom said...

Posted by: Scott

Hey Jon,
I found this post by doing a search for "phonegnome problems sympatico".
I am a Toronto area Sympatico user, I just got my phonegnome, and am have a hell of a time getting it to work consistiently. I am on the verge of sending it back then I read your post and now I have hope. Can you tell us what specific problems you were having? Mine is having problems placing calles using "local phone service" and the audio quality is very inconsistient, often I have to unplug the unit when someone calles because I hear nothing but... click.. click.. voice.. click .. voice.. click.
It's bad for my clients to hear that!

Can you elaborate? (I have a D-Link router, the tech support seems to thing my router is the problem but I know NOTHING about routers...)