Overseas Communication…what we did and what I wish I had known

When we started thinking about going overseas, a big challenge we had was communication: we needed a way to communicate. Most of the people I knew overseas used Skype. Some people were able to just pick up the phone and call the US for fairly cheap (like I was in Thailand). Some people had vonage phones. I didn’t know too much, but I knew I wanted to be able to pick up a phone and call the US. And I didn’t want to spend a bunch.

That, in my mind, rulled out Skype. I didn’t want to have to sit at a computer to talk to people. I know, I could buy skype wifi phones, but I didn’t want to shell out that much money for a device that only worked with one thing. That kinda sorta left us only with Vonage. We signed up and got a vonage phone. We pay for the $30 unlimited/month deal and get to have unlimited calls to anywhere in the US as well as several european countries.

In the meantime, I heard about Truphone. After looking into it, I thought that it was cool…I could, with the right phone, have a VoIP phone on my cell phone. I ended up and bought a Nokia e 65 and set up Truphone. Everything seemed to work wonderfully in the US. However, when we got overseas, we ended up and ran though two NAT hops and truphone didn’t want to work. Bummer, but I really like my phone so I keep it.

I also start looking at Vonage. Vonage is VoIP, right? I wondered if I could just hook that account into my phone. Well, it turns out that Vonage uses sip…sort of. But they won’t give you the information you need to bring your own device and have it work. BUMMER!

Over the past several weeks, I have tried out three of four different apps. I started with fring. It would let me have a skype client thing on my phone. Well, that was pretty cool, but I didn’t want to have to have all of my friends readd yet something else to their skype lists. But, it also let me use SIP. Pretty neat….I went looking at some of the options.

I stumble on the GizmoProject (fring has them listed at the top of the SIP list. I started looking at the top and went down.). This is interesting, I think. I sign up for an account and start playing around with it. Turns out it is pretty cool. And, they have an app that will integrate the phone with Gizmo just like truphone did. The only bad part is I don’t have a real inbound phone number. Or do I?

I also happen to have a Grand Central account that I got (thanks Mike!) just to play around with. I never did too much with it before I left the US, but I wonder if I can use that number to send calls via sip. Well, it turns out that Grand Central will indeed forward calls to my gizmo number! So, I now have a way that people can call me by dialing a US phone number and have it ring my cell phone. Well, as long as I have internet access that is.

So, what do I wish I had known before? Well, Vonage service seems a tad pricey. But, it is unlimited…that is a plus. It doesn’t matter who we call in the US (or several European countries) but it is free. But not very portable (no, I’m not going to pay them more for a softphone/USB stick phone account). What happens when/if we travel?

Let me say right off that the IDEAL solution would be if my employer would offer some sort of SIP PBX that I could hook into. Take some of the inbound DIDs and give those of us overseas a number in the US people could call. We could then bring our own SIP device and have what I have right now. Then, they could give us the ability to make outbound local calls (doesn’t cost them extra). With that, we could use any of the various calling cards to call people. And if security is an issue, why not just encrypt the SIP traffic ? Actually, that sounds like a rather cool idea. Then calls from the home office overseas wouldn’t cost squat and everything would be secure.

Anyway, back to reality. Are we going to dump vonage? Probably not. However, I would have probably just gone with Gizmo and my phone had I known about it before we signed up for vonage. We’d probably end up and spend less per month on phone calls and the solution would be very portable. AND, it would still work in the US when we returned (and there, I could have an unlimited data plan too boot).

[Update 06-04-2008 08:09:56] Truphone v. 4 seems to have fixed the connection problems I was having.  It is back to my preferred VoIP solution on my phone now.  I’ll continue to test and let you know what happens. For more information, read this post .

[Update 2012-12-26 06:50:05] Removed a link to http://www.mobilevoipforum.org/showthread.php?t=1895.  It was dead.

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