Category: Telephone

Review of Building Enterprise Ready Telephony Systems with sipXecs 4.0 by Michael W. Picher (Packt Publishing)

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog. In order to comply with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I am disclosing that he received a free product sample of the item under review prior to writing the review, and that any links to Amazon.com in this article are affiliate links, and if you make a purchase through one of those links I will receive a small commission on the sale.

This article was originally published in December, 2009.

Cover of Building Enterprise Ready Telephony Systems with sipXecs 4.0
Cover of Building Enterprise Ready Telephony Systems with sipXecs 4.0

Regular readers of this blog may recall that I recently reviewed another Packt Publishing book, FreePBX 2.5 Powerful Telephony Solutions by Alex Robar, and that my review was generally positive.  However, I have wondered for a while if there was going to be any serious competition for Asterisk and FreePBX that would also be open source, and freely available to anyone that cares to download it.  Well, this book discusses one contender – sipXecs by SIPfoundry.  You can look over their web site to get some idea of what sipXecs is, but in one respect it’s along the same lines as FreePBX, in that it provides a web-based GUI that allows you to do all the work of configuring your phone system from any web browser.  The book is called Building Enterprise Ready Telephony Systems with sipXecs 4.0 by Michael W. Picher.

I’ve never personally so much as laid eyes upon a working sipXecs installation, so this isn’t going to be a review of sipXecs per se.  But I suppose some are wondering what the difference is between sipXecs and FreePBX.  The impression I got from reading this book is that the two have some differences in features, and even where there is feature overlap, there are differences in the way those features are implemented.  If you are just counting features, FreePBX probably offers more, and many of those features have more configuration options.  FreePBX would probably work very well in a home or small office.  sipXecs, on the other hand, seems to have been designed by folks with experience in networking and larger business installations.  If you were trying to link several branches of a medium-sized to large corporation together, and it’s crucial to have 100% uptime (or as close to that figure as possible), sipXecs might be a better choice (at least until someone high in the corporate food chain demands a feature it doesn’t offer).  And if you’re a networking professional, you might find sipXecs more appealing.  This is definitely NOT to say that sipXecs could not be used in a home or small office setting, nor that FreePBX could not be used in a large corporation for that matter, just that each may fill a particular niche better than the other.

So I will concentrate on the book itself, and I’ll let the publisher have the first word.  Here is how they describe this book:

A clear and concise approach to building a communications system for any organization with the open source sipX Enterprise Communications Server

In Detail

Open source telephony systems are making big waves in the communications industry. Moving your organization from a lab environment to production system can seem like a daunting and inherently risky proposition. Building Enterprise Ready Telephony Systems with sipXecs delivers proven techniques for deploying reliable and robust communications systems.

Building Enterprise Ready Telephony Systems with sipXecs provides a guiding hand in planning, building and migrating a corporate communications system to the open source sipXecs SIP PBX platform. Following this step-by-step guide makes normally complex tasks, such as migrating your existing communication system to VOIP and deploying phones, easy. Imagine how good you’ll feel when you have a complete, enterprise ready telephony system at work in your business.

Planning a communications system for any size of network can seem an overwhelmingly complicated task. Deploying a robust and reliable communications system may seem even harder. This book will start by helping you understand the nuts and bolts of a Voice over IP Telephony system. The base knowledge gained is then built upon with system design and product selection. Soon you will be able to implement, utilize and maintain a communications system with sipXecs. Many screen-shots and diagrams help to illustrate and make simple what can otherwise be a complex undertaking. It’s easy to build an enterprise ready telephony system when you follow this helpful, straightforward guide.

What you will learn from this book

• Understand the complexities of an IP Telephony and Voice over IP network
• Build a clear process for migrating existing phone systems to an IP based system
• Deliver a solid foundation for any IP based phone system
• Quickly and easily get a sipXecs open source PBX running
• Deploy phones quickly and easily.
• Utilize Internet Telephony Service Providers to reduce monthly telephony bills
• Develop training materials to help successfully teach your users how to use the system
• Leverage sipXecs Automatic Call Distribution Queues to handle basic Call Center needs
• Operate and Maintain a reliable communications platform

Approach

This book was written to be a step by step approach to building a communications system for any organization. Care was taken to clearly illustrate with diagrams and screen shots all of the steps and concepts along the way. [Emphasis added – I’ll have more to say on that point!]

Who this book is written for

This book is written for network engineers who have been asked to deploy and maintain communications systems for their organizations.

And here’s the chapter list:

Preface
Chapter 1: Introduction to Telephony Concepts and sipXecs
Chapter 2: System Planning and Equipment Selection
Chapter 3: Installing sipXecs
Chapter 4: Configuring Users
Chapter 5: Configuring Phones in sipXecs
Chapter 6: Connecting to the World with sipXecs
Chapter 7: Configuring sipXecs Server Features
Chapter 8: Using sipXecs—The User Perspective
Chapter 9: Configuring Advanced sipXecs Features
Chapter 10: Utilizing the sipXecs ACD Service
Chapter 11: Maintenance and Security
Appendix: Glossary
Index

See the Table of Contents page to get a more detailed chapter breakdown.

Now, when I review a book, the thing I am looking at is whether the author accomplishes what he or she set out to do.  In this case, the intent of the book is to instruct someone in how to set up a working sipXecs PBX.  So, I look at whether the author seems to have a good grasp of his subject matter, and whether he can communicate his knowledge to the reader in a clear and understandable manner.   A third consideration is whether the book is a good value for the money.   Technical books often aren’t inexpensive, so I tend to mark them down if I perceive that there’s a lot of “filler” material in the book.

It’s difficult for me to decide how to rate this book.  Does the author understand his subject matter?  Yes, it certainly appears that he does.  Does he effectively communicate it?  Yes, the book was an easy read — I really didn’t feel like I was in “over my head” at any point in the book.  Could you set up a working sipXecs phone system after reading this book?  I think I could, but I can’t speak for anyone else.  In fact, in many ways, this was one of the clearest and most understandable technical books I’ve read.

You sense a “but” coming, don’t you?

Well, there is, and it’s a big one.  Did you notice above where the publisher said that “Care was taken to clearly illustrate with diagrams and screen shots all of the steps and concepts along the way”?  Well, the book definitely contains screenshots — a LOT of screenshots.  And normally, that would be very good thing, because as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.  A screenshot would not add value to a book only in the case where it was useless “filler” material, and it’s pretty apparent that none of the screenshots in this book were intended to just be “filler.”

But, for a screenshot to be useful and not “filler”, it has to be readable.  And in that regard, this book has a serious problem.   If you buy the hardcopy edition of the book, I’d strongly urge you to also buy a good magnifying glass, because you’re going to need it to get anything out of those screenshots, unless perhaps you have perfect vision.   Apparently the author (or whoever took the screenshots) has a widescreen monitor, and was running their web browser in full screen (or at least full width) mode.   As a result, most of the text in the screenshots borders on microscopic, and some of the smaller print is unreadable (by me, anyway).   When you take those extra-wide screenshots and reduce them to about five inches in width on a printed page, you need very good eyes (or good glasses) to make out the text.  After trying to decipher the details in those screenshots for a while, I started to get a headache!

At first I thought maybe it was my eyes going bad — I am getting older, after all — but then I opened up some of the other books I have in my collection, including other Packt Publishing books, and none of them suffer from this problem.  Frankly, if I were the publisher I’d stop the presses on this book immediately, and not let another copy go out the door until all the screenshots were re-done, but then that’s just me.

Now, that said, the book is not totally without value.  I think that perhaps the author just might have realized he had a problem, because in many cases he repeats in the text most of what’s in the screenshot (at least the portion to which he’s calling your attention), so not being able to actually read the screenshot isn’t always such a loss — but unfortunately, it also relegates the screenshots more toward the category of “filler.”

So, would I recommend this book? Yes, for two classes of readers in particular:

  • Those thinking about setting up an Asterisk/FreePBX system that would like to know about available alternatives.  It may be that the particular combination of features that you deem essential can only be found in one of either sipXecs or FreePBX, and by reading this book and the aforementioned FreePBX book, you’d have a pretty good idea of the differences in capabilities between the two.
  • Those thinking of installing a VoIP PBX in a larger organization, where reliability and scalability are far more important than the actual feature set.   My impression from the book is that sipXecs is designed with larger businesses and higher call volumes in mind.   That’s no reason that someone with a small business should shy away from it, but if you are very concerned about reliability and high “uptime” then you probably should at least give sipXecs some consideration.  And if your organization is large enough to have people with degrees in computer networking in your employ, they might prefer working with sipXecs.  This is not to say you can’t do a large installation using Asterisk, but now you have another choice, and this book can help you decide which is best in your particular situation.

If it weren’t for the screenshot issue, I’d be giving this book very high marks.  The focus of the book is deployment in a business setting, and the author takes you through the steps for planning and implementing the system, whether you are replacing an existing PBX or starting from scratch.  Having some knowledge of computer networking would be helpful, but as I noted, I’m no networking expert and yet I didn’t feel totally lost.  In fact, if you know telephone systems but don’t know all that much about networking, you’ll find that just about everything you really need to know is explained, but without going into extraneous detail.  You get the information you need to get the job done, but if you want to become a networking guru, you’ll need some other book for that.

I’m just really sorry that the bad screenshots marred an otherwise fine book, but I have to call ’em as I see ’em, and in my opinion they really are that bad.  Whether that would matter to you is something only you can decide.  I should mention that I was provided a hardcopy edition of the book for review, but Packt also offers an e-book edition in Adobe PDF format on their web site, and if you are comfortable reading e-books, I’d definitely go that route with this book, because most PDF readers will let you magnify sections of a page.  So, the nearly unreadable screenshots might actually be very readable in the e-book edition. Also, if you do go the e-book route, be sure to scroll down the page and look for the offer, “Buy this eBook with FreePBX 2.5 Powerful Telephony Solutions eBook and get 50% discount on both. Just enter sip40xecs in the ‘Promotion Code’.”  Seems like a good deal, especially if you’re wanting to compare FreePBX and sipXecs.

Building Enterprise Ready Telephony Systems with sipXecs 4.0 by Michael W. Picher (Packt Publishing link) (Amazon affiliate link)

Review of FreePBX 2.5 Powerful Telephony Solutions by Alex Robar (Packt Publishing)

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog. In order to comply with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I am disclosing that he received a free product sample of the item under review prior to writing the review, and that any links to Amazon.com in this article are affiliate links, and if you make a purchase through one of those links I will receive a small commission on the sale.

This article was originally published in September, 2009.

Cover of FreePBX 2.5 Powerful Telephony Solutions
Cover of FreePBX 2.5 Powerful Telephony Solutions

FreePBX 2.5 Powerful Telephony Solutions by Alex Robar (Packt Publishing) explains how to set up, configure, and maintain a powerful VoIP PBX using FreePBX.  For those not familiar with FreePBX, it’s a “front end” for the Asterisk PBX software. Asterisk can be thought of as the “engine” that runs the PBX, but FreePBX is the user interface.  It basically saves you the effort of writing Asterisk configuration files and dial plans by hand.  Instead, you enter all the requisite information in FreePBX’s web-based GUI, and then when you apply the configuration changes (by clicking an orange bar at the top of the screen), FreePBX (re)writes the Asterisk dial plan and configuration files on the fly. This means that making significant changes to the call flow within the PBX, or adding new extensions or trunks, can be accomplished in a matter of seconds or minutes. It also means that you can have a fully functional PBX up and running in a few hours (perhaps even less than an hour if you’re exceptionally quick and it’s not your first installation).

As I like to do in reviews, before I begin I’ll give you a thumbnail description of what’s in each chapter (condensed from information on the Packt Publishing web site):

  • Chapter 1: Installing FreePBX – Installing FreePBX on CentOS 5.2 or Ubuntu Server 8.10
  • Chapter 2: Module Maintenance – how to install and update modules
  • Chapter 3: Devices and Extensions – explains the difference between Extensions mode and DeviceAndUser mode, and explains how to set up extensions and users. Also explains the different types of endpoints, and how to set up voicemail for a user or extension
  • Chapter 4: Trunks – discusses trunk types, setting up a new trunk, and checking trunk status
  • Chapter 5: Basic Call Targets – explains various ways to terminate calls on a FreePBX system, including Extension and Voicemail, Ring Groups, Conferences, Day Night Mode, and Phonebook Directory
  • Chapter 6: Advanced Call Targets – discusses Queues, Time conditions, and the setup of an IVR (Digital Receptionist)
  • Chapter 7: Call Routing – discusses Inbound routing, Follow Me and the VmX Locater, and Outbound routing and Least Cost Routing
  • Chapter 8: Recording Calls – focuses on everything you need to know about recording calls that pass through a FreePBX system
  • Chapter 9: Personalizing Your PBX – discusses Custom Music on Hold, Custom voice prompts, Directory search options, Customizing feature codes, Callback, Direct Inward System Access (DISA), CallerID Lookup Sources, PIN Sets, Misc applications, and Misc Destinations
  • Chapter 10: System Protection, Backup and Restoration – how to protect your system against failure, discussing both hardware methods (a good UPS and redundancy) and backups and restoration
  • Chapter 11: Security and Access Control – explains how to upgrade your operating system and Asterisk, plus various ways to secure your system against attacks

There are also four appendices:

  • Appendix A: FreePBX Modules
  • Appendix B: Feature Codes
  • Appendix C: Voicemail.conf Options
  • Appendix D: Common Trunk Configurations

I’m coming from a slightly different place in my review of this book than with other books I’ve reviewed. In this case I’ve already very familiar with the subject material, having helped set up and configure a FreePBX system that belongs to another member of my family. I was a bit afraid that because I’m already so familiar with the subject, I’d find several glaring errors or oversights. Happily, that proved not to be the case – this book is a good, solid treatment of setting up and configuring a FreePBX system. In fact, the title should have been “How to set up and maintain a FreePBX system”, because that’s exactly what this book explains.

The first thing that impressed me about this book is that there was no “filler” material. Very often, with technical books, the author really only has about 75 to 100 pages of actual material, but because publishers like to publish books that have somewhere around a couple hundred pages, the author will flesh out the book with a history of the software, a profile of the developers, comparisons with competing products, and (if they are really desperate for material) a history of the Internet. 🙂 That is not the case here. After a very short preface, the author jumps right into the subject material, starting with how to install FreePBX and then continuing through subsequent chapters with virtually everything you need to know about configuration. While not every chapter may be meaningful to every reader (personally, I’ve never had the need to record a call — so far — but it’s nice to know that FreePBX can do it), the book at least touches on all the major features of FreePBX.

If I had to make one criticism of the book, it’s that in some places it reads a little bit too much like an instruction manual. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because FreePBX has badly needed a good manual to assist first time users in getting it set up and running. This is the manual that should have come with FreePBX. That said, the author really doesn’t touch some of the problems frequently encountered by new users. For example, in the discussion of SIP endpoints, he notes that “SIP can be problematic when traversing firewalls and other NAT devices” and that “Configuration can be particularly troublesome if both the endpoint and the FreePBX system are behind their own firewalls” (p. 44). And there he leaves the reader hanging. There is no discussion of how to overcome the problem, nor is there a pointer to the FreePBX FAQ’s or How-To’s anywhere in the book. While many readers may not encounter this issue, a fair number will, and it would have been nice if they’d been thrown a bone, if only in the form of a pointer to the FreePBX page that addresses the issue.

In my opinion, perhaps the biggest omission is in the discussion of Trunk setup in Chapter 4. This was really the only chapter in which I got the distinct feeling that the author may have been in just a bit over his head, and perhaps did not fully grasp the subject matter covered in the chapter. Not only are there errors in his examples of dial pattern usage (p. 81 – under no circumstances would you use two pipe characters in the same dial pattern, as is shown for some of the toll-free number examples), but when discussing IAX2 and SIP trunks (p. 83), only cursory information is given about how to populate the PEER details and USER details fields. Nor is it explained that with many commercial VoIP providers, the USER context and USER details fields are not used, and should be left blank. However, in the author’s defense, I suspect that I understand why this may have happened — there probably aren’t ten people on the face of the earth that can give you a full explanation of all the options that could possibly be used in the trunk PEER and USER details fields, and when and how each option should be used. Trunk configuration is probably the most difficult part of setting up FreePBX, precisely because there’s no definitive guide on how to do it correctly. In most cases, I suspect that finding the correct options to use with any particular provider is a matter of trial and error — you make educated guesses about which options might be needed and how they should be configured, and if you find a combination that works, perhaps you post it so that others can use it. Some of the known working trunk configuration settings appear in Appendix D of the book, but there are more sample configurations available at the FreePBX web site.

I only mention this because I was hopeful that maybe someone would finally provide a really good how-to on setting up FreePBX trunks, since this is something that almost always confounds new users, and even causes experienced users to get a few (more) gray hairs on occasion. Had I been writing such a book, and had I really understood the subject, I might have given several pages to the subject of trunk configuration in general, and PEER and USER details in particular, not just a few cursory paragraphs. On the other hand, most users will probably seek out a tested and working trunk configuration for whatever provider(s) they use.  It’s not as though there isn’t any online help on the subject, but — and this is another minor criticism — for some reason the book barely mentions the availability of online help (for example, unless I missed it there is no specific mention of the FreePBX How-Tos that address several of the issues encountered by new users). This is why I say that at times the book reads like an instruction manual — it gives you all the basics, but seldom touches the “edge cases”, the little quirks and problems that may be encountered by a significant subset of users, but not by all.

However, I don’t want to leave you with the idea that this book is simply a rehash of information that could be found online — even if that were the case, it presents that information in a logical manner that is easily understandable by the reader. But, many essential functions of maintaining a FreePBX system happen outside of the FreePBX interface. For example, you cannot update your operating system or Asterisk from within the FreePBX GUI, but the book explains how to do both.  Chapters 10 and 11 (on System Protection, Backup and Restoration, and Security and Access Control) deal with functions that are at least partially handled outside of FreePBX.  In some instances the author provides useful shell scripts that automate particular tasks (for example, deleting old, outdated backups to avoid filling up the hard drive). And in many cases, the book does explain things that new users need to know, but might not know that they need to know — for example, the explanation of Codecs and the penalty involved (both in terms of system performance and call latency) in transcoding between codecs.

Anyway, the bottom line is this: Let’s say your boss wants you to set up a new office phone system using Asterisk, and gives you a couple of weeks to do it. If you have no prior experience with Asterisk, you will almost certainly want to use FreePBX (the alternative is writing dial plans and configuration files by hand, and trust me, you don’t want to do that unless you are the sort of person who enjoys writing source code for major projects, and even then you probably don’t want to do it if you’re under any sort of time deadline). And if you’re going to use FreePBX, and you don’t want to spend hours and even days ferreting out information on the Internet, you need this book. Get your boss to buy it (there’s even an e-book version if you need it right now), then just follow the instructions, chapter by chapter. In a few days time, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a FreePBX expert.  That’s partly because FreePBX is so easy to use in the first place, but also because the book tells you pretty much everything you need to know, in a very understandable manner. If you get stuck, help is available at the FreePBX web site and at other various locations on the Internet.

If you are a long-time FreePBX user, you may find that you already know much of what’s in this book, but then again it might surprise you how much can still be learned.  For example, I found several good suggestions for adding additional security to a FreePBX system in Chapter 11 of the book — and let’s face it, many of us are probably a bit lax about securing our systems to the greatest possible extent (and that could be a very costly mistake).

One other point I should make — as the title of the book implies, it deals with a particular version of FreePBX, namely version 2.5.  Of course, as so often happens with a book about software, the ink is barely dry on the paper when a new version comes out.  FreePBX 2.6 has already been offered as a release candidate, and beta versions of FreePBX 3.0 are being made available.  From a user’s standpoint, version 2.6 will be nearly identical to 2.5 – there may be a few added options and such, but for the most part they are not things that you would need to worry about, or that would detract from the accuracy of this book.  However, FreePBX 3.0 will be a major rewrite, but it’s only available in an early beta version, and unless you are an experimenter that wants to be on the bleeding edge, you don’t want it yet.  Whenever you do move to FreePBX version 3.0 — and I’d be very surprised if a full release version is much closer than a year away — much of what you’ve learned about FreePBX 2.5 and subsequent versions will still be applicable (and also, I suspect that people will be using FreePBX 2.x versions for quite some time to come).

FreePBX 2.5 Powerful Telephony Solutions by Alex Robar (Amazon affiliate link)

Hey Lucy! Get the Phone!

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog. Please note that any links to Amazon.com in this article are affiliate links, and if you make a purchase through one of those links I will receive a small commission on the sale.

Anyone under the age of 40 may not remember the name, but at one time Crosley was one of the big names in radio receivers and early black-and-white televisions. Even though the original Crosley Corporation no longer exists, the brand name was purchased and is now used by Crosley Radio, a company that makes reproductions of products that are stuck in our collective memories – perhaps from finding them in our grandparents’ attics, or seeing them in old movies and TV shows.

Of course, these are only reproductions, and often not exact reproductions due to advances in technology. Such is the case with their line of telephone reproductions. No matter how much you might desire a perfect reproduction of an older model, the fact is that nowadays it’s not really practical to have a phone without touch tone dialing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t come awfully close.

302 Telephone reproduction

The phones come in a small choice of colors that varies depending on the model – for example, you might want basic black in a wall or desk phone…

300 series wall phone reproduction

… but, it would hardly make sense to offer a black Princess phone.

Princess phone reproduction

I’m sure these reproductions aren’t perfect. For example, a real model 354 wall phone as made by Western Electric (in the USA) or Northern Electric (in Canada) has slots on the sides so that the ringer could be heard a bit more clearly. No slots on the phone in the above photo, but since it probably doesn’t contain a real mechanical ringer anyway, those slots would not serve any purpose and would just catch dust. Also, the phones come with an earpiece volume control, something the originals usually did not have.

Coin Telephone Reproduction

Want to buy one? Check out Amazon’s selection of Crosley phones (Amazon affiliate link).

I don’t know how well these actually work as phones (I’ve never actually used one, just happened across their web site), but I’d assume they work as well as other modern phones, and they sure look nice, especially that red 302 desk set reproduction. Crosley Radio (the new company) also makes reproductions of other nostalgic items, such as cathedral style radios and jukeboxes (which play CD’s, not “stacks of wax”), so you may want to download a catalog. So if you are stuck for a Father’s Day gift, and if Dad is into old stuff, set him up with a VoIP service and then plug one of these beauties into it. Of course, you can still find the real thing on fleabay, but unfortunately those old mechanical dials (besides having a tendency to lock up after all these years) won’t work with modern VoIP service.

Speaking of which, I wonder why no one sells a dial conversion separately – something that would replace the mechanical dials in those old Western/Northern Electric 300 series phones, and similar phones that used the same size dial (and there were many such back in the day). If they can do it in these reproduction phones, why can’t you purchase the dials separately and put them in the genuine item? Or would that be something no one (except me) would consider doing to one of those old phones? I somehow doubt that – for a while, people were making table lamps out of old candlestick phones, so I don’t think that replacing the old rotary dial with a touch tone unit would be that big a deal, unless you were looking for a museum piece. But, that’s just me.

Review of Ring Voltage Booster II™ from Mike Sandman Enterprises

 

Important
This is an edited version of a post that originally appeared on a blog called The Michigan Telephone Blog, which was written by a friend before he decided to stop blogging. It is reposted with his permission. Comments dated before the year 2013 were originally posted to his blog. In order to comply with Federal Trade Commission regulations, I am disclosing that he received a free product sample of the item under review prior to writing the review.

This article was originally published in April, 2008.

Once in a while you run into a situation where someone wants to put a whole bunch of phones on one physical phone pair. This can often happen in a home with many rooms, where every room has been prewired with a phone jack. You start out with a phone in the kitchen or living room, then you want one in the master bedroom, then each of the kids wants one, then you want one in the workshop down in the basement, and so on. Okay, so granted that the above example would probably have been more appropriate 20 years ago (before all the family members started wanting their own cell phones) but you can still run into such situations, both in homes and in small businesses that only have one or two phone lines and a bunch of phones hanging off each line.

In the old days the phone company let you have enough current to ring five standard telephone ringers – 5 REN in telco-speak – and that was five of the old mechanical style ringers with real bells. But nowadays people have started replacing their old wireline lines with newer stuff, like VoIP, and VoIP adapters can be notoriously stingy with ring current. Sometimes when people convert to VoIP, they find that they either have to disconnect some phones (or at least, shut off or disconnect the ringers in those phones) or figure out a way to boost the ring current.

Yet another problem with both certain makes of VoIP adapters, and even with some low-cost telephone switches sold to businesses, is that they don’t produce enough ringing voltage or current to begin with. That might be particularly true if the adapter or switch was designed to standards other than those typically used in the U.S.A. and Canada. In those two countries, phones and phone equipment have always been designed to expect ringing current at approximately 90 volts AC at 20 Hertz (cycles per second), but in some other countries both the ringing voltage and frequency can be quite different, causing equipment designed for the North American standard to not ring properly. Even with a VoIP adapter set to the correct voltage and frequency (not all are; it’s left to the provider to set those parameters on some devices), most VoIP adapters are only rated at 3 REN or less.

Ring Voltage Booster II™

Recently I discovered that Mike Sandman Enterprises has started offering their Ring Voltage Booster II™ – this is the successor to the original Ring Voltage Booster™ that Mike has been selling for several years now, and it looked to me as though it would be just the thing to cure those ringing problems. The Ring Voltage Booster II is used in series with a telephone wire pair entering the premises (or coming out of a VoiP adapter or similar device), and it senses ringing voltage on the line and increases it (actually regenerates it) to the North American standard 90VAC RMS at 20 cycles, and increases ringing current to 7.5 REN.

I wanted to obtain a unit and try it out. I did just that and I thought I’d share the results of my test with you folks, because I was very favorably impressed with the unit. If all you want to know is whether it works as advertised, I would say that based on my experience the answer is an unqualified yes (with one very minor caveat, which I will mention in a moment).

The way I tested it was this. I had a Sipura SPA-2000 VoIP adapter which was connected to the existing phone wiring in a home where the wireline service has recently been disconnected. There was already quite a collection of phone equipment on the line, and I hung a couple of extra items on to load it down. When we got through adding phones we had the following on the line: two modern phones with warble-type ringers, three old 2500-series touch-tone wall phones with real mechanical ringers, one old 2500-series desk set with a real mechanical ringer, and just for fun, one old Western Electric 302 desk set with original ringer and ringing capacitor.

I want everyone reading to pause for a moment and consider that, apart from the fact that this 1940’s-era phone has a rotary dial rather than a touch tone pad, it works great today with the original ringer and capacitor. I’ve had several computer power supplies fail on me in recent years, usually within a year or two of purchase, due to bad capacitors (in a couple cases, exploding capacitors!). For all the bad things about the old Bell System, they sure knew how to build a telephone that would survive just about anything, except the elimination of switching equipment that accepts rotary dial pulses.

Anyway, I had the aforementioned relatively huge load (well above 3 REN, no matter how you count it) hooked up to the Sipura SPA-2000, and I placed a call to it.

And darned if the phones didn’t ring!

I stood there open-mouthed for a moment. Granted the ringing was a bit weak, but all the phones were ringing. I really hadn’t expected that. I could tell I was putting a significant load on the SPA-2000, but not enough to make a very noticeable difference in the quality of ringing. Then it dawned on me – I remember reading somewhere that early Sipura adapters were conservatively rated, but such was not necessarily the case with their successor, the PAP-2 from Linksys. Well, I have one of those, too.

So I disconnected the SPA-2000 and hooked up the newer PAP-2, and placed a call to the PAP-2, and did that make a difference! With the same load as described above, the phones were still ringing, but they were really struggling. The W.E. 302 and one of the new warblers were having the most trouble, both giving only partial rings. The others were ringing very anemically.

I then inserted the Ring Voltage Booster II™ and placed several test calls. The ringing was clear and strong, in fact, each phone rang as if it were the only phone on the line, and the ringing seemed loud and crisp on all phones. Granted this is a bit of a subjective observation since I was, after all, listening to mechanical telephone bells ring, but I grew up with those and I know what they sound like when they are ringing as they should, and these were.

There were two other things I wanted to observe. One was whether the unit interfered in any way with Caller ID. Only one of the phones in this test had a Caller ID display, but it got the correct Caller ID information every time. The other thing was whether it would have any problem with a distinctive ringing signal, and again, I can report that it did not. I happen to have that adapter programmed so that when a particular friend calls it rings with a distinctive ring, since this particular friend seems to have a peculiar form of psychic ability – he always seems to call when I am indisposed (usually in the bathroom or some such thing). So if it rings with his ring, I know I can wait until I’m through with whatever I’m doing, then call him back and share a laugh over yet another occurrence of his weird form of E.S.P. So, in order to test distinctive ringing, I called him and asked him to call me back and let it ring, and once the ringing commenced I checked several phones and all were ringing with the correct distinctive ring cadence (two approximately one-half second rings followed by a one second ring, or at least that’s what it sounds like). Also, I could hear a relay inside the Ring Voltage Booster II™ clicking on and off in time with the distinctive ring patterns.

In fact, the unit worked perfectly, save for one very minor nit: Sometimes, if I picked up a phone during a ring, it would continue to apply ringing voltage for the duration of that ring – in other words, it didn’t seem to always sense that the phone had been picked up and stop the ringing until that ring had ended. In all fairness, I’ve seen this happen before with other types of equipment, including real phone switches (particularly on long loops in rural areas, etc.). What this means is that if you pick up the phone at the very start of a ring and press it to your ear immediately, you could get a pretty loud buzz in the ear for a second or so. I don’t think this will be a major issue for most users, particularly since the unit solves a much greater problem (phones not ringing at all, or ringing very weakly). But for a few people, it might be an annoyance (Edit: One way to reduce this would be to always use a ring pattern that has rings that are one second long or less.  Some VoIP providers will let you set a “distinctive ringing” pattern for each line or each incoming number – if you pick one that has a two or more short rings instead of a single long one, you greatly reduce your chance of hearing the loud buzz when you pick up the phone.  Now that I think of that, I’ll bet that explains why many independent telephone companies used one-second long rings, instead of the two-second rings common in the Bell System).  I don’t know if this was an issue with just the unit I was using, or with all of the units of this model, but it was the only thing I noticed about the unit that wasn’t “perfect” – in every other way, it delivered all you’d expect from such a device.

There are a couple of other pleasant surprises about this unit. Neither the unit itself nor its power supply seem to generate excessive heat in normal standby mode (I did not test an extended ringing cycle lasting several minutes or more, because that would have required shutting off voicemail) – in fact the small “wall wart” was very cool to the touch a couple hours after being plugged in. That’s more than I can say about many of the “wall wart” power supplies i normally use, and as you know, heat is wasted energy, so I’m very happy that Mike is including what appears to be a quality power supply. But what really shocked me was the small size of the unit. Perhaps it’s because I’m an “olde pharte” that equates a ringing generator with, at the very least, a large steel box hanging on the wall in a basement or phone closet, but this thing blew me away because it’s even smaller than any of my VoIP adapters! The longest dimension on it is only about three and a half inches. You’re almost certainly not going to have any problem finding a place to put it.

Hookup couldn’t be simpler, but you must observe that you get the connections right to avoid damaging the unit – in other words, don’t connect the side that’s supposed to be connected to the phones to the incoming phone line, or you will damage the unit. There are only three connections, one for power, one for the incoming line (labeled “line in” – this is the side you’d connect to a VoIP adapter), and one to go to the phones. If you are connecting it to a VoIP adapter you can probably do it in under a minute, once you have it out of the packaging.

In summary, if for any reason you don’t have enough ringing voltage or current on your phone line (or coming out of a VoIP adapter) and you need to boost it, this is the unit that will do it, at least up to 7.5 REN. And if you have a ridiculous number of phones on one line, remember that you can connect some of them before the Ring Voltage Booster II™ (using the original ringing voltage and current from the line or adapter) and the rest after (using the regenerated ringing current from the Ring Voltage Booster II™).

One caveat, this unit does not increase the gain (circuit loss), talk battery, or loop current of a line – if you need to boost loop current then Mike sells a separate Loop Current Booster™ that will do that. But the Ring Voltage Booster II™ basically gets out of the way when the phone isn’t ringing, and should not have any effect whatsoever on transmit or receive volume levels.

Mike Sandman has been selling quality phone equipment for many years now, so I expected this to be a quality unit. Even so, I was very favorably impressed with it. If you have problems related to low ringing voltage or current, get this device. If you have problems related to wrong-frequency ringing current (something that’s putting out ringing current at a frequency other than 20 Hertz), I’m pretty sure this will solve that problem as well, though I did not test that personally. Here is one more link to the page that describes this unit (and some others) and please note this is a plain-vanilla link – I’m not making any commission or anything if you buy one. I hope this review helps someone that’s having a problem getting their phones to ring!

Disclosure:  I have not been and will not be paid anything for writing this article, and I do not receive any commission or other compensation from sales of this item, and the links in this article are not affiliate links.  I did, however, request and receive a complementary Ring Voltage Booster II™ for review purposes (which I was allowed to keep after writing the review, and for that I am most grateful).

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