Monday, December 24, 2012

In praise of the 900 MHz cordless phone

When my new Android SIP VOIP landline phone is on the air shipping, let me take the time to praise my old 900 MHz cordless phone, which prevailed several challenges.

When I was in my relocation apartment, I got my hands on a 3rd generation cordless at 900 MHz.  The 1st 2 generations analog cordless are useless.  That Panasonic sounded good, same as corded.  It hold well, actually even better because of the size and quality plastic.  That was 1998 !!!

Before carrying further, I have to tell the story of the razors.  My father uses one blade razors for all his life.  I do the same rather than power shavers, which doesn't do the job well, and still doesn't.  Suddenly, dual blade shavers came out.  I tried it because I have no choice.  It was free.  It seemed good.  Then all of a sudden triple blades.  Now, if you still don't think that 4 or 5 blade razors is a scam, you must be stupid.  They got away with it for far too long.

When I got my own house several months later, I decided to get the same phone.  It sound good and it feel good.  And my budget was tight.

At the time, manufacturers ganged together to get you to replace your cordless phone.  The Europeans always have DECT, the digital cordless standard which will be similar to the US 900 MHz digital.  But DECT guarantees compatibility among manufactures, and cover necessary standards such as encryption.

Following is the standard sale pitch at the time.  Digital is of course better.  High frequency is better, like 2.4 GHz.  Spread spectrum is even better.  Later the ultimate monster 5.6 GHz spread spectrum came out.  I am sort of an insider so I know.  This is nothing more than 5-blade razors.

Digital will be better, but if you don't have interference problems, the voice cannot be better than the phone line and depends very much on the quality of your mic and earpiece. Higher frequency have shorter range and have more problems to overcome.  2.4 GHz is the microwave spectrum.  Early and not so early wi-fi all stopped whenever I was cooking something in the microwave.  So you don't need higher frequency when the spectrum is not crowed.  The crowd never came on my 900 MHz.

Spread spectrum in cordless is never the intended use of spread spectrum.  FCC limits the power of every phone so as not to interfere with each other or with other services.  By transmitting a wideband signal, the total power is increased very much and created a phone with a monster range that the rest of the world never need.  Most people in US don't need it too.  If you have a house of farm that is measured in acres, and you want every inch of it covered with cordless signal, then it's for you.   But it make more sense to carry a cell phone when you go horse riding, and add a repeater for reaching the out house at the far end that you will likely ever take a call.

The salesman started the pitch on me when I walked near the cordless section of the store.  I resisted it and picked the Panasonic that I can spot on the shelf.  The saleman walked away disappointed and commented to other saleman that "they are difficult".  I came prepared and I knew the pitch well.

Today, 2012, it still sounded better than any other phone I have.  And I'll be still keeping it in 2013 in case that I have to revert to using ATA for VOIP.

For an uninterpreted service of 14 years, the 1st hurdle is the battery.  People are still buying custom battery packs from the manufacturer.  People are still replacing their phones because their battery ran flat, costing not much more to replace the phone than the battery pack.  But the batteries are standard NiCd batteries.  You just need to keep the connector and solder the new rechargeable battery together and to the connector.  NiMH batteries are better and compatible with the phone charger.  Well, at least you need a cheap continuity tester (like a light bulb) and a soldering iron.  But I got those already.

We are the 1st on the street to get cable telephone service, and cable TV and Internet.  We use their digital services like answering machine.  Not too long after the phone, we realized that we need call screening and an answering machine that we alert and operate locally, and we need caller ID.  Instead of replacing the phone, we added to it an answering machine.  We got it because it was cheap but it ended up as resilient as the phone.  It have no hi-tech screen but a talking caller ID.  People are amazed by the convenience of this feature on the latest version of digital cordless today.  Some smartphone apps have it too.  The UI is totally via voice prompt.  You can set everything by following the voice.

Many times we wanted to scrap the old phone and answering machine and replace them with a digital cordless with answering machine and a caller ID display.  Every time I was deterred by the silliness of the cordless sale pitch and the bank of 5.6 GHz spread spectrum on the shelves.  If I don't buy one of those silly things, I am cheap.  I am cheap anyway so it doesn't hurt if I keep my favorite phone.

Also, I hate to give up the talking caller ID.  Yes, we can still use it even if we replace the phone.  But the one time I actually ordered a replacement is when I found a tiny phone with answering machine that can save a lot of space on the kitchen counter.

Again the main reason to replace the phone is because the phone is directly programmed to use some cheap international call providers.

It must be a conspiracy.  The caller ID of the cheap phone does not work with my "digital" phone company.  The phone is very small, made of very cheap plastic and designed like a square bar with ugly buttons.  I only tolerate it because we wouldn't be using it much. 

Instead of upgrade to a 5.6GHz spread spectrum, I dug up the old phone and answering machine from the garage.  I could have sold them or donated to charity for the blind.  The buttons are big to huge and you can use voice to setup everything on the answering machine.  And remember that the caller ID is speaking. 

Many years have past when the Sunrocket came.  It's a no brainer as my phone bill can be cut in half or a third.  They came in a big way so there was less worry of it going bust in a short time.  But I was wrong.

I decided against a ATA (analog telephone adapter) as I will be still keeping my old favorite junks plus a new box.  A wife cordless phone will be most sensible.  I know  the ATA's can be unlocked to use for other service providers but it made no sense to me.  So I finally got a new digital cordless phone with a caller ID display.

I was so happy with it that with difficulty I found an extra handset for it.  Both the "base" and the extension handset are from target.  But by then it's not easy to find the extra handset, as Sunrocket isn't promoting itself and any shops that still promote that thing will run the risk of being called scam.  Soon after that Sunrocket folded.  Those new toys became useless junk and I have to dig up my old favorite junks out once again.

The Sunrocket junks aren't that useless.  They can still be used as intercomm.  They can be used as walkie talkie outdoors.  Though you  have to bring an inverter to charge the base in the car.  They are a bit bulky but being digital, better than analog walkie talkies.  They may be still around but I haven't saw them for years.

Again many years have passed when my old favorite junks are challenged again.  Although I have been using Google Voice on my cell phone for years, Obi ignited my desire to ditch my phone company.  You get free calls for $40 one off!  Why not?  On closer examination, free calls rely on the Obi server to bridge Google Talk XMPP protocol and the SIP protocol.  They are in a way promising you a forever free service after you pay them $40 for a device.  If Obi ran out of business, you are high and dry.  And then I will still be using my analog phone without a caller id display.

It just happened that the Gigaset SIP DECT cordless phone is on the market for a deep discount.  I got the last one on Amazon.  If you know the history of Siemen, you may also want to own a piece of history of good engineering.  The hardware has to be good.  And it was.  Not so sure about the user interface.  And it was bad.

I got the Gigaset because I was mislead by one reviewer that the Gigaset works too with Google Voice so you can make free calls.  It would be a much better choice than Obi.  Digital all the way.  If you use the Obi, the output will be the same old analog signal from the phone company, and then you may digitized it again via DECT or the silly 5.6 GHz spread spectrum.

It was not to be.  The geek way of landline replacement doesn't mean the same as my requirement, that 1st graders can make calls and especially emergency calls.  Free calls depends on Gizmo, which provide the same service as OBI does to Google Voice.  But GV brought Gizmo and that service stopped.  There's one guy who provided the same OBI bridging service to anyone.  But it didn't work and it won't be reliable anyway.

There are other SIP providers.  Some charge over a hundred to lock you for a year.  Some calls are very cheap but you have to pay $10 credit up front anyway.  Generally I have no confidence as nobody comes out as the clear winner.  I have a limited window to return the phone.  Most of the SIP providers programmed in the phone went out of business.  Does it say something to you?

The UI is pretty crap compared to a smartphone.  Because of the display size, it's crap compared to a $15 go phone !!

After communicating with the seller and Siemen's, they can't recommend any good SIP service so I returned it.  My analog 900 MHz survived another challenge!

I stumbled on two technologies that I liked.  HD voice or wideband voice that every VOIP phone is capable of, but not traditional landline nor Obi.  SIP and DECT - the all digital cordless.  I really wanted to keep it as a piece of good engineering history, as you see what the company is going through.  The division won't be there for long.  To their credit, support returned my emails promptly though they are repeating the instructions on the manual.  Their SIP server still working for free calls between their own products.  The seller told me that he knew nothing about the product, and gave me full refund after consulting his manager.

I gave up on wideband voice on SIP.   The Obi?  Maybe.  Then I stumble upon the latest Panasonic cordless.  It's DECT on the US frequency band.  The one feature that worth buying is that it can be used as a bluetooth headset for your cell phone at home.  It is pretty cool when you are at home you can take your calls off the cordless without doing anything.  Then I found out that the latest latest model is on sale on the Panasonic site for a huge bargain.  It even have talking caller ID.  It's a no brainer.

I was so sure that my 900 MHz will finally be RIP.  All the functions are replaced, direct replacement at less than $70 for two handsets.

But before it arrived, I changed my mind and cannot get over wideband voice.  And I thought of getting an unlocked Android for making SIP/VOIP calls via Google Voice.  There are multiple apps for that so it won't go down as easily as Sunrocket.  I have nothing to lose if it doesn't work out.  I can upgrade my cell phone as this phone has more pixels than the iPhone 5.

As of today, I'm still using my 900 MHz cordless.  Indeed I just called Apple to return an iPad 2.  I can't believe that iPad 2 is older than the "New" iPad.  What are you thinking?! You think everyone on earth is following your limited product line?  I never lay eyes on an Apple product since the Apple IIe.  And I don't listen to any talks about them.  It's a gift for 2nd grade kids.  They deserve all the candies this year.  I have my iPhone killer for adults.

No comments: