VoIP on your Mac with X-Lite and sipgate

We all know about VoIP and how it’s going to be the next big thing, but one of the big issues is interface and cooperating with the existing analogue and digital ‘Plain Old Telephone Service’ (POTS).

There are a few companies in the US that offer VoIP to POTS gateways and there are numerous devices that now offer the ability to interface between the two in your home.

For Mac users who don’t want to go down the offical route, using VoIP is more difficult. Skype is an option, but it has limitations and I’m never going be comfortable with the idea that my conversations might be distributed over somebody else’s computer, no matter how much encryption and security there might be.

Now, in the UK at least, we have a solution. A company called sipgate have a service that you can register to use for free. Not only does it enable you to make VoIP calls to other VoIP users, you can also call out to the existing POTS network.

More significantly, you also get to choose a phone number – by selecting your region and therefore your STD code, and get given a unique number within that area. This is a real, working, accessible through POTS telephone number, just like you’d get if you ordered a phone line from BT or a cable company.

Now I can not only call out on my VoIP service, but I’ve got a standard telephone number that can be called both by VoIP users and non-VoIP users alike. Better still, it still works even when I’m connecting through a wireless network while on the road and you can reach me through that self same number. Even better still, I can do it all on my Mac.

And this is where X-Lite comes in. X-Lite is free SIP compatible phone software which runs on OS X. The interface is a little clunky when it comes to configuration or your phone book (part of the ‘cooperative’ nature of a cross-platform application, since it also supports Windows and Windows CE). But the main interface window is fine (you need only a number pad and the handset buttons). My only gripe is that there is no interface to the OS X address book, so you end up duplicating entries, but this is a minor niggle.

It even works flawlessly with my Jabra Bluetooth headset – I didn’t have to do anything but pair the Powerbook and headset together, and X-Lite picked this up and let me use it for making calls. It’s not a perfect match; you still have to tell X-Lite to pick up the phone on a call, but again this is a minor issue. If you don’t have a headset, the built-in microphone and speakers on my Powerbook seem to work well, even when I’m a few feet away from it.

For $50, you can upgrade X-Pro, which supports six simultaenous lines (instead of three), the ability to reject and forward calls automatically and a host of other features. Theres a handy comparison guide if you want to check the differences.

X-Lite will work with a host of VoIP services (and a wide range of VoIP standards). But if you are using X-Lite with sipgate, the sipgate website provides an exceedingly effective guide for setting X-Lite up, even including a ‘screen shot’ with your details plugged to make it easy to set up the right information.

It’s services like this which are going to make VoIP a serious contender to the standard telephone service. If you are in the UK, want to try VoIP and want to talk to more than just other VoIP users you should try sipgate and X-Lite out.


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