Your Mac, Your New Phone

This morning I chatted with my Grand-Ma’ (Mamie) who lives in France for about 50 minutes. It cost me around $2. Little did she know, our crystal-clear conversation was happening while I was doing the dishes, through a Motorola HS810 bluetooth headset connected to the powerbook that was sitting in the living room, which itself was connected to a internal home network over an 802.11b WiFi link powered by an ancient airport base station, plugged into an old Linksys broadband router (first model they came out with, before they started integrating WiFi), routing Internet traffic via NAT through an EarthLink residential DSL connection.

About 3 years ago, I created an account with They’d been a major player in the PC-to-phone field, offering very competitive calling rates. I however never could use their PC-to-phone feature because they’d never bothered putting out a Mac client. But their Calling Card rates were very competitive, so I’d use’em when calling France from my cell or home phone. When i replaced the old Motorola StarTac with a Sony Ericsson t610, I programmed their calling card into the phone, which made things very handy. But cell reception has always been very weak at home. Calling France from the landline required calling the 800 number, punching-in account ID + PIN, then entering the phone number.. The basic plan I’m using lets me add X-dollars to the calling card account, those never expire. So once a year, I might throw $20 on the account, and recharge whenever I need more minutes. I might consider eventually switching to Gizmo Project to start calling France, but I do still have $50 with iconnecthere I wish to use-up a little more when making international calls from home.

Ideally, I would be able to use the iconnecthere account to call abroad over their traditional Calling Card interface with the cell phone, and through the computer over SIP.

The idea was to manage to tap into’s PC-to-phone capabilities without using their software. Through cursory research, I knew they were very SIP-friendly. After some more research, I found out which sip proxy they use. I added another profile to my favorite vanilla SIP program, SJPhone, and through a wild guess, used my Calling Card’s ID number and PIN as my SIP username and password. Lo and behold, SJPhone was able to “register” with the proxy.. I started calling numbers in France. It worked! I checked my iconnecthere account online, and the call records did show, as expected, a couple of PC-to-phone calls above the “Calling Card” calls I’d made in the past!

Because had the foresight to leverage SIP, an open signaling protocol, I was able to make better use of their service. Calling home from my Mac is now insanely easy and convenient: Put-on the headset, key-in the phone number, hit “dial”. No more fumbling with Calling Card ID # and PIN when calling from home. Walk around the house with free hands. When Mac OS X SIP software evolves, I’ll just click on an Address Book contact.

Mac OS X has a very elegant way to manage audio input and output devices. Whether they’re firewire, USB, or bluetooth devices, all application developers need to do is “surface” the list of available audio input/output devices registered with Mac OS X, which allows users to easily set separate preferences for each Voice application they run.

Little by little, my verizon landline’s primary raison d’etre will be a safe, reliable link to 911.

A few technical details:

– see the comments section for more info on the hs180. it’s only ONE of *many* bluetooth headsets out there. Be sure to shop around. I’m happy with this one.
– all Macs are bluetooth-ready, either by having bluetooth built-in, or by buying a $50 bluetooth USB adapter. No software installation is ever needed.
– you don’t need to have bluetooth to converse through your Mac. You just want to avoid having sound from your speakers feed itself back into the built-in microphone, which is a common issue on laptops. If you have a pair of headphones lying around, just plug those into your Mac and you’re good to go. A bluetooth headset keeps you free to move around while on a call. I believe there are also USB headsets. If you have an iSight, you can also select it as your audio input device .
– is the SIP proxy on which you can register your iconnecthere calling card id # and PIN as username and password.
– When you create a account, you actually get a account. A few readers have privately expressed interest in getting a account working with another SIP client. They show you an example on how to do this here. You should be able to adapt those instructions to any SIP client out there. This should also allow you to use your CallOut credits to place calls to any normal phone in the world.


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