The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'skype'
Details have emerged of how the Bavarian police intercept Skype calls and encrypted internet traffic. Apparently they use specially written malware, from a company named Digitask. The malware needs to be installed on the suspect's computer (which can be done in a number of ways; if they can't get a black-bag team in, they can send an email carrying the trojan. Looks like Bavaria's safe from criminals who use Windows then.
I recently acquired one of the newly-released WiFi Skype phones; in my case, I went with the Edge-Core WM4201. I ordered it in August or so, but it only arrived this week; I suspect this may be connected with the other Skype phones (the Netgear and Belkin ones, for example) not being released in Europe until October.
The WM4201 is a unit about that looks like a candy-bar mobile phone (complete with Sony-Ericssonesque joystick above the keypad), decked out in iPod White (which is the new Consumer Electronics Black). Or at least it looks like a mobile phone in photographs; the first thing one notices when one unpacks it is that it is considerably larger than an ordinary GSM mobile (or at least one with an equivalent number of keys):
Getting started with the phone is straightforward; let it charge for a while, and then turn it on and let it find a network. (The instructions advise to let it charge for 8 hours before using it. I was somewhat impatient and switched it on an hour or two into its charging; this does not seem to have affected battery life or performance.) It can do WEP and WPA, so locked networks are OK; however, it doesn't have a web browser, so you're out of luck at access points that require web-based authentication. It then logs into Skype, fetches your contact list and balance, and is ready. It also gets the current time from the internet, though can take a few minutes to do so; so if your phone is telling you that it's 00:02 on January 1, 2000, there's no need to manually change this. Which is just as well, as the date-setting user interface is somewhat counter-intuitive.
WM4201, next to a Nokia 6230i, for purposes of comparison
As for making and receiving calls: the quality is pretty much standard Skype quality, i.e., good enough save for the occasional choppiness and echo. It only does voice calling as well; there is no way to send or receive text messages on it. Perhaps this will arrive in a future version of the firmware?
As this phone is a 1.0 product (126.96.36.199, it says), there are still some rough edges. For example, sometimes when it loses the wireless network, it crashes and becomes unresponsive, requiring you to remove and replace the battery to reset it. (The manufacturer seems to have neglected to provide the usual paperclip reset switch.) This only happens when it's running off battery power; leaving it plugged into a USB cable seems to make the problem go away. Also, on one network I tested it with, the phone kept losing the network connection every few minutes, though only when not making or receiving calls. Hopefully these issues will be fixed in the future.
All in all, I'm quite happy with the phone. It allows me to be reachable on Skype and make and receive phone calls without being near a powerful headset-equipped PC. It is usable as is, though there is room for improvement.
One question I have been wondering about: what exactly is the Edge-Core WM4201? The information page of the firmware reveals that it is implemented using TrollTech's toolkit (presumably Qtopia), which means that it's probably not a Windows CE device (after all, one wouldn't pay royalties to Microsoft and then avoid using their technologies). I suspect it runs on either Linux or some embedded system like QNX. The phone has a USB port on the bottom, though, disappointingly, there is no evidence of the data lines of this being connected to anything; connecting it to a computer reveals no new devices plugged in. It seems that the USB port is just used as a relatively standard way of feeding 5 volts to the device. The phone appears to be firmware upgradeable, though it does this by itself checking for updates on the internet.
I don't know what URL it pings to check for new firmware; I wonder whether it pings an Edge-Core URL for a version of the firmware specific to Edge-Core hardware, or a skype.com URL for upgrades to any WiFi Skype phones. I have seen photographs of other Skype phones, and they look similar, both in layout of buttons and the user interface. Could it be that Skype handed manufacturers a standard hardware platform and just makes a release of their software for this? If so, the differences between rival models would be limited to things outside of the reference design, such as quality of screens/keyboards/speakers and charging solutions.
Gizmodo reviews the Belkin WiFi Skype phone (which doesn't appear to have a UK release date, though review copies have been floating around; the BBC Click Online presenter had one a few weeks ago, though didn't say much about the specifics). From the review seems generally pretty good, if somewhat limited (it doesn't do text messaging, only voice calling). . I wonder how the others (such as the Netgear and Edge-Core phones, or even the BCM Skype/SIP/MSN phone which may or may not be vaporware) will compare.
Joining the cornucopia of vaporware Skype WiFi phones (and the occasional phone using the SIP industry standard which no-one seems to actually use outside of the enterprise) is a Google Talk phone; that's a WiFi-enabled mobile-phone-sized unit that connects to Google's voice-over-IP network. The advantages: the unit will have "Gmail capabilities" built in (which means that all they'd have to do is widen the keybad and they could call it a Googleberry). The disadvantage, of course, is that all your friends are on Skype, which refuses to connect with other networks (other than the analogue phone system).
And another (vaporware) Wi-Fi Skype/VoIP phone has been announced: the Edge-Core WM4201, like the BCM and Netgear Skype phones announced before it, is said to ship in July 2006. As with the BCM phone, there is no sign of anyone preparing to sell these to consumers.
(via The Register)
A Chinese company claims to have reverse-engineered the Skype protocol, and are about to release software and/or details soon. No word on whether the specification of the protocol will be released, or just an API to an alternative proprietary tools. There are some more details here.
Hopefully this will result in the Skype protocol becoming publicly documented and opened up.
Self-contained Wi-Fi VOIP phones are like buses: you wait for ages and then several come along all at once. The latest announced is the BCM WLAN800, which not only talks Skype and SIP but can also do MSN. It's said to be coming out in July, though it's not clear where it will be available for purchase.
Looks like there's another WiFi-based, standalone cordless Skype phone coming out; unlike the Netgear and Belkin offerings, this one will hedge its bets and speak both Skype and SIP. It also does text messaging, which the Netgear phone may or may not do.
The PDF files on the manufacturer's web site say that the phones are firmware upgradeable through a USB serial console. I wonder whether they run something standard like Linux, and if so, how hackable they are. If would be rather cool if it were possible to add third-party extensions to the interface (for example, a version of Gaim, or even the promised Linux port of Google Talk).
As of today, internet phone service Skype has added Australia to the list of countries in which you can lease dial-in phone numbers. This means that, for a fee considerably lower than Telstra line rental, you can rent a phone number in any one of various Australian area codes, which, when dialled, will reach your computer wherever you are logged in, or, failing that, a voicemail feature. Dialling the number counts as a local call in the respective area code.
There are now 14 countries in which one can get SkypeIn phone numbers. Because of the arcane webwork of telecommunications regulations any such enterprise would get enmeshed in, some countries are easier to get numbers in than others. In the UK, US, Australia, Brazil and Finland, for example, you just select an area code, pick a number (and you get the option to search for strings of digits you'd like) and pay. In Japan and Poland, you have to check a box certifying that you are a resident of the location in question before they give you your number; presumably numbers there are legally reserved for residents. (Whether or not they check is another matter.) France, Germany and Switzerland go one step further, requiring you to obtain a number from the local telco bureaucracy and then pass it on to Skype.
Skype have just added Scandinavia to their SkypeIn offerings; now one can buy phone numbers in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland and have them directed to one's Skype client anywhere on the internet (along with the U.S., UK, French and Hong Kong numbers previously on offer). Hopefully they'll roll more countries out soon.
It's interesting to note that, of the eight countries on offer, France restricts its phone numbers to those resident in French metropolitan areas, while the others will happily allocate them to anyone. Dirigisme, anyone?
Voice-over-IP phone service Skype have started offering dial-in phone numbers. This means that, for a regular fee, you can rent a phone number in one of several countries and area codes. People calling that number will get through to your Skype client, and will pay only the standard rate for calling a number in that area. Currently, there are phone numbers available in the US (various area codes), the UK (London), France and Hong Kong; hopefully more countries will follow soon.
SkypeIn information is not yet visible on the public site, but if you log in, it offers to sell you a phone number or three. I wonder how quickly they will run out of numbers.
Living in London and not having a landline, I've been using Skype to call people in Australia; recently, I have found its reliability to be somewhat variable. Sometimes when I call a mobile phone number, I get a recorded announcement saying that the phone in question is not connected; at other times, I get a nameless voice-mail message, which may or may not belong to the person I wanted to call.
Furthering the annoyance, Skype's charging mechanism is a bit unreliable, and sometimes it goes from Ringing to Call In Progress when the phone is still ringing; there goes another 16.5 Euro Cents.