As mentioned a few days ago I've just escaped the clutches of our telco monopolist - successfully I should say. Here are my experiences with the Telstra Elimination Project.

Until recently I had a Telstra-provisioned phone line, mainly so that I could have Internode's SOHO dsl1 service (static IP address, 512/128kbit, 25Gb traffic/month). With my telefone habits being as close to nonexistent and eclectic as they are, I rarely used the phone. But even then Telstra's rates are so ridiculous that I used Teleone as long-distance dial-an-override provider. That cost me $27 for Telstra (just monthly line rental, greedy fucks), $64 for Internode and just the call charges for Teleone, usually between $8 and $20 a month. Total fixed monthly: $91.

After Telstra annoyed me no end with their CDMA shutdown earlier this year I started looking for alternatives - and found Internode's naked dsl services, which would, however, require some voice-over-IP hardware. Internode's naked dsl is somewhat of a pilot-project, just past the "early adopters only" stage but then I'm quite happy with the knowhow and attitude at 'node. Anyway, I was interested in trying out VOIP and with my minimal phone use even something sub-perfect would likely do fine.

So I started hunting suitable cheap VOIP hardware, because I certainly wanted something standalone that interfaces between the net and my existing cordless POTS phones.

I found a Zyxel Prestige P-2302R for $12, new: it was a rebranded version, "opennetworks" something or other, with a lovely sticker saying "no user-servicable parts inside". Of course I ripped it apart even before trying it out for the first time! (I follow the Make maxime: If you can't open it, you don't own it.) That Zyxel is actually a can-do-it-all router plus firewall plus filter plus two-line POTS-to-VOIP gateway, but I only want the VOIP gateway functionality. Took me about an hour or so with the usual MAX232 cable to convince it to shed its branding. Benefit: the new official firmware has user-customizable pre-ring and hold music and fax functionality etc. etc. It syslogs nicely, and while the webinterface and the Zynos menus are quite ugly, they work. The box's hostname is "plapperer".

Next step was to upgrade my DSL modem: the ancient alcadreck (Alcatel Speedtouch Home-lifted-to-Pro) doesn't understand QoS or ADSL2. I found a Dlink DSL-502T for another $13 or so, used. That modem/router actually runs Linux out of the box (it's a TI AR7/MIPS SoC with a TI ATM implementation), but the Dlink firmware sucks badly. But then OpenWRT runs fine on it, and that's what I did laboriously build and install (OpenWRT Kamikaze was released without support for the AR7s, so one has to suck from the cvs trunk and compile it all locally). That box is called "dusl", and both new boxes immediately got passive heatsinks siliconed onto the main chips: they get nice and warm, and there are reports about reduced reliability when one leaves these frying their brains.

Next step: finding a replacement for the one and only redeeming feature of the alcadreck: a pass-through for static IP addresses (not rfc1483 bridged but the modem doing PPPoA/E and transparently passing the packets inwards). Most recent consumer DSL hardware offers only atrocious-to-horrible "half bridge" modes and similar crutches to people like me who want their one and only IP at the server instead of at the bloody modem, TYVM.

No problem with anything Linux-based: all I had to do was plop in a host route for my beloved static IP to the ethernet interface, and a one-liner in /etc/ppp/ip-up.d that reconfigures the PPP interface for an uninteresting 10.x.x.x address once it's up. The modem itself never sends any packets of its own to the WAN so what it believes to be its address is completely irrelevant (point-to-point, you know: there's only one other party, no need for addresses). And as my server sends it packets that already come with the proper real source IP, everything works nicely and cleanly. I really like embedded boxes running Linux, and dusl is number three in my zoo.

Third step was to migrate for real. On the 10.5. I had started looking at options for real, on the 15th I had the Zyxel and did some VOIP experimentation. On the 17. I committed to the conversion, which was bodged^Wimplemented on the 3.6. After some Optus-mess I now have a 5Mbit/384kbit connection (could be faster but not much, as I'm not close enough to the exchange) for which I pay $80. There's no more Telstra involved, because for another $10 a month I get Internode's nodephone2: in- and outbound VOIP-to-POTS, which works very well. Those $10 also include $10 of call credit, so I end up with an effective total monthly cost of $80 (which is down $10 from before, and for substantially faster network access). The downside is that the migration cost me a one-off conversion fee of $129. (The other downside is that DSLAM and backhaul to Internode involve Optus.)

Internode's VOIP stuff is nice, you get a well-done voice mailbox feature with optional delivery of messages by email (WAV attachments), caller ID presentation for free (something Tel$tra want $7/m extra for) and other useful features. Their calling rates are about as good or better than Teleone's (and should I start becoming unhappy, there are many other VOIP providers in Oz now; the Zyxel can deal with two concurrently active SIP accounts).

Quality-wise VOIP seems unproblematic, especially as only the first leg from me to Internode uses public links (unless I make a direct SIP call which goes directly across the Internet without any Internode involvement); the rest is handled the normal/POTS way. Internode also says they prioritize VOIP traffic on their routers and that they don't shape VOIP if you are beyond your monthly quota. Reliability-wise it's also quite ok; today, when trying to debug the remaining Optus line quality issues, the line needed to be reset a number of times: the call obviously went quiet for 20 sec, then the line sync came back and the call resumed where it had left off. The Internode techie and I were both amazed by that seamless resume :-)

So, all-in-all, I'm quite happy. The hardware cost me less than $30, I get more network for less money overall, Telstra is banished completely, and being able to feed people who call us some quite silly "ring music" (before we or our answering machine picks up) is also nice.

[ published on Fri 13.06.2008 00:15 | filed in interests/au | ]
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© Alexander Zangerl