Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Where is my handset?!

Mobility is a feature, but it can also be a problem. Where did I put the handset? Because the handset does not have a cord to the base station, it is easy to displace it. The m9 has a couple of features to locate the handset.

The first one you might have seen in the web interface. There is a button called “locate handsets”. What this button does it to call all registered handsets. So if still both of your ears work properly, you will be able to figure out where your handsets are (an amazing feature of the brain to locate audio sources in the room).The problem with this procedure is that it is quite disturbing, especially at night. If you belong to those who use the m9 at home, you want another way to locate your handset in the dark.

The answer is that the handsets shortly turns the handset key backlight on, so that you can see it.

This can be disturbing. The answer to that problem is to just put you handset down with the keyboard to the table, and then the visual disturbance should be minimized. You can also turn the blinking off from the handset menu. I believe there was a bug in the old versions; hopefully it was fixed in the meantime.

It is debatable what should be the default. Apart from the visual disturbance, it actually does suck battery power. Right now the default is to it on. I assume that is a kind of feature advertisement. For those who don’t need it, it is probably a good idea to turn it off.

The other way to locate your specific handset is to just call it from another phone.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What’s a link-local URL?!

IPv6 is still pretty much unknown in the IT world. When m9 customers log into the web interface and navigate on the status screen, they are stumbling upon a thing called the “IPv6 Link-Local URL”.

Generally speaking, link-local means that the address is only visible on the link, which means something like “interface” or “LAN”. For example, if your device would have to Ethernet ports, you could have two links, and you could actually have the same link local address on each of the links. It would not generate an IP address conflict, because the LAN will not route packets that are link local. While you usually have different MAC addresses for each physical interface, this case will be rather improbable. However, when VLANs are coming into the game, it is actual quiet probably that you will have the same link-local address twice on the device—one time for the regular LAN and another time for the VLAN. Hint: This will still not happen with the m9, because when a VLAN is used, the whole device will move into that VLAN.

Link-local addresses can actually also happen on IPv4. Those addresses use those 169.254.x.x addresses that you might have found on your computer when the DHCP server was not responding. They are not as popular as they are on IPv6. In IPv6 you actually need link-local addresses to get a “real” IPv6 address. DHCPv6 uses the link-local address in order to grab more IPv6 addresses.

We put the link-local IPv6 address on the status screen for two reasons. First of all, we want to let everybody know, that the device has an IPv6 address and they can try this out just by clicking on the link. The other thing is that this address does not change—it depends on the MAC address, so it is pretty constant. That means if you store the link, you can always log into the device without having to know what the IPv4 address is or even without having an IPv4 address. We even wanted to print the link-local URL on the label on the bottom of the base station, so that people can just enter that link to access the device.

Generally speaking, in IPv6 it is absolutely normal to have more than one IP address. Apart from the link local addresses, IPv6 routers may send advertisements around (called RA—router advertisements) which announce subnets. The device may grab an address in the subnet and use it, without the involvement of a central server like a DHCP server. This is called stateless configuration. The problem with the stateless configuration is that is does not include a DNS server, which is also pretty important in IPv6 (who wants to enter those long IP addresses). That’s when the m9 sends out the DNS requests to a special DNS multicast address, called “all link local DNS servers”. Then when someone answers, it tries to stick to it.

The m9 always tries to grab another IP address from a DHCPv6 server. As stated before, DHCPv6 is quite different from DHCPv4, especially the fact that is was designed for multiple (redundant) DHCPv6 servers in the local link (this should make sure that the network is very robust when server should go down). At the end of the DHCPv6 process, there is still an IP address—an IPv6 address.

If you have IPv6 RA or DHCPv6, you would find the additional addresses also on the status screen right below the link local address. If you want to get more information about the IPv6 configuration on your m9, you can still use the Diagnostics screen, for example to probe the /proc/net/if_inet6 file.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The M9R

Soon the m9r will hit the market. This is not just a regular internal product update, which is quite common in the IT industry and usually invisible to the user, the letter “r” suggests that it is more than that.

First of all, the letter probably stands for “range”. The m9 handset uses a new chip set which has an improved antenna performance. That means the range will be improved. Though the majority of customers will not really need this, it addresses those who are on the edge.

The other thing is that it will support the “repeater”. Even with the improved range, you can still double the distance by using a repeater in large offices and warehouses. Though I honestly think that the good old m9 also supports the router. Maybe the m9r is because the router is so close, we can already smell it.

Then there is more memory (which also has the “r” in it). More memory is always good to have, though the software does not need it at this point. But you never know what future software updates bring, and it never hurts to have more memory. Especially the handset has more memory; we were always very tight with memory there. Try to program something with a color display if all you have is 64 KB RAM. I believe now it is 128, still not the same of what you have on your smart phone, but at least twice as much as before. And also the base has now 32 MB RAM, so that we can probably take it easier with adding memory hungry features.

The other reason for the letting is the improved speaker (the letter at the end). This results in a better handsfree mode and a better playback for the ring tone.

Another thing that was changed is that the combo now has only one handset. This is sad because most people won’t realize they can register more than one handset per station. I guess the overall marketing rationale behind it was to get the overall price down. People can be very short-sighted when comparing prices.

The m9r continues exactly from where the m9 was. Regarding the maturity of the product this time it means there will be no big surprises. So the bottom line is that the m9r is a hardware upgrade, not a software upgrade.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Hosted plug and play

Today I have a business idea.

When I bought a Kindle from Amazon, I was pleasantly surprised that I did not have to set anything up. The only thing I needed to tell the device was the password for my Wi-Fi access point (it would have been scary if that step was also not necessary any more). But apart from that, take it out of the box, it was already charged, and as soon as the Wi-Fi password was on the device, I was ready to do my first purchase. Okay, go figure why this device cost only 199 USD.

Anyway, why don’t we do the same thing with the m9? Broadband is available widely, and all it would take would be someone who gets access to snom Active and sell the m9 on Amazon. After scanning the MAC address, all that would be necessary to set up a DID for the device, enter the according provisioning data into snom Active, maybe perform a test run to make sure everything is all right, and put the device into the hands of the parcel-service-of-your-choice. Even people who don’t know what VoIP is would be able to use this device as a telephone.

It does not even have to be a real DID. For example, callcentric offers “virtual” DID numbers that cannot be dialed from the PSTN. This reduces costs for the service and makes it possible to just try the service out. Customers are still able to call each other on the network. This could make sense for people who have parents in far-away countries.

Ideally, the person who sells the m9 would already have the customer’s credit card number, so that recurring revenues AKA telephone charges could be charged every month. There are a lot of service providers that could do that. This would address a different customer base that the people who are using a softphone on their PC or smart phone. Think about grandma.