Using DSL for TV, IP cameras and Cabin Phone & Internet
My aim at the cabin to was maximize digital resources while minimizing costs. I’m guessing this is a goal shared by many owners of vacation homes. Services didn’t have to match what I had at home but I did have some essential requirements, especially emergency services for just in case. Today I’m writing about cabin phone options. I have a post on the essential fire safety steps I’ve taken. Later I’ll follow up with a page on accessing TV and internet plus supporting my IP camera setups.
I bought a cabin as a vacation home but without the desire to emulate Thoreau’s sojourn ‘off the grid’ at Walden Pond. The area at my camp has phone and power lines but no cable. What TV signal there was disappeared when that went digital, leaving behind an assortment of tall old style aerials. Cell service has just arrived at the local village, via antennae arrays on the water tower, but this is the Adirondacks and pesky hills/mountains block the line of sight so I’m in a cellular dead-zone.
VOIP With OBI 200 and Anveo for Cabin Phone on DSL
I have plug in boxes that use voice over internet protocol (VOIP) to access the phone networks over DSL without paying for a conventional landline dial-tone. I have one at home and one at the vacation home camp. The units I use are OBI200s by Obihai Technology costing around $50 each. The OBI boxes have a proprietary number and you can call any other OBI box for free with their numbers, in their network. There is an option for using FAX machines and the ability to add a Bluetooth dongle or a WiFi adapter, but that is all stuff I work other ways. Layered on top of the tech in the box is a service provider that you choose, I use Anveo’s OBItalk package for about $40/year ($72 for 2 years). Anveo provides a voice mail option and I get a conventional phone number from them, chosen for my area like you would pick your first cell phone number. I have digital cordless phone systems plugged into the boxes. Mine is a $60 two station Panasonic unit at camp, nothing special just handsets and base station (with answering machine) that would work on a standard phone line. The OBI200 should work with any brand of modern cordless phone, it didn’t work with something like an old corporate Ma Bell handset from the 1980s.
Backup Power for Internet (VOIP) Phones in Power Outages
A frequent worry about Internet telephony is that you lose the connection when the power goes out, in contrast to landline phones where there is power in the phone line and a dial-tone during blackouts. This issue can be managed by putting the OBI200 VOIP box, the router/modem and the phone base unit on an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), or having one available to use. UPS makers are addressing the need and have some small UPS models for phones or new units for PCs where low power outlets are suppose to stay on after the attached PC has shut down. I have a post on keeping internet phones running in a power blackout, which includes a 5.25 hour test run for the APC Back-UPS Connect BGE90M that I recently bought for my cabin VOIP phone essentials.
911 Service at my Cabin Phone: Anveo on my OBI200 device
I pay for an add on service to get a phone number, register my address and get 911 service with Anveo running the internet phone service on my OBI200. MagicJack and Vonage do something similar while it seems to be bundled in for Ooma.
Having the security of 911 service at my vacation home camp is more important than having the remote monitoring access from home with my IP camera set-up. I have my cell phone kind of working with my Google Voice via Google hangouts on WiFi without classic cell service. That made me pause and reconsider whether I needed to renew the camp service with Anveo that runs on my Obi device. The answer is still yes. Mainly because I want simple and reliable emergency (911) service at camp for the cabin phone.
Anveo service on the OBI200 VOIP box includes 911 access as a built in feature. You must initially specify, during set-up, where you are physically located and the service then provides an ongoing handshake with the local/regional emergency system. There is an option (doubles your annual cost) called ‘e911 with alerts!‘ that appears to alert additional numbers or email accounts when a 911 call is placed. Not something I’d want, but I can see the point if, say, your kids spend time unsupervised at your cabin.
With Skype and Google Voice alone, run from a computer, you don’t have a clear physical location and don’t have 911 service. With some internet-call options like Google Voice you have to click that you understand there is no 911 service when you do account set up, in the terms of service. Basically it is hard to automatically know, from an IP address, where the caller is physically located. The internet 911 call wouldn’t know where to go. That also used to be the case for cell phones until a literal fix (from cell tower triangulation or GPS) was mandated. Getting into the weeds: If you have a VOIP service provider then they should provide the E911 option under FCC rules. For me that is Anveo, the provider I chose to run internet phone service on my OBI200 interface box. Anveo has a test option (933) to let you check that you have configured address things correctly (without having to call 911).
Even with the 911 service running on your box you have to be careful: I can’t switch the OBI200 unit running the cabin phone with the one for internet phone at home, unless I update the info for their physical locations that is registered with Anveo.
Working a DSL Modem Hard
I’m using a Netgear router modem provided by Frontier for free. I fried one but luckily they had shipped me two. I have my own ready to go when needed. I’m reluctant to make the change since I would have to reset the LAN setting in a bunch of cameras. I bought an Actiontec unit similar to this model. It is not going to make available upload and download speeds via Frontier faster nor will it improve wired (Ethernet) speeds inside my cabin. Where it might help is for wireless speeds inside the cabin.
I’m worried that I am running out of ‘bandwidth’ for upload on Frontier DSL as I have three cameras running at the camp and am thinking about adding one more. I ran a speed-test with the cameras streaming or off. You can see the upload speed improved without the cameras hogging bandwidth. Sometimes that upload rate is as low as 40kbps with cameras running.
What I am aiming to do is stop streaming the feeds from a couple of cameras and set up the camera internal settings to email images and video clips only when there is movement. Basically I’ll move a couple of cameras off Ports open in the Router modem. I can get in and reset the Port settings in the cameras, if necessary, by remote login using TeamViewer on the cabin PC.
Google Voice: Integrating Home, Cell and Cabin Phone
You can call the cabin phone and just the cabin using the regular phone number from Anveo. A family might find it useful to have a separate camp phone number but I would have to dive into archived emails to look up mine. What I do is use Google Voice, a free service. There is a phone number assigned to the Google Voice account and Google Voice knows to call out to all my devices (Cell phone and OBI units that are my home & cabin phones) if it gets a call. I share and remember two numbers: my Google Voice number that I tell folk is my home number, and my Cell number. Google Voice will always ring on the cell phone (if there is cell service), but I can usually tell the difference because any computer where I’ve logged into Chrome or google drive will simultaneously alert for the Google Voice calls (I could also answer with a PC head set). You could configure Google Voice to work other ways, like essentially just forwarding cell and home phones while at camp.
Voice mail can be a battle between devices
Voicemail can become a surprising headache with multiple phones and phone numbers linked via Google Voice. Three things to do are:
- Turn off voicemail options in most of your connected devices, where you can, like the Anveo service for the cabin phone and the handset answering machines
- Make sure Google Voice cuts in after fewer rings than any other device
- Forward cell phone voicemail to Google Voice OR turn off Voice mail on Google Voice and have everything roll into your Cell (if you just use Google Voice and don’t have my cellular dead-zone problem at camp)
The problem is that you likely have voicemail on multiple phone or systems. They are not simply all connected: They are also all competing to grab the call and provide service with the simple minded devotion of a dog retrieving a stick. Until you get things configured, then when you are grabbing your cell phone the call goes away and later on folk are complaining you didn’t call back after they left a message. I think I have voicemail turned off on the Anveo service running on each of my Obi 200 boxes and on the Panasonic phone base units attached to my cabin and home phones. One time I started losing my voicemail again and it turns out Anveo had updated their system, unhelpfully restoring the voicemail option in the process.
Setting up Google Voicemail with Home, Cell & Cabin Phones
I originally set up the answering option in Google Voice so that it grabs a call to the phone number in Google Voice just before the voicemail in my cell phone cuts in. The count before Google Voice goes to voicemail is adjustable. That affects only calls to the Google Voice number. The cell phone is ringing for both its own number and the Google Voice number. Calls to the cell phone act as they always did and with no answer will go to cell phone voicemail.
That worked fine for a while until someone called the cell phone while I was at camp, it went to its voicemail which I didn’t check. The next call was to the Google Voice number. That is when I had a problem since now the cell phone immediately went to voicemail and grabbed this call without me knowing. My first solution was to turn off the option for the Google Voice calls to ring on the cell phone, while I visited camp.
A better solution turned out to be forwarding all of the cell phone’s voicemail to the Google Voice mail box. That way both types of call go to the same place. There is an option to set that up inside Google Voice. It works for Verizon & ATT cell users. My cell service provider is Tracfone but the phone is actually running on Verizon.
You can get your Google Voice voicemail in several ways – on the Google Voice site or for me it is mainly as an email alert with a transcript of the message and the option to listen to the message. Sometimes the machine generated transcript is understandable. I have Gmail on the cell phone so I don’t need a computer for my voicemail. Only snag with this approach is the call rings for the standard time on the cell then flips to Goggle Voice and has to count down again. That can leave the caller wondering if this is how they wanted to spend the day.
If I was using Google Voice for my traditional home phone number and I didn’t have the cabin in a cellular dead-zone then I might cut the voicemail in Google Voice and have voice from all the numbers roll into the cell phone. Or, duh, just solely go with the cell phone.