Technology Review: Comparing Primus VoIP vs. Telus Analog line (UPDATED)

(This post is like bad seafood – it just keeps coming back again and again and again….. But I thought it was best to continue to update the previous post rather than add new ones. I have done some of this cross-out stuff, added a bit, and removed one whole section at the bottom and also dated the updates. Judging from the hits on this article, this seems to be a timely topic.)

Two weeks months years ago, I cancelled my Telus land-line and transferred my number over to a residential Primus Talk Broadband VoIP line. Here are my thoughts on the pros and cons so far:

Pros:

My long-distance is included in the $45.95Cdn/month package as are all of my features. So I will save approximately $600 this year, or $900 if I include the fact that I got rid of a second land line and just made it a smart ring on my Primus line.

UPDATE: August 10, 2004. I downgraded my package to from the Super-Duper-Shmuper package (they have some other name for it) to the Almost-Super-Duper package (ditto). It was cheaper and then I added a long-distance package on top of that. We’ll see how it works out on the billing.

I have 5-way conference calling that allows me to dial and connect up to 5 lines and then have a phone conference without an operator. I tried it and it works reasonably well, however it was pretty low voice quality sometimes.

UPDATE: August 10, 2004. I still use this function but not as often as I thought that I would. I also asked about downgrading it to three way calling but they don’t offer it. It’s all or nothing.

You get to keep your old land-line phone. This seems like a quick way for VoIP to be pushed out to the consumer-space. We don’t have to trade our phones. And until they have more functionality on the back-end, there is no point anyway.

UPDATE August 10, 2004: See notes about using your beloved cordless below. It may be too echo-ey to use.

In theory, I can take my D-Link and phone with me somewhere and still receive calls when plugged into some other high-speed connection, as long as the local firewall will allow it. That is not going to happen because I’m not going to unplug those devices and carry them with me. Perhaps if I was using a soft-phone I might consider it but that’s it.

UPDATE: August 5, 2004: Well, I just moved to North Vancouver (hooray!) and the good news is that I plugged in my phone and kept receiving my calls. My friends didn’t even notice I moved. The bad news is that the audio quality is still REALLY lame and choppy.

Cons:


The audio quality is DEFINITELY and noticeably worse than Telus. This includes poor-duplexing (it gets choppy if both parties try to talk), and sometimes echoes on either end of the phone. I even went so far as to get Primus to send me another D-Link but the audio quality was identical so I think it is the box. So far, this is the most annoying aspect of it.

UPDATE August 5, 2004: I have found that using my cordless Siemens 2.4GHz phone is what causes 80% of the echo problem. So, now rather than being able to wander all over my house (my phone has a 150′ range easily), I am anchored to my desk. ARGH.

UPDATE: August 10, 2004. Well, I swapped my old Terayon modem for a new Motorola DOCSIS compliant modem today (thanks to Jamie for the recommendation) and I admit that the full-duplexing on the phone line is quite a bit better than it has been. For the past two months, it was like talking on single-duplex walkie talkies – one person talking would cut the other person off entirely. Now both parties can speak and hear in full-duplex…mostly.

It doesn’t play nice with other applications. I ran a VNC remote control session to a client’s computer and whenever I pressed my mouse button and moved items around on her screen, causing the VNC client/server to aggressively scan for updates, that software flooded my cable connection and wiped out the audio completely until I let go of the mouse. (“I can’t hear you – let go of your mouse!!!”  – I never thought I’d hear that.) Apparently Motorola’s router has a way of protecting the dual 128Kbps channels that are required for the voice data and then only allows the remaining bandwidth to be passed through to your network in behind. So it attempts to provide some sort of quality of service that way. This D-Link definitely doesn’t.

CORRECTION: I have managed to get this to work reasonably well by using Timbuktu and running my computer through the D-Link instead of in parallel, but it still isn’t fantastic. The only way to really protect the data channels is to have two cable boxes, one for voice, one for data.

UPDATE: August 10, 2004. I ran a Timbuktu session to California the other night and the audio quality was completely fine (or rather, was as poor as it usually is) and did not have any dead spots while I was dragging things around the screen. I know that some firmware updates have been pushed out in the past few months so perhaps this is one of the areas that has been addressed. I would give it a 9/10 now given that you run the computer through the D-Link and let it do the bandwidth protection (vs. putting the D-Link and your computer in a hub in parallel both accessing your ISP connection where your remote control session could flood the line and kill the voice channel.)

My message waiting indicator does not work anymore on my phone. Primus knows about this and will have to update the firmware in the D-Link VoIP gateway/router.

I lost my Telus voicemail which had call-screening where you could pick up the phone and hear or interrupt people leaving you messages just like it was an answering machine.

Summary:


So my phone quality is mediocre to crappy better than it was, the visual message waiting light on my phone doesn’t work, I no longer have call screening of my voicemail and I can no longer use my cordless phone. On the upside, my bills are lower and I was able to move to North Van and simply move my box from one house to the other and keep making and receiving calls. If you do the math, you’ll see that it was probably a net loss. I am hoping that they will really continue to work on the audio quality issues.

I have a lot of calling to do this next few weeks so I’ll see how it goes and then update this again.


Poor phone quality and I was never able to use my cordless after that. Definitely not worthwhile. I cancelled the service and never had a land line after that. It was easier to just have a cell phone with bad service that was more portable. And now of course, I use Skype to talk to anybody I want to talk to.

(12) Comments

  1. The service is $45.95 a month, but in the fine print it mentions a $3.95 per month network charge for all LD plans. Does this apply to the VoIP bundle you got? Have you received a bill yet?

  2. I just looked at my bill and I’m wondering if they have buggered it up. Perhaps it is just pro-rated. The numbers are lower than they should be:

    1 TalkBroadband Basic 04/20-05/07 11.81

    2 Unlimited Bundle 04/20-05/07 15.39

    3 Alternate Number 04/20-05/07 2.37

    4 PST (BC 7.5%) 2.22

    5 GST (89139-5618RT) 2.08

    I’ll know better after a full month of usage. I expect that this is a pro-rata pricing schedule.

  3. Why can’t you send mail to your SMTP server? It is the same as if you put a router or wireless gateway in between your computer and your cable modem. All you need to do is specify the full name of mail server:

    For Vancouver it is: shawmail.vc.shawcable.net

    For Victoria it is: shawmail.gv.shawcable.net

    More at: http://support.shaw.ca/customercare/faq.htm#email

    The D-Link device does have rudementary QoS – outbound voice is prioritized over data as long as you let the VoIP gateway gatekeep the data – that is the D-Link box need to be connected directly to the cable modem and everything else behind it. You can go into the D-Link configuration and turn on “bridge mode” such that you don’t have to worry about another DHCP or NAT interface. The user name and password of the D-Link box is admin/primusvoip.

    That said, I’m still having quality problems on my VoIP line from Primus. The last two conversations I’ve had were unbearable as the voice was and choppy and in one case I had a HUGE echo delay. My alternate number still doesn’t work (those who call get a fast-busy), and either does my phone’s voice mail notification.

    I’ll stick it out a little longer and hope for a firmware update!

    Jamie – http://jamie.typepad.com

  4. Jamie,

    Yes, I just re-read that note at Primus/Rogers about this issue and you were right – they suggest using the fully qualified domain names.

    However, the D-Link also has no DMZ so I can’t map its outside IP to a fixed internal IP so that people can always reach my computer. So that’s a no-go.

    But thanks for the info that this D-Link does protect the 2x128Kbps channels for voice and then route the internal network data after that. That is useful information.

    Also, I just got off the phone with my friend in Columbus Ohio who just received his Vonage/Motorola kit. His calls to Canada are crystal clear…..until he calls me. Then he gets the same low white noise that I hear on all of my calls. And at one point, our call dropped entirely but we don’t know whose line it was.

    It’s DEFINITELY not there yet. I have heard good things about the Motorola gateway over the D-Link but this early as they move into the sub-$100 range, it’s probably going to take a while to sort out.

    Best of luck with your connections. I too get the choppy audio, particularly when trying to use the duplexing. I have had to adapt my speaking method to ensure that both parties have finished before the other speaks —- wait a minute —— that’s probably a good idea anyway!

    Troy

  5. If you put the D-Link in bridge mode wouldn’t that effectively make it transparent, thus accomplish the DMZ you require?

  6. I’m not sure. I saw that in the settings after you mentioned it (oh, was that you? Jamie?) but I’m not sure if that then means that it passes the outside WAN IP address right through into my machine? I have never used such a thing. One more thing to test later. If so, then I would get the QoS prioritization that I’m looking for and people would still be able to log straight into my machine. Thanks for the suggestion.

  7. Yes that was me. That is the way I set it up at home. My wireless router is behind the D-Link and it receives a 24.x.x.x address. This setup should work for you too.

    Jamie

  8. Yes, it is now in bridge mode, with my computer behind it picking up a 24.x address and my email working with the fully qualified domain. Thanks. But I had an “oops, locked my keys in my car” moment when I realized that now that the router is in bridge mode and I have a 24.x address, I can’t get to the router anymore at 192.168.15.1 without doing a hard reset on the router. Or setting up an alternate manual configuration for my computer at 192.168.15.x so that it can see the router (if that is still its address in bridge mode.) I have used routers in “pass-thru” mode before and we used to run into this exact thing and then have to use the serial port to access them since they became invisible on ethernet. Thoughts?

    Troy

  9. I believe you have to reset the D-Link to get it out of bridge mode. I tried a 192.168.15.x address and I could not get back in.

    I think I may set up the serial port on my computer so I can access the console. I knew I would find a use for my serial ports one of these days!

    You know, if you get a 24.x address then you should be getting first-hand DNS server information, therefore you should not need a fully qualified mail server name. Plain old “shawmail” should work again.

  10. Just read your stuff on Primus VOIP and your experience mirrors mine. What’s funny is that Primus treats call quality issues as an end user problem and tells you on the phone that they talk to customers all the time and that their service is better than Telus. I migrated my number last week after a two-month trial of Primus VOIP and customer service sent me a second DLINIK gateway. When I called in customer service did not know if I needed a new box because of my number migration and I would send the first one back–or it was just sent to me by mistake. I had to call in twice because I was on hold for 30 minutes when technical support put me on hold to talk to customer support to teach them about this new technology. Funny when I called back the second time the first two persons I called did not included detailed notes of my call and I had to explain my story all over again.

  11. Hi Troy,

    I’ve spent the last two months with Primus trying to get the most optimal performance. So far the most helpful changes I have made are:

    – Getting a DOCSIS compliant modem from Shaw (reduced my round-trip latency from 270ms to 85ms)

    – Moving back to the higher bit-rate, uncompressed codec (G.711)

    So far so good. I highly recommend the DOCSIS changeout. Shaw allowed me to do it without having to go up to the “Extreme” plan which the DOCSIS modems are usually reserved for. I went in person to get the exchange and it was no hassle (don’t call tech support, they will give you the run-around).

    Jamie

    http://jamie.typepad.com

  12. I take it since you cancelled your account, you’ve never gone back. Fast-forward to 2006, just curious if you’ve heard of any improvements with Primus’ service (or customer support for that matter). I’m thinking of switching from Telus landline, but I would switch to Primus DSL (from Telus DSL) instead of Shaw. An article explaining why higher transfer rates are not always better is here:

    http://www.digitalhomecanada.com/content/view/653/34/1/2/

    Of course, that can all be Primus PR. *shrug*

    Cheers!

Comments are closed.