NAB Keeping Me Busy & VOIP On The Show Floor

Next week is the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. So this week marks my annual trek to Las Vegas to help with the setup of our exhibit. It’s a huge amount of work. My focus on various preparations has kept me from blogging the past week.

VOIP angle 1: Asterisk on the trade show floor

We pay a company called Smart City for internet connectivity on the trade show floor. They drop us a shared ethernet link. The speed is carefully controlled. Our link is typically around 768k x 256k and costs around $1400 for the week. It’s reliable, but very expensive.

That same company offers analog phone lines dropped into your booth, and we used to order one. That was also very expensive. I believe it was >$600 for the week plus long distance costs. And we’re UK based so we call overseas a lot during the show.

A few years ago after my initial experience voip was working out I took offense to this cost and offered to setup an alternative using the internet instead. One year I just brought a snom 200 phone and used it to access my Nufone account directly. Another year I brought a couple of phones and a Net4801 running Astlinux.

In the process of discussing this with some others at the show I learned that there were a handful of exhibitors, much larger companies than ours, that built trade show telephony into their exhibits using Asterisk as the core. I thought that was pretty cool. Asterisk is everywhere, even if you don’t know it all the time.

VOIP angle 2: Calling overseas from the hotel

VOIP from the show floor was one part of a telecom cost management solution. Toll bypass allowing my co-workers to call their homes in England was another part. I also used cardless calling card program from www.stanacard.com to allow my co-workers to call home from our hotel. I’m pretty sure that Stanacard is voip based.

Stanacard has access numbers in various locations around the US. Also, they allow you to map DIDs to correspond to overseas numbers you call frequently. They use your incomming caller id to validate your identity (kinda scary) then lookup the table of numbers you’ve established and place the call accordingly. All very straightforward for a cell phone user. In my case I have a load of 713/281 area numbers that correspond to UK numbers I call a lot. Thus I don’t pay cellular overseas rates.

While at NAB I worked out the callerid presented by our hotel and added that to those permitted on the Stanacard account. Et voila, anyone in that hotel can call the UK needing only the local access number and a PIN code. Kinda insecure, but it was safe enough for a week.

This saved a lot of money as it kept the UK crew from calling home using their UK issued cell phones, and thus incurring huge roaming fees. However this too, has fallen by the wayside in recent years.

Why?

VOIP angle 3: Skype

The UK crew has been kind of indifferent to voip in the form that I’ve used it. But they do make significant use of Skype. So much so that they have a couple of USB handsets that now live in the exhibit gear, coming out for each show. They have Skype accounts specifically for those handsets. They only get used twice a year.

Over the years we’ve used VOIP at the show in various forms. While it reduced our costs with Skype it’s now essentially free. Some of the guys even have Skype phones at homes so that they can call their families as well.

I wish that I could impress upon them the advantages of standards based voip (SIP) over Skype…but they just don’t care. When Skype “just simply works” such arguments fall on deaf ears.

There’s no such thing as one half of an ecosystem. Since they prefer Skype in the UK I cannot avoid it in my own activities.