My Approach To Mobile VoIP For Low Cost Overseas Calling

For the past three years I’ve used Stanacard as the basis for placing overseas calls from my cell phone.This has recently changed as I’ve leveraged our company’s OnSIP account to provide a similar capability to all of our US staff.

Stanacard describes themselves as a “next generation calling card service.” The service is simple enough. Like most calling card services they have a variety of US points-of-presence (POPs) with local numbers. You dial that number, then authenticate using a PIN to get at a second dial-tone, and finally dial the overseas number you want to reach.

This basic process is often called “two stage dialing.” I find that two stage dialing a bit tedious so I have preferred to use another aspect of their service called “Smart Dial Numbers.”

The Smart Dial feature is predicated on your caller id and a table of overseas number that you setup in advance. Each of these overseas numbers you can map to a number local to you. You end up with a table of local numbers corresponding to the people you commonly call overseas. Authentication is handled automatically on the basis of your caller-id. The per minute rates for using Smart Dial numbers is a little more then two-stage dialing, but still a lot less than cellular overseas rates.

There have been times when a number of my UK based associates were in the US for a trade show and needing to call home daily. On those occasions I’d game the system by working out the caller-id presented by the hotel where we were staying then adding that as a registered phone on my Stanacard account. Then I’d give all the UK guys instructions on two-stage dialing home using a local access number. This cut our trade show telecom costs dramatically by reducing the number of minutes put on roaming UK based cell phones while in the US.

On the whole I’ve been happy with Stanacard over the years.

However, as we grow our use of Junction Network’s OnSIP hosted PBX service we are finding new and better ways to accomplish the same thing just as conveniently, and maybe even a little cheaper.

If we had an on-premises PBX we’d likely deploy a DISA service. DISA lets user in the field dial-in, authenticate, the dial outbound as if they were at their desks. Hosted PBX services often don’t permit DISA as it’s a significant security risk. If someone fraudulently accesses your account they can run up huge overseas termination bills. OnSIP doesn’t provide a full DISA capability. Even so we’ve been able to provide sufficient functionality through OnSIP.

Within an OnSIP configuration literally everything is a SIP URI. This is an outstanding feature. In our configuration we have created a large table of 4 digit extensions that correspond to UK DIDs for staff in our head office. As such there’s a SIP URI for each and everyone in our company, even if they don’t know it. This is handy as it means that we can use things like Gizmo5 or FWD to place free calls to anyone in the company.

The call is completely free if the call is routed to an IP-based phone on the OnSIP account. They’re not always free as we have to pay OnSIP for call completion if its a PSTN line, but that’s cheap enough. The convenience aspect of this is that it’s all billed to one account. There no separate Stanacard, Gizmo5, FWD or Skype termination fees.

The most convenient aspect of this for our US cellular users is one little check box on the configuration of the IVR on our main US office line. The setting reads simply “include extensions.”

What this means is that any extension on our hosted PBX is a valid entry at our main IVR menu. While the recording tells the caller “dial 1 for…, 2 for…etc” any of the fifty 4 digit extensions that we have on the account will relay the caller to the desired person. While you can enter 5 at the menu and get routed to me, you can also enter 2004, which is my desk extension. Or even 2104 which goes right to my cell phone.

So my cell phone records show that I call our main US office a lot these days. I don’t talk to anyone there. I pause until the recording starts the enter the 4 digit extension of the person I really need to reach. The call is billed  for both the inbound and outbound legs, but it’s still cheaper than using Stanacard.

This is not quite a DISA service as an inbound caller can’t arbitrarily call anyone outside the company. They can only reach the predefined extensions. This dramatically reduces the scope of the security risk.

Some of the more adventurous of our staff have soft phones on their laptops. Some have SIP devices at home, typically the Siemens S685IP. All of these register with OnSIP. Since the OnSIP extensions match the extensions programmed into the Alcatel PBX at HQ they can dial the same numbers regardless of their location or connect method.

I read the ever increasing amount of stuff about mobile VoIP but I usually just shrug it off as not very interesting. We already have in place a good solution for our needs. In our case VoIP clients on cell phones won’t add much to our capabilities.

  • Incidentally, the StanaCard people (are they the same as the now-defunct StanaPhone people? Both LLCs out of NYC) hold a patent on their unique method of callerID verification tied to a dialin redirect:

    http://www.freepatentsonline.com/7346156.html

    And have already filed a lawsuit against Rebel Networks to challenge a similar service. Not sure we’ll see too many more 1-stage dialing redirects dependent on the suit’s outcome.