The necessity of a gate bell in my working life stems from the combination of a fenced yard and a home office located well in the back of the property. The lack of such capability at the front gate makes receiving deliveries chancy, often requiring a lengthy drive to a UPS or Fedex facility to pickup a missed delivery.
In researching our initial attempt to remedy the lack of a gate alert I learned about SIP door phones from several companies. These devices were targeted at very large homes or office and apartment buildings, and tended to be very costly. Most were well over $1,000, which was dramatically beyond my budget.
However, Algo Communications offers a SIP door phone for a single family dwelling with a list price around $500. At the time I had thought that something analog, for around $250, was a better option. While that choice kept me on budget, it was ultimately disappointing, most especially when the device failed outright.
The installation of the analog DoorFone had one side-benefit, the effort left a cat5 lead hidden inside the iron post at the gate. This would eventually prove to be convenient when installing its ultimate replacement.
When it became apparent that DoorBot was not going to be a viable solution I reached out to Pat Byrne at Algo Communications who offered a sample of their 8028 SIP DoorPhone to hopefully complete the saga of my quest for harmonious handling of the gate.
What we received was the basic 8028 SIP model, although they also offer a more expensive, vandal-proof version of the device. In addition, they have analog versions with either FXS or FXO ports. For those with deep pockets, they have the super-sexy 8036 SIP/IP Multimedia programmable color touch-screen intercom & door phone.
We’ve had the Algo Door Phone installed since July 2014. It was simple to install and easy to setup. It’s basically a single line SIP phone.
The door phone is in two parts; an outside component that is essentially a speakerphone, and an inside unit that contains the bulk of the electronics. The two parts are connected by a simple twisted pair, or in our case, one pair of the existing cat5 lead. The exterior unit receives both power and communications over the same twisted pair. The unit works just as well using the legacy wiring remaining from a simple, old fashioned, contact-closure type doorbell.
The two-piece design is intended to minimize security risks. It keeps the Ethernet connection wholly inside the building, making it impossible for someone to gain physical access to your network by vandalizing the exterior unit.
After the physical installation is complete software setup of the device is straightforward; when connected to your network and powered-on it will use DHCP to obtain an IP address. Prior to SIP configuration pressing the button on the door box causes the device to read its IP address aloud. This makes it easy to know where to point a web browser to reach the built-in admin portal.
The company has a provisioning scheme that supports remote provisioning for larger installations. Such a nicety does not come into play for a single device installation such as our front gate, but would certainly be handy when deploying multiple devices around a large residential complex.
Once logged into the web admin portal the 8028 is just like an ATA or a simple SIP phone. There are precious few things that absolutely must be defined, making setup very simple. I added the door phone as a new extension to our OnSIP account. It’s extension, typical of OnSIP, is exposed as a four-digit extension to phones in our home & office.
There’s a preference in the door phone firmware that enables call auto-answer. With this setting enabled dialing the door phone from our home or office phones places a call out to the gate. We hear a single tone as the call is answered, followed by the ambient sound of whatever is happening out at the front gate, typically birds chirping, street noise or the kids in the schoolyard across the street.
The other key setting in the door phone is the extension that it dials when the button is pressed. This is setup to ring a group that includes my desk phone and our home phone, eventually rolling to my cell phone. This sort of integration with our existing SIP phones is exactly what I was seeking all along.
If I were interested in making the device more freestanding I could implement dialing by IP address, avoiding the use of OnSIP as a SIP registrar. That would also make it more difficult to have the device reach out to my cell phone.
Experimentally, I tinkered with setting the door phone to dial local extensions and PSTN numbers. Both worked as expected, although I prefer to keep it dialing four-digit extensions, managing how those extensions are mapped via the OnSIP account administration portal. It’s a more centralized manner of control. Apparently I’m not the first OnSIP customer to make use of the Algo 8028.
Using the SIP-based Algo door phone call setup is blissfully quick, as you might expect from any SIP phone. Zero latency. This fact alone raises the Algo 8028 head-and-shoulders above DoorBot, SkyBell and their cloud + smartphone app-driven ilk . When a delivery driver, in a typical holiday-season-hurry, presses the button my desk phone rings even before his hand has returned to his side. He has no opportunity to bolt with my packages.
There was a firmware update in Q1 that I had to install. The install process was straightforward, requiring both the firmware file and a checksum file.
After the firmware update I noticed that the device was occasionally dropping off my network. It became apparent that the device was crashing after a day or two of otherwise normal operation. Each time a simple reboot restored normal operation again.
I contacted Algo Communications support by email with details of what I was experiencing. They responded the very next day with guidance. I was happy to help them track down the problem. I setup Wireshark to capture the SIP traffic to/from the door phone while the fault occurred a few more times. The Algo support team were grateful for the resulting PCAPs and device logs.
Once the Wireshark process had delivered as much insight practical they advised me to enable a “Watchdog” setting. This causes an admin routine in the device to automatically reset it if a problem occurs. Since enabling that setting the device has been continuously operational without incident.
As someone who had been involved with delivering technical support in the past, I think that the responsiveness of the Algo team was exemplary. They were quick to respond, with helpful information readily at hand. They didn’t talk down to me just because I’m an end-user, and not a software engineer.
There are other facilities built into the 8028 that allow it to be integrated with an electric door latch. A DTMF command issued by the answering end-point can trip a relay to open the door. We don’t presently have the need for this capability, but may one day see it as convenient.
Now with nine months of exposure to Houston weather the device appears none the worse for wear. It remains supremely reliable. Unlike the various devices that came before it, we’ve not missed any deliveries because of a failure of the gate phone to alert us to the event.
Further, when I polled our regular delivery drivers they had nothing but positive feedback to offer. They appreciate the fact that we can respond quickly when we’re home. They also appreciate the fact that it behaves in an understandable manner when we’re not at home. It acts like a phone. They either reach me on my cell phone or have the opportunity to leave a voice message.
- Integrates with our SIP phones & hosted PBX
- Easy to setup
- Weather resistant
- Good support
- Expensive compared to a normal SIP phone
- No HDVoice support (G.722)