Gizmo: at last, a solid competitor to Skype

I’ve been playing around with [Gizmo]( the past couple of days. Gizmo is a free, P2P internet telephony product that is very similiar in many ways to the extremely popular Skype. However, unlike Skype, it is based on SIP, an open-standard for making internet phone calls, which means that Gizmo can make and receive calls from other internet phone networks. Which is a pretty big deal.

Gizmo’s not the first SIP client out there, but it’s extremely well designed, and appears to have little difficulty traversing firewalls and NAT routers, which is often a challenge for SIP-based products.

Like Skype, Gizmo offers end-to-end call encryption, the option to add cheap inbound and outbound calls to landlines, and has great sound quality.

Major plus over Skype: built-in call recording. This will be incredibly useful for podcasters and others who want to record high-quality interviews online.

Major downside compared to Skype: no built-in instant messaging. That’s a bummer, but I suspect it will be addressed soon, as folks are clamoring for it in the forums.

It’s nice to a see a credible competitor to Skype enter the market. Hopefully it will spur another round of rapid innovation.

VoIP and the Spirit of Adventure

David Strom reminds us that adopting VoIP — like any complex, mission-critical, leading edge technology — can land you in tech support hell every once in a while. (Turns out that he needed a DOCSIS 2.0-compliant cable modem instead of his older DOCSIS 1.0-compliant model.)

My take-home from this isn’t “avoid VoIP.” Instead, this article is a reminder that we always need to approach the prospect of adopting big exciting new technologies with a “spirit of adventure.”

The New York Model

The New York Model covers some of the interesting ways that RNC protest organizers used SMS (text messaging), VoIP-powered automated telephone information lines, and other leading-edge network technology to power their “counter-convention” efforts, and the independent media coverage of it.

Fun stuff, although I’m still trying to figure out how it’s relevant to campaigns that are playing out over longer periods of time in less intense circumstances.

Skype: p2p IP telephony

Skype is a new p2p IP telphony application from the makers of Kazaa. Key benefits are: encryption of calls, allegedly high quality, and zero configuration even in complex network environments. Interesting.

Followup: Now that I’ve installed and read the license agreement, I’m less excited. Quoth the license agreement:

“You acknowledge that certain functions in the Skype Software are only available to paid subscribers after a free trial period of the Skype Software and Services (the “Free Trial Period”) ends. Namely, you acknowledge that the ability to make and receive calls to non-paying users of the Skype Software and Services is only available as a paid subscription service (the “Subscription Services”). After the Free Trial Period ends, you will be presented with the option to subscribe to the Subscription Services. If you do not wish to subscribe, you acknowledge that you can only make and receive calls with subscribers of the Subscription Services and not with non-paying users of the Skype Software and Services”

In other words: you will pay to talk to people who don’t pay us. Lame. Still, the continuing action in low-end P2P IP Telephony bodes will for the future of low-cost Internet-enabled voice communication.

UPDATE – August 2004: Skype has matured a great deal in the past few months. It’s still completely free for PC-to-PC calls, and they’ve just launched a inexpensive pay service that lets you make calls to regular phones. We’ve been using Skype a great deal for calls to our field offices, and it has been working really well for us. The big pluses are ease of setup, ease of use and sound quality. Downsides: not standards-based, unclear long-term financial viability, and no Mac support. So, a cautious thumbs up.

Connecting Cisco ATA-186 VOIP bridge to your PBX

Posts in this forum at suggest that it is quite easy to hook up a Cisco ATA-186 VOIP gateway to an ordinary PBX. This would be really neat. The only question is: can several of these units coexist gracefully behind a NAT? I suspect the answer is yes, but it may require some tweaking. If so, then small offices could install a couple of these for making outgoing long distance calls super-cheap. And of course, the more people that have IP phones, the more people who can call each other absolutely free.