I signed up for Primus Canada’s Talk Broadband service last week.  Out of all the Canadian VoIP offerings, Primus was the only service I felt was up to the task of replacing our home phone entirely.

Talk Broadband is an MGCP-based offering.  This means that all your communication with the outside world goes through a central clearing house.  Contrast this with SIP, which is capable of working without a central server.

From the time that I ordered the service to the time they fully configured the service was about ten days.  They sent the VoIP gateway, a D-Link DVG-1120M, within about five days of ordering, but the service wasn’t provisioned for another five days.  Note that they don’t tell you your service isn’t hooked up - you’ll discover that by calling their technical support line.  If given a choice, I think I’d rather wait ten days and get phone service that’s ready to go.

The default configuration for the VoIP gateway is to place it between your current home NAT box and your Internet connection (basically using the VoIP gateway as the real firewall).  I’ve read reports that the QoS implementation in the gateway is pretty terrible - you won’t have much bandwidth available for surfing while making calls.  I decided to place the gateway behind my current Linksys router, a BEFSR81 w/QoS.

D-Link’s VoIP gateway can power your entire home phone system, but Primus considers this to be an unsupported feature.  All you need to do is plug the phone port on the phone into an existing wall jack.  It worked fine for us, but I had to disconnect the dead line providing service from the pole before it functioned correctly.  With the dead line connected, the phone would never be released after hanging up.  We have four phones on the home phone circuit, connected to the VoIP gateway, and no issues so far.

Thankfully, with a bit of configuration you can successfully run your VoIP gateway behind a NAT device behind a gateway.  Primus Canada’s FAQ mentions that you’ll need to forward ports 2427 (TCP/UDP for MGCP) and 16384-32767 (UDP only, for RTP) to your VoIP device.  No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get it working with this configuration.  Each number I dialed would result in a busy signal.  When I configured the Linksys box to place the gateway in its DMZ, everything seemed to work properly.  I’ll have to do some more research/packet sniffing to determine which ports the phone needs to receive.

The Linksys router I have has a good port-based QoS feature.  I connected the VoIP gateway to port “4” on the router and configured the QoS to give highest priority to any traffic on this port.  I made a phone call and started a high-speed FTP transfer from a remote site without any dropped VoIP packets or slowness on the FTP transfer.  Not too bad.

The real “cool factor” in the Primus service is their new residential “My Talk Broadband” online console.  From this console, you can see a history of all incoming/outgoing calls, play/delete/forward any of your voice mail and change options for their call-screening service.  I’d like to replace our answering machine with their voice mail service, but I’ll need to figure out a way to disable annoucement of the current time and caller’s number from the start of each message.  You can even configure it to send you email each time someone leaves a voice message.

From their web console, you can manage a directory of numbers that can be auto-dialed for you.  It’s a little bit strange - you pick up your home phone, click a URL on their site and it will connect you to the number directly.  I can see this being somewhat useful as a quick family phone directory.  I might see if I can set up an LDAP directory locally and tie it into this service.

More on this service as I discover what it can do.

UPDATE: See my Primus Updates + WRT54GS entry for more details on recent problems and solutions.

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