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My Everywhere Phone

2018-04-14 (Updated)


Lots of people find it hard to be seperated from their phone these days; I have protocols for such a situation. I'm still terrible at answering, but at least there are very few technical barriers.

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What is a phone for?

As with any technology, I don't represent the typical use-case. My idea of a killer smartphone app is an SSH client. Other than that, I want it to make calls and receive text messages. I had even considered going the "feature phone" or "dumb phone" route. But where I went instead precludes that. So, when it's not specifically necessary, I tend not to check my phone very often. To supplement that I've worked out other ways to just do the calling and texting that I care about.

Ubiquitous Communication

Cross platform access to speaking and texting functionality has become more and more common these days with the likes of Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram and so on. The promise being that whether you be looking at your phone, your tablet or your desktop, you will be able to speak with the same peopel in the same way. I like this concept, but there are three details that I'm not so thrilled about.

Infrastructure

Each service requires the messages to be routed via that services infrastructure. In some cases this means a generally secure black-box like Telegram's, but in other cases it means sending it to Microsoft or Google who are are a little less likely to be protective of your privacy. Of course, just by using a phone at all I'm trusting someone else with my data, but I prefer to trust my Canadian service provider who simply make their money off of the fees I pay.

Software

Those other tools are generally utilized via an official client for that service. This is fine, but it means that the ubiquity is limited to the devices and interfaces that the service decides to support. I start at a disadvantage here given that I'm solely a Linux user. Many services have come to support Linux lately, but even then, I'm stuck in the official application. SMS and voice conversations are extremely standardized and so can be intefaced with pretty much any way you like.

Integration

Finally, in almost all cases, these are additional services that have no actual connection to your regular phone service. Some can receive calls from landline phones or send messages via SMS, but they generally don't actually do so using your regular mobile number, or you would need to adopt their number as your mobile number.

There's Got To Be Another Way!

I'm an Open Source guy beyond just software. If there is a standard way of implementing a technology, whether or not there is a .deb package for it, that's probably going to be the way I'll go. Luckily, in telephony, there is a standard called VoIP.

However, this isn't your granny's Magic Jack. I don't think that much of this is possible through a prepackaged residentials VoIP solution because they basically provide an opaque service which uses the VoIP protocol on the backend, but the front-end is generally only exposes a subset of what would be possible with that connection. There are, however, many VoIP providers around the internet that will sell you a line and service, but how you access that line is up to you. There are, a sub-set of those providers that will provide SMS services as well and often at no, or low, cost. So, this is not a free solution, but it comes in a lot cheaper than paying for a regular cellphone plan. Because VoIP is completely done over internet traffic any connection will do. Of course in order to use a phone on-the-go a mobile data plan is still necessary, but you can get a 1GB data-only (tablet) plan from many Canadian Carriers for about $20. That, plus the regular service, a couple of extra lines and taxes and I'm in for about $25 per month.

Any Number On Any Device

First I'll explain the extra lines. One of the cool things about VoIP is that it supports multiple very easily. My primary line is a flat-rate (unlimited minutes) number based here in Ottawa that I actually use for all of my calls. All of my outbound calls originate from this line, unless I have a reason to obscure my number. If that is the case, I can call from one of my other numbers, or I can just change the caller display. This is also the only number that supports SMS service.

The first extra number is one from back home in the same exchange that most of my relatives are used to seeing. This has no immediate value to me, it costs a bit extra and, as above, I don't actually 'use' it, but it does allow them to call me without them needing to pay long-distance charges. I call them 'using' that number to limit confusion. To be more accurate about how I 'use' the number, it actually just forwards to my primary number, or re-writes my primary number when I'm dialling that area code; all of the minutes are still actually used by my primary account, and so, although both additional lines are pay-per-usage, I don't actually have any usage.

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