Make long-distance calls (almost) free
Aplio/Phone plugs into your phone line and lets you talk over the Internet for about 95 percent less than normal phone costs.
by Mike Hogan
(IDG) -- Assuming that you have an Internet service provider, the only thing that separates you from making long-distance phone calls over the Internet for free is the $199 price tag on the Aplio/Phone. Note: You don't need a PC.
Marketed by Big Planet, Aplio/Phone was dreamed up by Aplio President and Chief Executive Officer Olivier Zitoun, a French expatriate who was racking up big phone bills every month calling his mother in Paris. You see, his mother doesn't have a PC, and Zitoun didn't like the quality of the voice connections achievable through software-based IP telephony solutions anyway. He also likes to make calls from the comfort of his living room, rather than his office where his PC is kept.
The Aplio/Phone is a small black box about 5-by-5-by 2.5 inches that's somewhat stylish. Inside is a modem, a DSP for voice compression/decompression, and a full-duplex speaker -- which comes in handy whether or not you're using the Internet.
That DSP/speaker combination is what separates Aplio/Phone from the less-expensive software-based IP telephony solutions. With Aplio/Phone, you can make IP calls even if you have an older PC that isn't multimedia capable, or if you don't have a PC handy. And because it is a hardware-based solution, your call is clearer.
Setting up the Aplio/Phone hardware is a matter of plugging it between a telephone and PC phone jacks, then plugging in its AC adapter. Configuring it to log on to an ISP is a little tougher: You need to use the telephone handset to configure the Aplio/Phone, rather than a PC. This requires punching several strings of code into the phone keypad. And you must first convert letters and/or numbers to a series of 2-digit numbers Aplio/Phone will recognize. The process is inconvenient, but not rocket science, and the Aplio/Phone speakerphone lets you hear the numbers repeated as you enter them. It's no more difficult than programming your answering machine.
It takes two, baby
Although a firmware download to enable connections between Aplio/Phones and PCs is in the offing, for the moment, this device can only call others of its ilk. It includes neither ring nor directory services, so you first must establish a connection over your voice line. You then press the Aplio button on the device and hang up. Aplio calls back both parties once the Internet connection is made -- again, this involves no more hassle than software alternatives.
The one exception to this methodology is that if you leave your Aplio/Phone connected to a dedicated line and keep the mute button on, one of your regular callers can connect with you just by dialing the last five digits of your serial number. This lets you use Aplio/Phone as a long-distance intercom.
Unfortunately, Aplio/Phone can't be connected to a fax machine, so you can't use it to send cheap, long-distance faxes. That capability could be in a future firmware download, says Zitoun. At any rate, companies are likely to save huge sums on their voice calls -- which, for some topics, are far more efficient and reliable than written communications. (You never know when the feds will be reading your e-mail.)
You can put Aplio/Phone in the same loop as the phone line the serves your PC modem. But because it monopolizes your TCP/IP stack, you can't launch your browser from that connection.
Overall, the quality of the Aplio/Phone call is fine, even though there is a fraction-of-a-second delay between the time you speak and when the other party hears your voice. The pause is caused by the compression/decompression of voice and depends on the number of Internet gateways that have to be traversed. It sounds similar to what happens when you talk over a speakerphone. But I can bring myself to speak more slowly if I'm saving a dollar or more a minute.
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