On Hold

I’ve spent a few hours of the last few days on hold waiting for customer support representatives (CSR). It’s a task that drives everyone nuts. Services like GetHuman.com are pretty useful, but still hardly a solution.

A few companies now have “call me back” functionality where they will essentially just call you back when the CSR is available rather than make you wait on the line. It strikes me as strange that more companies don’t rush to implement this ASAP. For starters given most of these numbers are 800 numbers, they are footing the phone bill. They also need to have the capacity to have all these calls on hold for sometimes an hour. These costs can’t be trivial. I would think a system that keeps customers happier and reduces your telecom needs would be a win/win. I’m also betting some patent prevents this from being an easy to implement solution.

This is why when given the choice I prefer the online chat option. I can work with it in the background. It’s quiet, not disruptive and much more pleasant.

Building A PC Headset Adapter For IP Phones

Building a PC headset adapter for a Nortel 1120E actually turned out to be dead simple. The headset port is actually a pretty standard 4P4C port (also known as RJ9 or RJ10 apparently). For about $5 I was able to put together a fully working adapter to use any standard PC headset.

I suspect this will work just fine with most phones even non-IP phones however your mileage may vary. Obviously this is at your own risk.

Parts:

If you have an cable from a phone receiver you could easily reuse that, just cut one end. Those are just 4P4C cables.

The stereo connection jacks are rated 5,000 cycles, though they feel a little flimsy to me. For the price however they or not bad, just proceed with caution. If you build this and intend to plug/unplug often you may want to consider another one. For me, if they break I’ll swap them out.

I was originally going to solder and tape it up to save space rather than use a board. The board was for prototyping and I’d just reuse it for something else later. At least for now however I’ll just leave it all taped to the board, it seems pretty stable if you leave the headset plugged in. I just taped it to the base of my monitor. I really wanted a breadboard, but there were surprisingly none in stock at RadioShack. No breadboards at RadioShack is like a McDonald’s without burgers. The PC board however worked for the task.

Pinning

To summarize how it’s connected, a 4P4C cable has two conductors for speaker and two for microphone. It’s simply a matter of connecting them to the correlating jack with the correct polarity and you’re done. The following diagram (from Wikipedia) illustrates the pinning:
4P4C Pinning

On the SJ1-3523NG jacks, this corresponds as follows:

Audio out:
  Pin | Wire
    3 | Green
    2 | Red
Audio in:
  Pin | Wire
    1 | Black
    3 | Yellow

A little testing showed that the presence of a microphone is how the Nortel 1120E can tell if the port is connected or not. That means you can’t just use the headphone for example to listen in on a call. A microphone must be connected (muting works fine however).

Final Product

I grabbed a Logitech ClearChat Style Headset which retails for under $20. Works perfect for the task and has inline controls for easy mute/volume control.

As a result I put this together using only a few dollars of parts and using only tools found in my cube (wire strippers, wire cutters, scissors).

There you have it. It only costs a few dollars and is dead simple to wire. Now I can code while on calls without having to decide between speakerphone, which echos when several of us are on the same call or risk neck pain trying to balance a phone receiver.

IP Phone Headset Adapter

In practice, I have tape holding the jacks to the board. I removed it for the photo shoot to better show how the wiring is done.

Caller ID Spoofing Will Soon Be Illegal

Caller ID spoofing is rather easy to do for anyone who is willing to make the effort and apps to make it even easier. It’s akin to forging the “From:” header in an email. Both of these standards were developed in a time and environment where malicious use wasn’t a concern. Today obviously that’s hardly the case.

Now the House passed the “Truth in Caller ID Act of 2010“, which makes it illegal to spoof Caller ID information “with the intent to defraud and deceive”. Blocking is explicitly still allowed.

It covers any technology, not just POTS meaning that VoIP technologies are impacted. In theory even a poorly chosen Skype username (or whatever service you’re using) would technically be illegal. So don’t call yourself “HotChick69” if you can’t prove that it is accurate in court. “With the intent to defraud and deceive” suggests that Google Voice can still spoof Caller ID for the purpose of showing the original number it’s forwarding for, but I’m sure their lawyers are examining things closely.

It reminds me of the “CAN-SPAM Act of 2003”, which has been <sarcasm>extremely effective</sarcasm>. I’m sure nobody will ever spoof Caller ID again.

That said, this is why one should be concerned about services that recognize the phone number your dialing from and let you bypass security measures. Always use a pin.

Google Nexus One Shaking Things Up?

Google’s Nexus One is now out. Given that they distributed a phone to employees a few weeks ago, this isn’t surprising and we all pretty much knew what was coming for a long time now. Mike Pinkerton (Google Employee, Apple fanboy) has a great and rather candid review of his experience with the device.

Based on everyone’s reviews and looking at the specs it’s pretty obvious. It’s evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The big advantages the Nexus One has on the hardware side are CPU and a camera with flash. Apple is almost at the end of an upgrade cycle so it’s expected to be beat at this time. Apple’s next revision should catch up or beat in most respects. On the software side Apple could even things out quickly if it were to loosen its tight grip on the App Store and allow things like duplicate functionality. Generally speaking Apple already wins thanks to a more consistent and polished UI.

It’s pretty well-known Google isn’t looking to make money off of hardware, they want to make it easier for people to use Google services anywhere/everywhere. That roughly translates to: “we want you to view more ads”. Google is the King Gillette of the web. I’m pretty sure Google wouldn’t mind putting more apps on the iPhone and getting more eyeballs on ads. Google tried via the Google Voice App but was met with resistance.

The most revolutionary thing about it is how it’s sold directly from Google and will be pretty much feature equal across providers. You can either get it subsidized by a mobile provider (T-Mobile for now, Verizon later) or unlocked at a higher price. I’m surprised they aren’t providing their own subsidy on an unlocked phone to try to rattle the mobile market. Right now the vast majority of Americans buy phones subsidized by a provider essentially locking them into an expensive plan. People go for this because the thought of spending several hundred dollars on a phone is scary. If Google were to make an affordable phone that competed with subsidized phones but was unlocked, providers would need to start offering data plans to compete for those customers and essentially break out of the cycle that the iPhone helped strengthen. The main thing keeping people locked into plans is the phone subsidies these days. If the perceived value of that contract diminished the long-term plans would no longer be attractive and competition of hardware and service would be separate.

Of course the downside to this is Google would be throwing a ton of money to create chaos in the mobile market and likely upset mobile providers enough to march to the FCC and demand action (I doubt that would go anywhere though). Google however did make a mult-billion dollar spectrum bid in the past with the goal of keeping it open. Something they succeeded on despite losing the bid, which is possibly another win since this may have been a bluff to get policy. I’m not entirely sure they really wanted the actual spectrum.

If hardware and service competition were separate the mobile market would accelerate quicker since neither could rely on the other to make up for its shortcomings and keep selling. Each would sell or die based on its own merits.

Google’s said to have more phones in the works. I suspect at least one of those is a cheaper more affordable model that will at least partially attempt to open up the market and untie the cell phone from the provider.