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Should I laugh or should I cry? May 10, 2010

Posted by CK in Networking, Personal.
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Readers of this blog are already familiar with my bitter experience with Vodafone Germany (details here and here). Long story short, in the latest episode of this series I asked for my connection to be interrupted at the end of the summer, giving them a good lead time for that (typically, contracts require a 3-month notice). On Friday, I got a letter from Vodafone stating that my phone/internet connection will be cancelled at the end of this week. At this point in time, this would be pure disaster, my thesis’ Titanic. Calling them on the phone, they recognized their mistake, apologized, and said they don’t know if they can do something because they have already asked Deutsche Telecom to disconnect me on Friday.

Seriously, Vodafone, how difficult is it to get your act together and be professional? Are you really amateurs? I really wish I had never made that contract.

Vodafone service in Germany August 19, 2008

Posted by CK in Miscellaneous, Networking, Personal.
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25/08/2008 update: At long last, just a few hours before I go and cancel my contract, I found someone in the customer care who could understand I know what I am talking about, would not try to take me through the “check your cables, check your settings, reset your router” process, and just translated to an engineer. They reset my SIP password according to my likings, and voila! I have a working telephone at home, with my own router.

To the unknown customer care representative @Vodafone, thank you.

Now if only I could make it work with Eyebeam… (PEBKAC)

Everything written below is real.

When I moved to Germany, one of the first things I did was to get a DSL/phone contract. I did a lot of searching before I chose a provider, and eventually I ended up with Vodafone on the following grounds:

  1. In two different Vodafone stores they told that their telephone service is not VoIP. This, however, is not true (they are using SIP on their DSL routers). Funnily enough, last Saturday that I went to at the store where I signed the contract, the salesman still insisted that they sell normal (i.e. not VoIP) telephony connections, because I don’t need a computer to use my phone. I was not amused by his ignorance.
  2. I can cancel my contract at any point without penalties (I expect to find out in the next couple of days if it’s true or not).

My connection was delivered in time, and I was quite enthusiastic about that. Having Internet connectivity so fast, when all colleagues were telling me that delivering the service takes a long time, was really great. I had already bought a different router which I attached and had Internet available immediately. Sweet.

Then I tried to use the phone. It was dead. I tried various “festnetz” configurations, nothing. I started wondering if my router has a problem. Then I connected a typical, old, analog telephone to the wall socket. Nothing. It wasn’t working. At that point, I got suspicious about it. Could they have misinformed me about the TDM-basis of their telephony solution? Could it be VoIP, contrary to their reassurances that “my phone will work without electrical power, with a broken router, or by just plugging my analogue telephone onto the wall socket”? I connected the Vodafone (Arcor, really) router provided with the contract. Still, no phone. I logged into it from the web interface and provided the “modem installation code”. It went through, to an interface which informed me (among other things) that SIP registration had failed. It was VoIP, after all.

The story with this service goes like this: They provide you with this “modem installation code”, which you enter by phone or through the web interface. Then the router automatically gets the necessary credentials (apparently, the ADSL username/password is somehow encoded within this installation code), registers for ADSL, then retrieves SIP credentials over the internet (I guess), and connects to the SIP service. Somewhere along the path, this fails for me.

Ever since, I am trying to resolve it and eventually get telephone working. In the last two months:

  • Two times they arranged an appointment and asked me to be at home to check the problem. They never called me back on my mobile.
  • One time they did. The polite and otherwise smart english-speaking lady at the other end promised me that if I enter the installation code through the attached phone (not the web interface) everything would work like a charm. I did, and when she heard the automated voice coming from my analogue phone and saying in German “there has been a problem, please try again later” she was convinced and opened a ticket. My many requests for my SIP credentials were not fulfilled, she insisted that I do not need them and that technicians will check the problem for me.
  • One or two days later, engineers from T-Com came by my house to check the wires. Of course this was totally unnecessary, as ADSL works (as I told her multiple times). Not surprisingly, they found no problem whatsoever. Someone then called me from Vodafone and said that when I return from my vacation (I was leaving on the next day), a Vodafone technician would come by to check my (otherwise working) router. I provided them with my vacation schedule. Noone ever called back since I returned.
  • Last Saturday I went to a Vodafone store. The salesman insisted that they do not sell VoIP, but rather “normal telephony service”. I went to another store, where the salesman was clearly more knowledgeable. He admitted it’s VoIP, and patiently listened to my problem and complaints. He made a note on their CRM so that someone calls me about this (noone did so far, it’s Tuesday evening).
  • Today I called again, and without talking about any telephony problems, I just asked for my telephony credentials. The kind gentleman on the other end opened (one more) case, and said they will call me back about this. At least he was straightforward from the beginning, saying he’s providing tech support for mobile telephony so he wasn’t aware of how he could help me about this.

In total, I must have 4 open tickets for my problem in Vodafone. After 2+ months, I still have no phone. Maybe if I was speaking German I would be able to eventually speak to someone from the Arcor IP telephony section who would actually understand what I’m talking about (Arcor was bought by Vodafone and is practically providing all technical services for DSL+telephony). If I wasn’t thinking of the 15+ days without Internet, I would have cancelled already and moved to one of the other guys.

Fritz!Fon 7150 woes (and how they were solved) July 8, 2008

Posted by CK in IT, Networking.
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After having my DSL connection activated, I went for a router and a phone. I wanted to use a VoIP provider who would allow some cheap calls to Greece, so SIP capabilities on the router were absolutely necessary. WiFi was also a requirement. I was familiar with AVM‘s Fritz!Box, a really cool box which included by default lots of useful functionality. For those who are not aware of AVM, they have something like 50% of the DSL router market in Germany, and they really are pioneers in the domain.

Looking around, I stumbled across Fritz!Fon: A real gem, unfortunately only sold in Germany. Less ports, but a great added feature: Integrated DECT phone. Not only was I saving money (well, it is quite expensive so I needed an excuse), but I was also saving space and wires (more excuses). Anyway, I bought it, brought it home and happily connected. 1st shock: The interface was German only. Thankfully, with some online translation and my experience with their administrative interface, it was ok and I was online in no time. Then I registered with my SIP service, and tried to make a phone call. 2nd shock: Sound quality was really poor unacceptable. I switched on the laptop, fired up SJPhone, sound was great. I wasn’t downloading anything, so it couldn’t be congestion (plus, on the other end they could hear me perfectly). I fiddled through all settings I could possibly think off: Codecs, traffic shaping, you name it. The only interesting diagnostic was jitter ~= 10ms, and some evident packet drops (although the box doesn’t account for them).

Yesterday, I was going through the settings I can modify on my SIP account, on the provider’s side. I noted this setting with 4 levels on RTP packet size. It was on “level 1”, and the provider recommended increasing it if there were audio problems/gaps. I increased it, no changes. Then it hit me: What if the packets are too big? What if they are fragmented somewhere along the path, and Fritz!Fon doesn’t have big enough buffers for that? Changing it to the lowest level, I immediately enjoyed perfect audio quality for my VoIP-based phone calls. I’ll try to decode this further if I can in the next days, and get back with updates to this post.

So now if you experience interrupts and breaking sound on your Fritz!* product, you know what to try first!