This is a welcome VoIP initiative for Canada. After all, we all know that Google Voice also provides USA/Canada free calling to PSTN land-lines and mobile phones from your PC. However, while the Dell Voice service provides free calling within Canada, it also gives you a free Canadian phone number, and 911 emergency access, which Google Voice and Skype do not do.
As a VoIP enthusiast, I was eager to give the PC desktop app a try. The following is my first impressions of using the Dell Voice PC Desktop App.
Note: In this article, my testing as based on Dell Voice for Desktop version 220.127.116.11
Download, Install, and Register your Dell Voice Account
The first step was to download and install the the Dell Voice App for PC Desktops. As part of this process, I was prompted to create a new Dell Voice account. This required my email address and that I create a password (always use strong passwords). They did require my current telephone number as part of the account registration. They currently do not allow registrations from outside of Canada.
The first time I launched the Dell Voice desktop app, I was prompted to login using my registered email and password. I was also required to acknowledge the limitations of 911 when accessed via VoIP devices. This is a standard VoIP 911 limitation acknowledgement in Canada.
Once launched, it became quite apparent that the Dell Voice desktop app (also known as a softphone) is quite a large app as far as softphones go. It also becomes quickly apparent the reason for the large window size of the app is so that Dell can display Dell marketing promo's. I guess marketing right in your softphone app is part of the price paid for using the free phone calling services.
Making Test Calls
For testing my VoIP services and devices, I often call one the Environment Canada Weather Lines. This turned out to be a quick way for me to assess how DTMF tone control functionality is working through the VoIP softphone or ATA.
(Calgary wx - 403-299-7878, Regina wx - 306-780-5744, Winnipeg wx - 204-983-2050)
Right away, I was disappointed with the DTMF touch-tone control of the Environment Canada weather options voice prompts when using the Dell Voice softphone. While the DTMF tone control worked, I consistently encountered broken and distorted incoming voice audio for the next 3-4 seconds following "every" DTMF command. While the Dell Voice softphone app does allow you to choose between "In-Band (tone)" or "Info (SIP)" DTMF control (found via the "Settings" button), only "In-Band (tone) worked for me. But, like I said, I would always experience 3-4 seconds of audio distortion following each DTMF commands.
Generally, the incoming audio quality seemed satisfactory. However, I suspect it is using a low-bandwidth Codec like G.729a, or lower, as the audio was slightly frequency limited and didn't sound quite as bright as if it were using a wider band Codec like G.711u.
I did make a test call to a real person at Dell Voice Customer Support by calling their hotline access number: 611. After navigating through a few voice prompts and using the DTMF commands, I was put on hold for about 5 minutes until a CS agent finally answered. Unfortunately, the first 15 or 20 seconds of the conversation was all broken-up and distorted. But, then the connection got better after I repeatedly said "hello, hello, I'm having difficulty hearing you". Then, the connection got better and I completed my questions with the CS agent.
At this time, I really haven't done any other testing of the VoiceMail or Follow Me features.
Initial Test Conclusion
Just from my brief tests with the Dell Voice desktop app softphone, I'm not impressed. They definitely need to fix the DTMF tone control functionality. If you don't ever use DTMF tone controls on your phone, then it may not be an issue. But for me, it means the phone has bugs that need to be fixed. I'm sure over time, they will fix it, perhaps through some future software updates. The audio quality, from my limited tests seems to be hit and miss. It will take many more calls to get a truer sense of the call quality using the desktop app.
(If you do experience call problems, make sure your router is port forwarding (or triggering) on SIP port 5060 UDP and RTP port 13000).
There is Hope for Dell Voice and Fongo
From my perspective, I don't actually care that the desktop app is a bit immature and needs to grow-up a bit. Why? Because, I found out that I don't really need Dell's desktop app to use Dell Voice and Fongo as a SIP-based VoIP home phone service.
Dell Voice and Fongo as a BYOD VoIP Provider
While Dell Voice desktop app was a bit of a bust for me, it's irrelevant because Dell Voice and Fongo service allows BYOD people like me to use my own user configurable SIP-based softphone, user-configurable ATA, or IP-Phones to connect with their service. What's the catch? You will have to pay a one-time "VoIP Unlock Fee" of $50. Well, I paid the price..... and I'll let you in on the results in upcoming post articles... (it'll be worth the read).
* Dell Voice and Fongo no longer provide the Desktop App for PC.
* Dell Voice and Fong no longer provide BYOD VoIP Unlock Key.