Using Whaleback Crystal Blue VoIP in Linux

The company that I work for recently ditched its traditional PBX system in favor of a new VoIP service. Our VoIP system is provided and managed by Whaleback Systems. They provide a unique approach to VoIP in the sense that it isn’t an on-premise system or a standard hosted system. Their system is a hybrid of an on-premise and hosted solution, which they state is superior to other VoIP systems because they are able to get the best of both worlds. Either way, this isn’t a Whaleback review, the information provided above is merely a quick attempt to describe the type of system used.

Whaleback offers two types of endpoints to make calls with, a physical phone and a softphone. The current Whaleback softphone is provided by Counter Path. They provide a Windows and Mac OS X versions of their application. That seems decent enough of them. but what if you want to make calls from your Linux box?

Although there are probably countless softphones available for Linux, the default one in the distributions that I prefer include Ekiga. I have used Ekiga for PC to PC calls and found it rather useful. However, I need to make calls to business clients and they need to think that I am calling from my office. Regardless of OS or softphone used, calls placed from a softphone registered with a Whaleback voice server always originate from the physical location or number of the site that the server is located at.

Important Note: Although they are a great group of people, and a few of them use Linux, they do not officially support any softphone other than the ones that they provide. That being said, Whaleback is somewhat unique in that they do not offer a generic softphone download that you can install and configure. All of their softphones come to the user pre-configured with that user’s password, extension, and other information. This is the tricky bit, where do you get the information needed to plug into Ekiga? Answer: You call them and let them know that you are configuring a Linux softphone. Be sure to let them know that you aren’t expecting formal support of any kind. As with most things in life, if you are a polite human, they may help you out. You will need the following information, or at least the parts that you don’t know already: The external IP address that other softphones use to connect to your voice server, the internal IP of your voice server, your extension, and your password. They may be hesitant to give up your password or they may not give it to you at all. This depends on your demeanor and how their day is going.

Now that you have that information, make sure you have Ekiga installed and that you have gone through the configuration wizard. Generally, I accept all of the defaults that are presented to me, although I opt out of the free Ekiga service. Once that is complete, go to Edit -> Accounts. Click on add and enter a friendly name like Whaleback or WB. Your protocol must be set to SIP, not H323. Enter the internal IP address of your voice server into the Registrar field. Enter your extension into the User field and your password into the Password field. Review your settings and then click OK. Close the Accounts windows and go to Edit -> Preferences. Under Protocols -> SIP Settings, enter the external IP address of your voice server in the Outbound Proxy field. Assuming that you have followed these steps and have the right information, you should now be able to make calls.

Important Note: Although this might seem obvious, you must dial calls the same way that you do from a physical phone. In other words, if you have to dial 9 to get an outside line from your desk phone, you must do the same thing on the softphone.

I use this setup frequently from my Dell Mini 9 and my Dell Latitude D630 and love it. Because I am always on the move, my connectivity is typically the nearest open or recently opened ( XD ) WiFi hotspot around. For obvious reasons, WiFi is not ideal for voice as most access points use best effort for packet management. At home I have QoS on my wireless access points so this is much less of an issue. Regardless of the internet connectivity that you have available, you can improve or decrease quality as needed. To do this you simply go to Edit -> Preferences and go to Codecs -> Audio Codecs. You can select and deselect codecs as your needs require. Also note that you can move the codecs up and down in priority. Although all codecs may not be supported by your Whaleback voice server, Ekiga will negotiate the best available codec upon connection/registration.

This setup is so much more convenient than my last one. Happy dialing…