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Technology

Phone System Makeover

Phone System Makeover

Changes at wireless carrier and at Google Voice prompted a makeover of the Dismal Manor phone system to correct voice mail systems that were trying to take messages from each other. An amusing dance that was annoying my healthcare providers. So we set out to fix it.

Dismal Manor remains an OOMA Telo subscriber and a Ting Wireless subscriber but has discontinued Google Voice service. We were running into voicemail configuration issues that caused two of the voice mail services to start talking to each other. Healthcare providers were unable to leave messages. This had to be fixed so Dismal Wizard got out the lopping shears.

References

  1. https://ooma.com/
  2. https://ting.com/
  3. https://youmail.com/
  4. https://voice.google.com/
  5. https://nomorobo.com

Objective Service

Dismal Wizard desired an integrated voice mail system with one repository to rule them all. The integrated system would support a POTS (VoIP these days) land line and a mobile service, preferably GSM and world capable. Not that DW gets abroad these days but he prefers that his phone work in the EU and UK should the fancy strike him.

Legacy Services

Dismal Manor’s phone services at the start of things included

  • OOMA Telo home phone VoIP service (CR recommended)
  • Ting Wireless mobile service (CR Recommended)
  • Google Voice (the Borg Collective) offering a virtual number and forwarding plus voicemail and voice mail transcription.
  • OOMA Premier option integrating OOMA Telo with Google Voice.

This arrangement served well for a number of years but as technology refresh happened and user experience enhancement happened, Google hid the call forwarding options that made things work.

OOMA Home Service

Dismal Manor has been a VoIP phone service subscriber when Cox Internet became available in the 757. We started out with Vonage but moved to OOMA when DW read a phone service review in Consumer Reports. OOMA receives top marks for call service and value. Buy a VoIP ATA from OOMA to receive free for live of the gadget home phone service. OOMA has you pay the state and federal taxes and the enhanced 911 service fee.

OOMA has a number of add-ons, most free, that let you do various tricks with your home service. One, Premier, gets you NoMoRobo RoboCall filtering. It works reasonably well. Premier also offered a second line (instant second line in OOMA speak) that could be used in a number of ways. If you set up Premier Google Voice integration, your Google Voice number would be configured to forward to this number and OOMA would field Google Voice inbound calls. It also supported call waiting and first line busy outbound call origination.

Ting Wireless Service

Several years ago, DW switched to Ting Wireless, then owned by TuCows but since sold to Dish Network. At the time Ting was unable to support Apple Visual Voicemail on iPhone and was pitching YouMail as an alternative. At that time, DW subscribed to YouMail personal plan and began using YouMail voice mail transcription and visual voice mail. At that time, Dismal Wizard discovered that YouMail also offered RoboCall blocking that worked, really well.

Ting is a Mobile Virtual Network Operator with on-air service purchased from T-Mobile for GSM and Verizon for CDMA subscribers. Ting handles all customer acquisition, billing, customer service, etc.

Ting was unusual in that they were post-paid and billed in tranches. The basic monthly service fee runs about $16 for a standard amount of voice, data, and text. Once you consume your allotment, you are billed for the next slice of voice or data. For us doing relative check-in and some local navigation, our bill runs about $32/month.

Ting was also unusual in that they had real people working in support, corn-fed mid-westerners that answered in a ring or two, knew the product and its customer configuration, and could actually help quickly, pleasantly, and competently.

Ting, Like most MVNO outfits, lags behind on some service features. They can offer only what the on-air partner will allow. In Ting’s case, T-Mobile will not provide iPhone plus Apple Watch accounts.

Since Dismal Manor subscribed, TuCows sold the MVNO business to Dish Network which is trying to build out 5G service and needed a back-office platform on which to handle account on-boarding and customer service. A match made in heaven until T-Mobile optimized away Ting’s best feature, those mid-western customer service folk. I’m guessing they were absorbed into the sales side as Dish was much larger than Ting but those subscribers remaining with Ting will find it impossible to speak with a support person. A chat bot filters all support contact. Needless to say, Ting is on double secret probation. I suspect Dismal Manor will shift to T-Mobile sometime in 2021.

Google Voice

Google Voice is a virtual number and call forwarding service that started out probably as a 20% project to meet internal telephone service needs of Google. Google quickly realized that SIP session initiation was a light workload and that they could offer the service to Google subscribers. So they made a subscriber front end and offered free calling from within Gmail and free Voice Mail with voice to text within Gmail.

Sometime down the road, OOMA figured out how to integrate Google Voice with OOMA Premier and a number of Tech news sites carried review and how-to articles about the melding of the two services. This worked well for a while until Google began rebranding and rationalizing stuff. Part of this work included hiding of the did not answer call forwarding settings that let things work as Dismal Wizard desired.

Enter YouMail

YouMail is a cousin of Google Voice but it is an actual paid subscription service with income from actual subscribers. YouMail offers the following services

  • Did not answer forwarding to YouMail’s voice mail system
  • Call forwarding to YouMail for RoboCall screening with forwarding of live calls to the subscriber’s mobile.
  • Extra virtual numbers a la Google Voice that have regular mobile phone behavior with incoming calls routed like those to the subscriber’s mobile.
  • Visual Voice Mail with speech to text, app delivery, Email delivery, etc.
  • Business features for added numbers aimed at small business owners such as trades that can’t justify business phones but desire to keep personal and business service separated. These features know about business hours and business contacts vs personal contacts and will handle each appropriately. Free Google Voice used to provide these features but removed them from the free service (they may be in the G-Suite product).

What Went Wrong

In fall of 2020, health care providers calling the Dismal Manor Google Voice number began reporting that they could not leave voice mails. Investigating, Dismal Wizard discovered OOMA and one of the other voice mail services (YouMail?) trying to take messages from each other. So Dismal Wizard decided to rip out Google Voice as Google now appeared to have ideas incompatible with Dismal Wizard’s use cases and we were paying for YouMail for visual voice mail and call filtering anyway.

The second problem we were having was that terrestrial and mobile signaling systems have different caller-id data records. Mobile caller id can show the calling number but not the subscriber’s identity. Terrestrial caller id shows both number and identity. Health Care providers calling Google Voice were not being identified if the number was not in the device contacts database. So Dismal Wizard was ignoring some health care provider calls. It appears best to give health care providers a terrestrial service number with both originator name and originator number caller id data.

Some larger health care providers have not configured all of their house phones capable of making external calls with caller id information, specifically the organization name. Urology of Virginia has lazy admins. When surgery scheduling calls, it is often from a partially configured VoIP phone. YouMail maintains its own directory service and will look up the number. Customers can add new numbers to the directory as they are discovered. We’ve chatted with clinicians about this but they have no control over the IT bubbas.

Phone System Remodeling

First, we removed Google Voice. This evolution required the following steps.

  1. Request YouMail to initiate port out of my Google Voice virtual number.
  2. Removal of Google Voice app from OOMA Telo Premier service.
  3. Configuration of my former GV number as a YouMail extra line.
  4. Configuration of my YouMail extra line to forward to my Ting mobile.
  5. My YouMail extra line now services as my mobile number just as it did when provided by Google. YouMail now handles call filtering and voice mail recording and delivery.

YouMail Call Screen Option

When a call comes in, YouMail will forward it to your mobile. You have a choice of two behaviors

  • Show the extra line on which the call arrived (slide switch on)
  • Show the effective caller id after verification and directory lookup (slide switch off)

For our active extra line, the call screen switch is off. For our inactive extra line, it is on so Dismal Wizard will know to ignore the call. Sadly, there is no route to /dev/null for calls on the third line.