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Cellphones Wireless Networking

MagicJack Femtocell Gates Cell Traffic to VoIP 243

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the someone-is-gonna-love-that dept.
olsmeister writes "MagicJack is demonstrating a femtocell device at CES that will allow any GSM phone (locked or unlocked) to place free phone calls over the internet using VOIP. The device costs $40 and includes free service for 1 year. It supposedly will cover a 3,000 sq ft house."
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MagicJack Femtocell Gates Cell Traffic to VoIP

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  • by bflong (107195) on Friday January 08, 2010 @01:58PM (#30697286)

    I would love to have something like this that interfaces with Asterisk.

    • by faedle (114018)

      It can. There are GSM cards that work with Asterisk.

      • by bflong (107195)

        The only asterisk/gsm related hardware I've ever found was for connecting asterisk to the gsm network (using cellular as a trunk) not connecting gsm phones to Asterisk.

  • Is this legal? (Score:5, Informative)

    by marcansoft (727665) <hector&marcansoft,com> on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:00PM (#30697304) Homepage

    There's no "trick" to work with locked phones. GSM has no network-side authentication, so all you have to do is impersonate your carrier's network (this is trivial). But I can't imagine this being in line with regulations. Another issue is that encryption does not work unless you're a carrier and share a secret with the phone's SIM, which means that invariably your calls will be broadcast in the clear when you're using this device.

    I'm not entirely sure this is a good idea. Femtocells are great, but impersonating carriers gets you into all sorts of sticky issues.

    • Re:Is this legal? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by _LORAX_ (4790) on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:12PM (#30697478) Homepage

      Illegal as hell under FCC rules since this would would be an unlicensed device intentionally disrupting a licensed service. At least that's my reading, the device might as well be a DoS for legitimate users within the range of the device.

      • Whether true or not, magicJack's argument is that the wireless spectrum licenses don't extend into the home. Though, I guess the moment the signal bleeds outside, they're in trouble.
      • by kbielefe (606566)

        Who said anything about unlicensed? Whipping one up in your home workshop, sure, but OEMs obviously are perfectly capable of meeting any necessary licensing conditions.

        • by nxtw (866177)

          Spectrum licensing. Mobile carriers pay big bucks to license their spectrum.

          AT&T's MicroCell [] (which is a UMTS base station) includes a GPS receiver and requires a GPS signal in order to operate, because it transmits only on frequencies licensed to AT&T in the area the device is being used. (Mobile carriers in the USA do not have nationwide spectrum licenses, and the frequencies they are permitted to use vary throughout the country.)

        • by profplump (309017)

          It's not a hardware license, it's a usage license -- cell carriers have exclusive licenses for the use of the spectrum.

      • Re:Is this legal? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ink (4325) on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:47PM (#30698018) Homepage

        By your logic, those minijack-to-FM transmitters should also be illegal, but they're not. The FCC allows people to broadcast as long as they restrict it to a certain power level that won't interfere with others.

        • This minijack-to-FM transmitters operate at a low enough power rating so as not qualify as a true FM transmitter. That's why you can't pick up their signal much more than 6-10 feet away.

        • They also are illegal in many places.

      • Illegal as hell under FCC rules since this would would be an unlicensed device intentionally disrupting a licensed service. At least that's my reading, the device might as well be a DoS for legitimate users within the range of the device.

        That's what I was thinking. I wonder how long this product will last until AT&T or one of the other carriers takes the producer of this thing to court.

      • I'd say buy it quick before it's gone, but given it hooks to a service there is really no point. There's a commentary on the viability of the service model that everyone seems to be running toward there.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by lobsterturd (620980)

      Not to mention that UMTS phones will prefer the UMTS signal even if a GSM signal is available. Also, it will stop working once GSM goes away and is fully replaced by UMTS (which does authenticate the network), if that does ever happen.

    • by nxtw (866177)

      GSM has no network-side authentication, so all you have to do is impersonate your carrier's network (this is trivial).

      Is this true with UMTS as well?

    • Just make your house into a faraday cage ;)

      • by hedronist (233240) * on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:48PM (#30698030)

        One of the weird things I've run into in doing 3rd-party tech support is that houses can, indeed, have Faraday cages.

        If the house is of the right vintage (mostly pre-1950's) it may have plaster walls. One method of hanging plaster is to put up a metal mesh lath [] which can make a very effective Faraday cage out of each of the rooms.

        A modern variation on the builtin Faraday cage is rigid foam insulation that is covered on one or both sides with a metal reflective coating, often used in external wall insulation.

        When a new customer calls and says they are having trouble getting wireless to work in their house, one of my first questions is does it have plaster walls.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Ironsides (739422)

      Another issue is that encryption does not work unless you're a carrier and share a secret with the phone's SIM, which means that invariably your calls will be broadcast in the clear when you're using this device.

      This is no different than most household wireless phones or blue-tooth headsets for cellphones.

      • DECT phones (which are pretty popular in Europe, not so sure about the USA) do have encryption. I believe it's been broken, but at least they tried. Same with Bluetooth.

  • Does the MJ actually work worth a darn? How is call quality?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by kevin_conaway (585204)
      Consumer Reports [] seems to think so (with some caveats). They covered it in this months issue.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DarthBart (640519)

      Works fine if you want to leave your Windows box on 24/7, plug another USB device into it, and install their ad-laden call manager software. Oh, and its great if you like non-existent tech support.

      No free lunches, folks. Unlimited service for $19.95/year isn't possible unless that money is coming from ads, a ponzi scheme, or outright fraud.

      • by Kungpaoshizi (1660615) on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:23PM (#30697674)
        Seriously, it seems like you don't have it, otherwise if you do, and you still say this, you don't realize what you have. It works great, the "ad-laden software" you speak of is not that, it has a couple frames that load MJ deals, that's it. It doesn't swallow your bandwidth. It doesn't 'infect' your pc with adware like you make it sound. It has great tech support. And yes, unlimited service for 20$/year is totally possible, why, because of the crazy little idea people are talking about, called the "internet". And you don't have to leave your pc on 24/7. If the unit isn't plugged in, their servers host your voicemail, and you can access it remotely via a regular phone... Sounds like you either don't have it, or you had a rotten time with it, but I live, breathe, and eat computers, and this is by far the BEST phone service provider deal hands down. Sure, it's not a cell phone, but if you have a laptop/netbook, are you really gonna say that you can't pretty much go anywhere without being able to find the internet? Heck, paired with a random 3G adapter even... I don't mean to offend, but your words just reek of ignorance or impatience...
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by profplump (309017)

          $20/year really isn't possible, because no matter how low their internal operating costs, they have to terminate calls on the PSTN, and they don't have equipment in every city to do that on their own network. Legally mandated termination fees for rural areas can be $0.04/minute (or sometimes even higher) -- at that rate you'd only be able to talk for 500 minutes before they'd be in debt.

          My guess they're taking advantage of these same fees, and giving everyone inbound phone numbers in high-termination-fee lo

      • There's also another device: Nettalk TK6000 [], which looks quite a bit like MagicJack, but without the USB connector. It doesn't require a PC at all.

        As for MagicJack, I have been using one at home for several months now. I have it running on a headless XP desktop, so the ad-laden call manager doesn't bother me since I never see it. Sometimes the call quality isn't that great, especially when I first got it, but after some tweaks, it's working rather well.

        I wouldn't say MagicJack tech support is non-existe

        • by mpe (36238)
          There's also another device: Nettalk TK6000, which looks quite a bit like MagicJack, but without the USB connector. It doesn't require a PC at all.

          This looks like a standard ATA, bundled with a VoIP provider. These are fairly common.
          The clever bit with the MagicJack is using GSM rather than wired phones. Though it requires a computer running Windows and the article dosn't address issues like using more than one handset at once.
        • Yes. I have been on it for 1 year. I have a TK6000 now as well with the intention of moving over to that over the next year.

          MagicJack's software or device seems to have issues over long periods of time that require the device get unplugged (reboot) along with the software restarting or the quality becomes unusable. This may be a mac issue. It is basically a standard audio i/o device and therefore switching users causes the user-based app to lose the audio for the phone; but maintains a network connection

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jaysyn (203771)

      Yeah it works. Call quality isn't as good as a landline, but I had a better time using MJ than Skype.

  • I've had MajicJack for more than 6 months now, it's the best thing I have ever found for phone service. Yes it sucks at times when I'm downloading etc, then the quality suffers a little, but otherwise 20$ a year, ya, I bet anyone and everyone screaming "SCAM!" is a freakin phone service salesman... Phone companies and cell companies can't come anywhere near 20$ a year, not even skype, and I have noticed the quality IS better than skype... MajicJack == the end of the line for residential phone companies
    • by cptdondo (59460)

      I don't get it....

      My T-Mobile contract gives me virtually unlimited calling in the US, and with my VOIP carrier I can call anywhere in the world for 0.01 Euro/min.

      I've spent hours on the phone to Europe and Japan and have yet to recharge my original 10 Euro purchase.

      And I'm not thethered to the house, I don't have another gadget to deal with, and it works anywhere I get a cell signal.

      What problem is this gadget trying to solve?

    • I've been using it as a business line and it's been great to me so far. The unanswered calls go to voice mail, it's never busy, and the voice mail is automatically emailed to me as an attachment.

      The desktop client is a little clunky, it's just a dialer. Something like visual voicemail would be sweet. It's a little slow to start up like it's downloading updates or something. I'd love be able to upload an audio file as my outgoing message (any suggestions anyone?)

      I had some echos the first week I was us
    • by kbielefe (606566)

      Yes it sucks at times when I'm downloading etc, then the quality suffers a little

      That's not magic jack's fault. Look into setting up traffic shaping. It slows down your web surfing a little while you're talking, but it's nowhere near as noticeable as a loss of audio quality.

    • The real problem with MagicJack is that their business model is not sustainable. ie. it's too cheap for what they offer. Currently they are burning money like crazy.

      Eventually something is going to change. They're either going to have to change the pricing, seriously degrade their service (eg. too large of a customer base), or close their doors. The turnover of VOIP providers is insane, most go out of business. Establishing a phone number and then losing it or having to find a new provider because the

  • Requires PC (Score:4, Informative)

    by DivineHawk (570091) on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:09PM (#30697444) Homepage

    The current MagicJack is a device about the size of a matchbox with a USB connection and a phone jack. The USB connector plugs into the user's computer, loads software onto it, and uses the computer's power, processor and broadband connection. The femtocell will also use the PC, but it will let users make calls with their cell phones instead of wired phones.

    Why can't they make a standalone device!?

    • by g8oz (144003)

      That is exactly what is holding me back. How hard would this be?

      • Hundreds of dollars hard. Maybe $100 when mass-produced.

        Besides which, if it was standalone then they'd lose their advertising revenue. For me, the ads in software on my machine are a complete turnoff. For that, I've never installed it.

        • The TOS for MJ is one of the worst I have ever seen; they could write malware and get protected by the TOS you must agree to. Most people don't read it... At 1st I wondered if they were going 2 make their money by spying on me. (lotta luck I did all I could to sandbox it and later ran it in a VM... now I moved to a TK6000)

      • by Jaysyn (203771)

        Damn near anyone on this website should be able to make their own Magic Jack "standalone" out of spare parts in the closet.

    • Why doesn't someone take some open-source router software (tomato, openwrt, etc), and allow the use of the MagicJack hardware on a wifi router's USB port?

      No need for a computer on 24/7 - plus you could automatically prioritize the VOIP traffic from the USB port to guarantee call quality.
    • Re:Requires PC (Score:5, Interesting)

      by scorp1us (235526) on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:56PM (#30698130) Journal

      This post will mention specific products and services, but of which I am a customer and the following is my testimony.

      For my home phone:
      I signed up with CallCentric for free.
      I bought a Linksys PAP2 for $50 before shipping. (This is the VIOP box which allows me to keep my standard phone/message machine)
      I set it up with CallCentric and tested the service with CallCentric-assigned ph#.
      For $20 I ported my phone# over to CallCentric.
      For $3.95 a month, I get calling and $0.015 (1.5cents) per minute calling to US and Canada. The fee is a 911-recovery fee and some other fee.
      My phone bill is less than $5 a month.

      There is no PC required, just the PAP2 and the broadband connection. I even get callerID!

      This is my monthly bill:

      This email is a receipt of your transaction.

      Product name Period Price
      DID - Pay Per Minute - 14106661533 Jan 01, 2010 - Jan 31, 2010 $ 1.95
      911 Cost Recovery Fee $ 1.50
      Billed from Credit card: $ 0.00
      Billed from Balance: $ 3.45

    • Besides the ad's, using a PC means they can reduce the complexity/cost of the femotcell device. Making it dumber and offloading work to the PC means fewer components and cheaper to fab.

    • They can, but this is for residential service, where most people don't have ethernet jacks in the walls, but rather, just have a router somewhere and their computers are typically nowhere near it thanks to wireless. So how is the average yob going to get his phone connected to the router on the other side of the house? Now he doesn't need to worry about it, since he can just plug it into his computer, which is probably on his desk anyway.
  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:11PM (#30697466)
    While I can see this working great for people out in the middle of nowhere that somehow have great internet and terrible cell service, I can't see this working for the average person to make free calls. For one, this solution would eliminate any encryption meaning your calls are able to be intercepted with ease, another is, I'm not entirely sure that Magic Jack would encrypt your calls going over the internet leading to possible interception there, and then if it was broadcast through another femtocell it could be intercepted through there again. In short, it may be a way for people to save a few bucks, but at the cost of any privacy.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by azmodean+1 (1328653)
      A couple of assumptions you're making here:

      1. That it will not use GSM encryption

      2. That it is not encrypting the voip data

      3. That someone using a cellphone in their home NEEDS encryption to the femtocell

      3a. Not being able to make calls is preferable to being able to make unencrypted calls.

      4. Intercepting unencrypted GSM can be performed "with ease"

      5. The people doing the interception don't have a backdoor to the GSM network

      These all seem to me to be pretty poor assumptions.

    • You think people care about the privacy? If they do then why are services likes Google's so popular?

  • Requiem for UMA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JSBiff (87824) on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:12PM (#30697486) Journal

    You know, T-Mobile, a few years back, introduced UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) [] with some of their phones (which T-Mo has subsequently marketted under 3 different names, you know, to confuse their customers, I guess), but none of the other carriers picked up on it, and T-Mo pretty quickly abandoned it - I believe their network still supports it, and some/all of their Blackberries support it, but they pretty quickly stopped advertising it, none of the Android phones support it, and T-Mo has quietly gotten rid of every non-Blackberry phone that used to have the UMA feature.

    It's really kind of a shame - UMA is a great idea: basically, any WiFi hotspot that you can connect to become a "cell tower" (well, it routes cell phone traffic over a tunnel on the Internet, to T-Mo's network, so it basically becomes VoIP). This Femtocell idea is something that some of the other carriers are sort of testing (I have some relatives on Sprint who got one because there is very poor reception at their house). But, I think UMA is a superior solution to these femtocells, because a) with UMA, you need a phone with UMA support, but you had to get a phone anyway, so adding UMA to phones would have been almost 'free' from the customer perspective, with the only other equipment needed being something you *probably* already have, and if you don't, you can get dirt cheap at Microcenter, Best Buy, Fry's, etc., and B) the femtocell will *only* work at your own location where you put it, whereas UMA would work with any Internet connection and most Wifi hotspots, which means that I could take advantage of it at other locations if they have WiFi (relatives or friends houses, school, work, shopping, etc) too.

    Now, I think with the Android phones, you can now do some VoIP calling, but the advantage with UMA was that calls would seamlessly transfer between wifi and the cell network (if you left Wifi range, or entered Wifi range). It's really a damn shame that the cell phone industry didn't adopt UMA as a feature, because to me, it seems like a vastly superior approach than femtocells.

    I suppose it's theoretically possible that UMA could rise from the ashes, but at this point, it seems kinda dead. More's the pity.

    • by nxtw (866177)

      UMA is a great idea: basically, any WiFi hotspot that you can connect to become a "cell tower" (well, it routes cell phone traffic over a tunnel on the Internet, to T-Mo's network, so it basically becomes VoIP)

      This isn't ideal: wifi uses more power than GSM or 3G.

      This Femtocell idea is something that some of the other carriers are sort of testing (I have some relatives on Sprint who got one because there is very poor reception at their house).

      It is being marketed by carriers: AT&T markets it as 3G Micro []

      • by JSBiff (87824)

        Well, yes, it won't work at *every single possible* Wifi hotspot, but it will work at most. As for the power issue, if I'm at a location where my cell access sucks, I'm willing to make that tradeoff. My point is, that UMA phones will benefit at lots of locations, potentially, whereas femtocells only benefit you at a fixed location. Most people and businesses don't have femtocells installed, but a great many (at least in the U.S.) do have Wifi.

      • by mdm-adph (1030332)

        This isn't ideal: wifi uses more power than GSM or 3G.

        It's wonderfully idea if, like a lot of people, you don't get great T-Mobile service inside your home (their share of the spectrum doesn't penetrate well or something). It's a wonderful tradeoff, and the reason why I went with T-Mobile when I had the chance.

      • by GooberToo (74388)

        This isn't ideal: wifi uses more power than GSM or 3G.

        Not true. A poor 3G connection can use considerably more power than your typical WIFI.

  • seems decent (Score:3, Informative)

    by pak9rabid (1011935) on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:13PM (#30697500)
    From the Comsumer Reports review:

    Some interference occurred when the tester tried talking while downloading a large file or playing an online game. If you can live with that, we think the Magic Jack is a great deal.

    Something that could easily be overcome with a router that has decent QoS capabilities. Overall, it seems like a decent deal.

    • You can't QoS the magicjack. it uses a HUGE range of ports making the QoS only useful if you don't do something else in that wide UDP range they use. It only initiates with a predictable port the proxy gets it going in some random range after that. Unless you have a fancy router that can figure it out somehow (by destination) you basically are taking the upper range of UDP to a higher priority. The software doesn't let you pick the connection; otherwise you could stick it on a second network port and handl

  • by zorkdork (216545) on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:16PM (#30697544) Homepage

    and now I can call all my friends for free.

    And then I realized, I have no friends.

    FOR SALE MAGIC JACK, used twice. $1

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:20PM (#30697620) Journal
    When it takes only slightly more tech-fu to get a real SIP based setup working. However, if they are actually planning on selling a $40 USB peripheral than functions as a GSM femtocell, I am interested. Very Interested.

    Reverse engineering the sucker, and getting a Free driver built would be a hell of a boon to small scale asterisk setups and similar. Most devices running asterisk or other software PBXs have at least one USB port, and being able to set up your own asterisk integrated femtocell would be awesome(either to let you take advantage of a lower priced/fewer minutes plan by doing all your home calling over a cheap SIP trunk or simply to take advantage of the fact that used and/or low-end GSM handsets are substantially cheaper than decent Wi Fi based SIP handsets are).

    I don't assume that they would approve(and I can't imagine that team traditional telco would be too happy either) but if MagicJack is actually planning to make femtocells as cheap as USB wifi dongles, they get a gold star from me.
  • Why femto? (Score:4, Informative)

    by saw (5768) on Friday January 08, 2010 @02:23PM (#30697670)

    Why is this called a femto cell? The area covered is much more than 10^-15 of that of a standard cell tower. If this device covers a radius of 50 ft, and a tower works to a radius of about mile, then the fractional area covered is 10^-4, or somewhere between a microcell and a millicell.

  • my cell doesn't work at my cabin, which has dsl (natch). this would be perfect.
  • I can just as easily make a call over WLAN. And most, if not all smartphones do WLAN already. Just install the software, if your phone doesn’t already have it build-in (as mine does).

  • by jonaskoelker (922170) <> on Friday January 08, 2010 @04:00PM (#30699050) Homepage

    Mod me off-topic if you need to, but this title is why I my relationship with the English language is still slightly iffy.

    MagicJack Femtocell Gates Cell Traffic to VoIP

    So let's see, proper noun, noun, noun, noun, preposition, noun. Where's the verb? Who's trafficking cells through the gates here? Or wait, the cell traffic of the femtocell gates is to ... no, wait. With all the noun-as-adjective and ambiguous noun-or-verb words, your natural parser screws up---assuming your natural parser (like mine) is greedy and wants to impose structure as early and often as possible.

    Would it really be that awful to say "MagicJack femtocell gating cell traffic to voip"? Then you need a smaller token (i.e. word) lookahead before you can reduce "MagicJack femtocell" into subject, "gating" into verb, "cell traffic" to object, etc. (or at least, you will sooner make guesses which later turn out to be correct, and so you won't have to backtrack).

    I ar dum. Editor buffalo smurf easier to marklar and understand. Plies.

"What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite." -- Bertrand Russell, _Sceptical_Essays_, 1928