Travel time should be productive time...right? Any
well-seasoned member of the business-class understands
that it's simply imperative to wage war on the stilling
minutes of travel. The efficacious business travelers'
unspoken code surely labels dozens of devices as "effective
means" to stay connected while away from the office. Our
industry has been especially instrumental in providing
white-collared warriors with their choice weapons of
war. The cell phone, the PDA, the laptop, smart phones,
Web mail, CASPs... the list goes on. The point is that
every shrewd business traveler's quill is bulging with
different forms of these essentials, all aimed at
ensuring connectivity, which bolsters productivity while
away from the office.
Way2Call has introduced a PCMCIA card that delivers a
unique communication solution that Way2Call says can "turn
a portable computer into a world-wide telephone booth."
Way2Call's Hi-Phone Traveler has been fitted with a
RJ-11 adapter allowing for the connection of an analog
telephone, which displaces the need for a microphone and
speakers. The Hi-Phone Traveler can be utilized in
conjunction with an ITSP or NetMeeting to make VoIP
calls as a low-cost, or no-cost, alternative to the PSTN.
Theoretically speaking, wherever you can take a laptop
and maintain an IP connection, the Hi-Phone Traveler can
be used. We installed the product on one of our test
laptops and made some IP to PSTN and straight IP calls
to analyze sound quality, ease-of-use, and overall
According to the documentation we received with the
Hi-Phone Traveler sample kit, minimum system
requirements are four MB of free hard disk space, a
Pentium processor of 166 MHz or higher, and Windows
operating systems 95, 98, NT4 with service packs four
and six, 2000, or ME. Additionally, you'll need TAPI 2.1
and Winsock 2.0, an analog telephone and an Internet
connection. We tested the Hi-Phone Traveler over both
dialup and our LAN.
The Hi-Phone Traveler PCMCIA card was installed in an
open slot on a laptop with 64 MB of RAM, a five GB hard
drive, a Celeron processor, and Windows 98 SE. After we
rebooted the system new hardware was immediately found.
We specified the path as the documentation suggested
(d:\win98), which happens to be the only way the system
is capable of detecting the drivers. Selecting only the
CD-ROM-drive checkbox did not search successfully for
the drivers on the installation disk.
After completing driver installation, Auto Run had
already launched the Hi-Phone Set-Up window. All that
remained was installing the software. The installation
was very simple, and all told the entire procedure
(including hardware and driver installation) was
completed within a 15-minute course.
The documentation for an end-user product such as this
was standard. A .pdf file included with the installation
disk provided basic "how-to" instructions. A quick start
guide accompanied the hardware and installation disk,
which got us up-and-running in a timely manner.
Originally, we were a bit confused when reaching a
certain stage in our testing of this product. It seemed
we were having a spot of trouble making PC-to-PC calls.
Initially, we thought it might be TMCs seemingly
impenetrable firewall. Using a couple of computers with
dialup access, we bypassed our metaphoric "Brick House"
using two unfiltered conduits able to transport Lionel,
The Commodores, and their entire wardrobe of then-trendy
"flare-wear" directly to our desktops. We then attempted
another PC-to-PC, which again failed, therefore quickly
eliminating the firewall as the potential problem.
Actually, we found that it was our interpretation of
the documentation that presented the problem for us. In
the section, "From PC-to-PC" the steps clearly outline
how to make a PC-to-PC call, but didn't mention the "rules"
of completing a successful transmission. So we assumed
since the documentation professed H.323 compatibility
that it was possible to make calls from the Way2Call/iconnecthere
GUI to NetMeeting. Actually this wasn't the case.
A call from the Way2Call office in Israel cleared
things up. At the time of testing this product, a
PC-to-PC call could only be made two ways, according to
our conversation with several Way2Call engineers. Using
the Way2Call/iconnecthere GUI a PC-to-PC call can be
made successfully to another computer on the
iconnecthere network. A PC-to-PC call can also be made
using NetMeeting to any other computer using NetMeeting
(hence the H.323 compatibility). The "From PC-to-PC"
section of the user manual didn't mention this fact.
Without expending too much more space on this point, it
would have been helpful to us if this were more clearly
Additionally, for the same reason, we felt that
NetMeeting should be listed somewhere as a possible
requirement for operation, contingent upon context in
which the product is to be used. Though we understand
Microsoft's deep market penetration and software
bundling/marketing strategies, there are still some
computers out there that aren't occupied by the
NetMeeting (3.0 version and above) freeware.
The Way2Call Hi-Phone Traveler is a standard PCMCIA card
(type II) with an RJ-11 adapter allowing an analog phone
to be used in conjunction with the system, which does
produce ring voltage to announce an incoming PC-to-PC
call. The Hi-Phone Traveler is a Plug & Play device
supporting the G.711 codec. It is capable of passing
PC-to-Phone and PC-to-PC communication in full-duplex
audio utilizing echo cancellation. The hardware also
contains firmware that's upgradeable via the Web.
Way2Call also provides some development tools
including open architecture and an available software
developer's kit (see pricing information at the
beginning of this article). Way2Call has also formed an
alliance with deltathree's iconnecthere offering, a
communication portal and ITSP network, which presents
Hi-Phone Traveler owners with 60 minutes of free calling
within or to the USA. iconnecthere also provides
The GUIs are primarily launched from the system tray. A
single click or a right-click on the miniature icon
launches a menu with most of the product controls. A
double-click launches the volume and gain controls. Both
methods allow you to access telephony configuration. And
tapping into the telephony menu reveals which ITSPs
Way2Call is working with these days.
According to the Way2Call engineers, they've been
testing their product with a host of other ITSPs, and
say that at this time they're compatible with many of
them. While we made unsuccessful attempts to confirm
which service providers they've been performing
compatibility testing with, or how many different ITSPs
they've tested, it's good to know that they're planning
ahead. This is not to suggest that the Hi-Phone can be
used with any ITSP at this time, rather, only that
Way2Call has made the necessary provisions to allow it,
if partnerships happen to be made.
While their product is fully interoperable with
iconnecthere and Net2Phone (according to an official at
Way2Call), they've only struck up an agreement with
iconnecthere at this point. Though Net2Phone is listed
in the telephony menu as a selection for an ITSP, a
business agreement hadn't been finalized at the time
this review went to print.
The product comes configured with iconnecthere as the
default ITSP for the device. As a result, a hybrid GUI
pops up when the PC-to-Phone dialer is activated. A
greeting by this interface puzzled us initially because
it didn't seem able to allow us much functionality -- "Slightly
odd," we thought, for the product's initial "handshake"
to limit the user in this way. In any event, being the
over-anxious and inquisitive sorts (as lab staffers
often are) we forewent the instructional .PDF and picked
up the handset of the analog phone linked to the RJ-11
adapter on the PCMCIA card (the laptop also established
an IP connection at this time). And to our pleasant
surprise, a dial tone resonated through the earpiece of
the analog phone.
Since we've all been conditioned by "Ma-Bell's"
distinctive tone, intuition told us to begin pecking a
number into the keypad. After the main Lab phone number
was input, the call was initiated by pressing the Pound
key on the phone. This routed the call to iconnecthere's
network, which then hopped off at the closest PSTN
gateway and after a few seconds, the call connected --
and seemed to be clear.
Having found good call quality on the initial trial,
we opted to perform a few unannounced experiments using
several unsuspecting Lab editors as our test bed.
Routine office messages were left in certain Lab editors'
voice mailboxes (when they were out of the office) in
much the same way our first test call was placed -- from
the Hi-Phone traveler, using the iconnecthere ITSP over
a dialup connection (28.8). None of the other editors
suspected anything out of the ordinary when they
received the messages. In fact, when told how each
message had come to arrive in their mailboxes, they were
impressed. The PC-to-Phone quality seemed to be quite
good throughout our testing period.
As stated in the Documentation section of this article,
PC-to-PC operation was a bit tricky at first. The
software was configured to default to the Way2Call/iconnecthere
GUI to make our initial PC-to-PC calls. We attempted to
connect via the iconnecthere interface to a NetMeeting
client across an IP network without much success. After
discussing the matter with Way2Call officials, we
learned that at this time the interface works only in
conjunction with another user on the iconnecthere
network. Two things are actually required to make a
PC-to-PC call. First changing the PC-to-PC setting to "dial
all PC calls using NetMeeting," and second launching the
NetMeeting client. So to be clear, if users of the
Hi-Phone Traveler are not on the same ITSP network as
their target audience (iconnecthere was the only ITSP
fully compatible with the Hi-Phone Traveler at the time
of testing), they've got to interface using the
well-known interpreter of the H.323 protocol,
NetMeeting. Once we launched NetMeeting, connection was
as simple as making any other NetMeeting call. At the
time of testing, the Hi-Phone Traveler we evaluated wasn't
equipped with an on-board digital signal processor (DSP),
as a result all the compression was handled by the
NetMeeting client. The sound quality was variable.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
We thought the interfaces could use a little tightening
up. The operative word here is "interfaces." One of the
first things we noticed after installation is that the
Way2Call interface by itself, is actually not much more
than a few menus launched from the icon running in the
system tray. Each one of these menus appear to afford a
bit of different, but at times overlapping
functionality. Use of the pop-up style menus makes
determining the status and running services difficult
without launching and quickly perusing the menus.
Further, a separate window must be opened to adjust the
volume and microphone gain controls for the device,
while more importantly furnishing an On/Off button to
stop and start services. Not that it was an overwhelming
inconvenience to perform any one of these tasks, but
instead, while fine tuning the software or just using it
routinely, it didn't seem to perform as efficiently as
it could have.
A single GUI aimed at unifying all these features
could enhance the products desktop appearance, while
making the end-user interface more intuitive, requiring
few steps to complete tasks. To this proposed "unified"
interface, perhaps bring some of the status indicators
to the forefront such as the On/Off (stop and start
services) indicator and the current ITSP and PC-to-PC
There is one other proposition we've invited
ourselves to prescribe. Given the reference to the
previously suggested "unified GUI," we thought it may
further unify, and to some degree simplify the
interface, if it additionally possessed the ability to
become a gateway to the IP world by employing the H.323
protocol on it's own. That is to suggest Way2Call supply
it's own unified H.323 interface instead of using
someone else's. This would dually eliminate the reliance
on an outside element (NetMeeting), and the need for yet
another interface (NetMeeting), while abolishing the
possibility that the product may not be ready for
PC-to-PC calls "out of the box" because of it's
dependence on a factor that isn't 100 percent assured
(the presence of NetMeeting). In contrast though, it's
also a big plus and definite product enhancement to
continue to be interoperable with the popular freeware,
which also makes available the valuable Internet Locator
Service (ILS), which supplies a form of presence-based
Mobility is becoming an increasingly important factor to
consider when addressing even the very idea of computing
these days. As a result the laptop computer has become a
staple in the everyday lives of business people, college
students, and even the layperson. Way2Call has created a
communication solution that addresses and fulfils a need
for VoIP users owning laptops that welcome an
alternative to a headset or (in our opinion) worse, a
microphone and speakers.
Though it seemed to need a bit of fine-tuning, for
what could be characterized as essentially the first
release of the product, it performed without a glitch.
Actually, at the time of product testing, Way2Call was
still trying to determine which brand of one-inch
mini-phone (a small device designed for use with the
RJ-11 standard) would be shipped with the product.
Additionally, by time you're reading this, Way2Call says
they'll have a version of the Hi-Phone Traveler with an
on-board digital signal processor (DSP) available. They
are also attempting to coordinate efforts with services
able to provide Internet phone numbers. Way2Call says
that a partnership with a popular IP-PBX manufacturer is
also in the works.
To The September 2001 Table Of Contents ]