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Product Reviews
November 2003


BuddyLine, Inc.
343 Passaic Avenue
Fairfield, NJ 07004
Phone: 973-227-4051
Web site: www.buddy-line.com

Price: Lite - $9.95; Standard - $19.95;
Premium - $29.95

Editor's Choice Award

Installation: 5
Documentation: 5
Features: 5
GUI: 5
Overall: A+

Back in 1997, TMC Labs tested (now defunct) Data Race�s �Be There!� product that was designed to offer telecommuters remote voice capabilities over a RAS (direct modem to modem) connection. We thought it was pretty cool that we could be in a hotel in California and, using a laptop, we could still receive phone calls made to our office back in Connecticut. Unfortunately, the company�s demise was probably accelerated due to its proprietary modems and the fact that the voice was transmitted over long-distance PSTN ($$ per minute) as opposed to over the Internet using IP (free per minute).

Fast forward to 2003 and there are several intriguing VoIP offerings, including remote voice-like capabilities to take your phone number wherever you go. Just recently, the renowned Tom Keating (at least he thinks so) wrote a column in this publication on the Cisco ATA-186 and how several ITSPs are using the ATA-186 to provide VoIP service, including Vonage, Net2Phone, Packet8, and Deltathree. One of Tom�s �room for improvement� items he has talked about in the past for Internet telephony is the ability to receive phone calls to a PSTN phone number simply using a software client. That is, he would like to use a SIP client (such as Windows Messenger) and be able to receive phone calls made to a phone number assigned by the ITSP, i.e., 203-555-1212 and not have to lug a Cisco ATA-186 or equivalent VoIP gateway around when traveling.
Well, Tom�s wish has come true with the release of BuddyLine. Besides not having to lug a piece of hardware (VoIP gateway), another advantage of BuddyLine is that it doesn�t require an Ethernet connection. It uses whatever Internet connection you have on your PC, including dial-up. While the voice quality is obviously better on broadband, it�s a nice feature to have to still be able to receive phone calls over a dial-up Internet connection.

We tested BuddyLine by installing it on a Windows XP machine with 256MB of RAM and a 1 GHz processor. We emulated the customer experience by simply signing up online via their Web site. After filling out the online form including credit card info, we were sent an e-mail giving us the complete account details we needed to get started. We downloaded and installed the BuddyPhone software directly from their Web site. This software provides additional functionality and tight integration with Windows Messenger. The software prompted us for our BuddyLine account, which it also automatically defined in a field within the Communications Service tab. We were prompted to enter an encrypted �passkey� that automatically saves our account information and password into Windows Messenger so we can quickly logon without having to enter a password. The software automatically assigns the IP address into Windows Messenger�s Communications Service �server IP� setting, saving novice users the trouble of performing this step.

A few days after signing up online, we received BuddyLine�s USB phone, which features enhanced integration with Windows Messenger. We installed the USB drivers so we could use the included USB phone, which was in fact the same USB phone from Eutectics that TMC Labs reviewed in the June 2003 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY�. One of our favorite features of the IPP 200 USB phone is that it looked like a simple standard phone handset, albeit with a nifty feature, which uses a magnet to sense when the handset is on-hook or off-hook. Simply by placing the handset onto the included handset cradle (which attaches via tape to the side of a computer monitor) you can hang-up a call, minimize or maximize the VoIP application, or accept an incoming call.

Outbound PC/VoIP-to-PSTN Call
For our first test, we made an outbound call to a PSTN phone number. When you take the phone off the cradle, Windows Messenger automatically pops up (due to the magnet sensor) prompting you to enter a phone number. We dialed �12038526800� and connected to TMC�s auto-attendant. Importantly, we were able to touchtone �149� to connect to one of the TMC Labs extensions (some VoIP clients compress the voice too much causing DTMF to fail). The voice quality was very good with minimal latency.

Inbound PSTN-to-PC/VoIP Call
Next, we dialed 786-888-5716 (our personal BuddyLine phone number) and almost immediately our PC�s speakers rang and Windows Messenger popped-up. We were able to see the incoming CallerID and accept (or reject) the incoming call via two methods. We could have simply lifted the handset off of the receiver to automatically take the call or we could have clicked �Accept� within the Windows Messenger pop-up window to take the call. Once again, the call quality was very good.

Presence Detection
BuddyLine automatically sets your presence status to �Busy (On The Phone)� when you pick up the handset. Thus, while you are on the phone your �buddies� know you are unavailable. Similarly, when you place the handset back onto its cradle, your status will automatically change back to �Online.�

Other features include personalized announcements, voice mail, simultaneous ring on your cell phone (Premium plan), automatic call forwarding to any number, free buddy-to-buddy calls, and unlimited free incoming calls. If you sign up for the �Standard plan� you can make U.S. and Canadian calls for 3.9 cents/minute or if you prefer the �Premium plan� you can make unlimited phone calls to the U.S. and Canada for $29.95.

BuddyLine�s support for SIP means that in theory you can use hardware-based SIP phones or SIP gateways (such as the Cisco ATA-186) rather than using the Windows Messenger client, which requires your PC to be on to make/receive phone calls. Thus, you can could leave your Cisco ATA-186 at home plugged in using a standard analog phone with no need to boot-up the PC or have to leave the PC on all the time for making or receiving phone calls. Then when you travel you can just take your USB phone with you to make/receive calls. Of course, whichever device logs in last will automatically logoff the other device.


As we all know, firewalls often cause VoIP issues. Well, we were certainly impressed with BuddyLine�s �VoIP over NAT traversal� capabilities. We were testing behind a firewall with a private IP address (192.168.1.x) and we were able to have two-way conversations with no firewall issues. We especially liked the tight integration with Windows Messenger, which allowed us to take a call or hang-up a call simply by placing the handset back in its cradle. As of right now, BuddyLine is the only SIP-based solution to offer a soft-client (no hardware needed) along with a personalized phone number and full inbound/outbound capabilities -- and for that we applaud BuddyLine.

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