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Stanaphone review
Posted on 12-Jul-2004 19:20 by M Freitas | Filed under: Reviews

Stanaphone launched with an interesting proposition: give free US phone numbers to its users, and allow for cheap (sometimes free) phone calls, using SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) technology. At the launch, Stanaphone also offered something unheard of before: 100 monthly minutes worth of calls to normal telephone numbers (in selected countries) for all users. Since then they also added a prepaid card feature, called StanaCard.

So, how does it work? Users register with Stanaphone on their site, and are assigned a telephone number, within one of available US area codes. As long as the user is running Stanaphone on a computer this number is active. Calls to this number, independently of being national or international, will be redirected to the SIP client on the user's computer. If the program is not running, then a message alerts the caller that this phone is not connected.

Using this SIP client users can place calls to any country in the world, and calls to a list of countries will use the 100 free minutes available monthly, before being charged. StanaCard can be used after the included minutes are all used up or if calling a country not in the list of free calls. Since the start, Stanaphone has collected some market metrics, and inside information tells us that this 100 minutes offer will be changed to a credit based on usage, like other rewards programs - fair enough.

Stanaphone desktop client
Stanaphone Windows client

How to configure the Pocket PC for Stanaphone
Instructions to configure Stanaphone on other SIP clients

And how can you add this telephone number to your Pocket PC? When Stanaphone started they only had available a specific client, a version of SJ Labs' SIP client, with a special configuration. After a few tweaks, Stanaphone made available the configuration information required to use SIP phones and SIP clients with their service. This information can be used to configure programs like SJPhone or XTEN on a Pocket PC. When I was notified of this I visited SJ Labs website and downloaded their Pocket PC client.

For best performance you should use a wi-fi enabled Pocket PC. In my case I have this installed on an iPAQ h4150. After installation, I created a new profile, called Stanaphone. After entering the information from the website, I tap on Initialize, and this shows a dialog where I can enter my username and password, which are the phone number and the password generated on the website (not your Stanaphone website access password!). That's it. After your Pocket PC register on the network you're ready to not only place calls, but to receive calls too.

SJ Labs SIP client for Pocket PC
The dialpad on the Pocket PC

Receiving a call on SJ Labs client
Receiving a call from an outside caller

Call log
Call log on Pocket PC

The advantages are tremendous: you will be able to use a phone number that follows you, even if your work or pleasure trip takes you to another city - or even country. As long as you have access to the Internet from your Pocket PC you can place and receive calls using this number. And while at home you can have the calls directed to one of the various SIP phones available to connect directly to a network or USB port, if you feel more comfortable like this.

Calls are placed like on any North American telephone. Local calls are prefixed with 1 plus the area code and telephone number, while International calls are prefixed with 011 plus country code, area code and phone number. All calls are logged on the device, and of course available for inquiry on Stanaphone's website.

Call log on web
web based call log

The voice on both sides of the call is very good, but you have to use a pair of headphones on the Pocket PC side. The microphone is too sensitive, causing lots of echo, and the speaker is to weak. The headphones make it nice and clear.

The service is not always 100%. It seems that the server goes up and down a few times a day, perhaps overload with the free calls. But most of the times calls go through and are announced without problems. In the case of the SJPhone used for my testing it provides a Do Not Disturb function, and a Mute button that can be used during the call.

Stanaphone does not offer a Voice Mail service for those times when the Pocket PC is not connected, but I read on their forums that a service like this is planned for the near future.

In comparison with other VoIP services currently available for Pocket PC, like PocketSkype, Stanaphone is currently ahead of the game, because of the possibility of receiving calls from normal telephones and cellular lines. While Skype also offers calls to POTS (plain-old telephone system), its SkypeOut service is not currently available on the Pocket PC client.

Users must be aware on how SIP interacts with firewalls. This is not a problem with Stanaphone, but how the protocol works. If you're using a public hotspot or your Internet access at home then it's more than likely that all will work fine. But most companies block almost everything on the firewall, so don't expect to use this on your workplace - not without some tweaking.

Overall it's an exciting service, with fair prices and good service (almost all the time). The crew at Stanaphone seems to be working hard implementing new features (the third-party clients weren't there a couple of weeks ago). It also means users can have a single number at home and out, without having to use a desktop all the time for this to work. And while the rewards program is not implemented, it's good to have a few bonus minutes every month.

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