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P2P Meets PSTN, With Bellster 173

flinderhans writes "Jeff Pulver, the guy who started Free World Dialup (free VoIP network) and had the germ of the idea that turned into Vonage, has launched a P2P network called Bellster that allows users to share their private lines to make calls anywhere on the public-switched telephone network. Interesting stuff, even if it doesn't look quite ready for prime-time."
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P2P Meets PSTN, With Bellster

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  • by krudler ( 836743 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:09PM (#11461478)
    using a phone line on a bbs to call *another* bbs that was out of your long distance range. Cool oldschool stuff :)
  • by Anonymous Coward
    You need an asterisk box to participate. This won't be mainstream with that sort of requirement.
    • by mwilliamson ( 672411 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:47PM (#11461898) Homepage Journal
      You can run asterisk on a linksys wrt54g, linked with a sipura voip adapter and that is all you should need. $200 and you're there.
    • Asterisk is a big cost? It's GPL. Free. As in Beer. Runs on Linux, BSD, and Mac or even a linksys router. While I don't know how well it works, there is even a version [] that runs on Windows. Asterisk gives you SOOOO much more than just VoIP and cheap phone calls. It's an extremely flexible full-functionality PBX. It's really a matter of time before someone does a windows port.

      You really need more than just an ATA since you want to be able to lock-down the dial-plan. Example: you allow 800 numbers because th
  • Germ of an idea (Score:2, Insightful)

    by icypyr0 ( 636724 )
    Germ of an idea? Slashdot editors win again!
    • How was this offtopic? From the article:

      "... had the germ of the idea ..."

      Considering the comment refers directly to the article I wouldn't call it offtopic...
    • Re:Germ of an idea (Score:2, Informative)

      by Dynastar454 ( 174232 )
      germ, n.

      1) Biology. A small mass of protoplasm or cells from which a new organism or one of its parts may develop.
      2) The earliest form of an organism; a seed, bud, or spore.
      3)A microorganism, especially a pathogen.
      4) Something that may serve as the basis of further growth or development: the germ of a project.

      See #2, #4. The usage is correct.
      1. Biology. A small mass of protoplasm or cells from which a new organism or one of its parts may develop.
      2. The earliest form of an organism; a seed, bud, or spore.
      3. A microorganism, especially a pathogen.
      4. Something that may serve as the basis of further growth or development: the germ of a project.
      reference []

      See definition 1, 2, or 4
  • No thanks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MarkRose ( 820682 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:10PM (#11461487) Homepage
    I'm a fan of the P2P concept, but I'm not sure I'd want to be involved anonymously -- after all, I definitely do not want someone using my phone to make obscene or harassing phone calls.
    • Re:No thanks (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:24PM (#11461641) Homepage Journal
      Not only that but what if someone hacks the system and uses your phone to make a long distance phone call? What if a telemarketer outside of your country uses your phone?
      I see a lot of issues with this. Too bad it is a neat idea.
      • Re:No thanks (Score:3, Insightful)

        by winkydink ( 650484 ) *
        Well, in thge US, you would prevent this by using a 2nd line and not having a long-distance carrier. If somebody wants to use my line to call 10-10-IDIOT, I have no problem with that.

        I think you would have a strong case for common carrier status if you provided a dedicated line for this purpose. Of course, the legal bill to prove it could be astronomical.

        This is very similar to the early days of UUCP/USENET. Yes, times have changed, but if I get some time, I'll throw a box at this.

      • I know it's a lot to ask but try reading the article for a change. It's all based on you having an asterisk system and sharing through that. It's pretty easy to prevent outgoing long distance calls in your config file and if you can't keep your asterisk box secure maybe you should reconsider having one. Regarding the telemarketer thing... That's the beauty of this being P2P if you aren't sharing your own line you don't get to make many calls either, besides in the quantities telemarketers make calls it's j
  • Great idea (Score:3, Interesting)

    by chris09876 ( 643289 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:11PM (#11461493)
    This really sounds like it could be useful. Phone companies are such a horrible monopoly... this could be a good start in getting rid of them while transitioning off their service. It might be somewhat inconvenient though... if you want to use your phone line, but someone else ties it up for awhile. I wonder if they have a solution to that problem
    • Well, you could allways dial out using someone elses line in your city right?
    • Re:Great idea (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bonker ( 243350 )
      The problem I see here is that the Bells have been playing the 'We have a legal right to profit off the masses' game for even longer than the record industry. They see people taking advantage of this and you're going to start getting people hammered with 'unreasonable usage' fees like customers of some of the less scrupulous ISPs. They're going to start hammering lobbiests and bribes into whatever niches they can find on federal, state, and local levels.

      The makers have even invited comparison to 'Illegal'
    • I agree that phone companies are a fairly nasty monopoly and should be done away with. I'd love to see someone come in and replace the PSTN with QOS'd IP lines. For the time being this is a good way to get around PSTN charges, but if something like this catches on too much I could see the phone companies trying to pull a EULA on your phone lines where you agree not to circumvent their pricing structure. Actually, I'm surprised that they haven't gone after the big VoIP players like Vonage and tried to lock t
      • I'd love to see someone come in and replace the PSTN with QOS'd IP lines.

        Which would do precicely nothing to break monopolies.

        Last mile services (phone, cable, network, gas, electric, etc) are natural monopolies; it's most efficient for there to be a single supplier. The two ways to circumvent the detremental effects of these monopolies are:

    • It might be somewhat inconvenient though... if you want to use your phone line, but someone else ties it up for awhile. I wonder if they have a solution to that problem

      Obviously, you use the system to access another line, that happens to be (presuming you're making a local call) in your local dialing area. Unless, of course, all these 'P2P' lines are busy (possible because many people outside the area use it to make calls into your area), then users, er, waiters get the next one available in order they re
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:11PM (#11461495)
    > has launched a P2P network called Bellster that allows users to share their private lines to make calls anywhere on the public-switched telephone network.

    f0ne: *RING*
    d00d: Hello?
    k1ddi3: Hi, is your server running?
    d00d: Yeah.
    k1ddi3: Well, you'd better catch it!
    d00d: *slam*
    k1ddi3: PWN3D!

  • I used it (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I called my [garbled] and we [unintelligable] about the &6&^7^7^9&&&[NO CARRIER]
  • I use VoIP and cellphones because i want to avoid the cost of a regular phone line.

    While this is an interesting idea, i cant see how it could save me money, and i can see how the quality would be poorer.

    Also, the US is the only place i've lived where local calls were free. In the UK i could get cheaper calls to the US than to my next door neighbor at certain times of day.
    • Re:Costs (Score:5, Informative)

      by ibpooks ( 127372 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:31PM (#11461727) Homepage

      Also, the US is the only place i've lived where local calls were free.

      They usually aren't exactly free. Typically if you read the fine print, there's some deal where the monthly service will include 400 or 500 local calls "free", and then you pay through the nose for additional local calls. I would bet these clauses are there to specifically prevent a re-seller situation like this. An open public line could probably hit the 500 call mark rather quickly.

      • unless the client had a 300 call limit - thats still pretty generous
      • An open public line could probably hit the 500 call mark rather quickly.

        If you read the fine article you'd have noticed that you can set an incoming limit. You could set it to 200 calls per month and not have any problem. Or you can even set it to accept a single call, period. And even that single call gets you 10 credits of long distance outgoing calls.

    • Also, the US is the only place i've lived where local calls were free

      Local calls are free in Hong Kong too.

    • In the UK i could get cheaper calls to the US than to my next door neighbor at certain times of day.

      Actually they should have always been the same price. Comparing prices from here []
      Destination p/Min Access Number
      UK (landline)...2 0844 462 97 97
      USA (land+mob)..2 0844 462 97 97
  • Why do you need a PBX? Yes, I suppose it's easiest to do this using a PBX that supports VoIP, but that's not the only way. Couldn't you do the same thing with a voice modem? It's also pretty simple to interface a sound card to a phone line.
    • Well, you need software to do it. And the asterisk PBX software does it. My zaptel clone is simply an Intel voice modem, and it works great with Asterisk. Asterisk is free BTW, and it runs on linux, *BSD, and OS X.

    • The answer to that is probably yes, but quality would suffer because if it was just a voicemodem it would probably be on a Windows box and not be dedicated to VoIP. How would you like to be in the middle of a phone call and have your call dropped when someone has to reboot their spyware-ridden gaming rig? Requiring users to be running the Asterisk software gives you some idea that the machine won't get rebooted all the time. I could see someone (like Linksys) coming out with a dedicated hardware FXO device
    • You need SOME kind of sofwtware to interface with your hardware... You use a PBX because you want controls over it - limiting the dial-plan, length of call, frequencies of calls, adding a *67 in front of the dial-string, etc. Asterisk does all this and is free... What's the problem?

  • Won't Work For Me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AnonymousCactus ( 810364 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:21PM (#11461614)
    I live in a place with very few high-speed connections, hardly any Internet users, and a max of 1000 people are a toll-free call away - if I have to go tit-for-tat I'll never make any love to pay for what I take because no one will want to call anyone in my area. In general, does a tit-for-tat model make sense when P2P introduces geographical or other dependencies? Does it make more sense to credit an open line rather than actually allowing someone to call using it? How do you prevent fraud in a system like that? (i.e. my phone is in iowa, you don't want to use it, i swear)

  • u cts_id=35 []

    I haven't gotten one.. yet. I'm curious how it will handle NAT'd public WiFi spots when you can't poke a hole through the NAT/Firewall. Apparently it still works if it's only NAT'd once (multiple NAT's within NAT's cause the phone to fail I read). Maybe it goes into Poll mode or something.

    Still, cool either way.
    • Except for the color it looks to be the Zyxel P2000W that I (well my GF) have. I have used it at many public hotspots. NAT even multiple NAT usually works.

      The worst problem is that some public hotspots wants you to accept a policy in a browser before giving you access to the internet, based on you MAC-address. Zyxel, if you are reading this, please put a robot in the firmware that browse some webpage and hits any button named "OK", "Accept" etc.
  • Germs? (Score:2, Funny)

    by CypherXero ( 798440 )
    The idea must suck if it's being compared to a germ.
  • This is just the repackaging of ideas that were being worked on about ten years ago. And, it sounds very much like something a company I worked with before was wanting to do as well (except it wasn't free). It will be interesting to see how well this develops. Could be fun to play with.

    Hmm.. I wonder.. ISPs get carrier exemptions so they are not responsible for what their customers do. Phone companies also get carrier exemptions, except I believe they have to file for common carrier status (not sure). I wo
  • Critique (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Dejohn ( 164452 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:27PM (#11461693) Homepage
    This seems like a great concept. It's a great use of current technology to subvert the big phone companies. When I first read about it, I thought to myself "wow! this is going to become HUGE!" Then I realized that there are some serious problems to be overcome, such as
    • Privacy. I could pick up my phone line and listen to your conversation with Grandma
    • Currently, anyone who wants to hook up needs to run the whole Asterisk server. I'm sure someone will write a small little client that interfaces with some cheap hardware eventually
    • Potential for abuses: dialing long distance numbers from your line, making obscene or harassing calls, etc. As the "owner" of a phone line, I'm theoretically liable for all its use

    So, while I think this is really an awesome adaptation of the technology we have, and certainly a great perspective of what Asterisk is capable of, it'll be a while before this sort of things becomes mainstream and people want to hook up to it.
  • NO Privacy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CharlieHedlin ( 102121 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:27PM (#11461694)
    In the FAQ it talks briefly of privacy, saying there isn't any.

    I have an Asterisk PBX at home, and it is very easy to set the system up to log and record every call. Imagine if I joined Bellster (which I don't plan to, my VoIP services are already insanely cheap) what type of privacy violations I could commit? Granted it would be illeagal to listen to or record a conversation without either parties concent, who would know?
    • Re:NO Privacy (Score:3, Interesting)

      by BenFranske ( 646563 )
      You could set Asterisk to play a prerecorded message that the conversation might be listened to and/or recorded by a third party, this could be quite interesting. As long as you tell someone you're invading their privacy if they still go ahead with it all the more fun for you.
      • I like that idea. I might just have to do it. Only catch is all I have is VoIP trunks. I am not sure want to dedicate the bandwidth to run a call in and back out (my unlimited local only supports G.711, which requires about 85kbits).

        As it is, my outgoing instate calls are a flat $12.00/mo, and my out of state and incoming toll free are $0.02/minute with International running around $.05/minute. I wouldn't save much with this.

  • Who would want to route their calls through some random stanger's phone. Is there any practical way to keep the calls from being recorded and the phone numbers from being captured by this third party?
  • No Friggin Way... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nweaver ( 113078 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:34PM (#11461767) Homepage
    P2P networks like this are built on foundations of trust, a foundation which does not exist.

    Beyond the toll dialing (which could be prevented by proper configuration of the PBX software), the bigger concerns are leechers (long distance is a huge cost for advertisers), scum (nice, anonymous, robo-dialers with prerecorded spam messages), and tapping (it might be worth it to set up a few PBXs just to listen in on others conversation!).

    • and thought there are various levels of non-anonymity of Internet access, this adds another layer of insulation between the harrasser and victim. Regular long distance phone is cheap enough (and may well be free soon enough anyway) that I don't see much legitimate use of this thing, as opposed to other uses I can imagine and WOULD NOT WANT my land line used for, that may prompt police to ask "why are you making these phone calls?"
    • Bellster actually defends from leeching. From Bellster's website:

      The Bellster Network keeps a tally of calls that you make and that you give to others. It's like getting a calling card that starts with a few credits. One credit is used for each call and you get credits for each call that you give. As long as your balance remains positive, you can place calls.

      Also, without having run a node myself, I assume you can limit the routing of calls to local numbers only, or only those numbers that you choose to

      • All I have to do is get some corrupted nodes in the network and I can get all the credits I want, eg by placing "calls" from my friends. It's amazing what one can probably do to game this system.
        • It is certainly possible to game the system. But it doesn't seem like much of a problem. The fundamental premise if that you're not using your phone 98% of the time anyway. The system can handle a massive usage multiplier, and you're still paying your fixed monthly fee for phone service. As it is the system is designed around a 10-to-1 credit multiplier. Most people will stock up massive quantities of unused credits. Credits which are just going to vanish into the aether. Who cares if someone "steals" those
  • by spectro ( 80839 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:35PM (#11461776) Homepage
    The idea is great for the US where you have flat rate local calls, however I see it will very diffictult to find somebody volunteering their phone lines in South America or any country where greedy phone companies like Spain's Telefonica run the show. In there you pay per minute for you local calls and I can see somebody's phone bill growing exponentially.
    • For each local call you let someone place through your phone, you get a long-distance / international call in return. So it still sounds like a pretty good deal.
    • Well for every incoming call you handle you get 10 outgoing credits. Outgoing credits you can use for long distance.

      So you set the incoming usage limit to like 2 calls per month. For the cost of a few local calls you get essentially unlimited free long distance.

      Heck, if you don't make many long distance calls you could accept a single incoming call and shut it down. You can then use those 10 credits for lite long distance usage over the next SEVERAL months.

  • Napster, Bellster, Dogster, Crapster, Slapster..

    Seems like everyone and his uncle is coming up with a ****-ster type site.


    • Napster, Bellster, Dogster, Crapster, Slapster..

      Seems like everyone and his uncle is coming up with a ****-ster type site.

      I hear Napster was named that because it was the author's nickname. (He tended to carry a napsack everywhere he went.)

      Of course once Napster caught on big and received major media attention, nearly everybody doing a peer-to-peer application who needed/wanted a large user community to make it useful, would name it "(something)ster" to attract user attention and create the appropriate
  • what FWD used to be (Score:3, Interesting)

    by austad ( 22163 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:44PM (#11461865) Homepage
    This is what FWD used to be back in 2000 or 2001. I don't think it ever made it past the beta stage. It wasn't P2P persay, but anyone using the network shared their phone line to make calls in their local calling area.

    When you signed up, you put in the area codes/prefixes that were local, and when someone made a call, custom software on the Cisco ATA-182 device checked with the server to see if someone resided in that area and had an open line. If so, the call was routed over the net, the remote ATA-dialed the number, and you were patched through. If no one was in that area, your local ATA device dialed it out on your own phone line.

    The project was damn cool. However, the ATA-182 had some serious hardware bugs, and probably was the greatest contributor to the demise of the project. The original plan was to get FWD branded ATA's into stores like Best Buy so anyone could pick one up and contribute. As far as making money, I think they were betting on profit from hardware sales, but I'm not sure.

    FWD went away for awhile, and then re-emerged in its current incarnation. Hopefully this will address some of the security problems that were present in the beta, like the ability to dial a remote user's device by IP and be patched through to a dial tone. By doing this, you avoid the access policies and you could dial 911 or make LD calls on someone else's phone. Not good... at least for the victim.

  • The funny thing is that once you have an asterisk box working you can hook up to some very cheap VOIP providers (much cheaper than the phone company or even the "retail" VOIP providers). Not that the appeal of free stuff ever completely goes away, but if you can call anywhere in the US for less than $0.02/minute anyway there isn't much motivation to do the extra fuss and let someone use your phone lines for totally free calls.
    • $55/month I have Verizon Freedom plan. I can call anywhere in the US and Canada, 24x7, for free.

      So I have little interest in sharing my phone line, and even less interest in paying $0.02/minute via cheap VOIP providers.

      Now, if they decided to extend the idea to, say, set up a couple Verizon Freedom lines in every state (actually, "in every state" is not necessary; just set up a couple hundred lines anywhere), and then use those to call out from, then it might make more sense.

      I still wouldn't offer my

  • I remember a similar system that let you send faxes by email using the same concept. I seem to recall that it used the phone number backwards in DNS for the address or something like that. Or am I mixing two different systems.

    Anyway, if anyone remembers what I'm talking about in more detail, please refresh my memory.
    • You mean this []?

      Yeah, it was handy.

      Other than the problem with obscene calls originated from one's POTS line, I wonder what one could do if one already had a pay VoIP service, like Vonage. I can make free calls to anywhere in Canada and the U.S. for a nominal fixed monthly charge. I don't think that Vonage would like the idea of me patching out going calls from Bellster and offering U.S./Canada calling, even if I don't explicitly charge for them (reselling, and all that).

  • Land lines (Score:3, Informative)

    by elgaard ( 81259 ) <elgaard AT agol DOT dk> on Monday January 24, 2005 @06:55PM (#11462006) Homepage
    Nice idea, but I don't believe it will work.

    1. Local calls are not free in most of the world. This limit the use for long-distance calls.

    2. Most people into this kind of stuff will be dropping their land line and use pure VoIP (including IP->PSTN service) + cell phones.

    I live in Denmark and switched to VoIP (
    IP-IP calls are 0 c/min. Including calls to FWD, SipPhone etc.
    Local PSTN calls are 2.5 c/min (1.6 at night).
    DK->CA PSTN calls are 2.9 c/min
    DK->US PSTN calls are 3.2 c/min
    Subscription is $1/month/phonenumber.

    Of course I wouldn't mind using Bellster to make free calls to the US/Canada, but I cannot offer much in return.
    • You don't need to offer much in return. For every incoming call you get 10 outgoing credits. You can set the incoming limit as low as you like. You can set it to accept one incoming call and then shut it down. That's a pretty low price to pay for 10 long distance calls to the US and elsewhere.

      And yes, that works out to a good deal for everyone. As you said you'd likely be making calls to US and Canada where local calls are a flat rate for the month. We wouldn't mind at all "throwing away" lots of our free
  • Greed always wins.

    I am sure that there are various unscrupulous companies out there, jsut waiting for something like this to reach critical mass. When that happens, BAM. 3rd world telemarketers start to pester the everloving crap out of you.

    Regulation, for good or ill, is there for a reason. The restrictions that are in place just as much protect the consumer as it is to restrict their choice. And while we are all too aware of the restrictions, we take the protection for granted. Take those regulations aw
  • Based on the history of other P2P networks, I imagine it wouldn't be too useful... "Hello?" "Hi...may I speak to Madonna?" "Yes, this is she." "Uh..this is Madonna?" "Yes. How can I help you?" " don't sound like Madonna." "Oh? Whom do I sound like then?" " this Tom Waits's house?" either that or you just get the answering machine message looped ad infinitum. Either way, I'm not privy.
  • What stops me from setting up a box that says it'll handle calls for 1888WTFBANK and either listening in on the calls or diverting them to some malicious party.

    If this gets widespread public adoption (unlikely) then i'm sure some users will try to place confidential calls using the service.

    Secondly, what about places that use your phone number to authenticate you. Some pizza places seem to know your address the first time you call - could be useful for prank calling.

    What about three-way calling. Ie Perso
  • I've seen the privacy objections on other posts, and they're right, but everyone's overlooking a very interesting possibility -- setting up a network of trusted friends/relatives/etc. If they're really trusted

    I believe if this network is going to survive, it'll be by allowing the creation of such trusted communities.
  • I have no idea what PSTN is, but I'll welcome it as my overlord anyway.
  • works sweet (Score:3, Interesting)

    by austad ( 22163 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @07:52PM (#11462733) Homepage
    I just set it up, and it works extremely well.

    I just set a custom prefix to use on my phones to tell it to route out Bellster, next step is to make all calls default through Bellster, and then fallback to my Voicepulse account or my local phone line.

    I called a buddy in NYC over it and he couldn't even tell it was VOIP. Not that I'm surprised, I've been doing VOIP for awhile now.

    Now all someone needs to do is come out with a little arm based box that runs it for use in your home, or a modified Xbox distro with asterisk. You don't need a Zaptel card if you have Vonage/Voicepulse/packet8/etc.
  • by roderickm ( 6912 ) on Monday January 24, 2005 @10:02PM (#11463793)
    Yes, there are privacy and security concerns that stem from Bellster -- what happens when a bomb threat is called in using a Bellster route? -- but these are questions that must be answered as voice and data truly converge. Bellster is a disruptive technology, and Jeff Pulver is all about that.

    However, you set the barrier to entry way too high: Asterisk doesn't require a shiny new "PBX-ready" PC. You can choose any of the following bootable CDs to turn any old PC into an Asterisk box with just a Control-Alt-Delete. Not a PC fan? Asterisk now runs on Mac OSX, too. Now the only real barrier is the hardware, an FXO interface to connect to your POTS line. Just such an interface is reasonably priced at, the makers of Asterisk.

    Bootable Asterisk CDs:
    http :// vecd/asterisklive

    Don't want to spend all that just to join the free love revolution that Bellster hopes to be? Well, Asterisk has tons of other uses, like being a PBX for your home or office, too. Set up mailboxes for each member of the office or household. Email an incoming voice message automatically. Zap the telemarketers that don't pay attention to the do-not-call list. The list goes on as far as your imagination: Asterisk makes computer telephony accessible to everyone with a computer. Even if Bellster isn't the future of telephony, Asterisk is.

The primary function of the design engineer is to make things difficult for the fabricator and impossible for the serviceman.