•  Troubleshooting common problems

     Avoid too many ringers



    One possible method of VoIP with alarm wiringKeep in mind that there may be a limitation on the number of telephone ringers that can be powered by any given VoIP adapter, so turn off the ringers on as many phones as you can to begin with. You can then have someone call you and while the phone is ringing, turn ringers you need on one at a time and see if it causes the volume of the other ringers to decrease. If you switch on a ringer and all the other phones stop ringing, that ringer probably draws too much current (or else you have simply exceeded the number of ringers the adapter can handle) and you should avoid leaving it switched on.


    Every modern telephone has a "ringer equivalency number" (REN) that can be found on a label somewhere on the phone. If you have an older phone with a mechanical bell, it is assumed to have a REN of 1.0. In theory, a telephone company line can only support a REN of 5 (five standard ringers on a line), but some folks have connected six or seven without any problem. That doesn't necessarily mean you can do that with one of these adapters, though. The Cisco ATA-186 unit (that has been supplied in the past by some VoIP companies) also supports up to 5 REN per port, "depending on loop length", which simply means that in a normal home situation you should be able to have five telephone ringers connected with no problem. The Sipura SPA-2000 technical specifications sheet states that the maximum ringer load is 3 REN (that is probably also true for other VoIP adapters in the Linksys and Sipura product line). We expect that most of the newer adapters currently being shipped to customers would have similar specifications, but it may take some trial-and-error to determine how many ringers the adapter you are using will support.

  • Old telephone ringer showing bias spring locationIf you are trying to use an older phone with a mechanical bell, and it was made by Western Electric or is a copy of a Western Electric design made by another manufacturer (such as Northern Electric, ITT, Stromberg-Carlson, etc.), be sure to set the bias spring on the ringer to the "weak bias" position (the setting with no tension, or the least amount of tension on the spring). You can find more information on Western Electric Ringers and the use of the bias spring at the Bell System Memorial site. Using the lowest bias setting will allow the phone to ring with somewhat lower ring current available. Also, if your VoIP adapter is made by Linksys or Sipura, ask your service provider to check and make sure that the "Ring Frequency" is set to 20 and the "Ring Voltage" is set to 90 (20 Hz is the standard ring frequency, and 90 volts is the standard ring voltage in the U.S.A. and Canada, but for some reason the Linksys/Sipura adapters ship with a default ring frequency of 25 Hz and a default ring voltage of 70). These settings are available under the "Regional" tab in the Linksys/Sipura settings, but some service providers lock out that tab so you don't even see it. Older mechanical bells are "tuned" to a specific frequency and often will not ring if the supplied ringing frequency is even just a little off (it should be noted that some telephone companies, mostly those operating in rural areas with multiple parties on a line, did use ringers that were tuned to frequencies other than 20 Hz. In such cases the required ring frequency may be visible on the ringer itself). Modern electronic ringers (that "warble" rather than ring) do not have a bias adjustment, and generally aren't nearly as frequency-sensitive as the older ringers.

  • (It should be noted that the ringer circuit in a few older phones can interfere with the incoming Caller ID signal from the VoIP adapter. This is a relatively rare problem, but if Caller ID works fine when a Caller ID equipped phone is plugged directly into the VoIP adapter, but not when the VoIP adapter and the phone are plugged into the inside wiring, try temporarily disconnecting any older phones or any other "oddball" equipment you may have connected to the line, and see if that restores Caller ID).


    Mike Sandman Enterprises Ring Voltage Booster II™If you need to ring more phones than the VoIP adapter will support, we recommend that you consider using a Ring Voltage Booster™ (there are now two models, the new Ring Voltage Booster II™ and the original Ring Voltage Booster™ - scroll down on the page to see both) from Mike Sandman Enterprises. The new Ring Voltage Booster II™ (see review here) increases the Ring Voltage to the North American standard 90VAC RMS at 20 cycles, and increases ringing current to 7.5 REN. The original Ring Voltage Booster™ only increases the Ring Voltage to 75VAC RMS at 20 cycles (while that's a bit shy of the North American standard 90 volts, it should still be sufficient to ring any modern phone), and only increases ringing current to 5 REN. Keep in mind that it's most likely the ringing current you want to increase, not necessarily the voltage. For most users, the newer Ring Voltage Booster II™ will probably be the best choice among the units listed in this section, and it's the one we would recommend, particularly since it's only $5 more (at this writing) than the original Ring Voltage Booster™, and has much better specifications. In our tests, we found that the Ring Voltage Booster II™ will pass Caller ID data reliably, and will maintain the proper cadence of distinctive ringing.


    Mike Sandman Enterprises Ring Voltage Booster™Some time back we received one report that the original Ring Voltage Booster™ would not fix a problem involving a Nortel Venture phone system — the problem there was that a Linksys VoIP adapter would not cause the Venture phones to ring properly nor show caller ID on line 1, and the ring voltage booster did not solve that problem, although it did allow two other older phones on the line to ring properly. Matt, who sent this report, concluded that, "...if you were just trying to get some old dial phones working or trying to add a large number of extensions, I think the Mike Sandman device is a good solution. They have a 30 day return policy." We suspect that the newer Ring Voltage Booster II™ would have fixed Matt's problem, had it been available back then.


    Viking Electronics RG-10a Ring BoosterAnother alternative is a unit manufactured by Viking Electronics, their Ring Booster (Model: RG-10A) that is more expensive than the other units mentioned on this page, but is capable of ringing fifteen standard (1 REN) telephone devices. You would plug the Ring Booster into the VoIP adapter, then connect your phones and phone devices to the "OUT TO PHONES" jack of the Ring Booster. Use Google Products if you need to find a retail supplier of these devices (and note that the price can vary rather widely depending on supplier).

    Please note that all of these devices are single-line units. If you need to boost the ringing voltage and/or current for multiple VoIP lines, you will need a separate unit for each VoIP line that will have a ringer load that exceeds the VoIP adapter manufacturer's specifications. To the best of our knowledge, none of the mentioned devices affect the normal operation of the telephone line, or features provided on the line.

    Note that if you should need to connect more phones than either your VoIP adapter or one of the above devices will ring individually, you could connect some phones directly to the VoIP adapter and some phones to the added device. For example, if you had a VoIP adapter with a REN of 3, and an added device of the type mentioned above with a REN of 5, you could (in theory) connect three standard (1.0 REN) phones directly to the VoIP adapter, and five more standard phones to the added device, for a total of eight phones that will ring (and beyond that, you could theoretically add even more non-ringing phones, that is, phones with the ringer disconnected or shut off).


    We have received an e-mail from Randy from Pennsylvania, who has purchased a Viking RG-10A and is successfully using it to provide ringing current to his phones, which have RENs that add up to 5.4. Randy wrote, "I think this was a bit too much for any of the VoIP adapters to handle ... Caller ID wouldn't pass through the phones and the ring was very, very abbreviated. I added the Viking RG-10A booster and everything worked perfectly! Good strong rings and Caller ID that came through perfectly." Other than Randy, we do not know of anyone who is actually using any of the above-mentioned units with a VoIP adapter, except that we are using one of Mike Sandman's Ring Voltage Booster II™ units (and think it works great - here's another link to the review). If you purchase a unit of this type, please let us know if it works for you.



    One jack, two cords — no problem!

    Duplex adapterIf you want a phone at the same location where you plug your VoIP adapter into a jack, simply plug a phone line duplex adapter (two jacks to one plug) into the VoIP adapter, or into the phone jack, whichever is more convenient.


    All of the above assumes that you are the sole homeowner in your home. If you have more than one line coming into your home, or if you are in some sort of shared living situation, there is one cardinal rule to remember: If your VoIP adapter ever gets crossed with a line carrying live voltage from the phone company, you could destroy it (and possibly cause a fire in the process). So, do whatever you need to (including running totally new wiring, or using only cordless phones with the base unit plugged directly into the adapter) to avoid letting your adapter get crossed with a live telephone company line.



    The "dead jack" problem


    The above instructions assume that all the telephone jacks in your home were working when you had service from the telephone company connected. Sometimes people find that one jack in their home doesn't work before they disconnect the phone company's wiring. If the jack didn't work before, it probably won't magically start working after you've followed the above instructions! And, if you plug your VoIP adapter into a formerly "dead" jack, you won't get the signal at the other jacks in your home.


    One common reason for a "dead jack", particularly when you have recently acquired a home that was previously occupied by others, is that the former owner had either a modem or a FAX line installed. Therefore, the jack may be wired so that what would normally be the "line two" pair (generally the orange pair) is wired as line one on that jack only. Alternately, it may have a direct line run to the Network Interface Unit, which is connected as line two inside that unit, and not connected to the other jacks inside the home. In either case, the thing to do is to rewire that jack properly (if necessary), making sure the blue pair is connected as line one (if the jack has four wires color coded red, green, yellow, and black, then the blue wire of the cable pair would connect to the red wire at the jack, and the white wire with the blue stripe would connect to the green wire in the jack), and then make sure that at the other end of the cable from that jack, the blue pair is connected to the other blue pairs that feed the other jacks inside the home.


    (Some people have tried temporarily "bridging" line one, the blue pair, and line two, the orange pair, inside the Network Interface Unit, to see if that will make the "dead" jack start working. We don't recommend this unless you have a good understanding of basic telephone wiring AND you make absolutely sure that both pairs are disconnected from the telephone company's wiring.)

  • Eliminating radio interference


    One problem you just might run into is that when you pick up the phone, you hear a local radio station, or the transmissions of a ham or citizens band radio operator in the background. This is not a very common problem, but if it happens to you, here are some steps you can take to try to resolve the problem:

    First, try connecting a phone directly to the VoIP adapter (disconnect the VoIP adapter from your home wiring). If you still hear the radio station, try another phone (also using a different line cord to connect the phone to the VoIP adapter). If you hear the interference no matter what phone and line cord you try, the VoIP adapter itself may be picking up the interference, and you should contact your VoIP provider for assistance.


    Next, try disconnecting all telephones and telephone devices from the line, and leave only the VoIP adapter connected. Then test each telephone individually — you may find that it's only a certain phone that's causing the problem. If so, it may be the phone, or it may be a bad cord on the phone — try replacing the cords (line and handset cord) temporarily before you throw away the phone.


    If that doesn't work, try to trace the inside phone wiring in your home, and look for bad splices or damage to the wiring. In particular, if you find any splices made with unapproved connectors (such as wire nuts), redo them using approved, moisture-resistant connectors. Disconnect wires to jacks you don't use and don't plan on using. If you don't know where a wire goes (if, for example, it disappears into a wall) and you suspect it may no longer be in use, try disconnecting it, at least temporarily (unused wiring can act as an antenna for radio signals).


    The next thing to do is make sure that all connections at terminal blocks and phone jacks are secure. Remove the cover on each phone jack, and tighten each screw a little. Look for obvious signs of corrosion or moisture entering the jack, and if you find any, replace the jack and make sure that you make a good clean connection to the new jack.


    The next thing to try is obtaining one or two capacitors and placing them on the line. A good capacitor to use would be a 0.01µF 400V Metal-film Capacitor (Radio Shack part number 272-1051 or equivalent). You can try one connected directly across the line (that is, from one wire of the pair to the other), or for greater effect you can use two capacitors. If you use two, connect one lead from the first capacitor to one wire of the pair, and the other lead of the capacitor to a good ground. Wire the other capacitor to the other wire of the pair, and to ground. This may be easiest to do if you put the capacitors inside the Network Interface Box, since there is usually a ground wire available in or near the box (VERY IMPORTANT: Do NOT completely disconnect the ground wire from the network interface box, because it helps protect your home from lightning damage!). Be sure to insulate the bare capacitor leads using insulated tubing or (in a pinch) electrical tape, so they cannot come in contact with other metallic parts or wires.


    If capacitors do not work, or if you'd simply prefer an easier (albeit more expensive) method than hooking up capacitors, you can obtain a radio frequency interference filter that plugs into the telephone line cord. You may need to experiment with the placement of these — you may or may not need one at the VoIP adapter, and/or at some or all of the phones in your home. These can be purchased at an AT&T phone center, at Radio Shack (part number 279-151), or online at K-Y Filters, at K-COM, at Sparrevohn Engineering, or at Industrial Communications Engineers (Note that you may need to know what type of radio station is causing the interference to order the proper filter, and some of these filters may work better than others in any given situation).


    If none of the above work, and especially if your home is wired with the older "quad" style wiring, consider rewiring your home using Cat 5 or even Cat 6 wire. The tight twists in the wire pairs may resist radio frequency interference better than the existing wire, and new wiring can bypass "hidden" problems in the old wiring that are not obvious with a visual inspection. In this situation it is extremely important to use only approved connectors for splices, and to make sure that all screw terminal connections are clean and tightened properly.


    If all of the above fails, and you can identify the source of the interference, you may try asking someone associated with the offending transmitter for assistance. They are probably not legally obligated to help you, but may be willing to do so as a goodwill gesture (this may be particularly true if it's a ham radio operator, or nearby broadcast station).