I am in the final stages of publishing an AllStarLink app on the iOS App Store. I’m facing a dilemma, though, and wondered if someone here might have some suggestions.
In order to get my app into an external beta test group, and, ultimately, on the App Store, it needs to be reviewed by an Apple reviewer, who will want to put it through its paces. The problem is, without an AllStarLink account, the app really doesn’t do much, but they need a valid callsign to have an AllStarLink account.
I would put up a RPi node myself if I had a static IP address, but, alas, I’m stuck behind a double-NAT at home. Does anyone have any experience with running a conference node in a cloud service like Amazon or GCP? Or perhaps someone might have test parrot node that we could create some demo credentials on?
It’s not too hard to spin up a node. Only requires a suitable VPS host for a few dollars/month. From experience, Debian 9 or 10 (11 will probably work) are probably the best OSs. Ubuntu 21.10 did work, but that’s EOL, I’m not sure how the latest 22.x LTS goes.
From experience, the repo that DVSwitch uses seems to install more reliably on these “newer” OSs.
I could create an extra private node, or I even have a spare public node and make them non-network connectable so all parties could be satisfied.
But you have not stated the purpose/function of the app. So, I would be reluctant.
But I also would encourage you to get your ham ticket as well.
There is a lot going on in the ham digital world right now as it plays catch-up to what we were once on top of and may be again some day.
The app is basically an IAX VOIP client for iOS, but designed specifically for AllStarLink, so it understands the push-to-talk “radio-like” paradigm of AllStar, rather than acting like a phone like other generic Asterisk clients do.
I think we’ve got a workable solution for the App Store review. I gave them instructions on how to use my wife’s callsign strictly on test (non-RF-connected) servers. Once we’ve passed review, we’ll change the password.
I do have my ham ticket; it’s right in my username. As does the rest of my family. The impetus behind creating this app is that my daughter runs a weekly net for students and sometimes we find ourselves in another state, or even country, on vacation, away from our local linked repeater system. We’ve used the excellent Transceive app, but sometimes its cramped to use a laptop in the back seat of the car, so I wanted something more mobile. And it’s working out pretty well so far. She ran her entire net yesterday over AllStarLink on an iPad.
“IAX VOIP client for iOS”
Wes, I’m truly looking forward to grabbing this app as soon as it is available! I have EchoLink on our repeaters only because there hasn’t been a good iOS client to access AllStar.
I would love to see some screenshots and what functionality it incorporates.
Please keep us informed of its public availability.
Yes, I will probably do two announcements here: one in the next few days looking for beta testers, and then a subsequent one when goes live on the App Store.
I accidentally did it slightly backwards; it’s just passed Apple review for publishing to the App Store, but I didn’t realize that didn’t also apply to the beta test, so now it’s sitting in the queue waiting waiting for beta review. Once past that hurdle, I can get people added to the external TestFlight group.
If you want a sneak peek, I did post a screenshot on Twitter: https://twitter.com/wbustraan/status/1550524215081803776?s=20&t=fnvMEVkoiH9MMVkEu0CYcg
I’ve added a button to the UI since that screenshot, though; a mic input gain button/slder. Generally, Apple’s AGC does pretty well, but I found I sometimes wanted to boost the audio a bit.
Out of curiosity, what are your reasons that you prefer AllStar over EchoLink? I mean, I just got finished reverse engineering both protocols, so I have my own opinions , but I’m interested in the end user perspective.
The only thing EchoLink does better than AllStar is it has a nice mobile app that is simple for people to use. When it comes to audio quality, there really is no comparison. AllStar connections are always crystal clear, where EchoLink often has artifacts or garbled sound and usually a significant delay. If the user is on a computer with EL, it’s better, but our net users are usually only coming in on EL because they are traveling out of the area and can’t reach us on RF - which means they are on the mobile app.
I’ve been saying for a while that I will banish EL from our repeaters when a quality iOS app is available for users. We have some folks using DVSwitch on Android, but the only option for iOS has been Zoiper and that is not friendly enough for most folks.
Really looking forward to trying this!
Jon, WB6OZD / W6HBR
It will be interesting to see the comparison when using my app. RepeaterPhone supports both AllStar and EchoLink, with an almost identical interface for both. So that evens the usability playing field and their technical merits come out.
In my opinion, the IAX protocol is very much superior to the hacked version of RTP/RTCP that EchoLink uses, and that is probably why you get audio issues.
For example, the IAX protocol uses timestamps to mark when packets are transmitted. IAX clients can then use a “jitter buffer” to re-sequence out of order packets, adjust timing, etc, in order to smooth out the incoming audio. On the EchoLink side, I was very disappointed to discover that even though RTP packets have a timestamp field, EchoLink sets it to 0 and doesn’t use it. So, basically, the only choice is just to blindly blast the packets to the sound card the moment they come in.
Another audio quality difference is that Asterisk supports a wider variety of audio codecs, some of which are not as heavily compressed as GSM (the only option for EchoLink), so it tends to sound better, assuming you have the bandwidth. I implemented GSM and µLaw for RepeaterPhone. If you leave it in Auto mode, it will chose GSM when you are on cellular and µLaw when on WiFi. I might look into adding more if there is demand.
The big feature, in my mind, that EchoLink has, that AllStar does not, is text chat. The IAX protocol has support for it, but I don’t think there has been a big demand for it yet, because there haven’t been any AllStar clients that really support it. Maybe that will change.
Take a look at Vultr for $5/mo. Also NFO Servers is great.