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Ric Ford

MacInTouch
he carrier's audio processing isn't the whole story. How you hold the phone makes a difference; some people don't hold the phone's microphone close enough to their mouth. Some phones are equipped with HD Voice, but they only work if the network and the other phone also can accommodate HD Voice. The environment where you are can make a huge difference, but some phones have technology to cancel background noise. The big problem is that everything in the system - the phone, the network and the environment - has to work well for you to get good audio quality.
Others' experiences may be different, but there's just one big elephant in the room with me and the people I talk to on cellphones, and that's bad carrier audio processing. Sure, people can hold phones wrong, and that can affect audio quality, and they can use headset microphones that get twisted, and that can affect quality, and there may be a few other issues, but none can compare to the magnitude of bad carrier audio quality in my experience, and this has nothing to do with hardware or positioning or environment.
Some phones are equipped with HD Voice, but they only work if the network and the other phone also can accommodate HD Voice.
Interestingly, I happened to have a cellphone (both ends) conversation with a family member just tonight about a difficult situation, and the audio was surprisingly good - we are both on the same carrier I was on Verizon Wireless and he was on Consumer Cellular (AT&T). Calls with a different family member have far worse audio, but those conversations are between a T-Mobile iPhone and a Consumer Cellular (or Verizon) iPhone. I typically switch to FaceTime Audio for those, if it's an important call, so I can understand more than 50% of what the other person is saying. The difference is enormous with absolutely no change to positioning, environment or hardware.
 


Others' experiences may be different, but there's just one big elephant in the room with me and the people I talk to on cellphones, and that's bad carrier audio processing. Sure, people can hold phones wrong, and that can affect audio quality, and they can use headset microphones that get twisted, and that can affect quality, and there may be a few other issues, but none can compare to the magnitude of bad carrier audio quality in my experience, and this has nothing to do with hardware or positioning or environment.
Interestingly, I happened to have a cellphone (both ends) conversation with a family member just tonight about a difficult situation, and the audio was surprisingly good - we are both on the same carrier (Consumer Cellular over AT&T). Calls with a different family member have far worse audio, but those conversations are between a T-Mobile iPhone and a Consumer Cellular iPhone. I typically switch to FaceTime Audio for those, if it's an important call, so I can understand more than 50% of what the other person is saying. The difference is enormous with absolutely no change to positioning, environment or hardware.
Some carrier audio problems come from poor wireless connections between the phone and the tower; typically the carrier reduces the audio quality to maintain the connection that otherwise would drop the call. This is a common problem inside some buildings, particularly where coverage is weak.

The main problems inside the network come from converting signals back and forth between different formats used in different parts of the systems. Each analog-to-digital or digital-to-analog conversion degrades signal quality, and the common interface between parts of the telephone network designed for voice transmission is analog. If calls go between carriers, or between regional and international carriers, the call may go from digital to analog and back at each switching point. That also impacts calls between cellular and landline networks.

The call that sounded great between two Consumer Cellular iPhones worked well because they stay within the same network and may not have to be converted internally at all. The can be even better if both of you have relatively new smartphones with HD Voice, which has an audio bandwidth of 7000 hertz. The T-Mobile to Consumer Cellular call had to go at least one conversion between the carriers, and perhaps more, and it could not take advantage of HD Voice even though both iPhones may have had the feature. That's a very stubborn problem, because it's buried deep inside the network, and the carriers don't seem very interested in fixing it.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Some carrier audio problems come from poor wireless connections between the phone and the tower; typically the carrier reduces the audio quality to maintain the connection that otherwise would drop the call.
That might sometimes be the case, but when FaceTime Audio works fine in the same circumstances, there's no excuse for bad audio on a cellular call between the same phones in the same locations at the same time.
If calls go between carriers, or between regional and international carriers, the call may go from digital to analog and back at each switching point. That also impacts calls between cellular and landline networks.
I kept my landline for a long, expensive time, because audio quality was much better with cellphones from various carriers than the miserable cellphone-to-cellphone audio quality I've experienced.

I read your IEEE Spectrum article, which was excellent, and it strikes me that disappointingly little seems to have changed 5 years later.
 


I don't use wi-fi calling on either my Android phone or a very old hand-me-down iPhone with a bad battery. I only use these as emergency cell phones and texting is not enabled on either account. In order for me use wifi, I would be forced to register this old iPhone with my Apple ID and log into a Google account on the Android phone. At this point in my life, I want nothing more to do with Apple or Google. I don't trust or like these companies and don't want them to know any more about me then they currently know. I realize this makes me somewhat of an old obstinate freak, especially to my family, non-techie friends and aquaintances, but I'm just done. If any tech companies want use or sell my personal info, whereabouts, purchases, etc., they will need to pay me for it.
I think you might be confusing two separate services. A VoIP service like Google Voice does indeed mean all of your phone calls are "listened to" by Google. WiFi calling just means that your phone call is routed over your WiFi network rather than the cellular network. I don't believe there is a significant privacy difference between the two. Anything the carrier can learn on a WiFi call they can already learn via a regular cellular call (or text.)

If your cellular carrier supports it, enabling WiFi calling may be as simple as flipping a setting on the phone, or it may require a change on the carrier's end. None of this requires any sort of signing in or registering with Apple or Google.
 


That might sometimes be the case, but when FaceTime Audio works fine in the same circumstances, there's no excuse for bad audio on a cellular call between the same phones in the same locations at the same time. I kept my landline for a long, expensive time, because audio quality was much better with cellphones from various carriers than the miserable cellphone-to-cellphone audio quality I've experienced.
I read your IEEE Spectrum article, which was excellent, and it strikes me that disappointingly little seems to have changed 5 years later.
I don't know the details of how FaceTime works, but it may not transmit signals in the same way as a cellphone does. In the case of Skype, a similar service, the app digitizes the voice (and video) and transmits it and the video signal in the packet-switched Internet data stream. On 3G and many 4G phones, cellular audio is transmitted separately from data. When last I checked a while back, only VoLTE phones put voice and data in the same data stream. I believe some 4G phones only use 4G for broadband data, with the voice sent on 3G, but I don't know how far that transition has gone so far. So I suspect the difference you hear comes from FaceTime and traditional voice being transmitted in different ways.

Glad you liked the IEEE Spectrum article. I know there has been some improvement in cellular voice, like what you hear when you're on the same network as the caller, but it's spotty at best, and I continue getting poor to unintelligible connections on landlines. So far, I have been very disappointed, and I worry that 5G won't bring much change in the near term.
 


An aside to the discussion about cell phone "audio quality": There should be a special torture chamber or circle in Hades to make those who set up caller on-hold tracks ("your call is important to us - a representative will be with you shortly") to be forced (like us) to listen to them. Besides sucking up my battery and air time, continuously looping background music (often a company's ad themes, or just generic library music, and always too loud) creates and builds tension and irritation as it's ground up and turned to garbled mush in the cellular audio chain.
 


Those of us with Verizon wireless service may have heard that the company has (probably reluctantly) introduced a free version of their app —Verizon Call Filter — to reduce robocalls and telemarketing spam.

However, activating the free version has proved to be extremely frustrating, with many people (including myself) installing the app only to be offered a "10-day free trial" or the old $2.99/line subscription service. No free activation option appears.

Thanks to a comment on the invaluable TidBITS website, I found how to activate the free version. I've cleaned up and extended "Paul"'s solution (for which he deserves full credit) and posted an article here on what Verizon doesn't tell you in order to activate the service.
I hope this saves other Verizon wireless users some time.
 


Going back a ways, there were comments about getting texts on landlines. If you get a cheap VOIP line from Callcentric, you can get texts sent to you by email. I've tested it and it works. Callcentric is also quite cheap. The downside is their voice quality is, at least on the cheap phone box I have, quite poor. Maybe if you get better phone-box hardware, it works better?

Ooma, on lines that you designate as “fax lines,” is the only independent VOIP service I could find that my alarm company says is acceptable... and I did test it. No problems sending faxes even without QOS, and the alarm works fine.
 


You might want to try WiFi Calling. On an iPhone it's at:
Settings > Phone > Wi-Fi Calling​
I live in a hilly area with cell towers above and below me. My neighborhood has zero Sprint and Verizon coverage and 1-2 bars of T-Mobile and AT&T at best. WiFi calling is a non-starter due to high jitter rates, as we have copper cable Internet and are the furthest from the main office you can get and still have anything - plenty of bandwidth, but high enough jitter that calls sound like they are made from a diver exploring the Titanic.
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Those of us with Verizon wireless service may have heard that the company has (probably reluctantly) introduced a free version of their app —Verizon Call Filter — to reduce robocalls and telemarketing spam....
I note that Verizon's app requires access to your contacts. While there may be a legimate reason for that, there are also legitimate reasons to distrust Verizon (and how it may use your contact data).
 


I have had issues with voice to other phones. I seems that my issues are with Samsung phones on Verizon, and since the call is duplex, it could be the other way around. I would suspect the respective audio processing is not compatible. Generally, the problem is that the other party misses every third word, even when I hear all of the words on my end. I am using an iPhone 7 on ATT.
 


... A cell phone used as a landline cannot be any worse than what I'm currently using....
I used to work for the phone company. Cell phones are great, even cordless phones are great... until your electricity goes down. This actually happened last month. I immediately heard my landline ring. ... Cell towers can go down as well in a fire or other catastrophe... it's an idea to consider.
 


I note that Verizon's app requires access to your contacts. While there may be a legimate reason for that, there are also legitimate reasons to distrust Verizon (and how it may use your contact data).
Good point. Luckily it's easy to opt out of this by going to Set privacy preferences on your phone and opting out of everything there (Customer Proprietary Network Info, Business and Marketing Insights, Relevant Mobile Advertising, Identity Verification Settings, Verizon Selects, and Location services). I recommend everyone does this!
 



I think you might be confusing two separate services. A VoIP service like Google Voice does indeed mean all of your phone calls are "listened to" by Google. WiFi calling just means that your phone call is routed over your WiFi network rather than the cellular network.
Not quite. Bill M shared a link to Google's document on this:
Google said:
How Google Voice Works
Google Voice stores, processes and maintains your call history (including calling party phone number, called party phone number, date, time and duration of call), voicemail greeting(s), voicemail messages, Short Message Service (SMS) messages, recorded conversations, and other data related to your account in order to provide the service to you.
Note the absence of recording your live calls (aside from ones you choose to record). The things they mention make perfect sense - they would all be required to run the service. They would be required of anybody offering an IP-to-voice gateway service, including Skype, Ooma and all the rest.

You could say that they are lying, and given some of what I've read about Google in the news, I wouldn't make a conclusive statement about that, but so far I haven't read anything about them routinely recording and storing voice calls.

And, of course, any system that doesn't involve end-to-end encryption (which of course, includes anything where one or both parties are connected via a normal voice call) can be intercepted and recorded, whether by law enforcement, intelligence agencies, hackers, or the service's own operations.

This is one of the true advantages to FaceTime and (I think) computer-to-computer/app-to-app Skype calls.
I don't know the details of how FaceTime works, but it may not transmit signals in the same way as a cellphone does. In the case of Skype, a similar service, the app digitizes the voice (and video) and transmits it and the video signal in the packet-switched Internet data stream. On 3G and many 4G phones, cellular audio is transmitted separately from data. When last I checked a while back, only VoLTE phones put voice and data in the same data stream. I believe some 4G phones only use 4G for broadband data, with the voice sent on 3G, but I don't know how far that transition has gone so far.
I'm also not a FaceTime expert, but as I understand the technology, Apple's servers act as a broker service, to identify and connect the calls. Once connected, it's nothing but IP traffic directly between the callers. The packets are end-to-end encrypted and Apple's servers don't get involved.

Regarding 4G, there is no voice network in LTE (and 5G NR, by extension). It's all data. Those devices and operators that don't support VoLTE (voice-over-LTE), must use an older technology (2G or 3G) for voice calls.

With respect to handsets, only the oldest should be lacking VoLTE capability. This is going to be a problem in the near future as operators start turning off their 2G and 3G networks. People with phones incapable of VoLTE will have to either get a new phone or switch entirely to data-based voice calls (e.g. Skype, FaceTime, etc.).

With respect to operators, most have the capability, except for one major counterexample: Sprint. Sprint appears to have just started rolling out VoLTE this past October - years after everybody else.

In the 2G and 3G worlds, the voice and data networks are distinct. In the LTE and beyond space, it's all data. The quality is going to be a function of the audio digitization, compression and packet transmission efficiency, just as it is with IP solutions like Skype and FaceTime.

So-called "HD Audio" is VoLTE with higher quality CODECs. If both parties have carriers and phones that support it, and sufficient bandwidth is available, they will get better quality audio. Otherwise it falls back to the legacy lower quality audio.
I used to work for the phone company. Cell phones are great, even cordless phones are great... until your electricity goes down. This actually happened last month. I immediately heard my landline ring. ... Cell towers can go down as well in a fire or other catastrophe... it's an idea to consider.
Absolutely true. But it depends on the cell site and the policies of the operator and the owner of the site.

Some large sites (e.g. where an operator owns the tower and the land underneath) will have backup power (batteries and/or diesel generators). Other sites (e.g. rooftop sites and other sites leased from third parties) may have less, or even no backup power.

Of course, landlines can also go down - especially if your wires are on poles, which can get damaged in bad weather.
 


I used to work for the phone company. Cell phones are great, even cordless phones are great... until your electricity goes down. This actually happened last month. I immediately heard my landline ring. ... Cell towers can go down as well in a fire or other catastrophe... it's an idea to consider.
David, all excellent points that I am indeed aware of. I live in California and recently went through major fires that created power outages, and my broadband provider was down for over a week. I had battery back-up, so I did have power for my cable modem and router to keep the Internet up, but since broadband was down, it was moot. We were able to charge our laptops and phones in the car and/or when we went down the hill to McDonalds, where we could charge and use free WiFi.

I can't afford nearly $100 a month for a pair of copper wires anymore. Right before I cancelled AT&T about 1.5 years ago, I found out that they were in the midst of routing all their calls from the CO (central office) over the Internet. If we ever have a major Internet calamity, so much for landline calls. That said, if the price were reasonable, I'd still have a true landline for the reasons that you mentioned.
 


The carrier's audio processing isn't the whole story. How you hold the phone makes a difference; some people don't hold the phone's microphone close enough to their mouth.
Yes. I have learned that when I talk to someone at a call center and I can't hear/understand them, I ask them if they are talking into the mic of their headset. This virtually always seems to help. One time when it didn't help, the person put me on hold and replaced the headset and, voila!, it was instantly better.
 


I can't afford nearly $100 a month for a pair of copper wires anymore. Right before I cancelled AT&T about 1.5 years ago, I found out that they were in the midst of routing all their calls from the CO (central office) over the Internet. If we ever have a major Internet calamity, so much for landline calls. That said, if the price were reasonable, I'd still have a true landline for the reasons that you mentioned.
What is killing copper is the high cost of maintaining the old equipment. It also is has a limited frequency range, cutting off frequencies above 3.5 kilohertz, which can make it hard to tell f from s if you don't can't identify the words from context. But standard cellular service has the same frequency limit, and bad cellular connections are much worse.

If your broadband carrier offers a digital voice service, you can get a good quality digital simulation of landline service reasonably cheap in a package with broadband (or broadband plus cable). Depending on the carrier, you may be able to get a battery backup for the phone part of the service, giving you some protection against short-term power outages. One big benefit is good and dependable voice quality for business service or if you have elderly or hearing-impaired family members that you talk to regularly.
 


At this point in my life, I want nothing more to do with Apple or Google. I don't trust or like these companies and don't want them to know any more about me then they currently know.
I'm now looking at a new solution that would mean porting my Ooma VoIP home phone number to a new cheap Android phone
Were it possible to port your number to an Android phone on which Google's proprietary "software stack" has been completely replaced by an open source ROM (e.g., LineageOS), you might be able to escape Google's ability to track and monitor your activity and calls. I'd not bet on it, without verification.

Firebase is part of Google Play Services that comes on every Android phone "authorized" by Google:
Google said:
Make data-driven decisions with Google Analytics for Firebase
Google Analytics for Firebase provides free, unlimited reporting in your app to measure user attribution and in-app activity such as screen views, events, in-app purchases, conversions, and more.
SafeSDK said:
Mobiles on Fire: Am I Using Firebase or Google Play Services?
... Firebase Analytics has... its own set of mobile-specific analytics. For instance, you can easily track how many males over 40s from Norwegia (sic) are clicking a certain button when it’s blue and how many when that color’s green.
Not to leave Apple and iOS out:
Apple said:
Gain Insights with Analytics
App Analytics provides user engagement metrics, including number of sessions, active devices, and retention for your apps on iOS and tvOS. With these metrics, you can evaluate the impact of product changes — such as modifying the initial onboarding experience — to see which changes improve engagement with your app.
It is worth noting that the references above are to analytic data Google and Apple make available to developers. I presume that data is just a subset of what Android and iOS can collect and that both may send more data back to Google / Apple than the companies share with developers.
 


Were it possible to port your number to an Android phone on which Google's proprietary "software stack" has been completely replaced by an open source ROM (e.g., LineageOS), you might be able to escape Google's ability to track and monitor your activity and calls. I'd not bet on it, without verification.
I already own an Android LG Aristo 2 Plus 4G phone, which I got free from T-Mobile when I added an additional $100 to my grandfathered Gold Rewards pay-as-you-go account. Prior to this phone I was using an old Samsung flip phone. As I mentioned in a previous post, I also have a very old hand-me-down iPhone with a bad battery with the exact same type of account. (By the way, in terms of phone audio quality, neither one is really better than the flip phones.)

On both phones, I purposely turned off SMS text messaging, because when I had it enabled, I was getting unsolicited text messages and was charged for each time I received one.

With the new Android LG phone, I only have calling enabled - no texting, no downloaded apps from the Google Play store, no connection at all with Google... it's just being used as a phone. For some apps, it will ask you to log into your Google account, but I ignore it and move on.

I use it solely as a phone, but will occasionally use it to shoot video or record audio. If I want to transfer any audio or video files to my Mac, I just plug it in via USB and then use a free application called "Android File Transfer" to move files back and forth. Neither Apple nor Google is involved in this procedure.

I "think" that if I turned on texting for this phone, it would not require me to log into a Google account. This should be like calling, a T-Mobile-only feature. I was able to have calling and texting on my flip phone and never required to log into anything. I will ask T-Mobile later today to find out.

Also, I don't have a data plan. The only way Apple or Google can force an upgrade to either phone is to have a data plan or be connected to WiFi. I never connect these seldom-used phones to WiFi, so I'm left alone.
 



Dave G: Have you considered a MagicJackGo? I have been using one for my business line for over 5 years with almost no issues and, yes, you can get text message,s and you can port your existing number over. $35/year!
 


Dave G: Have you considered a MagicJackGo? I have been using one for my business line for over 5 years with almost no issues and, yes, you can get text message,s and you can port your existing number over. $35/year!
Rob, I just went to the MagicJackGo web page and didn't see any mention of text messaging. How would that work? The price is very good!
 


If your broadband carrier offers a digital voice service, you can get a good quality digital simulation of landline service reasonably cheap in a package with broadband (or broadband plus cable). Depending on the carrier, you may be able to get a battery backup for the phone part of the service, giving you some protection against short-term power outages. One big benefit is good and dependable voice quality for business service or if you have elderly or hearing-impaired family members that you talk to regularly.
Jeff, based on your post, I just called Spectrum to double-check, as I thought I remembered that texting does not work on their VoIP "Voice" plan. And, no, texting does not work with that setup. This is just as with VoIP companies, like Ooma, Vonage, and MagicJack.

But, after talking to a Spectrum sales fellow and and explaining what I wanted, he did tell me that Spectrum now has good old cell service plans, partnered with Verizon.

They have one plan where you pay $14/gig per month and rent/buy one of their phones. They have a cheapie LG K30 phone for $7.50 a month. If I went with this option, I would pay $21.50 a month for two years with a cancel-anytime policy. At the end of two years, you own the phone, and your monthly cost is $14 going forward.

If I paired this LG K30 cell phone with this home phone system:
it would be another option for a home phone that can receive texts. I'm still considering all options, but this might work well for what I want.
 


The Ooma QoS (Quality of Service) that I have now is awful. A cell phone used as a landline cannot be any worse than what I'm currently using. If we want high QoS, then we all need to go back to copper wire landlines and get rid of cell phones. There is no lower QoS then when someone calls you while driving from their cell and they are using it on speaker phone. Very, very frustrating.
We now have phones that are small, portable, work almost everywhere, are cheap, and have long-lasting batteries.

We gave us QoS for this. It is not possible to get a good quality call anymore. I have ATT cellular, VOIP with a local operator, and Comcast. Not one assures me that any call will work well.

But they're cheap!
 


With the new Android LG phone, I only have calling enabled - no texting, no downloaded apps from the Google Play store, no connection at all with Google...
The pre-installed Google and LG apps on your phone are yearning to phone home.

Google Play Services is surely on your phone; it's how Google pushes changes to Android without having to wait on cell carriers or even manufacturers and is also the vehicle through which Google attempts to manage malware. Play Services shows up on the phone's app list, but it is really an indivisible part of Google's Android.

While I think we'd agree that Google's primary way to tie individual users to their phones is by having users set up Google accounts, which provide a wealth of information, there are many other unique identifiers that Google, LG, and app developers can use to track users.
Developers.Android said:
Best practices for unique identifiers
...In most use cases, you can avoid using hardware identifiers, such as SSAID (Android ID) and IMEI, without limiting required functionality...
Note: developers aren't prohibited from using hardware identifiers...
GSM Security said:
What is an IMEI?
The IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) is a unique 17 or 15 digit code used to identify an individual mobile station... An IMEI is only used to identify the device and does not relate to a specific individual or organization. Other numbers such as the ESN (Electronic Serial Numbers) and MEID (Mobile Equipment Identifiers) can link an individual to a phone. Usually, an IMSI number stored on a SIM card can identify the subscriber on a network.
Also, I don't have a data plan. The only way Apple or Google can force an upgrade to either phone is to have a data plan or be connected to WiFi. I never connect these seldom-used phones to WiFi, so I'm left alone.
As memory serves, we can credit Apple for first coming up with the idea to turn a phone's WiFi on, sniff around, and check for networks. Whether my memory is correct or not, modern Android phones do just that. If a user sets WiFi Off, the default setting, which can be turned off only deeper in Android's menus, is for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth scanning.
  • Wi-Fi scanning: Improves location for apps and services by scanning Wi-Fi networks even when Wi-Fi is off.
  • Bluetooth scanning: Improvies location for system services by scanning for Bluetooth devices even when Bluetooth is off.
Raising the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antennas to sniff around for connections is integral to "services", like Apple's iBeacon that can track users around stores. It also raises the prospect that when Wi-Fi or Bluetooth find an open connection, saved logs (which may be only bytes of data) can be transmitted.
I purposely turned off SMS text messaging, because when I had it enabled, I was getting unsolicited text messages
T-Mobile should confirm that SMS is a carrier service that's independent of Google, unless you use Google's "Messages" app. Though if your LG is like mine, it came with an LG app with the same name, and even less insight into what data it might capture.

I use the open-source Silence SMS app, downloaded from F-Droid.
Silence said:
Privacy Policy
Silence does not collect or transmit any personal information...
After realizing that the handy GBoard Google keyboard was turning what I typed into search results, meaning it was monitoring my text messages, I uninstalled it, and downloaded the open source AnySoftKeyboard from F-Droid.
AnySoftKeyboard said:
Free as in speech and Free as in beer.
Incognito Mode - will not track your typing
The only issue I have with the AnySoftKeyboard is that the "Incognito Mode" seems able to turn itself off, though that may be my fumble-fingered typing. There's a clear icon showing it activated as part of the "return key."

I just plug it in via USB and then use a free application called "Android File Transfer" to move files back and forth. Neither Apple nor Google is involved in this procedure.
I've long used "Android File Transfer." It makes connecting an Android device to a Mac, and managing its files, much easier than my experience with connecting iOS gear through iTunes.

But "Android File Transfer" is a Google application. Without researching what it may be doing "behind the scenes", I wouldn't presume it isn't phoning something home to Google. I haven't needed it for some years but will install on a Mac that has Little Snitch enabled just to see if Little Snitch alarms.

Here's a recent article that's a "reasonable" overview of Android settings for users with an interest in some privacy:
Dedoimedo said:
Guide to reasonable privacy on Android
Almost daily, there's an article telling of this or that privacy breach, or how user data gets shared without consent, or similar. So I wanted to take this opportunity and share my approach to a privacy-oriented Android setup, without compromising too much on usability or going over the top.
 


Poor cellphone audio quality remains a serious problem. The old copper-line phone sounded a lot clearer. I often work around this by using FaceTime Audio for people who have that. WiFi Calling may also be better than normal cellular audio.
It's absolutely shameful how we have all completely abandoned audio quality standards in favor of portability. I used to work in broadcast radio, where we obsessed daily over obtaining excellent quality audio for our broadcasts (including when we were reporting by phone). Today, we settle for the most embarrassingly poor audio when we make phone calls and when we listen to radio and TV audio.

The cell phone service companies have done this to us, including by abandoning even the option of buying copper-wire service.
 


My IEEE Spectrum article on cellular voice quality is a few years old now, but it explains the problem in more detail. Sadly, the improvements promised then have yet to make their way through the phone system. I maintain a Verizon FiOS digital voice line as my primary business and home line and only use a cell phone (a dumb flip phone) when I'm traveling.
Yeah, we went from "You can hear a pin drop!" to "Can you hear me now?" Video is the same way, with motion artifacts, moire patterns, stutter and skipped frames not just accepted, but cheered because it's digital.

This race away from quality was discussed by Hirschner 40 years ago in "Exit, Voice and Loyalty" in his description of the Kenyan railway. MacInTouch is Voice, by the way, and Apple used to price Loyalty. Guess what is left?
 



It's absolutely shameful how we have all completely abandoned audio quality standards in favor of portability. I used to work in broadcast radio, where we obsessed daily over obtaining excellent quality audio for our broadcasts (including when we were reporting by phone). Today, we settle for the most embarrassingly poor audio when we make phone calls and when we listen to radio and TV audio. The cell phone service companies have done this to us, including by abandoning even the option of buying copper-wire service.
I was interviewed on the phone several times this year about a book of mine that just came out. Canadian public radio is still fussy enough about audio quality to ask me go to a nearby audio studio, so they got excellent sound quality. Podcasters asked me to use Skype or a landline in a quiet room. On the flip side, one interviewer for a web site that was not posting the audio used an awful cell phone, apparently on speakerphone, because I could hear her typing as I spoke. So, competent audio professionals still care about sound quality.

From what I have read, long-distance telephone voice quality was poor in its early days in the first half of the 20th century, and gradually improved afterwards. The high point was in the mid-1990s, when a guy who lived about five miles away in the Boston suburbs called me one evening from Cairo but sounded like he was in Boston, thanks to fiber-optic transatlantic cables. It's largely been downhill since the spread of cell phones, but it does not have to be. Several years back I called a Mongolian official at her home halfway around the world and had a remarkably clear interview on her cell phone. I suspect that call went onto fiber close to her in Mongolia and stayed on fiber all the way to my home.
 



I pay less than $40 per month from AT&T POTS in California. Lower costs are available for lifeline service.
I don't quite qualify for Lifeline, but I appreciate the thought. When I left AT&T about 1.5 years ago, I was told by the retention department that with taxes it would be about $95 here in the Los Angeles County area where I live.
 


Going back a ways, there were comments about getting texts on landlines. If you get a cheap VOIP line from Callcentric, you can get texts sent to you by email. I've tested it and it works. Callcentric is also quite cheap. The downside is their voice quality is, at least on the cheap phone box I have, quite poor. Maybe if you get better phone-box hardware, it works better?

Ooma, on lines that you designate as “fax lines,” is the only independent VOIP service I could find that my alarm company says is acceptable... and I did test it. No problems sending faxes even without QOS, and the alarm works fine.
I don't really fax much anymore, so the Ooma fax advantage is moot for me.

I will take a look at Callcentric later today. Geez, you'd think if they can receive texts and email them to you that Ooma and Vonage could figure it out too. This company or similar may be the easiest/quickest solution for me in the long run. I really just need an "Ooma" that can receive text messages.
 



I use it solely as a phone, but will occasionally use it to shoot video or record audio. If I want to transfer any audio or video files to my Mac, I just plug it in via USB and then use a free application called "Android File Transfer" to move files back and forth. Neither Apple nor Google is involved in this procedure.
But "Android File Transfer" is a Google application. Without researching what it may be doing "behind the scenes", I wouldn't presume it isn't phoning something home to Google. I haven't needed it for some years but will install on a Mac that has Little Snitch enabled just to see if Little Snitch alarms.
Just installed Android File Transfer on a Mac running Sierra and Little Snitch. As the application launched, it wanted to contact the Google Software Updater, which, hey, could be good. When I had my Android Phone mounted, Little Snitch reported ksfetch and curl wanted to contact Google. I let them do that.

ksfetch is part of the Google update mechanism on a Mac.

curl is an open-source data transfer program. curl has been in the news lately because two Cisco router models were open through remote curl access and have been reportedly exploited in the wild.
threatpost said:
Cisco Finally Patches Router Bugs As New Unpatched Flaws Surface
Part of Cisco’s January fix included blacklisting the so-called client for URLs (or cURL) on the modems. CURL is a command line tool for transferring data using various protocols. Presumably, blacklisting the user agent for cURL would keep attackers out. That wasn’t the case, and Cisco critics chimed in, stating that the blacklisting could easily be bypassed.
The connections Android File Transfer makes with Google may be entirely benign, for example, intended to be sure the software is securely updated. But, at least per Little Snitch, there are connections.

Makes me long for the days when computers worked just fine with applications and data on floppy drives and without having to worry about what the company that sold me the computer, OS, or programs are extracting without my knowledge.

P.S. As I'm able to connect my Android phone to my Linux PC without a Google program, I'll be deleting the Android File Transfer from my Mac, though that's no assurance that instead of the computer possibly data mining my phone, my phone isn't data mining my computer, and as far as I know there's no Little Snitch equivalent for Android.
 


The pre-installed Google and LG apps on your phone are yearning to phone home.
Google Play Services is surely on your phone; it's how Google pushes changes to Android without having to wait on cell carriers or even manufacturers and is also the vehicle through which Google attempts to manage malware. Play Services shows up on the phone's app list, but it is really an indivisible part of Google's Android.
This is why I don't connect my cell to WiFi. I turned on my LG Aristo 2 Plus yesterday and went through and turned off, deleted, and/or disabled everything I could find. It hadn't been connected to WiFi since I bought it about 6 months ago. I figured it couldn't do too much with most everything disabled. As soon as I connected, it downloaded and updated about 8-12 items (as best I could count) for about a minute or so. I believe most or all of them were LG-related. As I've said numerous times now in this thread, I just want phone service and nothing else from my phone.
T-Mobile should confirm that SMS is a carrier service that's independent of Google, unless you use Google's "Messages" app. Though if your LG is like mine, it came with an LG app with the same name, and even less insight into what data it might capture.
You are correct. I did call my local store yesterday to double-check, and they confirmed your statement.
After realizing that the handy GBoard Google keyboard was turning what I typed into search results...
I believe I've turned off GBoard Google keyboard and everything else on this phone that says "Google" or is a feature I want no part of.
I've long used "Android File Transfer." It makes connecting an Android device to a Mac, and managing its files, much easier than my experience with connecting iOS gear through iTunes.
Yes, I completely agree. I think I learned about this app here at MacInTouch, so it may very well have been from you.
Here's a recent article that's a "reasonable" overview of Android settings for users with an interest in some privacy:
Guide to reasonable privacy on Android
Excellent! I noted the link and will take a look later tonight (although I still plan to rarely, if ever, turn on WiFi in the future). Thanks again, George. I always look forward to your posts.
 


Dave G: Have you considered a MagicJackGo? I have been using one for my business line for over 5 years with almost no issues and, yes, you can get text message,s and you can port your existing number over. $35/year!
Has anyone successfully ported a number away from MagicJack, to another carrier?
 


Just installed Android File Transfer on a Mac running Sierra and Little Snitch. As the application launched, it wanted to contact the Google Software Updater, which, hey, could be good. When I had my Android Phone mounted, Little Snitch reported ksfetch and curl wanted to contact Google. I let them do that.
ksfetch is part of the Google update mechanism on a Mac.
curl is an open-source data transfer program. curl has been in the news lately because two Cisco router models were open through remote curl access and have been reportedly exploited in the wild.
Cool. Thanks again for doing the leg work for me/us here. I'm still on Sierra, too, with all my three laptops. I had Little Snitch some years back but gave up on it when I got a bit lazy and was so busy that I felt better off not knowing everything going in the background. I'm very afraid to look these days. I don't have time for yet another obsession. I'll stick with this privacy thing.
Makes me long for the days when computers worked just fine with applications and data on floppy drives and without having to worry about what the company that sold me the computer, OS, or programs are extracting without my knowledge.
P.S. As I'm able to connect my Android phone to my Linux PC without a Google program, I'll be deleting the Android File Transfer from my Mac, though that's no assurance that instead of the computer possibly data mining my phone, my phone isn't data mining my computer, and as far as I know there's no Little Snitch equivalent for Android.
Yep, "long for them days"...

On the bright side, at least Linux not only feels to me more like Snow Leopard (my all-time favorite OS), but I don't fear that I will be data mined. Good to hear that Linux "just works" for Android data transfers.
 


One of the annoyances we experience with our phones (iPhone or Android) is when we get a robo-call or even a cold-calling human attempting to sell something we neither need nor would ever want.

Some of the carriers have added half-hearted attempts to control this by using some allegedly updated spam list of numbers to identify the incoming calls. Unfortunately, the identification often fails and fake caller IDs don't help you separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

But I've found a solution that works well for me. I have a MagicJack account. Before you discount this idea, read on. Here's how it works:

1. Set up conditional forwarding on your cellphone so any calls you don't answer or swipe to dismiss are sent to your MJ number.​
2. Log into your MJ account and turn on call screening. This requires any caller to enter a randomly chosen number between 0 and 9 in order to be connected. Of course, that eliminates all robo-calls. Cold-calling salespeople will enter the proper number, but here's the good part...​
3. In your MJ account, turn on email the voice message and provide your email address. Any messages left on that number will be emailed to you as an audio file attached to an email. The caller's number will be included as text in the email so a call to that number is a tap or two away. Cold-calling salespeople may not want to waste their time leaving a voice message which they know you'll delete within the first two seconds.​

If you've set up an automatic call-back from, let's say, your doctor's office, you'll see the caller ID and answer the call. If the caller ID is from someone you don't recognize, just swipe it away and, instead of ending up in your phone's voicemail, it goes to your MagicJack number, where the call screening kicks in.

The cost: About $45 per year (with the first year of service included when you buy the MagicJack).

Extra equipment needed: Any touchtone POTS phone, just for the setup (or plug it into your Mac/PC), a router on your network (anyone's network, set it up anywhere there's an Ethernet port that can get you to the Internet). Once the setup is complete, disconnect the MJ box, as you'll never need it again. It's the MJ account that enables this, not the MJ box.
 


One of the annoyances we experience with our phones (iPhone or Android) is when we get a robo-call or even a cold-calling human attempting to sell something we neither need nor would ever want.

Some of the carriers have added half-hearted attempts to control this by using some allegedly updated spam list of numbers to identify the incoming calls. Unfortunately, the identification often fails and fake caller IDs don't help you separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

But I've found a solution that works well for me. I have a MagicJack account. Before you discount this idea, read on. Here's how it works:

1. Set up conditional forwarding on your cellphone so any calls you don't answer or swipe to dismiss are sent to your MJ number.​
2. Log into your MJ account and turn on call screening. This requires any caller to enter a randomly chosen number between 0 and 9 in order to be connected. Of course, that eliminates all robo-calls. Cold-calling salespeople will enter the proper number, but here's the good part...​
3. In your MJ account, turn on email the voice message and provide your email address. Any messages left on that number will be emailed to you as an audio file attached to an email. The caller's number will be included as text in the email so a call to that number is a tap or two away. Cold-calling salespeople may not want to waste their time leaving a voice message which they know you'll delete within the first two seconds.​

If you've set up an automatic call-back from, let's say, your doctor's office, you'll see the caller ID and answer the call. If the caller ID is from someone you don't recognize, just swipe it away and, instead of ending up in your phone's voicemail, it goes to your MagicJack number, where the call screening kicks in.

The cost: About $45 per year (with the first year of service included when you buy the MagicJack).

Extra equipment needed: Any touchtone POTS phone, just for the setup (or plug it into your Mac/PC), a router on your network (anyone's network, set it up anywhere there's an Ethernet port that can get you to the Internet). Once the setup is complete, disconnect the MJ box, as you'll never need it again. It's the MJ account that enables this, not the MJ box.
I will correct myself: If you plug the MagicJack into your Mac, you may use your WiFi connection to the Internet to accomplish the MagicJack setup; no Ethernet required.
 


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