Build a Skype Server for Your Home Phone System
One irritating feature of Skype is that it must be running on a computer for you to make and receive calls. That is, when your computer is off, Skype doesn't work. Moreover, when you run Skype on the computer you use day in and day out, Skype's performance (call quality, reliability and so forth) can suffer if you are doing other things that deprive it of the runtime resources it needs.
My solution was to build a Skype server that provides 24/7 phone service with the minimum of hassle and fuss. By dumping your regular phone company and taking back control of your home phone wiring using a Skype server, you will have not only a phone system with nearly the same capabilities as before—indeed, in some ways better—you will also save a bundle of money! In my case, I save a little less than $700 US each year (this year, next year, and the year after that, and so on), or about 82% off of my old phone bill.
Using a Skype server plugged in to the existing copper phone wiring of your home means that you can lift a receiver anywhere in your home, at any time, and get a regular dial tone. Incoming calls either from Skype users or regular phones ring all handsets throughout your home. Basically, you can make Skype behave like a regular phone line, but at a tiny fraction of the cost.
You have three choices when building a Skype server: buy a new computer, build a new computer or convert an old machine you have conveniently at hand. This article shows you how to build a new computer from scratch to act as a Skype server. However, whichever path you take, the configuration is the same and is covered in this article.
Skype is not an all-or-nothing proposition, as you can mix and match Skype with your existing phone system, and run the new alongside the old in parallel. That way you have the comfort of having a regular land line and, at the same time, reap the benefits of Skype, such as free Skype-to-Skype calls, and long-distance and international calls at very low rates. This is the approach this article takes, and the configuration you should be aiming for should look something like that in Figure 1. Keeping one of your regular phone lines neatly sidesteps issues such as 911, 411, regular fax and alarm system monitoring (make sure the regular phone line you keep is the one used by your home alarm).
The setup shown in Figure 1 also simplifies the configuration of your Skype server a good deal. Indeed, making multiple instances of Skype run under Linux to support multiple phone lines is another article in itself!
Whether you buy, build new or piece together a Skype server from computer parts you have at hand, you must first make sure that what you end up with will meet Skype's minimum software and hardware requirements, which are:
Fedora Core 3 (Skype also supports SUSE 9, Mandriva 10.1 and Debian 3 or newer. However, Linux support for Skype add-on hardware is presently extremely limited. In the case of the SkypeMate software used in this article, it is limited to Fedora Core 3 only).
128MB of RAM.
10MB of disk space
OSS-compatible sound device (or ALSA with OSS-compatibility layer enabled).
Broadband Internet connection.
Pay particular attention to the fact that these are minimum hardware requirements for a single phone line. If you scale these requirements in proportion to the number of phone lines you want your Skype server to support in the long run, you won't go far wrong. You might even want to build in some margin for future expansion. Skype is advancing at a phenomenal rate, with each new release bringing new features and improvements to existing features. All of this new functionality must surely come at the cost of increased hardware resources.
For my Skype server, I decided to build a new machine that would be small, both in terms of its physical size and its power consumption (as it runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year). The specification, and cost, of my Skype server is shown in Table 1. Remember, a Skype server needs no mouse, keyboard, monitor, CD-ROM or floppy drive—other than at the time of its configuration.
Table 1. Typical Cost of Building a New Skype Server from Scratch
|IN-WIN BT610P.180BFU2 Black steel MicroATX computer case, 180W power supply||$39.99|
|BIOSTAR M7VIG400 MicroATX motherboard with AMD Duron 800 mobile CPU||$69.00|
|OCZ value series 512MB (2 x 256MB) 184-pin unbuffered PC 2700 DDR SDRAM||$43.75|
|10GB Hard disk drive (used—salvaged from an old system)||Free|
|Skype-to-Phone USB adapter (Figure 2)||$43.90|
|Linux operating system||Free|
Building your Skype server requires that you assemble it from the parts. I won't cover the nitty-gritty details as there are plenty of on-line resources to help you in this task; for example, there's a step-by-step guide to building your own PC at PCMechanic.
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