fwdOUT - Feasible or not?

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Free World Dialup ceased operation in 2008. This post is still online for historical purposes.

Over the past few days, I’ve been pondering over fwdOUT, a service conceived by Jeff Pulver.

fwdOUT is basically a non-commercial peer-to-peer telephone network that allows its users to make calls through another user’s connection to the PSTN (public switched telephone network). In return, you’re expected to allow others to make calls through your PSTN connection.

At first glance the concept seems quite ideal to make free calls through other people’s lines, and let them use your free local calls (if available) or unused calling minutes. However, there are many potential pitfalls to the service.

To join fwdOUT, you first need a broadband Internet connection. This shouldn’t be a problem, as any user interested in VoIP should have a broadband Internet connection. You also need an Asterisk PBX up and running with a connection to the PSTN (typically through an analogue FXO interface, or a digital ISDN line). This significantly reduces the potential user base as not everybody wants or needs an Asterisk PBX.

Here in Australia, the concept of free local calls is non-existent. I wasn’t prepared to let other users route through my system at a personal cost of at least 17.5c per call, so I decided to investigate offering access to 1800 (free call) numbers instead.

Unfortunately a quick scan of my telephone provider’s standard form of agreement revealed that using retail services to provide carriage services to others was prohibited. If I wanted to join fwdOUT, I would need to sign an agreement with my provider for supply of wholesale services. I’m sure that my telephone provider isn’t the only one with such provisions, and there may even be legal consequences.

If such a provision didn’t exist, and I opened my telephone lines up to 1800 calling, some major risks are realised: Your telephone call will never be completely secure. Your call could be recorded without your consent. This is against fwdOUT’s conditions, but there’s no way they would know. A malicious caller could commit fraud, or even make threats using your line. If the police become involved, they’re going to be knocking on your door with you as the prime suspect.

There’s also the issue of quality of service. What happens if during the middle of your call, somebody on the other end decides to start downloading files, or using a peer to peer application? There goes your QoS.

Overall, the concept of fwdOUT sounds good in theory, but the risks outweigh any benefits, and when put into practice it simply isn’t feasible.