Wednesday 30 August 2006

Turning a feature into a bug.

Yep, still going on about my lovely new phone. Hey, it's my blog.

As I mentioned, it's got VoIP abilities (that's Voice over IP — Internet phone calls), and, as I also mentioned, getting them to work is a pain in the arse. A bit of Googling reveals, in fact, that a whole subculture has sprung up in recent months composed entirely of people trying to figure out how to get VoIP to work on a Nokia E-series phone and sharing their discoveries.

The technical explanation for all this trouble is that Nokia haven't built NAT traversal capabilities into these phones — yet — they're planning to release an upgrade to the firmware this year, to which I look forward. In slightly less technical terms, this means the phone can handle VoIP if you have your own VoIP server in your house but can't if you use one of the many located on the Interweb. Needless to say, most people don't have their own servers.

Nokia's reason for this is that the E-series phones were designed primarily as business phones, and businesses often do have their own VoIP servers. This is a reasonable excuse, especially since they're planning to release this upgrade to the phone's firmware this year. They have, in fact, created phones with a really cool function which no mobile phone has had before and which they will shortly upgrade for free to make it even better. This is good, surely?

Well, there's no technical brilliance that an idiot in a marketing department can't turn into a complaint.

Look at this discussion on Nokia's forums. Lots of people have been spending days or even weeks jumping through hoops and using various cunning workarounds to get their phones to use VoIP without NAT traversal, with mixed results. One guy has to reboot his phone every time it loses the connection. One can call people but gets disconnected as soon as they answer. And then a guy called Iphone says, almost in passing:

Nokia stated to E series phones has NAT problems and they working on it.

English isn't his first language. I hope. Anyway, that seems like a reasonable summing-up and a rather uncontroversial statement: the E-series phones, like I said, and as Nokia have said, can't handle NAT. If you have NAT, you might reasonably describe that as "a problem". And yes, Nokia are working on it.

Nokia's fans and forum moderators disagree, and were so outraged by this comment that they threw a bit of a hissy fit. First, Rufao:

just to clarify, the above is not accurate.

nokia has not said there is a problem with the eseries and SIP. if yuo read their FAQ on the phones, you see them state the current limitations, not that there is a problem

Got that? Limitations aren't a problem.


Nokia E series phones works OK on SIP when VoIP SIP and Access Point are same side, but if you want to use VoIP service from any providers then there's big problem.

This is true, of course: trying to connect through NAT using a device that cannot connect through NAT does present a problem.

The Nokia crowd, however, insist that "problem" can only mean "bug" or "fault", and this insistence, unsurprisingly, leads them to royally piss off a guy who, at the end of the day, has an entirely reasonable complaint:

My reason to wanted that phone was integrated SIP protocol. ... I was so upset when receievd Nokia E60 and SIP failed!

Enter Karim, Official Nokia Moderator:

ipphone, you are confusing a limitation with a fault as other members have said.

No, he's not. He said "problem", not "fault". It's you who are confusing a problem with a fault.

There is no fault with the Eseries phones and SIP at the moment. Instead we have listed the current limitations of the phone as an Internet Phone on our FAQ's.

Now, unless you have an issue you would like some help with here do not post any more of these comments - you will simply confuse people about the issue.

To summarise, the Eseries phones can be used as Internet Phones and for more information on this please visit the FAQ here:

Look at that. If you claim that the phone's failure to do this is a problem, then you're a liar, as the phone was never meant to do it. Oh, and, by the way, of course the phone can do it.

It's this attitude that's generated so many complaints in the first place: faced with a customer, Nokia staff just can't bring themselves to say outright "The phone only works as an Internet phone if you have your own server." All they can say is "The phone absolutely can be used as an Internet phone and go and look at the small print over there which I won't spell out for you."

Then look at this from Seraphim:

iphone, you must be a little remedial... the FAQ categorically states nokia plans to release firmware in the future that will give it NAT traversal support. if you didnt look at that before you bought the phone, its your own fault.

Here's what it says under "Technical Specifications" on Nokia's E70 page:

Call Management
Internet call over WLAN

And that's it. Is it really so unreasonable to conclude from reading that that the E70 can make Internet calls over a WLAN? Is it really your own bloody stupid fault if you buy a product without first trawling its multinational manufacturer's huge sprawling website for small print? Shouldn't the official product description tell you all you need to know?

Derekm makes exactly this point:

It is simply not on to refer to the small print of a post-sales FAQ page, the pre-sales documentation should have had this. I am just disappointed that what seems to be a very nice piece of hardware has been let down by seemingly pre-beta software.

And is promptly shot down for his trouble by Rufao:

the tech spec also mentions the phone can use PTT, but in the faq/userguide it mentions this can only be done once you have the right settings.

does this mean that the PTT feature is beta software? no, it doesnt.

Got that? There is no difference between having to input the correct settings and having to wait for Nokia to release a firmware upgrade. Same thing.

nokia has made it clear for all the eseries phones about the limitations of the voip call features ...

Yes, that's right: in Rufao's world, completely failing to mention any limitations whatsoever in the official product description and press release is "making it clear".

so no, its not nokias fault but instead its the fault of whoever sold you the phone on this basis in the first place...

Now, phone retailers don't, as a rule, test all the features of every phone they sell themselves. Usually, they just rely on what's in the manufacturer's press release. Go to ten different mobile phone retailers and you'll see roughly the same product blurb at every one.

there aer enough posts here from people saying they can work this with asterisk to prove that the firmware is fine. if you have a service that doesnt support the phone, then who is at fault?

Let's see. Windows claims that it can connect to the Internet. After buying my PC, it turns out that it can, but only through AOL. If I'm not on AOL, well, whose stupid fault is that?

Now, no, not all these commenters work for Nokia, I'm sure. But the one who does backs up everything they say. And this approach to customer service is, frankly, bizarre. Like I said, this phone is superb; I still believe it to be the best on the market; I love it to bits. And the VoIP capability is groundbreakingly excellent, and is soon going to be made even better. But I'm still very pissed off with Nokia about this. Because their resolute refusal to tell me about the VoIP limitations led me to think that I couldn't connect the phone because I was doing something wrong — and that led me to try and correct my mistake, and that led me to waste hours and hours and long, long hours trying to figure out what that mistake was. Had they simply printed in the phone's manual what they've buried deep in their Web's FAQ, I'd have read it and wasted no time at all. Admittedly, I don't mind all that much, 'cause I love pottering with gadgets, but I imagine some people have become royally exasperated by all this.

And then, when one of their customers has the temerity to complain, they demand that he retract the statement, then insult him and shout at him when he doesn't.

There may not be a fault in the phone, but there's one hell of a bug in Nokia's customer relations.

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