Enable Communications – Internet Phone Link
Software and hardware development of telephony peripherals.
Spring 2001 to Fall 2002
Reference: Anthony Vaughan
Every electronics student must complete Senior Design, a course involving the completion of a single aggressive project
incorporating the culmination of technical knowledge and ability acquired during their time in college. A classmate of mine, Anthony Vaughan, was excited about a project idea that he felt was marketable. He got me and two other students, Tim Ross and Chris Vogel, excited about the project, and we shared a dream that we would like to start our own company, Enable Communications. We set a goal for ourselves to not only develop our product idea, the Internet Phone Link (IPL), but to also form a company and sell the product. The product idea is simple. The IPL is the physical link between your phone and your computer’s sound card, giving its owner mobility to walk around his or her living quarters while talking over the Internet using popular Internet Telephony Service Providers (ITSPs) such as Dialpad or Net2Phone. In big picture terms, its an
adapter that allows you to plug your phone into your sound card. However, there proved to be many technical challenges that had to be overcome related to the conversion from the Public Switch Telephone Network’s (PSTN) 2 wire system to a standard 4 wire system used by speakers and microphones on a standard sound card. Without getting into a long technical explanation, suffice it to say an
echo is created due to the hybrid used to perform this conversion, and so the bulk of the project became the development of methods to cancel this echo. We went through a variety of analog echo cancellation procedures, both IC solutions and custom electronics, and implemented a full-blown Digital Signal Processing (DSP) solution, seeking the best results of echo cancellation at the lowest cost. In the end, we developed a working design that we are very proud of, a mixed-signal method of echo cancellation that we are very proud of, and are in the process of filing a Patent. We are incorporated as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), but that may be changing as we encounter issues with dividing stock and bringing on new members of the company. We have started two new
projects in the Fall of ’01 that we are very excited about, and hope to have one of them on the market by the end of 2002. No matter what happens to Enable Communications in the future, it has definitely been a fun and challenging learning experience.
Enable Communications has since dissolved. Radio Shack strung us along for 4 months, we were hoping they would license the design of the IPL. We would have considered any amount of payment or royalty a success, but alas, they did not come through. Who knows, if we had been 2 years earlier during the booming industry of 2000, we probably would have been successful. But I’ll not make excuses. There are many thing I would have done differently about starting a company, and although it deeply hurts that we were not successful, I am not sad to be done with Enable Communications. It was very stressful, very time consuming, trying to start a technology company with nothing to start with is like swimming with a
heavy weight around your neck. I am thankful for the experience, but I am glad to have that weight off me.
Enable had an idea to create a suite of modular telephone peripherals that could share some common hardware resources and you basically buy the features you would like to have. Two of these features were the ability to repeatedly dial a number until it got through, and the ability to block calls based on the time of day. I was able to develop most of these two functions, however not in a modular format. The first was called Busy Buster. It was a box that you plugged your phone into that would listen to and remember the DTMF tones pressed by the user. This memory would timeout after a short period of time or when the user hangs up the phone. It would listen for a special sequence of numbers and wait for the user to push a special key combination. This would cause Busy Buster to continuously dial the numbers entered by the user until a ring was detected, at which time it would notify the user that the call was connecting. Although this project was fun to work on it, it never made it to completion. Primarily because one of the primary chips we were using was discontinued. Second, however, was the fact that most people already have call waiting, greatly reducing the market for Busy Buster. The second product was called Sleep Guard. Its concept is similiar to call blocking, except it assumes that there are some times during the day such as meals and bed time when you do not want to receive calls no matter who it is. This devices allows the user to record a custom voice message and program several time periods when they prefer not to be bothered by callers. During these times, Sleep Guard will answer the phone and inform the caller that you are not accepting calls. Optionally, the user can include in the message an instruction to the caller that in case of emergency, if they call again with 1 minute the call will pass through without being blocked by Sleep Guard. By this time, however, our team had dwindled, and carrying it through to completion or attempting to sell it seemed like a waste of energy. Sleep Guard was a rather fun project incorporating a microcontroller, an LCD screen, voice recording/playback chip, phone line interface, etc.
- “A&M grads get quick return on engineering education.” Aggie Engineering Weekly. 8 February, 2002.
- “EET Phone Home.” Engineering Edge. Spring 2002.