Connecting a CaptionCall phone to a secure WiFi network

Warm greetings go out to our new friends in IT coming in via the WServer News Tip of the Week for September 8th!

Connecting a CaptionCall phone to a simple encrypted WiFi network is relatively straightforward. However, we at The Hearing Blog have identified three types of WiFi security methods that will trip up an installation; and we present step-by-step instructions to solve one of the three challenges.

For those of us who are hearing impaired, understanding people on the telephone is a real chore, especially when the other party is a tech support agent in Bangalore. CaptionCall phoneFortunately, captioning telephones work very well, and these are now free via a dedicated FCC fund for telecommunications access, with several hundred thousand CaptionCall and CapTel phones in daily use. Basically, Sorenson Communications & Hamilton CapTel each give away the phones, and make their money by providing the captioning service. The phones connect to any standard 1A2 POTS telephone line (telco local loop, cable modem RJ11 jack, or VoIP adapter such as MagicJack), and then the caller’s audio is sent via ethernet or WiFi over the Internet to a captioning center in Utah or California, where an operator uses a trained copy of Dragon Speech to transcribe it to text, and then it’s sent back to the phone with a 1-2 second lag. If you tried a CaptionCall phone in the past but were not satisfied with the speed & accuracy of the captions, try one again, as this spring they upgraded both the software used by the caption operators, and also they pushed out new software to the phones.

What’s nice about using these phones is that it’s totally transparent to the caller: They not need know the user is hard-of-hearing or even deaf. Furthermore, both phones have very loud ringers with adjustable ring pitches, and also very good amplifiers, with the CaptionCall even having an adjustable frequency response to match your audiogram. What’s more, as part of the free package, CaptionCall will send a technician (“trainer”) to the user’s home to install & configure the phone, and train the user on how it works, so if your great aunt in Peoria wants one, you don’t need to guide her through the WiFi setup — They take care of it. [Furthermore, most all of their trainers are hearing impaired themselves, which is a nice touch.]

However, connecting the CaptionCall phone via WiFi can present a challenge when certain WiFi security measures are taken. If the zone is hidden, i.e. SSID1 broadcasting is shut off at the router, the phone software does not allow for manual entry of the SSID, as is available in almost any other WiFi device. Also, if the MAC address filtering security feature is enabled on the router, which is the purpose of this article, it can become somewhat messy. Although rarely used in the home except by geeks, MAC2 address filtering is often used in commercial settings to secure the LAN against “drive-by” intruders: If the MAC address is not on the whitelist, they cannot even connect. The way it’s supposed to work is that you simply look at the device you want to connect, or the package it arrived in, and the MAC address, which is a 12 character hexadecimal (0-9, A-F) code, is printed on a label, with one unique address for each type of network connection, i.e. one each for ethernet, WiFi, and if present, Bluetooth.

What’s more, the MAC addresses on a PC laptop are usually sequential, such as …22:33:44 and …22:33:45, so it’s easy to guess the other address if you have one of them, or you can simply type IPCONFIG /all at a command prompt to reveal everything.

On The Other Hand, the MAC address on the CaptionCall phone is for the ethernet port, and the WiFi address is Not Sequential, with no easy way to determine what it is. For example, my own CaptionCall phone MAC addresses are 00:08:72:00:BF:48 for ethernet (And this is on the bottom of the phone); while the WiFi MAC address is 00:25:F0:50:10:BF — Hardly sequential, and not documented anywhere.3

The way I solved the connection problem with the missing CaptionCall MAC address was at the router, as follows:

  1. Go to the router WiFi status page and look at the authorized connected device addresses — Keep this browser window (tab) open & do not refresh;
  2. Open a new browser tab & temporarily disable MAC address filtering in the WiFi setup;
  3. Connect the CaptionCall phone (or other device with a mystery MAC address) via WiFi & verify connectivity;
  4. Open a new browser tab & go to the WiFi status page, and compare this new MAC address list to the list from step 1 — The difference will be the phone’s WiFi MAC address;
  5. Highlight & copy this address to the clipboard, and also jot it down for future reference;
  6. Switch to the WiFi setup page tab and paste the CC MAC address in the field, then click Add and then Save;
  7. Re-enable MAC address Whitelist filtering, save and close — You may have to restart the router for the changes to take effect.

I filed this bug report with CaptionCall, with a suggestion that in a future software release the addresses are all displayed in the network setup screen.

There are three other CaptionCall connection issues that hopefully Sorenson will address. The first is to enable WPA push-button configuration, to speed installations, especially when the router password is not known; and the second is to allow manual entry of the SSID when a hidden WiFi zone is used, as at present neither of these are supported.

The third is more serious, for when we take our CaptionCall phone on the road and plug it into the data port on a hotel phone: Most hotel WiFi networks force additional login information to be entered on a browser page after connecting either with or without a password, usually by simply clicking an “ACCEPT” button, or entering additional credentials &/or credit card information. However, although the CaptionCall phone is basically a tablet stapled to a POTS phone, there is no browser to handle this chore. The way I handled it last week was to contact the hotel manager, explain the situation. and ask for a password to log into one of the other zones. Furthermore, every hotel chain has a central IT support center that handles everything, so you may need to ask the on-duty manager to call them for assistance.

    Bootnotes:
  1. SSID is the Service Set Identifier, which is a unique ID that consists of 32 characters and is used for naming wireless networks. When multiple wireless networks overlap in a certain location, the SSID makes sure that data gets sent to the correct destination;
  2. MAC is the Media Access Control (Address), which is a unique hardware identifier assigned to network interfaces for communications on the physical network segment. MAC addresses are used as a network address for most IEEE 802 network technologies, including Ethernet, WiFi, and Bluetooth;
  3. Since MAC addresses are assigned to hardware manufacturers, one can look up the device by typing in the address here. For example, while our own CaptionCall ethernet address of 00:08:72:00:BF:48 correctly reports it assigned to Sorenson Communications, the WiFi address of 00:25:F0:50:10:BF shows it registered to Suga Electronics Ltd;
  4. Incidentally, Apple has a variation of this problem that rises to “Made by Monkeys” status with activating a new iPod Touch or iPad — The WiFi MAC address is not on the package or able to be determined by any method before activation —  If you can’t connect the iPod Touch or iPad to the Internet to activate the device because of MAC address filtering, you cannot determine the MAC number needed to connect to activate it. (And Yes, I documented this & filed a bug report with Apple). To solve that one, I went to the Apple store & let them activate my device on their WiFi network;
  5. When the CaptionCall and CapTel phones are demo’d side-by-side on a real phone line, almost everyone chooses the CaptionCall phone as it looks nicer, and also has a better amplifier. However, a few elderly ladies (such as my 98 year old grandmother) cannot grasp the large, heavy handset, and instead opt for the CapTel, which has a thinner, lighter one~
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About the author

Dan Schwartz

Electrical Engineer, via Georgia Tech

3 Comments

  1. Mark Berry
    September 8, 2014 at 8:30 am

    Great to know about this device, thanks! Re. the MAC addresses, the first six digits reveal the component manufacturer. In this case, WiFi adapter is made by a different manufacturer than the wired adapter. You can look up the maker at numerous sites, for example http://aruljohn.com/mac. Would definitely help if the numbers were on the box or on a sticker on the device but your router-based method is a good workaround.


  2. Antonio
    September 8, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks for the article. However none of these problems, MAC, WPS & SSID, could not be fixec in less than 10 mins. I personally don’t think there is anything serious at all.


    • Dan Schwartz
      September 8, 2014 at 8:07 pm

      No Kidding, Antonio. But not everyone is as brilliant as you are, which is why I wrote this article…


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