VoIP enabled ADSL routers group test review

VoIP ADSL router for free Internet phone calls
Photo of VoIP enabled ADSL routers group test

Made in Sweden, the Intertex IX66 is a little wonder of a device with a huge amount to offer, both as a router and, uniquely, also as an SIP server. Moreover, by downloading optional add-on software, it can even be turned into a VoIP switchboard, making it a great product for small businesses looking for voice as well as data functionality.

At one level the IX66 is much like the other routers in this group test. The model we tested was connected to the network via a single 10/100Mbps Ethernet port (cable provided) with optional wireless connectivity available by plugging a suitable SD adapter into a slot in the side.

A cable is also included for ADSL attachment with another to connect to the dial-up side of the BT line. This can be used to provide dial-out facilities in the event of a power failure, added to which the IX66 can act as a PSTN gateway for both the locally attached phone and other SIP users – about which, more shortly.

A separate phone socket is provided for use with either an ordinary analogue handset or a headset. And a headset is included as part of the package along with everything else.

On the data side a firewall with port forwarding and content filtering facilities is built in as standard along with support for network address translation (NAT), UPnP and Dynamic DNS services. A VPN server upgrade is also available, but it’s on the SIP side that the Intertex router really scores, elevating the IX66 onto a totally different plane from the others.

Sure, you can attach an ordinary phone or the headset to make and receive calls using a range of SIP service providers. However, with a built-in SIP server, it’s also possible to host your own SIP domain with your own addresses (in the format myname/number@mydomain.com), rather than have to subscribe to a public service. Added to which the SIP server can be used by other LAN and, optionally WAN users equipped with either softphones or IP phone hardware, with support for calls made over the Internet and via the PSTN using either a commercial SIP provider and/or the local phone line.

Up to 15 SIP users can be accommodated altogether (extra licences are required for more than five) plus there’s the option of downloading additional SIP Switch software (around £385 inc. VAT) to turn the router into a full-blown PBX (Private Branch eXchange). You can then set up detailed dial plans to route outbound calls to either the Internet or PSTN as required, forward incoming calls to local extension numbers, provide voice mail services and so on. These are facilities that are normally only available on custom PBX solutions costing thousands of pounds.

The only real drawback is a more complex management interface, although the Intertex Web interface isn’t that difficult to master with lots of online support available from other users as well as Intertex itself. The lack of a bundled SIP service could also be seen as a drawback, but we had no trouble using the IX66 with a range of providers. Plus there’s the SIP server and PBX switch option which really do make the IX66 stand out from the crowd and turn it into something of a VoIP gem.

Like Draytek’s Vigor 2500V, the ZoomTel X5v is an affordable router for both consumers and small businesses looking to add single-line VoIP capabilities to their Internet connectivity. It also comes bundled with credit for calls made using Zoom’s own SIP service – Global Village – making for very straightforward deployment.

For home use the Zoom router can be connected to a single PC using USB, otherwise it’s hooked up to a network via an integrated 4-port 10/100Mbps Ethernet switch. Cables for both types of connection are supplied along with a lead for ADSL attachment. A converter to connect an ordinary telephone handset to the second RJ-11 port is also provided with automatic failover to the dial-up side of the ADSL line in the event of a power failure.

A browser is used to configure the router, but there’s not much that’s needed to get started, other than a username and password to connect to the ADSL service. With no support for Dynamic DNS a static IP address is recommended and you may also need to configure the built-in firewall to allow access to local Web or mail servers. However, most of the other settings can be left as they are, including those for the SIP service which, by default, is configured for Global Village.

To activate the service you simply click a button in the management GUI which takes you to the Global Village Web site. Here you create your own user account to go with the pre-assigned SIP phone number. Calls to other SIP subscribers are then free (even those on other SIP services) with 10 minutes of credit for PSTN calls also included as part of the package.

There’s no monthly subscription. Rather you simply buy call credit to make UK landline calls which are charged at 1.5p/min*. Calls to mobiles cost 14.7p/min and those to the US are billed at 2.5p/minute, and it’s worth noting that the Global Village charges quoted are all VAT-inclusive. As such the rates compare well with other services such as DrayTel, with full details to be found on the Global Village Web site.

Call quality matches what you get with other routers too and is similar to an ordinary phone. However, the lack of support for Dynamic DNS and UPnP could be a drawback for users without a static IP address. Similarly, although it can be used with services other than Global Village, there’s little information to help with alternative setups.

Still, if you just want to get online and make VoIP calls the ZoomTel X5v has got everything you need at a reasonable price.

A small yet successful UK distributor of broadband routers and VoIP equipment, Solwise sent in a Billion 7100SV for this group test; a low cost VoIP-enabled router which can be used by home users and small businesses to access a range of SIP services.

The router itself is compact and well built, shipping with an AC adapter and all the cables needed in the box. That includes a patch lead to connect the router to the local network – via the single Ethernet port on the back – and another to connect to the ADSL line. A third port then accommodates the telephone via a small adapter that can be used use with any standard UK handset.

Getting started with the Billion 7100SV is relatively straightforward, with a browser interface that features a quick start page for the ADSL setup. It took us no more than a couple of minutes to type in our test account name and password and connect to the Internet. A built-in firewall then looks after the security side of things with the usual port mapping facilities plus support for UPnP and Dynamic DNS services, if required.

SIP setup is similarly straightforward and further simplified by pre-configured settings to use the popular FreeWorld Dialup SIP service. All we had to do was register through the Web site to get an account and an associated SIP number which we then typed into the router.

On the downside, the documentation could be better and the Billion hardware had to re-boot every time we made a configuration change, which was a bit annoying. Plus, although you can make calls to other SIP users via FreeWorld Dialup, the service provider doesn’t offer wider PSTN connectivity. For that you have to subscribe to another SIP service and configure the router appropriately. Not impossible but it does require a little more technical know-how than the basic setup.

Once configured we were able to connect an ordinary phone to make and receive SIP calls. Call quality depends on the codec used (that’s the VoIP software used to encode/decode voice traffic inside the router), but those provided seemed pretty good most of the time with no more noise or other disturbances than on a typical dial-up line.

The emergency failover to the PSTN line worked seamlessly when we powered off the router and, by dialling a special prefix, you can elect to make calls over the ordinary network rather than IP, if preferred. There’s no built-in SIP server, as on the Intertex router also reviewed in this group test, so you’re limited to a single handset. But for home users on a budget the Billion 7100SV ticks the right boxes at a very affordable price.

Apart from the odd mistake when typing in account names and passwords, we had few problems getting the VoIP enabled routers in this group test to work, either as ordinary ADSL routers or to enable us to make and receive telephone calls over the broadband link. By far the easiest, however, were those that came pre-configured for use with an online SIP service, as was the case with the Draytek Vigor 2500V and Zoom’s ZoomTel X5v.

Call quality was much the same with both products and rates for calls made to the public switched network are pretty similar. That said, we preferred the Vigor 2500V as, although slightly more expensive to buy, it has a built-in Ethernet switch and a much nicer management interface. Plus you get support for things like Dynamic DNS services and UPnP which the Zoom router lacks. It can even tell you when you’ve e-mail waiting to be collected, making it our choice for the home user.

The Billion 7100SV is cheaper but has only one Ethernet port and no bundled SIP subscription other than Free World Dialup which can only be used to call other SIP users. The much more expensive Zyxel Prestige 2602HWL also lacks a bundled service, although it does have a built-in VPN server and two phone ports making it a good choice for the teleworker. However, the real star in terms of VoIP functionality has to be the Intertex IX66 ADSL AirSIP GW.

The Intertex router is a far from cheap solution and, again, there’s no bundled SIP service, but with an SIP server built in you don’t necessarily need one. Moreover, the integrated SIP server can be shared by multiple users to make and receive calls via the local phone line as well as over the Internet and via public gateways. Add the optional PBX software and you can even create your own mini switchboard. That may not tempt the average home user but it makes for a great small business solution.

Want to join the Voice over IP (VoIP) revolution and make free phone calls via the Internet? Then you’ve a number of choices, including software to run on your PC and custom IP phones to plug into your network. Alternatively you can opt for an ADSL router with a VoIP adapter built in, which is what we’re looking at in this group test.

As well as the adapter to convert phone calls into IP packets and back again, the routers featured here all use a protocol called SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) to register with an online VoIP service provider. Once registered you can then make and receive calls both to other SIP users and, via the service provider’s gateway, to subscribers on the ordinary public switched telephone network (PSTN). The SIP calls are free, with low rates for calls made to the PSTN, even those abroad.

SIP can also be used with softphones and IP phones but by building the technology into a router you end up with a much neater solution, better able to avoid problems caused by network address translation (NAT) and firewall settings. Plus you can use an ordinary analogue phone with one or more connectors on the router into which existing handsets can be attached. Added to which you can use the handset as an ordinary dial-up phone in the event of a power or hardware failure.

Of course you also get a range of standard router features such as firewall protection and, in some cases VPN support. Some even come with a bundled subscription to an online SIP service making them relatively easy to configure, with full details of just how easy they are in the reviews that follow.

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The Draytek Vigor 2500V (distributed by SEG Communications in the UK) is aimed at the same home and small business market as the Billion router. As such it offers much the same VoIP functionality with a single port for attachment of an analogue phone and support for emergency dial backup. However, it also comes with a bundled subscription to Draytek’s own public SIP service – DrayTel – making for very quick deployment and the ability to make calls to the PSTN as well as other SIP users.

Another plus with the Vigor 2500V is a built-in 4-port Ethernet switch for LAN connectivity with a single patch lead in the box to get you started. Also in the box is a cable to connect the router to the ADSL service, another to connect to the dial-up side of the connection and an adapter to allow an ordinary BT cabled phone to be plugged into the RJ-11 format socket on the router.

SEG tests all its routers before shipping them out and also pre-configures them to work with BT’s ADSL and the DrayTel SIP service. This makes for a quick and easy installation via the built-in Web server with a quick setup wizard to guide you through those important first few steps where you enter your ADSL username, password and so on.

It’s just as easy on the voice side too, as although you can use the Vigor router with other SIP services, the DrayTel setup is done for you. So all that’s needed is to register via the Web site.

As part of the service an 0870 or, optionally, 0845 number is allocated for incoming PSTN calls and you get £2 of calling credit to enable outbound calls to be made straight away. Of course calls to other SIP users are free (including those registered via other SIP services) while local and national UK calls are charged at 1.6p/minute*. Calls to mobiles cost around 12p/min while calls abroad vary depending on the destination. None, though, are particularly expensive with calls to the US, for example, costing just 1.4p/min.

There’s no subscription charge, but VAT needs to be added to the rates quoted and full details of the charges can be found on the DrayTel Web site.

Call quality was excellent using the default codec (the software that encodes/decodes your voice for use with IP) and a built-in phone directory further simplifies call making. Plus, on the data side, you get a decent firewall, content filtering facilities and VPN pass-through support. The router can also be set to periodically check for incoming e-mail messages, an LED at the front lighting up when there’s mail waiting in any of up to five POP3 accounts.

None of the routers was that difficult to get working but the Vigor 2500V was the easiest of the lot and, with its bundled DrayTel subscription, is a good choice for the VoIP newbie.

Zyxel is a popular choice when it comes to both home and small business routers with a range of fixed and wireless products to choose from. The company also sells a wireless IP phone and recently added the VoIP enabled 2602HWL to its Prestige ADSL router family. This provides support for two local SIP phone connections although, at the time of testing, a bundled SIP service wasn’t included.

As with all Zyxel hardware, the Prestige 2602HWL is well made and highly specified with, as well as an integrated four port Ethernet switch, an 802.11g, 54Mbps, wireless interface as standard. A UTP cable is included in the box together with a lead to connect the router to the ADSL line, plus adapters to allow ordinary UK-cabled phones to be connected. You also get emergency lifeline facilities, to make calls in the event of a power or hardware failure. Added to which users can choose to make either ordinary dial-up or IP calls. All of which will be attractive to small businesses although there’s no built-in SIP server or PBX facilities, as on the Intertex router.

On the data side the 2602HWL is very well specified with a stateful inspection firewall and a VPN server with its own hardware-based encryption accelerator capable of handling up to 20 IPSec remote access tunnels. Support for network address translation (NAT) also comes as standard along with port mapping to allow for public access to local Web, mail and other servers.

On the downside, the browser based interface is a little cumbersome but it’s pretty soon mastered with a wizard to help with the initial setup, both of the router and the SIP functionality. Unfortunately there’s no bundled SIP service subscription, as on the Draytek and Zoom products, but a range of services can be used and we had no problem configuring and using the Zyxel router with Free World Dialup or Sipgate, which has a PSTN gateway.

Each phone port can be assigned its own SIP number on the Prestige router or a single number used on both and a single account shared. You can also specify the codecs to employ (the software used to encode/decode the voice traffic for IP transmission), with good results in all cases.

Suitable for small businesses and teleworkers looking for a mix of remote office networking and VoIP facilities, the only thing the Prestige 2602HWL lacks is a bundled SIP service. This is something Zyxel may soon address, although even if it doesn’t, you still get a lot of functionality for the price and can always make your own arrangements on the service front.

Company: Billion

Contact: 0845 458 4558