Networking

Integrated VoIP appliance makes telephony easier for small businesses

Deb Shinder reviews Vertical Communications' new Xcelerator IP product that might be just the ticket for small businesses interested in implementing VoIP services.

In the past, small businesses with 10-25 users fell through the cracks when it came to VoIP services. There are numerous vendors that offer consumer-level VoIP services and many of these same companies (Vonage, Lingo, SunRocket, Packet8, etc.) also offer "business plans," but these are aimed primarily at very small businesses -- those with five or fewer users -- as they include only a single VoIP line accompanied by a fax line. At the other end of the spectrum, many vendors offer enterprise-level VoIP services for large businesses.

Now it seems vendors are discovering the small and midsize business (SMB) market and targeting products at "large small business" as well as midsize businesses up to 200 or so users.

One way to make IP telephony easier for small businesses is by combining it with wireless networking technology. Both offer several characteristics that are very attractive to small, growing businesses:

  • Easy, low-cost setup
  • Low ongoing costs
  • User convenience

Integrated VoIP/WAP router with firewall

Vertical Communications just announced their Xcelerator IP product, which provides router/firewall functionality along with a SIP-based Voice over IP gateway and a wireless access point (WAP) in a single package. Thus, this all-in-one turn-key system gives you data routing, VoIP, perimeter security, and wireless connectivity without buying numerous components and struggling to make them work together.

The appliance is small, about the size of a typical eight-port Ethernet switch or WAP, and can be mounted vertically on a stand for an even tinier footprint. In addition to the phones, you can connect printers, faxes and other network devices. Fax/modem tone detection is supported.

VoIP features

The SIP gateway supports SIP v2, G.711 (audio companding), G.729A (audio data compression for voice), and G.723.1 (low bit rate speech compression) protocols and algorithms. It includes a DHCP service to assign IP addresses and supports IP Quality of Service (QoS) via the 802.1p standard (a method of implementing QoS at the Media Access Control (MAC) level.

The phone system supports up to 24 phones and eight VoIP lines, but you can network multiple systems (up to ten) if you have more users than that. It includes voicemail with auto attendant features, so you can play music or a customized message while callers are on hold and select up to two languages for voicemail prompts. Up to four stations can be serviced by the auto attendant at the same time.

Users can send voice messages to a recipient's e-mail inbox (as an attached .wav file), and different voicemail messages can be scheduled for different times and purposes (for instance, "away from desk" during the day, "office is closed" at night, "out to lunch" during lunch hour, and so forth).

IP Phones

In addition to the integrated appliance, you'll need to buy SIP phones from Vertical. These desksets are full-featured business phones that include speakerphone, multiple line selection (four line keys), call status LCD, and a two-port Ethernet switch so you can connect the phone and a computer to the network with one Ethernet cable. The phones support Power over Ethernet (PoE), which is a system for transmitting electrical power over regular twisted-pair cabling so you don't have to use a separate power supply; they also come with a power adapter so you have more flexibility as to how to power them.

The IP 2007 SIP phones that are designed for use with the Xcelerator IP system automatically register with the system. They include a full set of business calling features, including forwarding on no-answer or busy signal, call park and retrieve, caller ID, three-way conferencing, do not disturb, external paging and group paging, group rings, speed dial, and more.

Wireless support

The built-in WAP supports 802.11g Wi-Fi signaling for top performance. You can use it to connect laptop computers and handheld/PDAs to the network, as well as softphones and SIP phone handsets that support Wi-Fi. To prevent unauthorized use of the wireless network, the WAP supports multiple levels of encryption and authorization, including 802.1x and WPA/WPA 2 and MAC address filtering.

Emergency/backup features

One of the drawbacks of VoIP is the problem of 911 emergency locator services. VoIP providers have been mandated by the U.S. government to provide enhanced 911 support, but generally this relies on the customer keeping individual emergency contact information up to date; because VoIP equipment can be moved from one location to another, this is less reliable than the automatic locator service for PSTN numbers that are tied to a specific location. The Xcelerator IP solves this problem by providing for the connection of an analog telephone line that can be used for 911 calls.

Best of all, the analog connection can serve a dual purpose. It can be used to expand regular calling capabilities, and if there is a power failure which takes down the VoIP system, the Xcelerator IP system automatically fails over to the analog line so that users still have telephone service through their regular handsets.

Management

In addition to easy setup, the Xcelerator IP provides for easy management through a Web-based interface. There's a wizard that walks you through the initial configuration steps, and administrators can remotely manage the phone directories, numbering plans, and auto attendant schedules or back up voicemail messages and the system database to another location on the network. System management is password protected.

Summary

Small businesses that have more than two or three users need a way to implement VoIP that's cost effective and takes into account their budget, space, and personnel limitations. An integrated network/VoIP appliance like the Xcelerator IP from Vertical is easy to set up and doesn't require a lot of administrative overhead. You can find out more about the Xcelerator IP at http://www.vertical.com/products-featuretour-xcelerator.html.

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Deb Shinder is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. She currently specializes in security issues and Microsoft products, and she has received Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional (MVP) status in Windows Server Security.

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

7 comments
ristau5741
ristau5741

Wireless VoIP --- AUUUUGH!!!!!!!! 802.11g wireless phones, people roaming around the office with their phone extension in their headset. can you say IT SUPPORT NIGHTMARE !!

DaPearls
DaPearls

This has been available pre-802.11g with a more complicated setup. The use of VOIP actually simplifies the usage since you already have coverage and don't have to deploy separate antennas. Relax.. also think of it as another thing to add to your resume.

mollenhourb
mollenhourb

The other side of your complaint is, "tough luck". Don't forget. IT is here to support the business needs of the users, NOT as a be-all and end-all to itself. If there is a legitimate business need, then it is IT's job to find a way to support it.

PhilippeV
PhilippeV

In Europe we also have now ISPs acting as mobilephone providers. They are selling mobile phones that can automatically detect a WiFi hotspot when available, attach to it automatically if already authenticated (like with a laptop, using WEP or WPA security) and allow making calls through it with terrestrial VoIP instead of the costly GSM mobile network. These mobile phones allow saving mobile phone communication costs (no minutes taken from the mobile subscription plan, you pay only through your VoIP provider, most often your ISP when using a ISP's multiplay "Box").

PhilippeV
PhilippeV

Integrated as part of VoIP services accessible since long time now on DSL/cable routers provided by European ISPs in their multiplay "boxes". And there are also other solutions available, notably the ADSL or cable routers often include a master USB port where you can plug a USB-key creating a DECT access point for standard home wireless phones. Instead of traditional DECT stations connected to the POTS line, this USB key transfers the communication to the VoIP service provided by the DSL "box". WiFi VoIP phones are also largely distributed now by most majors European ISPs. This is not just for the work: its really what was needed to remove the dependancy to the POTS service and connect everything through the broadband DSL or cable access. Long before broadband DSL accesses, everybody have used wireless phones at home over their POTS line. If broadband internet access supports VoIP, why not transfering wirelesstelephony on it too? It's not a stupid concept, because it allows dropping the subscription to the POTS line, and keeping only the DSL or cable Internet subscription for every kind of media or communication. Don't you remember what is CONVERGENCE?

hforman
hforman

I've been working as an administrator for some time now. Since the 4.1 versions came out, RIM has Wireless LAN support built into the system. Not sure which models do the VOIP, but it's been in the settings for some time.

Bobsprouts07
Bobsprouts07

Most blackberries that come out nowadays have support for VoIP because they all come with wireless LAN cards. Not to worry everyone else, VoIP is actually really easy to setup and use. No one is planning an evil plot.

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