ÜberMobile


(Updated) Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

(Updated) Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

Summary: I really really wanted to like the netTALK Duo. But the deficient voice quality sunk this otherwise promising offering.

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(Note Dec. 15, 2010: I got my netTALK to work! However, I still have major reservations - and suggestions for netTALK's makers...)
(Note Nov. 25, 2010: I received a number of comments and a call from netTALK's technical support within hours of my post yesterday. However, despite making the suggested changes and diligently powercycling my router, it still doesn't seem to work. New details in italics below)
(Original note: this post strays a little from the usual commentary on enterprise mobility. Apologies in advance.)

I really wanted to like the netTALK Duo. The offering seemed awesome - technically similar to the wildy-popular MagicJack, but because of its ability to plug straight into your router, it avoids the un-green downside of having to keep your desktop PC on all the time.

Also, its faceless creators had taken the high road to the MagicJack CEO's very Larry Ellison-like lambasting of netTALK earlier this year.

If netTALK's upfront cost was a little higher ($69.95, including 1 free year of service) than other VoIP competitors, so what? At just $29.95 per subsequent year (or $2.50/month), netTALK would let me earn back my ROI against Vonage or MJ within months.

If it worked, that is. I was skeptical, of course. But the reviews, even the recent ones (netTALK had an earlier-generation device called the TK6000), were overwhelmingly positive. Read PCWorld, Laptop Magazine, and FatWallet. Sure, they pointed out the tricky setup (routers need to be powered on and off in the proper order), but all said that with the aid of telephone-based customer support, problems were solved.

I ordered my DUO on October 18 and received it just 4 days later. It took a week for netTALK to get my number functional because they couldn't find my home (a new development in the East Bay of San Francisco) in their map database in order to register it for E-911. I don't fault netTALK for that. So I was using the DUO for about 3 weeks.

Simultaneous to getting my DUO, I bought a new D-Link DIR-655 wireless/wired 4-port router. My DUO wasn't actually plugged directly into my DIR-655 - it was plugged into a 85 Mbps NetGear Ethernet-over-Powerline switch in the kitchen that was linked to the D-Link router. I figured this should be ok - while it adds an extra gateway in the network, the bandwidth seemed plenty fast.

Initially, the call quality was merely bad, static-y and echo-y. Eventually, it settled into a pattern of: strong voice quality upon the initial hellos, then delays turned to lengthy echoes, and then the connection would go dead, all within 30 seconds. (It appears that when the line appears dead to me, the person on the other line can hear me yammering away, at least for a little while. I don't hear anything.)

netTalk's sparse online FAQ had some suggestions, but wasn't ultimately helpful. (nor were the suggestions in the online forum that netTALK's technical support walked me through). My experiments (note, I repeated these multiple times, strictly following the power-on/off directions of netTALK) led me to these conclusions:

1) It wasn't the flaky connections of our outside callers. While reception for my iPhone is atrocious in my house (we are at the wrong end of a small hill), I tried multiple calls from my work telephone. And of course the calls from my dad and mother-in-law - the main reason we got the netTALK after deciding to cut our landline - kept ending in unwanted dead silence.

2) It probably wasn't the D-Link router's settings. As per netTalk's suggestions at its FAQ site, I upgraded the firmware and also removed all filtering on the DUO by putting it in DMZ mode. No help. (Within hours of posting this review, I got a call from Carlos Figarola of netTalk's technical team based in Miami, Florida. Carlos walked me through how to turn off two settings in the D-Link, along with hardcoding a new primary/secondary DNS (Domain Name Server). I have tried eight phone calls since then. Only the first one lasted a full minute. With the others, the line appeared to go dead within 30 seconds). Of course, it is likely that it is the router itself (see this list of routers that play well/badly with the netTalk DUO). But if it's a matter of D-Link and netTALK not playing well together, it's the netTALK that's more expendable, especially as I have no guarantee that other brands of routers would have similar problems.

Oh DUO, you didn't overpromise but boy did you under-deliver for me.

3) It wasn't my NetGear switch. I tried plugging the DUO straight into one of the D-Link's Ethernet ports. No dice.

4) It wasn't my cordless phone. Thought I knew my new Panasonic DECT 6.0 phone operated at a different frequency (1.9 GHz) than my D-Link router (2.4 GHz), I still swapped it out for two different corded phones. No dice.

5) It wasn't the misdirection of netTALK's technical support. I waited for 30 minutes last Saturday for someone to pick up but gave up. (And Carlos was very helpful and polite on the phone, when he called after my posted review. But as of Nov. 25, the DUO was still down.)

6) It wasn't the speed of my Internet connection. According to VoIP Speed Test, my line registers as good to high quality on all indicators.

I briefly considered the paranoid possibility that Comcast was imposing some maximum QoS whenever my DUO was active, but couldn't find any mentions on Google about this. If this was a move to encourage me to switch to the Comcast VoIP service, it didn't help - I've gone back to Vonage, which I used for 5 years in my home office to 99.5% great results.

I just installed Vonage - I'm subscribing to their 200-minute Lite service -  and the connection seems great, with only minimal delays between the speakers.

I'm willing to believe that if you avoid the known misbehaving routers/modems, the DUO will work great. However, it would've been great if I could've seen that warning on netTALK's site before I ended up spending $100 on the wrong router plus lots of frustrating hours trying to fix this (and placate my skeptical wife). Meanwhile, I'm going to attempt to return my netTALK to see if I can get at least some of my $69.95 back. I will keep you apprised on the outcome.

**********

Was your experience with the netTALK DUO better or worse than mine?

Topics: UberMobile, Unified Comms

Eric Lai

About Eric Lai

I have tracked technology for more than 15 years, as an award-winning journalist and now as in-house thought leader on the mobile enterprise for SAP. Follow me here at ÜberMobile as well as my even less-filtered musings on Twitter @ericylai

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

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19 comments
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  • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

    My experiences has been really good, I guess they cant make everyone happy. Its better than my MJ and the voice quality is comparable to my land line.
    captainpeterk
    • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

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  • the DIR-655 has specifially a bad history with the nettalk

    Came across this while simultaneously looking through the nettalk forums. I have bought a DUO recently and actively look at the feedback on their forums. I've seen a couple posts on the DIR-655 Dlink and you are not alone. There is a fix as posted by one of the users:

    http://www.nettalk.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=1248&hilit=jbrandon&sid=b8b3438a4d0203c64df6daf3a9c2a2cb

    Also one of the mods there have that router under the not recommended list. I have been using my DUO for the past 2 months now with practically no issue with my $30 linksys router (WRT54g2 - one of the cheapest ones you can find nowadays). Just my 2 cents.

    -lukebox
    lukebox
  • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

    I was pleased with Nettalk customer support when they helped me to setup my router to work properly by removing troublesome firewall settings over there that caused bad voice quality. Now the voice is really commendable.
    yuri.ritvin@...
  • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

    It's unfortunate that you used a known troublesome router, and that you did not stop by their official forum for help. In lieu of calling tech support, you could have also submitted a trouble ticket, which is accessible 24 hours a day.
    LarryLib
  • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

    We're very sorry about your experience. The DUO doesn't really play nice with the D-Link DIR-655 and it's something we are looking in to. As a young and growing company, we really appreciate the feedback. We hope you'll give us a second try, so you can experience our amazing customer service and really affordable calling.... We pride ourselves on making our customers happy - please call us at 1-866-967-1063. Send us an email to: connect@nettalk.com and we'll make it up to you!
    netTALKconnect
  • really?

    Well I've had a duo for about 2.5 months and i think its great, i used to have Vonage but after they started raising their fees and FCC crap i decided to find a better service.

    The duo even comes with free 411, which is especially good now that goog411 went offline. Sounds like you need to give them another review after you fix your router woes, this review doesn't seem fair at all, especially when you're saying that its not your router's fault when everyone else is replying with it being a router issue.
    xtremeclones@...
  • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

    I've had the Duo for about a month now, and have had many problems. I called tech support three times now, and they haven't solved any of the problems. My internet connection is super solid and every time I run a QOS test I get 98-99% (excellent). I have the device in a dmz on my router also. I get 6 meg download, 1 meg upload by the way, constant, never wavers. I've tried different phones, etc, no help. Problems include delays, very low voice volume on other callers end, an occasional beep as if someone has pushed a number button on the phone, but no one has, long delays after dialing before connecting(20 seconds or more sometimes),
    and people calling and saying the phone rang many times but only rang a few on my end. Tired of dealing with it, and wishing they would provide some real help.
    Mr. Dougers
    • TO ALL USERS OUT THERE HAVING ISSUES WITH VOIP SERVICES:

      Did you ever stop to think that the problem is not the service itself, but the OLD wiring in your home?<br><br>It is commonly known that users will have difficulty with these services in homes with old "solid-core" 4-pin wire, especially if the contractor who originally wired the house took shortcuts in their work.<br><br>In fact, if you are having phone line problems, often times, the phone company support representative will want to isolate the problem to the 'phone company' or the 'customer premises wiring'. <br><br>You do this by taking a corded phone out to the demarc box, unplugging the line in the phone jack, plugging in the corded phone, and testing the line. If you don't get a dial tone in the telco jack, then there is a problem with the phone company wiring. If you do get a dial tone that works, then the problem is with the wiring inside your house. <br><br>Please note the following:<br><br>In modern homes, all phones jacks will have 'home runs' to a central location using high quality CAT6, CAT5e, or CAT5 cable (4 twisted pairs; 8 conductors). This provides the ultimate in flexibility since an unused pair (and there may be a lot of them) can be used for other purposes in the future. Also, there is a home run (or two) from the Phone Company Demarc box to the central wiring location. <br><br>In somewhat older homes, you may have 'homes runs' with only CAT3 cable (two or three twisted pairs). Or, your home may have CAT3 cable, but something called 'daisy chaining' -- where a cable runs to one jack, is tapped into, then runs to another jack, etc. Daisy Chaining is the least flexible option because there are virtually no spare pairs, and a fault in the cable affects all jacks 'downstream' from the fault. <br><br>In very old homes, you may only have 'quad phone wire' (4 conductor; two pairs; little to no twists). Sadly, I have also seen this old quad wire installed in new homes where the electrician apparently knew nothing about recent standards and CAT5 cable. If you start to use both phone lines at once (L1 and L2) , you may experience crosstalk issues. <br><br>Its even possible that CAT5 was run 'daisy chained' (no home runs) from one jack to another -- which is the worst because it means the home builder knew about CAT5 but was too cheap (probably only saved $50) to install it properly as home runs. <br><br>The ideal wiring situation is a modern home where all cables to phone jacks are 'home runs' -- where each jack location has a separate cable (possibly with a spare) running from the jack back to a single central location. The phone network then implements a 'star topology'. <br><br>You may also want to check your REN (Ringer Equivalence Number) values:<br>REN is a measurement of 'load' the phone device (telephone, fax, etc) places on the phone line. The phone company usually supplies enough current on a phone line to support a total REN load of 5.0. <br><br>So, just go to each and every device plugged into phone jacks around the house and look under each device -- you should see a REN number. Add up the REN number for all devices and the total should be less than 5.0 If under 5.0, you are fine. If over 5.0, you have overloaded the phone line.<br>If you are over a REN total of 5.0 you have a couple of choices. Simply remove some rarely used phone extensions, or buy some newer lower-REN phones, or buy something called a 'ring booster' that supports a higher REN load.<br><br>If you overload the REN, some phones may not ring properly, caller id may not always function, etc.<br><br>Most corded phones will have a REN around 1.0 and most AC-powered phones will have a lower REN (some as low as 0.1, like some vtech cordless models). The maximum REN load from your local phone company is usually 5.0, which is usually the same as the REN maximum load from a VoIP company device.

      All references to technical modifications and assessments of telecommunications infrastructures in this post are cited from ( http://www.voipmyhouse.com/ ). The author of the cited material is Jerry Jongerius.
      JustAers
      • BS!

        Absolute BS! Produce a product that can work in the REAL environment, not just the lab.
        awicks@...
  • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

    WOW - reading this article probably would have deterred me from trying the NetTalk Duo, and that would have been a huge mistake. I have been a MagicJack user for about a year and extremely unhappy with the numerous issues and support provided. When I saw all the great advantages of the NetTalk Duo over the MagicJack device, I made the switch. I received the NetTalk Duo very quickly after ordering. As for the setup, it couldn't have been simpler: I registered it online, got my number, and plugged it directly into my UVerse router. It rang my phone within a minute to let me know it was active, and I was set. No issues at all and I have been using it for over a month now. I would highly recommend the NetTalk Duo to anyone who wants to save money.
    charmedhawk
  • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

    Am using Nettalk for about a month and following are some of the issues for which am yet to get a FIX. Am writing this after trying out all possible troubleshooting efforts
    1. DTMF issues. 50% of the calls have DTMF issues.
    2. One way voice issue : 5% calls have one way voice.
    3. Integration with Google Voice is 100% failure
    4. Early timer start at the origination even before call is pickuped at Nettalk end
    5. Intermittent call clipping issues

    Arjun.
    arjunanknk
  • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

    I wanted to like this device. I ordered it on Dec 23, 2010 and it arrived in about a week. I was off for the holidays so quickly sat it up. Initially everything worked fairly well. I was able to register the device, get a local phone number, and after about 20 minutes, got the one ring telling me it ws active. It worked well for a week or so, with some voice quality issues, but none worse than your average cell phone call. I figured I could live with and came close to cutting my AT&T landline. But this past Sunday, for no apparent reason I don't have a dial tone, so I can't make or receive calls. In submitting a trouble ticket I got a response asking me to do some opening of ports, port forwarding and port triggering. I am not a network engineer and all these arcane settings are not things I wish to mess around with. I did a bit of port forwarding to get BitTorrent to work, but that was easy since I had step by step directions for my 2wire Gateway. So after setting my router exactly as I wish it to be, I have little desire to mess with the settings. One thing I did check was that something called SIP is turned off (it was by default).

    The other thing that has be bummed is that it was working "fair" before Sunday and I made no changes to my router setup, so why now, all of a sudden is it not working? That simply makes no sense at all.

    I'm afraid it is becoming apparent that both, the Nettalk Duo and the Magicjack are great ideas on paper, but not in the real world where there are too many variables beyond both the companies and users control, and most people are not interesting in becoming network engineers just to get freaking phone service.

    I'm going to try some more of Nettalk's assistance tomorrow (they have a program that can allow one of their technicians to make changes to your system remotely), however, I do not want to compromise my security settings. Windows is bad enough on its own in that regard.

    If they can't get it working, I hope I can get some of my money back, as it has not even been 30 days since I bought it.

    Finally, I have noted that the device seems to run pretty hot. I'm not sure I like that. My old Netgear router ran hot and I was always worried about it. And as anyone knows, heat is one of the enemies of electronics longevity.

    Bottom line: You aren't going to be replacing your land line with these devices, but maybe they can be useful as a second "kids" line, or for calling that one relative in Kalamazoo, Michigan. But then, I could use Google Voice for that, and not have all this aggravation.
    rwarren_2001@...
    • TO ALL USERS OUT THERE HAVING ISSUES WITH VOIP SERVICES:

      Did you ever stop to think that the problem is not the service itself, but the OLD wiring in your home?<br><br>It is not uncommon that users will have difficulty with these services in homes with old "solid-core" 4-pin wire, especially if the contractor who originally wired the house took shortcuts in their work.<br><br>In fact, if you are having phone line problems, often times, the phone company support representative will want to isolate the problem to the 'phone company' or the 'customer premises wiring'.<br><br>You do this by taking a corded phone out to the demarc box, unplugging the line in the phone jack, plugging in the corded phone, and testing the line. If you don't get a dial tone in the telco jack, then there is a problem with the phone company wiring. If you do get a dial tone that works, then the problem is with the wiring inside your house.<br><br>Please note the following:<br><br>In modern homes, all phones jacks will have 'home runs' to a central location using high quality CAT6, CAT5e, or CAT5 cable (4 twisted pairs; 8 conductors). This provides the ultimate in flexibility since an unused pair (and there may be a lot of them) can be used for other purposes in the future. Also, there is a home run (or two) from the Phone Company Demarc box to the central wiring location.<br><br>In somewhat older homes, you may have 'homes runs' with only CAT3 cable (two or three twisted pairs). Or, your home may have CAT3 cable, but something called 'daisy chaining' -- where a cable runs to one jack, is tapped into, then runs to another jack, etc. Daisy Chaining is the least flexible option because there are virtually no spare pairs, and a fault in the cable affects all jacks 'downstream' from the fault.<br><br>In very old homes, you may only have 'quad phone wire' (4 conductor; two pairs; little to no twists). Sadly, this old quad wire has even been installed in new homes where the electrician apparently knew nothing about recent standards and CAT5 cable. If you start to use both phone lines at once (L1 and L2) , you may experience crosstalk issues.<br><br>Its even possible that CAT5 was run 'daisy chained' (no home runs) from one jack to another -- which is the worst because it means the home builder knew about CAT5 but was too cheap (probably only saved $50) to install it properly as home runs.<br><br>The ideal wiring situation is a modern home where all cables to phone jacks are 'home runs' -- where each jack location has a separate cable (possibly with a spare) running from the jack back to a single central location. The phone network then implements a 'star topology'.<br><br>You may also want to check your REN (Ringer Equivalence Number) values:<br>REN is a measurement of 'load' the phone device (telephone, fax, etc) places on the phone line. The phone company usually supplies enough current on a phone line to support a total REN load of 5.0.<br><br>So, just go to each and every device plugged into phone jacks around the house and look under each device -- you should see a REN number. Add up the REN number for all devices and the total should be less than 5.0 If under 5.0, you are fine. If over 5.0, you have overloaded the phone line.<br><br>If you are over a REN total of 5.0 you have a couple of choices. Simply remove some rarely used phone extensions, or buy some newer lower-REN phones, or buy something called a 'ring booster' that supports a higher REN load.<br><br>If you overload the REN, some phones may not ring properly, caller id may not always function, etc.<br><br>Most corded phones will have a REN around 1.0 and most AC-powered phones will have a lower REN (some as low as 0.1, like some vtech cordless models). The maximum REN load from your local phone company is usually 5.0, which is usually the same as the REN maximum load from a VoIP company device.

      All references to technical modifications and assessments of telecommunications infrastructures in this post are cited from ( http://www.voipmyhouse.com/ ). The author of the cited material is Jerry Jongerius.
      JustAers
  • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

    Thank you for the great review. I've been with Comwave ($15 per month but I get the Chinese special $10 per month) since 2005 and the quality is great with all local calls. I went through their growing pains but more my pains. But now it is all stable. I have 1 big complaint was that trying to call Brazil is a hit and miss sometimes. You hear the phone ringing but they on the other side (Brazil) actually do not hear it ringing. Comfirmed by calling through our expension cell phone. So I was just seeing what else is in the market via Magic Jack and found NetTalk. I am hesitant to spend time and money until they are stable. The growing pain was hard. Dropped calls and the Comwave VOIP adapter needed to be unplugged and plugged back in when blinking red. I got a new one for a while now and it auto-connects when it has trouble. So waiting for a cheap GOOD solution before I would change. Thank you.
    buysellth@...
  • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

    I have had Nettalk duo now for about 8 months. "Comcast" cable and a Netgear WNDR3700 and it worked well with no changes in my router. Just plugged it in and it worked... and as good as land line. But, I did have to turn it off and on every 5 days or so to keep it working at its best. There was an echo once or twice but it turned out to be the one phone I used, just switched to the other one. I would have thought these complaints here were written by "Big Phone company" with none being true. Except, recently I have experienced the "stuck key tone". I have moved (Nettalk duo) to my "DMZ" area on my router. I have not had another "tone error" since. It's back to being "just about perfect". This is what I did, and it was very easy to put on the "DMZ". Go into the router config page. Read what IP router has given to the Nettalk, then make a reservation for same address. Then make that address the DMZ address. For example, Nettalk is 192.168.1.4 so go to LAN settings to part that says "Reservation" and assign Nettalk to use 192.168.1.4 every time it turns on. Then go to "DMZ" and make it 192.168.1.4 that's it. No "slp-alg", port forwarding etc... Very easy and should work on all routers even the bad ones. DMZ is outside the protection of the firewall router. I love my Nettalk and recommend it to everyone. My opinion is that my cable company has something to do with this error I'm getting now. My Nettalk was perfect until just about 2 weeks ago. Long distance calls, short calls, hour long calls... all worked fine. Until I called Cable company and was inquiring about TV and faster cable service. Right after, I then started to have the "tone error". So my opinion is "Broadband Co's making it difficult for competition". Think about it? This service (if it worked perfect, like mine was) would really hurt "Broadband company" business. They have control of the very lines Nettalk is using. It's human nature. They would be AB-normal if they didn't try to sabotage it! Or at least UN-American. Since American's main goal now days is "GREED!!!" At least it seems like that to me.
    drden2000@...
  • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

    I have had the netTALKDuo for a year now and the only real problem I have occasionally is I have to refresh the connection by unplugging the usb power cord and plugging it back in. I don't know if I get a lag or drop of my isp this causes the issue but I wish that occasionally the netTALKDuo would do a self refresh if it loses connection. The good thing is it still has the answering service that goes directly to email. That is a good option because I get auto updates for email on my cell phone anyway, so I know if that problem arises and I still don't miss a message if someone needs to leave one.
    One other problem I had today is I went to renew my account when inputting my info on the Nettalk website to renew it said my home address was incorrect. I had to contact their tech support and after about 20 minutes of processes, they were able to correct it and now I am renewed.
    Overall, I think Nettalk is pretty good. In todays day and age you should not have to pay a fortune for basic phone service. That is what the internet is for, to make life easier. With AT&T I was paying over $15 a month for basic service with no call waiting, no caller i.d., only local calling capped at a small amount of minutes. Also I don't use my home phone nearly enough to justify $200 a year! Yikes! With Nettalk, I am able to have caller i.d., call waiting, unlimited local and long distance in the U.S. for around $30 A YEAR!!! This is the way it should be.
    Also these other voip services are pretty pricy as well. With Nettalk and Magicjack, it goes to show you how much it really costs and I hope people stick it to the money hungry gougers out there and show them they are not going to take getting ripped off any longer.
    REALROBLAW
  • RE: Review: netTALK Duo Underwhelms on Voice Quality

    I have NetTALK but if I had known the problems with it, I would not have signed on. The voice quality is poor. There is a 4 - 5 second delay so that when you start talking the other person thinks you are waiting for them to talk and they start talking right over you. My phone number is long distance for friends even in my community. They do not offer portability of phone numbers.

    I had the same problem with Vonage when I first signed up with them. However, they were quick to fix it.

    long story short, I had to keep my Vonage and forward the calls to NetTallk so I would be able to get local calls. So, no savings yet...
    matthfam