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VoIP handsets reviewed

RMIT IT Test Lab's Matt Tett calls up your best options for smart, snazzy, and effective VoIP handsets.



RMIT IT Test Lab's Matt Tett calls up your best options for smart, snazzy, and effective VoIP handsets.


Contents
Introduction
Introduction (cont.)
3Com handsets
Avaya handsets
NEC handsets
Zultys handsets
Engin voicebox
Plantronics headset
3Com/Avaya specs
NEC/Zultys specs
What to look out for
Final words
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), in some way, shape, or form, is a standard inclusion now with most business telephony systems.

This particular review follows on from our general overview of various vendors' VoIP technologies which was published in the August 2004 edition of T&B, "Voice over IP: security, stability, success". On this occasion we take a look at several handsets from each vendor.

There are, however, a few things that we need to cover before we get into the nitty gritty of the products sent to us for review.

Firstly, there is the difference between existing telephony systems (PSTN or POTS) and IP-based telephony systems. Traditional telephone calls have been made on what is known as a circuit-switched network.

This means that for the duration of a call the wires carrying that traffic are dedicated and occupied with that call only (proving to be quite inefficient). Internet Protocol (IP), with its packet-switched networking concept, takes data which has been converted from analogue (speech/voice) to digital (beeps/burps), and each connection can carry many different packets to and from many different senders and receivers.

Instead of having one single circuit that needs to be created and dedicated for the duration of the call and then broken down at the end of the call, the packet-switched device is connected to an "always on" connection. When required data is injected into that stream (and through the use of headers and routing) it is sent to its destination address.

The Internet is mostly an IP-based packet-switched network, therefore with the right configuration telephone calls can be placed from one node on the Internet to another.

There are many more technical factors that need to be considered such as packet relay times, jitter, Quality of Service (QoS), and network traffic prioritisation, as well as basic routing and firewall rules and dialling and numbering conventions.

Unfortunately not everyone in the world has an IP telephone and therefore at some point the traffic may need to go through a gateway to be converted from a IP-packet based call to a circuit-switched call on the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) or POTS (Plain Old Telephone System).

Therefore, in practice, if you have offices in Sydney, Melbourne, and New York, you could implement a VoIP telephony system with PSTN gateways at each site.

This system would allow all internal company calls to be made for the price of the data packets transferred on the Internet instead of separate circuit switched calls usually required between each office.

It would also enable staff to make local toll charged PSTN calls from each of the branch offices. So a staff member in Melbourne can place a call to a client somewhere in New York and the first component of the call goes over IP from the Melbourne office to the New York gateway then from the New York gateway out over the PSTN to the client, thereby only incurring the cost of the Internet bandwidth used and the local call cost from the New York office to the New York client -- certainly cheaper than a direct PSTN call from Melbourne to New York.

This article was first published in Technology & Business Magazine in June 2005.


Contents
Introduction
Introduction (cont.)
3Com handsets
Avaya handsets
NEC handsets
Zultys handsets
Engin voicebox
Plantronics headset
3Com/Avaya specs
NEC/Zultys specs
What to look out for
Final words
Editor's choice
About RMIT

A common misconception is that the be all and end all of VoIP is "toll bypass". If you are a SME with just one office then toll bypass may not really help too much unless you subscribe to a VoIP gateway service. There are, however, so many additional features and benefits to using VoIP that most savvy SMBs and enterprises we have worked with who are evaluating and even piloting VoIP telephony systems see toll bypass as a side benefit, perhaps in the future, but certainly don't rate it anywhere near the list of "must haves" or even "highly desirables" now.

In fact there are so many additional benefits over traditional PBX systems I couldn't even touch the tip of the iceberg in this review if I attempted to list them here.

Suffice to say if one considers VoIP as an internal company telephony system with shared directories and looks at replacing the existing analogue or digital PBX with an IP-based one (one that still interfaces the gateway with the exiting PSTN interconnections), the benefits derived from the new system will far outweigh those of the old.

Unfortunately not every business in Australia has the fast reliable broadband Internet connection required to take advantage of VoIP. And yes, you do need a fast connection. While some VoIP services may operate adequately with a 256/64 service, it would be better to go for 512kbps or even 1.5Mbps, particularly if the connection is likely to be shared with users downloading or surfing the Internet.

Not only does the connection need to be fast, it also needs to have low latency, so even though you may get on average a sustained 512kbps download and 128kbps upload service, it may take a second or so to route through the Internet to the target and start the downloads.

This is ok for TCP packets, which are not really time sensitive, but for UDP packets (which is the kind of packets used to transmit talking/voice data in VoIP) these are time sensitive. If there is a second or two of delay between sending and receiving then there is a second or two of delay in the conversation. Worse still is if the buffering or protocol stack times out and the call is subject to drop outs.

So while the broadband connection may be the fastest available, if there is undue latency on the network then things can get a little hairy for VoIP or any "real time" service.

This latency issue is particularly applicable if the user is on a satellite broadband connection. Recently two-way satellite services have become available to the public (they are now only a few thousand dollars for the hardware, which is much better than a few years ago when they were a few hundred thousand dollars for two way).

Unfortunately there is an unavoidable delay when using satellites caused by the distance the data needs to travel from the Earth to space, and then back down to Earth again. So the speeds are great, but the initial delay, which is unnoticeable when performing normal data downloads/uploads, becomes an issue when real-time applications such as VoIP need to use the service.

Vendors who kindly submitted handsets and related VoIP equipment for this review were 3Com, Avaya, NEC, and Zultys. We also received VoIP-related product from Engin and Plantronics. And we could not perform a VoIP review without mentioning Skype and Asterisk. Vendors who were invited but were unable to submit were Alcatel, Cisco, Nortel, Polycom, and Siemens. We invited vendors to submit three phones each -- entry-level phone, a mid-range phone, and a high-end phone.


Contents
Introduction
Introduction (cont.)
3Com handsets
Avaya handsets
NEC handsets
Zultys handsets
Engin voicebox
Plantronics headset
3Com/Avaya specs
NEC/Zultys specs
What to look out for
Final words
Editor's choice
About RMIT

3Com 3101 Basic

The 3101 Basic is black with lighter grey buttons and weighs 827 grams. The main keypad buttons are round with a slightly convex surface -- a similar shape to the NEC keypad buttons. The numbers stand out very well on the light grey background.

The handset itself weighs in at 191grams, and while this appears to be quite weighty due to the design, the unit itself feels quite well balanced in the hand. There is a small LCD panel and the unit has four programmable buttons.

This is the entry-level unit and only really differs from the 3101SP in that it does not have a speakerphone function. This handset is most suitable for the occasional user or for use in low-traffic areas.

3Com 3101SP Basic Speakerphone
As mentioned before, the 3101SP is identical to the 3101 Basic handset, however, this model offers a speakerphone function and weighs in at 837 grams.

3Com's VoIP gateways are H.323 and SIP compatible, but the SIP compatibility only extends one way -- you can plug other SIP compliant handsets into 3Com's gateway, but you can't plug its handsets into a SIP gateway yet.

The 3101SP is most likely the phone of choice for most enterprise users of 3Com systems as speakerphone functionality is a must in many situations.

3Com 3102 Business
The 3102 Business has the same colour, buttons, handset, and display as the 3Com 3101SP and 3101 Basic models. It does, however, differ from other models in several areas.

The weight is 1027 grams and the footprint is 180 x 260 x 100 x 160mm (with the use of the adjustable stand). It also has 18 programmable buttons on the left-hand side, whereas the 3101 and 3101SP only have four programmable buttons.

The 3102's keypad buttons are also slightly different from its siblings being a little softer to the touch. The speaker is also larger than the other models. Overall, it is a very aesthetically pleasing telephone. In fact, the whole 3Com range has quite a unified and professional look.

The 3102 is definitely the power-user's handset, most suited for the receptionist or someone who has a lot of regular calls to place and uses the telephone as an integral part of their daily routine.

3Com
Product 3101 Basic
3101SP Basic
3102 Business
Price AU$199-$308
Vendor 3Com
Phone 1800 678 515
Web www.3com.com
Interoperability
½
H323 and SIP compatible, but SIP compatibility only extends one way.
Futureproofing
½
Excellent range of handsets to suit most users needs.
ROI
Very well priced.
Service
12 months warranty seems to be the standard for VoIP equipment.
Rating
½

Contents
Introduction
Introduction (cont.)
3Com handsets
Avaya handsets
NEC handsets
Zultys handsets
Engin voicebox
Plantronics headset
3Com/Avaya specs
NEC/Zultys specs
What to look out for
Final words
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Avaya 4602
The colour of the 4602 is a muted grey with lighter grey highlights. It weighs in at 810 grams and is the physically smallest of the Avaya handsets submitted for this review.

The buttons on the keypad are nicely dished and fit the index finger very well being slightly triangular in shape. The fonts and alphanumeric characters are large enough to pick out easily and stand out very well in white on the grey background.

The handset itself is a little on the heavy side weighing in at 197 grams. It is comfortable to hold and quite well balanced considering the weight. There is a wide, two-line LCD panel which is recessed enough to enable sufficient viewing even in quite strong lighting.

In summary the 4602 is a very neat entry-level VoIP handset with adequate features for most basic telephone users, which is reflected in its price. The good balance of features makes this a phone for the masses.

Avaya 4620
The 4620 is the same colour as the 4602, as are the buttons and the handset. It weighs 1244 grams and has an interesting tilt mechanism in the base that lifts the whole unit up off the desk.

The display is a large 168 x 80 greyscale display with 16 context-programmable keys. It's a very nice telephone with great functionality, but the temptation of a colour display may cause a few people to look at paying the extra dollars and going for the 4625.

The 4620 is for the enterprise who wants to have a context-sensitive custom designed interface at their employees' touch, or perhaps for the use of clients in public areas.

Avaya 4625
Featuring the same colour handset and buttons as the 4602 and 4620, the 4625 weighs 1353 grams and measures 210 x 220 x 110mm. In fact, the chassis looks the same as the 4620.

There are, however, a few differences -- most notably the 320 x 240 colour display with 16 context-programmable keys.

The 4625 builds on the 4620 by offering a colour display, again increasing the uses of this phone when combined with clever programming and use of the context-sensitive buttons.

While the price may not suit an organisation that needs a unit for every desk in the enterprise, it may well be worthwhile considering the benefits of a few choice location deployments of this handset within the business.

Avaya has a very good range of telephones priced from just under AU$300 to just under AU$1,000. This is particularly good if differently featured phones are required in different areas of the business as they all have a similar look and feel in relation to the main keypad, the handsets, the general shape, and colours.

Avaya

Product 4602
4620
4625
Price AU$285-$945
Vendor Avaya
Phone 02 9352 9000
Web www.avaya.com
 
Interoperability
½
H323 and SIP compatible. SIP compatibility is via an extra SIP proxy.
Futureproofing
Excellent range of handsets to suit most user's needs. Even entry-level models have quite good features.
ROI
½
Very good pricing across the range from AU$285 to AU$945. The 4625 (top of the range) is particularly well priced for the features.
Service
12 months warranty seems to be the standard for VoIP equipment.
Rating


Contents
Introduction
Introduction (cont.)
3Com handsets
Avaya handsets
NEC handsets
Zultys handsets
Engin voicebox
Plantronics headset
3Com/Avaya specs
NEC/Zultys specs
What to look out for
Final words
Editor's choice
About RMIT

NEC IP Dterm 4 Button
The NEC handsets are all silver over black. The phones themselves are very stylised and one would imagine that some people love the look of them and others don't.

The IP Dterm 4 Button weighs in at 797 grams. The depth of the handset is 220mm while the width is 190mm. There is no specific height or tilt adjuster built into the telephone but there is a small separate riser block which clips into place on the base of the phone taking it from 100mm to 130mm at the rear.

The buttons are round and protrude too far from the handset. The alphanumeric characters are very clearly marked in white on the black buttons, the silver bezel, however, seems to wash them out in bright light.

The handset is nicely moulded and fits the hand well. It is also well balanced and comes in at 183 grams.

Another plus for this phone is the clear display. It consists of a three-line LCD.

As per the name, the 4 Button handles four-line appearances; there is also an eight- and 16-button/line models (see below for the 16-button unit).

NEC IP Dterm 16 Button
The colour of the Dterm 16 is the same as the Dterm 4. It weighs 976 grams and measures 230 x 200 x 70mm without the separate riser block, and 100mm at the rear with it.

The buttons on the 16 are the same as those on the 4, as are the handset and display.

The display, however, has a limited separate tilt range enabling the user to adjust this to suit their requirements.

With minimal differences in terms of pricing and features between the 4 Button, the 8 Button, and the 16 Button, the Dterm range appears to be the best suited phone for a business that wants a no-fuss VoIP environment. You will find there is no great difference in choice or pricing except for the amount of buttons on each handset.

Therefore any enterprise looking to deploy these handsets can perform a simple needs and usage analysis to decide which employees need which of the three handsets.

NEC INASET Dterm IP 320C
Though this unit features the same colour scheme as the other Dterms, the silver is more of a matt finish and lacks the shiny clear plastic bezel surrounding the keypad, which means the numbers on the keypad stand out better.

The 320C weighs in at 1332 grams. Its footprint is 250 x 210 x 120mm through to 220mm high when you extend the uniquely designed "foot" underneath, and if you also use the separate tilt mechanism on the large colour display.

The buttons are the same shape as the DTerms but do not seem to protrude as much from the phone. The absence of the shiny plastic around the keys also means that the white numbers stand out better on the black buttons. The handset is the same as the other Dterms.

This is a very interesting telephone and the most futuristically stylised of the lot. This communications device definitely looks like it came directly from George Jetson's workplace, with a large round honeycomb speaker grill that dominates the area to the left of the keypad. There are 12 large context-programmable keys around the colour display.

In terms of adjustability, none of the other phones came close; the designers at NEC have really done a superb job with this phone, but unfortunately it shows through in the pricing -- at almost AU$2,000 it is double the price of any other VoIP telephone handset submitted for this review, and it really has no stand-out features that set it apart from some of the other top range models.

NEC

Product IP Dterm 4 Button
IP Dterm 16 Button
Instaset (320C)
Price AU$319-$1899
Vendor NEC Business Solutions
Phone 131 632
Web www.necbs.com.au
 
Interoperability
Proprietary (enhanced SIP) protocol is limiting.
Futureproofing
Excellent range of handsets to suit most user's needs. Even entry-level models have quite good features.
ROI
Overall very good pricing for the D-Term 4, 8, and 16 buttons. The Instaset 320C, however, is too expensive.
Service
12 months warranty seems to be the standard for VoIP equipment.
Rating
½


Contents
Introduction
Introduction (cont.)
3Com handsets
Avaya handsets
NEC handsets
Zultys handsets
Engin voicebox
Plantronics headset
3Com/Avaya specs
NEC/Zultys specs
What to look out for
Final words
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Zultys ZIP 2+

The ZIP 2+ is black all over, which actually looks quite smart. The 2+ weighs in at 505 grams and has a small footprint of 160 x 170 x 70mm -- perfect for those with limited space on their desks.

The buttons, which have a very positive feel to them when pushed, are round and convex which means that with the light shining the wrong way, the numbers could occasionally be quite hard to read. There is also no adjustment allowing the phone or display to be tilted.

The handset is very light at 157 grams and is a strange shape. It fits very well in one's hand when holding it to their ear, but holding it straight, (like when picking it up or placing it back on the receiver) its shape and the smooth plastic it is constructed out of tend to allow it to slip.

During the testing we also found that on some occasions my sausage like fingers were covering the microphone. Despite this, the LCD is superb -- the backlit green makes it very easy to read.

All in all this is a neat little phone that looks great and does not take up much room. It would be nice if the handset had a little more "waist", however, this small shortcoming is more than made up for by the excellent backlit display.

The 2+ is a very basic entry-level phone but it is more than adequate for light telephone usage. There is only a single RJ45 port, no encryption, and no support for PoE.

Zultys ZIP 2x2
The 2x2 has exactly the same chassis as the ZIP 2+; therefore the colour, footprint, buttons, display, and handset are all the same. The 2x2 however weighs in at 525 grams.

The 2x2, while physically appearing similar to the 2+, offers many additional features such as a second RJ45 for connecting a PC or notebook without having the need for addition network cabling. The 2x2 also offers encryption functionality and supports power over Ethernet (PoE).

The fellows at Zultys are very keen on their pricing, making the 2+ a definite budget handset, and bringing the ZIP 2x2 with all the additional features in at a whisker over AU$130 more than the 2+. Therefore, it would really depend on the existing environment which of these two handsets it would be best to deploy. In our book the encryption option offered by the 2x2 would win hands down.

Zultys ZIP 4x5
The Zultys 4x5 is totally different from the 2+ and 2x2. For a start it is white in colour, with dark grey buttons. It weighs in at 920 grams. Its footprint is 180 x 210 x 75mm, and there is a small removable block which adds a further 15mm to the rear of the handset.

The bright blue backlit LCD also has a separate tilt mechanism. The buttons are rectangular with clear white writing to read from many angles. The handset weighs in at 180 grams and is very well balanced and feels great in the hand.

This telephone is relatively plain to look at when compared with most of the others in this review, even the other Zultys siblings. It is very functional with an amazing array of features including support for Bluetooth headsets, voice dialling, a PSTN port for normal telephony use should the Internet connection go down, a built-in PPPoE client, and a four-port switch!

The PSTN port is a real bonus for when the broadband gives out. Naturally this is only really applicable in small office environments or for remote tele-workers. This phone is definitely worth of considering if you have multiple, geographically dispersed small offices.

Zultys

Product ZIP 2+
ZIP 2x2
ZIP 4x5
Price AU$319-$1899
Vendor Zultys
Phone 02 8912 7800
Web www.zultys.com
 
Interoperability
SIP standard enhances interoperability with other SIP devices, but lacks some proprietary features of other VoIP players.
Futureproofing
½
Great handsets, particularly the 4x5.
ROI
½
Excellent pricing considering the features.
Service
12 months warranty seems to be the standard for VoIP equipment.
Rating


Contents
Introduction
Introduction (cont.)
3Com handsets
Avaya handsets
NEC handsets
Zultys handsets
Engin voicebox
Plantronics headset
3Com/Avaya specs
NEC/Zultys specs
What to look out for
Final words
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Engin voicebox

I personally like Engin's model. They have taken an ATA (Analogue Telephone Adaptor) from Sipura -- which can be purchased cheaply as customer premises equipment -- and combined it with a very smart back-end VoIP system that can traverse most Internet connected networks to communicate with their own.

Any broadband-connected client can purchase one of these. Once you have it you just plug one side of it in to their network switch or router, the other side into any standard analogue telephone (or two), and within minutes of registering be making VoIP (Engin to Engin) calls as well as discounted PSTN connected calls.

This is all done without the need for a PC to be connected or turned on (provided your broadband is derived from an always on router).

Engin voicebox

I found Engin's instruction booklet to be straightforward. If you want to take a step up from the softphones of this world then take a look at Engin. The price is absolutely right. Engin also provides softphone VoIP services. See ZDNet Australia's full review of the Engin Voice Box or go to Engin's Web site for more details.


Contents
Introduction
Introduction (cont.)
3Com handsets
Avaya handsets
NEC handsets
Zultys handsets
Engin voicebox
Plantronics headset
3Com/Avaya specs
NEC/Zultys specs
What to look out for
Final words
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Plantronics wireless USB headset

By now most business telephony users will have heard the name Plantronics -- specialists in headsets. The majority of users who have tried a decent headset never look back. When I heard we were receiving a headset from Plantronics for this review I really didn't know what to expect. I was surprised when I received the box and opened it up -- this has to be the Rolls Royce of headsets. Jerry "show me the money" Maguire (aka. Tom Cruise) would definitely be using one of these units.

Comprising an upright charging/docking station with a small "boom" type microphone/earpiece which looks like a 21st-Century electric toothbrush, the user has the option of two comfortable headsets to clip the boom into -- one with a soft baffle which sits against the ear, and another that holds the earpiece close to the ear but without touching it.

Plantronics wireless USB headset

The charging/docking station also has the wireless smarts in it which allows the device to operate hands-free up to 100 metres from this station. So all the high-flying sales executives out there can do somersaults whenever they land "the big one" without fear of garrotting themselves or ripping half the wiring out of the phone system.

The device is USB, so all that is needed is a VoIP system with a soft-phone, most vendors have a soft-phone as a standard these days and installation is a breeze.

If you have the money (these things are not cheap) why not splash out and start looking the part. While you are at it, treat yourself to a new Boss suit and a Ferrari.

3Com + Avaya specifications

Vendor 3Com 3Com Avaya
Web site www.3com.com www.3com.com www.avaya.com
Phone number 1800 678 515 1800 678 515 02 9352 9000
Price range AU$199-$308 AU$199-$308 AU$285-$945
Featured model 3101 Basic, 3101SP Basic 3102 Business 4602
RRP AU$199, AU$231 (estimate based on US price conversion) AU$308

(estimate based on US price conversion)
US$195
Warranty 12 months 12 months 12 months
Protocols H.323, SIP H.323, SIP H.323 & SIP
RJ45 ports 2 2 1
PSTN port N/A N/A No
Headphone socket No Yes Yes
Encryption Proprietary Proprietary AES
Simultaneous calls 1, 4 4 2
Power over Ethernet (PoE) Yes Yes Yes
Speakerphone No, Yes Yes No
Other features LCD LCD LDAP support for directories
  Name directory Name directory 10 fixed buttons & keypad
  Call history Call history Multilanguage support
  G.729 G.729 Message Wait Indicator
  4 programmable buttons 18 programmable buttons SNMP V2 support
  10/100 switch 10/100 switch Application support
  QoS - IP TOS, 802.1p QoS - IP TOS, 802.1p 2 line display
  Adaptive jitter buffer Adaptive jitter buffer QoS diffserv and 802.1p
  TAPI support TAPI support Acts as a probe for QoS applications
  DHCP support DHCP support Downloadable firmware
       
       

3Com + Avaya specifications

Vendor Avaya Avaya
Web site www.avaya.com www.avaya.com
Phone number 02 9352 9000 02 9352 9000
Price range AU$285-$945 AU$285-$945
Featured model 4620 4625
RRP US$395 AU$945
Warranty 12 months 12 months
Protocols H.323 & SIP H.323 & SIP
RJ45 ports 2 2
PSTN port N/A N/A
Headphone socket Yes Yes
Encryption AES AES
Simultaneous calls 24 24
Power over Ethernet (PoE) Yes Yes
Speakerphone Yes Yes
Other features LDAP support for directories LDAP support for directories
  WML support WML, JPEG & WBMP
  10 fixed buttons & keypad 10 fixed buttons & keypad
  24 button expansion unit 24 button expansion unit
  Multilanguage support Multilanguage support
  Message wait indicator Message wait indicator
  SNMP V2 support SNMP V2 support
  Application support Application support
  168x80 (gray scale) display 320x240 (colour) Display
  QoS diffserv and 802.1p QoS diffserv and 802.1p
  Acts as a probe for QoS applications Acts as a probe for QoS applications
  Downloadable firmware Downloadable firmware

NEC + Zultys specifications

Vendor NEC Business Solutions Zultys
Web site www.necbs.com.au www.zultys.com
Phone number 131 632 02 8912 7800
Price range $319-$1899 $165-$740
Featured model IP Dterm 4 Button
IP Dterm 16 Button
Instaset (320C)
ZIP 2+
RRP AU$319
AU$429
AU$1,899
AU$230
Warranty 12 months 12 mths HW, lifetime SW
Protocols Proprietory, enhanced SIP SIP
RJ45 ports 2-port switching hub with independent 802.1Q VLAN, 802.1p priority settings for PC port and voice port 1
Power over Ethernet (PoE) available/supported Yes (802.3af, CISCO) No
Speakerphone Yes No, speaker for on-hook dialling
Other features Softphone collaboration Display calling number
  Context-sensitive soft keys High contrast, backlit 2-line segmented LCD display
  3 lines of LCD information with 24 characters per line Conference with three parties
  Automatic configuration Layer 2 and 3 QoS support
  Automatic firmware upgrade Simple administration and management via Web browser, DHCP and TFTP
  Interactaction with vast range of applications Last number redial
  4, 8 or 16 line appearances Supports G.711/G.729a
  QoS - 801.p, ToS and diff-service Individual hold, transfer, conference and redial buttons.
  LAN port auto negotiation Adaptive jitter buffer
  DHCP support Auto answer setting
    SIP digest authentication

Zultys specifications

SIP
Vendor Zultys Zultys
Web site www.zultys.com www.zultys.com
Phone number 02 8912 7800 02 8912 7800
Price range $165-$740 $165-$740
Featured model ZIP 2x2 ZIP 4x5
RRP AU$362 AU$658
Warranty 12 mths HW, lifetime SW 12 mths HW, lifetime SW
Protocols SIP
RJ45 ports 2 4
Power over Ethernet (PoE) available/supported Yes 802.3af Yes 802.3af
Speakerphone Yes, full duplex Yes, full duplex
Other features Display calling name and number Includes VPN, Firewall, NAT, PPOE, DHCP server
  High contrast, backlit graphical LCD display High contrast, backlit graphical LCD display
  Conference with three parties Conference with five parties
  Layer 2 and 3 QoS support Layer 2 and 3 QoS support
  Simple administration and management via Web browser, DHCP and TFTP Supports Bluetooth headset and voice command dialling
  Voice quality indicator on phone display Voice quality indicator on phone display
  Supports G.711/G.729a Supports G.711/G.729a
  Individual hold, transfer, conference and redial buttons. Dial by IP address or SIP URI
  Adaptive jitter buffer Adaptive jitter buffer
  Auto answer setting Calculator
  SIP digest authentication SIP digest authentication

What to look out for in a VoIP system

  • Security. While not directly related to the handsets per se, you should always take into account the technology's security. Evaluate the relative security of each vendor's system -- unfortunately experience has shown that they are quick to say their systems are the most secure, but quickly move on to "bag" their competition. In our recent experiences this information about competitor's products is unfounded and misguiding. Being critical network infrastructure, the CSO and his or her security team should be brought in to consult and test on each and every VoIP platform considered -- ensure that no stone is left unturned when testing.

    Encryption is offered by most vendors, so make sure it is used. Watch out for overloaded VoIP systems particularly with the overhead of security. Some quote maximum gateway users and bandwidth with the minimum feature set and no security.

    Give the feature set and security deemed necessary for your voice information/data transmissions to the vendor and ask for a specific capacity projection for your specific VoIP system. Also get that in writing prior to handing over the contract. Don't forget physical security also, and remember wherever there is a handset there is also an opportunity for a hacker to enter the building, disconnect the phone and jack into the network so it is advisable to run a separate switch or VLAN for your VoIP network.

  • Power over Ethernet. PoE is another important consideration when thinking about IP handsets. Many network switch vendors are producing switches that can supply PoE, which injects power over the network cable to power network connected devices, such as IP cameras, IP phones, wireless access points, etc. This removes the need to install new/more power points as well as needing to use the common "brick" power pack transformers that most handsets ship with.

    3Com was kind enough to lend us a 3C17205 SuperStack 3 4400PWR 24 port network switch that supplies PoE (this is a 1U device). We found that it powered all VoIP handsets supplied to us for this review (all that supported PoE, that is), including 3Com, Avaya, NEC, and Zultys handsets. At one stage we had 13 handsets running happily from it.

  • Protocols. This is one of the rockiest issues currently facing the vendors, and each vendor has its own extended version of the "standard" protocols, usually H.323 or SIP. However, there are some other ones out there that anyone trying to evaluate VoIP systems will come across.


    Contents
    Introduction
    Introduction (cont.)
    3Com handsets
    Avaya handsets
    NEC handsets
    Zultys handsets
    Engin voicebox
    Plantronics headset
    3Com/Avaya specs
    NEC/Zultys specs
    What to look out for
    Final words
    Editor's choice
    About RMIT

    You will find that some if not all of the handsets work with more than one of the protocols or at least have support for the base protocol, which just means fewer proprietary features are available. The upshot of it all is that this is another cloaking/masking trick used by the sales and marketing gurus to add confusion to the decision-making process.

    There does appear to be one standard many researchers of VoIP are hearing more often than not these days -- SIP (Session Initiation Protocol). This provides a basis for vendors to create connectors using SIP for their VoIP devices, handsets, gateways, software, and son on. This will enable interoperation between many vendor's products. Note, however, that modified or proprietary protocols may still be the way to go -- while locking a user into a specific brand of VoIP product they may also provide the critical features required by that business that more standardised and interoperable protocols don't.

  • Network infrastructure. While most of these handsets are designed to not require new networking switches or cables to be run (most of them have two or more in-built port switches), it is nonetheless worth your while checking locations of existing phones and ensuring that there are already network points nearby.

    Also spend time checking the quality of your existing network cabling, routing, and switching to ensure that no unnecessary loops or traffic will be created when the VoIP system is added. Most handsets have two or more network ports enabling the desktop PC or notebook to be plugged in, thereby removing the need to run two network cables to each desk. The Zultys 4x4 and 4x5 handsets have a built in 4-port RJ45 switch.


Contents
Introduction
Introduction (cont.)
3Com handsets
Avaya handsets
NEC handsets
Zultys handsets
Engin voicebox
Plantronics headset
3Com/Avaya specs
NEC/Zultys specs
What to look out for
Final words
Editor's choice
About RMIT

Final words

VoIP is the way to go, if your company has not yet started evaluating this technology then it is definitely the time to start. Contact your existing telephony system vendor and see what migration paths they have to move your systems over to VoIP.

Look into and test their security, check out the protocols they work with and see if you can live with standard protocols or need the features offered by proprietary modified protocols.

Before the new system is deployed, perform a comprehensive mean opinion score (MOS) test on your existing telephony system, then, when the new system is trialled or in pilot phase, repeat the MOS testing with the same testers to ensure that the VoIP system is as good if not better than the original system.

It may be worthwhile spending a little extra and contracting this testing to a third party to ensure no bias is added due to internal employees feelings towards the original or newer system.


Contents
Introduction
Introduction (cont.)
3Com handsets
Avaya handsets
NEC handsets
Zultys handsets
Engin voicebox
Plantronics headset
3Com/Avaya specs
NEC/Zultys specs
What to look out for
Final words
Editor's choice
About RMIT

T&B Editor's choice

Editor's choice:

Zultys ZIP 4x5
NEC IP D-Term 4 Button
Avaya 4625SW IP


This month, each vendor was asked to submit three handsets of their choosing, therefore the Editor's Choice Award has three categories.

  1. Small Office/Home Office Handset. Hands down, no pun intended, this has to go to the Zultys ZIP 4x5, virtually a mini-VoIP system in itself. This unit is more than capable of running with a larger VoIP deployment in a SME or in a remote office environment.

    The best features of this device are its support for direct PPPoE (ie hook it up to an ADSL modem and it connects without the need for a separate host PC or router), as well as a separate PSTN port, so if the Internet goes down, and the handset cannot contact the office gateway, the worker can still dial out. Similarly, if there is no VoIP route the call routing table can be configured to route calls straight out the PSTN. The price is phenomenal when these features are considered.

  2. Entry-level handset. The winner has to have an attractive price tag and the most features. This was the hardest to choose of the bunch with so many similarly featured and priced handsets but ultimately we chose the NEC IP D-Term 4 Button.

    The NEC IP D-Term 4 Button provides support for PoE, multiple lines, speakerphone, and headset for AU$319. Moving up to the 8 Button or even the 16 Button at AU$429 wouldn't hurt the hip pocket too much either.

  3. Top-of-the-range handset (the one the CEO wants on their desk). The award in this category goes to the Avaya 4625SW IP. It was a close call, with the NEC Inaset 320C having similar features. In fact, the NEC was out in front for a short while due to its adjustable (tilt) mechanism on the colour LCD panel. However the NEC just prices itself too far out of the market. At almost AU$1000 more than the Avaya, it is just way too expensive an option.

    Don't forget for each of the above, (except in some respects the Zultys ZIP 4x5), there is a lot of other "back-end" infrastructure required, such as VoIP gateways, which usually provide services such as voice mail, addressing, configuration of system(s), conferencing capabilities, and interconnection with the PSTN.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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Contents
Introduction
Introduction (cont.)
3Com handsets
Avaya handsets
NEC handsets
Zultys handsets
Engin voicebox
Plantronics headset
3Com/Avaya specs
NEC/Zultys specs
What to look out for
Final words
Editor's choice
About RMIT

About RMIT IT Test Labs

RMIT IT Test Labs

RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs' testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs' own -- only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.