- ✓Easy to use
- ✓easy to set up
- ✓transparent to users
- ✓comprehensive Internet telephony features.
- ✕More control needed over the DHCP server
Small businesses have been waiting some time for the IT industry to deliver an affordable integrated Internet telephony and broadband router. However, it might just have arrived in the shape of AVM's Fritz!Box Fon WLAN 7050.
The elegant-looking, dark red plastic slab packs into its small frame the ability to connect you to the Internet over ADSL, to act as a wireless access point, and to become your private PBX for VoIP (Voice over IP) phone calls. Despite all this functionality, the Fritz!Box Fon WLAN 7050 is easy both to set up and to use, and you don't even need to change your phones.
Externally, the Fritz!Box bristles with ports, including an input for your DSL signal, two 10/100 Mbps Ethernet ports for connection to the local network, two RJ-11 phone ports (you can connect a phone or a fax), a USB port plus a pair of slots for plugging in ISDN phones. An antenna for the 802.11g wireless connectivity completes the picture.
Setting it up is as simple as plugging in the external power supply, connecting the broadband, network and standard phone leads, and starting the setup program, which holds your hand through the configuration process.
The router quickly finds and connects to the ADSL signal from your local exchange. Entering your subscriber name and password sees the broadband light up, and you're connected. It'll link at speeds up to 8Mbps downstream, 1Mbps upstream. You can then set limits on usage to match your subscription agreement -- it flashes a warning indicator if you breach your data limit -- or leave the broadband link up permanently. It allows you to forward ports to particular machines on the network -- your Web server for example -- and to set up a dynamic DNS address, so that you can link back to your network from the Internet, even if you don't have a static IP address. Diagnostic information is available too.
Similarly, setting up the wireless LAN is simple: the Fritz!Box supports both WEP and the more advanced WPA security encryption systems, as well as 802.11b and g. So far, so standard.
But the VoIP functionality alone makes this system worth the price AVM is asking for it. It allows you to route calls either using your fixed line or over the Internet -- and, if you opt for the latter, you can use the bundled free minutes from VoIP gateway provider Sipgate. This is fairly easy to set up with a bit of cross-referencing to Sipgate's Web site.
The Internet telephony module lets you decide which calls go over the fixed line: for example, 999 calls, calls to numbers starting 08 and those starting with 1 (such as 1471). It also allows you to block calls based on the number (such as 09xx numbers), to set up diverts on a number of conditions, daily alarms, and to cut off the phones at night. So-called 'quick-dial' numbers can be configured to act as short-cuts to often-used phone numbers. You can also choose which telephony network -- fixed or Internet -- each phone port uses. Other features include suppression of outgoing caller ID, call rejection on busy, and call lists, with an optional regular status email to the system administrator.
All of this works well, with bandwidth reserved for telephony -- a thoughtful touch that saves big downloads disrupting phone calls. In terms of quality, only a short delay between dialling and ringtone rather than the fixed line's instant response reminds you that you're using an Internet telephony link rather than the standard phone system.
The AVM site makes it clear the device has a firewall, with stateful packet inspection and secure port forwarding (which has been certified by security specialist TUV Rheinland. However, there is no obvious way to manage and monitor it in the user interface -- something AVM tells us is a deliberate policy.
We also missed the capability to control the range of addresses in the built-in DHCP server -- this is the system that distributes IP addresses to network clients. With the 7050, you can only allocate addresses one subnet at a time, rather than, for example, being able to set the DHCP server to allocate addresses from 1-100, and reserve the rest for devices with static IP addresses, such as printers and servers.
Other than that, there's little to complain about. This smart unit will make a useful and cost-saving addition to any small or home office.