VoIP routers review

Using VoIP can save you money, but you need the right hardware to do it — so we put seven VoIP capable modem routers to the test.
 
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01 .Introduction

Girl on phone

Test results for seven VoIP routers, priced from $112 to $279

There’s a lot of talk about the cost advantages of moving to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), not just for long-distance calling but for local calls as well, and especially if you make the move to Naked DSL and give up your traditional phone, thus saving on monthly line rental.

We tested seven popular VoIP modem routers, including those currently offered by the major ISPs. Our expert testers assesed:

  • How easy these devices are to set up and use.
  • How voice quality compared between them.
  • The quality difference between VoIP and a standard landline (POTS) connection.

Please note: this information was current as of January 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market.


What you'll need

There are four main components that need to be set up for a VoIP service to work.

  • Hardware — plugging all the correct cables into the modem router.
  • ADSL connection — configuring your connection to the Internet.
  • VoIP set up — enabling VoIP support, which can differ in difficulty depending on how the configuration menu is structured, what settings terminology is used and the advanced settings.
  • QoS — the Quality of Service feature needs to be enabled to provide the best call quality the modem router can produce. QoS gives greater priority to VoIP traffic to ensure call quality doesn’t drop below an acceptable level. It may be enabled by default or can be turned on in the settings.

If you go with a VoIP router provided by your ISP, chances are you’ll be up and running on VoIP fairly quickly and easily. Some ISPs will provide a choice of models for use with their service. These will be already tested and possibly ‘optimised’ for use with their service.

If you have an existing VoIP-capable modem, perhaps from another ISP before you switched providers, that’s not the same as the one your ISP supplies — or you decide to buy a different model to get a better price or features — you may not find the setup quite so straightforward. It will work, but may require more time spent setting it up, including research to sort out the tricky bits.

Brands tested

  • Belkin F1PI242EGau
  • Billion BiPAC 7401VGP
  • Draytek Vigor 2700VG
  • Dynalink RTA1046VW
  • NetComm NB9WMAXX
  • Netgear DG834GV
  • Open Networks 824RLW
 
 

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 The following models scored the best results in our test 

What to buy
Brand Price
Neatgear DG834GV $195
Open Networks 824RLW $112
Billion BiPAC 7401VGP-M $134

Results table

Full results for all models are showin in the table below 

   
Energy use
Features
Manufacturer/Model Price Paid (a) Ease of use overall (100%) Energy consumption (W) Annual Dimensions (HxWxD) mm Weight (g) Ports available Box Contents Warranty (years)
Netgear DG834GV
www.netgear.com.au
195 88 6.5 9.7 28x221x152 609 4 x RJ-45 10/100 ethernet, 4 x RJ-11 (ADL, PN failover, handset x 2) VoIP router, power adapter, RJ-45 ethernet cable, RJ-11 phone cable, ADL filter, antenna, 2x molded stands, GNU license, warranty card, CD-ROM 2
Belkin F1PI242EGau [b]
www.belkin.com.au
279 85 10 14.8 35x249x160 1022 4 x RJ-45 10/100 ethernet, 4 x RJ-11 (ADL, handset x 2, PN failover), UB

VoIP router, power adapter, RJ-45 ethernet cable, RJ-11 phone cable, ADL filter, antenna, omizone brochure, IP account details, quick start guide, CD-ROM, Belkin setup wizard software.

2
Dynalink RTA1046VW
www.netcomm.com.au
190 85 10.7 15.9 35x220x154 1044 4 x RJ-45 10/100 ethernet, 4 x RJ-11 (ADL, PN failover, handset x 2) VoIP router, power adapter, RJ-45 ethernet cable, RJ-11 phone cable, ADL filter, antenna, CD-ROM 1
Draytek Vigor 2700VG
www.draytek.com.au
240 84 9 13.4 31x220x159 963 4 x RJ-45 10/100 ethernet, 4 x RJ-11 (ADL, PN failover, handset x 2) VoIP router, power adapter, RJ-45 ethernet cable, 2x RJ-11 phone cables, antenna, wall mounting kit, quick start guide, Web Content filter activation guide, 2008 desk calendar, CD-ROM; oftware included: 30-day trial urfControl web content filter, Firmware upgrade utility, yslog, mart VPN client. 2
Open Networks 824RLW [c]
www.opennw.com
112 84 9.6 14.3 30x210x148 964 4 x RJ-45 10/100 ethernet, 4 x RJ-11 (ADL, PN failover, handset x 2) VoIP router, power adapter, RJ-45 ethernet cable, RJ-11 phone cable, ADL filter, antenna, console tool, quick start guide, CD-ROM. 1
Billion BiPAC 7401VGP-M
www.billion.com.au
134 83 9.3 13.8 40x180x120 873 4 x RJ-45 10/100 ethernet, 3 x RJ-11 (ADL, PN failover, handset) VoIP router, power adapter, RJ-45 ethernet cable, RJ-11 phone cable, ADL filter, antenna, console tool, quick start guide, warranty card, CD-ROM, RouterFinder software. 2
NetComm NB9WMAXX [d]
www.netcomm.com.au
180 73 10.2 15.2 40x227x144 586 4 x RJ-45 10/100 ethernet, 4 x RJ-11 (ADL, PN failover, handset x 2) VoIP router, power adapter, RJ-45 ethernet cable, 2x RJ-11 phone cable, antenna, quick start guide, CD-ROM; pyware Doctor 5.1 (3 month trial) security software. 1
 

Table notes

1 Price paid in September 2008.

2 Ease of Use (80% software, 20% hardware) Based on the hardware set up, including installation. Software was also evaluated, including the menu layout and configuration, setup wizards, steps to configure the VoIP component, and QoS.

[a] In most cases the actual price paid for the units tested was well below RRP, so shop around to get the best price.

[b] Only available from iiNet.

[c] 4-port model tested. There is a 3-port model also.

[d] Two years extra warranty enabled by website registration.

How we tested

Ease of use

We looked firstly at how easy it was to install and configure the hardware and software, including how many steps it takes to get each VoIP modem running for voice communication. We then examined how easy each was to manage and use.

Performance

The performance of each VoIP modem was assessed in terms of the quality of calls compared to a traditional phone line. We tested using a standardised voice call from a VoIP line to a landline, and from a VoIP line to an additional VoIP line. The call quality was also tested when the ADSL2+ connection was both idle and under load, and with and without QoS (Quality of Service) enabled.

Netgear DG834GV

Price $195

Good points Netgear

  • Best ease of use overall.
  • Colour coded connections.
  • Two-year warranty.
  • Cheapest to run.

Bad points

  • No software included.
  • No visible QoS settings.

Open Networks 824RLW

Price $112 Open networks

Good points

  • Cheapest of units tested.
  • Relatively easy to set up and use.

Bad points

  • Power adapter takes up more than one slot on a power board.

Billion BiPAC 7401 VGP-M

Price $134 Billion bipac

Good points

  • Second-cheapest of units tested.
  • Relatively easy to set up and use.
  • Two-year warranty.

Bad points

  • Power adapter takes up more than one slot on a power board.

Belkin F1P2I242EGau

Price $279
Belkin
Good points

  • Equal second-highest ease of use score.
  • Colour coded connections.
  • Two-year warranty.
  • USB port for sharing USB storage devices across the network.

Bad points

  • Most expensive in this test.
  • Large size.
  • Power adapter takes up more than one slot on a power board.

Dynalink RTA1046VW

Price $190 Dynalink

Good points

  • Equal second-highest ease of use score.
  • Relatively easy to set up and use.

Bad points

  • Power adapter takes up more than one slot on a power board.
  • Most expensive to run.

Draytek Vigor 2700VG

Price $240 Draytek Vigor

Good points

  • Relatively easy to set up and use.
  • Good firmware update tool.
  • 30-day trial web content filter bundled in.
  • Two-year warranty.

Bad points

  • Relatively expensive.
  • No ADSL line filter included.
  • Jargon makes set up of QoS difficult.
  • Power adapter takes up more than one slot on a power board.

Netcomm NB9WMAXX

Price $180 Netcomm

Good points

  • Includes 3-month trial anti-spyware software.

Bad points

  • No ADSL line filter included.
  • Details for QoS are confusing.
  • No setup wizard.
  • Lowest score for ease of use overall.

All the VoIP modem routers in this test performed well. In fact, we found that overall voice quality was on par with what you would expect from a standard telephone line. Even when we loaded up the internet connection with simultaneous data transfers, to simulate heavy internet use at the same time as making voice calls, the voice quality was largely unchanged.

This is due to the Quality of Service feature that reserves sufficient bandwidth for voice traffic so that even in the case of heavy internet usage, voice quality doesn’t suffer. For this reason, in the final analysis we didn’t score the VoIP units we tested for performance, as every unit provided quality indistinguishable from a standard landline.

Setup

While the performance results were good, ease of setup and use for these units didn’t fare quite so well, and getting some models to work was a lot harder than with others.

Six modem routers were found to be especially easy to set up and use: the Belkin, Billion, Draytek, Dynalink, Netgear and the Open Networks. The Netgear deserves a special mention as it was the easiest to set up and use, overall. Colour-coded connection ports at the rear of the unit made it a simple matter to plug the unit in correctly.

Setting up the VoIP connection for the Belkin was also easy. You have a choice of doing it semi-automatically or manually. If you’re new to VoIP, the setup wizard is the way to go, but experienced users can navigate directly through the web browser-based interface to the advanced settings and set up the connection manually. For most people, the wizard-based setup would be fine.

Setting up the QoS was also simple, being enabled with just one click and configured by entering just three settings in the interface. The Netgear, Billion and the Open Networks VoIP modem routers were also very easy to set up regardless of the service provider. The Billion and Open Networks were also the lowest priced, making them particularly good value for money.

Ease of use

For day-to-day operations the Netgear was found to have the easiest software interface to use. Interestingly, though it lacked a visible QoS feature in the interface, its voice quality was on par with the others which implies the feature is always on. As with the Netgear model the Belkin also had colour-coded connections at the rear that made it easy to hook up the hardware.

The layout of the software menu for the Netgear was also very easy to understand and use, as well as being quick to navigate. It allows the user to see all the main headings and sub-menu headings on the one page, as well as embedded help in a right-hand panel. The other models tested all used a menu layout that requires the user to navigate through other sections until the correct sub-menu is found, which can be quite time consuming unless you know the specific menu and sub-menu you are looking for.

Despite its excellent software interface, the Netgear didn’t come with printed manuals. Neither did the Dynalink. All the other routers came with a either printed quickstart guide, a manual, or both. The Belkin’s menu layout and configuration was the second best rated of this test, being easy to navigate and configure. However, the software reset option was buried within a sub-menu and relatively hard to find.

Dictionary

  • ADSL: Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line — allows data to be sent over existing copper telephone lines.
  • Codec: coder/decoder converts signals between analogue and digital formats.
  • POTS: Plain Old Telephone System — the standard telephone system used by most homes, also called PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network).
  • QoS: Quality of Service — guarantees a specified throughput level.
  • VoIP: Voice over Internet Protocol — enables use of the internet for transmission of telephone calls.

If used with a Naked DSL connection, the idea of ditching the normal phone line in favour of a VoIP modem and saving the monthly rental fee is attractive. See our naked DSL article. Even keeping your standard phone line and just having the option of VoIP as a cheaper way to make long-distance calls can save you money in the long run.

So, on the face of it, getting a VoIP modem and service seems like a good idea. But VoIP modem routers are not ideal for everyone. Here are some points to consider before buying

  • Users who have a cable internet connection (and hence a cable modem) will need to look for a standalone VoIP unit, known as an ATA (Analogue Telephone Adapter) box. The VoIP modem routers we tested don’t have a connection type needed for cable internet.
  • If you have little knowledge of how modem routers work, setting up a model that is not optimised for your ISP can be confusing as there is little or no interface consistency between brands and settings are not always called the same thing. If you’re new to modems, routers and internet terminology, you should consider buying a modem router from your ISP.
  • Using VoIP as your primary telephony service can leave you without communications if your internet connection goes down. This is where a PSTN failover port comes into play. A PSTN failover port enables the handset connected to the VoIP modem to operate and take calls on the normal landline if you have one. All the VoIP modem routers in this test included a PSTN failover port.
  • In a power outage (blackout) your VoIP modem won’t work anyway, so if you don’t have a landline for emergency calls it’s a good idea to have access to a mobile phone.
  • You can buy an ATA box to connect to an existing broadband modem router instead of buying a new VoIP enabled one, but we don’t recommend this for inexperienced users as the configuration is more advanced and requires an above average knowledge of routers. An all-in-one VoIP modem router is easier to configure and maintain.

Problems you may encounter

One of the main problems you’re likely to encounter in setting up a VoIP modem router is the terminology used for VoIP settings — manufacturers tend to use different terms for their settings fields. For example: the VoIP configuration information we received from our ISP only listed the SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) domain, SIP server, VoIP number and password. This was fine for setting up the Belkin unit.

The setup interface for other units, on the other hand, requested such things as a SIP registrar address, SIP outbound proxy and a SIP proxy server address, as well as specific ‘codecs’ or proxy ports. Nowhere in the information we received was there any references to these particular settings.

This lack of standard terminology between devices will likely present problems for users looking to use different equipment than that recommended or provided by the ISP.

What to do

None of the VoIP modem routers we tested was perfect and, in fact, we found them all lacking in the important area of documentation. Whether printed or supplied as PDFs, the user manuals left out critical information for users with little or no knowledge of networking or VoIP.

Users who just rely on the help documentation provided in the box may have a very frustrating experience and we recommend taking the approach listed below if a problem does occur.

  • Built-in help — If you encounter problems in configuring your VoIP modem the first port of call is to read through the supplied support files or check under the Help menu.
  • ISP — The next port of call is your ISP’s technical support team. Even if they did not supply your particular modem, they may be able to shed light on the problem.
  • Forums — If the official tech support avenues leave you unconnected, try user forums such as on the Whirlpool website. You may find the problem you’ve encountered with a specific ISP and/or hardware combination has already been solved by someone else. In particular, check out the VoIP section forums. For example, we found a dedicated guide for our ISP’s commonly used VoIP settings, along with specific configuration settings for several different routers to use with that particular ISP.
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