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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05.What to look for

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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