VoIPower Your Office: Polycom and SipX�Like a Horse and Carriage

Polycom
is a rather strange company, as they seem to be working hard to make good VoIP
hard phones that are easy to administer and use. This is so against the grain
of your typical modern high-tech vendor that I had to take another look just
to make sure. The nice folks at Pingtel
sent me two Polycom phones to test: the Soundpoint IP 430 and the Soundpoint
IP 650. The short story is these are nice phones with a lot of good features,
and they are well integrated with SipX.

When you’re setting up your own VoIP system, you face a multitude of phone
decisions—keep your legacy analog phones, buy new IP hard phones, or use software
phones?

You can keep your old analog phones in service for around $30–$60 each. For example, the Linksys SPA-2002 two-port FXS adapter currently sells for about $70. These types of devices are more than just plugins; they also come with a lot of nice features like call blocking, distinctive ring, three-way conferencing, message-waiting indicators, and everything else they can think of to stuff into the device’s firmware. Even with all of this, you’re not going to get all the features your VoIP server is capable of delivering because of the limitations of old-fashioned analog telephones. But it’s a good option to have and it lets you migrate at your own pace. Or maybe you’ll never need all the fancy stuff at all.

The cheapskates among us (raise your hands in pride!) like using free softphones, like KPhone, Ekiga, and X-Lite. These aren’t exactly free, though, because you still need a microphone and speakers or a headset. I prefer a good-quality USB headset, and these are hard to find for under $60. Then you might find that the softphone that does what you really want is going to cost a few bucks. Then you get tired of being tethered to your computer, so you go shopping for a wireless headset, and then you’re spending some real money. And it still makes a dent in your hair.

Good hard phones cost the most up front, but in some ways represent the best
value. They’re not tied to user’s computers, they are software-upgradeable,
comfortable to use, and the good ones deliver great sound quality. Some folks
think they sound even better than old-fashioned analog phones, though I suspect
that might be a bit of “I paid a lot for this so it better be good” attitude
speaking.

Soundpoint IP 430
This little gem retails for around $169, though I’m sure canny shoppers can find a better deal. IP telephony turned telephone network architecture upside-down; the old-fashioned PSTN is a smart network with dumb endpoints. Now we have smart networks and smarter endpoints. It has a gazillion-and-one features, so I’m going to hit the high points:

  •  Two lines with local 3-way conferencing, call transfer, hold, mute,
    and forward
  •  Individual audio controls for each line
  •  Echo cancellation and adaptive jitter buffer
  •  Contact directory and call history
  •  Context-sensitive menu keys
  •  Speakerphone
  •  Headset port

It supports the G.711 and G.729A codecs. G.711 is a free, uncompressed codec that
delivers good audio quality. It’s the native language of the digital telephone
system. G.729A is a good-quality compressed codec that you have to pay
a licensing fee to use
. Because SipX
does SIP routing the way it is supposed to
, your bandwidth will be used more
efficiently, so you may be perfectly happy without compressed codecs.

Every time I unpack a new hard phone I think “Holy plugins! How many more
miles of cabling will I have to run?” Because each phone requires an Ethernet
port and a power plugin. The SoundPoints support power-over-Ethernet, so using
PoE means you’ll only need an Ethernet port. PoE adapters range from single-port
adapters to multi-port managed switches.

Soundpoint IP 650
This little beauty is in the same family as the 430, only bigger and better.
It’s billed for “executive users” and attendants, but with all of its additional
features I don’t see too many executives using it. It’s more suited as an executive
secretary tool. The base unit supports 6 lines; with expansion modules up to
12.

The IP 650 supports G.711 and G.729A, plus the G.722.1 wideband codec. It
is called wideband because it delivers 7kHz of audio at 50-7,000 Hz. Traditional
telephones are “narrowband,” using 300-3,500 Hz range. The bandwidth price for
this nice audio? Less than G.711. G.722.1 supports bitrates of 16-, 24-, and
32 kilobits per second. Its final bit of wonderfulness is all this audio goodness
comes at a low computational price. This is the kind of codec that makes good
audio/video telephony a real possibility, and not just a herky-jerky pipe dream.

There is no free lunch—it’s patented, and Polycom owns the patent. Since both endpoints must support the same codec, you’re only going to experience all this G.722.1 wonderfulness with supported devices, including servers and headsets. SipX versions 3.6 and up support G.722.1.

Both modules have well-thought-out keypads, with dedicated buttons for speaker,
headset, mute, messages, redial, and menu. My one gripe is that the number buttons
are rather small for comfort. I have small hands, so I wonder how comfortable
someone with big fingers is going to be. Both phones can either wall- or desk-
mounted.

Provisioning these phones is so easy you’ll throw a party to celebrate. There are some gotchas, so come back next time to learn more about Painless Polycom Provisioning.

Resources
User and administrator manuals are online at Polycom
IP430
and Polycom
IP 650

HowTo_configure_Polycom_SIP_phone_with_sipX
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