In March of this year, Zoom Technologies announced a pair of products that sounded like a must-test for Enterprise VoIPplanet.
The two models of the Zoom X6v Gateway—one of which is aimed at the consumer market and comes with bundled SIP-based VoIP service, and one aimed at SIP service providers—incorporate a four-port wired switch, an 802.11g Wi-Fi router, an ADSL 2/2+ gateway, and a VoIP port or ATA, potentially replacing four separate pieces of equipment, power supplies, etc.
We opted to check out the consumer-focused model 5695, which, as mentioned, comes with its own SIP-based VoIP service option: Zoom subsidiary Global Village. (The unit can also be configured to work with other SIP services, a feature that went untried in this review.)
Setting up the X6v, using the handy disc-based Install Assistant, should be a breeze—if you pay attention and actually follow the instructions (which, sadly, this reporter did not the first time around). The wizard takes you through wired LAN connections, DSL connection, phone connection, and signup for the Global Village service.
Note: Do take the trouble to follow the Wizard precisely. It seems fussy at times (should it matter which end of a cable you plug in first?), but ignoring the details and mindlessly wiring components the way we previously had them wired got us into trouble.
As part of the install routine, you can set up QoS specs that will guarantee a percentage of bandwidth you specify to a port you designate (for telephony or for a game console, for example)—or, alternatively, to share a specified percentage of bandwidth among designated ports. Ultimately, we did use the QoS feature to ensure sufficient bandwidth for voice.
You can also, optionally, connect a pass-through to the PSTN; there’s a port for that on the unit clearly labeled “Telco.” This will ensure that 911 calls go out over the PSTN, and incoming PSTN calls ring the phone connected to the gateway. You can configure the X6v to send outgoing calls dialed to an area code you specify (presumably your local one) as PSTN calls, as well as opt for other special arrangements like sending all calls to the PSTN in the event your VoIP service is unavailable.
|Zoom’s X6v ADSL Modem/Switch/Router|
To set up security for the wireless LAN (and dozens of other configuration tasks), you use a Web browser on a computer connected to the unit, entering the X6v’s IP address in the destination window.
We hit a slight snag here: The X6v supports WEP and WPA and WPA2 authentication/encryption technologies. Having had some experience with 64-bit WEP (IEEE “Wired-Equivalent Privacy”)—and because Zoom’s Quick Start guide recommended it over the alternatives as easier to configure—I opted for that choice. Unfortunately, it turns out that certain Macintosh computers have a hard time recognizing WEP keys as hexadecimal code, and one of these—the MacBook Air—was a system I needed to have connected to the network.
After unsuccessfully trying out a couple of workarounds, we opted to venture into the previously unknown territory of WPA (“Wi-Fi Protected Access”)—specifically WPA2-Personal. It turns out that there’s virtually nothing to setting it up. You enter a ‘pass-phrase’ on the unit’s Wireless Setup page, save it to Flash, and you’re done. Problem solved; MacBook authenticated.
Late Bulletin: Zoom’s engineers have found a workaround for 64-bit WEP on a MacBook that you can find here. Unfortunately, as described—using a wired LAN connection—it still wouldn’t work with the MacBook Air, as it has no physical LAN port, just Wi-Fi. Go with WPA.
Another “issue” came to light when I attempted to print across the LAN. It just wasn’t happening. Ongoing communication with Zoom’s patient support staff finally got to the bottom of the issue.
To make a long story short, I was replacing an existing network switch/router with the X6v—and I was running a firewall (Norton 360) on some of the network nodes. Norton was installed after that previous router and had mapped all the hardware connected to the network—including the router. It did not, however, recognize the new router—or the attached PCs—as “trusted” devices and wouldn’t allow communication between them. (Internet connectivity was not affected by this.)
Lesson learned: If you are retrofitting a LAN with new hardware, and you are running a firewall (which you should), you may need to reconfigure your firewall to get things working. This was definitely not a problem with the X6v, but we hope that subsequent editions of the Quick Start guide and the User Guide (which comes on the install disc as a PDF) will contain at least some mention of this possible difficulty.
After the adventures of setup and configuration, making calls using the Global Village (GV) service was almost anticlimactic. It just worked—and call quality initially seemed fine. It doesn’t make any difference what kind of phone you plug into the x6v. I used a fairly new, plain vanilla, analog AT&T 210, not an IP phone.
As mentioned, signing up for Global Village is a part of the Install Assistant routine. When you complete this process, GV issues you a seven-digit phone number, which is both your customer ID (and Website login) and your direct dial, GV-to-GV phone number.
GV-to-GV calls are free, anywhere in the world, as are calls to or from a number of other SIP communities, including Free World Dialup. (The GV Website tells you how to dial these.) A voicemail box is included with the service, as is five-way conferencing (not tested).
You can, optionally, get one or more incoming numbers (DIDs) in any state in the union. Cost: $3.95 per number per month. (Interestingly, you can get an incoming number in the UK for free!) DIDs are also available for quite a wide selection of overseas countries for a one-time setup fee and monthly charges that range from $8.95 per month (Croatia) to over $20 per month (Pakistan). Incoming calls on your DID (or DIDs) are free.
For other outbound calling, GV offers two payment plans. For $24.95 per month, you can get unlimited calling in the U.S. and Canada. The alternative is pay-as-you-go: You buy prepaid time (Skype style) by credit card, by PayPal, or using a prepaid GV card. Domestic PSTN and mobile calls are billed at a tad under .04 cents per minute, while overseas calls to many major destinations run just under 3 cents per minute.
That said, there are lots of little rough edges to the Global Village service. For example, I signed up for a DID, but didn’t receive it, as promised, via e-mail—until I queried my tech support contacts at Zoom.
Furthermore, GV supposedly sends e-mail notifications of voicemail messages—even offers to send .WAV recordings of messages via e-mail if the customer chooses. I did select the voicemail-via-e-mail option, but never received either a notification or a .WAV file. I was, however, able to retrieve voicemails by phone, in the usual manner.
When combing the Global Village website to find out why my Caller ID was not appearing on GV calls (turns out it’s the X6v’s job, not GV’s), I came across an encouraging Web link to “live technical support,” but it didn’t work. You get the idea.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must report that I experienced some uneven call quality using the X6v and the GV service; in some instances the problems were severe. It can be quite difficult to pinpoint the source of quality problems in IP phone calls without a lot of test equipment, and in fairness—having experienced similar problems with another VoIP setup, in which neither Zoom nor Global Village was involved—I now believe the most likely origin of the QoS issues was my DSL provider, not inadequate bandwidth or the GV Service.
Bottom line, the X6v Gateway is a very cool product. At $129 it is a cost effective way to add broadband voice to a home LAN, while supporting both wired and Wi-Fi connected PCs—especially if you’re just setting up the network, since, as we said at the outset, it replaces four pieces of hardware and their electricity-guzzling power supplies.
The issues I encountered during setup and configuration don’t reflect poor engineering or anything that could reasonably be considered design flaws, although, as mentioned, we could hope for a bit more proactive guidance in the documentation. Zoom’s technical support staff are accessible and dedicated.
As to Global Village, it won’t cost you much to try it out—you get 10 minutes of free phone time when you sign up—and maybe you’ll have a better experience than we did. If you do, the price is certainly right, and you’ll have free dialup access to members of other SIP communities. If not, there are plenty of affordable SIP providers.