Vonage Unlimited review

If you need any convincing that voice over IP is the next big thing in computing, you only need to look at this product. It isn’t a piece of hardware, nor a service, but a combination of both. In the same way your broadband supplier probably provides a ‘free’ ADSL modem when you sign up to its service, so Vonage is bundling the Linksys RT31P2-VU when you sign up to either its Residential Unlimited or Small Business Unlimited plans.

Vonage Unlimited review

Whereas other SIP (session initiation protocol) VoIP services require technical knowledge to set up your broadband telephony, the Linksys comes preconfigured for Vonage. The company claims installation takes five minutes. Other than cloning the MAC address for a cable modem service, we found installation was indeed a plug-in affair.

Like the Draytek and ZyXel routers, the RT31P2-VU incorporates two analog phone ports, so you just need to plug in a standard handset. However, unlike the DrayTek, the Linksys doesn’t have a built-in ADSL modem. Instead, it includes a WAN port, so you’ll need either a cable modem or an ADSL modem equipped with Ethernet.

The RT31P2-VU has all the usual features: port forwarding, port triggering, UPnP triggering and a DMZ can all be set up. Best of all, there’s a Quality of Service setting to force the router to give a specific amount of upstream bandwidth to your voice data. This will ensure that no sudden upload from other network devices can interrupt phone calls – sound quality was also immaculate during testing. The Linksys directly supports dynamic DNS updating via the DynDNS.org or TZO.com services. It even offers MAC filtering, which is more normally associated with wireless networks. For the business user, a VPN passthrough feature can allow or disallow IPsec, PPTP and PPPoE traffic.

The Vonage service is feature-rich too. The main difference between the Residential and Small Business options is that the latter includes a dedicated fax line. The web interface to the account gives easy access to the bundled Voicemail Plus service, while Caller Display, Call Waiting, Call Diversion and 3-Way Calling are all easy to configure and are included in the monthly fee. An extra £3 a month will even give you a local phone number in the US, Canada or Mexico. So if you know someone in any of these locations, they can call you at local rates.

Call rates are a mixed bag, though. The highlights are free UK local and national calls, and cheap evening and weekend mobile calls. But international rates aren’t otherwise quite as good in comparison with competitors such as PipeCall and sipgate. With its high charges, the Vonage services are best suited to those who make a lot of UK calls; more than seven hours each month. Even then PipeCall will still work out cheaper, although you’ll have to supply your own hardware.

But that will at least give you flexibility. The limitation with the Linksys RT31P2-VU is that it isn’t a WLAN access point as well, which stymies the simplicity of the Vonage service. If you want the flexibilities of wireless networking with your broadband – and we suspect you will – the RT31P2-VU will leave you to add an access point of your own.

Vonage may have taken the hassle out of router configuration required by SIP, and its service has more features than a normal phone line. But you sacrifice the convenience of the all-in-one wireless broadband router in return.

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