- Review Price: £55.00
Now that the idea of using the Internet for making phone calls is catching on in all walks of life we’re starting to see some real bargains out on the streets. With the TA612V, consumer and small business champion Netgear has teamed up with service provider sipgate to deliver a complete VoIP (Voice over IP) package that aims to be small on price but big on ease of use. It uses the SIP (session initiation protocol) and as a sweetener comes with over nine hours of free calls to get you hooked.
The sipgate service offers some interesting possibilities as during registration for a SIP account UK residents can have an 0845 or 0870 number assigned or they can request a number using their area code. We found the process simple enough as you just register your personal details, select the number you’d prefer and activate the account. Account registration is free, there’s no minimum charge and you don’t have to pay a monthly fee either as you can top up your account at the sipgate web site whenever you want to. Tariffs are comparatively good as calls across the internal sipgate network and a number of other IP based service providers are free. Calls to a UK landline are 1.19p per minute whilst calls to mobiles will set you back 14.9p per minute – very similar to the Legend (www.legend.co.uk) service we use for most of our VoIP router tests.
The TA612V certainly looks a tidy one stop shop for implementing VoIP services but there are a couple of things you need to be aware of. First and foremost is the router is designed specifically to work only with the sipgate service. Unlike many VoIP routers, such as ZyXEL’s Prestige 2602HW, you do not have the option of manually entering SIP service provider details. The configuration process is locked down tight so the TA612V can only take these details from the sipgate web site. Furthermore, setting the unit back to factory defaults only resets the basic network configuration and administrative access rights and does not clear the VoIP settings.
Netgear also recommends that you do not use the TA612V behind an existing router and won’t offer any support if you run it in this configuration. The safest bet is to use it as the primary router on a broadband connection behind a simple ADSL modem equipped with an Ethernet port. However, if you’re prepared to get down and dirty with service rules it is possible to run it from behind another firewall. During testing with other products we had some mixed results as no extra configuration was needed when the TA612V was placed behind the Linux based IPcop business software firewall (www.ipcop.org). We also tested with a Netgear DG834GT router which required five custom services and inbound service rules to be created to allow incoming VoIP traffic to be passed to the TA612V.
Configuration is indeed a swift affair as after powering the TA612V up you can go straight to its web browser management interface where a wizard examines your Internet connection and sets the router up automatically. With Internet access up and running you then go to the sipgate web site for router configuration. After a reboot you’ll find that all the VoIP settings have been automatically entered. Usefully, the user manual and quick start guide for the TA612V are all provided on the sipgate web site for download.
There’s nothing to do from here on for VoIP as the web interface doesn’t allow you to touch this part of the router’s configuration. We found overall voice quality quite good although recipients of our test calls did comment on a slight background noise. Even so, we could hear them quite clearly with little evidence of interference. Naturally, you can expect call quality to suffer if your Internet connection is being used heavily for other purposes such as downloads during a call.
Logging in to your sipgate web account provides a wealth of call related information and you can keep an eye on your balance and top it up as required. We particularly liked the voice mail feature as you can activate this if an incoming call hasn’t been answered for so many seconds or if the phone is offline. The message is stored on the sipgate servers for your retrieval and you can also request that on receipt it is emailed to you as a WAV attachment. You can also have a notification that you have a voicemail sent to you via SMS and you can then dial in and listen to it using a normal landline or mobile if you wish, although this will cost you 9p per message.
General security features are present and correct as the TA612V offers a standard NAT/SPI firewall. Netgear claims the router offers content filtering but in reality this is nothing more than URL blocking which requires you to create a list of keywords and deny access to sites with these in their address.
”’Verdict”’ Considering the price we found this combo of SIP service provider and VoIP router particularly good value and ADSL modem users will find the installation procedures very slick. However, you can only use the sipgate service and if you want to use the TA612V behind another router then be prepared to fiddle with its firewall to get it to work.