I knew the IQ1500 was special when the Versatel Networks engineer supporting the machine used it to call SIP phones elsewhere on the network. Soon, he was switching calls without using the installed PBX. Then he started setting up conference calls without using the PBX. Clearly, this was a lot more than just a media gateway.

As it turns out, the IQ1500 does quite a lot more. During tests at the University of Hawaii's Advanced Network Computing Laboratory, I used the IQ1500 Intelligent Media Gateway to make VoIP connections to the outside world. That’s the primary function of a media gateway: to connect your VoIP service running across Ethernet to the public telephone network and to a WAN.

Because it sits at the edge of the voice network, a media gateway is in a position to do everything from providing security to offloading functions from the central PBX. Most media gateways simply provide access to the PSTN, the Internet, or a T1 line; IQ1500 can handle a number of functions at the edge.

Likewise, the IQ1500 can act as a security gateway, using what Versatel calls "topology hiding," which works in much the same way as network address translation. The only IP address visible to the world is the one used by the IQ1500, preventing access to devices on the network.

Configuring and managing the IQ1500 was fairly easy with the included Web-based GUI. You must know enough about media gateways and VoIP to make informed decisions, but you won't have to dive into reference manuals just to make a setting change.

As you’d expect, the IQ1500 can choose to send local calls out via the PSTN in every case and it’s able to route long distance through a WAN. You can set up routing instructions that take into account local presence you may have in other locations, and route calls there for access to the PSTN in those areas.

In addition, the IQ1500 can discern if the Ethernet connection to the outside world goes down, and it will seamlessly transition calls to the PSTN. The IQ1500 also has its own conferencing bridge, which means that you don’t have to buy this feature for your PBX.

The IQ1500 allows a great deal of flexibility in handling your calls. You can restrict some types of calls, such as long distance or international, to only certain users, or you can restrict all users from some specific numbers or area codes. You can even require the use of numeric codes, such as PIN or project codes, before users are allowed to use services such as long distance.

IQ1500 sets itself apart from other gateways because it runs applications that supplement the gateway functionality. Versatel plans to offer applications as add-ons, and one, IQroute, has just been shipped; a beta copy of IQroute was installed on the IQ1500 that I tested.

IQroute is an edge routing app that allows the media gateway to choose the proper network for a call, either as a way to bypass bad connections or to choose the lowest cost or best quality. Normally these applications would run on the PBX and add extra load, but IQroute eases the burden.

Even better, Versatel publishes APIs, known as IQscript, so users can write their own applications, such as conferencing or apps that reflect their company call-handling preferences.

The IQ1500 can be a media server, it can control SoftSwitch connections, and it can run in a distributed environment. Additionally, if your environment becomes especially large, you can easily scale to the IQ4000 by purchasing a new chassis and moving line cards and other components over from the IQ1500.

I was impressed with the IQ1500's range of capabilities and ease of management. One Versatel engineer suggested that you could dispense with a PBX and just use the IQ1500; I wasn't able to test that claim, but I was able to confirm that this is much more impressive than your father's media gateway.


OUR VERDICT

The IQ1500 is a very flexible, extremely powerful VoIP solution. In addition to providing T1/E1 connections, it offers SS7 signalling, supports H.323 and SIP, and provides significant security features. Application support includes IQscript APIs for creating custom applications, as well as add-on apps from Versatel Networks.