The broadband router with VoIP and Wi-Fi is well on its way to becoming a solid product category, but there is still a lot of variation between different products within this broad definition.
The P (for Prestige) 2602HW from ZyXel joins a group of other products including the AVM Fritz!Box 7140, the Thomson Speedtouch 780WL, the Intertex SurfinBird IX68 and the Draytek Vigor 2800VG, all of which combine broadband access with VoIP and Wi-Fi. But, like the others, it has strengths and weaknesses.
A smart looking box
Unlike other products (and previous Zyxel products we have seen) this one is is designed to stand vertically. Most such routers either sit flat on rubber feet, or go upright in a stand. This one is tapered so it only stands one way - upright, and the shiny look is designed to look alright on a domestic bookshelf. It's bigger and heavier than the Fritz, Vigor or Intertex boxes, and feels robust.
At the back are the usual ports for Ethernet, two phones, and the DSL. Unlike some models (such as the Draytek) this allows phones to dial out on the PSTN line as well as the VoIP line, so there's a socket for the phone line. There's no USB to share printers or storage.
Plugging in and starting up is easy enough. The Phone 1 port works on the PSTN even when there is no power to the Zycwl, so it's worth making a note of which phone this is.
The management screen - at 184.108.40.206 - is straightforward, with a wizard to set up standard items, and an Advanced screen to tweak other features. Overall the UIO design is clear and sensible.
The wizard prompts for DSL settings, Wi-Fi parameters, and SIP credentials, as well as usefully prompting to change the default system password and to turn on Wi-Fi security. The Wizard loads first, but there's a check box to default to the advanced page in future.
Loading DSL parameters works fine (though for some reason our details didn't work in the wizard, but worked in the Advanced page). The router's Status page then tells you the raw capability of the DSL line (8M down, 100k up on our TalkTalk broadband), while the Maintenance page gives a range of tests of the actual performance.
We also found Port 1 can act as an uplink, so we could also use the box with the Ethernet ports provided by our main Internet connection - a point-to-point wireless service provided by Urban Wimax. In this mode, it kept its role as DHCP server on our part of the LAN, so we could still access the management interface, as well as the web.
The firewall on the box can be tweaked and rules set up.
The box caters for Wi-Fi-only households: security is turned off at first to let you get on straight away, and there's a ZyXel specific easy-security set-up, if you have a ZyXel NIC. The Wi-Fi includes all of the usual security options -- WEP, as well as WPA and WPA2, both with or without the pre-shared key (PSK) required in SOHO setups.
It gives the option not to broadcast the SSID - which may reduce casual access by neighbours - and MAC address filtering. It includes the offer of 802.11g+ mode (one of the proprietary speedboosts from the 802.11g era). It also can act as a repeater or bridge.
The Wi-Fi signal reaches the usual distance of an 802.11g box, making a perfectly acceptable access point. It also includes the comparatively new WMM for quality of service over the wireless LAN.
It's worth mentioning that the documentation on the disk gives a very full explanation of Wi-Fi issues, including the use of RTS/CTS to avoid hidden node problems, EAP types and other issues.
The ZyXel gets good marks for making the VoIP implementation close to "real" telephony, but loses some kudos for a lack of flexibility.
The two phone ports default to whatever SIP accounts have been registered, but both can also dial on the PSTN. The Phone 1 port still works on the PSTN if the box loses power - useful in a power cut and/or emergency.
Unusually, the dial-tone sounds the same whether on PSTN or VoIP. The ports default to using VoIP, but can dial on the PSTN, after a pre-set prefix. The default is "0000" but this can be changed. The device happily handles multiple calls at the same time. Internal calls are by dialling "####" to call the box's other extension
The box only has room for two SIP accounts, which can be used from either phone port. In the VOIP settings, it is possible to select which VoIP accounts are used on which port. It is also possible to select which phone will ring for incoming VoIP and PSTN calls. You can tell the device to fall back to PSTN if the VoIP doesn't work, and conversely to use VoIP if the PSTN is unplugged.
Like many such devices, it includes a phone book, for people that want to dial VoIP calls from their PC. There wasn't a log of calls made, that I could find in the management screens.
Some of the functions of this device seem to have been limited in the interests of simplicity for SOHO use. For instance, there is little in the way of dialling rules.
However the quality of the user interface, and the box's seemingly foolproof nature make it very attractive.
SOHO users could find this meets their needs. It's a steady untemperamental box, with enough flexibility.