Review: ZyXEL VoIP WiFi Phone

It is serendipidty that I am posting the review of ZyXEL VoIP Wi-Fi Phone, Presitge 2000W. It is one of the many new handsets which are going to come to market, and perhaps grant us freedom not only from the tyranny of Baby Bells, but also from concept of location, and accessiblity.

If you had read my earlier post, The Rise of the WiFi Phones, one of the readers posted this very prescient comment: “VoIP over WiFi, will eventually decimate ARPU, expecially MOP (minutes over plan). Thus even as the cellular business has been built on wireless MOUs being substituted for wired, they can’t afford to be co-opted themselves.” I agree, but I still think after using this one phone, we are still ways for the cellular providers pressing the panic button. However, this handset basically within twenty minutes of use has me convinced that the wireline companies are going to be in even more trouble.

Anyway back to review. ZyXEL’s first wifi handset looks and reminds me of an old Nokia phone that was bundled with my TDMA wireless service from AT&T back in the day. It is a simple, yet elegant looking handset, which is small enough to slip into your computer bag, or a handbag. It weighs mere 110 grams and has an easy to grip shape and design. It comes with a tiny dock – plug the dock to an electrical outlet, and let the phone charge. In my tests I found the phone could go without a charge for about two days, with about two hours of talk time. It can handle all sorts of WiFi networks including the 802.11g network in my tiny apartment. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The Prestige 2000W is very easy to use and configure. It allows users to configure with LCD screen menu or web browser. Meanwhile, with the smart auto-provisioning mechanism, ITSPs can easily deploy and manage the VoIP services.

While setting up the phone was a breeze, configuring it was a whole different story. I wanted to attach the phone to my Vonage service. (You must have a softphone account in order to use this phone for VoIP-to-PSTN calls. IP-to-IP calls are fairly easy to make!) ZyXEL ships a manual with the phone, but is a tad confusing. Here is what you need to know before you can start making phone calls. ESSID, or the name of your wireless network; channel being used for the wireless networking, the SIP server IP, your softphone password, outbound SIP proxy server and also the port which is being used for the SIP communications. This is an easy enough for a hardcore geek, but if you happen to be a lovely houlian, I am pretty certain you would be reaching for a glass of Guiness.

Since I don’t own a Windows PC, the easy-browser based software that ships on the CD was of no use to me. I had to input all the information right on the phone, which is okay for a SMS fiend like me, but I am not sure how non-geeks would deal with this. Anyway I got most of the required information quite easily. The first snag I hit was the SIP server settings. I tried using the same server settings on my softphone, but that did not work. The great PR people sent me the correct IP address, but I wonder how the junta will over come this problem.

Once I had overcome this hurdle, it was all downhill. Within thirty seconds of inputing all the correct information, I was on the Vonage network, making phone calls. The phone quality was clearer than the quality I get on my broadband-to-analog Vonage phone connection, or on the softphone. No need to have an ugly headset to plug into your computer. Prestige 2000W looks and feel like a real phone. One thing to watch out though – there is no dial tone, so don’t get confused etc. There are other features which make this is a decent handset – address book and recent call information features take a cue from mobile phones.

Bottomline: I would recommend this phone to geeks, but newbies stay away unless you love a challenge. ZyXEL has produced a great phone, but user experience needs to improve. I think WiFi phones, if they need to fullfil their true potential need to be easier to use for the masses. I think folks like Vonage, VoiceGlo and others should sell these handsets preconfigured to their customers so that there are not too many things to worry about. I think they should be able to manage these phones remotely for grandma to get jiggy with VoIP. Still I think WiFi phones are going to become the “new IT” thing over next 12 months. Okay, now I got to go make a phone call to…

(For further details on ZyXEL P2000W)