The i.Picasso can paint voice over IP

The i.Picasso can paint voice over IP

Congruency's stylish i.Picasso 6000 IP phone has a large and versatile color display, but executing commands takes a while because of delays in executing menu commands.

The i.Picasso 6000 IP phone from Congruency Inc. is not quite a technological work of art. Although it functions over an Internet connection, it requires a dedicated network running several applications to support IP service.

The Congruency Network System 3200 has a Gatekeeper function for telecommunications standards such as H.323 teleconferencing or Session Initiated Protocol, voice mail, an Auto Attendant that directs incoming and outgoing calls, and a proxy server that streams the calls.

Depending on an office's size and needs, these apps can reside on a single server or on separate, dedicated servers.

The GCN Lab connected two i.Picasso 6000 IP phones via an Ethernet router from Netopia Inc. of Alameda, Calif., to a Congruency Network System platform running Linux in New Jersey. It took the lab staff about four hours, with help from Congruency technicians, to set up the phones and establish the connection to the New Jersey server.

We asked GCN employees to make U.S. and international calls and report their results. On one call, the numbers 911 were entered in the middle of a long sequence of numbers.

See it on 'Cops'

Congruency's server recognized the 911 in that sequence and called the police. Because our phones had a direct virtual private network connection to New Jersey, local New Jersey police were alerted and rushed to Congruency's offices.

We wondered what would have happened if we had had offices in Washington and New Jersey, and we were served by the Congruency server in New Jersey. Would the cops show up in the wrong state responding to a 911 call? Congruency representatives said no because the VPNs would be set up so that the network center was aware of the different locations. They immediately fixed the glitch so we could continue our testing.

Our volunteer testers found the $700 i.Picasso phones sluggish in menu navigation. Each command took an average of five seconds to execute, sometimes up to 20 seconds, through the embedded VX Works operating system and 75-MHz Motorola Power PC 823E processor with 16M of dynamic RAM.

We're unsure if the lag was hardware-related or caused by the VPN connection or the New Jersey server. The company engineers who set up the VPN said they have similar home connections to the same network center with little to no lag.

Despite slow application performance, the i.Picasso phones showed great versatility. They were almost like mega-size personal digital assistants with Web access from their 320- by 240-pixel, 256-color LCDs.

Furthermore, the phones can centralize their users' address books and contacts over the office network. That would make the shared information available to the network fax, printer, scanner and copier.

Users could call and send e-mail directly from their address books. Imagine how much easier videoconferencing would be with such a service on your network or how organized you'd be if you could synchronize your handheld computer through the phone's Universal Serial Bus port.

Unfortunately, the i.Picasso's pre-plug-and-play technology is still too immature for such scenarios. The handy uses mentioned above have to be configured and then maintained by an engineer or administrator.

That's why we didn't test the phones with fax, print or scan services. We couldn't even synchronize anything with the phones without help from a Congruency IP guru.

A communications infrastructure that requires frequent, large-scale administration is iffy when the industry is always changing. Government users can probably get by without a network printer, but not without phones'when the network goes down, phone service will be down, too.

Easy Web access

We found the phone menus clear, logically designed and easy to use. Retrieving messages and administering voice mail, e-mail or fax options took only a series of taps on the color LCD. Even accessing the preconfigured Web applications required only a button tap at the right side of the phone followed by a choice of icons on the LCD.

For example, tap the Weather Channel icon, and a color Web scrape of www.weatherchannel.com comes up.

The phone connections were crystal-clear, and we never encountered a snag in receiving or making calls. The Congruency network's voice gateway router, depending on where you're calling from, sends calls to another voice-over-IP network or to the public switched network.

Can IP phones save money? Maybe. If you have offices in San Francisco as well as Washington, both sites can use the Congruency service and save on long-distance calls. But the service isn't available everywhere.

And although IP telephony theoretically is free, Congruency's service isn't. Depending on your office size, it could cost $50 to $250 a user per month.

We called across the country to San Francisco and across the world to India and Paris, France. As with land-line calls over great distances, we sometimes got bad connections and had to call back, but most of the time the connections sounded fine.

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