MultiVOIP MVP 200 plugs into networks to deliver reliable, cheap phone service

MultiVOIP MVP 200 plugs into networks to deliver reliable, cheap phone service

By John Breeden II
GCN Staff

The Federal Technology Service's FTS 2001 program sells long-distance telephone service for pennies a minute, but what about free service over the Internet?

'No matter how distinctive a voice is, it can be reduced to a voice-over-IP data stream flowing across the Internet on, for the most part, phone lines.

I began testing Multi-Tech Systems Inc.'s MultiVOIP MVP 200 voice-over-IP box by plugging it into a network instead of a phone line.

Then I plugged a standard phone into the box and made calls over the Internet to a similarly configured Multi-Tech box elsewhere, bypassing any long-distance charges. I tested a total of four boxes, both over the Internet and over the GCN Lab's local network.

The MVP 200 box resembles a big, old-fashioned modem with green LED lights on the front showing the status of the network and any incoming or outgoing calls.

Setup is fairly easy. You plug an MVP 200 into a network switch and install the management software.

You must assign each MVP 200 a specific IP address so that other boxes on the network know where to find it.

If your network assigns a dynamic IP address each time a device logs in, you will have to make an exception for each box. The IP address serves as the Internet phone number for the other VOIP boxes to call, so it must remain constant.

Once the first box is set up, you repeat the process for the second, giving it the IP address of the first. Back at the first box, you enter the IP information for the second unit. Then, like the red phones at the White House and the Kremlin, the boxes can exclusively call each other. Set up as many other boxes as you want, continuing to tell them all the IP addresses.

Once the boxes are configured, you can dial the number of any station from any phone that plugs into an MVP 200.

Let's chat

In the GCN Lab, the remote phone was at Station 201. A user at Station 101 would call 201 by picking up the phone, listening for a dial tone and dialing 2, then 0, then 1. When the phone at Station 201 rang, anyone could answer and talk normally.

Two minor problems surfaced during testing. First, it took a second or two for the system to turn voice sounds into data and reassemble them after they had crossed the Internet.

The delay was more noticeable when two MVPs were in the same room than when one was at a distant location. If you have ever talked over a satellite connection, you know how the conversation tends to hiccup a bit.

The second problem was an echo at the beginning of each call that made it sound as though the speaker was in an underground cavern.

Although both boxes in the Internet call tests were in Washington, the GCN Lab staff routed the calls through servers in New York at random times during the day and night. The quality never wavered because of Internet congestion. A voice conversation requires only about 6 Kbps of bandwidth and does not degrade when traffic is heavy. The ear does a good job of connecting the dots if there are communication holes.

A side advantage of setting up such a voice-over-IP network is that it lays the groundwork for faxing via IP, too. Plug a fax machine into an MVP 200 box to get free faxing between stations at 14.4 Kbps. You can even hook up an answering machine to an MVP station to record messages.

The unit itself is initially expensive at $1,749 per box'not a good investment for calls across town. But two boxes a country or an ocean apart could quickly repay the investment, depending on the frequency of long-distance calls.

Government organizations with far-flung field offices would benefit most.

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