Hybrid VoIP telephony products

Last week we confessed to a VoIP product backlog and we began to reduce the queue by looking at software-only, Session Inititation Protocol-based VoIP PBXs and adapters that let you use analog phones with a SIP-based service.

This week we'll look at a couple of hybrid telephony solutions, which combine analog phones with VoIP.

Our first product is Actiontec's VoSky Call Center. The VoSky Call Center (VCC) is a micro-PBX that supports one Skype line and a plain old telephone service (POTS) line or a VoIP service that presents what looks like a POTS line (such as Vonage).

Many moons ago we reviewed and liked Actiontec's Internet Phone Wizard. We like this new product even more.

A nice feature of the hardware, besides being small (11.5 by 8.5 by 2.5 centimeters), is that it doesn't require YAWW (Yet Another Wall Wart) because it is powered by its USB connection to your PC.

When we referred to the VCC as a micro-PBX we weren't kidding: It lets you make and take calls on your POTS or Skype line, and you can use the built-in call-waiting features to toggle between lines. There's support for Skype's speed-dialing feature, and you can enable "follow me" to route incoming Skype calls to a POTS number and incoming POTS calls to a Skype number.

But wait - there's more! You also can call in on the POTS line, and with the right security code the VCC will route your call to Skype and let you call any number on the Skype network.

If the Skype user is unavailable at the time the VCC can automatically call you back. It also provides a voice mail service that takes messages from your POTS line and Skype line.

The VCC is a terrific piece of engineering, and for $60 it is a steal for anyone who uses Skype along with a POTS line or standards-based VoIP services and who would prefer to have just one handset.

Actiontec also offers larger $1,000 systems that add four or eight Skype lines to existing PBXs and offer loads more features.

Our other hybrid VoIP device this week is the TalkSwitch 284vs from Centrepoint Technologies. This is a PBX that comes with all of the expected features, such as support for four POTS lines and eight local analog or IP extensions along with 10 remote extensions.

Other TalkSwitch models support two or eight POTS lines and four local analog or IP extensions, and you can add eight IP extensions as an option. What's interesting is that all the models support four VoIP trunk lines.

Another neat feature is that as many as four TalkSwitch units can be connected over a LAN to give a maximum capacity of 16 POTS lines and 16 VoIP trunks and as many as 32 local and 40 remote extensions with a maximum of 64 IP extensions.

Installation and setup was easy enough but, as you might expect, there are lots of configuration details to deal with - not surprising given what these devices can do.

We set up the TalkSwitch with a POTS line and an external SIP service line. For extensions we used a TalkSwitch TS-600 phone, which is a sophisticated analog business speakerphone, along with a regular analog phone connected to an analog port on the 284vs, and an analog phone connected by a D-Link VoIP DVG-2001S terminal adapter as a SIP phone. Everything worked beautifully.

The TalkSwitch is a really good PBX but its addition of more or less seamless VoIP support puts it in a completely different class. Priced at $1,400, the TalkSwitch 284vs and the TalkSwitch TS-600 phone at $189 are an excellent value.

See this week's Gearhead Extra for some more notes on these products.

Read more of Gearhead's thoughts on these hybrid telephony products.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.