Aastra offers plug-and-play VoIP

Aastra Technologies bills its VentureIP package as an enterprise-class, peer-to-peer, IP-based phone system that automatically configures itself - no complex setup or centralized server equipment required. In our Clear Choice test of the VentureIP system, we found that most of these claims were true.

Aastra Technologies bills its VentureIP package as an enterprise-class, peer-to-peer, IP-based phone system that automatically configures itself - no complex setup or centralized server equipment required.

In our Clear Choice test of the VentureIP system, we found that most of these claims were true. There is no central PBX or server, a full spectrum of enterprise telephony features is supported, reliability and call quality are good, and the auto-configuration of the system is impressive. On the downside - at least if you are considering an enterprise deployment - the system now only runs within one IP subnet, and there is no attendant console.


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Small to midsize businesses could see cost savings in several ways. First, the typical $1,000 per day for an IP-PBX installation, training and phone-cable testing is avoided. Second, with the plug-and-play and auto-configuration features, specialized administration costs are eliminated. Finally, a 50-station price for this package is less than $400 per user, 20% to 40% less than typical, low-end IP PBXs.

Using Category-5 10/100M bit/sec LAN connections, you attach VentureIP 480i telephones and VentureIP Gateway units to your switched network. You then plug up to four analog central office trunks into each gateway, turn everything on and step back.

In our tests, everything booted up OK, but the phones wouldn't let calls through. We needed to turn off the Internet Group Management Protocol (IGMP) Snooping feature in our Layer 3 Extreme Summit switch, which was hindering the passage of IP-multicast traffic. The system uses IP-multicast to locate, update and configure itself. Aastra says its auto-configuration process has been successfully tested on Layer 2 switches from D-Link Systems, Linksys, Netgear and SMC.

With IGMP Snooping turned off, the system's auto-configuration worked flawlessly. IP addresses and extension numbers were derived and assigned; the auto-attendant, voice mail and phone directory configured. Users could place and receive local and remote calls, get and retrieve voice mail, and use the full spectrum of telephony features (forward, hold and transfer).

The target installation is 50 stations with up to 200 extensions supported per system. Because more than 90% of PBX installations have 100 or fewer stations, the VentureIP would seem to fit well in this lower-end, phone-system marketplace.

The current release (2.8.2) requires that all VentureIP phone sets and gateways be contained within the same IP subnet. Aastra says it plans to add the ability to work across IP-routed links later this year. But until then, this IP-based system cannot take advantage of distance insensitivity, a hallmark of IP telephony through which a system's call control is distributed across multiple remote sites.

A plus for the VentureIP system is its standards support. A unique combination of Layer-2 discovery tools is used for all the auto-deployment features, but call control is Session Initiation Protocol (SIP )-based. Each phone incorporates full SIP endpoint functionality and the smarts to keep track of every other phone. Each phone handles and stores its own voice mail, up to 20 minutes of total storage. If a phone is unavailable, a caller can still leave voice mail for that extension. Another phone with extra storage capacity will accept the unavailable phone's voice mail messages and deliver the messages when the phone is available.

The phone sets are all powered by 802.3af -based Power over Ethernet. If your switches don't deliver this, Aastra offers small 802.3af power-insertion units.

As for classic telephony features, we exercised voice mail, three-party conferencing, forwarding and call transfer, hold, directory, redial, multiple call appearances, do-not-disturb and music-on-hold.

However, we found that a few features documented by the vendor were still not available, including the ability to tag VoIP traffic for a particular virtual LAN (for QoS handling) and the ability to send voice mail as e-mail attachments.

There are other fairly common options that competitive low-end IP-PBX makers offer that Aastra currently does not, including a softphone application, a subsystem for interactive voice response/voice recognition, call/contact center, text-to-speech, collaboration or multimedia. Also absent is an attendant console, hard or soft, which we feel is necessary in systems with more than 20 stations.

One key advanced feature that is supported is encrypted VoIP streams. We confirmed this system's encryption of voice-payload, real-time, transport protocol streams prevents VoIP conversations from being deciphered or replayed.

If an administrator wants to tailor the system, he can define many of the key parameters (IP addresses, DHCP and extension numbers) only via the phone buttons and display screen on the VentureIP. There is also Web browser access to each phone, but that only lets you change a handful of settings for that phone and user.

VentureIP 480i telephone and VentureIP Gateway OVERALL RATING
4.0
Company: Aastra Technologies Cost: $379 per IP telephone; $289 per four-port IP-analog gateway. Pros: Plug-and-play for the most part; no central-site servers or PBX; standards-based SIP; 802.3af power; intuitive operation. Cons: Currently limited to a single IP subnet; some IP telephony features not yet supported; needs an attendant console.
The breakdown   

Installation and configuration 25%

4.5
Features 25%3.5
Management & administration 25%3.5
Performance 25%4.5
TOTAL SCORE  4.0
Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional; 4: Very good; 3: Average; 2: Below average; 1: Consistently subpar

As more elaborate features are added to the system, management will need to expand. There currently is no real-time monitoring or activity reporting. There is no bandwidth management either, because currently only one vocoder, G.729a, is supported, and IP-WAN links are not.

The system gets high marks for performance. Because IP-call connectivity now is not supported over wide-area links, call quality and call setup times were all always good. We measured typical end-to-end latency for VoIP calls at just 69 millisec, virtually imperceptible to callers.

Aastra's VentureIP package delivers the classic telephony features most users would expect in a low-end phone system. While the vendor needs to shore up some of its IP-telephony features, his peer-to-peer phone system is sound, and it should be considered a viable, low-end, IP-telephony contender.

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Edwin Mier is president and David Mier is lab manager at Miercom, a product testing firm in East Windsor, N.J. They can be reached at ed@miercom.com and dmier@miercom.com.

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