ZyXel Communications
ZyXel's P-2000W handset makes connecting to the Web as easy as finding an 802.11b network.
By Columnist
msnbc.com
updated 8/11/2005 11:32:58 AM ET 2005-08-11T15:32:58

Connecting a new phone in your home is becoming very easy. In some cases you don’t even have to plug them into any kind of phone jack. New VoIP phones are coming to market which allow you to charge the batteries, turn them on, and connect via any wireless network.

VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol and looks like the next big thing in telephone service. Thousands agree — taking advantage of low rates from companies like Vonage, Verizon, SunRocket, Skype and Gizmo.

VoIP enables you to use the Internet to make telephone calls by sending your voice as data packets over the Web. I was so impressed by one service that I’m using them exclusively in my new apartment. That means there is no old-fashioned wired phone line in my home. 

So far everything works perfectly – fluctuating summertime electrical services haven’t affected my phone service at all.   I have a number of cell phone accounts as back-up just in case.  Plus, my new VoIP phone lines have all been registered with local 911 services in case of an emergency. 

Currently, my VoIP phones physically attach to a VoIP modem which plugs into my cable modem and my WiFi access point. Because I like using my phones all over my home, I use wireless phones everywhere. But, that means there are a lot of connecting wires and AC cords (all sorts of modems, connecting boxes and phones) in one location.

That’s why I was so interested in the new breed of VoIP phones that connect to the Internet over a WiFi network without needing a VoIP modem. How great can that be?

ZyXel is a company I’ve known about for years. In the heyday of Internet modem connections ZyXel made great modems. Now, they’re one of the first companies to bring a WiFi VoIP phone to market.

ZyXel’s Prestige P-2000W v.2 is a pretty sophisticated handset. It not only handles WiFi and VoIP connections it also supports the open standard SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), which interoperates with major SIP-based call servers, IP-PBXs and various VoIP client devices.

I was amazed at the P-2000W’s size. It’s slim and slick. Everything you need to deal with is available through the phone’s menu system. The phone was already programmed with a VoIP test account from a company called T-Glo.  You can use the phone over your VoIP provider’s network once you get the information from the carrier.  Then again, if you buy a VoIP – WiFi phone from your carrier it should come pre-programmed like my sample did.

I followed the instructions and asked the phone to find nearby 802.11b or 802.11g wireless networks. After a few tries it found my home access point. I typed in my network’s security code – the phone re-booted and was ready to make clear sounding phone calls. 

But, it didn’t stop there. I took the phone with me to a number of friends’ homes and tried it there. All I had to do is ask the phone to find nearby networks and join them. It was even able to find others’ WiFi networks as I walked though Manhattan (no, I didn’t try connecting).

The ZyXel also worked at my local coffee house (after entering the account information). I can’t wait to try it in the airport waiting lounge. We’re talking here same number that can go with me almost everywhere. When these phones can handle WiFi and the upcoming wide-area WiMax service VoIP could rival cellular phone service. This idea could really catch on.

Zyxel says you can attach as many as 10 of these phones (each with separate accounts and phone numbers) to a single broadband network without degrading sound quality on any of the connections. You may not need that many phone lines in your home but that's pretty amazing technology.

As an aside, I love the slightly rude little noise the handset makes when you press the send button and it connects to the network. It let’s you know that it is on the job. 

The ZyXel handset is not perfect.  Here is my short wish list of improvements I’d like to see:

  • I’d love a little more range — there are spots in my apartment where computers can connect to my WiFi network but the P-2000W won’t even see it.
  • Battery life could be better — 12 hours per charge is less than half of what it should be.
  • It would be nice if the phone came with a charging base.  That way a user would have a nice place to store and charge the phone while it’s not pressed against your ear.

The ZyXel Prestige P-2000W v.2 sells for around $200 on numerous Web sites.  I’m sure as more and more similar products are released prices will become a lot more competitive.  It’s not perfect, but once it's set up, it is very easy to use.  I’ll be sad when I have to return my old handset.

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