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March 1999


MVP200 MultiVoIP
Multi-Tech Systems, Inc.
2205 Woodale Drive
Mounds View, Minnesota 55112
Ph: 800-328-9717
Fx: 612-785-9874
E-mail: info@multitech.com
Web site: www.multitech.com

List Price: $1,749; (Street Price: about $1,200)

RATINGS (0-5)
Installation: 5
Documentation: 4
Features: 3.5
Operational Testing: 4.5
Overall: B+

Through our experiences of installing and testing several manufacturers' IP gateways, we've learned some truths on the matter. For example, black-box gateways tend to perform better than PC-based gateways and deceased latency or increased feature sets exist at the sacrifice of sound quality. The initial cost issue also supports the advantage of the black-box approach.

Multi-Tech's MVP200 MultiVoIP is no exception, but its uniqueness stems from its compromises. It doesn't cost much, there is exceptional sound quality, and the documentation makes it simple to install - but the latency, feature set, and scalability are only of average quality. Do not buy this gateway if you're planning large-scale voice implementations. However, for smaller companies or for companies who intend to use IP mostly for fax purposes, the MultiVoIP should be a strong consideration.

INSTALLATION
When we test gateways, we order them in pairs, and we install them on a "clean" and manageable network so that other factors don't interrupt. This network consists solely of the two gateways and our Hammer IT testing system, with all three devices on one hub. This ideal, laboratory environment is obviously not a real-world test, but by comparing every gateway in the same fashion, we can begin to compare them to each other and to the developer's claims.

The bottom line on the MultiVoIP installation process is this: If we could give a higher grade than 5, we would. Here's why:

When installing gateways, major issues include PBX integration and complexity. The MultiVoIP's two ports are configurable for FXO, FXS, and E&M styles. To minimize external variables that would differ from system to system, we eliminated the step of connecting a PBX between the outside world and our network, opting to test only the intranet telephony. Unlike other CTI products we test, speed is not an issue when installing gateways, but we must mention it here because we've never seen a pair of gateways successfully installed in less than half a day before. Conversely, the MutliVoIPs were working in less than thirty minutes, complete with telephone extensions mapped to IP addresses, multiple voice coders installed and our Hammer IT system communicating with the gateways without obstacles. For the issue of requisite man-hours during installation, the MultiVoIP is the best we've ever seen.

Our favorite installation aspect was the simplicity, however. System administrators need not be trained interconnects; a mid-level MIS manager can do the job just as well. Each gateway has five connections including an RJ-45 Ethernet port, an Ethernet-to-serial port connection to connect the controlling PCs, AC power, two FXS ports for analog devices, and two FXO and E&M ports for connecting analog lines. When the cabling process was complete, we switched on both systems, and the gateways began a POST process that lasted just a few minutes. When the boot LEDs go off, software installation can begin.

According to Multi-Tech, the software can run on any Windows 95 or 98 machine, but common sense and experience tells us never to attempt a gateway environment on non-NT platforms. The computers we used were identical Pentium IIs running at 300 MHz, one with 64 MB RAM and one with 96 MB. Both systems ran NT 4.0 Server with Service Pack 4.

The MultiVoIP software installation is for configuration and maintenance purposes only - it doesn't need to run while the gateways are in use, which is why we still classify the actual gateways as black boxes instead of hybrid systems. The gateways themselves are quite small and weigh just 2 pounds each.

During setup, administrators enter data for the COM ports, IP addresses, subnet masks, and gateway addresses. Configuring the gateways involves a master/slave relationship and the usual proprietary routing tables. The documentation for this installation is very good, and every step includes its own screen shot. As we stated above, this product is a winner for its installation. It would have been difficult not to get these gateways working on the first try.

DOCUMENTATION
A printed quick start guide and an online .PDF user's manual are included. Every step in the installation was completed using just the quick start guide, which speaks highly of the Multi-Tech technical writers. The .PDF manual includes six chapters, three appendices and a glossary. Topics include an introduction, installation, software configuration, software features, remote configuration, support, TCP/IP, cabling, and regulatory information. The glossary includes about 250 industry terms, and is a nice feature, especially for novices. Clearly, the manual is written with the beginner in mind. Step-by-step instructions, diagrams, and simple English explanations are abundant here.

FEATURES
Important features found in most gateways (or available as third-party modules) include gatekeeper/billing software, security/data encryption, remote/Web-based management, and advanced rules-based calling patterns with LCR. Our edition of the MultiVoIP does not offer the gatekeeper/billing services, but a newer upgrade available when you read this will have primitive versions of these features. Our version did include remote management, accessible with a Telnet session or through an IP connection. Other MultiVoIP features include:

  • Ability to download firmware and vocoders.
  • Address book.
  • SNMP management.
  • Pulse/Tone dialing with regional options.
  • Adjustable inter-digit dialing time.
  • Tone and Wink options.
  • Auto Call.
  • Fax baud rate/volume.
  • Silence compression/error cancellation.
  • Hunt groups.
  • Ethernet/proxy server setup.

OPERATIONAL TESTING
There are 22 vocoders to choose from, spanning five vocoder families, including G.711, G.726, G.727, G.723 and NetCoder. We know that there is a direct correlation between packet latency and speech scores; measurements are taken using time-stamping and the ITU's Perceptual Speech Quality Measurement system. (Tolerable PSQM scores for IP gateways include anything below a 5; good scores include anything below a 4; exceptional scores are 3 and below. Scores on the PSTN usually fall well below a 3.)

Although some of the proprietary NetCoder compressions may have worked better, we chose to test the MultiVoIP with the G.723.1 compression at 6.3 Kbps because the G.7xx family is more common and more easily compared between products. Multi-Tech also provides a 5.3 Kbps version of the G.723.1 compression, but that ratio would cause the latency figures to be too high to be useful. At 6.3 Kbps, spanning a 70-call sampling, the PSQM scores were 2.63 for children's voices, 2.64 for adult males, and 2.25 for females. These numbers are impressive, but conversely, the latency average for the same sampling was 134.5 ms. That figure is good compared to PC-based gateways, but quite poor for a black-box system. Overall, these results matched our hypothesis. Smaller samplings with lesser compressions (for example, 8 or 16 Kbps) successfully decreased the latency but made the PSQM scores unacceptable.

To develop a test of the fax capability, we removed the telephones from both of the MultiVoIP FXS ports and replaced them with fax devices. One device was a Brooktrout 2-port TR-114 series fax board; the other was a regular fax machine. At the computer where the fax board was installed, we initiated a sample DOS fax test created by Omtool (we were testing their Fax Sr. program at the time). The sample fax successfully navigated itself out of the fax board, to a MultiVoIP, across the network, to the second MultiVoIP, and to the fax machine. Success! We didn't save any money, of course, because both fax devices are here in one office - not exactly a toll call. Even our cross-town office is a local call, so we did not have a long-distance path with which to test. If the call had been long-distance, the benefits would be that much more tangible.

We have no issues with the overall usability of the MutliVoIPs. Standard Windows conventions are used throughout the GUI; dialing plans, routing tables and security/user features are easily configured; and there is no requirement to have any software running for the gateways to function normally. We expect larger versions of the gateway, such as 4- and 8-port versions, to be available in the future.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
We're told by Multi-Tech engineers that many of the same suggestions we have are already incorporated for the minor release available when you read this. These modifications include FXO-to-FXO capability, with a customizable disconnect tone, and with additional disconnects with current loss or programmable silence time-outs. There will also be advanced call logging, advanced password security and user authentication, and a dynamic jitter buffer, which is an important feature that's conspicuously missing from the current firmware. We're also told that there are efforts to decrease latency, to increase fax reliability and to improve the error cancellation algorithm. Still, we'd like to see more advanced sample applications included, we feel that the features section of the user's manual could use some re-organization and administrator's tutorials, and the online help feature needs a major upgrade. Help topics, although they are context-sensitive, could be linked to relevant topics from the online user's manual. There are some shortcomings in the complexity/customizability of the routing tables. Features we'd like to see include support for conference calls, an automated way of managing daisy-chained gateways, and screens like the ones for channel and IP statistics  need improvements to make their data more meaningful.

CONCLUSION
For smaller organizations with a tight budget and voice/fax needs, the MVP200 MultiVoIP system should be considered. It is easy to install, it is inexpensive, it is easy to upgrade, and it is highly functional. However, it is not H.323 compliant, the documentation is only average, and its feature set hits on some key Internet telephony issues but misses on others. The MultiVoIP comes very, very close to earning our Editor's Choice award, but it's just not yet powerful enough. Future versions could cross the line by retaining the simple installation process and low cost while adding scalability, management, and some of the technical features outlined above.







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