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Product Reviews
February 2001

 

Komodo Fone 300

Komodo Technology, Inc. (recently acquired by Cisco Systems, Inc.)
170 Knowles Dr.
Los Gatos, CA 95032
Ph: 408-871-3488 Fx: 408-871-3480

Price: $189 List Price

Editor's Choice Award

RATINGS (0-5)
Installation: 5
Documentation: 4.75
Features: 4.75
TUI: 5
Overall: A-


In the September 2000 issue we reviewed an earlier version of the Komodo Fone 300 (KF300), a sleek little appliance allowing you to make IP calls through a regular phone without using a PC. Working with cable, DSL, fixed-wireless, and other Ethernet connections, the KF300 can be simultaneously connected to a regular phone line so that users can make both VoIP and PSTN calls through the same phone. Since then we've had a chance to try out a newer version, which expands upon the same feature set through the addition of H.323 support, where the earlier version only supported the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).

INSTALLATION
Installation was not really any different than it was for the non-H.323 model, except for a variation on our part: This time we tried the product out through the T1 connection on our LAN instead of using it in tandem with the local broadband cable service. This meant plugging the Komodo Fone into an Ethernet wall jack via an RJ-45 cable. As in testing of the non-H.323 version, we also plugged it into a regular phone jack so that we could use PSTN service. Configuration wasn't really any different either. Once you've pressed a button on the top of the unit, a recorded voice walks you through various menu options, each of which can be activated through the telephone buttons. By default, the KF300 is set to support DHCP. In order to confirm this, we pressed the number five button, prompting the Komodo Fone to read back the currently assigned IP address. If you disable DHCP you are required to enter not only an IP address, but also the appropriate subnet mask and network route IP values.

Although the overall installation was extremely easy, it was during this process that we first encountered the only real issue we've had with the KF300: In spite of recommending on the first page of the manual that you sign up with an Internet Telephony Service Provider (ITSP) who supports H.323, Komodo does not appear to have made any agreements with such a provider, nor do they at least suggest the names of any. This leaves you on your own to find one, which is not as easy as it sounds. After some hounding, representatives from Komodo eventually sent us a list of "possible" candidates, at which point it was really too late to call each of them and ask whether or not they actually support H.323.

In any case, were we to have had an account handy, at this stage we would have entered the pin and password assigned by our ITSP into the KF300 using the button-activated menus such that they would be stored in its memory.

DOCUMENTATION
The printed document is pretty straightforward, containing basic instructions (albeit for the more experienced user) and helpful diagrams. There is no online Help, as one of the product's biggest values is its PC-independence. Most of the manual is taken up with brief descriptions of each of the numerous menu options.

Overall, the documentation takes a no-nonsense approach that included a lack of introductions, IP telephony overviews, or glossaries explaining the meaning of terms like "gateway," "gatekeeper," or "subnet mask." This pretty clearly positions the product as being for technologically advanced users. One wonders how documentation differed for the significantly more consumer-oriented Yap Jack, a private-labeled, non-H.323 version of the product put out by Net2Phone.

FEATURES
The KF300 is intended to make three types of calls: 1) To a telephone via an ITSP or other IP telephony gateway; 2) To another Komodo Fone; or 3) To a multimedia PC running H.323-enabled applications like NetMeeting. The KF300 includes pre-processing features designed to optimize full-duplex voice-compression, and line-echo cancellation to eliminate noise and feedback. A "Voice activity detection" (VAD) feature is intended to save bandwidth by delivering voice as opposed to silence. Several voice codecs are supported in this H.323 version, including G.723.1, G.729a, and G.711.

Other features include:

  • Dynamic network monitoring to reduce jitter artifacts;
  • Out-of-band DTMF signaling for reliable transmissions;
  • On-board flash memory for configuration storage and upgrades; and
  • On-board controller to establish H.323 and SIP calls.

OPERATIONAL TESTING
Without an ITSP account, nor our own IP telephony gateway, we weren't able to place Fone-to-Phone calls. We did perform three types of tests though. In the first, the KF300 called a PC running NetMeeting, providing average-to-decent latency and good sound quality. In the second we tried the reverse, with relatively equal results, minus a bit of inevitable PC-related delay. For the third test we tried to see if the product would act as a gateway, allowing IP calls initially placed to the Komodo to "hop off" to the PSTN. We did this by entering the KF300's IP address into the Gateway field of NetMeeting's Advanced Calling Options screen. This test was unfortunately unsuccessful.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
There are several issues that, when and if addressed, could make the H.323 Komodo Fone into an even more powerful product. A small issue is that when calls are placed to the KF300, it doesn't pass off the ring voltage into the telephone, making its rather small ring difficult to hear. A larger issue, however, is that if Komodo/Cisco develops the ability to pass IP calls to the PSTN as described in the section above, the KF300 (or 400, 500, whatever) could become one of the first IP telephony gateways for the SOHO market. An even larger issue perhaps is the H.323 question: If Komodo/Cisco is going to position the product as most functional when used in tandem with an ITSP, they might consider making such a service more accessible. Though it doesn't support H.323 and is PC-dependent, Actiontec's InternetPhoneWizard (see the October 2000 issue of this publication) ships with instructions on how to sign up with at least four or five ITSPs, and links directly to their Web sites through DTMF commands once a phone has been attached. With the addition of these improvements, there would be no contest for an A+ rating.

CONCLUSION
All told, the merits of this product (which are many) have already been covered in our review of the non-H.323 version. By bypassing the PC interface, technologies such as this one make VoIP almost as appliance-like as the telephone and other long-standing household technologies. In spite of the word "household," this particular version may be most effective for businesses who either have their own gateway device, or who have purchased multiple KF300s for remote offices -- such that employees can place free, long-distance "Fone-to-Fone" calls. That is until more ITSPs step up to the plate and begin H.323-enabling their services, allowing the much-touted protocol to become even more of the communications standard it was intended to be. 

[ Return To The February 2001 Table Of Contents ]



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