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Product Reviews
September 2003

Zoom Dialer

Zoom Telephonics, Inc.
207 South St.
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: 732-255-3969


Price: $200 for the software, $25 for one dialer (volume pricing is available)

Editor's Choice Award

Installation: 5
Documentation: 5
Features: 5
GUI: 4.5
Overall: A

We�ve all seen the �10-10-220� commercials as well as several other long-distance 10-10-XXX access codes. We�ve also all used a calling card at one point or another. In fact, it�s amazing how today we have so many options for connecting a phone call when just 10 or 15 years ago there weren�t nearly as many choices.

But with such a dizzying array of choices, it�s nearly impossible to figure out which is the cheapest calling card, or access code in any given situation. Often there are additional prompts for choices of language, and whether the call is domestic or international. Not only that, but keying in 37 digits or more is just too inconvenient for most users, so many users stick with direct dialing even though it usually costs more.

Well, we were pleased to learn about the Zoom Dialer device that simply connects to your phone line and provides �Store and Forward Least Cost Routing (LCR)� capabilities. The dialer automates this process by allowing the customer to simply dial the 11-digit phone number they wish to reach. The dialer stores the user-dialed number and then automatically dials the 800 number, waits and listens for a voice prompt, then dials the PIN number. Lastly, the dialer forwards the user dialed number. By taking advantage of their �store and forward� capabilities, the dialer can perform least cost routing as programmed by the operator of the software.

The dialer can contain up to 350 lines of routing tables. A simple routing algorithm would be: If you dial �1�, except 1-800 it goes to the calling/debit card network. Also, if you dial �011�, it goes to the 101xxxx network. However, if you dial �0� or �00�, it goes straight to the LEC and not to the network. You can even set up routing rules to exclude local numbers from dialing into the network. The routing rules support up to six different carriers with LCR capabilities. For example, you can define one carrier account to be used for domestic, another one for South America, another one for long-distance national, etc.

Zoom makes three dialers (Dialer 24, Dialer 26, and Dialer 34) with the difference being in how they are programmed. The Dialer 24 is remotely programmable by the network provider via Zoom�s software. The customer can make only minor adjustments to the program such as DTMF tone volume and DTMF tone length. Although the Zoom Dialer 26 is not remotely programmable via software, it doesn�t take rocket science. You simply plug it in, enter your phone card, and it learns your phone card automatically. Finally, the Zoom Dialer 34 works a bit differently in that it is preprogrammed at the factory to be used with only one network provider. There is no software available to the network provider. The only changeable feature is the PIN and the network access number. Each time the customer runs out of time, they need to buy a new card from the same provider and then using the phone keypad program the new PIN number into the dialer. We should mention that with all the Dialers, after learning your account information, on subsequent calls, it shaves off dialing times dramatically since the dialer sends DTMF digits in rapid succession (similar to a modem dialing an ISP).

The Dialer uses voice detection when the network answers to determine when to transmit the stored DTMF digits. Once the network answers, everything is standard timing after that. We should point out that when we dialed, the dialer then dials the carrier access code, pauses for six seconds and then begins to listen for voice detection. The pause is because if we said something into the phone, the dialer�s voice detection would pick that up.

In any event, we got a Dialer 24 to review and had Zoom pre-program a phone card for us for testing. Once the carrier had been dialed, and the dialer heard the voice, it paused for two seconds, and for this phone card it dialed DTMF �1� for English. It then waited two seconds before dialing the PIN. It then paused two seconds and stripped out the leading �1� since the carrier network doesn�t want the �1.� The Zoom dialer then sends the DTMF digits of the user dialed number.

One important item to mention is that all the * features work, such as *82, *69 (call back missed number), etc. Another important feature is that the Dialer 26 features a two-digit access code, which can be assigned to each member in the household, so that each can have their own phone card. This is useful for parents looking to manage phone costs for their teenage sons and daughters as well as preventing one sibling from using up the phone card time of another sibling. One other feature of note is that the dialer can also work with fax machines simply by pressing �***� to work around the CNG tones.

When programming the Dialer 24, you simply dial into the dialer using Zoom�s provided software, which costs around $200. You can use any TAPI modem for single port upgrading or you can use Dialogic cards to download/change/configure up to four dialers at a time. Three scenarios can occur when the software attempts to download a program into a dialer in the field:

1. Customer answers -- The software plays a .WAV file prompting the user if they wish to accept the download now.
2. No Answer -- 10 rings dialer answers and automatically updates.
3. Some other device answers (answering machine, modem, fax machine) -- e.g., we called our dialer and on the seventh ring, our alarm system answered (connected to same phone line). The software hears that and calls a second time and rings the line just once. And then they call back a third time within one minute and the dialer picks up on the first ring to perform the download

The Dialer 34 comes completely programmed to work with a specific network right from the factory, no software needed. The only changeable setting is the PIN number. Each time a customer buys a new card (of the same brand) they go home and simply enter *1<new pin>## and it�s ready to go to work again.

So Where Do I Install This?
We should point out that one of the most popular phones in the home is the kitchen phone which is wall mounted. So how do you mount a dialer behind a wall mount phone? Well with Zoom Dialer, you don�t have to. You can plug it into a different phone in the house and it will work from every phone in your home. According to Zoom, all of their competitors require a separate dialer for each phone.

So How Does It Work?
Essentially, the Zoom dialer puts a half short across the tip and ring voltage. This is not enough to screw up the CO, but enough to block the CO from hearing the user dialed numbers, which the dialer needs to intercept, store, and then transmit later on. Zoom calls this their �parallel processing� technology, which they have a patent on.

The carriers will love the fact that they now have a little computer in every one of their customer�s homes. Very importantly, they can change their customer�s routing tables without even talking to them. As local access numbers are added or changed, they can use Zoom�s software to make modifications. For instance, suppose a new local access number is added to Miami, Florida. You want to remove the �800 number� from your Miami customers so you don�t incur the costs of the 800 number call. You can simply use Zoom�s software to search for those 1,000 customers and just change the routing tables for the Miami customers to dial the local Miami access number.

We�d like the ability to program the billing rates into the unit for each carrier to improve the least cost routing capabilities. For instance, assume carrier A charges $1.00 for the first minute and then $0.05 per minute after that. However, another carrier charges a flat-rate $0.10 per minute from the first minute. Although carrier A has a lower per minute charge, it takes 10 minutes of phone usage on carrier B just to equal carrier A�s initial $1.00 minute charge. In fact, it isn�t until the 20 minute mark that the cost of carrier B catches up to the same cost of carrier A and it�s not until the 21 minute mark that carrier B actually become more expensive. Thus, for 20 minutes or less, carrier B is actually less expensive even with a higher per minute charge.

Now, even with these billing rates programmed, the dialer would have no idea how long you plan on being on the phone, so to improve the least cost routing calculation, perhaps you could optionally prefix or postfix a number to the dialed number to indicate how long you plan on being on the call, such as �1� for a quick phone call, �2� for medium length, and �3� for a lengthy call.

We think it�s pretty amazing how phone card businesses don�t care about losing a customer. Once they gain a customer via a calling card, the customers eventually burn through their calling card, throw it out, and then just buy another card from somebody else. Well with the Zoom product, carriers can �lock� their customer into their service so they can use it over and over again. Zoom�s four-line dialer might just be the ticket to selling prepaid phone service to business customers.

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