Even in this new age where long-distance charges are continually decreasing,
overseas calling is still relatively expensive when compared to calling in
the U.S. market. There are some ITSPs that can call overseas for less, but
these only call certain areas. Still other VoIP companies try different
methods, such as using existing company IP networks to place VoIP calls to
far away locations at a fraction of normal PSTN calling prices. One such
company that employs this functionality is Computer Protocol by way of their
CpIP Voice Gateway with voice billing software.
The CpIP Voice Gateway employs the H.323 protocol and is interoperable
with NetMeeting. It uses the G.723.1 voice compression codec as well as
enhanced audio features such as echo cancellation, silence suppression, and
background noise regeneration. Besides VoIP, the gateway can also perform
fax over IP functionality. Accompanying the gateway, the billing software
handles billing issues including accounting, gatekeeper, and user management
We were sent two CpIP Voice Gateway PCI FXO-2 dual-port cards. We placed
these analog cards into two different computers, one into an NT Server 4.0
box and one into a Windows 98 PC. This turned out to be the easy part of the
installation because the hardware was recognized when we set up the voice
gateway driver on each computer.
To install all of the software, we had to first run the CpIP Voice Master
Installer (Figure 3) off of the CD. Since the NT Server did not have a
CD-ROM installed on it, we initially attempted to run "install.exe"
on to the Windows 98 PC. This would not work. The error message, '" is
not a valid integer value' kept appearing. Oddly enough, when we tried to
run the file on the NT Server across our network using the same PC's CD-ROM,
the master installer came up. If anything, there should have been a problem
going through the network, not the local drive. Maybe some odd powers were
at work, causing us annoyances that were uncommon (this wouldn't be the only
time this issue would come up). However, the annoyance was easily remedied
-- we saved the appropriate files to a directory on the hard drive of the
Windows 98 PC and were able to run the installer from there.
The applications set up from the CpIP Voice Master Installer must be
installed in a specific order in order to ensure that all of the
applications will coexist peacefully. The database software needed to be
installed first, but since we had already installed MS SQL Server 7.0 on our
NT Server for earlier lab reviews, we did not have to install it again,
which would have been an arduous and somewhat long process. We also did not
need to install the Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE), which is a reduced version
of MS SQL 7.0.
The billing and gateway software installation, and even the dongle setup
were complicated, mainly because there were too many procedures in the
process. We had to install the dongle driver, server components, Microsoft
Data Access (MDAC), BDE SQL access, administration client, and the analog
gateway set up for the NT server. For the Windows 98 PC, we only needed to
install for BDE SQL access and then set up the analog gateway. Since we did
not have a digital gateway, there was no need to install anything specific
to that application.
After we plugged the dongle into the port of the NT Server that
traditionally is used for printers, we installed the dongle driver (HASP
Device Driver). On our first attempt, it did not install properly. Not sure
why, we tried again -- this time with success.
The rest of the applications were installed without too much difficulty,
although we had some problems with the user manager administration for
setting up permissions. In the documentation, it says to configure the
rights of users before installing the administration client. The only
problem is that the User Manager is within the administration client. This
is probably just a documentation error, but it did cause us some grief
during the installation process. Either the administration client should be
installed earlier, or the documentation should discuss this information
later. In addition, the initial configurations were somewhat of a chore. We
will discuss some of these configurations in the Operational Testing
Completely in help-file format, the documentation consists of CpIP Voice
Installation, Voice Gateway, and Admin (Voice Account Manager, Gatekeeper,
and Security Management) files. The CpIP Voice Installation documentation is
included on the CD. After bringing up the Voice Master Installer, you can
download the Gateway and Administration documentation for your Web browser
from the Installer. We would also recommend a brief, printed
"Quick-Start" guide to help point users in the right direction.
There are both strengths and weaknesses in the documentation. The
strengths lie in the fact that they cover most of the details of this
somewhat complex product. The text does include examples and instructions on
how to carry out certain functions, and there are a fair number of
screenshots to guide users. While it would have been of more assistance if
the help files were context sensitive, the documentation is organized
reasonably well for all the information that must be included. Also, the
ability to install certain applications directly from the help files by
clicking on the small computer icon next to the setup application name is a
However, when we followed the documentation, we got lost on a number of
occasions and had trouble figuring out what to do next, especially when
following the Voice Installation directions. We had to use our own intuition
to figure out some cryptic instructions. It was somewhat evident to us that
some of the documentation has not been updated, or was, at least, partially
inaccurate from the start. Also, the names of some of the functions do not
always concur with the names in the GUI. (Not to split hairs, but we are
still not even sure whether the name of the product is CpIP, CPIP, or CpIp.
All of these variations are in the documentation.) While this example is
just a little quibble, there are many of these "minor details"
that end up affecting the documentation as a whole.
The following is a list of the major features of the CpIP Voice Gateway and
CpIP Centralized Billing software:
- Voice Gateway -- H.323 compliant, DSP board with G.723 voice codec,
Microsoft Netmeeting interoperability, fax relay, automatic
voice/fax/data switching, lost frame interpolation, echo cancellation,
voice activity detector.
- Voice Gateway Manager -- real-time status of all the voice channels,
responsible in the configuration of voice gateway driver and the
available voice channels.
- Voice Billing Manager -- accounts and billing management, call data
records capturing, and database maintenance.
- Voice Gatekeeper -- handles the maintenance of a standalone gateway,
every voice gateway sharing a centralized billing server, and a group of
Our main objective when testing the CpIP Voice Gateway was to make VoIP
calls from our NT Server and Windows 98 PC to Computer Protocol's
headquarters in Malaysia. These tests demonstrate how the gateway and
billing system would work in a real-life setting, enabling savings on
long-distance and infrastructure expenses. Doing these tests, we hoped we
could also obtain a true feeling about the quality of the VoIP calls.
To set up this test, we first had to configure the gatekeeper, account
manager, billing client, and the gateways themselves. When we first logged
into the gatekeeper software, we were informed of a licensing service error.
We started the CP Licensing Service from the Services window, and the
problem was quickly resolved. However, each time we rebooted the server, we
had to start this service. It would not start automatically -- no matter
what we tried. This should be addressed.
In the gatekeeper interface, we had to name the gateways we were using,
as well as the VoIP domains, and the proper IP addresses. Since we had to
set the gateways outside of our LAN firewall, we needed to obtain real IP
addresses. In addition, we also had to configure the In Rules and Out Rules
for the VoIP calls we would be making. To add an entry, we needed to press
the "" button and enter the appropriate information.
For the billing aspects of the product, we opened the User Manager from
the Account Manager and Billing Client. We added some billing information
that we made up for the purposes of our tests. However, under normal
circumstances, all concerned parties would agree upon the billing
information. For NetMeeting and other free calls, the billing information
would list as $0.01. Unfortunately, adding and especially editing entries is
not always intuitive, especially because of the lack of right-click
functionality and the inability to delete or change only one specific box of
Next, it was time to reconfigure the voice gateways. After entering our
administrator password and selecting the appropriate gateway, we accepted
the login defaults and verified our information. Afterwards, we were able to
detect the hardware for both the NT Server and Windows 98 PC. Finally, we
added our telephone information, including an IDD prefix that should be
dialed before the regular number when making an international call. For our
tests, we left the STD prefix blank. It took us a while to try this
particular configuration, which was one reason for some delays to making a
Finally, we were ready to make VoIP calls to Malaysia. However, to get
this far, we had to call tech support in Malaysia three times on a regular
phone. There did not seem to be any tech support available in America, and
e-mailing was too slow a process, given the thirteen-hour time difference
between Malaysia and Connecticut, so we called at night to discuss the
changes in our configuration so that our VoIP calls would be successful.
After examining the configurations through PC Anywhere and after many
call attempts, we finally made a successful VoIP call from the gateway in
the NT Server at around 10:00 PM EST on one fine Monday night -- the third
evening we had attempted these calls. These VoIP calls consist of making a
normal call from any phone to the gateway. An IVR programmed in the gateway
answers and tells the caller to dial the IDD prefix and number of the
destination. The call then goes through as a VoIP call. When we finally
resolved all of our issues, our successful VoIP calls were of fairly good
quality given that the VoIP packets were sent half way around the world.
Unfortunately, we were only successful making calls linked to the gateway
in the NT Server and not the Windows 98 PC, which Computer Protocol claims
can also act as a VoIP gateway. Even though the gateway did pick up our
initial calls to the gateway in our Windows 98 PC, we could never hear the
IVR and complete the call, even though the configuration settings seemed to
be the same as with the gateway in the NT Server. We tried to switch cards,
thinking that maybe one was faulty (however, both cards did work on the NT
Server). We also changed settings on the cards themselves, which had helped
us be successful on the NT Server, but didn't solve our problems on the
Windows 98 PC. However, it is possible that our problems persisted because
of a compatibility issue between the voice card and the Windows 98 PC we
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
When we successfully made VoIP calls from Connecticut to Malaysia, we were
able to see first-hand the major benefit of using the CpIP Voice Gateway.
However, getting to our objective felt like trying to get blood from a
stone. Since it took us quite a while to cover all of the details of the
installation process and to ensure that everything was working properly, it
would have helped greatly if all of the billing and database applications
could have been consolidated into one, more simple installation, although
the CpIP Voice Master Installer helped, even if it did involve quite a
handful of installations. Also, the gateway installation could have been
separate, bundled only with the BDE SQL access setup.
This consolidation might also be applied to the applications listed on
the Start menu. Everything could just be listed under two categories: CpIP
Billing Administration and CpIP Voice Gateway. Furthermore, all the
interfaces did not need to be accessed and configured from so many separate
applications, thereby making it difficult to keep track of where all the
configuration changes were, or finding where a change might need to be made.
While the GUIs were generally easy to follow, they could be improved with
context-sensitive help-files, right-click functionality, being able to make
changes to each separate field more easily, and adding copy and paste
functionality for all the interfaces.
Throughout this review, we have discussed many areas where things went wrong
and could be improved, but the CpIP Voice Gateway and CpIP Voice Billing
software still has all the ingredients to cook a fine stew. When the proper
spices are properly mixed together with the meat and potatoes of the
product, Computer Protocol may have one tasty treat to give to the Internet
telephony world, and they are not too far away from presenting this
excellent stew. As a matter of fact, we fully expect Computer Protocol to
serve this dish in future versions of their products. We might just suggest
a longer prep on their side to make for shorter simmer time on ours...
To The April 2001 Table Of Contents ]