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Product Reviews
April 2001


CpIP Voice Gateway and CpIP Centralized Voice Billing Software

Computer Protocol (Malaysia) Sdn. Bhd. (122734-X)
34, Jalan Berangan, 50200 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
3-241 5232

Price: $2,000 for PCI FXO-2 dual-port card; $150 for Centralized Billing (SQL) software together with Gatekeeper (per port basis).

Installation: 3.5
Documentation: 3.75
Features: 4.25
GUI: 4.25
Overall: B-

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 functions.

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 section.

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 plus.

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 domain gateways.

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 an entry.

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 successful call.

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 were using.

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... 

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