Review: The TalkSwitch 284vs appliance bridges the divide between legacy phone equipment and VOIP.
The TalkSwitch line of PBX appliances provides small businesses with a simple and cost-effective way to bridge the divide between existing legacy phone equipment and VOIP. Although not as feature-laden as some of the other small-business-oriented VOIP offerings eWEEK Labs has tested, Centrepoint Technologies TalkSwitch appliances are nonetheless a solid value.
We tested the $1,395 TalkSwitch 284vs, an IP PBX appliance that has two analog trunks, four VOIP (voice over IP) trunks, eight local extensions and 10 remote extensions (supporting a total of four concurrent calls). There are TalkSwitch appliances available that offer more analog trunks (the TalkSwitch 484vs, for example, provides four), or administrators can leverage an external trunk gateway with the 284vs or cluster multiple TalkSwitch appliances.
We tested the 284vs running TalkSwitch Configuration Software Release 4.0the first to include support for both analog and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol)-based clients. This support allows customers to use existing analog equipment or to adopt standards-based, software-based or hardware-based IP telephones. During tests, we used TalkSwitchs TS-600 analog phone (priced at $189), a pair of POTS (plain old telephone system) phones and CounterPaths X-Lite 3.0 SIP softphone.
We managed the 284vs via the TalkSwitch System Configuration software, which we installed on a Microsoft Windows XP-based workstation. TalkSwitch System Configuration can communicate with a TalkSwitch appliance over a USB connection, but we chose to connect over the network insteadthe preferred method for configuring multiple TalkSwitch appliances.
The TalkSwitch auto-attendant was easy to set up and allowed us to route calls to extensions (either local or remote), ring groups, voice mail boxes, nested auto-attendant menus or the company directory. We also could assign different action sequences depending on the trunk (either physical or VOIP) from which a call came in. However, the TalkSwitch system does not include any prerecorded message samples, so administrators will need to record their own or import professionally created samples.
The TalkSwitch 284vs four VOIP trunks allowed us to link multiple TalkSwitch appliances in different locations. We also could utilize a SIP trunking service (such as BandTels) to link additional trunks to the PSTN.
During tests, we were able to map an extension to a TalkSwitch demo server in Ontario, Canada. This allowed our users to engage the auto-attendant from our network over the Internet. This step did require some modifications to our external firewall policy to pass SIP and RTP (Real-Time Protocol) traffic from the demo TalkSwitch appliance to our network. Companies with routers that support universal Plug and Play can bypass this configuration step.
We found that call control features such as park, forward, transfer, conference (for as many as three participants) and voice mail all worked well, although accessing the features could get complicated for those using ordinary analog phones. Our TS-600 had intuitive buttons and instructions for its LCD panel, but users with older phones will have to follow a sometimes bewildering series of keystrokes to access certain features. The TalkSwitch system does come with numerous handout cards that detail command sequences.
The 284vs offers a limited number of group routing options. We configured ring groups, where a predefined number of extensions will ring simultaneously for an incoming call. We also created line hunt groups, which allowed us to create different dial codes for different analog or VOIP trunk combinations.
Administrators can set up virtual extensions that map local extensions to external numbers, and we could create find-me policies that cycled through several numbers to track down users. Most small-business VOIP implementations weve tested give users the ability to set up find-me rules, but administrators must maintain this feature on the TalkSwitch. Also, the TalkSwitchs voice mails are not accessible by the user from a Web interface, although administrators can configure the 284vs to send .wav files via e-mail.
Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at email@example.com.