Grandstream Adds Skype to SIP Desk Phone

The Grandstream GXV3140 IP Multimedia Phone adds Skype voice and video calling to an already rich suite of multimedia and social networking features.

The newest beta software for the Grandstream GXV3140 IP Multimedia Phone successfully integrates a Skype client directly into the desk phone, adding another communication channel for voice and video calling to an already feature-packed device. However, the phone and its features suffered from some unsurprising instability due to its beta firmware, although this instability did not come in the expected places.

With their mobile-device rivals constantly adding more and more features to what was once simply a phone, desk phone manufacturers have built up their products in an effort to better match current communication practices. Others, such as Alcatel Lucent and its My IC Phone platform, have further emulated the smartphone industry, creating an open application development framework intended to spur third-party ISV development.

Grandstream Networks has taken the first route, as shown by the 2009 introduction of the GXV3140. The GXV3140 was packed with features increasingly common to SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) desk phones: support for three concurrent SIP extensions and a variety of audio codecs, dual 10/100 Ethernet ports (with power-over-Ethernet support), a full duplex speakerphone, a 4.3-inch TFT (thin-film transistor) LCD screen, an OpenVPN client and 18 function keys with five more programmable soft keys.

To that standard fare, however, Grandstream added some novel twists-Internet-ready client applications for social networking (Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo/MSN/Google Instant Messaging); media sharing (Yahoo Flickr photos, Internet radio and Last.FM for music); a built-in calendar that syncs with Google Calendar; and a Web browser and RSS reader.

With its built-in 1.3-megapixel still and video camera and a preconfigured free video conferencing network among similar phones, the GXV3140 was already an appealing and affordable desktop solution at only $249.

This year, Grandstream is extending the phone further, adding a Skype client application via a new beta firmware bundle. I tested beta software versions and on the GXV3140 and found I was able to easily log in to my Skype account to synchronize my Skype contact lists and presence status. I found Skype voice and video calls easy to place and receive. However, call quality was adequate at best. The received video, in particular, was below expectation, marred by an overwhelming blue hue. By contrast, sent video looked comparatively sharp and color-accurate, given the relatively limited capabilities of the GSX3140's built-in camera.

I experienced many hiccups during my time using the phone's other features, however. While bugs and crashes are to be expected with beta code, I was surprised the problems exhibited themselves in existing functions rather than in the new Skype application. Using Beta, I found the GSX3140 crashed dozens of times when showing video content-video either from a source attached to the device via the integrated SD slot or downloaded from the RSS news feed engine.

The GXV3140 supports three SIP extensions, with the first line automatically registered as an extension on Grandstream's free IPVideoTalk voice and video chat network (made up of other GXV3140 units). I easily registered a second line to my Trixbox Asterisk server. Switching between the lines was simple, using the Line/Account selection function key-although with Firmware, I occasionally found I could not reconnect to an in-progress SIP call if I briefly switched to a second extension for another call.

RSS feeds worked well to pull in CNN news feeds, as well as weather, stock quotes, horoscopes and a quote of the day. Users can also input their own feeds into the RSS reader.

Device configuration can be done either via the phone's front panel and LCD screen or via the built-in Web server. Typing can be tedious using the front panel-downright impossible if application passwords use special characters-but users can attach an external keyboard or mouse to the phone using the included USB port in order to ease data entry or navigation.

The GXV3140 also comes with a 3.5-millimeter headset jack, as well as RCA audio video outputs to connect to external devices such as headphones or a television.