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Zoom X5v ADSL modem/router with VoIP review

Sections

What you get for your money
Basic Configuration of the router
Advanced NAT configuration
Configuring the SPI firewall
Using the VoIP service
Performance
Conclusions

The Zoom X5v is the first router aimed at the consumer market that ADSLGuide has reviewed that has built in VoIP capabilities. We are expecting to see a lot more hardware offering this in the next couple of years. The X5v combines the ADSL modem, a four port router, USB port, and hardware support for VoIP into one easy to set-up unit. The unit is actually based around a Conexant chipset, and builds on the previous models like the X4 and X5, so there is a long family history, with the X5v being the next evolution.

The router in its default state works as a NAT router, allowing you to share the IP address supplied by your ISP, between up to 253 computers. The unit has enough ports to actually connect 5 machines to it directly. As with the X4 unit we previously reviewed, there is a PPP Half Bridge mode that will for a single computer pass on the ISP assigned IP address to a single computer. Additionally for people with a block of static IP addresses you can disable NAT and use the router in a NON-NAT mode. You also get a stateful packet inspection firewall giving you control of inbound and outbound traffic, plus a selection of options to protect against Denial of Service attacks.

The VoIP capability is what many people will be looking at, and this is provided via an RJ11 socket on the rear of the router, an RJ11 to BT phone socket converter is included. Two modes of operation are available, if you pick up the phone and dial a number it will use the standard PSTN phone line, but if you precede the number with a # then the VoIP hardware kicks in and routes the call over the ADSL line. This allows you to have two phone lines without the extra line rental, and without the need for two handsets. Different ring tones are used, so you can differentiate between incoming calls.

Very importantly, the X5v is designed to retain emergency dialing in the event of a power failure. This is not done by battery backup, but by simply ensuring that when the router is not powered up, the phone line still works.

The VoIP service of the router, makes use of the Global Village service, and uses the SIP protocol. The Global Village service allows you to make free calls to other people on the Global Village VoIP network worldwide, and provides low cost calls to normal telephone lines.

What you get for your money

The current retail price of £99.95 gets you lots of goodies in the box when it arrives, as can be seen below:

  1. Power supply unit, 15V @ 800mA
  2. The router, which measures 19.5cm x 14cm x 3.5cm
  3. Two micro-filters
  4. 3m long RJ11 lead, for connecting router to a micro-filter
  5. RJ11 plug to BT phone socket converter for phone line socket on rear of router
  6. USB lead for optionally connecting a PC to the router
  7. 2m long RJ45 Ethernet patch cable
  8. Software CD containing manual, instructions and drivers for using the USB port
  9. Quick start guide, which also covers using X-Box and PS2 consoles
  10. Global Village VoIP service information leaflet

The routers case is well ventilated and constructed from what seems a fairly tough black plastic. In day to day use it does not seem to get hot, in fact it is usually barely warm. The front of the router has plenty of lights to provide feedback as to what the router is doing, and a handy sticker underneath the router reminds you of their functions.

  1. PWR, shows that the power supply is connected and working
  2. LINK, the ADSL connection is active
  3. DATA, flashes when data is transferred over the ADSL link
  4. USB, if a computer is connected to the USB port it will be lit
  5. LAN1-4, indicate what ports have an active Ethernet device connected to them at the rear
  6. VoIP, lights up when using the VoIP capabilities of the router

The rear of the router is compact, and features from left to right:

  1. The phone socket, where you can plug in a phone handset. Note the socket has a micro-filter built into it
  2. The incoming ADSL signal socket. Since the phone and ADSL sockets are the same socket type, be sure to plug the ADSL into the correct one
  3. The four LAN ports, with LEDs to show activity when a lead is plugged in. The ports are 10/100Mbps auto-MDI/MDIX sensing
  4. The USB socket
  5. Recessed reset button
  6. Power input socket

Basic Configuration of the router

Before you can use the router for Internet access or VoIP calls, you need to carry out a few basic set-up steps. A Quick Start manual is provided to make life easy, though you do have to remember to look in the back of the guide for the UK specific settings. We should point out that for people with a single static IP address from their ISP, the set-up in the UK is identical to those with a dynamic IP address. Therefore ignore the comments about entering the static IP address that are made in the manual. We will go through the basic set-up here to show what needs to be done.

The simplest way to get the X5v configured is to plug an Ethernet cable between your computer and the router. The web interface located inside the router should work with any operating system that supports a reasonably standard web browser. The router is shipped with DHCP enabled on its LAN ports, which means if your network card is set-up to obtain its IP address and DNS settings automatically, the router will hand you an IP address in the range 10.0.0.x. The web console is accessed via the URL http://10.0.0.2, since 10.0.0.2 is the default IP address of the Zoom router. If you have everything plugged in correctly then you will be prompted for a username and password to access the Home Gateway realm, these are admin and zoomvoip respectively. If your computer tries to dial an Internet connection, rather than open the web page directly, you need to tell your browser to not dial a connection, for Windows this is located in Internet Explorer, under the Tools and Internet Options window. The 'never dial a connection' option is shown below:

When you successfully get to the web console, you should see the following page, which is where you enter all the configuration information that you need to get online and have a basic connection.

The Encapsulation and VPI/VCI fields should not need changing if using a BT Wholesale based ADSL service. The only information you need to enter is a username and password, we have shown the BT Wholesale speedtester login. The password for this can be anything you want, and as the page says there is no need to enter a service name.

To store the settings in the router it is a two stage process, pressing Save Changes will store the settings, but until you press Write Settings to Flash and Reboot the settings are not permanently stored. Writing the settings to the flash memory can take around 30 seconds, and the confirmation page below lets you know about the LED sequence that will happen so you can be sure of what the router is doing. If it stores the settings correctly after around 1 minute the web page should refresh to tell you it is done changing the settings.

If your ADSL line is active and connected, and you have the username and password correct you should now have basic Internet access. You can check whether you are connected by looking at the System Status screen, which should display your ISP assigned IP address in the WAN status area. With the username we have shown there is just one site you can visit, which is http://www.speedtester.bt.com/. This site is a speed test site run by BT Wholesale to allow new ADSL users to test their connection, and also to verify whether any slow downs in service are down to the BT network, or your ISPs network. To use the site go to the URL when your ADSL connection is logged on as speedtest@speedtest_domain, enter your telephone number and let the test run.

The screen shot above shows the test results when using the X5v which was 946kbps, which for a 1Mbps line (1000kbps) is very respectable, i.e. just under 95% of the maximum speed you will ever get.

If you have entered a username and password, and are waiting for more than a minute or two, and it appears that nothing is happening, you should double check what you entered, and also look at the ADSL status page. This will inform you whether the router has at least found a working ADSL signal. The screen shot below shows a 1Mbps line, with very good SNR Margins, the higher the SNR figures the better, and the lower the attenuation the better that is. If there is no line speed listed, or attenuation figures it is likely your line is not activated, or you are using your micro-filters incorrectly. If the SNR margin is very low e.g. around 3-6dB, then you may have a very long line, or the wiring in your house needs some attention, so report this to your service provider.

Advanced NAT configuration

The basic set-up should get the vast majority of Internet applications working, but some software requires a bit more help. This particularly applies to hosting online games, or using an X-Box or PS2 games console online. The X5v manual dedicates several pages to getting the games consoles to work, and other online games. The whole topic comes under the heading of Virtual Services or Port forwarding.

To access the Virtual Server set-up on the X5v click the Advanced Setup button in the web console, and then click the Virtual Server button. This will display a screen similar to the one below:

This screenshot shows the virtual server screen, with one rule already configured and a second rule about to be added. You can configure up to 20 rules, which seems limiting, but for most things that is enough. If this proves insufficient, there is a DMZ option to forward all ports to a specific computer, and the more advanced firewall options can be used to block of the unwanted traffic.

Our example shows TCP Port 80 being forwarded to the computer on the IP address 192.168.0.200, and we are about to add a new rule to forward TCP Port 25 to the same computer. TCP Port 80 indicates that the computer is probably running a web server on that port, and port 25 is for an SMTP mail server. So while most people will use these rules for getting games to work, there are many other uses.

It is best to use a static IP address on the computer that you are forwarding ports to. This stops the IP address changing when you reboot the PC. To set a static IP address you simply need to specify some settings in the TCP/IP properties for your Local Area Connection on the computer. Below is an example of the settings for a PC to be given the static IP 10.0.0.200, which is in the default IP range for the X5v.

The observant reader will note we have altered from the original 10.0.0.x IP range to the 192.168.0.x IP range. This is something we do specifically for reviewing hardware, as it allows us to swap routers around very quickly. You do not have to change the IP range at all, unless you want to. The LAN Configuration page, shows what we had set for the router. All we changed was the IP address from 10.0.0.2 to 192.168.0.1 and once we had committed the settings, we gave the router a couple of minutes to restart and refreshed the IP set-up of the computer.

Configuring the SPI firewall

An SPI firewall is actually a Stateful Packet Inspection Firewall. Generally when a router is listed as having a SPI firewall, it means you can define the firewalls behaviour for both inbound and outbound traffic. Some advertising for routers, lists the presence of a firewall when in reality there is only the default behaviour of the NAT router to protect peoples computers.

The Zoom X5v has a wide variety of configuration options for its firewall, making it a powerful device. There are a number of predefined Denial of Service (DoS) type protection policies, which you can simply turn on or off. Additionally the router lets you define your own inbound and outbound firewall rules.

In its default state, the router has the firewall enabled, and a range of the protection policy options are turned on. It is also set to deny all unsolicited incoming traffic, apart from traffic needed for the VoIP service, and any services you have defined in the Virtual Service section. For those keen to see what the firewall is doing, the Hacker Log option allows you to select which parts of the firewalls operation are logged. The protection policies are shown below:

The firewall databases is an interesting section, it allows you to pre-define various groups for use when you are creating your firewall policies at a later date. There are three groups you can pre-define things for:

  1. IP Group, allows you to create groups of IP addresses for use later when defining firewall policies.
  2. Service Group, rather than having to continually remember the ports used for different services, you can predefine some of them.
  3. Time window, the router allows you to create time periods during which firewall policies will be active. This allows you to block for example peer to peer file sharing traffic during peak hours, and only let this run during the off peak hours during the night.

The Time Window option should prove useful for parents who want to try and restrict the length of time their children are online, since you can define multiple periods, and have different sets of policies, for example, over the weekend. If using the firewall for parental controls, do remember to change the routers default password, otherwise the children will simply log onto the router and turn the policies off.

The router allows you to define both inbound and outbound rules. You would use the inbound policies generally if you are running a service, e.g. web server and you want to restrict access to it, to a select few friends. The outbound policies are very useful for blocking an applications access to the Internet. By denying various ports you can block applications from talking to servers on the Internet. The default outbound policies are shown below.

Adding another policy is fairly simple, though potentially confusing. So to this end we will show a very simple rule that effectively blocks HTTP web access. As you can see there are lots of fields, but to actually block a port, very little actually needs to be done. To block TCP Port 80, the simplest way is to select 80 as the destination port, and apply this to all the source and destination IP addresses. If you wanted to block TCP Port 80 access to a specific site, you would specify its IP address in the Dest IP field.

Since a firewall policy can be changed from a blocking the port to allowing access by changing the Filtering Action rule, you can do things like block all port 80 access for a specific IP address on your local network, and then only allow access to a limited number of IP addresses. Thus you could actually restrict a childrens computer to accessing a limited number of sites.

The firewall logging is useful, since many routers give you no indications of what is and is not actually being blocked, the screenshot above shows our port 80 rule, denying access to 80.249.99.125 which is actually http://www.thinkbroadband.com/. The logging is also useful if you do not know what ports you need to block for an application, as you can simply block all ports, and see what the log shows the application actually using.

Using the VoIP service

The key attraction of the Zoom X5v is its built in Voice Over IP (VoIP) telephone service. Various software and plug in hardware VoIP solutions are available in the UK, but the Zoom X5v is one of the first offering a simple all in one solution. The attraction of a bundled VoIP service is that it is extremely easy to use, with the billing of calls handled by GlobalVillage.com.

Any standard BT compatible telephone can be used with the router, a small plug conversion dongle is provided to do the conversion from a BT plug to an RJ11 plug. The router is designed so that in the event of a power failure the telephone that is connected will still actually work, powered by the line current over the phone line. The phone can also be used to make standard phone calls or VoIP ones. To initiate a VoIP call you simply dial # before the number you wish to dial. Since the VoIP service does not interfere with standard incoming or outgoing calls, any CPS provider options or other services you have on your phone line will still function identically.

Configuring the telephone service is very simple, visit the VoIP set-up page as shown above, and then click the 'Global Village Features' button, which allows you to set-up the account, and register for your free ten minutes of calls.

The Global Village website allows you to manage your telephone account, and see itemised lists of incoming and outgoing calls. The Global Village choice subscription account is free, you simply just pay for any calls you make. To receive incoming calls initially only people with a VoIP handset can call you, but you can add an 0870 number to allow anyone in the UK to call you, this option is free (January 2005). The 0870 number means that people calling you will get charged at the BT national rate, though if they telephone your original BT number it will still be charged at the standard BT rates.

The call rates appear reasonably competitive with calls to the US costing just 2.5p per minute, or New Zealand at 2.4p per minute. With the free 0870 number, the Zoom X5v effectively gives you a second telephone line with no line rental costs, and with the increase in home working having two telephone numbers, one for work and one for home is an advantage.

There are a myriad of advanced configuration options for the VoIP service, but fortunately there is no need to play around with these. The VoIP service appears to be reasonable quality, with good call quality. The router even handles calls well when the ADSL line is busy with other activities, for example we downloaded a 100MB file and made a couple of calls, which worked well. What the router appeared to do was prioritise the VoIP data, since the download dropped in speed by around 10 Kilo Bytes per second. A similar behaviour was observed with the upstream.

Performance

The Zoom X5v when we first received it for review in November 2004, worked well enough with standard web browsing and email running, but under heavier loads e.g. Peer 2 peer applications it struggled. Fortunately new firmware was released for a range of the Zoom routers around Christmas 2004 and this vastly improved matters. Our comments on the performance of the unit are therefore based on the firmware version shown below, i.e. version 1.0.4-70.

One critical thing to remember when upgrading the firmware on the X5v is to unplug the ADSL line, to avoid any undue interruptions. In fact we would suggest doing this for firmware upgrades on all routers. The firmware when released does come with a set of instructions on what to do which are easy to follow.

In normal day to day use, the router copes happily with a 2Mbps line, giving speeds of 1900kbps downstream and 240kbps upstream. Latency for those interested in gaming seems well within normal bounds. With the latest firmware running P2P applications and using the connection for web browsing is possible, though we did find that some pages took two clicks to open. This is likely to be due to the large number of connections used by P2P applications.

For those who want to see the line statistics for their phone line, the router does display them. Compared to other routers, and what we know about the telephone line used for the reviews, the attenuation and SNR margin figures appear to be accurate.

Conclusions

The Zoom X5v has a list price of £99 (inc VAT) which is good value considering it includes the VoIP functionality. The router though is even better value when you see various online retailers selling it at around £80 including VAT.

The inclusion of an SPI firewall is a welcome enhancement compared to the Zoom X4 we previously reviewed. The documentation and layout of the web interface for the X5v mean that most people should be able to configure it, and make use of its various features. One great advantage of the VoIP service in the router, is that it is independent of any computer connected to the router, and the ease of use will be hard to beat.

Overall we are impressed with what has been squeezed into the price point, but would raise a slight question over the performance under heavy loads. Certainly it is worth checking if you buy an X5v that it is running the latest firmware to ensure you get the best performance from it.


Prices: £85.06 - Zoom X5v (Model 5565) (£99.95 including VAT)

Links: http://www.zoom.com/
Where to Buy: See our DSL Hardware FAQ

Andrew Ferguson
andrew@thinkbroadband.com

The contents of this review should not be relied upon in making a purchasing decision - You should always discuss your requirements with your service provider and hardware supplier.