The wrong way to set up VoIP

Could your voice over IP telephone service take down your whole home office network?

Fellow Computerworld blogger Michael Horowitz thinks that's a possibility if you follow your VoIP vendor's directions for setting up the service on your home network. He isn't following the vendor's recommendations for configuring his new Vonage VoIP service. I am.

He says there's a better way to configure your VoIP setup that will make your home network more reliable and still protect voice call quality. I've had a few problems doing things the way Horowitz describes, so for now I'm sticking with Vonage's recommended setup. But I am listening.

Where to put the VoIP adapter

On many home networks computer equipment hooks into a router, which in turn is connected to a cable or DSL modem for Internet access. With voice over IP telephone services like Vonage, the vendors wants its V-Portal device to be first in line behind the broadband modem so that it can give priority to voice traffic over, say, the online video game your son is playing in his upstairs bedroom.

I recommended following Vonage's instructions and connecting the V-Portal directly to your cable or DSL modem, not to your router (assuming that you have a separate router and that it's not integrated with your broadband modem). That allows the Vonage V-Portal, a combined voice over IP adapter and router, to optimize all traffic for voice.

Michael points out, correctly, that with a little effort you can configure your router to do the same thing. If you put the router first, everything on your network isn't passing through - and dependent upon - the V-Portal. (Traffic is, however, still passing through two devices on its way to the Internet. But your standalone router may be more configurable than the embedded one in the VoIP device, and you are no longer dependent on a router that's integrated with your voice over IP adapter. If something happens to the V-Portal's voice over IP adapter, removing it for service won't take down your network.)

So there are benefits to the setup that Michael begins to outline in his post. But I had another reason for staying with Vonage's recommended configuration.

Failure to relaunch

I had problems with the V-Portal device recovering when it occasionally lost its assigned IP address from a third-party router. I use a popular consumer-grade wireless router: a Linksys WRT54G. That router assigns - and periodically expires and reassigns - an IP address to each device on the network. Vonage claims that consumer-grade routers can cause problems when it comes to the V-Portal's ability to recover an IP address. This does not happen with ISP-provided cable or DSL modems, it says. I had the problem when I intially connected to my router. I didn't when I changed the configuration and followed Vonage's directions.

Concidence? Perhaps. I do think that following Vonage's recommendations is the best course of action for the typical consumer. But if you're like Michael, you're probably not the typical consumer. He has quite a bit of computer equipment in his office, from the sounds of it, and he's not afraid to go into a router's configuration menu and change a few firmware settings.

I'll be interested to hear Michael's experiences with the stability of the V-Portal when used in conjunction with his router, as well as his advice for optimizing a router for use with Vonage and other VoIP services.

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