A couple of weeks later, I ran into Bryan and asked him about his new SunRocket service. He was very happy with the whole thing and even talked another co-worker, George, into getting the service. Intrigued, I decided to let both of them test the service for a while and see how long the honeymoon would last.
In the meantime, I started doing some research on SunRocket.
Do your homework
I googled SunRocket and read reviews on www.dslreports.com, www.voipreview.org and other blogs. To save myself some time, I only read “bad” reviews. Some were legit but most were just misunderstandings or wrong expectations of the VoIP technology. Since voice data is transmitted over the Internet, the first thing that one should do is to test their bandwidth capabilities.
My ISP is Comcast with the 8MBdown and 768Kbup plan. There are several online bandwidth tests you can use; I like testmy.net.
Connection is:: 8886 Kbps about 8.89 Mbps (tested with 5983 kB)
Download Speed is:: 1085 kB/s
Tested From:: http://testmy.net (Server 1)
Test Time:: 2006/03/31 – 4:58pm
Bottom Line:: 155X faster than 56K 1MB Download in 0.94 sec
Tested from a 5983 kB file and took 5.516 seconds to complete
Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.7.12) Gecko/20050915 Google bot/1.0.7
Diagnosis: Awesome! 20% + : 81.13 % faster than the average for host (comcast.net)
Validation Link:: http://testmy.net/stats/id-4D9H2COWF
Connection is:: 747 Kbps about 0.75 Mbps (tested with 2992 kB)
Upload Speed is:: 91 kB/s
Tested From:: http://testmy.net (Server 1)
Test Time:: 2006/03/31 – 5:01pm
Bottom Line:: 13X faster than 56K 1MB Upload in 11.25 sec
Tested from a 2992 kB file and took 32.82048 seconds to complete
Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.7.12) Gecko/20050915 Google bot/1.0.7
Diagnosis: Awesome! 20% + : 101.35 % faster than the average for host (comcast.net)
Validation Link:: http://testmy.net/stats/id-9XQZGF2TE
I kept on reading about SunRocket and found out that it uses G.711 CODEC versus G.723 with Lingo. So what, you say? Well, G.711 has a bitrate of 64K and a NEB (Nominal Ethernet Bandwidth, one direction) of 87.2Kbps. G.729, Lingo’s codec samples at 8Kbps and a NEB of 31.2 Kbps – in other words, the less the compression, the better the sound quality.
Knowing that SunRocket uses codec G.711 gave me some hope. However, I was not ready to jump on the bandwagon yet, there were still two things I wanted to confirm.
The first thing I wanted to do was to run some sort VoIP tests, to make sure that there was a good probability that I would get a decent service. I found TestYourVoIP.com site, a Java based application that simulates a VoIP communication for 15 seconds and rates the connection. There are several call destinations you can choose from with two options. The first one is “Preserve Speech Quality” (codec G.711) and “Conserve Bandwidth” (G.723).
To give you an idea, the highest score you could get is 4.4 with the quality over bandwidth and up to 4.2 for the bandwidth over quality option. I scored 3.7 on the first test (call destination BOSTON), not too shabby but I could do better. I logged in my Linksys WRT54G v1.1 with a 3rd party firmware, version v4.70.8, Hyperwrt 2.1b1 + Thibor14 and manually set up QoS to 576Kbps. I reran the VoIP test (call destination BOSTON) and scored 4.0 this time.
I confirmed the good results via http://myspeed.visualware.com/index.html
Download: 8,460,456 bps
Upload: 566,696 bps
RTT: 71 ms
MaxPause: 11 ms
Test #: 2411631
$199.00/year sounds very cheap, but what if the service was not satisfactory? I needed to make sure that I could cancel the service and get a refund if I was unhappy with it. That was my second concern.
I went to SunRocket page, looked around and found out that they have a “31 day risk-free with our money back guarantee”.
At that point I couldn’t find any excuses to not sign up with SunRocket.
At first the service was not available for my phone number, according to their website. The site gave the option to fill out a form and they would notify me when the service would become available. I didn’t bother and tried a week later or so, and that time it took me to the sign up page.
I followed directions and opted for the one year for $199.00 deal. As soon as the process was completed, I was able to login my account and poke around the features. At that point I had the option to port my current number to SR, but I wanted to test the service for a while.
Here is a copy and paste from SR page, as of 04/01/2006, as I am sure there will be some more added later.
The full descriptions can be found at SR features.
7 Digit Dialing
Caller ID with Name
Call Waiting ID
Click to Call
Do Not Disturb
One great feature that I would mention is the second number anywhere in the US as long as it is within SR coverage area. That gives one of your relatives or friends a local call when they want to give you a ring. To be honest, I have very little interest in the “features”. I am much more interested in the networking part of the service. Anything that has a MAC address is a potential toy to me.
Now, came the wait. According to the email notification I got after I signed up, it should take within 5 to 10 days to receive the kit. I would be notified that my package had been shipped by a UPS email with tracking number. I read on various reviews that the kit got in fairly quick, within 5 to 8 days. In my case it took 21 days from the day I signed up to the day the box was delivered. I believe my shipment was delayed because the free Uniden phone was back ordered. I did contact the member service, three times, but all I heard back from them was that there was no tracking number available at the time but I would be notified as soon as the shipment occurred. That was not a big deal, but it was certainly a disappointment.
The box contained one cordless Uniden phone and an ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter) device, called a “gizmo” by SR and a pre-paid UPS slip to return the product. I took a quick glance at the quick installation document to check how/where the device could be set up within my network. If there was no router, th
e ATA should be connected to the DSL/Cable and the PC to the gizmo. That was the SR recommended configuration. If there was a router in the mix, the device could be installed, either in front of the router or behind the router. I opted for the latter. Most of the SunRocket users I know have the gizmo in front and they are happy with that setup. Even though I have not verified by myself, I read that if the gizmo is on front of the router, the download speed will drop dramatically.
I didn’t unpack the Uniden phone since I didn’t plan on using it. For the testing I was just going to use my current phone, an AT&T with three phones set. Once all the cables were connected, all the lights on the gizmo started blinking, and then went solid, including the VoIP indicator light. I picked up the phone and there it was, the dial tone. Right away, I dialed my wife’s work phone but it rang busy. I called my own cell phone and it rang busy too!
Guess I’m going to have to RTFM. I found out that I needed to call some number to activate the service. I dialed the number listed on the quick installation guide and was greeted by a recorded voice confirming the service activation.
I called back my wife but got her voicemail. I left her a message and placed a couple calls. One of the calls I placed was to my parents – in France. I try to call them once a week, so I figured that they should have been able to tell if there was a difference in the call or not. I didn’t tell them the real purpose of my call right away. We chatted for a few minutes and I asked if they could notice something different with the phone conversation. They said that the call was pretty good and even better than usual. How about that! Not only was I going to save a bunch of money, but I was also getting a better overseas call connection.
Later that night, my wife called one of her out of state friends for 30 minutes and neither one could tell the difference between the POTS and the VoIP.
After dinner, I took a closer look at the new device and connected the free Uniden phone to the gizmo.
One should always be concerned about security every time a device is connected to their network. The first thing you want to do is to log into the device, via a web interface, and secondly, you want to know what’s under the hood. Well, maybe you don’t, but I do.
To access the GUI, you need to know the device’s IP address. If it’s connected before the router, the IP address should be 192.168.251.1 on the LAN port. It the gizmo is connected after the router, it would get an IP from the router via DHCP services. In my case, I got it connected behind the router and I figured out the IP address by looking in the router log. I entered the IP address in a browser and typed the default login information, user/welcome and voila!
The very next thing to do was to make up a new password. The GUI had all the settings that you would expect from a basic router, DMZ, NAT, Access filtering, DHCP server and PPoE connection for DSL costumers. Since my gizmo was behind the router, there weren’t a lot of settings to change. I set up a static IP and confirmed that I was running the latest firmware, 3.0.64.
Since my parents are overseas, I set up a video-streaming server so they could watch and talk to their granddaughter on a weekly basis. So I was curious as to see how the service would behave with the extra upstream bandwidth usage. The VoIP would consume 90Kbps and the streaming video should use around 30Kbps, total of 120Kbps up. There was plenty left from the 768Kbps pipe.
I placed my call to Europe and told my mom that she could go ahead and connect to my streaming server to watch her grandchild. That didn’t work out as I expected. Even though I was able to hear her fine, she told me that I was breaking up a lot. I dropped the video streaming quality and the upstream went down to 15Kbps from 30Kbps. My mother then said that the call was “better”.
The issue was obviously not about bandwidth but QoS.
What is QoS?
QoS: Quality of Service: “(Quality Of Service) A defined level of performance in a data communications system. For example, to ensure that real-time voice and video are delivered without annoying blips, a guarantee of bandwidth is required. The plain old telephone system (POTS) has delivered the highest quality of service for years, because there is a dedicated channel between parties.
However, when data is broken into packets that travel through the same routers in the LAN or WAN with all other data, QoS mechanisms are one way to guarantee quality by giving real-time data priority over non-real time data (see packet switching). The only other way is to overbuild the network so there is always sufficient bandwidth.” (Source)
Great, I bricked my WRT54G…
I thought I had QoS setup with my Linksys WRT54G v1.1 powered by Hyperwrt 2.1b1 + Thibor14. I did some research and gave DD-WRT v23 a try, especially since it also supports SNMP. Head on, I flashed my router with the DD-WRT firmware “dd-wrt.v23_voip_wrt54g.bin” via the GUI web interface. Once the process was completed I modified my network setting to use DHCP instead of static so I could get an IP from the router and logged back to the web admin interface.
I ran IPCONFIG command to make sure I got an IP lease from the router, but instead I was pulling the 169.254.xxx.xxx address. I ran IPCONFIG /release then /renew but no luck. I tried the network “repair” with the same result.
Fine, knowing that the default IP address for the Linksys was 192.168.1.1, I assigned my computer a static address of 192.168.1.2 so I could ping it. But all I was getting back was “request timed out”.
Before I gave up, I decided to perform a hardware reset. I ran a ping -t 192.168.1.1 then held the reset button on the back of the unit for a little while (30s or more). Finally, the WRT54G came back to life; I was getting replies.
I pulled up the web interface and started configuring the firmware, password, QoS, port forwarding, Wireless security, enable logging and snmp and other settings.
Monitoring and QoS testing
With SNMP capabilities and with the appropriate software, we should be able to get a good look at the bandwidth usage and test the QoS settings. My theory is, if the Qos is properly setup I should be able to maintain a decent call even if my upstream is maxed out.
PRTG offers nice real-time traffic monitoring and the free version allows up to 3 sensors. To test the call quality, I called my SunRocket number, identified as SR_Phone from my home POTS line, POTS_Phone. I took the SR_Phone into the bedroom, turned the TV on and put the SRPhone in from of the TV. Came back to the computer room and listened to the POTS_Phone. Next, I turned the radio on, left the POTS_Phone in front of the radio and went into the bedroom to check on the SR_phone.
The communication is good as it can be on both units.
As expected PRGT showed a bandwidth usage maxed around 90kbps up and down. To stress the upstream, I started an upload FTP session to a dedicated server hosted by 1and1. From the SR_Phone, the sound quality stayed unchanged. On the POST_home, I could hear the sound slightly broke up but it remained acceptable, at least as far as I was concerned.
I still needed a real life situation test with an unbiased party. I started the streaming video, left at low quality settings from the last time I talked to them and gave m family in France a call. We chatted for a little while. The sound was very good on my end and since mother did not say anything about the call quality I assumed it was good. I decided to crank up the video feed quality, gradually, to the highest I can go with the software. The discussion was still flowing both ways, still very good on my end, and she hadn’t asked me to repeat myself or made any comments, I assumed the call q
uality was good on her end.
The test was going well so far, so I decided to max out my upload pipe, and a FTP upload session would just do that. Let’s recap: there is a 100Kbps by VoIP, another 300Kbps webcam streaming and a 350+ Kbps FTP upload. According to my PRTG bandwith monitor, 732kbps was the peak value during that 40 minutes VoIP test. I asked my mom if she could still hear me ok, she said “yes”. I asked her to put my sister on for a second opinion. She did tell me that I was breaking up a little bit but it was still very acceptable. On my end, the whole 40-minute phone call was crystal clear.
How about faxing with SunRocket. That would be great if we could. My wife needs to fax about once a month. Before we had fax capabilities at home she used to do it from work, but it is certainly more convenient if she can do it from home. We needed a new printer anyway, so we invested in an HP 4215 All-In-One Fax/Scanner/Printer, which works fine as far as faxing on the POTS. According to SunRocket, it may or may not work. SR supports T.38, which is an ITU standard for sending FAX across IP networks in a real-time mode. It took me a few tries to make it work. I have a free fax incoming number with k7.net. I sent the first test without changing any settings. It did go through but the document ratio was messed up. Instead of a 10.5 x 8.5, letter format, it showed up as a 5.4 x 8.5. I remembered reading somewhere about decreasing the fax speed might help in certain configurations, such as ISDN, PBX system and FoIP (Fax over Internet Protocol). My HP all-in-one supports, V.34 (33600 bps), V.17(14400 bps) and V.29 (9600 bps), and after a few tries, I got it working by using the slowest speed.
Some cold hard facts
– It will not be as reliable as the POTS. There would be outages – if it not from SunRocket, then it could be from your ISP. Hopefully you have a cell phone as a backup.
– Sound quality might not be as good as the landline, but so far it has been.
– Troubleshooting the service can be difficult – hardware problems, home network misconfiguration, ISP bandwidth issues, SunRocket service is down, or maybe all of the above. I wouldn’t count on the technical support for help. Granted, I have not called SR helpdesk myself, but that was the impression I got from reading SunRocket reviews.
– Cheaper than any existing POTS plan with unlimited long distance. $200/year is hard to beat.
In my experience, the SunRocket service has been much better than what I have expected from a VoIP service. I’d like to stress the importance of getting QoS working. In my case, it’s a night and day difference. After I got everything working with my Linksys WRT54G, I decided to set up an IPCOP router/firewall box. I liked all the IPCOP features but I could not get the QoS working with it. Call quality degraded right away. I had to switch back to the Linksys model.
I decided to give SmoothWall, another PC linux based router/firewall, a try and so far I’m happy with the combo and the money savings!
02/21/2006 Registered Online.
03/10/2006 Received UPS tracking number.
03/14/2006 Received the SunRocket kit.
03/26/2006 Placed the request to port the home number.
04/17/2006 The home number was ported.
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