I have had a Naked DSL line to my house for a few years now, managed by a Billion 7404VNOX VOIP router. Although the VNOX is a very capable device, there were always a few problems and frustrations I could never resolve. A few nights ago, it started dropping the ISP connection over and over again. The symptoms sounded spookily like this post by Dan Rutter on RF interference except I didn't have any new stuff in the house to explain it.
Problems I had with the 7404VNOX:
- Urgent: Dropping connection repeatedly and randomly, anywhere from every 5 seconds to every 12 hours
- Problematic: Firewall holes stopped working - default to block (stealth) even when open and port-forwarded
- Annoying: Poor VOIP quality - low volume and voice dropouts even with silence-supression disabled
There aren't that many options for an ADSL VOIP Wireless-N Gigabit-ethernet Router - especially considering that I wanted something futureproof since the NBN is arriving in about a year at my place. I could have daisy-chained a few components together for perhaps a little less money, but when it comes to networking and phones, I prefer the simplicity of an all-in-one. Enter the FRITZ!box 7390.
The FRITZ!Box is a lot smaller, has a bright red box, lacks dangly external antennae, and the LEDs don't blink unless something's up.
The Billion seemed to give me slightly more bars on my phone when standing at the far reaches of my house, but I haven't measured throughput because I've not noticed any network speed issues in the real world.
The FRITZ!Box does have a second, WAN-access-only "guest" SSID though, which is nice. I can let my babysitter browse for unthinkable things on the wider internet without worrying about my LAN's open Samba shares.
Security: firewall and port-forwarding
I worried a little when I first read about the FRITZ!Box's invisible firewall configuration. With the Billion, I had complete control over ports and protocols if I wanted. Things work differently in the FRITZ!universe; the firewall is on, unless uPNP wants a hole in it, or until you ask for a port to be forwarded. After getting used to it, I love this. Running a server is a piece-of-proverbial now. You just tell the FRITZ!Box the outside port, the box (from a select list by name or IP), and which inside port you want to receive on -- and it just works, opening the right port for you. With the Billion, you have to set up port forwarding and firewall apertures individually, hope you got all the options correct, restart the router, wait for a full ADSL line sync and test. It usually didn't work for me the first few attempts.
Needless to say, the FRITZ!Box hasn't dropped its connection at all since I switched it on. The Billion spent most of its final couple of days in service dropping and reconnecting - which clearly indicated a problem - although it had never been 100% stable over the past few years with various firmwares affecting the dropout frequency a little bit.
One thing the Billion never did was handle calls very well. I have a set of Panasonic 5GHz cordless analogue phones in the house. Some Googling many years ago led me to believe these particular phones had occasional issues with Billion VOIP routers, and again the quality came and went with different firmwares but in the end the phone became pretty much unusable due to low volume and overly-aggressive silence suppression (even when completely disabled) - no matter which settings I tweaked. The FRITZ!Box quality is completely on par with a POTS service.
There is one particular annoyance though; the phone doesn't ring properly. Calling in towards the FRITZ!Box sounds normal for the caller, but the phone in the house drops tones, has big gaps in between and doesn't begin to sound at all for a few seconds after the caller hears it 'ringing'. More Googling makes me think this problem is likely to be permanent, but so far the answering machine function within the analogue phones have eventually coped and now answer after about nine rings (it is set to answer after six). I've already learned to live with it.
The 7404VNOX now out to pasture
Since the (w)LAN parts of it seem still to work as designed, I have some plans to turn the Billion into a wireless repeater to extend the household wifi range deep into the backyard. So far that hasn't worked out after several minutes of trying, but I am not yet as pessimistic as OzCableguy.