Fulfilling our promise from last months Innovations, we wasted no time in getting Ciscos new branch office router/gateway, the 1750, into our East Coast labs for a round ofhands-on evaluation. Heres how it performed.
For purposes of testing, Cisco sent us both the 1750 and 2610 routers. The 2600 series were Ciscos first voice-capable routers for the small-to-medium sized branch office, and have the same basic functionality as the 1750. The 2600s ability to act as a VoIP gateway as well as a data router distinguished it from the 2500, which can be considered the archetypal Cisco router used in enterprises for the past six years and familiar to most IT
The 2610 looks a lot like the Cisco router youre probably used to seeing a wide, flat gray box with a couple of LEDs. The 1750, on the other hand, is more compact and slightly chubbier. Both routers shipped to us with the same voice and data cards installed: a one-port serial card for data, and two-port foreign exchange office (FXO) and foreign exchange station (FXS) cards for voice. This configuration filled the three available slots on the 1750, while the 2610s second WAN
interface slot was left empty. We were also sent T1 CSU/DSU cards for each router, which can be swapped out for serial cards if a CSU/DSU is already in place. Cisco also offers ISDN BRI cards for WAN connections, as well as two-port async/sync serial, 56/64 Kbps four-wire CSU/DSU, and two- and four-wire E&M voice interfaces. One slot on the 1750 is reserved for voice, but the rest are universal, so interface configuration is quite flexible.
On the back of the 1750 youll also find an RJ-45 port for
connecting a LAN via a 10/100BaseT Ethernet hub, and a console port for configuring the router locally. After unpacking the routers, we linked one to the other using DCE/DTE serial cables. We then attached the console cable from the 1750s console port to the COM port of a PC running Windows 98 (alternatively, you could telnet into the router for remote configuration). For the trial, we hooked up a couple of average Radio Shack phones into the RJ-11 jacks on the FXS cards. The FXO card can be used to
connect to a PBX or key system, with the router sitting on the trunk side of the switch. At this point we were ready to power up the boxes and begin configuration.
While configuring a router is never the easiest task (especially for those who arent experienced networkers), setting up the 1750 isnt too bad. First, we installed ConfigMaker, a free GUI that includes wizards and click-and-drag icons representing network elements, onto the PC we were using as a local console. Though the interface
is indeed easy to use and does not require any experience, it doesnt let you fully configure the device (my hopes of avoiding the command line altogether were dashed). ConfigMaker is useful, however, insofar as it can automatically detect the routers installed interfaces, and it makes assignment of IP and subnet addresses, as well as correlation of phone numbers and extensions, a simple task. It can also provide a visual network diagram that maps logical and physical components and their
connections. But in order to actually enable the routers to place and receive calls, we had to go the command-line interface.
The 1750s embedded RISC processors run an updated version of Ciscos IOS software, so to those with experience using IOS, the only things new are the voice-related commands. Fortunately, rather extensive documentation is available for configuration of both the 1750 and the 2610, complete with a voice command glossary and illustrated examples for a host of sample configs, as
well as a good deal of relevant background information on implementing voice-over-IP in an enterprise network.
For the basic test we wanted to run, configuration was fairly straightforward and did not take too long to complete. We invented IP addresses for each serial card, and assigned them to a common subnet. Then we had to create POTS and VoIP dial peers for each routers FXS card, which broadly entailed assigning an extension and ten-digit phone number to each of the two ports, and then
associating those with the destination IP address and phone number of the opposite router. We told the router to use G.729 as the codec for voice compression, and set the IP Precedence (which dictates the priority of voice packets over data) using basic, one-line commands. IOS also can be used to enable any number of QoS protocols, including RSVP, weighted fair queuing, and committed access rate.
Before exiting our configuration session, we pinged each router from the other to insure that data could
successfully travel across the serial connection. Once we confirmed that the serial interfaces were active, we were ready to test for voice-over-IP. Because the 1750 can generate dial tone and ring frequency, all we had to do was pick up the handset and dial out (using a ten-digit number to call from router-to-router, and four-digit extensions from port-to-port). The voice quality was great: low latency and no noticeable delay or echo. A live demo at the Fall VON show of the 1750 and Ciscos CallManager IP
PBX gave us a chance to confirm this assessment on a call from Atlanta to New York.
While dialing phone calls from a router may, depending on who you are, not seem like the worlds most exciting event, its implications are fairly profound. When installed in the small branch office of a larger enterprise, the 1750 provides cost-effective access to converged voice and data over the WAN. Because it doubles as a trunk-side VoIP/PSTN gateway, you can keep all of your existing phone equipment in place
and route external calls over the PSTN, while all voice and fax traffic internal to the enterprise can travel as IP packets over frame relay or leased lines. VoIP and FoIP in this type of environment offer the obvious advantage of toll bypass, as well as providing integrated access thats perfect for an organization like a virtual call center. And while you may or may not be ready for them yet, powerful apps like dynamic firewalls and Virtual Private Networks (with tunneling and encryption) can be
deployed as needed. In short, the risks of implementing the 1750 are low (it does, after all, have all the functionality of a Cisco data router), while its voice capabilities offer near-term cost savings and exciting prospects for the future.
A two-port version of the 1750 with one embedded DSP lists at $2,295 (just $500 more than the equivalent data only model). A four-port version with two DSPs costs $2,695. The units are shipping now.