Orcon Genius: Nerd Stuff For The Masses

Inside the clandestine world of nerds and geeks, peeps be bugging. It’s like some secret formula has been released, and suddenly my mum is capable of making nerd Coca Cola.

Orcon Genius DeviceOrcon’s new Genius product takes stuff that geeks have been aware of for some time (naked broadband and VoIP providers), and packages it all up with a sexy device, tight pricing, and some TR-069 jiggery pokery. The result is a plug-and-play solution for everyone to circumvent the previously all-but-mandatory Telecom PSTN line rental. Yes, even my mum.

The Genius device, co-developed with Australia’s iinet, comes in two flavours: the full version includes a matching DECT cordless handset, while the lite version is just the WiFi/DSL router with a phone port. If you already have cordless handsets in your house, the lite version should be plenty. I’m told that the hardware is otherwise identical.

Pricing is all a bit weird, but certainly cheaper than Orcon’s existing phone+internet plans. The base price is $70 per month, for which you get broadband and the standard “smart phone” services (voicemail, callerid, and call waiting) plus either 30GB and standard calling charges, or 5GB with unlimited national calling. Optional add-ons include more data, flat rate calling to nominated countries, and land-to-mobile minutes.

The lite device is free if you sign up for 18 months, or $5 per month.  The standard device (with handset) is free if you sign up for a 24 month contract, or $10 per month. Those contracts also erase your Genius setup fee, which comes in at $99 if you don’t want to be tied in. Orcon have also nixed a common complaint if you sign up on a contract: adding one free DSL address move while you’re on a contract (only if you move house of course). There’s been (rightly in my opinion) a bit of bitching lately that long-time customers are being hit with the standard Telecom $99 move fee – I think Orcon (and other ISPs) should be swallowing this in the interests of happy customers.

Bottom line: it almost sounds too good to be true. The cost of my fairly heavy usage on Orcon will go from around $170 per month down to $120-ish, with most of the savings being from the removal of the standard line component. Orcon are going to have a very popular device and service on their hands if it works as well as they say it does.

One huge caveat: being VoIP, this service is not going to work with your monitored alarm or medical alarms. I guess you could hack the connection so that it plugs into the Genius device, but that would be completely unsupported. Update 21/7: “we will be introducing functionality in the future to support monitored alarms.”

Update 26 July – Now with VoIP

The Genius device arrived a couple of days ago, and now the VoIP has been enabled. I was a naughty boy and plugged the device in before I was told to, but it worked perfectly. Obviously the DECT phone on the device had no dialtone, but otherwise all good. It is incredibly configurable, so I had no problems setting it up with my normal WiFi SID, security, and port forwarding settings. Incredibly, the device is syncing faster than any ADSL device I’ve had on this line. Previously I would max out at about 4000kbps, but the Genius regularly syncs up at 4300+

How good is the VoIP? Bloody good. I made a couple of inbound calls today, answered by my wife, who commented on how clear they were. This is probably mostly to do with the new DECT handset, but it’s probably partly to do with the whole digital thing too – we’re a long way from the exchange, so analog calls are not perfect.

The one thing I was sceptical about was QoS. How can this system possibly place a call while I’m downloading a, errr, Linux ISO at full speed? Short answer: it just does. I noticed a definite dip in throughput when I placed a call, but it bounced right back up again after I hung up. It seems quite frugal too, based on the completely crap and inaccurate graph at right, I’m guessing about 60kbBs is assigned to voice (well, probably 64 to be exact), but even that seems to be freed up a bit during silence and one-way talking.

Lastly, the voicemail system is awesome. While out shopping today I got an email on my smartphone, which contained a 400kB wav file (yeah, eww), which was a 41 second voicemail message left by my mum. I was able to listen to the voicemail on my smartphone with no problem at all. One teeny tiny problem that I need to call Orcon about: our voicemail PIN seems to not be working, so I can’t clear the voicemail at home. No dramas, because I’ve already listened to it.

Incidentally, we were with Orcon for our normal phone line before switching to Genius, and our voicemail greeting has been retained.

Update 5 August – A week (and a bit) of it

We’ve been rocking the Genius for more than a week now, and it has been unremarkable. This is a Good Thing. We’ve had no issues with data or calls, no missed messages, and no quality problems. Just nothing at all. It’s hard to convey how insanely great it is for a brand new service to have nothing at all go wrong with it.

In the comments below there’s one person who had their phone cut off before Genius was online. This completely sucks but is to be expected. ISP changes and modifications in New Zealand are horrendously bad. Moving house, or moving from one ISP to another almost guarantees you one or more days of missing or incomplete service. One can only hope with an independent Chorus this situation will improve.

Nerd Questions

Q: can I use my existing SIP device in place of the Genius?

A: No. Orcon say the Genius’ SIP settings are configured from their end, and using the Genius guarantees all the right QoS settings and compatibility. Unofficial: I’m sure someone will discover the right settings soon so we can use our own gear. Update 21/7: new semi-official answer: “I guess you *can* use your own device – but it’s not something we support.”

Q: Can I just use the naked DSL bit and connect to my choice of SIP provider, and/or Skype?

A: Yes, but you can’t connect the Genius device to your own VoIP provider (again, guessing because the settings are managed by Orcon). The VoIP service is bundled in the Genius pricing so you can’t opt out, but there’s nothing stopping you using your own service with your own device. Quote “it’s just an internet connection”

 Q: If the device is configured by Orcon, do I have control over common router settings like WiFi SID and port forwarding?

A: Yes, apparently. I’ll do some testing on this when I get the device, but I’m guessing it’s really only the firmware, SIP stuff and account settings that Orcon are managing. I’m told everything else is completely configurable.

61 Replies to “Orcon Genius: Nerd Stuff For The Masses”

  1. Novice question: could you use this device with a monitored alarm if you have had your broadband and phonelines split? That’s what we had to do to get simply get telecom broadband to work with our alarm…

    1. No. With Genius, you don’t have any dialtone on your “regular” copper line. The only way to get a dialtone is via the Genius device.

      I’m presuming you could fudge your own wiring so that your alarm plugs in to the Genius. Or maybe that would make it explode?

  2. @SFWD: No. The whole point is you don’t have a phone line any more – your splitter will achieve nothing as there’s nothing to split ;).

  3. I’ve run into sound quality issues with VoiP services in the past. For some reason I’ve never fully understood calls to Australia are a particular problem.

    I’d like to see some guarantees from Orcon before committing to a product like this.

    Actually I can’t commit because I’m on a contract with my existing provider – I’m talking here about when that rolls over some time in the next millenium 🙂

    1. Already a lot of international toll calling is carried over VoIP circuits – even making a call via your normal landline to another country could very possibly be transiting via VoIP.

      The big thing it QoS – quality of service – which should ensure that the VoIP data is prioritised over other data. This is something that you tend to lack when setting up VoIP yourself, or using something like Skype. And it’s something that Orcon aims to control very specifically by supplying a managed service like this I guess.

  4. For SFWD, as far as monitored alarms and VoIP go, they don’t really like to play together. Modems have problems with VoIP Lines and the way the compression works with codecs etc… believe me, we tried this with a fax, and unless your provider (like WxC/Xnet) supports it, it just *won’t* work.

    Although – can’t hurt to try. If you’re thinking of going VoIP However, talk to your alarm company – they may be able to offer an ethernet monitoring option.

  5. Hi….what type of wifi is it?..n or g…and would this device handle heavy multi wifi gaming via the net?

  6. I understand Orcon transfers your old phone number over to the Genius service. Do you know if a second phone number can be added. My wife wants her own number for her home business.

  7. Thanks Ben re the screen shot regarding Wifi….Additionally I have just found out the device supports TIVO via wifi connection…which is GREAT given other ISP providers don’t

  8. We sell these by the truckload to our customers in Aussie (I work for iiNet).

    Not sure what firmware lockdown is implemented on the Orcon version of this (we call it BoB2). With ours we do send config down the line automatically. However customers can still manually set the device up, and also run a second VoIP service on it simultaneously (not necessarily ours)

  9. You can run your own SIP service through this – I’ve tested myself.

    Just set up your SIP username/password first (this is important to do first).

    Then backup the configuration to file.

    Edit the config file (its XML) and replace every instance sip1.orcon.net.nz with your provider (ie. for 2talk this would be 2talk.co.nz)

    Not sure if its required, but I also removed the management server link so it wouldn’t try to update from Orcon.

    In the XML there is 4 SIP providers rather than the 2 exposed in the user interface – interesting eh?

    After you’ve done this you can change your ISP to one with a decent helpdesk and international bandwidth to major sites like YouTube and Facebook, and don’t manage to screw up every customer request that comes their way.

    Keep the router – $250 for a VOIP/3G/Wifi/USB Storage router is a bargain.

  10. We’re in. Signed, sealed (but yet to be delivered). We are so OVER paying a monthly line rental (for pretty much nothing) on top of a fairly limited data plan (which we needed to top up all the time, thanks to our joint obsession with reddit). Thanks for the review – Orcon needs to reward you for your love.

  11. An additional note to my guide: If you’re on 2talk you’ll want to disable RFC2833 (so tone dialling works for voicemail etc.)

    Do this by removing the line:

    RFC2833

    Remove the line completely, then reupload the configuration and it will work perfectly.

  12. Hmm.. ok.. I’ve forgotten how to post HTML snippets in a comment 🙂

    [DTMFMethod]RFC2833[/DTMFMethod]

    Swap square brackets for greater than/less than signs

  13. Signed up on the 20th july got email saying swap over will be 1st august phone line was disconnected by chorus guy
    Now I’ve been without phone and internet for 4 days trying to contact orcon and eventually got through was told by orcon support its not good enough and fshould get my phone and internet back on 5th august……..so be very carefully when you sign up to this

  14. The fact I went from a perfectly good phone and internet connection to nothing for 4 days just by signing up to genius
    I now know what the chorus guy meant by his comment when he disconnected our line by wishing us good luck

  15. Connected ours on monday. It works like a dream! Our BB speed has almost doubled as well to 15mb/s. Very happy with it, sounds like we are some of the lucky ones! Good luck Neil.

  16. Still no internet or phone and having to wait over 30 mins to talk to support……..now thinking of changing isp any good alternatives thanks

  17. The USB port in the Genius, could this possibly be used as a shared printer server or is it for external drive use only?

  18. We waited for 2 hours the other day to talk to support – I’d recommend Vodafone, if you’ve got a mobile monthly plan you can get 45gb naked dsl for $65, and get a voip line with someone like 2talk.