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’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.
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.
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.