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3Com NBX 100 Review

Review by: Internet Telephony TMC Labs - May 2002

Ratings (0-5)
Installation: 5
Documentation: 4.5
Features: 4.5
GUI: 4.75
Overall: A-
Our NBX 100 test system arrived along with three IP phones. The unit has five universal card slots and one call-processor card slot. The universal card slots can be used to add various configurations of extensions and trunks. The NBX 100 supports up to 200 devices with a maximum of 100 CO lines (analog or digital), 200 voice mailboxes, 150 phantom mailboxes, 12 voice mail/automated attendant ports, and 80 hours of storage. Our test unit was equipped with an analog line card, 10-Base-T hub card, and the call processor, all of which were installed in the chassis upon its arrival.

It was obvious 3Com had done a small bit of pre-configuration prior to shipping the NBX to us, as the system was practically ready for use out of the box. After powering up the NBX, connecting the uplink on the call processor to an office hub, and putting together and powering up the phones, the system was almost ready for use. Since we were having a small problem using HyperTerminal to access the box, we opted to utilize 3Com’s NetSet Administration utility. After changing the IP address of a local PC to a number within range of the NBX, we were able to log on to the Web-based administration utility and configure the phone system to run on our network settings. This was all done without referencing the documentation, and was completed in less than 10 minutes.

Noticing that three extensions were configured in the administration GUI, we assumed all that would be necessary concerning setup was plugging the phones into a hub or directly into the systems 10Base-T hub card. We guessed that the system would recognize the phone’s MAC address and append the device information stored with its ID. We plugged in the phones and waited to see what would happen. As we thought, each phone was assigned an extension along with default configuration information. Time, date, and extension were displayed on the phone’s LCD; lifting the receiver initiated dial tone.

We then also deleted all of the pre-configured device information and tested the system from the standpoint of installing a completely new piece of hardware from scratch. 3Com’s NBX has a feature called Auto Discovery that detects all applicable devices upon installation and assigns each a voice mailbox. Though we were shipped three IP phones with the demo unit and all of them were pre-configured, as a test we deleted the device configuration and user properties of a several station sets thereby removing them from the system. After disconnecting both the power and LAN connection and re-introducing the two, Auto Discovery did exactly what it was supposed to do. The Device Configuration window listed the new devices as extension #103 and #104 respectively; new extensions were denoted with an asterisk, but also showed that a user had not yet been assigned. We found this to make installation especially simple.

The NBX 100 runs on a Wind River VxWorks platform and offers both auto attendant and voice mail in addition to full PBX functionality. Embedded Virtual Tie Line services allow networking between sites or other 3Com phone systems, while the system also has add-on H.323 gateway support. The NBX 100 also supports FXS/FXO lines; T1/PRI, E1/PRI, ISDN BRI-ST; had embedded TAPI service including TAPIWAVE for audio transport, and a TAPIDIALER. The system supports NBX IP phones, 2500 series compatible analog devices including cordless phones, fax machines, night bells, door ringers, and the pcXset soft phone. The NBX 100 has Web-based management, CDRs, and a software-based auto attendant. Both the Admin and User guides are embedded within the system. The NBX 100 also offers an optional Ethernet Power Source (EPS) providing phone power via its Ethernet connection. Open architecture supports QoS, CTI integration, and IMAP 4 support.

1102 IP Phone
The 1102 includes a 10Base-T hub port and a two-line, 16-character LCD display with three soft keys. The phone has 18 programmable buttons, ten feature buttons, LEDs, and an external AC power brick. It’s capable of call transfer, redial, speaker, conference, hold, voice mail access, voice mail forwarding, DHCP support, dial-by-name, and other functions. The NBX business phones feature embedded DSP intelligence, and are capable of operating as standalone VoIP phones. The phones are also equipped with browser-based administration.

Auto Attendant and Voice Mail
The Embedded Multi-Auto Attendant and voice mail support multiple languages. Additionally voice mail supports IMAP services and find-me messaging capabilities.

The NBX administrative interface got very high marks, not only because of its Web-based administration capability, but also for its intuitive design. In addition to its command-line, serial interface as an alternate avenue for configuration, the NBX offers a very comprehensive administrative GUI, which provides IT personnel with the all the tools necessary to maintain and quickly make system changes. In fact, after getting past the logon and reaching the main menu, the GUI segments different areas of the system very clearly, and also offers embedded user and administration guides. The “Tab To It” GUI provides a comprehensive view of the administration floor plan, allowing phone managers to quickly find the correct area to apply changes or configuration. Consider the “Tab To It” GUI as a sort of Windows Explorer for the NBX.

The user configuration is fast and allows for easy additions and subtractions from the system. Additionally, the phones can be moved from one area or office to another without having to reconfigure them or adapt any user information. After connecting a telephone, the unit is assigned an extension based on its MAC address. The administrator will need to know the MAC address to configure the device according to its user. From the End User interface, admin can add new users to hunt groups, call-pickup groups, and add them to class of service (COS) groups as well. All extensions are assigned to the default Class of Service group until changed by the administrator. Though it was simple enough to add users to a certain COS, when initially populating the system this can get a bit tedious if it’s necessary to add large groups of people to several different service classes. We were hoping for some drag-and-drop functionality or some other way to migrate users in masses to specific service classes as opposed to individually.

End User
End users have access to the NetSet Web GUI for phone programming as well. After users assign a password to their voice mailbox, they can access the Web GUI to make changes or personalize their settings. Their extension is the default username, and the voice mail password is also the NetSet password. The NetSet GUI lets users view their call permissions, program the speed dial at their extension, log into a hunt group with the correct password, and access call forwarding features. End users also have the advantages of viewing the company phone directory, downloading the phone’s user guide (.PDF) and TAPI client, or accessing the online Quick Reference Phone guide. An end user can also set notification preferences. Called “Off-Site Notification” the NBX provides an interface for end users to receive notification that someone is attempting to reach them when out of the office during business hours (or anytime, if they choose). The feature allows notification via numeric pager as well as e-mail notification (if integrated).

The Soft Phone
The soft phone, called pcXset, is actually a function-packed replica of the NBX Business Phone. The phone residing on a user’s desktop, “Is ideally suited for a business traveler with a laptop,” according to one 3Com representative. Obviously aimed at eliminating the learning curve of operating another device linked to the NBX phone system, 3Com decided to mirror the Business Phone’s appearance and functionality, including the remote phone capability in the soft phone as well. The soft phone has a simple configuration wizard attached to it, guiding end users through its NetMeeting-like set-up procedure. A point-and-click type of device, the pcXset also has the same programmable feature buttons and speed dial buttons as the Business Phones. Click on any of the white tabs and a name can be typed on the label next to a given button. Using the soft phone with a good headset provided high-quality voice transmission and reception on our LAN.

The 1102 Business Phone As A Standalone VoIP Phone
3Com’s IP business telephones: The 1102, the second generation 2102, the 2102-IR, and the 2101 all have the capability to turn a home office or an offsite location into a virtual NBX extension via an Ethernet connection. The phones provide the same functionality whether connected on a LAN or via the Internet; either way they still rely on the NBX for call switching. However, since our test facility suffers from NAT issues when it comes to connecting internal audio devices to other devices via the Internet, the only way we could certify this functionality was to bring a Business Phone over to the location of our Internet gateway and circumvent the firewall completely. That is, since we weren’t able to open TCP port 1040 and UDP ports 2093-2096 on our firewall, the firewall had to be bypassed in order to achieve successful remote extension status.

Without the DHCP service to assign our phone an address, we had to choose one from our ISP provider’s address pool. The phone is capable of accepting both a static and dynamically assigned IP address. In addition to the IP address, subnet, and gateway, the IP address of the host NBX phone system is also necessary. After entering all of the information via the phone’s keypad and LCD screen, the NBX system (in Southern California) recognized our 1102 IP phone in Norwalk, CT. The LCD (after about 30 seconds) displayed the phone’s extension: 325, along with the date and Pacific Time.

The receiver offered a dial tone, so we dialed the extension of a 3Com engineer using that NBX system. Voice quality was very good, though we did detect hints of audio artifacting at times. All the same features available to the phone on a LAN are available to it via the Internet: Hold, Transfer, Conference, Call Park, Directory Dialing, etc… A quick “tracert” command revealed the packets traveling between our office and 3Com’s SoCal. office were making 17 hops before reaching the NBX system on the 18th jump.

Overall we thought the 3Com NBX was an excellent value for the price, and additionally offered a hefty feature set. However, a few small things were noted we thought may be improved upon. Though it’s a small issue, the phone’s buttons weren’t as sensitive to the touch as some other phones we’ve tested. At times, we had to press the same keypad several times before it appeared on the LCD. Automatic call distribution is not a part of the NBX 100 system, though it can be added through the 3COM Call Center solution. Similarly, voice mail screening doesn’t come with the system, though it too can be obtained via the NBX Unified Communications package. And lastly, 3Com has an Ethernet in-line power add-on, however their solution doesn’t support the 802.3af standard at present.

The NBX 100 performed well in all of our tests. We liked the system’s ease of setup (especially the Auto Detection feature) and ease of use, while still managing to deliver a powerful feature set. Web-based management is always a positive, allowing administrators to access the phone system from just about anywhere; adopting the same Web-based phone management for end-users only adds to the system’s usability. The pcXset and Business Phone’s standard feature as remote IP extensions additionally adds value to the already-reasonable price point because a separate device is not needed for a standalone IP phone with the NBX system — all devices can be configured as remote extensions. Though the unit uses 3Com’s proprietary voice protocol, it has the ability to add standard H.323 gateway functionality if need be. The system provides a range of services that seem to suit a SMB very well. Aside from a few minor “would haves,” the NBX 100 is right on.