Initial Impressions: Konftel 300 Speakerphone

KONFTEL A couple of weeks ago I was told that our corporate HQ in Cambridge UK was starting to think about adding new conference room. Since I oversee the hosted IP-PBX that we use in the US they sought my suggestion for a suitable new conference phone. The requirements for the new device are a little odd, making device selection something of a challenge.

HQ has an older Alcatel OmniPCX digital PBX so all their phones are proprietary digital units. The existing Polycom SoundStation2 conference phone is an analog unit that connects to the PBX using a proprietary Alcatel interface box. There’s no word on replacing the PBX (ugh!) so the new conference phone likely needs to have an analog interface.

In contrast, our US operation makes use of OnSIP and Polycom SoundPoint phones scattered across various locations. In our Burbank office there is a conference room with a shiny new SoundStation IP6000. In general, we have come to appreciate the cost savings of calling via IP, as well as the call quality delivered by HDVoice (G.722.) This suggests that the new conference phone also needs to be IP-capable, and preferably wideband capable.

It turns out that most conference phones are IP-connected or analog-connected…but not both.

Somehow the idea of buying another IP6000, plugging it into an ATA with an FXO interface, then connecting that to an analog line from the Alcatel interface seemed a little byzantine.

byzantine-conf-phone-config copySo I put the question to the great wise group on a recent VUC call. Michael White from E4Strategies chimed in with a suggestion. He said that we should look at the Konftel 300 speakerphone. He further offered to send me an evaluation unit to try for a few days. Since I was just about to make a trip to the UK, I took him up on the offer.

KON300

The Konftel 300 is very versatile device. It provides an analog connection as the primary means of line access, but also has a USB port allowing it to be used as the audio device for PC. The idea was that we could use it in conjunction with a soft phone for IP-based calling. It’s totally indifferent to which soft phone you use. It even works with Skype.

It has a couple other nice features; like the ability to connect to a cell phone to place a call, and the ability to record calls to an SD memory card. It seems to be a really well considered device. No wonder snom has started to resell as similar model as the snom MeetingPoint.

Sadly, when I arrived at the UK office I found that SIP connectivity was not possible through the corporate firewall. Because of this the only experiments I was able to try at the office were conducted using Skype or the analog line.

Examining the Konftel and Polycom units side-by-side I find that their designs are significantly divergent. The traditional Polycom conference phone has a centrally mounted speaker, ringed by a trio of microphones, giving it that now classic “spiderphone” shape. In contrast the Konftel 300 has three speakers around it’s base, with a centrally mounted microphone.

My initial impression is that the Konftel 300 sounds markedly better than the old SoundStation2, but that’s not really a fair comparison. Those were just the two devices that I had in front of me at the moment. Both did an admirable job when connected to the analog line.

Since my time with the devices was over a weekend I had a quiet working environment. It would be interesting to see how they both handled a noisy conference room full of people. Our existing conference space is quite small, so there was no need for extension microphones or speakers, although these are available for the Konftel unit.

Switching to using the USB connection to attach my laptop I fired up Skype and made a few test calls. Here the Konftel phone showed that it was truly wideband capable. The call quality was crisp and clear. I heard no echo at all.

Acting as an audio device for the attached PC the Konftel 300 doesn’t support any specific codecs per se. The audio streams are encoded by the soft phone client on the PC, in my case Skype, Eyebeam 1.5, Gizmo5 and PhonerLite. That also means that there may be soft phone settings for AGC, echo cancellation, etc that can be defeated since the Konftel hardware is addressing those issues.

Konftel also offers a model 300IP that is more self-contained, connecting directly to the IP network and supporting G.722 based wideband calling.

In the end I’m not sure that a conference phone + soft phone solution can be considered acceptable. It adds a requirement for a PC permanently in the conference room. That complicates the basic functioning of the room.

By the time the new conference space is completed we may be ready to replace the old Alcatel PBX. That opens us to the possibility of installing a proper IP-PBX, eliminating the requirement for the analog interface on the conference phone.

Conference phones are not something that I deal with a lot. My understanding was that Polycom is the clear leader in the space, and we are extremely happy with our IP6000. In fact, I really like Polycom hardware in general.

However, my time spent with the Konftel 300 suggests that others may have truly competitive products, and there is certainly room for advancement beyond the current state-of-the-art. While we have not yet decided what we’re going to purchase, our eyes have been opened to considering lesser known but worthy alternatives.

Finally, a special thank you goes to Michael White and E4Strategies. Not many vendors will loan you one of their demo products for an ad hoc evaluation. These guys are outstanding.

  • Michael,

    “It adds a requirement for a PC permanently in the conference room.”

    Has your organisation considered web conferencing? Having this phone in conjunction with something like Webex with it’s own voip built in (running across port 80/443) would solve the firewall problem and give a reason for that laptop/pc to be there – sharing documents, slidedecks, and desktops.

  • Yes, in fact, for years we have made extensive use of GotoMeeting for web conferencing. But we don’t use their voice service. Their initial voice service was provided in conjunction with another company, and it was simply dreadful. I know that they’ve revamped how they do that, but we still don’t use it.

    Moreover, if you have a room full of people you still need some kind of conference phone to service that room. Beyond a certain size a desk phone (even an IP650) just doesn’t cut it anymore.

    We tend to float a laptop into the conference room on an as needed basis. It would be troublesome if that laptop also had to run the soft phone client. I suspect that by the time the new conference space becomes a reality we’ll have gone through a move to a new location. That implies a lot of rethought IT infrastructure and a new PBX.

    One can hope.

  • Warmbowski

    Thanks Michael. I’ve wanted to see a review of the Konftel 300 model since I shopped for a conference phone for a large conference/training room at my office. I never got a chance to try one, as they were rather new and no one would or could send me one to eval. I ended up getting a Polycom IP7000, which has performed admirably in the ~20×20 room. But I drooled over the Konftel. In particular the 300IP.

    One thing that bugs me about the Polycom SoundStation IP phones it only allows one line registration to be added to the phone. When it comes to using wideband codecs, I find it necessary to add a wideband AND a narrowband line button so one can choose to make a wideband call or narrowband call (which is also to skirt issues of codec negotiation that is a problem with Asterisk). Does anyone know if the 300IP allows multiple sip line registrations?

  • Hi Guys, just a breif note from Konftel.

    Thank you for sharing and posting your thoughts and impressions, really appreciate it as it gives us a better understanding and supports us in developing the right new products.

    – The 300IP does allow multiple (two) sip line registrations, the keypad has a dedicated line mode selector from were you choose which account to use.

    Also right now all the Konftel conference phones are currently available for a 30-day Try&Buy.

    Thanks,

  • The KonfTel has 2 sip accounts (with no fail-over functionality in the firmware as of today), whereas the slightly more exponsive Snom MeetingPoint version of the KonfTel comes with the typcial 12 SIP identities.

    The Konftel supports recording to SD card, but there is currently no way to share that card trough the phone over the network. The SNOM firmware, as of now, does not support the SD card slot.

    I haven’t touched the MeetingPoint myself, but the KonfTel interface is kept “simpler”, especially for what concerns pre-defined group calls. It has more of an “Apple” approach, compared to the more feature-rich SNOM version.

    Some details on the Konftel:
    – DST (daylight saving time) must be set maually on the KonfTel with firmware 1.2.0, which is somewhat sub-standard, I think.
    – contact names in the address book are limited to 15 characters
    – contacts cannot be associated with a specific SIP line/identity
    – the “screen text” on the display should only be editable by the admin, not by users
    – the call list are minimal and not “hot” (clickable), and hide the number if the caller was found in the local address book (list of contacts)
    – an auto-answer option is missing, and a way to remotely initiate a call would be a great addition for any administrator or integration tool
    – some markers in the audio recording would help navigation, possibly combined with a textual log of who joined or left the conference when
    – TOS/DiffServ cannot be set
    – no option to ignore calls from sources that we are not registered to
    – no LDAP integration for the address book
    – the key marked with * needs a better symbol to understand its purpose
    – one or two more SIP lines would be very useful, as well as a way to turn on/off STUN per line instead of globally

  • onsipper

    We reviewed this phone’s performance with OnSIP – it met most interoperability requirements. http://www.onsip.com/onsip-team-reviews/voip-phones/konftel/konftel-300ip