Up until recently, my experience with conference phones had been limited to the Polycom Soundstation series.
We have a main office in downtown Manhattan, but almost half of my coworkers either work from home remotely or from our satellite offices in Jersey and Pennsylvania. I don’t see many of my ‘off-site’ coworkers often, but we do hold a weekly company-wide conference call that allows us to catch up and get a quick glimpse into what everyone has been working on. We usually try to keep these meetings to under an hour so the last thing we want is to run into technical issues. So, when searching for conference devices to equip our offices a couple of years ago, we went straight to what we thought was the very best in audio quality and performance: Polycom. We’ve been fans of the Soundstation series ever since, and it wasn’t until recently that I started looking into alternatives promising to deliver a comparable conferencing experience.
Now a wholly owned subsidiary of Avaya, Swedish “audio collaboration solutions” vendor Konftel is one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of conference phones. The company got its start around 20 years ago with audio conferencing speakerphones, which has since been its sole focus. Konftel conference phones feature OmniSound, a patented audio technology not unlike Polycom’s HD voice, which features 360-degree sound pickup, background noise cancellation, and wideband technology.
We got our hands on a Konftel 300IP (firmware v2.1.2), the company’s only SIP based conferencing solution, and put it to the test.
All of the Konftel phones look an awful lot like the alien spaceships in Michael Bay’s Independence Day, and this phone is no exception. The structural design of the 300IP is close to what you would get if you decided to slice out an equilateral triangle from the surface of a sphere and cut off all the corners. That’s probably the best way I can describe it. The device comes in all black, except for its silver buttons and a silver outline that surrounds the LCD and numpad area. The upward facing surface of the phone is coated in what feels like a rubbery plastic (maybe for better grip?). At each of the 3 corners, you’ll find the speakers, which come covered in a soft cloth mesh that’s stretched taut.
Personally, I like the look of the Konftel 300IP. It’s modern, simple, and different from what I’m used to.
All the plugs and ports are located in the phone’s underbelly, hidden behind a removable piece of plastic. Also worth noting are the buttons, which are organized tightly into a small continuous space, but are still satisfying to use, mainly due to the soft clicking sounds that the device makes each time you press one.
As the company’s top tier model, the 300IP is surprisingly compact, much smaller and lighter—weighing in at only 2 pounds—than the Polycoms we’ve grown accustomed to.
The following instructions assume your phone has successfully booted and completed network configuration including obtaining valid IP addresses for itself, an IP gateway and DNS servers either via DHCP, manual or other means and that your phone is running with factory defaults.
Each user has a set of credentials which will be needed to configure each phone. For each phone that you are configuring, obtain the following:
- SIP Address (Address of Record)
- SIP Password
- Auth Username
If you are an OnSIP customer, you can find this information in the user detail pages under the Users tab in the Phone Configuration section.
After you’ve plugged in your device and connected to your LAN, the first thing you’ll need to do is find the IP address of the phone. Press the menu button and then select STATUS > NETWORK to get your IP address.
Enter this IP address into your Internet browser, select ‘admin’ from the ‘Profile’ drop-down menu, and enter in the default PIN 1234 to login.
Select the ‘Settings’ option from the top menu. Your screen should look something like this:
Select ‘SIP’ and input your user credentials under ‘Account 1’:
- Enable Account > Yes
- Account Name > Your Choice
- User > Username
- Registrar > Proxy/Domain
- Proxy > Proxy/Domain
- Realm > jnctn.net
- Authentication Name > Auth Username
- Password > SIP Password
- Registration Interval > 1800
Notice that you can save two SIP accounts into the Konftel. Under ‘NAT Traversal’, make sure that both STUN and ICE are off.
Hit the save button at the bottom of the page. Your setting will be pushed to the phone immediately with very little down time, which is always a plus.
If you want to prioritize audio codecs, click into ‘Media’ under ‘Settings’.
At OnSIP, we put each of the phones we use through a multi-step interoperability test in which we apply ~30 test cases. An example of a test case would be the following:
Test phone calls phone B
B picks up
B puts Test phone on hold
B calls phone C
C picks up
B transfers test phone to C
Call must be transferred correctly to C. B must be released correctly after the transfer. When C picks up, audio must work in both ways between test phone and C. When test phone is on hold, there is no audio between it and phone B.
The 300IP passed nearly all of our relevant interoperability tests with no issues. This device does not do consultative/attended transfers, but you can enable blind transfer in your SIP settings. The phone also cannot forward incoming calls to another destination. I’m not going to hold this against the Konftel too much because I don't expect many people will try to use this like a deskphone.
As part of our process of testing out OmniSound technology, we replaced the Polycom Soundstation 7000 in our main conferencing room with the Konftel 300IP for a few weeks to see if anyone in the company would notice a difference in the audio quality (voice clarity, background noise cancellation, etc) of our weekly conference calls. Nobody did; a good sign. We then tested the audio quality on both ends of a 2-way call with a Polycom deskphone, first using the Polycom conference phone, and then using the Konftel. Again, there was almost no discernible difference between the two cases.
The voice quality of calls using the Konftel is especially excellent if all parties involved are using a VoIP phone that supports the G.722 wideband codec. For our meetings, we use the OnSIP HD conferencing suite; each person dials in with their ‘HD’ phone and our hosted conference suite makes sure that all parties get incredible audio.
We did notice that the sound pickup range of the Konftel 300IP is not quite large as it is on the Polycom 7000 Soundstation. If your meeting room is huge, Konftel does make expansion microphone accessories, which come separately.
The Konftel 300IP is quite user-friendly. The LCD isn’t big, but the screen fits a surprisingly large amount of information. When navigating through the phone’s menus and submenus using the LCD screen, 4 options are displayed at once, which makes finding things mostly painless.
Both the Up and Down arrow buttons neighboring the ‘Menu’ button are shortcuts to view your call list. You’ll find that while only one call is displayed at a time when viewing this list from the phone, more information is shown (Date, Time, Inbound or Outbound, and Destination). Most of the other buttons are self-explanatory. You have a volume up and a volume down button, a pair of call and hang-up buttons, a hold button, a mute button, and your standard numpad. Also included is a line button. Hit this to switch to Account 2, or to create a new call using either a new line or your other account when you’re already on a call.
When you have simultaneous calls active using one SIP account, you can throw them all into a conference using Konftel’s ‘built-in bridging function’. This button is right above the Line button and looks kind of like a 5-leaf clover. Simply hit this button and Konftel will bridge up to 5 participants (including you) into a mini-conference suite.
On the side of the phone underneath the numpad is a large LED. This glows blue during a call and turns red when you’re muted.
The Konftel 300IP comes with a few cool features. One of these is the ability to save conference groups, which can be accessed by clicking the ‘5-leaf clover’ button when you’re not on a call. You can create up to 20 different conference groups of up to 4 other participants. Dialing a group calls everyone within that group at once while also automatically bridging the calls. This makes your life much more convenient if you have two or three people you regularly conference with.
Also included is built-in call recording. Our 300IP came with a 2 GB SD card, which, according to the Konftel marketing site, is 70 hrs of audio. Starting a recording is incredibly easy. Simply insert the SD card into the slot on the left hand side of the phone and hold down the C (rec) button until the phone asks you if you want to start a recording. Hit yes; that's it. You’ll notice that a blinking circle pops up on the phone’s LCD screen. To stop your recording, hold down the C (rec) button until the phone asks you if you want to stop it. You can view your recordings from the menu and playback your saved files straight from the phone.
If I had to pick something negative to say about the Konftel 300IP, it's that it can get a bit hot during long calls, especially underneath the phone. We removed the piece of plastic that hides all the plugs and wires to air it out, but even then, we could still feel noticeable warmth coming off the device. We're not sure how this will affect the phone in the long run, but the 2 year warranty is at least somewhat comforting.