[UPDATED 9th February 2012 - see end of the review]
If you’ve read past product reviews of mine, you’d know that I tend to avoid reading other articles on a given product, at least until I’ve done my own. So it is with the Fritz!box, in spite of the impressive buzz that’s been going around ever since Internode announced their partnership with broadband specialist PCRange to bring the German product to Australia. I’d already known that Internode was looking for hardware that could sustain National Broadband Network (NBN) speeds of at least 100Mbps, with most routers on the market being unable to sustain these. The Fritz!box 7390 is their solution to this, along with the cheaper – and lower throughput – 7270 model, which provides sub-100Mbps throughput.
The Fritz!box 7390 has an impressive range of features that certainly make people sit up and take notice;
- ADSL2+, 3G, and ethernet router (for cable modem and NBN) capabilities
- Dual band 802.11n Wi-Fi, enabling speeds of up to 300Mbps
- 4 x Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports
- 1 x FXO port with PSTN fallback
- 2 x FXS (ATA) ports
- Inbuilt IPv4 and IPv6 dual-stack support, with integrated firewall
- Inbuilt Voice over IP (VoIP)
- Integrated DECT base station, allowing up to 6 cordless telephones
- 2 x USB ports for connection of USB hubs, storage, printers, and 3G dongles
- Up to 5 answering machines and fax receipt capabilities, including voice- and fax-to-email
- Inbuilt NAS functionality
- Inbuilt media server functionality
- 5 year warranty
The 7270, which retails for $100 less than the 7390, reduces this feature set only marginally, with LAN ports of 100Mbps and single band 802.11n Wi-Fi (160Mbps). The throughput on this model is not well suited to 100Mbps or higher speeds, though.
You can also add one or more Fritz!fon MT-F handsets to your setup; this is a DECT handset with extra functionality, including;
- HD voice and full-duplex speakerphone
- Email, RSS feeds, Internet radio, and podcasts
- Inbuilt phone book with up to 300 entries, plus online phone book
- Inbuilt control of Fritz!box answering machines, including forward to email
- Call history, alarm clock, baby monitor, and lock ring
- High quality colour display (180 ppi)
- Backlight and Message Waiting Indicator (MWI)
- Headset functionality
- Up to 10 hours talk time, 6 days standby
Pricing for the Fritz!box via Internode starts at $399 for the 7390 by itself, or $499 with one Frit!Fon MT-F handset. The 7270 starts at $299, or $399 with the handset.
To understand the value proposition of Fritz!box, it’s helpful to highlight the previous setup I had to try to duplicate this functionality.
I had two DECT base stations from Telstra, of relatively average quality. Each of these were connected to one port of my Billion 7404VNPX router – enabling both sets of handsets to answer incoming VoIP or PSTN calls, as well as independently making VoIP calls. This allowed up to 2 simultaneous outbound phone calls, plus an inbound PSTN call via a separate handset. It was clunky, but workable if we could place each set of handsets strategically through the house.
Both base stations featured an answering machine. To avoid conflict, only one could be enabled to record messages – which could mean an inbound call might not be picked up if one of its DECT handsets were already in use.
The 7404VNPX included ADSL2+, 3G fallback, VoIP, 4 x Gigabit Ethernet ports, and dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi. On the surface, this made it essentially equivalent to the basic networking functionality of the Fritz!box, but of course without any IPv6 support or the value-added features. Both the Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi were heavily used, with our Internode-supplied ADSL2+ and VoIP getting a good workout daily.
Overall, the setup worked. The handset setup was somewhat fiddly and never used to its full potential, because you had to actively think which handset to grab. But in a house of 10+ networked devices, and relatively heavy phone usage, it did the job. At least, until a lightning strike hit our house directly and fried a bunch of equipment, including the 7404VNPX. Unfortunate in a number of ways, but not least being that I’m reliant on the wi-fi, Internet and VoIP for working from home 2 days per week, along with other uses.
Fortunately I still had a Billion 7300A as a “spare” to get us back online, and an old Netgear 802.11a/b/g wireless access point to provide us with wi-fi. No VoIP though – the old VoIP router had died a mysterious death. I was going to have to invest in new gear, and the Fritz!box seemed the obvious (and best) candidate for my usage. I’d already been planning to do a review on it when the opportunity presented itself. Internode were happy to help get a new Fritz!box with Fritz!fon to me ASAP, which is greatly appreciated.
I’m not generally given to “unboxing” reviews, videos, or pictorials. I was, however, impressed with how the package was put together. Sitting inside the box was a bunch of Internode-supplied instructions that laid out a simple step-by-step guide on getting up and running with the Fritz!box. This is a touch that, as an IT Manager dealing with end users, I really appreciate. The instructions are clear and concise, and I feel confident that a typical non-technical end user could get up and running within minutes.
I was intrigued to find that the Fritz!box came with a “Y-cable” for connection of ADSL and voice to an ADSL splitter box (supplied) and the single ADSL/voice port on the Fritz!box. This adds an additional splitter box and cable to the Fritz!box footprint, although admittedly it’s less messy than the previous 7404VNPX cabling that also incorporated a splitter box, allowing connection to the separate DSL and voice ports. Given that the Fritz!box doesn’t have these separate ports, it seems likely that the Y-cable is needed to work correctly.
I was pleased to find that the 7390 and the Fritz!fon come with a relatively low profile AC adapter. As a veteran of many home modems, routers, and switches, I’m well accustomed to bulky power packs that make it impossible to use adjacent power sockets. It’s pleasant to see that AVM have thought about this, and freed up your precious power sockets.
The 7390 comes, of course, with an ethernet cable to make setup easy. I initially setup the 7390 without hooking up ADSL, to allow me to switch over with minimal downtime. I was impressed to see that the Fritz!box internal DNS server would provide “wildcard” functionality if not connected to the Internet – that is, any DNS query will return the Fritz!box IP, ensuring that the user will always get the setup screen. This shows the thought given to the end user experience, where a non-technical user might otherwise get confused and be unable to get past the initial connection – which I’ve seen in action on other devices.
Although the Fritz!box does not come pre-configured, the initial setup wizards are very simple and straightforward, with the goal of getting the user up and running with a minimum of fuss. You set the country to Australia, the ISP to Internode (irrespective of your actual ISP at present), and enter your username/password – and you’re away!
Realistically, if connected to the phone line at startup, an end user who has their username and password ready could be up and running with basic internet within 5 minutes. This even includes securing your Fritz!box with a password – no preset default here, unlike other offerings that are arguably less secure. VoIP configuration might take a little more thought – the NodePhone setup, for example, that uses the phone number as your username could confuse some users. Internode tend to take care to provide clear instructions, though, and this can always be skipped for configuration later on.
By default, the Fritz!box enables a very simple configuration that most home users could happily run with. The default IP address for the Fritz!box is 192.168.178.1/24, which won’t conflict with existing setups. DHCP is enabled, as is Wi-Fi, and the defaults for these are reasonably well managed – the Fritz!box is unlikely to hit IP address conflicts or significant interference on Wi-Fi. The only disappointment, if you like, is that WPA and WPA2 are enabled by default, meaning that both TKIP and AES encryption can be used. This is obviously for compatibility, but forcing WPA2 with AES encryption is by far the preferable setting for security purposes. I have no real complaint on this though – at least it defaults to a secure setup! Wi-Fi Protected Setup is also available, with the option to push a button on the Fritz!box to authorise a new Wi-Fi device, or entering a pin.
IPv6 and DECT are not enabled by default. This makes some sense at a time when even Internode haven’t moved out of a “pilot” phase for IPv6 delivery to home users, and of course with no DECT phones associated with the Fritz!box at boot. My hope would be that IPv6 will be enabled by default at a future point in order to make this simple for end users. Enabling IPv6 was a simple matter of ticking a checkbox. That’s fine for local network usage – however at the moment, to be issued an IPv6 address by Internode, you need to change your username to <username>@ipv6.internode.on.net. A simple matter, but one which may escape some end users.
For many people, the basic setup screens will be more than enough, with most features available in this mode. As a confirmed tinkerer, and with my own network requirements, I very quickly found myself switching the Fritz!box configuration interface to Expert Mode to access additional settings. This was important to be able to change the IP address to suit my existing network, amongst other features. It’s worth noting that at this time, it is not possible to change the DNS domain name suffix that’s issued from fritz.box. This is a minor niggle, but I look forward to being able to set my own domain name in future.
The Fritz!box automatically saves its settings whenever you apply a configuration change, which is far more intuitive than the typical separation into Apply and Save that is typical of other devices. No accidental regressions after reboot!
Telephone and Fax
We use Internode’s own Nodephone product for our VoIP, but have used other providers before. By contrast to other routers, the VoIP configuration was very simple, having been used to a plethora of configuration options on my previous Billion routers. Although I appreciate simplicity for the sake of the majority of end users, I do miss control over setting the dialtone and the ringing tone when dialing remote numbers. Presently for the non-technical members of my household, there is some level of confusion as to whether a dialled number is ‘ringing’ or ‘busy’. This is minor, and I’m sure it’s just a symptom of this initial release.
The Fritz!box is, however, considerably more advanced than my previous Billion routers in many other ways. Each phone you add – whether DECT or PSTN/ISDN - is configured individually, and can be set to dial out via a specific number. I like this concept, because it means that you could have multiple VoIP providers, each assigned to a different handset, or perhaps have one handset configured to dial out via PSTN. Equally, each handset can be configured to respond to a specific inbound number – say your PSTN number, or a particular VoIP line – or to all numbers. The flexibility here is quite impressive.
The hardware is capable of SIP trunking, by configuring an IP telephone in the Telephony Devices. I’d be keen to try this with a few things, including Snom handsets, Office Communications Server / Lync, and other IP PBX capable software like Asterisk. It’d be very cool to have the capability for a home lab, but it’s amazing to see just how many configuration permutations the Fritzbox can allow.
This approach to configuring telephony devices individually extends to answering machine and fax functionality. You can add up to 5 individual answering machines and fax receivers, and again set them to respond to specific numbers, or to all numbers. The answering machine / fax will use the inbuilt 512Mb storage by default, but can also use USB storage to provide additional space. Impressively, you can also have them deliver the messages via SMTP to your email account; by default, you can still keep the message on the Fritz!box so that others don’t miss out.
The fax receiver functionality can work with auto detection on PSTN/ISDN lines. This means that you can have the answering machine on your PSTN line, and it will auto-detect fax “beeps”, switching into fax mode. If you’d prefer to receive faxes over a VoIP line, you will have to dedicate the VoIP number to fax. Faxes can be stored in the internal 512mb storage, or on USB storage. You have the option to not store the faxes, too, which is useful if you are going to use email delivery. In my testing, the fax quality was good, and delivered in PDF format, which is perfect for my purposes.
You can also potentially send outbound faxes with the Fritz!box, using the FRITZ!Fax program available from ftp://ftp.avm.de/fritz.box/tools/fax4box/ – unfortunately, the software is not localised for English, and my German is just not good enough. However I believe this can be used for PSTN, ISDN, and VoIP lines. It installs a black and white and colour printer for print to fax functionality. While I don’t often need to fax documents, I’m hopeful that a localised version will be made available to allow this functionality without learning another language – because this is perfect for those rare occasions when I do need to send a fax, rather than having to have a fax machine or fax software setup.
There are products that can do this for Mac and Linux. Mac users can purchase software called fritz.mac to accomplish this, while an Ubuntu package called ffgtk is freely available. It may also be possible to get it working under Windows without Fritz!fax, but details are somewhat sketchy.
Email delivery for fax and voicemail has one shortcoming – it allows only a single email address for delivery. I was able to get around this using one of my Google Apps accounts, to create a group for multiple recipients. For many, this wouldn’t be a major issue.
The lack of Caller ID support on the Fritz!box at present is frustrating, since it makes some functionality more or less pointless. For example, being able to block or divert calls based on number is not usable if caller iD is unavailable. Not being able to see the incoming caller, or the number of the person who left a message on the answering machine, is certainly a step backward from my old routers. I know that this is coming in a firmware update reasonably soon, but I’d say it’s certainly a feature that shouldn’t have been left out of the initial release. I don’t like answering calls from blocked numbers as a rule, but the Fritz!box removes the ability to see any numbers at this point.
DECT and Fritz!fon
Configuring DECT is really quite straightforward. You need to enable it via the Fritz!box configuration, and have a DECT handset on-hand to register. There isn’t too much difference between registering the Fritz!fon or another DECT handset – the main difference is that if you use the default pin of 0000, the Fritz!fon will be able to register without prompting for it. You can specify a name for each handset, and this is quite useful in referencing them by location, for example. Each handset can be set to dial out via a specific number, as with all telephony devices. I had no troubles registering our old DECT handsets to use the Fritz!box as their base station.
The great thing with an inbuilt DECT base station is that every phone can potentially in use simultaneously. Normally with a third party DECT base station, you can only use one handset at a time for inbound or outbound calls; but with the Fritz!box, each phone essentially can become a VoIP phone by default, allowing every one of them to be used. Equally, each handset can be set to respond to a given inbound number, or to all inbound numbers.
Each DECT phone can be configured via the Fritz!box for features and ringtone. Every phone can be set to have Do Not Disturb times – such as turning the ring off for a given phone when in bed – and you can control distinctive ring for a variety of scenarios, such as internal and external calls, specific contacts, PSTN calls, and alarms (dependent on the handset’s support). You can enable features like call waiting, call rejection, and caller id restriction on all handsets, while the Fritz!fon enables even more configuration settings. One that I like in particular is enabling the Fritz!fon to listen in as answering machine messages are left – making call screening quite viable.
The Fritz!fon offers an impressive array of value added features. Interaction with the Fritz!box configuration, answering machine control, internet radio, podcasts, email, RSS feeds – it makes it far more than just a handset. The HD audio using G.722 sounds nice, but apart from the sample audio I wasn’t able to get this working on a real phone call. Nodephone does support G.722, but it looks as though both ends of the call need to support it to enable this. I would have thought that calling a PSTN number might have still worked, but no configuration could get anything other than G.711 to work. The G.711 quality is still quite fine though.
Overall, the Fritz!fon was a hit in my household, with my wife liking the clear, crisp audio for any given phone call. It’s obviously far superior to our old DECT handsets. I tested the podcast functionality using the Coalface Tech podcast, and while it took some time to become available to the Fritz!fon, it definitely worked well. I could actually see myself using the Fritz!fon’s podcast capabilities via speakerphone, when located in an appropriate place.
The Fritz!fon is a great piece of hardware in itself – you can make the ringer very loud indeed, and the full-duplex speakerphone sounds great. By default, when picked up off the included stand, it won’t answer the call until the answer button is pressed – but sure enough, it can be set to answer when you lift the handset. Calls sound great – possibly slightly better than our other DECT handsets, but with all using G.711, the difference is slight at best. There’s a good choice of ringtones on the Fritz!fon, but the default set to max volume is sure to be heard throughout the house!
Something I was initially unaware of, but which I found very cool, is that your iPhone or Android device can also act as a Fritz!box handset! Using an application downloaded from the iphone app store, or Android market, you can add your phone to the telephony devices on your Fritz!box, enabling them to be used as handsets across your Wi-Fi – both for making and receiving calls. I tested this on my HTC Desire handset, and was thrilled at how well it worked. It’s like getting a whole other VoIP enabled handset for free! The app, while loaded in memory, will automatically connect to your Fritz!box, and by default all outgoing calls will go via your VoIP connection. This can be disabled by number, or for all external apps, which is useful since my mobile is primarily used for work calls, and paid for entirely by my employer.
Performance and Operation
The difference in LAN and Internet performance between my old Billion and the Fritz!box was noticeable – it’s a faster piece of hardware, and even ping times were slightly improved. Initially my sync speed was higher than with the Billion modems, but this dropped by 2Mbps after a couple of days. I suspect, though, that this may be due to heavy rain over the past couple of weeks, since I’ve known this to affect the connection in the past. I believe there may be some sync improvements coming in future firmware updates that may also help. Overall wireless and ethernet performance was great, although features like VLAN configuration seem to have been removed from the firmware – these would be useful to provide more advanced configurations.
It’s a shame that the onboard ethernet can’t be more finely controlled with speed and duplex settings; it’s hardly a common feature for home routers, but with the level of control available elsewhere, it seems inconsistent not to be able to control this.
The Fritz!box supports uPnP for both discovery and control. For hosts on your network to automatically open ports, you need to enable this functionality in the configuration. I’d already enabled this before testing my Xbox with Xbox Live!, but it’s likely that this change to your configuration is required to fully enable Xbox Live! compatibility. I found it worked without a hitch. I have a lot of things that make use of uPnP, including Windows Home Server, so this saves a lot of manual configuration.
The Fritz!box includes useful metering for Internet usage – I found it especially useful to set the rate for the online meter to my monthly usage to get a “second opinion” of data usage beyond that provided by Internode. However, it doesn’t take account of unmetered usage, and it’d be nice to see some way to do this. There’s also a “Child Protection” function that can be set to limit Internet access based on times and duration for specific computers; I feel this has limited value though, and would prefer to see something like this implemented as DNS blacklists or Internet site filtering similar to the Windows Live! Family Safety that we use at home to great effect.
The NAS functionality seems to work well – I plugged a 1Tb USB2 HDD intoone of the USB ports, and was easily able to access it via the network via \\fritz.box, with the Lacie HDD available as an individual share. You can also connect this to an individual computer across the network, as if it was a local drive, by enabling the USB Remote Connection feature and installing the provided software. I did not test this as the NAS functionality was preferred. You can connect multiple USB devices with a USB hub (not supplied). I did not test the ability to share a printer over the network, or the 3G fallback. For printing, the Windows 7 Home Group functionality already serves us well, and the PC sharing our printer is right next to it. We don’t currently have a 3G dongle to use for fallback.
The Fritz!box can also use online storage from a preset list of vendors – however you can also add custom vendors using the “Anderer Anbieter” option – not all parts of the interface have been localised to English, evidently! I haven’t tested this feature as yet, but it does require USB storage to be added for buffering the data to be synchronised. Vendors must support WebDAV to be compatible.
The Fritz!box could do well to add a solution for backing up all connected computers. In some ways, this is the only feature I’d miss from my Windows Home Server if I were to use the Fritz!box instead. Providing similar backup functionality could place it in a space to compete very effectively against solutions like WHS and others. I’d particularly like to see an incremental backup which optionally auto-syncs to online storage; this would be just about perfect.
I think the Fritz!box does miss, to some extent, an opportunity to provide additional value-added features. I’d like to see, with connection of a USB HDD, the ability for the Fritz!box to perform proxy caching and perhaps even anti-malware scanning, to put it in a competitive space with devices like the Astaro Security Gateway. The Fritz!box firmware seems very extensible though, so perhaps this could be added as a feature down the track. I’d love to see a home router with inbuilt proxy caching though – it would put it in a class of its own for reducing unnecessary content downloads.
The Fritz!box has an onboard media server – however this just doesn’t seem to be working for me. I am unable to see it in Windows Media Player 12 or on my Xbox, even though I can see all my other computers. All are Windows 7 with network discovery enabled, so should be expected to work. It looks like the media server does initially start when enabled, but then stops at some point while trying to build a database of available media.
QoS and Other Features
QoS prioritisation is available within the Fritz!box, enabling protocols to be set for Realtime (eg. VoIP and video), Prioritised (eg. remote access), and Background settings (eg. Torrents, Steam, etc). VoIP and Fritz!media video streaming is set to Realtime by default, which is good. I found it useful to add BitTorrent and Steam as background applications to minimise their impact on browsing. Adding Steam to the list of applications was straightforward, and the Fritz!box enables a good selection of protocols for definition. My one issue at this point is that destination IPs can’t be set for prioritisation rules, which is a poor implementation. You can set rules to apply to specific devices, but source IPs would also be of use for static IPs outside of the DHCP range.
I loved the fact that the Fritz!box allows for a “guest” network to be defined for Wi-Fi. This is configured as a separate SSID, with the ability to set a maximum time limit or even to auto-disable when all guests are logged off. The guest access enables only Internet access, which makes it ideal for visitors to get to their email or other content, without compromising your own network’s security. It's not a feature I've commonly seen on a home router. so it's an impressive and appreciated value-add.
The level of logging is great, both in call logs and system logs. It’s annoying that call logs are preserved between reboots, while system logs aren’t. By way of mitigation, you can have the Fritz!box email you each day with usage statistics and logging info, but it would be nice to see a consistent approach for all logging. The detail available on your Internet connection, DSL statistics, VoIP statistics, and DECT is terrific – far beyond other home routers I’ve used. It’s unimportant to normal usage, but a geek like myself appreciates the level of insight possible – it’s only frustrating that for things like DSL and VoIP, that so much of the configuration is unavailable to tweak – but then again, this is an issue only for a tinkerer like myself.
The Fritz!box is conscious of energy consumption, and many functions – from ethernet ports to USB drives, Wi-Fi, and DECT – can be set to switch off or go to low power states to reduce consumption. At a time when electricity costs are increasing, and \businesses are pushing for more “Green IT”, this seems sensible and well implemented. It also allows for some level of security and “Night Service” capabilities, by switching off unused Wi-Fi after hours, or switching all phones to do not disturb and disabling DECT. It’s smart and thoughtful.
The Fritz!box is amazingly ambitious in what it offers, and I’d have to say that overall – it delivers. There are flaws, sure – but this quite simply explained through being the initial release for Australia. It’s clear that AVM can, and do, add additional features and capabilities over time, and I’m hopeful to see a lot of what I’ve pointed out being implemented down the track. The price tag makes it by no means the cheapest router around, but there isn’t anything else with the same capabilities – for example, iinet’s BoB and Telstra’s T-Hub can meet the integrated DECT and ADSL, but AVM obviously go above and beyond in their offering. Internode and PCRange have made a smart choice.
Aside from the issues with the media server, the Fritz!box is operating perfectly for me. I would be keen to have this operating, but it’s not the end of the world. I’ll most likely clear the USB drive and do more testing.
The overall quality and feature set of the 7390 is consistent with my past experience with the Snom hardware – the Germans seem to have a definite knack for phone hardware. Aside from the technical capabilities, the 5 year warranty is truly amazing and certainly makes your investment even more worthwhile. I’m very pleased with the Fritz!box as a home router, and would have no hesitation in recommending it for small business use either.
Update 9th February 2012
Although this is in the comments below, I wanted to include this extract from my last comment in the main review as well:
This review is purely my opinion, based on my own usage; I can honestly
say that at time of writing, I didn't expect AVM to take anywhere near
this long to resolve problems. Equally, I have seen numerous people have
what are obviously hardware faults, even on newer units, along with
compatibility problems, stupid bugs, and the like. For this reason, I totally
understand those who have lost any love they may have had for the unit,
and those who call it a piece of crap. I do feel that AVM have dragged
their heels for the AU market, and I couldn't blame anyone for steering
away from it for this and other reasons. Even simple annoyances, like
the Fritz!fax PC app still being German-only, are cumulative and can
cause you to question if you'll ever get the full value of your
I do still love my Fritz!box, and for me it really is the perfect match
to my needs, having finally resolved my caller id problems with the
current beta release. The Fritz!fon has proven massively popular in our
house, and if not for the cost, I'd happily replace all DECT handsets
with these. My wife inherited my Android phone and loves the Fritz app
for making and receiving calls on it. However, it should be said that
the Fritz!box in general has definitely proven to be a mixed bag, and
that you should certainly exercise caution before buying - at least make
sure the returns policy would allow you to get your money back if
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