First Looks: Sipura SPA-3000

Sipura's soon-to-be-released high-end telephone adaptor has been eagerly awaited by VoIP fans. In this sneak peak, we explain why this tiny device will have a giant impact on the communications world.

Sipura Technology is proving that, even in the world of VoIP, what comes inside the box is what really matters.

Though the San Jose, CA, -based company’s upcoming SPA-3000 VoIP telephone adaptor looks almost identical to its wildly successful predecessor, the SPA-2000, just a cursory look at the new device’s configuration screen reveals that Sipura has raised the bar by several notches on the consumer end of the IP telephony world.

Imagine being able to transparently use the most appropriate of several different VoIP providers based on the number you dial. Or being assured that emergency services are directed correctly because your 911 call is routed automatically over your PSTN line.

Now imagine being able to pick up the phone in the US and getting dial tone in the UK. Or routing your cell phone while In your car over your VoIP account at home to make a cheap international call. Or having all your incoming calls automatically forwarded to your cell phone.

The SPA-3000 does all this, and much more. In fact, the device has the capacity to perform many of the functions currently handled by dedicated PBXs costing thousands of dollars.

There is no consumer-level telephone adaptor on the market that comes close to matching the SPA-3000’s capacities. And at a retail price of $169.95 (and an expected street price of about $125), the SPA-3000 is destined to be a huge hit among the VoIP cognoscenti when it reaches general release (which Sipura says should be in late July or early August).

Sipura engineers have been conducting a beta test of the SPA-3000 through Voxilla, fielding bug reports, suggestions and technical questions on a private forum. Overall, the feedback has been very positive, though some users have reported difficulties grasping some of the more complex functions the device offers.

The SPA-3000 provides one port for an analog telephone and one SIP/PSTN port in a single integrated device, allowing bidirectional access between the IP and PSTN network. It is similar in concept to the SIPphone "Call in One" device and Grandstream’s Handy-Tone 386 — something of a cross between a SPA-2000 and a SIP CPE FX-200 VoIP port converter. In function, though, the SPA-3000 is in a class of its own.

The configuration screens on the SPA-3000 are even more comprehensive than they are on the SPA-2000. However, many of the same options are present on both devices. If you can configure a SPA-2000, you can configure a SPA-3000 almost as easily. Functions unique to the SPA-3000 – such as those related to bridging IP and PSTN network – can be complex and do take some getting used to.

It's possible to configure the SPA-3000 to listen for a SIP call, authenticate the call using Caller ID information along with either a PIN or via Digest authentication, then allow the user to make a call to the device hooked up to the PSTN port. A total of eight different PINs or Digest passwords can be configured, each with its own dialing plan.

For example, one dial plan allows you to make local calls over the PSTN and another gives you the ability to make domestic US calls over a VoIP account. If you often call overseas, you can even have a different dial plan using a VoIP plan with very low international rates, or even one based in a foreign country. If you use Free World Dialup or SIPPhone, you can create a dial plan specific to those services.

Every dial plan you program is, of course, readily available on a home telephone attached to the SPA-3000. But the device also makes those types of calls available even when you’re away from home.

This is because the SPA-3000 can serve as a bridge from the PSTN to SIP. PIN and/or Caller ID-based authentication can be used to authenticate a call coming into the device over the FXO port. Once authenticated, a second dial tone is produced and allows the user to dial a number. It is even possible to configure the device to forward incoming PSTN calls to a specific SIP URL or telephone line using the "Hotline" syntax in the dial plan.

One application of the SIP/PSTN bridging capability that is certain to be put to much use is the ability to tie in a PSTN line into the popular open source Asterisk PBX, allowing the use of a traditional POTS line for both incoming and outgoing calls. A number of beta participants on the SPA-3000 forum on Voxilla have done just that.

It is also possible to configure a SPA-2000 or another SIP device to utilize the SPA-3000 for incoming and outgoing calls in a remote location. Let's say you have a SPA-3000 in the UK and a SPA-2000 in the US. It's possible to configure the SPA-3000 to ring your SPA-2000 in the US as well as have UK dial tone for making UK-based calls.

One other powerful feature in the SPA-3000 is the advanced call routing capabilities. In the Line 1 configuration, a user can configure a number of different services to be used for outbound calling, including the PSTN port. While the SPA-3000 web interface lists four different "gateway" services, it's actually possible to use any number of services, permitting you to route every call in the most economic manner.

The dial plan controls how calls are routed. You can either do it as a series of dialing codes (i.e.: dial 393 for Free World Dialup, or dial 747 for SIPPhone), by natural dialing patterns (calls preceded by 01144 would get routed to a UK provider, 911 would get sent over your PSTN line, and all numbers beginning with 1 through an IConnectHere or a VoicePulse Connect account), or a combination or the two. This feature emulates the kind of call routing available today only on advanced PBX systems.

Another important feature of the SPA-3000 is the fact that you can configure the unit to automatically fail over straight to the PSTN in the event of an electrical outage. When the power goes out, a relay inside the device closes, automatically connecting the "Line 1" and "PSTN" ports of the SPA-3000, and routing all calls over a PSTN line. When the power is restored, the relay will re-open, returning to mixed SIP/PSTN operation. If you are on a PSTN call while this occurs, your call will not be interrupted.

In beta testing, the SPA-3000 performs exceptionally well. While some minor issues have been raised, Sipura has been exceptionally responsive and has implemented a number of features based on beta participant feedback.

The SPA-3000 is a groundbreaking product certain to have a significant impact on the future of IP telephony.

The SPA-3000 At A Glance

  • One FXS/one FXO port;
  • Supports outbound call routing through multiple SIP providers;
  • Supports PSTN-to-SIP and SIP-to-PSTN bridging;
  • Supports routing of incoming calls based on caller-ID or pin entry;
  • Single and dual stage dialing;
  • Failover to PSTN on power outage;
  • Supports automatic routing of 911 calls over the PSTN line;
  • Supports music-on-hold server;
  • Supports encrypted SIP calls.
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