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Product review: Priority VoIP appliance

Ed Tittel takes a look at the Broadband Booster from Hawking Technology, a device designed to enhance performance of VoIP.

Product description: Quality of Service (QoS) Internet appliance that buffers slower-moving Internet protocols to permit time-sensitive ones like those for VoIP and video conferencing to speed by.
Class: Small office/home office communications, suitable for home, home office, or small remote office situations.
Company: Hawking Technology
Cost: Prices range from $60 to $99.99, with most in the $60-70 range.
You'll love this product if: you need to improve voice quality for VoIP calls or image quality for videoconferencing or other time-sensitive services on a congested IP network.
You won't if: you don't have performance problems, or you're planning on upgrading your Internet link speed in the very near future.

When important network functionality starts to make itself needed, vendors respond pretty quickly with special-purpose appliances to meet that need. As small business and home office networks have become more congested, so also has VoIP become an ever-greater consumer of the bandwidth such networks typically offer. 100 Mbps is still more common than Gigabit Ethernet, but small operations typically can't afford more than 5-6 Mbps for broadband network access, even when operators like Cox or Road Runner make it available in forms like "business class Ethernet."

One key difference between say, FTP or e-mail, and VoIP is that while the former simply slow down when the network gets congested, the latter may become noisy or garbled and may even stop working altogether in worst-case situations. This helps to explain why an emerging new class of Internet appliances is making its way onto the market these days.

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One exemplar of this class is from Hawking Technology, and it's called the Broadband Booster, or known by its model name, HBB1. This unit incorporates the same UBICOM Stream Engine found in so many gigabit switches and interfaces nowadays, and takes advantage of its network traffic management technology to provide QoS controls. Specifically, it does so to allow VoIP calls (and other time-sensitive session oriented protocols and services like those used for videoconferencing) to take priority over other Internet protocols and services which, like the aforementioned FTP and e-mail, aren't time sensitive and won't suffer if their network transit or round trip service times are somewhat delayed.

Though the vendor claims that performance for some applications can improve by a significant margin (they make claims of up to 400%), it's probably more reasonably to expect improvements in voice quality or picture stability for VoIP calls and video conferences, respectively, as a result of using a device like the Hawking HBB1. It works best if placed in-line between the DSL or cable modem that connects the premises to the Internet, and a local PC, hub, or switch that acts as a gateway to the rest of the network.

Ed Tittel is a regular contributor to numerous TechTarget Websites, and the author of over 100 books on a wide range of computing subjects from markup languages to information security. He's also a contributing editor for Certification Magazine , and edits Que Publishing's Exam Cram 2 and Training Guide series of cert prep books. E-mail Ed at

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