Fritz!Box FON WLAN 7390 Router: Review

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AVM continues its policy of putting as many features as possible into a well-designed router.

Internet routers have been gradually acquiring features, and there has been an interesting overlap for some time between home products and those for small businesses. AVM’s Fritz!Box series has been sitting in that zone for some time.

Ever since ADSL began to trickle into actual use, it has been obvious that there are more things that can be done over broadband than simply Internet access, and a bunch of features are being added to the humble Internet router. The latest model does not make radical changes but has significant upgrades in all departments.

Wireless LANs, DECT and all the rest

Improvements come in several directions. Firstly, the basic broadband improves, and routers should now be able to handle ADSL2+ and VDSL, even if those standards aren’t always available on phone lines. The 7390 has these.

The next most obvious addition is to improve the wireless network. The 802.11n standard is now well established and due to pretty much replace the older 802.11g next year.

The 802.11n standard upgrades the practical speed of Wi-Fi from around 20Mbps to 50Mbps or 100Mbps, which is irrelevant when the uplink to the Internet is probably only around 20Mbps tops, but the standard also increases range, penetration and reliability of Wi-Fi, so it is well worth having.

But there are variations within the 802.11n stqandard, and this model is the first time AVM has launched a product which works on both the 2.4GHz and the faster and less congested 5Ghz spectrum at the same time. This means that if you have a new laptop on the 5Ghz fast lane, it won’t have to slow down onto 2.4GHz when an older laptop connects to the Fritz. Single-band 802.11n goes at the lowest speed of any clent.

The fact that the Wi-Fi is dual band probably accounts for the fact that this Fritz has a bigger and heftier power supply than previous models. It also has integrated antennas, which must make it more reliable, although it does remove the possibility of trying to get a better signal by tweaking (something which to be honest has never made much difference to me).

Time for VoIP adoption?

The feature that justifies the heafty 3200+ price tag for the box is probably VoIP and telephony. All Fritz Boxes have had VoIP ports for some time, which allow you to connect up a perfectly ordinary phone to one of two ports on the back, and use it over the Internet, with no other hardware required.

A few years ago this was a fairly esoteric ability for most people, but now VoIP is becoming more generally useful, as there are many people who have access to the Internet and no landline, or a desire to have two landlines in one property. That is easy to set up with the Fritz box, and VoIP providers such as Sipgate will give you a pseudo-geographical number so you can use your Internet phone just as if it was a normal one – and in parallel with your “real” landline.

The Fritz!Box lets you install multiple SIP accounts, and set up dialling rules so that (without bothering the user) you can have international calls or calls to particular destinations routed over the Internet.

There is also a built-in answering machine (in fact up to five) and all the other features you might expect from a basic low-end PBX.

DECT is still useful

This Fritz and the previous one have also included a built-in DECT base station, so that some of your Internet phones can be normal common-or-garden cordless phones. The machine supports up to six DECT phones, and  if they connect to the Fritz for their signal, their own bases can be plugged in anywhere for simple charging.

This being AVM, of course, it’s not plain DECT, but the new uber-DECT standard, CAT-iq, which introduces data features. CAT-iq is in a sort of nascent stage, but could potentially add useful feastures to DECT phones making them more a of a 21st century device. However, AVM’s CAT-iq phones aren’t available in the UK yet.

Conclusion

Overall, although the previous Fritz!Box, the 3270 from 2008 had most of these features in an earlier form, the updates in the 7390 are significant, and solidify the Fritz’s position.

The device has a very usable web interface, which exposes all the features that most people would want to alter, including rudimentary web nanny functions, and the ability to alter wireless security functions.

More fundamental features, such as the firewall, are pretty much locked down, making this a reliable piece of kit, which users can pick up, plug in and depend on.

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