10 things you need to know about the Orcon Genius

We chatted to Orcon's CEO Scott Bartlett to get our top questions about Genius answered. If you have more questions, ask them in the comments!

Orcon's new Genius service and modem/phone launched yesterday, and according to Orcon, it's already immensely popular. Orcon had it's busiest web/phone sales day ever yesterday, and some 80% of those ordering Genius were new subscribers.

If you want to get Genius, just head to Orcon's site, where you can find all the details about plans, requirements and cost.

For those of you still on the fence, we asked Scott Bartlett, Orcon's CEO, to give us a little more information.

1. Can I get Genius?

Probably. Orcon's CEO, Scott Bartlett, estimates that 85% of New Zealand consumers will be able to get the Genius service. The 15% that can't are determined mainly by distance from the exchange, rather than any specific New Zealand locations being excluded. Feilding is apparently a problem, however. Sorry, folks in Feilding, if you can read this from dial-up...

There are also a few cases in which Orcon doesn't recommend Genius, even if you can get it.

2. Wait, how do I know if I shouldn't get Genius?

If you're on a monitored house alarm system, or you have a monitored medical device, Orcon will recommend that you don't get Genius. Similarly, if you have a Fax machine or EFTPOS terminal, the Naked DSL line may not be entirely compatible.

Orcon says that around 90% of the devices they have tested will work okay with Genius, but since they can't guarantee it, they suggest you don't take up the service.

3. Wait, wait: I need to go Naked to get a Genius?

Yes. To get Genius, you'll need to be on a Naked DSL connection.

In other words, to sign up for Genius, you essentially have to give up your phone line. But that's kind of the point -- all your phonecalls after you signup will be handled as Voice over IP (VoIP), meaning that they'll be carried along the data lines, rather than voice lines. In practical terms, it travels along the same copper lines and cabling, but you can avoid a monthly line rental charge and -- if you opt for free national calls, rather than a swag of data -- a sizeable chunk of your phone bill.

4. I've never gone Naked before ... how hard is the setup?

Orcon is being terribly clever about it. You call them to ensure you can get the service, and as long as you're good to go, they'll sign you up. There's a set up fee of $99 (if you opt for no contract) or you can get the setup free if you're on a 12- or 24-month contract. The Genius full modem costs $10 per month, while the Genius lite, which has no handset, is $5 per month. Either is free on a 24-month contract.

Once you're organised, Orcon waits until your Naked DSL is ready to go before it sends a Genius to you, and then it will switch you over.

The Genius is plug-in-and-go. You don't need any ISP sign-in details or technical information; it handles the details for you. The only thing you'll need is the slip of paper to tell you the wireless key so you can connect all your other gadgets.

5. It configures itself? But I want to go in and fiddle with the settings!

Fear not, intrepid geek. The settings can be acessed just as you would any other router, by logging into the web interface. From there, you can manage your firewall, add port forwarding and VPN passthrough, and tweak settings to your heart's content.

6. Sounds good. But I'm with a different ISP. Can I get a Genius without signing up to Orcon?

Unfortunately, no. You see, the Genius is quite a unique gadget -- the only other gadget quite like it is one that Australian ISP iiNet uses (they call theirs BoB). Genius has been designed by Orcon and iiNet in collaboration -- they picked the chipsets, and other components, and designed their own firmware to run it. More specifically, it's been built for New Zealand's ITU Standards. In other words, the techy folks at Orcon's Genius Command Centre (don't laugh), according to Bartlett, have tweaked everything to be perfect for New Zealand's infrastructure, and Orcon's network.

7. Perfect for New Zealand? Does that mean it's faster than my current modem?

Orcon's CEO, Scott Bartlett, said that while he didn't want to make any guarantees, he'd found that his own connection was now faster with a Genius. We'll let you know whether it improves our connection when we review it.

Not only that, but the hardware sounds like it's pretty useful, too. You can attach storage, such as an external hard drive or NAS (Bartlett says he runs his iTunes library from his Genius), and it also has a fileserver.

8. I'm due for some Ultra-fast Broadband action sometime in the next few years ... will Genius cope with that?

When there's no longer a copper network, a gadget that connects direct to the internet should have no problems.

9. I'm almost convinced, but I'm worried about what happens if a phone call comes in while I'm in the middle of a peer-to-peer download or gigantic gaming fragfest.

We're assured that the Quality of Service (QoS) runs end-to-end for Genius; that means that voice calls will always take priority, and have dedicated packets. That might slow you down one or two frames, or drop your bittorrent rates from 1.2MByte/s to 1.1MByte/s, but the phone call will sound great.

Alternatively, don't pick up, and the voicemail will go straight to your email address.

10. I've also heard that Naked DSL means you can't make emergency calls...

Orcon says they've solved that, and any emergency calls should be fine. We'd test that out, but ... we'd need an emergency. We can, however, test out 0800 numbers and the like, to see how they are handled. We'll do that in our review.

Of course, the phone won't be usable if the power or internet connection goes down, but the same goes for cordless phones, too. It's a drawback, but whether it's a big enough one to matter to you will depend on how much you rely on a connected landline in powerouts -- we know some of you do!

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Zara Baxter

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