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This Week in the Junction Networks Lab - Application Level Gateways and More!

by Charlotte Oliver

A new router testing program, and the introduction of Application Level Gateways (ALGs).

Published: July 18, 2008

We've had a really busy week in the Junction Networks lab. We've started a testing program for some of the routers out on the market so that we can come up with some solid recommendations for routers that are known to work well with our network. (Alas, not all routers are created equally.) The main rule is that the router needs to not interfere with SIP. Specifically, we need routers that don't rewrite SIP packets, because we do a fair amount of work in learning about the network that a packet comes from in order to route and transfer calls properly.

When a router rewrites the packet its sending us, we start to see problems, because it's essentially lying to us about the network behind it. One trend that we're seeing with router/firewalls (which for the SMB market are usually the same device) is the introduction of the Application Level Gateway. An Application Level Gateway does what it sounds like it does - it rewrites packets based on the application and hides the NAT, with the idea that this helps certain programs work with fewer problems. Unfortunately, in all the of the ALGs that we've seen so far, SIP packet rewriting is turned on by default. This means that we can't properly detect that NAT that the phones behind the router are on, which causes problems with call transfers.

One dead giveaway of this behavior for our OnSIP Hosted PBX customers is in the admin interface. If you look at the phone registration for a user, you'll see "NAT not detected" in red letters. This is almost always caused by an ALG. The solution is to configure your firewall to remove the ALG for SIP. We're going through a series of routers in our testing and have found only one router that didn't have this functionality so far, but we resolved it via a firmware upgrade. Keep your eyes peeled to our Compatibility Guide for more information. We'll be updating it in the coming weeks with more details. We even have a new section in our knowledge base with information on how to turn off the ALG for routers that have made it through our labs.