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Solutions for Small Business VoIP? 232

MajorBlunder asks: "I'm part of the IT department of a small but prospering software company. We have recently filled the capacity of the POTS PBX phone system we currently have installed. We are currently looking into switching over to a VoIP phone system. We have a sizable IT staff in proportion to the rest of the company, so we'd like to be able to maintain the hardware/software in house as much as possible. I wanted to ask the Slashdot readership what experiences they have had with switching over to from POTS to VoIP. Any recomendations for full end to end solutions would be appreciated, and recomendations of things to avoid would be great."
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Solutions for Small Business VoIP?

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  • My experience (Score:5, Informative)

    by 2.7182 ( 819680 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @10:21PM (#14143685)
    I have a small printing shop that switched 6 months ago. Our first thing was to make sure your bandwidth settings were set to the highest value. This can be set on the Vonage website and I last I looked there were 3 choices. I have seen new lines default to the lowest setting which is total crap. I have 3 lines on a cable modem connection and have never had call quality issues. I have had just about every other issue with ringing and connect delays, voicemail, caller id, etc. Most of the time you pick up and say Hello and the other person doesnt hear anything cause the call has not properly connected yet. But it saves me hundreds/month and the minor issues I have learned to live with. --
    • Re:My experience (Score:5, Informative)

      by XorNand ( 517466 ) * on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @10:52PM (#14143841)
      Setting the call quality to the highest setting means that the G.711 codec is used, which consumes 64k/s per conversation. That's generally not a problem with a home user who only has one call happening at a time, but it will easily overwelm the standard small-business broadband connection which might only have 128-256kps upstream bandwidth. Setting the call quality lower is probably using the iLBC or the GSM codec. GSM is commonly used for cell conversations, iLBC is a variable rate codec designed for VoIP. They both consume far less bandwidth, but you're right, the call quality sucks.

      An alternative is to use the G.729a codec, which is almost as good as G.711, but only uses 8kbps per channel (plus TCP overhead). This is a far better solution, but the reason you don't seen VoIP providers offering G.729a is because it's patent protected and therefore requires that the provider purchase a license for each concurrent channel in use.

      Ugh... I really wish this topic got posted next week isntead of now. Forgive the blatent plug, but I've recently started a VoIP service that caters exclusively to small-businesses and solves the exact problem presented in this thread. It's similar to a Vonage-type setup but we support G.729a, plus all the features of a business phone system (voicemail, auto-attentant, transfers between extensions, etc). All of the systems engineering is done and tested and we're accepting customers, but our website won't be unnveiled for another couple of weeks. Five extension plans start at $224/mo. and scale up to 25 extension plans. We're focusing mainly on offering the plans through a network of small VAR resellers who want to earn a monthly commission. If anyone wants more info, drop me a line at
      • Don't forget to mention how wonderful G.729 trunks via the IAX protocol. Rather than the scenario of '1 call on g.729 = 8K/sec must mean 2 calls on g.729 = 16K/sec', you get something more like 12K/sec for two calls, and the more calls, the better your trunk is. It wastes the tcp overhead only once, and concurrent calls just create fatter packets rather than more tcp overhead. It's a really nice way of using VOIP but only if, and it's a big IF, your trunk provider supports it. $5 per g.729 channel can get e
      • Actually, Bandwidth In Mirror Will Be Larger Than It Appears (BIMWBLTIA)! And, when it gets right down to it, you don't care about bandwidth anyway; you only think you do.
        1. Why do companies spend $500 a month for a 1.544Mbps T-1 when a 1.5Mbps DSL connection is only $29? BECAUSE YOU DON'T CARE ABOUT BANDWIDTH (you only think you do. more below.)
        2. Why does your 64Kbps codec consume more than that when you actually look at it? BECAUSE OVERHEAD COULD DRIVE THROUGHPUT AS HIGH AS 3,500Kbps! (actually that's ju
    • I predict 37 clueless "Vonage" replies before this thread reaches 100 comments. 34 of those users will continue to defend their clueless "Vonage" answers even after it's pointed out that they don't want to ditch the landlines so much as they want to have more extensions than their phone hardware allows. Of those 34, 29 of them will have no clue what an extension is in this context, even though they have certainly dialed an extension at least once in their useless gibbering idiot lives.

      BTW, for those of you
    • Re:My experience (Score:4, Interesting)

      by neilticktin ( 660748 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @01:31AM (#14144675) Journal
      We're getting ready to do a cover story in our magazine about our experiences with VoIP. To do this, we decided to "eat our own dog food" and move the entire company to VoIP.

      In short, I'm glad we're on VoIP. We're using a smaller provider, which gives more personalized service ... and that's been a big win. The company is PhonePipe ... ... and aside from the usual bumps in the road, we've been glad that we went with them.

      A few things to consider. Some VoIP companies are not financially stable, and they many times don't fall under the FCC rules. So, you should check out the companies you are dealing with ... even some of the biggest ones are not financially sound.

      For hardware, go with either ATAs or the Cisco phones. ATAs will allow you to preserve your prior investment.

      Lastly, be aware that you may need to do some traffic shaping, QoS, etc... And, that many times, the cheap consumer routers handle VoIP much better than the higher end stuff (believe it or not).

      Favorite features? Simultaneous ring, and the ability to filter which calls get through and which get routed right to voicemail.

      Good luck with it!

      Neil Ticktin
      Publisher, MacTech Magazine
  • The obvious choice. (Score:5, Informative)

    by killjoe ( 766577 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @10:21PM (#14143687)
    Go to the digium web site, pay them a thousand dollars, and let them install asterisk for you. Either that look around for a local asterisk provider. If you live in a metropolitan area you should be able to find a few without any problems.
    • by kasparov ( 105041 ) * on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @11:25PM (#14144019)
      Although it would be nice to give Digium some money, for a company that has a good sized IT department it is unnecessary. Asterisk isn't particularly difficult to get running. Going through the setup and configuration could come in handy if they are planning on maintaining it as well. And, if they are really lazy, they can use the Asterisk Management Portal [] or even Asterisk@Home [] (which uses AMP, but includes some other features).

      The poster didn't mention how many phones/lines they need, but if they need to they can use VoIP internally (for unlimited internal phones), and just hook up T1s from the POTS for as many voice lines as they need (if they are worried about the voice quality/potential unreliability of VoIP providers). Digium has Quad-span T1 cards [] with onboard echo cancellation, so it should scale to the number of lines that are needed.

      • Asterisk is a wonderful program, but for a real company, let someone who knows what they're doing design your phone system. Having done it myself, it may have been easier to pay someone else, the number of variables in a phone system are staggering and the thing is still a beast to maintain. What happens to your company when the person who designed the Asterisk system leaves? What kind of phones should you buy?

        Saying any IT department can design you a phone system with Asterisk is like saying any IT departm
    • I've personnally had a lot of luck installing asterisk in these sorts of situations, but you have got to design things properly and figure out your expectations. First of all, putting IP phones on every desk is probably not going to be of all that much benefit, your best bet in many cases is to buy a quad T1 card from Digium or from someone on eBay and get some channel banks. With this system you can use totally standard phones, and if you get phones that were designed for Centrex systems, you can get fri
  • VoIP is not cheaper (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Py to the Wiz ( 905662 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @10:22PM (#14143698)
    ... at least for us (a small business). Once you add in all of the per-line charges, the hardware, the setup fees, the broadband, and the fact that if you want to use DSL, you still have to buy at least one phone line from the phone company. Plus, of course, the reliability of broadband still isn't nearly at the level of hard telephone lines. After taking this into consideration, unfortunately, going through the local Ma Bell monopoly was still the cheapest and most reliable option for us (a business needing 3-5 phone lines).
    • by Trejkaz ( 615352 )
      The calls themselves are most certainly cheaper, though, so I suppose it really depends whether you make a lot of calls, or hardly any calls. If you consistently make interstate calls then there would be a big difference between paying STD rates for every call, vs. paying a tiny flat rate for every call.
    • Plus, of course, the reliability of broadband still isn't nearly at the level of hard telephone lines.

      Eh? We have ~100 people, in the three years of using VoIP, we've had exactly one problem: a construction desided that our T1 wasn't important enough to dig around.

      How exactly does this lack of reliability manifest itself?

      • Many small businesses don't have a T1. In many areas, DSL/Cable modems are not even close to reliable as a T1 from a prominent provider. Also, the cost differnce between a T1 and DSL/Cable line is usually quite significant, and most often the DSL/Cable connection will provide much better bandwidth.

        In my case, the (2mbps/768kbps) DSL we had was horribly unreliable. We switched to Cable and while it's been reliable enough to use it for VoIP, to buy the voice lines from the Cable company isn'
        • Many small businesses don't have a T1. In many areas, DSL/Cable modems are not even close to reliable as a T1 from a prominent provider. Also, the cost differnce between a T1 and DSL/Cable line is usually quite significant, and most often the DSL/Cable connection will provide much better bandwidth.

          Oh, so we are talking really small business. I guess it wouldn't be cost effective in that case.

          On the other hand when you start getting more simultaneous voice calls: T1 = 24 lines x $20 = $480. We are paying

    • Obviously it varies depending on your needs and your existing phone system configuration.

      We switched a client to VOIP because the phone lines were *LESS* reliable than their broadband (cable) data line. They gained much better sound quality and no longer had calls randomly cross-connected to neighboring buildings either. Obviously, their neighborhood had some local wiring issues. They had spent four years trying to get the phone company to resolve them. (I suspect the phone company would have eventually res
    • What PBX are you using?

      3-5 lines isn't much, how many extensions though? A lot of the times a solution won't work for everybody, and it sucks when the coolest/best isn't the cheapest.
    • I agree with you there. Your organization is way too small to see any benefits from VOIP. Your monthly phone bill for all of your lines is probably equal to half our bandwidth bill. The difference is, we don't have a phone bill anymore.

      For teeny tiny mom and pop companies, it's probably a waste of time. But for true small businesses (starting with around 20 active, phone loving employees), you can see a benefit right away. You get more features, voicemail for everyone, cool phones, etc. Before we st
  • similiar position (Score:5, Informative)

    by sgeye ( 757198 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @10:29PM (#14143729)
    I work for a small firm, 100 people or so across 3 offices which are relatively close, about to add another 20-40 people. We are in a similiar position, because our old PBX system won't handle that many users without some upgrades, which we don't want to do because it is reaching the end of its lifecycle. We did a little looking around, and suprisingly the Cisco Call Manager Express was the best priced solution for us. The only way we could beat their price was going with an IP PBX system instead of a VOIP solution. They were running a promo, so there was a 39% discount from the list price on all hardware. Unfortunately, the owners decided to hold off on the upgrade and bandaid our system until late next year because we will be moving into a new building and merging two of the offices. We couldn't get a quote from Avaya, their rep never called us back, and both 3com dealers we spoke with had recently quit selling 3com. I can tell you not to go with Nortel, their solution was over 1.5x that of the Cisco solution.
    • Did you look at any asterisk resellers?
      I'm one :) we can beat any price cisco can give you, and we support our solutions 100% []

    • Eh ... how do I email you? New Cisco Call Manager Express stuff is expensive and refurb gear that fits networks your size is available. Leave me your email as a response to this and I'll contact you.

    • I do not normally bash a company but two of the prior companies I did work for had avaya VOIP to connect offices between Atlanta and Gainesivlle Florida. First we went through a frame relay we had lying around and it worked reasonably well, but when we ditched and went on a fractional t with more bandwidth for a few more phones, the quality dropped tremondously, and Avayas answer was to buy a special router for a grand that solve problem of latency, garbled calls, etc. Even after shunting the traffic to a
  • by PogiTalonX ( 449644 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @10:30PM (#14143734)
    I work for a company that has about 12 people and we use the Cisco Systems [] IP Phones. They work pretty well, have all the features of a normal PBX including intercom, call transferring, etc and they're relatively cheap.

    The cool thing about these phones is each phone gets its own real phone number as well as internal extension. We are located in California and when we have trade shows in Florida we take one of these phones and plug it into any ethernet jack. The phone auto-configures itself and you get the same phone number and extension and you can call other people in the office on speaker as if you were in the next cubicle. Pretty rad. Hope this helps.

    • Cool, but I see two issues here :

      1. If you just plug your phone in any Ethernet port and get connected, that mean your VoIP is accessible at large. Personnally, I would not make my PBX reachable from the Internet.

      2. Hopefully, your phone use some kind of encryption for the signalling and voice transmission. Not all do, don't know about Cisco.
    • The cisco phones are nice, but the feature you reference is actually called DID (Direct Inward Dial) and is available with almost any digital phone service (CAS/PRI and of course VoIP). Basically it lets the office have a bunch of numbers that will ring into the office's PBX main number, and lets the PBX decide where to route them based on a certain number of digits sent from the actual number dialed, which is why your extension is probably the last few digits of your desk's full number. When you dial out,
  • Put them on their own network segment. Also, if you'll use them in a mission-critical capacity (like a call center), make sure you keep in mind that if the network goes down, so do the phones.

    Lastly, your price per phone is going to be somewhat higher.

    • If you are going with the Cisco CME system, which is probably about as good as you're going to get in an SMB-designed VOIP system, then there is absolutely no reason to worry about physically segmenting the network. Setup VLANs on the switch and then you can plug your PC's into the back of the phones and the phones into the network jack on the wall. This method reduces wiring costs, and eases manageability.
    • > if the network goes down, so do the phones.
      hunh? is that the Internet going down, or the Intra-Net?
      >Lastly, your price per phone is going to be somewhat higher.
      ever price a standard phone system? our analog was $5000 for a 5 line module, not including the $5000 for the answering module, $500 for chassy... it was cheaper for us to spend $5000 for the VOIP server when 1 module went bad. and the difference in price for 4-line analog phone($125) and multi-line (6+) cisco VOIP ($180) was of no conciqui
  • by lkcl ( 517947 ) <> on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @10:32PM (#14143747) Homepage
    okay, here's where lots of VoIP things go wrong: they think it's okay
    to use the same line for normal internet access as well as VoIP (i'm
    assuming you have a broadband line with an upload speed of max 256k
    but this also even applies - if you load it enough - if you have e.g.
    1MB SDSL).

    given that the MTU has to be slammed up so far (in order for ISPs to
    compete on "bandwidth" rather than "latency") to ridiculous levels
    (1400-1500) it leaves very little options at _your_ end even if
    you _do_ do QoS tricks.

    so, your only _sensible_ option is: get a second broadband line,
    and use it _exclusively_ for VoIP.

    and if you are going to do _that_ then make sure that you get a fixed
    IP address and put the damn ADSL card _in_ the asterisk [or SIP] server.

    the reason is quite simple: NAT on SIP is a _complete_ bitch to set up,
    especially due to RTP (the audio) and you can avoid an awful lot of hassle by putting the ADSL card
    into your server, so it is a direct interface on the server. this assumes,
    of course, that you're not running windows!

    also - make sure you use 8k CODECs like GSM, because you very quickly run out of bandwidth
    on a 256k upload if you use 32k CODECs.
    • Don't use GSM, use G.729. I recently switched from softphone/G.711 to PAP2/G.729 and the call quality is much better. I was getting complaints of sounding like I was in a tunnel or on a mobile, but people can't tell any difference with this new setup.

      And if your VSP supports IAX then there will be far less overhead. (Can then run X number of calls with 1 set of overhead, instead of X number with X sets of overhead with separate SIP lines).
    • you can do QoS - and ask it to prioritise SIP and RTP packets. however, RTP is a pain: the _clients_ decide which damn range of ports they will go out on, so you need to use a sip proxy to "rewrite" the SIP/RTP packets to be within a certain range (apt-cache search sip proxy if using debian - don't bother with anything else).

      so, you've installed a sip proxy, it rewrites the RTP packets so they only go out on ... say... ports 10000 to 11000, and you can set your QoS to prioritise any UDP traffic on those po
    • By my calculations, a 1500 byte MTU should only cause 10ms of jitter at 1.5Mbps, which doesn't seem too bad.

      If you're going to get a separate line for voice, you might as well get a PRI and a VoIP PBX on your premises, which would eliminate Internet problems altogether.

      NAT should not be a problem in a business environment if you just don't use NAT.

      As for GSM codecs, I wonder if employees would enjoy cellular quality office phones.
    • Look, if you are using a 2'nd broadband for reliability, then you might as well back up the other part of that; the voip provider. I Did a few asterisk installs, and saw them burned by one company (not only did they not handle the rush, but they did not handle their support well; ignored calls too often).
  • One of the best things you can do is get managed switches. If you have remote users, don't cheap out on the VPN endpoints. Expect some "echo".

    I work on the data side, not the phone side of the company. If we had "paid" for our system, I'd be pissed.

    I'm not familiar w/ Asterisk which has been mentioned. We only deal in a commercial offering, by a *huge* electronics company. Our main phone tech says, "you *are* going to have some problems w/ VOIP over the internet. As long as you keep it in-house, w/ th
    • Our main phone tech says, "you *are* going to have some problems w/ VOIP over the internet. As long as you keep it in-house, w/ the phone sys using a PRI (?) to the phone co, AND you have managed switches, you should be ok

      PRI = Primary Rate Interface, basically a T-1 in the US and Canada or an E-1 anywhere else in the world. On a T-1 you get 24 64k channels, one of which is for control signals.

      I guess he suggests managed switches so you can do QOS or segement off a VLAN which is a really good idea. Othe

  • asterisk (Score:3, Informative)

    by max born ( 739948 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @10:35PM (#14143762)
    Try asterisk [].

    Just playing around I set up a 10 extension inter office VoIP system using this system in about 20 minutes on an old laptop. It's open source, free, and has a great a community behind it.
    • Just playing around I set up a 10 extension inter office VoIP system using this system in about 20 minutes on an old laptop. It's open source, free, and has a great a community behind it.

      Hey, I'm sure you really did achieve this in 20 minutes (OK, I'm not sure at all, unless you'd already done it a few time before...but who knows...)

      But I'll just add a voice of reason here that asterisk, while it definitely is a great solution and has a fantastic community, is a real sophisticated system that may well

  • BYOD @ Broadvoice (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheRealFritz ( 931415 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @10:40PM (#14143782) Homepage
    I've switched to using [] along with []. I think you'll find this Wiki to be a very useful resource: []

    The plan I'm using is BYOD-Lite which costs me only $6 a month and there was no activation fee, since I had my own VOIP equipment in the form of an Asterisk PBX installed on Linux. From what I can tell, they are one of the few providers who allow the use of customer supplied VoIP hardware/software, in my case Asterisk.

    Something you'll have to research is what technology you want to use for hooking up individual phones to Asterisk. One possibility would be to use hardware from Digium: ory&category=hardware [] or any other Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA), or you could use Softphones installed on employee PCs such as X-Lite (free), or similar.

    Good Luck! []
  • VoIP can be tricky - stay away from going exclusively VoIP, for example using Vonage, Broadvoice etc... for business in my experience it's just not there yet. The trickiest part will most likely be choosing the right phones and integrating with whichever PBX / Gateway you'll be implementing. Asterisk is a very solid option - but make sure the server that it's running on is reliable and that the IRQ issues aren't a concern with the hardware.

    Getting outbound VOIP Lines might not be mature enough for your c
  • Unless you know enough about VOIP to setup your own. Remember, you're going to be maintaining this over and above your current job functions. It may or may not be benifical to go with something like Asterisk and going it alone. But, if you do go with a consultant, for the love of God do NOT go with SBC. They setup our Cisco VoIP system, and screwed us by not giving us the discs and key codes to the CallManager or Unity software. They did leave the IPCC software in a corner cube, though.
  • by mflorell ( 546944 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @10:44PM (#14143805)
    last three years. We now have over 250 phones installed at 4 locations(including a call center). We started switching to Asterisk three years ago and grew the system to the point where everythign is Asterisk and we do all inter-office calls over VOIP(IAX trunks). The cost savings in licensing costs alone more than justifies 2 full-time IT staffers salaries.

    If you have some time to get comfortable with it, you will be very happy with the control you have over the system and the tremendous choice in phone hardware you can use with Asterisk. And if your company is anything like ours, they will love the cost savings.

    Here's a link to a case study presentation I gave at Astricon 2005 last month: Florell_astricon_2005.html []
  • by g-san ( 93038 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @10:44PM (#14143808)
    Your network is a factor here as well. Do you know how much traffic you have on the network currently? Can your routers do prioritization on different traffic types, either IP Type of Service or tcp/udp port? You want to have that understood to make sure the quality is good, so VoIP doesn't affect your usual traffic and vice versa.

    You can also get switches/modules nowadays that have Power over Ethernet (PoE). So of the two RJ-45 connections (you have the physical cabling for this, right?) in a cube, one connects their PC and the other connects the VoIP appliance/phone back to the PoE port. The phone gets it's power from the ethernet cable. If those switches and the rest of your key servers and network are on UPS, the phones still work when the power goes out.

    Good luck.
  • Did you not see... (Score:3, Informative)

    by syukton ( 256348 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @11:03PM (#14143894)
    Did you not see this story the other day [] about the new open source magazine, O3 []?

    Their first issue [] "looks at reducing voice infrastructure costs with open source telephony solutions"

    I suggest starting there.

  • Shoretel (Score:2, Informative) [] - makes the best VOIP phone system around. It will do everything you want it to do, easy to set up, and comes with an SDK. Knock yourself out.
    • Ditto to this.. We love ours.. You did not mention how many POTS lines you have, and how many desk phones. Shoretel has some hardware that comes in 3 flavors, the shoregear 8/12/24. These are sweet. Set aside the first 4 lines for your POTS to the central office, the 5th one for a fax machine, and the real cool thing is, for every analog port you disable on the device, it allows 5 IP phones to be used. We use the Shoregear PRI (for a 23-24 line telco t1 for phones, ) and a shoregear 24. This allows us
  • RHEL3-ES ($349) + Asterisk Business Edition ($995) + Dell PE2850 (~$5000, dual 2.8, 1gb, raid1-76gb, 3yrs-4hour-onsite, drac, redundant-psu) = $6,500ish

    Thats not counting phones, network upgrades, and whatever cards you'll need for your asterisk box to talk to things. So figure 10K.

    • Jesus that's a big server for Asterisk. I've pinned up 600 calls / 60 cps with RTP (mind you, ulaw) against the echo app and sat at an average 70-80% idle on a modest old dual Xeon.

      Asterisk may have messy code, but in my experience it's stable and it will smack the shit out of proprietary alternatives in terms of call rates, etc.
      • Jesus that's a big server for Asterisk. I've pinned up 600 calls / 60 cps with RTP (mind you, ulaw) against the echo app and sat at an average 70-80% idle on a modest old dual Xeon.

        Codec and transcoding is everything when it comes to Asterisk and CPU. Try running the same setup with g.729. Hint: My box with dual 3.6 Xeons max out at around 120 calls when it needs to transcode g.729 for pstn termination. If Asterisk only needs to pass the packets along without transcoding then it can handle thousands of ca

        • You're absolutely right. For PBX-PBX calls on the same LAN, you have no excuse to use anything but G.711. If you have to terminate to a VoIP provider as opposed to your own PRI, use compression if you have to.
  • Asterisk (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Denis Lemire ( 27713 )
    I handle the IT for an Edmonton based WISP. When we moved offices almost a year ago we left our old Centrex system behind and built our own PBX using Asterisk. Overall we are happy with the setup, though it has a learning curve.

    Once you resolve all the issues with echo cancellation, you'll end up with a very flexible setup. Best of all, because of its open standard nature you will not be marrried to any particular vendor of handsets.

    It takes a little bit of work to get everything running to the spec you're
  • I'm serious. I've been doing this day in and day out for months now. The whole thing comes out costing about 1/4 of what a commercial solution is, the quality is better, and you can do insanely cool things with it. :)

    It's just more typing than I'm willing to do right this second. The name of my company is oss|solutions.
  • You might check out his podcast where he mentions it. If you email him with questions about it, he will be guaranteed to add it to his podcast.

    The name is Doug's daily tech--it's about his job as an IT manager and has some good insight.

    Since he is currently upgrading his company to asterisk, I'm sure he'd love to discuss it.

    He made a custom Knoppix distro with Asterisk and some other utilities needed to run such a beast. Send an email asking if you are interested: []
  • Don't implement this yourself. Call up Speakeasy. They will set you up with the phones (or you can buy them yourself) and will configure, host, and operate the service. The price is very low and I haven't had the first problem with the service. It's 1000 times better and 100 times less expensive than my old Lucent PBX with WorldCom T1 service.
  • by RedLeg ( 22564 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @11:33PM (#14144062) Journal
    Asterisk is more than likely the ultimate solution to your problem.

      - The bad news is that it has a VERY steep learning curve, that is unless you are expert in linux, telephony, and a few other odd disciplines, a relatively rare combination these days.

      + The good news is that you can test drive and get up and running quickly and cheaply with Asterisk @ Home..

    Google for Asterisk @ Home. D/L the CD, take a SPARE box, one that you have no residual data on ('cause it's going to get zorched), insert the CD and follow the prompts. About an hour later, you will have an installed and (mostly) configured PBX with a web management GUI and a huge support community.

    Believe it or not, you can install it in VMware and get a good feel for the functionality without sacrificing a box or boxen to the PBX gods.

    The project is extraordinally well documented, and the only additional things you absolutely need to get started playing around are a soft phone (or an IP phone, or a ATA and an analog phone) and a Freeworld Diallup (no charge) account. A cheapass PCI card to connect to a single POTS line will run around $10 on E-pay.

    All of this will take no more than a couple of hours, and you should be able to get a really good idea of what Asterisk is capable of doing.

    Once you've convinced yourself (and your colleagues), you have some choices, namely, build it yourself or buy. I can't offer advice here.....

    Some other potentially useful info-tidbits:

    • IP Phones are readily available starting at around $45US a set for cheapies (new, but low frills and crappy docco), up to several hundred a set for top-o-the-line units from folks like Cisco. I would personally recommend at least two or three for your pilot project, and not all the same model.

    • Beware the "power adaptor problem.' Some VoIP phones are designed to use POE (Power over Ethernet), where the switch provides the power over the ethernet cabling just like the phone company. If the phone sets are designed for this, they may not come with power bricks, and these particular bricks can be very expensive, and add considerably to the cost of the phone set.

    • ATAs (analog telephone adaptors) let you plug a phone (or a fax, or both) into an ethernet link connected to a VoIP lashup. These are what a LOT of the commercial VoIP providers furnish or provide at low cost. There are LOTS of these available on the secondary market, and many can be unlocked to use with any provider. I'd recommend you play with a couple different ones of these as well.

    • There is a metric a$$load of information on VoIP, Asterisk and Asterisk @ Home at []. Among other things, you can find info on which phones (soft, hard and ATAs) are well supported, and config info for lots of specific models.

    Hope this helps.....

  • by Anonymous Coward
    We were in excatly the same boat as you. We considered MANY different options, including what used to be called Centrex, and the IP version of the same thing from two vendors, a SIP client system including Asterisk and some (not all) IP phones, and different IP key type systems.

    Of course, it got worse, not better. After a DISASTROUS trial with Cisco, we realized we should have gone with a telephony product vendor ... gee, the SAME one that supplied the OLD key system!

    I couldn't wait to get that P.O.S. Cis
  • by mlg9000 ( 515199 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @11:37PM (#14144081)
    VOIP is a buzz word right now but it usually doesn't make sense. A T1 will carry 16 VOIP calls (at ~POTS quality) and runs ~$400 a month. A PSTN line (T1 for voice) carrys 24 lines and costs ~$350. VOIP phones cost almost twice as much as digital POTS phones. Plus there will be a cost going from POTS Minutes are slightly more expensive with POTS but you'd have a use a whole hell of a lot of minutes before you'd hit the break even point. So unless you are a heavy user it doesn't make sense. If you had multiple locations and needed internal extensions etc that might work too. Site to site data lines are much cheaper.
    • I have sales guys that work out of their homes. If they can run a soft phone on their laptop and do conference calls on my VoIP PBX, and not use a conference call service, that can almost pay for the cost of a VoIP pbx on a 3 year lease.

      My developers' desk phones have dust on them. They already have headsets to use skype to talk to [insert native country here]. Who cares what a VoIP desk phone costs if a huge chunk of my user base does not need or want them.

      Blanket statements are bad. VoIP offers a variety
      • VOIP may very well make sense for you. I didn't say it couldn't. However, for the vast majority of companies out there it doesn't (yet).
        That's why nobody is buying it. (My best friend sells corporate phone systems and telecom equipment and I'm familiar with the market... they just aren't buying VOIP right now) The few companies that do are almost all very large with either call centers or multiple location they need to connect. The smaller guys, like this poster, it's just almost never cost effective.

    • by anticypher ( 48312 ) <anticypher@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @06:39AM (#14145678) Homepage
      A T1 is 1.5 Mbps. Using a reasonable quality codec like G.729ab means you can fit 85 to 100 simultaneous calls into a single T1. Certainly you could stick to G.711 a/u-Law codec and have slightly better quality than G.729ab, and even with signalling overhead (either H.323 or SIP), you could fit 22 simultaneous calls into a T1.

      These numbers comes from a real, working system. It's right now passing 85 calls, and consuming 1.5 Mbps. This particular VoIP router is sitting on an E1 (2Mbps) and can pass a maximum of 120 calls.

      Are T1 circuits in the U.S. still so expensive? Do carriers charge more for an unframed data circuit than a PRI phone circuit? (which sounds bassackwards, but it's the new unregulated America where anything can happen) Average price for an E1 in Europe is about US$150/month for a data circuit, and depending on the phone company at the other end, about US$250/month for PRI over E1.

      the AC
  • Mitel 3300 ICP (Score:2, Informative)

    by bagboy ( 630125 )
    We've installed Mitel gear in facilities ranging from Medical Clinics to Small Mom and Pop Shops. The High End Mitel 3300 would be overkill for you, but they have a small business owner flavor. We've installed both Cisco and Mitel and by far the winner is Mitel. Low maintenance, intuitive and customizeable web interface and solid performance. The small mom and pop flavor isn't that much more expensive than putting together an asterisk system and you get full support.
  • Switchvox (Score:2, Informative)

    Switchvox [] will do it for you. Talk to David Podolsky there.

    Email me if you have questions, I've already done the research. len at
  • Managed VoIP PBX (Score:3, Informative)

    by segment ( 695309 ) <> on Tuesday November 29, 2005 @11:40PM (#14144095) Homepage Journal
    Currently we are using Covad after a horrendous experience with Packet8 whose Virtual Office product line is nothing worse than your worse thought. I have 8 offices spread through the US and wondered about setting up Asterisk even went as far as having them quote out a prebuilt drop in system. The problem with this became the cumbersome syntaxing of Asterisk. I don't mind, nor does my coworker but it is not a feasible system unless you have experienced engineers in those offices when a problem arises. Sure you could talk about KVMOIP to manage issues but sooner or later you will need someone to touch that machine. Anyhow, experiences with Asterisk: echo, cancellation issues and all that fun stuff. For example if you're using a Digium card you will need to up it to about 256 taps. A tap represents 1 sample, and @ 8kHz (which is what all of Asterisk's echo cancellers default to) each tap represents 0.125ms. Asterisk default of 128taps will therefore handle echo paths of up to 16ms, supposedly good for most things. You may get better results with fewer taps cause training time is shorter and the canceller will adapt faster. Conversely, if you're having problems with echo on long-distance phone calls, you may need to up this to 256 taps. BUT... Asterisk only lets you set 32, 64, 128 or 256 taps. Using a different number of taps will cause Asterisk to revert to 128 taps without warning. So if you can't get echo out @ 256 you're going to have a handful of daily complaints on echo using Asterisk... Outside of that funkily chopped and pasted information, physical phones. What kind of switches, your speed, and all other even funner (is that a word funner) things come into play. Will you have an allocated connection for phones? Sure you would not want to have the lines on the same lines as your Internet data lines. Think of the costs behind that. Phones physically, I'm not impressed with too many VoIP phones. Right now I have Cisco 7960's and 7940's, and those supposedly are top of the line which still don't impress me much.
  • I'm amazed asterisk@home wasn't the first thing posted here. Don't be fooled by the @Home part. This is a full fledged install of asterisk that is only limited by the hardware you install it on. You can have a working PBX in an hour. I'm planning to install this at all my remote sites (6 of them) with free extension call throughout and then plan to install it at my main location (150 phones) and have it all interconnected. A VERY powerful solution.

    (Note: I just copied the rest of this from the handbook
  • We use the Cisco phones and CallManager, probably not the cheapest option, but it works beautifully.

    We have ~100 people, the phones get a separate VLAN on the switched 100MB network. Of the six T1s four are internet traffic and two are for the phones. The switches are powered, so the phone only plugs into the ethernet port; they have a builtin hub for the PC, so each user only needs one port.

    I don't remember the exact prices, but I think the backend hardware and installation ran about $10-15K (though I c

  • There are very important questions to ask yourself before going this route. Are you going to be fully going to VoIP? If so, how much phone downtime can your company afford to take? Power outages, network outages, etc... will affect VoIP when it wouldn't affect a POTS. Are you willing to have no phone service for hours on end in case of a failure? How much business could potentially be lost by going this route? So basically any telephone lines/numbers that are critical to the business should be kept on POTS
  • by donnacha ( 161610 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @12:10AM (#14144211) Homepage
    Think before you leap because the potential of VOIP is tantalizing, believe me I know, I got sucked in and, to be honest, in many ways I regret it.

    I'm a home user/home worker, none of my calls are that important but the quality definitely isn't there. We humans have a great capacity to blind ourselves to minor inconveniences, such as having to alter our conversational style to accommodate slightly unsychronised conversations or drops of several seconds in which the other person can't hear us but, ultimately, these things wear you down and change your relationship with your phone - you can no longer trust your phone but, like the flaws in a new lover, you excuse these things because you're so enamoured with the promise, the potential to route around the bastarding telephone monopolies that have held us all hostage for so long.

    I should mention that I'm a UK user and, obviously, that places an extra burden on a US-based service. I signed up to Broadvoice because they had the best thought out plans and their support is, well, it exists which is more than can be said for many of the others. On the whole, though, I absolutely cannot recommend them to UK users because they let me down badly with regard to 0800 (UK tollfree) and 0870 (UK region-free numbers) which, although they claim otherwise on their rates pages, they simply cannot connect to, not for any amount to money. This alone renders their service redundant because, in the UK, an increasing number of businesses only provide and 0800 and 0870 number. The best example of this is Apple's UK branch who no longer accept emails - I wanted to buy about £3000 worth of computers and emailed them with a query, received an automated reply telling me that the only way to contact them was via their 0800, with no regular number to use as an alternative. This may sound like a fairly marginal problem but you wouldn't believe the number of times I've ended up using a mobile, at 20p per minute, to wait on a "freephone" service queue. Apple, BTW, lost that sale along with the chance that I'll ever again suggest their systems to a client.

    So, for home users looking to save a few quid, don't buy into the dream while it's still a dream; certainly don't replace your main phoneline.

    For home workers attracted to the idea of contacting clients all over the World, ask yourself if you, as a client, would be happy dealing with a service provider who you can't hear properly or with whom conversations are arduous.

    For executives eager to boost their corporate careers by manfully slashing millions from their company's telecoms bill, ask yourself if adding an extra stress to the every single employee who uses the phone might not be, in the long-term, a serious blow to the company as a whole - somehow added employee stress and customer frustration never makes it onto Powerpoint presentations, but it's smart to know what's annoying the Hell out of your rank and file.

    I wanted VOIP to live up to the dream, I really did - all I'm saying is that, in my case, it didn't, be aware of that amidst all the hype.

  • You've not given nearly enough information for a phone system designer to help you. Here are some questions that would normally be asked:

    How many voice seats do you have in the network?

    Are those seats all in one physical location or are some WAN attached?

    How many fax machines are there?

    How will you get trunks from the telco? Remain pots or are you busy enough to need a T1/PRI? That usually happens at about a dozen trunks.

    I know a company with twenty employees who has gone from Cisco ICS 7750
  • Proprietary vs Open (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wilymage ( 934907 )
    This is a wee bitty redundant, but the figures might be interesting:

    One of my clients recently looked into a PABX/VoIP solution for their two very small offices. They required only 10 IP phones and two gatekeepers.

    Samsung's quotation was ~AU$14,000; Nortel's was ~AU$18,000. [AU$1 ~= US$0.70]

    These were proprietary systems with weak licensing (Nortel: 32 license minimum for voicemail, etc.), limitations (Samsung: only four calls simultaneously!)

    Another mob wanted $8000 for just the IP phones neces
  • by coryhamma ( 842129 ) on Wednesday November 30, 2005 @01:32AM (#14144684)
    One aspect of a VOIP system you may want to consider is the potential for redundancy.

    If you should happen to choose to go the Asterisk (open source) route, the Asterisk@Home distribution installs straight off a CD and can be backed up / restored through a web browser. This means that if you exclusively use IP connected components -- T1 or POTS gateways and IP connected phones -- then you only need to shove the Asterisk@Home install CD into another server should one fail and restore a recent backup -- voice mail, configuration and all.

    In addition, you can get a much higher level of service (potentially) from a service contract with an Asterisk consulting firm than your traditional Nortel / Toshiba / Avaya vendors. For example, if your phone system itself should suffer a meltdown, it is easy (in a small to medium office) to swap it with a PC. If a switch or T1 gateway should bite the dust, they are generally inexpensive enough to keep a spare around. My experience with the "big heavy" vendors is that a service contract will get you up & running in a day or less -- while a asterisk solution could potentially recover from the same type of hardware failure within an hour.

    I have to recommend against using a VOIP phone service however -- getting a T1 line from a good provider is likely to be cheaper and much more reliable.
  • There is some really good basic info from the FCC here: []
  • All the comments I read in this thread are dead on. I'm going to add some things that weren't suggested and elaborate on some others:

    1) The best thing you can do to ensure call quality is to start with good phones. I've used a bunch of them and so far I like the Polycom's the best. The SoundPoint IP 301 (2-line) and 601's (6-line) are great quality with a nice price point. I'm sure the Cisco's are great too. Sipura's are a nice price point as well and have some good features. Use ATA's only where abso
  • I'm currently setting up a VoIP system for a very small office (5-10 people). What we've got is an Asterisk PBX setup by a company called Fonality []. They did a pretty good job doing the initial setup. They will set up everything depending on your outbound config (T1 or whatever) and even set up phones. They can do remote support which I've found tends to be very quick.
    They also have a web-based front end for configuration of simple tasks, (e.g. extensions, call menu, etc..), though I don't use it and prefer
  • I am in the strange position of having cable broadband, but no landline for the next couple of months, and was wondering if anyone had a cheap solution for me given the hardware I have available.
    My father's house has both cable broadband, and a spare landline, which gave me the idea of trying hack together a setup which would let me make use of his landline remotely over the net, using VoIP assumedly. ie. I can place calls remotely from my computer (preferably using a real handset), and any time the remote
    • and their call-out service might just be the most simple and hassle free solution for you. And it could very well be cheaper than regular Phone. In the end you'll end up not wanting a landline. :-)
  • I recently left a small interactive firm (4 people at its peak) that used Packet8 business lines. We used them for about 5 months before I left at a new office location. We ran the system off a dedicated DHCP 1.5/384 DSL connection. The rest of our office traffic ran off a static DSL connection -- 768 synchronous.

    Here are the issues we had with the phones:
    • You had to dial 9+1+area code+number for ALL numbers. Even local numbers. It NOT a good setup for making quick local calls.
    • Despite the supposed low u
  • > from POTS to VoIP.

    I have been managing an Asterisk installation at my
    company for several months now. The Asterisk PBX has
    been rock solid and absolutely amazing. It works so well,
    I working on another Asterisk install for a spin-off
    corporation as well.
    First, background. My father is an old-school
    telecommunications manager who frowns upon VOIP. I had
    five years in the voice-on-demand (audiotext, IVR)
    industry before doing more general system admin an
  • I know its proprietary but I have to say, we just had an Inter-Tel system installed in our offices and it works great. Our main office (read: old) is still using a digital system but the other two offices are connected to our main office via VOIP. In our other two offices there is simply a 1U system (Axxess 5000) and a few POE switch and thats our entire phone system. The phones work great and we have an couple IPRC (Internet Protocol Resoure Cards) in our system so people can take IP phones home (or wh
  • Every time I look into this I pass (but I look every time I have to revisit it; one day VOIP will be ready). I mean, you can make it work, and make it work well, but is it core to your company's mission? Phone service itself probably is core (it is to most, but not all companies), but is having people grok everything about the phone service a core part of your company's business?

    What I've ended up doing every time so far is just buying a used PBX. They get cheaper all the time. They aren't always all-si

No problem is so large it can't be fit in somewhere.