Looking for a new phone system

I’m not sure if this is the correct forum or if Asterisk can be useful to me or not, but there seems to be alot of knowledgeable people around here, so I will ask for suggestions.

My father owns a wholesale warehouse operation and is looking to upgrade his phone system and Internet connection. Presently, he has a 15+ year old system where the three phone lines branch out from a Panasonic switching box to various locations around the warehouse. Each phone can access all three lines, the system allows phone-to-phone pages, pages can be made through a central speaker through the warehouse, calls can be transferred from phone to phone, the system has hold music, etc. It is nothing super fancy, but something that gets the job done for a small business. In addition, a multifunction fax is setup in the office to send and receive faxes on line 2. A computer in the office also uses line 2 to dial-up to the Internet when needed. Naturally, faxes don’t come through when the computer is online.

I am a newbie when it comes to telephone and VOIP; however, I work in the IT industry and have experience with networking in general. I’m in the process of looking for the most cost-effective option to upgrade both the phone systems and the Internet connection. The phones are not as clear as they used to be and it would be nice to have additional features such as an automated greeting and voicemail. As far as the Internet goes, broadband service is a must!

Right now it costs about $150 per month for the phone system including local and long distance. The Internet service is only about $15 per month. What would be some options for this situation? Would it be possible for me to perform the upgrade over a weekend? Any suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Al

Look up Trixbox. It’s a good learn-to-use asterisk package all wrapped up in a single disk. You just download the ISO file and burn it to disk (using somethint like ISOMagic or Nero’s ISO Image to disk feature) and pop it in a machine it pretty much does the rest.

Although I don’t think it supports paging (yet…) I believe it can do everything else that you seek (including getting faxes while the internet is connected) IVR (Digital Attendant) and V-mail are included as options after the load.

You would need to get a dedicated internet connection but (anyone feel free to correct me where I am wrong) I would think with only 3 lines a good solid DSL or Cable modem connection would offer you enough bandwidth probably. And you could (Should) get this running in parrallel with your existing phone system until the cut over in order to test it and play around with it.

As far as the hardware to connect the POTS (existing telephone) lines to the asterisk system. Digium makes a bunch that handle multiple in a single card, or there are knockoff on Ebay that wil handle one line per card (search for X100P - they are about $20) but I have not used (nor do I know if it’s possible to use) multiple X100Ps in a single box - Anyone???

You would need some means of connecting the stations in the warehouse to the system. You could either go with VOIP phones or analog adapters (something like the Linksys PAP2 - beware of locked adapters!) to connect the data line to the existing telephone lines to the phone stations in the warehouse. You could even do Wifi phone which might be nice in the warehouse - depending onthe size and potential for interference…

http://www.trixbox.org/

A GREAT manual… http://dumbme.voipeye.com.au/trixbox/trixbox_without_tears.pdf

Depending on the phones you choose, you can have paging through the phones. I use Snom 320 phones and page through the phones as well as through the overhead page at one of my locations. The other location just uses overhead paging.

A single Grandstream 2000 phone works well for hooking up to overhead paging since they are cheap and have audio out.

I agree that TrixBox is the way to go for a first time, small, easy installation.

One thing you’ll have to change your mindset on is the idea of lines, though. This isn’t a key system where you press Line 1, Line 2, etc. It is a PBX where the idea of lines is hidden from the user.

You can use multiple X100P cards to hook up multiple phone lines to the system, but I would instead spend the money upfront and get a single card that can handle the 3 to 4 phone lines you need. If you go with line cards and stick with your existing phone lines you don’t need a broadband connection for the phone system, though it simplifies things since you don’t have to share a line.

If you are comfortable wiring ethernet, I would recommend going with IP phones such as the Snoms. The feature set is just so rich. The downside is you have to wire ethernet to each phone location.

The downside is you have to wire ethernet to each phone location.

I’m hoping that’s not true. I have been experimenting with wireless connections for IP phones, and so far it looks like it should work pretty well. It works well using X-Lite on a laptop with wireless access. Theoretically you can get a wireless IP bridge and place it somewhere in the building and connect multiple IP phones to that, although I’ve been plagued with infant mortality / DOA on a couple of Hawking HWBA54G wireless bridges, and so so far I haven’t been able to prove the concept.

Thanks for all the help guys. I was looking over the article at dumbme.voipeye.com.au/trixbox/tr … _tears.pdf and came across the following line: [quote]If you are expecting the quality to be as good as your existing PSTN calls, you
will be somewhat disappointed[/quote] I need the quality of the phones to be good. At a retail store where I used to work they upgraded their phones to voip and the quality was perfect. Also, I need to be able to dial the Caribbean Islands at a reasonable rate. I don’t think I understand the big picture here. Who do I go with to provide the VOIP service? What phones or other hardware do I need aside from a modest machine to run the TrixBox? How can I transfer over my current phone numbers? I will contact the Cable company on Monday to do a site survey and see if they can run a line out to my warehouse. I would prefer going with cable and being independent of the phoneline like with DSL.

I’ve heard of people having quality issues, but I haven’t. If you want to go with a sure thing, Nortel makes good (but very pricey) systems. If you can handle a little troubleshooting, then give it a whirl.

As far as your questions, International calling is SUPER cheap… I get 1.4c per minute to the UK. Vonage is like 4c a minute. If you shop around (Search http://www.voip-info.org for Voip service providers) you should be able to beat whatever it is you are getting now.

There are 1000s of different ways to set it up. The VOIP providers can offer a Direct Dial (DID) Number (for someone to call you) that you associate to an inbound trunk or they can offer just an outbound trunk for you to place calls on. I have both so I can take advantage of low outbound rates while using my free minutes for inbound calls. It works like this. You pick up a phone connected to Asterisk, the server say “Oh, you want to make a call to 123-456-7890, let me forward that out the outbound trunk to voipprovider.com” Or Mr. Jones dials your DID number and the call goes to voipprovider.com and their server says "Oh, this call is for Skyace888, forward it to " and your phone will ring and Mr. Jones will be there. (or it will go into the IVR…etc…)

I haven’t worked much with lines rolling over to other lines, maybe someone else could answer that???

The way that each vendor bills is different too. Some vendors with just give you a trunk and monthly fee, some charge by the minute. Also number porting (assigning your number to a new carrier) is available for a small fee from most vendors. I think I paid $8 for mine. Don’t do this until you are sure you want to go with asterisk as it takes a couple days to make the change.

I would recommend you get more comforatable with Asterisk before proceeding with hardware. Here’s what I would suggest:

  1. Download Trixbox and install it on a older networked machine. I’m using a 600Mhz machine and it work GREAT for testing. I’ve found slightly older hardware seems to work better. I’ve had issues with the latest and greatest chipsets.

  2. Download a softphone (program that runs on another machine hooked to the same network) and acts like a phone. I like Dante’s DIAX phone, it’s free and small. http://www.laser.com/dante/diax/diax.html

  3. Connect to Trixbox and set up a phone extension in FreePBX. I’m pretty sure TB without Tears wil walk you thru that process.

  4. To test the soft phone’s configuration, dial *65 and you should hear the recorded voice read your extension number. Dialing 7777 dial as if you were calling from outside the PBX (a good way to test the digital assistant) From there, play around with it and see if it will meet your needs.

You might also want to enable/download any additional features to play around with. FreePBX has a page to enable modules. I just check them all. Then if you like it (and as you get hooked), look at buying the hardware you need to get it running.

  • D

[size=75]To set up Diax, use the following settings:
Alias -Whatever you want to call that connection … "Connection"
Server - Your Trixbox/Asterisk server’s IP or name
Username - The extension number you set up in FreePBX
Password - You guessed it… The p/w you set up in FreePBX
Context - I left it blank…
Check Register
Name and number would be the same as what you set up in FreePBX. And I would leave the Codec where it is defaulted.[/size]

need the quality of the phones to be good.

Hey if you get “Cell Phone good” you are luck

At a retail store where I used to work they upgraded their phones to voip and the quality was perfect.

they spend how many grand on the system? How much Bandwidth??

Also, I need to be able to dial the Caribbean Islands at a reasonable rate.

That is easy one…all LD calls are cheap

I don’t think I understand the big picture here. Who do I go with to provide the VOIP service?

You would have to find one which has DID’s in your area code(s)

What phones or other hardware do I need aside from a modest machine to run the TrixBox?

server 600.00 atleast
3 phones 600.00 for decent ones
cat 5 run 300.00 ~ 400.00 (wireless same or more)
router / w 4 port switch and QOS 100.00 ~ 150.00

How can I transfer over my current phone numbers?

it is calling local Number Portabilty you would need to check with the DID provider to see if they can get them ported

I will contact the Cable company on Monday to do a site survey and see if they can run a line out to my warehouse.
I would prefer going with cable and being independent of the phoneline like with DSL.

If you dump your PSTN lines and do not have a high dollar VoIP account then when your INET or power is down so are your phones…
and folks get a fast busy or some other nonsense… no voice mail… nothing.

You may wish to look at other options
packet8.net/about/virtual_office.asp

It makes me a little leary to try the Trixbox if I will only be “lucky” to get cell phone quality on a cable line. Voice quality is important, especially when we call long-distance and many of our suppliers and customers don’t speak perfect English to begin with. With this in mind, I don’t think Trixbox will be the best solution. I looked over the Packet8 site and will call them tomorrow. I came across another site (unfortunately I don’t remember the URL) and it said that VOIP quality is only obtainable with a T1 line or better. Is this true? Where do you think I should go from here? I plan to call the following companies tomorrow and see what they offer:

Covad
Quantumtone
Broadvoice
Packet8
Bandwidth.com

It makes me a little leary to try the Trixbox if I will only be "lucky"
to get cell phone quality on a cable line. Voice quality is important,
especially when we call long-distance and many of our suppliers
and customers don’t speak perfect English to begin with.

Good afternoon, Al.

I have really limited experience with Asterisk … could barely spell Asterisk a couple of weeks ago :wink: … but since then, with a LOT of help from the fine people in this forum, I have built up a fairly feature-rich though very small PBX for my consulting partnership. I did it by building Asterisk and its drivers from sources, on a general-purpose Fedora Core 5 box, and not by installing one of what I understand are canned Asterisk solutions like Asterisk@Home and Trixbox (correct me if I’m wrong about the “canned solutions” part).

I strongly urge you not to give up on Asterisk just yet.

My system is a 2.5-GHz Celeron with 1GB RAM, and connects to the Internet via a low-speed DSL with 1.5Mbps download speed and 192Kbps upload speed. We have a Digium TDM-400P board with one FXS port and three FXO ports. Two of the FXO ports connect to telco wall jacks. I have the PBX set up so that if someone calls in via the PSTN, and selects the extension number for one of us, and the person being called isn’t here, the PBX can automatically redirect the call out the other PSTN port to a cell phone number, so that the call then goes in one PSTN line, through Asterisk, out the other PSTN line, and to the cell phone.

My partners live 40+ miles from here in two different directions, one with DSL and the other with Comcast cable, and the one with DSL connects to the PBX via X-Lite 3.0 softphone (my other partner isn’t connected yet… we need to give him a boot in the ass and get him to set up and configure X-Lite). Within the office here, there is one analog phone connected to an FXS port, and two VoipVoice USB phones connected to PCs running X-Lite 3.0.

So far we are pretty happy with the results. The audio quality is good except when I’m downloading large files, or sometimes when I’m on Skype, then the low-speed DSL into here tends to get loaded down and people calling in from the outside over SIP tend to get not-so-good results (internal phones and connections to the telco still work well, though).

I have no idea what might happen if and when I start loading it up with more PSTN connections or start handling more simultaneous SIP / IAX2 calls. We have no immediate plans to do that so what we have now works very well for our needs.

Now, it could be that my expectations just aren’t very high. I’m tickled pink that it even works at all and was as easy as it was to set up. So, it could be that what’s perfectly fine for us will be only marginally acceptable to your environment.

If you would like to try our system, to see how it sounds to you, you are welcome to call me at 603-437-1811 ext 21, or else set up X-Lite 3.0 on your machine and send me an email at spamsink@scoot.netis.com (I’ll reply with my “real” email address), and I’ll send you the information you need to connect to us via SIP. That might give you some useful feedback regarding how the performance and audio quality might be in your application.

I do warn you that our Automated Attendant messages (“Press 1 for … press 2 for… etc.”) don’t sound very good. I recorded them myself using a seriously sub-optimal recording configuration, back during my first few days of figuring out how to set this thing up. I know what to do to re-record them and make them sound better, just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

Few basics-

First, Asterisk is here, now, and it works. I use * to run my business as do many of my clients. I am a consultant, and I sell and service Asterisk-based systems among other things. Asterisk can work very, very well, you just have to keep a few things in mind.

First- VoIP phone service is reliable, and it works. You just need to make sure you have enough bandwidth for it. At full quality (using the G.711 ulaw codec) a VoIP call will take up about 80kbit/sec of bandwidth. By using a lower bandwidth codec (such as GSM, G.729, etc) this can be reduced to as little as 15kbit/sec or so.

Most cable modems have about 1500-5000 kbit/sec downstream bandwidth (internet to you) and 256-768kbit/sec upstream (you to Internet), so you are usually limited by your upload. A full T1 line has 1544 kbit/sec.
There are many sites available that will let you measure your available bandwidth. try nyc.speakeasy.net

You WILL want to set up Quality of Service on your internet connection. This feature is available in many routers. It will prioritize your VoIP data so using other things (internet/skype/etc) does not make calls get choppy.

If you are calling VoIP providers, the one VERY IMPORTANT thing you need to know is if they support BYOD (bring your own device). Many VoIP providers (esp. vonage) lock their service to an ATA they send you. ATA is Analog Telephony Adapter, its basically a box with Ethernet on one end and a phone plug on the other. IF YOU USE ASTERISK, YOU DON"T WANT THIS. Asterisk will work FAR better if it can talk directly to the provider via SIP instead of having to use the analog channel to the ATA and a digium card. Ideally your provider will give you little more than a login/password/server that you can plug into Asterisk. Broadvoice supports this, and Asterisk use is permitted.

Running ethernet to the phones is highly encouraged. However if you really want to avoid this- some phones (linksys) have a ‘wifi dongle’ that will turn the wired phone into a wireless one. You can also get a wireless bridge and plug any odd phone into that. There are a few WiFi IP phones, most of them are cell phone type form factor. voip-info.org has a large database of different phones.

Hope that helps!

Thanks again for all the help everyone! I am downloading the ISO and will give it a shot as kolberda suggested. I have an Athlon 950mhz Linux box just sitting around. I don’t care if I reformat that and put Trixbox on it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a built-in NIC, so I’m hoping it will work with a Microsoft USB adapter. Else I’ll have to pick a PCI one up. As far as services go, I ruled Vonage out a few days ago because I didn’t like any of the plans or phones they had. It seems more like a residential service than a business service to me. I assume that companies like Covad and Quantumtone use a virual PBX system instead of a traditional one. If I do choose to go with Trixbox, I will have to use some other companies to make traditional phone calls, right? My main concern in the near future is to find a fast broadband service at a reasonable price. I think DSL would require keeping at least one phone line which would be like $40 for phone and $40 for DSL minimum per month. DSL rates in the southeast, and my area in particular, seem very high with low speeds. This is why I really hope my local cable company (Comcast) can hook up our warehouse. A 6MB down and 768K up is what I am striving for.

few things to keep in mind-

virtual pbx service is not what you want if you have *. VPBX means you get a handful of IP phones which act together as one system. Just like asterisk but without *. They charge you per month per phone, and this is generally NOT comaptible with asterisk.

The problem with vonage is not that they have bad plans or phones but that you must use their ATA. As stated before, you NEED a service that lets you BYOD or use any sip device.

Good luck!

I installed Trixbox without a hitch and according to the PDF guide, I ran the netconfig and entered a static IP. After restarting, I can’t login to the box from a browser on another machine. It won’t even reply to a ping. I think the USB adapter is not compatible even though it has a green light on. Any ideas? I’ll see if I can find a PCI NIC laying around.

You’d be crazy not to use asterisk. Try it out using trixbox and standalone or using debian and packages. The features asterisk offers you are not comparable to another switch. If you say you need to upgrade, I wouldn’t recommend a proprietary system. You’ll be locked in for another decade.

As for quality, if you have QoS in your switch, your ISP/provider then there’s little to fear.

You say you’re in the I.T. industry doing networking then you’re definitely about to increase your skillset as well.

I’ve written software for Siemens PBXs and just started getting into networking (and cabling by chance) for odd jobs. My partners have been in the IT&T game a combined 50 years - asterisk is amazing. You’d be stupid to not take up the opportunity to use it.

After you’ve gotten a handle on it in standalone mode (i.e. not connected to much externally, and not runnign a business on it), move onto this step.
Get the internet hooked up. Put your asterisk box on it using a provider and get experienced with it for routing, inbound/outbound. When you’re comfortable with what you’re doing, plonk a phone on the main desk for outgoing calls only. And slowly the phone system over a week or two until everyone is comfortable with it.

I’ve done plenty of work (I.T. and non-I.T.) with/for family - I know how hard they can be too!

The stripped down OS (CentOS) that Twix comes with might not support a USB. I’ve never tried it. I would say a regular PCI based NIC would be a much better test.