New small office setup help

Basic questions:

I want to set up a phone system for a small office – only 4 people for now. I want the typical telephony functions for this office, voice mail, transfer, hold, etc.

Asterisk looks like my solution, but as a complete newbie, I’m not sure about what I’m reading here. A lot of the acronyms are lost on me. (What’s SIP?)

My questions are:

  1. What do I need to get, hardware and software?

  2. How do I set it up?

  3. How easy is it to maintain, configure for someone with no Linux experience? (Mostly Mac)

  4. Can I run Asterisk on a Mac?

  5. What will it cost?

Thanks for your help.


SIP is the standard protocol used by VOIP devices to communicate with each other (make the phone calls work). There are other standards as well (MGCP, H.323, SCCP) however SIP has become the contemporary open standard of the moment.

  1. An inexpensive PC, possibly linecards if you intend to use traditional phone lines (i.e. phone #'s from the phone company) with the system, and a good beginner software selection is “Asterisk@Home” ( — it is a turnkey self-installing and configuring bootable CD, everything you need and pretty automated).

  2. Insert cards (if any) into the new machine, then insert the Asterisk@Home CD into the new machine, turn it on, press ‘enter’ at the Asterisk@Home main screen. Using a different computer use your web browser to go to the IP address of the machine and the admin interface will appear.

  3. Pretty easy for the most part as you use the web-interface for most basic things.

  4. Yes, not a frequent setup as PC’s cost so much less and you get the exact same result/interface.

  5. Price of a cheap PC, interface cards, and the handsets of your choice.

Example setup:

  • Dell SC420 Server (Pentium 4, 2.8GHz, 1GB RAM, dual 40GB SATA HD’s, Gigabit ethernet) $554.00
  • Digium TDM400P with four FXO ports for up to four phone company telephone lines $337.00
  • Cisco 7960G Handset (basically the best quality around & great feature set) $315.00/ea
  • Ethernet switch & cables … you probably already have for your computers!

Jeff Pulver (forbearer of VOIP) said it best in an article when he stated “Asterisk is basically a $100,000 phone system for the price of a PC” (or something to that effect).

Good luck, is an amazing system.

Thanks so much for the comprehensive reply.

Leads to a few more questions, though. Phone system suppliers are quoting us a price of $3000 for a system.

  1. Can I use Asterisk with analog phones as well? Everything but the phone costs are extremely reasonable, so I’m wondering if there’s an even cheaper alternative to using the Cisco handsets.

  2. I realize that the basic box of a PC is generally cheaper than a Mac, but we were hoping to set up an Xserve system that would perform several functions, including database and mail server. Also, I’m trying as best I can to minimize Bill Gates’ involvement in my business. Would Asterisk also run concurrently with those functions on the same machine?

  3. If I do use an IP system, can I also go wireless with it? Our new office will not easily accommodate the spread of cables throughout.

Thanks again.


  1. Yes, however you will need some kind of FXS interface to accomodate the analog extenions. For example, the Digium TDM400P can be purchased with 4 FXS ports for about $275 or so. Equally there are standalone products from various vendors (Cisco, Sipura, etc) that range from $50 to $250/port.

  2. Asterisk can run concurrently with anything that runs under the flavor of Linux installed. However, the common deployment methodology is to keep your phone system dedicated to phones. The more apps you load & more things you require the system to do, the more likely there will be problems or disruptions in service – not an ideal thing for your most key/basic means of communication. Personally, I’d recommend the “less is more” methodology and use more/cheaper PC’s rather than fewer/more-expensive as it better allows you to stratify/isolate services for reliability/scalability.

  3. Sort of. Most handsets have ethernet ports making wireless a tricky item to accomodate without resorting to the Dlink/Linksys/Netgear “gaming” extenders (i.e. ethernet bridge to WiFi gadgets). Additionally, you can implement SIP based WiFi handsets however they are mostly cordless phone format (small screen, few buttons, etc.) and can get pricey and have limited range as most are 802.11b devices still (check out Uniden, they have some newer stuff).

Good luck,


I would not recommend running a small business phone system on just any PC. You have to think much more mission critical with a project like this. People from the PC world just naturally think that it is just like any other PC application which it is NOT. Having to reboot a PC or deal with the odd glitch once in awhile is acceptable and common in the PC world but is totally unacceptable in the business phone world.

As a minimum, I recommend a newer PC with HIGH quality parts, Hardware Raid 1 is essential IMHO as is UPS with automatic graceful shutdown. If your going to buy phones, try the one you have in mind first as this is the one area where the most satisfaction/disatisfaction can occur in the user experience. Asterisk@home is not really mean’t to be used in a true office environment as a permanent office phone system replacement. If you need to rely on a canned solution like Asterisk@home they you probably don’t have enough knowhow to pull off a successful office implementation over the long run IMHO.

Just thought of another thing to ask:

Is Asterisk and Digium equipment meant to work only with VOIP service? Is there any solution for standard phone service from CO?



I’m just getting my feet wet in all this, too. I was considering getting the TalkSwitch 48-CVA (hardware PBX with 4 POTS and 4 VoIP lines) for about $1900-2000, but I just found out about Asterisk. Yes, it’ll cost just as much, but I’m looking at the scalability with an * system (my sister spent $50K on her PBX phone system, and that’s a mid-priced system), since I’m going to be opening 6 more businesses in the next 2 years in a single building.

I did find some cheaper SIP phones you were asking about. I found a site called that has a range of SIP phones including some for $64 (cheaper than an analog gateway/converter, supports 1 line + call waiting), the GrandStream BudgeTone 101, and the fairly full-featured GrandStream GXP-2000 for 4 to 11 line support for $115. Of course, they have more expensive options, too, but these are the ones I’m looking at. :smile:


I think what you need (don’t quote me) to connect to POTS is an FXO, not an FXS. An FXS connects to an analog phone. You need the Digium TDM01-04B cards (1-4 FXOs) depending on your needs. It’s unlikely you’ll need any FXS’s unless your server is in the same room as your analog phone extension.


Asterisk works as a PBX replacement over PSTN lines and/or as a VOIP solution - any degree or mix therein. Part of the great benefit.

For CO lines you definately need an FXO adapter (good example that supports the cause, is Digium TDM400P w/4FXO’s).

There is a common tendancy for most to denounce the Asterisk@Home project as unworthy for business implementation (or even that you don’t know what you’r doing if you use it as mentioned in this thread). Even Digium puts it down pretty heavily. However, at the end of the day it’s an automated CentOS (Red Hat Enterprise 3 Linux) install with the Coalescent’s somewhat creaky but functional dialplan & web management interface. Beyond that are just a bunch of frequently buggy extras and features you can use or ignore. Overall, it is still a relatively straightforward Asterisk install and stability has been fantastic on many installations we have setup (with our own modifications & selection of which release to use of course!). We have done it the suggested way of hand-building everything and there is control, reliability, and flexibility in that. For most users however that will never be the best fit. I would recommend you try it and judge for yourself.