Please help on where to begin - short time line

I’ve been reading up on Asterisk for the last few days, and well, I’m as confused as ever! I guess its because I’ve never worked with CTIs before, but that’s the direction I want to take our company (i think!)

I’m not really sure where to begin? What program - the asterisk, or maybe switchvox? What type of connection will I need and what costs am I looking at (recommendations appreciated!) - I’ve got multiple options right now…we’ve got a T1, a PRI, and at my home I’ve got high speed DSL, so which should I go with? Do I need to get SIP trunk lines installed? Is there a way I can provide my own SIP lines? Is there a way to bypass a VoIP provider to connect to the PSTN, or do I have to use someone like vonage or another VoIP provider? How much bandwidth will I need for good quality service?

I guess with the number of questions I have, maybe I should describe what we are looking to do.

We have a small telephone answering service. Right now, we’re taking about 70,000 minutes worth of calls a month, and our customers continue to ask for more and more time. We’re at the breaking point right now where we have to decide to purchase more licenses @ a couple grand a piece(bah!!!) for more seats, or developing our own PBX (asterisk) to route our more basic calls specific extensions that would act as an expansion to our current call center software platform.

Enter ASTERISK! I am very talented at developing web based interfaces that correlate to mysql databases, so I figure if I can route the calls accordingly with the Asterisk PBX to the appropriate computer on our network…I can custom design accounts according to customers needs. So rather than pay close to $30k to expand our current system for more seats, I’m under the impression that ASTERISK may provide us with a feasible solution.

Here’s what I’m looking to do:

  1. Transition to VoIP - our current system is all analog, and we’re paying around 3.5 cents/minute. I’ve heard of people getting rates of around $.005 a minute with voip! I’ve found some providers that offer $.012/minute. So we’ll be paying a 3rd of what we are paying now on a portion of our calls. We plan on sending around 20-30k minutes a month through the new VoIP system when we bring it online after an initial test at home.

  2. Call center routing - we’ll need to have Asterisk route the calls to the station that has been idle the longest, and if no one is available, send them to a call queue. When an operator is available, it transfers the call to the first available operator. We’d also like to have an auto attendant pickup after the 4th or 5th ring. We’d also like to eventually run the gauntlet with Asterisk and add many of its other features like IVR, voicemail, etc.

  3. We would like to eventually allow customer’s of ours to buy our local phone service - say as if we were AT&T. One of the really attractive features of the IP Phones that would be in our customer’s office is the ability to remotely call forward their lines. That is one of the biggest questions I get all the time “Do you guys control the call forwarding, or do I have to do that every day?” Not to mention there would be added revenues from providing local phone service.

Bandwidth isn’t really an issue. I’ve got a couple of places we are looking at installing Asterisk. To test it, I’d like to install it on my naked DSL line 6mbps up/768kbps down ( I know I’ll need more at the office, but for testing on my home servers, I figured this is sufficient ) So what hardware/software would I need to deploy Asterisk over a DSL line initially? I’ve already go the linux server, and dsl line…but pretty much nothing else.

Upon deployment at the office after a successful home test, we could be looking at using anywhere from as few as 5 stations to up to 30. We plan on the g729 (if memory serves me correctly ~40kb/line) codec. That means bandwidth wise, we’ll need at least 200kbps up to 1200kbps. We’re currently running a cable modem at 5mbps down/1.5mbpsup…so I assume that should suffice. If not, it is easily expandable. What hardware/software would I need to deploy this over a cable modem at the office. If a cable modem won’t work, can I deploy it using our PRI or T1? Should I add another T1 just for this application?

I’m not sure how many SIP trunks we would need, or if we would need any at all? I assume since we are looking at providing IP office phones to future customers, we’ll have to SIP lines. The whole SIP trunk thing has really been confusing me. Any idea on what a good price for SIP trunks is? Also, can someone dumb down a SIP trunk explanation, so I can understand it? Is that the connection between the VoIP protocol & sending calls over the PSTN?

I’ve got 3.5 weeks to role out this system, so I am definitely under the gun. Anyone will to help me out with this, I would really, really appreciate it!

[quote]I’ve got 3.5 weeks to role out this system,[/quote] Sorry to say but you need to go back and ask for more time, 3.5 weeks for roll out isnt realistic

Also you can only count on 40-60% of your bandwidth to be workable before collisions and jitter makes it unworkable


Asterisk can do all the things you are looking to do easily enough, but if you are serious about a time line of being up and running in a production environment in 3.5 weeks, you have a lot of things to decide, things to get done and (possibly) things to acquire. Given that short time frame, i would recommend you look at one of the asterisk based appliances so you can cut down the number of tasks to a manageable quantity to get done in the limited time you have set yourself. Even if you buy an appliance, you will still have to run up the learning curve on how to configure it properly to meet the workflow requirements in your business and still have to figure out what sort of trunk service you want to go with.

You did not say where you are located, which is going to affect the cost of connecting the server to the wide world. [I am guessing US]. Based on my experiences, running a business call center or a business dependent on good call quality all the time using DSL as a VoIP carrier rarely ends well. 70,000 minutes is not huge but the real issue is the traffic pattern and the number of concurrent calls. It seems that with that volume of calls, depending on location, you may well be better off financially and call quality wise with a PRI connection. I point this out because getting trunk service plan organized early would be a good idea since getting a PRI line installed can easily take more than 3.5 weeks.

As you asked this forum, I suspect you will get a lot of opinions but you will still have to understand and make decisions quickly. All of these decisions involve trade offs and many can be subtle for someone just coming to the field. Most of the opinions will be as general as the information you have provided. Realistically, this would be a good time to get some paid professional assistance by someone with experience and the time to get into the details of your specific requirements in your specific location.

Thanks for the info on the bandwidth and advice on getting started guys. I really appreciate it!

Can one of you please go into a little more detail on the the necessity (and what they do for that matter) of SIP trunks?

If you want to connect your system to the telephone network at large, you can do it one of two ways [looking at this from the 50,000 foot level]: [1] you can buy appropriate hardware and connect your server directly to a line provided by the telephone company at your premises … this can be anything from a simple single analog line all the way up to multiple PRI lines depending on your needs or [2] you use a VoIP trunk which basically has your server send the calls as SIP calls over the internet to a service provider who does what you would have done in case [1] for you …the difference being that the provider usually has a scale advantage over you small connection to the internet, so they can get good prices from their telephone company connections etc. The SIP trunk option is something that can be set up more or less instantly if you have the available internet bandwidth in place, so this is frequently used when under a time gun.

It is a very competitive market and there are many SIP providers who have wide variations in cost, quality/reliability, customer service and, importantly, billing accuracy. As a company where quality telephone service is a critical part of your product offering, you need to be very careful on your selection if you elect to go the SIP provider route.

If you have sufficient volume [which you may well have and if you are growing as fast as you say, you will have], and if you are located in a competitive marketplace, the PRI option can be economically viable and, generally, removes a lot of the issues of quality and reliability from the equation. However, around the US I have found remarkably large variations in pricing. Like any T1 based service, the price will also depend on you very specific location and how far you are located from the telephone companies local point of presence, so you would have to start to do your cost research immediately. That can only be done by talking to PRI providers serving your local marketplace.

Good luck!

If I was to go over a PRI line, I assume that I would have to pay the standard analog rate for long distance calls correct?

So if I’m looking to reduce our costs per minute, which type of service would be the most cost effective? From my understanding, I have 2 options:

  1. PRI connection directly to telco - which means asterisk would be operating on analog lines from the get go

  2. Purchase a 3rd T1 with SIP trunks + enlist the services of a VoIP provider, and away we go

I’m looking more long term than the 3 week time frame now. I want to make sure we are doing everything we can to cut our costs, have built in reliability and redundancy, and work with a system or pbx that is fully scaleable.

Thanks for your advice so far, you’ve been a tremendous help! I really, really appreciate it! Next time your in Charlotte, NC, let me know, and I’ll buy you a beer :smiley:

PRI is not analog.

Don’t assume anything about pricing. Contact suppliers and find out. You undoubtedly have way more than two options! Bear in mind that when you use a SIP trunk, you are ultimately connecting to the SIP provider’s PRI connection on to the telephony grid grid. Since these providers are for-profit institutions, they are essentially selling you slices of their PRI connection at a markup. If you can economically use a whole PRI, I have often found it is cheaper than using a SIP provider and you take out the internet leg of the connection with its inherent potential for call quality and reliability issues.

Buying PRI services are somewhat to buying a cell phone plan - there are thousands of variants and so knowing your usage is a good start to getting a good deal. If you are running a telephone answering service, for example, do you know your mix of inbound vs outbound use? Local vs long distance use? Armed with decent data you can should be able to shop around and find good pricing. However, as I keep saying, it depends completely on local conditions. You have to get the data and do the math. You are not going to get the answer from this forum.

FWIW, my experience is that the local telephone monopoly carrier is the most expensive in town so unless you want acute sticker shock, I would not to start there. For example, in our own offices, the local carrier offered me a PRI for 5X the price we actually pay for service from Level 3 Communications.

We can get a 2nd T1 for next to nothing. Having it be fully dedicated to asterisk is also not an issue. Our provider offers us T1 service for around $350/month I believe. Can you explain to me a little more in detail about how you went around your local telco, and used the Level3 PRI? If level3 isn’t local, but they are the ones providing your phone service, how do they offer you support?

Thanks for helpin out this newb :smile:

I cannot comment on any prices since I have no idea what the Charlotte market is like and have no information about where you are located relative to the different carriers’ points of presence etc. It may be a great price but it could also be quite high. For example, in my current location we pay about $200/mo for a single PRI.

Companies like L3 have 24x7 tech support and customer support systems, they take care of dealing with local loops etc so it is pretty painless. I certainly have never had any issues with technical support with any of these companies.

At this point you just need to get on the web and/or pick up the phone and start getting quotes flowing. Since you have an existing T1, assuming you are happy with the carrier, by all means get a quote from them but make sure they understand you are shopping around.

L3 sounds like they might be a great option. I guess the one thing I am confused about is the fact that whenever we had our other T1’s installed, we always had to have a technician come on site to install the box. Would L3 send out a technician or would we be responsible for setting up some hardware they provide? I tried to call them today to get some answers, but no one was available… :cry:

they will subcontract the install…to the local telco :smiley:

note i am not advocating for L3…there are competitors out there (quest, att, verizon, cogent to name some of the largest) and i don’t want to create the impression i am shilling for L3 or anyone else for that matter.

i plan to shop around. I just didn’t know they could subcontract the work out. All of our stuff has been throught the local guys…i guess that’s why the cheaper of our 2 PRIs is almost 2x the cost of yours!

Thanks for all the advice…you’ve been a huge help! I’m sure I’ll be around the board for the next few weeks, so I’ll keep you updated on my progress :smiley: