Sunday, December 23, 2007

Phone System for the poor...FREE, almost...

I'm a big believer in Open Source software, and some of the best software available today is open source (Linux, Apache, MySQL, etc...).

As we were starting our service business two years ago, which shouldn't be recommended to anyone :-), I needed a phone system that would work in my home. As mentioned in a previous post, we use AccessLine so that we can have a remote work force. However, I needed something that would allow me to have multiple lines within my home that would all be tied together, allow transfers, etc... Also, before I knew about AccessLine, I had already gone down this different path.

Asterisk - It's an open source PBX system! With very little money (just hardware which is very inexpensive), you can have your business up and running with a full-fledged PBX. We have one vonage line and four land-lines from our cable provider running into an old computer that's only purpose in life is to route phone calls. You can do some VERY fancy stuff with Asterisk. We use it for bare minimum functionality but it works great. You can also set it up so that it can support your entire remote workforce too, but I am just too afraid to put it on the outside of our firewall. Thus, the multiple systems (Asterisk and AccessLine). The actual software is found here: http://www.asterisk.org. You may want to check into Asterisk@Home as well. Apparently, it is now called TrixBox (as I found out when trying to get a linke to their website). Here ya go: Asterisk@Home

BTW, we have found success running it on the Ubuntu distribution of Linux. It gave us problems ONE time in TWO years and that's because I had debug logging enabled and didn't realize it and the disk ran out of free space! Other than that, it's been a great performer! An entire history of inbound and outbound calls are stored in a database for your archival purposes.

Hope this helps...

2 comments:

Rex Reed said...

Good info!

Can you tell us a bit more about the hardware setup you are using for the Asterisk box? Also, are you using TrixBox? If not, would you recommend it?

Could I run this on a laptop, or do I need PCI slots open to put in a card? Let's say I want to have two POTS lines and SIP setup for the rest, and I want to have the house wired to use any of the lines, letting Asterisk make the routing decisions. What would my software/hardware set up look like?

Details ;)!
Rex

The Four Hour Trial said...

Rex,

I'm not familiar with TrixBox. I actually purchased an AMD64 machine (more than two years ago) to run the phone system on. However, I couldn't get Linux and Asterisk to work properly on it. It gave me hell. So I ended up giving that nice computer to the kids and took their old computer to use. It's been beautiful! Asterisk doesn't require much to run - in fact, I've read many postings where people use old P1/P2 boxes and it works beautifully.

Can you use a laptop? Sure. But not if you want to use any of the hardware BOARDS that do the translation from Digital to Analog devices. Note: That's not a requirement! For me, it was. I have 5 phone lines coming into my house. This wasn't required. I could have used all IP type of stuff (think Skype, etc...) but I am sorta old fashioned and didn't want my phones to be dead in the event that my internet service went down.

Net Net:

1) Asterisk doesn't require ANY additional hardware if you do everything via IP (SIP in VOIP world). You can run this type of configuration on a laptop.

2) If you do require the conversion of signals then you need additional hardware. I got some boards that were recommended on the Asterisk site. Total cost I don't recall but it was in the neighborhood of $250 for both boards (I think). Each board had four ports. You need different modules placed on them for your needs (inbound, outbound, etc...). I don't recall all the specifics, but it's pretty self explanatory on the Asterisk site.

3) I run my Asterisk on Ubuntu Linux. As previously mentioned, it went down one time because I had debug logging turned on and ran out of disk space. LOL...not too smart of me, huh? Otherwise, that damn machine just runs.

4) I have three different types of phones.
a. I bought a panasonic gigaset for cordless use! i.e. not being trapped next to a wired line.
b. I bought three Sipura (sp) IP phones. These are the phones that sit on the desks. You just plug an ethernet cable into them and they boot up and work with minimal configuration.
c. I bought a headset for my computer and downloaded a free IP software phone from the internet. I used this when someone else had my cordless! :-) It worked great over my wireless connection.

As you can see, you don't need any traditional phones or hardware at all. I'm not a linux guru so have always left my asterisk box on the INSIDE of my firewall. You can have Linux BE your firewall if you so desire. Then, no matter where in the world you may be, you can have connection to your phone system via TCP/IP (SIP) phones.

For your TWO POTS lines, you can buy, I think, cheap fax boards to do the analog/digital conversions. Note: I THINK! I could be wrong. The Asterisk forum is very helpful for any additional clarifications for your specific configuration.

What do I love MOST about my Asterisk? I can query every call ever placed or received! It's all stored in MySQL. It RUNS. It's amazing. I haven't discovered a single bug in it. It's truly been flawless. Finally, it enabled me to have all the PBX functionality I desired in my home. This, in addition to AccessLine - which is really not necessary if I put my Asterisk Box into the wild and had business class broadband.

Hope this helps!

-M