Business phone technology, phones that sit on your desk in your office or on the middle of your conference table, have evolved quite a bit in the last 15 years. This is in no small way attributed to the creation of Session Initiation Protocol (more commonly known as SIP). Such advancements allow organizations to get more value out of phone systems. Additionally, organizations don’t have to sign up with the local phone/data provider to be their only option for phone service. Lastly, there has been the development of an open source phone system known as Asterisk. Asterisk used with FreePBX phone system allows organizations to obtain similar functionality to proprietary VoIP PBX phone systems such as Avaya or Shoretel for considerably less.

What is Asterisk with FreePBX?

Asterisk is open source software that acts as a phone server (PBX). FreePBX acts as a web console to control the phone server and subsequently makes using it very user friendly, quick to configure, and a breeze to maintain. It also adds modules that provide additional functionality for little to no cost.

What makes FreePBX so special?

Ø  Low Cost—FreePBX costs considerably less expensive than competing proprietary solutions. FreePBX only has optional modules that add more functionality to the VoIP PBX system and the cost of these modules is less than $500 in most instances which makes it an ideal small business phone system. [If you need to narrow down the cost, please feel free to contact us to get a free quote on FreePBX phone system to match needs.]

Ø  Handset Agnostic—Using Asterisk as a back end, FreePBX system will work with most phones that support SIP. It can also work with analog phones too, if you have the proper telephony card installed.

Ø  Servers—FreePBX uses a Linux backend which means it can run on nearly any server the organization chooses. It can run on a physical server or be virtualized on premise or in the cloud.

Ø  Licensing—No required per server licensing, user licensing, or trunk licensing. Only a meager optional module licensing fee per server if an organization chooses to utilize them. Each year after the initial purchase, an even smaller fee is paid to receive functionality upgrades.

Ø  Flexibility—From a five person company to a multisite distributed enterprise, FreePBX can accommodate most organization’s telephony needs.

What makes FreePBX “hardware agnostic”?

What is hardware agnostic? It means that something isn’t particularly picky about what one chooses to use in their system. A great contrast to this would be Avaya PBXs requiring only Avaya handsets are used. That isn’t to say that you couldn’t add a non-Avaya handset, there is just a hefty license fee per handset that goes with it.

Handsets

S500 150pxUnlike Avaya or Shortel, you can use just about any SIP phone you choose. FreePBX phone system can even utilize Cisco phones. This is a large benefit as organizations aren’t limited to a vendor’s handset selection and can best choose a handset that is a better fit for the organization. As an example, an organization may wish to utilize lower cost Grandstream handsets for users that see small phone traffic, while heavier utilization users could be issued Polycom handsets as they are known for reliability and durability. For many phone providers, tedious (and inefficient) handset configuration is still seen today. Endpoint Management (EPM) is a low cost module for FreePBX that allows administrators to upload configurations to phones automatically (thus saving time). Once phones are plugged in, they will find an IP address and be detected by FreePBX. From there, based on the phone’s MAC address, it will then give the phone its configuration. While most are content with handsets that reside on a desk, cordless handsets are becoming a relatively common sight. They look just like a cordless phone one would have in their home except they are designed to work with your phone system. This is ideal for organizations that wish to stay in contact with a user that spends most of their time away from their desk.

Servers

rack serverFreePBX servers run on most server class hardware where proprietary solutions often have “cute” names for their servers that have no user serviceable parts. Imagine your phone system goes down because a part inside breaks. One must find the exact part that is broken and then special order it. Depending on the age of the equipment, it could easily be days or weeks before that part arrives. With FreePBX, you choose what goes into your server. Allora recommends parts that are easy to find and can be delivered quickly. Allora builds servers using high quality server grade components. Servers can also be from Lenovo, HP, etc. This is done to minimize the chance of hardware failure. You also may not choose to have a server at all and instead put it on VMware or Hyper-V. Recovery from there would be a simple matter of restoring to another VM host while the server gets repaired. If having the phone server operational is highly mission critical, organizations can opt to obtain a second server and the high availability module for maximum uptime.

Telephony Components

One can even choose what brand of telephony card (or gateway) they want. As a side note, telephony components provide the physical jacks where phone lines or PRI lines connect to. Installs that use 100 percent SIP for their outside lines do not require telephony cards/gateways. Virtual instances of FreePBX work well with gateways as it only requires a network connection to the gateway itself.
Ø  Got Faxes (Still)?
We’re often surprised by the number of organizations that still maintain analog lines as they still utilize faxes. In the majority of these instances this is because they work with a large company or government agency that forces them to use it. These lines can run about $35-45 per line per month (which can really add up). If an organization utilizes a PRI line, those analog lines can go away as an onsite PBX can be equipped with an analog card that creates FXS ports (these are the ports that one can use to plug in analog phones / faxes). In addition, with the use of Direct Inward Dialing (DID) numbers, users can have their own fax numbers for secure sending and receiving of faxes all through the PBX or to a physical fax machine.

Software Modules & Licensing

FreePBX and Asterisk form an open source phone system and therefore make it easy for others to make their own modules. In our opinion, FreePBX, now owned by Sangoma, has the best set of modules that most customers generally want. These modules are very inexpensive when compared to PBX solutions. To contrast this, we’ve recently assisted a client with returning a leased phone system. There are almost as many license line items as parts that went with the PBX. It also comprised of a third of the overall cost! While there are several paid modules available for FreePBX most clients only need a few. These modules are good for the life of the server. Access to updates and upgrades to the modules need to be renewed each year but are only a fraction of the purchase price of said module.

Flexibility

With the ability to accommodate a large variety of organizations in terms of size, budget and functionality, FreePBX system is one of the most versatile communication solutions available. An organization of five people would like to have a business class phone solution but do not have the funds for a traditional PBX server. Hosted PBX solutions with FreePBX allow this to happen and what would be an upfront cost for PBX is now a monthly subscription fee (many carriers will charge a nominal activation fee). On the opposite end of the spectrum we have a large geographically dispersed enterprise where phone operations are crucial. FreePBX servers running in high availability mode help protect against hardware failure, IAX2 trunks connect different offices as if they were in the same building, handset LDAP connectivity allows centralized directory look ups that are highly customizable.

Leverage SIP

Session Initiation Protocol (more commonly known as SIP) has recently gained a tremendous amount of popularity with organizations for its flexibility and cost effectiveness. Customers now have choices for who is going to provide them with phone service, rather than defaulting to their local monopoly (telecommunications/internet provider). This has driven prices down as said monopolies (most anyway) have to at least try being competitive with their pricing as there are many great low cost SIP trunk providers available that can deliver phone service to anywhere that has reliable Internet connection.

Ø  SIP & Security

Why talk about security? It’s just a phone service, right? Indeed, it is a phone service, however, many PBXs are hacked because administrators fail to lock down firewalls or strengthen passwords that allow hackers to exploit a PBX. In a vast majority of cases, hacked PBXs are used to make local and international calls around the clock accomplish whatever it is the hacker is trying to gain.

Ø  SIP & Quality

If your SIP service comes through your internet (there are situations where a SIP trunk comes through on a data dedicated circuit), care must be taken to ensure traffic to and from your SIP service provider has the highest priority on your router. Failing to do this could put call quality at risk.

Ø  SIP & Reliability

Before moving over to SIP, know that your phone service will only be as good as your internet service. As an extreme example, an organization’s DSL line goes down at least three times a year. When that DSL line goes down, so will the telephones (internal calls are generally unaffected). Organizations must ask themselves, will their business continue to function (and what level will their business function at) should telephone service get interrupted. An excellent candidate for SIP would be an organization that utilizes dedicated fiber.

Look Out

With the value obtained by utilizing FreePBX system compared to a traditional proprietary system, it’s easy to see why FreePBX’s user base has been only gone up. Organizations demand more for their money and want something that gives them options. Non-proprietary software and hardware allow organizations to gain enhanced transparency of their communications solution and turn something that was a sealed black box into something that can be troubleshot or upgraded with ease.
© 2017 - Allora Consulting