Advice On New VoIP System and Service

There are so many options in PBXs now, I just have to ask a few questions of you experienced folks. I have a 25 person company with 12 people who work full time in our main office. The rest work at customer sites and come to our offices occasionally.

Originally, I was thinking about a paid Asterisk system (Fonality or Digium). I’m uncomfortable with Fonality’s access to my system, and Digium doesn’t have the “hotdesk” feature. I wanted to get a low-power system so I didn’t feel like I needed to have a lot of backup power and add a lot of heat to my comm room (so I liked the Digium appliance). Another negative on Fonality.

Now, I’m worried that the Digium and Fonality systems might be closed (would want feedback on that) such that I couldn’t add what I needed (e.g., I’d like to have a speech to text engine that adds the text to email and I’d like to give everyone their own personal fax number and do fax to email). I’m also concerned about their pricing. It seems like they have pricing plans that would nickel and dime you (for example, I believe that they both require special software or configurations for SIP phones - adding $45 to each phone).

On the other hand, I really don’t have resources to constantly manage a system and wanted something I could “set and forget”. I’m hoping that even the “do-it-yourself” FreePBX would even fit in that category. That’s what excited me about FreePBX. It seemed to merge the best of both worlds - the openness of Asterisk and the ease of use of nice GUI with some additional features (e.g., hotdesk capability).

My current plans are to try the FreePBX route on a laptop PC (for low power consumption). Has anyone tried this? Does anyone have any suggestions given my circumstances? I run an Exchange server and would also like some integration there (Outlook integration with the abiilty to store phone calls in the Outlook Journal).

Additionally, I haven’t found many SIP Trunking service providers. The big guys don’t seem to do it and I’m uncomfortable with the guys who sound like a fly-by-night. seems to be the big provider at a reasonable cost. But I can’t find any data on their quality and performance. They require the Edgewater Edgemarc – feedback on that would be helpful too.

Many thanks for any input you can offer…

I have deployed quite a few Asterisk/FreePBX systems. My current distribution of choice is PBX in a Flash. The have a downloaded ISO that will load the operating system, load Asterisk, FreePBX and a few other tools. I have loaded it on a Dual-Core Atom mini-itx board that runs on a 90-watt power supply.

I have not stress tested this device yet, but it should handle about 30 concurrent calls without any transcoding.

PBX in a Flash will do what you need it to do and once you get it setup, you won’t tinker with it much. I have a couple of these out there that I haven’t touched in quite a while.

If you need help getting one setup, feel free to call. I am not free, but it will work when I finish.

We are using for our sip trunking. Their price seems pretty good and they basically resell bandwidth on Level 3 so their network is pretty rock solid also. We have been using them for over a year and have only had 1 major outage that I can remember. It lasted for about 2-3 hours

A Shuttle PC (or a similar variant) would not produce much heat, and as the power brick is external to the PC case, most of the heat dissapates away instead of being trapped inside the PC.

I’m also a big fan of PiaF, as it rounds out FreePBX with essentials like fail2ban and Webmin, making for an excellent package.
If this is for your workplace, and you are new to telephony/VoiP, then I’d second Johns’ advice on getting a professional to do it, as you’ll probably want to stay on friendly terms with your boss…

Thanks for the input everyone. I am the boss who also is interested in IT (so I’m taking this on). Right now I’m paying $2k a month in cell phone bills, so any wireline telco is a plus. What’s an order of magnitude cost for a deployment? I’m also considering’s Phonebooth service for outsourcing within SIP trunking pricing. It seems it may be lean on features but may be just enough for us (not sure if it does hotdesk, Outlook integration, speech to text (IVR and vmail), call blast, 900 blocking, receptionist type features (call intercept, dial 0 for receptionist), custom caller ID, name directory, and call return. Those would be nice, but are not things I have today, so I could likely live without them for a period of time. The fact that the PBX is on thier site and we can use follow-me with cell phones (or a POTS line) as backups is very appealing. Then I’m not dependent on my Internet connection. I’m not sure if you can get that out of a FreePBX system (would appreciate comments). Thanks again, Joe


I would recommend that you build a local PBX in a Flash server and bring your or CBeyond sip trunk in house. If you use a hosted service and your Internet quits, you are without phones with a hosted solution. Also, a call from one desk to another uses about 160k of bandwidth, since each call has to go to the hosted PBX and back.

A local Asterisk based PBX running on a normal computer with a couple of GIG’s of RAM will suffice to run your office. The remote users can have Sip phones at their houses that are extensions on your system. The PBX supports all of the features you listed above with the exception of “speech to text.” It will do text-to-speech, but I am not sure about the other way around. A couple of the features you listed will require add-ons and Outlook integration is a per-computer thing.

I have one customer with almost this exact setup. He has about 20 extensions in the plant and 6 extensions outside of the plant. 3 of his remote extensions are in different states.

One additional feature of keeping it in house is freedom of carriers. If you do a hosted solution with a carrier, you may have trouble buying your long distance from anyone else. I buy my long distance from in Atlanta and would recommend them. They also offer a hosted solution that works well. I just don’t recommend hosted solutions.

I hope this helps and feel free to call if you have questions. I live in the Eastern Time Zone of the US.

Ditto what John said, keep your server local. You will have plenty of low power/low profile hardware options besides running it on a laptop. You can certainly install one of the asterisk distros (PBX in a Flash is what I prefer) as a virtual machine (vmware) on the laptop to get your feet wet and test things out, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a production solution.

There is a third party that does voice mail to text- It may not be exactly what you are looking for, but reviews seem to be good.

Hey, jehowe, that setup looks pretty nifty, especially as they have local numbers (Australia) for me to use.
I’ve signed up and going see how well it works in conjunction with FreePBX, should be interesting, especially as most speech to text engines have a hard time understanding my Northern accent…

Thanks for the heads up…

magpye, let us know how well it works after you’ve given it a go. Australia’s a lovely place. Not sure where you are, but I was lucky enough to get my dive cert in Cairns a few years back.