Hardware recommendation for small DIY setup with analog phone line


I would like to use FreePBX as a way to filter incoming calls (based on phone number, time of the day etc.) at home. Since I’m the DIY kind of person, I’d like to setup my own machine from scratch.

I don’t have a good spot anywhere in my appartment for a rack-mountable server, nor do I expect to need the computing power of such a system; in fact, even a mini PC would probably be overkill and a waste of electricity. I do, however, have some spare ALIX boards that would seem to be perfect for the job.

The problem is, how do I get the analog phone line (and the phones) connected to that machine. The ALIX has a Mini-PCI port for extension cards, but the only Mini-PCI card that I can find is the OpenVox A400M and I can’t seem to find a whole lot of success stories involving FreePBX and the A400M.

The other option that I currently see might be Vega 60G but that seems way overpowered. Plus from what I can tell, I can’t install my own operating system on those, or can I? The same thing is probably true for devices like the Grandstream HT813.

Are there any other “tiny device” solutions around that I haven’t found yet? Or should I just get the smallest PC I can find that can fit a Sangoma PCIe card and be happy with that?

Any advice would be appreciated.

That is correct, you would need both the ALIX board (running FreePBX) and the HT813 (running its stock firmware). There are older similar devices, often available used, that should also be suited to your application, examples:

What phone service do you have now? Would you consider switching to a VoIP service that would not require an FXO card or gateway?

A minimalist solution many find satisfactory is a raspberry pi running RaspBX and an ATA with an FXO for your analog line. But adding cases and power supplies gets you close to $100 here if you include the ATA.

ebay for the ATA, Grandstreams are reliable, SIPURA/SPA/LINKSYS/CISCO are generally cheap especially the Chinese clones but can be echo prone.

Having previously fought with an ALIX, I wouldn’t do it again. If you want a full blown Distro then you will need an AMD64 compliant device $100 bucks or less for an Z8350 based mini-pc on Amazon or Ebay, as little as $35 for an atomicpi (but no case)

A SIP DID can be as little as $1 a month , calls at less than 1c a minute , such service are easily found but suggesting one over another is purely a matter of opinion. I would go for cheapest.

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If you live in the US, I’d highly recommend the equipment you can get a most “Goodwill” stores. For little to nothing, you can get a minimalist PC that should be fine for what you want to do.

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Good on $ but electricity costing what, $0.15 per kw when the PSU and fans are using 50 to 100 watts needs to be part of the equation. If your set up consumes 50 watts, then you are at rough equity with a Vultr or DO instance cost per year. Also quite noisy and bulky.

I have an atomicpi based thingy that runs FreePBX, Home Assistant, weewx (weather station front-end) and a couple of webcams all stuck on the back of my Accurite Display, the whole kaboodle uses around 10 watts ‘from the wall’. The whole thing cost about $150 including the Accurite 5-in-1 weather station (Costco). That does not include the many hundred hours of R&D though :wink:

We have a small appliance 715 or 716 models that have FreePBX Distro installed and has a 2 ports of FXO or 1 FXS and 1 FXO built into the system.

Thanks for all the replies!

Thanks, those looks quite affordable. You mention some devices, is there a good overview over which of those are supported by FreePBX, maybe some known issues, pros/cons etc. or should I just search the forums?

Right now my phone service is “free”, i.e. covered by the fees that I pay for cable TV and radio. Switching to a VoIP provider might make things easier indeed, but it would also create monthly costs. Still, it might be worth it.

I’d probably need at least two ATAs, right? One for FXO and one for FXS (unless I can find one that has both). Would you generally recommend using ATAs (with their own built-in software and what not) over plain hardware ports?

Heh, I like them, but they do require a bit of patience :slight_smile:

I don’t, but I do have a bunch of old PCs and similar machines. It’s not that I lack the hardware to build such a system, it’s more question of available space and not wanting a PC fan running in my living room all day.

Ah yes, that too.

That looks like a fun little board. I do already have some silly Intel Atom based machine that takes care of some random things (print server etc.) so if I use an external ATA I’d probably just put the software on that. But still, I’m not sure I trust these devices.

Oh, these look nice! Can I install my own OS on them?

So, lets do the math

  • What do you currently pay for your landine per month?
  • Do you have a ongoing contract with your Phone Company ?
  • How much do you use your phone, minutes in and out per month?
  • How rock solid is your internet connection?

Given these few metrics, we can move forward . . .

It comes with FreePBX and everything preinstalled but you can reinstall with something else if you want. It’s a full intel based CPU.

Nothing per se, it’s part of a package that I’ll keep using anyway.

It’s the TV company, but yes, I do. I’m not paying extra for the phone though, it’s just there.

I rarely use it and only ever for receiving calls because outgoing calls are rather expensive with the current plan while they’re free on my mobile phone. However, since I prefer using non-mobile phones, that’s not really relevant and if I ever get this sorted, I’ll probably switch to a different plan anyway.

Solid enough. In fact, my “landline” is already using the Internet connection. I have a cable modem with an RJ11 port for a phone, that’s where I would be connecting my FreePBX machine.

Thanks, that sounds great! I’ll have a closer look at these devices tomorrow.

Then reading between the lines, it is not used usefully much, you have other numbers to contact you. So the additional cost of a hardware interface between you docsys (cable company) phone number and a SIP compliant device is likely unwarranted.

Possibly ‘port’ your landline number to google as a ‘holding’ strategy.

Look into getting a DID and outbound minutes from a SIP provider (as little as $2/per month for all in here)

Arrange for your now google number to simultaneously ring your new cheap DID and you extant cell phone number.

Now you have the numbering handled, choose how “main line” you want your PBX to be.

I suggest that the safest way, use an AMD64 cpu and choose from a number of distros. Some will allow ‘commercial’ modules if you need them but only on a limited choice of OS.

Cheapest but more restrictive, get a PI (ARM cpu) and install RaspBX

The only warning I would give having wrangled with Linksys ATA and Grandstream ATAs is that they are not necessarily satisfactory. In my experience they can fall down in the following areas. And performance can vary between two seemingly identical models!

  • They don’t direct PSTN calls to Asterisk until after about a four second delay.
  • When the extension picks up the call, that’s another two second delay before you can hear the caller and they can hear you - at least with one of my Linksys units. The other is more or less instant.
  • DTMF recognition is sometimes very poor and sometimes mostly fine - depends on the unit. It’s never brilliant in my experience.
  • I’ve found reliability to be questionable - had a new Linksys unit fail on me after a year for no reason
  • The older Grandstreams in particular have very weird firmware. It’s a wrangle to get the web GUI to work and then you can only connect again if you’re connected to the same physical switch as it and Saturn is aligned with Venus and it’s the day you get your windows washed.

etc etc etc

I am running something similar. I use FreePBX on a Raspberry Pi. Yes, the case and power supply add to the cost, but it is still pretty cheap. I am using an older Pi-3, which can easily handle several calls at once, and costs a bit less. And since it is a completely open source box running full Linux and Python, it is very customizable.

I have had mixed luck with the OBi ATAs. I used the 202, since it has both an FXS and FXO, but calls would occasionally have very low volume or echo. The Grandstream 813 works nicely, but as dan_ce said, they have a looooong wait before they answer the PSTN and send it to the PBX, so I stopped using those. Now I get knock-off SPA-3102 devices from eBay. I don’t think Cisco/Sipura/whomever makes real ones anymore, but the fake ones seem to be fine.

As Dicko and others pointed out, you can move your phone number to a SIP provider, and save some of the ATA hassle. I didn’t do that (yet) because I want to keep my copper lines as a fallback in case of Internet problems, but that doesn’t affect you.

I mainly use my for routing inbound calls based on the CallerID, and an unrecognized CID goes to IVR or voicemail; this has GREATLY reduced the number of telemarketers (and political calls right about now). Outbound local calls go to the PSTN, long distance to my SIP provider.

So what you want to do can be done easily and semi-cheaply, with a Rasberry Pi and small ATA. Be prepared to spend a lot of time setting it up, Asterisk can be more complicated than it looks. But it can be done.

Dear morris,
reading all of this, it sounds like you are using internet/phone-provider kabel-deutschland or vodafone.
All the phone-system mentioned here are ip-phone-system which can’t be connected to your cable modem on rj11 port. rj11 is what the English call FXO. It’s a pure analog phone port.
Once you will use instead of your cable modem e.g. a fritzbox-cable, you will have 4 rj45 ports which are in fact a small switch/hub. That’s a first step which you must have for running a ip-phone-system such as freepbx. You can’t connect an ip-pbx to rj11. Any raspberrypi with raspbx software or - what I prefer - pc engines apu3c4 pbx in a small box or 19’’ case (www.varia-store.com) needs to be connected to an ip-port (RJ45). Any phone (either an ip-phone or a rj11 analog phone needs also to be connected to an ip-port. Analog phones need an ip-analog adapter between (i prefer cisco spa122 with 2 rj11 ports).
Difficult issue: vodafone does not offer the logic how to connect the pbx trunk directly through the fritzbox or the cable modem to the vodafone session boarder controller. Therefore you may try to connect your pbx to the fritzbox which does not 100% provide a stable connection. This means that the fritzbox is your first pbx which forwards all incomming calls to your freepbx. All phones need to be registered with the freepbx. Anyway a fritzbox alone is a small pbx itself, but misses most of the commonly expected functions which a real pbx can offer.
Hardware issue: pc engines apu3c4 with freepbx pre-installed has 16GB m2-sata and some older versions of freepbx and sangoma-linux. Do not upgrade the system to current versions unless you have expanded the lvm file-system!!! Otherwise you will have a disk-overflow within seconds.

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