Interlinking 2 FreePBX systems

Hi All!

last year I “graduated” from a mere IT consultant to now running IT for a small org that has around 350 or so phones (I don’t have an exact count) tied to an elderly Cisco UCM.

I’ve had to do some Hail Mary bits to the UCM which fortunately kept it from cracking up (when I started there one of the UCS was, I kid you not, freezing 20 minutes after it booted - I was like “why are none of the lights on that server blinking and are just on solid” and it went downhill from there)

Anyhoo, I’m not ready to replace the UCM I just want to keep it going for another couple years then replace it then.

Our Cisco Partner took a really really dim view of this. I gather they were sort of hoping that instead of having the temerity to actually repair the UCS200 hardware that I would run around in circles squawking about the sky is falling my phone system is dying and they would come sailing in with $50k of brand new UCS chassis and software contracts and get us all sewn up nice with a bow on top.

Well that’s what you get when you hire someone who actually knows what POST means.

So a few months later they decided enough with the nice guy tactics and told me either you buy a brand new phone system or we are dropping you. I said fine, drop us. We do our own phone provisioning anyway and if I have to have to have our guys learn how to provision routes and calls in the UCM then so be it. My staff was, surprisingly, a bit cheered at this I guess because it gave them something more interesting to do than swap out PC’s all day, lol.

But I’m not here to talk about Cisco UCM nonsense. I’m here to ask about phones.

We have a 150 or thereabouts Cisco Enterprise phones that can be reflashed with the 3PCC firmware if we buy the licensing. Half or more of those are videophones, and in bulk the 3PCC licensing is…well let’s just say it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than running around replacing phones. I do recognize that I’m sort of taking a gamble on this at the moment because Cisco just announced they are EOLing the 8845 next month and I am wondering how much longer they are planning on selling the conversion licenses. But for the moment I’m assuming I’ll be OK.

But, that’s the light side. The dark side is that the rest of the phones are various versions of the x9xx phones - half of those are videophones also. Unlike their newer brethren, the x9xx phones have no 3PCC firmware or licensing. And, all the ones we have are SCCP although Cisco did release SIP firmware for them in their fading years. I’ve flashed a few of those over to SIP and they work well enough for making and receiving calls but the fancy stuff, BLF and so on, does not work.

Of course this led me to the usecallmanager patch and the complicated instructions to apply that to FreePBX. While complicated, it does not seem to hard to do. But of course, doing it then halts upgrades to FreePBX. (at least, the Asterisk part of it)

I have been toying with the idea of a possible future of instead of signing on to buy the next bend-over-and-give-us-your-money Cisco UCM, instead, putting what phones we have over to the 3PCC firmware and using them. There’s lots and lots of questions to answer such as - can FreePBX do everything we are doing with the UCM - can I find a company that is willing to sell us a support contract and willing to do work for us - what about softphones on mobile devices like iphones and 'droid, all of it standard new-vendor-stuff. I’ve been a Cisco supporter for a long time but their recent taking and grasping ways - well the miasma of greed is just dripping of them now and the smart licensing they have instituted just tore it for me. Their VARS are all ten times worse and I’ve had it up to here with them. And besides that, I’ve run FreePBX myself for a long time now. I don’t think it will screw me.

But that pile of 80 x9xx videophones just keeps teasing me. I really really hate to consign them to Fleabay if I can use them - and if using them means spending an evening applying an octopus patch to FreePBX well I can think of lots worse things to do.

How reasonable would it be to setup TWO FreePBX systems? One of them the “corporate” system that the incoming trunks go to, voicemail is on, and all the “important” stuff is on and the one that’s supported - and a second system the “ugly duckling system” with the usecallmanager patch applied and is then frozen in time, and that only the old, icky, 8941 videophones with the enterprise SIP firmware on them register into? I could stick all the weirdo phones into 1 building and they would have their own personal FreePBX system that was tied into the main one and yet the phones would still participate in calling with the rest of the org?

Or am I just kidding myself and I best get those old devices on Fleabay now so they are out of my sight and don’t keep tempting me, saying "you know how to make us work…we…love you…give us another life…

Truly, do yourself a favor and get new, feature-rich and compatible phones and use softphones. Whatever the cost of the Cicso upgrade, new phone would be pennies. Can you make it work? Absolutely, but you are going to run into issues and headaches over the longer term. In a business where time is money and disruptions are unacceptable, the investment would be insanely modest. A system that requires you to stay out of being current, that requires you to keep your system you rely on for business in a state of jankenyness. It is not a good idea.

FreePBX and Asterisk are greenfield, I cannot think of something those systems can do that you cannot do in Asterisk. Meanwhile there are many things these systems will require extra servers, applications, software to do things you can natively perform in Asterisk. It would be trivial to interlink 2 systems.

There are pleanty of supported softphones based on your purchasing and licensing preferences. Sangoma has its own native offering.

There is a JOBS section of the forums here and many people that can help in almost all faucets of the PBX lifecycle.

If you have executives with phones having bridged appearances (key system like functionality) that Cisco, Nortel and Avaya do, you’ll need to think of solutions in advance, demonstrate how it will work to those people, get their approval or hit a wall of dissent. I know of one instance where the IT manager got fired because the secretary could not pick up on the boss’s line, put it on hold and buzz him on the intercom to pick it up. I don’t mean busy lamps and call park as the solution. It was a tough crowd in the executive office. Those idiots went crawling back to Cisco.

Other than that, there really isn’t much you can’t accomplish with Asterisk/FreePBX. The ability to custom program dial plan code puts it head and shoulders above Cisco systems. Just do tons of proof of concept and get approval to cover your butt.

Share Line Appearances can be implemented Asterisk FYI, although most people go with the built in parking.

Share line, yes. Shared extension appearance, no. Bosses line rings on secretary phones but also appears on bosses phone. Secretary put line on hold and line shows blinking light for being on hold on his phone.

Shared Line Appearance, also know as SLA or BLA, is how you mimic a keyed system. I.e. if a call comes in on Line 1 to the reception phone, line 1 on the bosses phone also rings. If receptionist puts call on hold, Boss can see call on hold and pick it up. If boss picks up line 1, which is idle, reception sees their line 1 as in use/busy.

However, all of the Asterisk documentation for SLA has DAHDI involved along with SIP peers. I don’t think anyone has updated or tested pure SIP only functionality because Parking/Pickup up generally works as a solution in modern times.

Been over the softphone routine already and I’m certainly planning on replacing the softphone software no matter what since the current softphones are Cisco Jabber which is not compatible with anything. We use softphones in remote applications and as adjunct phones in certain others but deskphones are a requirement for many reasons I’m not going to go into since that’s a sidebar discussion. Just assume we aren’t giving up the deskphones. And of our 3PCC compliant phones they are videophones. I’ve already been through the deskphone pricing and it’s cheaper to keep the videophones we have and pay the Cisco upgrade license to move them to 3PCC. Plus all phones can be upgraded from one location in a few hours vs weeks of running people around replacing physical phones.

No matter what we do we would setup a demo system first. Shifting to another phone system is a pretty significant project.

We use SLA’s a lot for certain groups, the IT group is one of them. But I’m not sure it completely mimics a keyed system. All phones with the line appearance ring but once the call is answered you don’t see status of the line in use on the other phones. But someone can put a call on hold and pick it up at another extension with that line appearance.

And how are you doing the SLA in Asterisk?

Yeah, not quite the same. You could replicate with shared line, or just do ringgroups+parking (not the same, but more easily supported out of box)

Regarding your phone choice, I cannot tell you what to do, it is your choice, but just search the forums and hopefully you will see more clearly that while what you want to do is possible, you will spend more time and money trying to deal with the issues that will crop up. When support comes up and is needed, it will likely be hard to get at a time where you will likely be having a critical problem. Budgets must always be considered, but this does not seem like a sound business decision.

Well, I don’t have support NOW even though the system is 100% Cisco, and unless I were to replace the system with 100% “brand new Cisco” I still wouldn’t have “support” as you might call it. I’m not that afraid of loss of support anymore, we have PLENTY of critical IT infrastructure that is “no longer supported” simply because it’s still functioning perfectly but it’s older and the manufacturer has withdrawn support for it as a way of attempting to force you to buy new. (I’m looking at you, HP Proliant) My org is a non-profit and that kind of org is very loath to spend the money replacing working with new working.

But getting back to the problem at hand, the 3PCC phones aren’t the issue, a great many commercial systems based on Asterisk support Cisco phones running 3PCC out of the box. FreePBX’s Endpoint Manager does not, (according to the docs) but it supports the older Cisco Enterprise x9xx phones although I assume that support is as antique as the phones and there would be BLF issues. There are also a great many “cloud based” systems that list Cisco 3PCC support.

I dunno, I’m not a phone system sales expert, but it seems to me that this “Not Invented Here” attitude of phone system vendors (dating, no doubt, from the days of digital key systems) where the assumption is you must replace all your phones when you buy a competitive phone system, merely makes it very difficult to sell your phone system into an enterprise using a competitor’s system. SIP is supposed to be a standard but what good are standards if you can’t interoperate?

The interesting thing, to me, is that the “cloud vendors” don’t seem to have this approach, and bend over backwards to list compatibility with 3PCC.

For point specific problems, such as the “IT manager fired because secretary could not answer bosses phone and intercom the boss” I would think the obvious answer for that would have been to replace the phones for the boss and the secretary with a brand of phone that supported that (mis)feature. If we went to FreePBX I’d probably need to keep a few Sangoma phones on the shelf for those weird border cases. I DON’T have a problem with a few oddball phones in the enterprise that do “special” things it’s the rest of the 350 extensions I’m concerned about changing out. Even at $50 a phone that’s $17k plus labor running around replacing them plus disruption. And that $50 a phone was for non-videophones.

Interestingly, for the Cisco UCM we have, intercoming phones was never turned on. I suppose it’s “supported” after a fashion by Cisco, but the one time I had a request for it, the user didn’t even know what it was (they called it using the desk phones in walkie-talkie mode, lol)

But, I will admit I definitely see why so many people are so attracted to the “forklift upgrades” where you just close your eyes, sign an X on the dotted line, then look the other way while an army of minions runs around replacing everything. Phones isn’t easy :slight_smile:

Sip is a standard. Cisco not supporting it in an ideal way has nothing to do with the FreePBX/Asterisk projects. I do believe there is a process for certifying and getting phone supported in the FreePBX EPM, but it relies on the vendor to do so.

I do understand the desire to eliminate as many free radicals to keep a business operating as smoothly as possible, but also hear that your fine without support, even when there is an issue, your confident you’ll get it figured out.

In that case the answer to your questions is yes, it can be done. You can get Cisco phones working on FreePBX and you can interconnect two or more FreePBXs.

Not exactly the case. Cisco wrote the 3PCC firmware specifically to support “3rd party call control” - ie: Asterisk-based phone systems, hence the name - 3PCC. Note that Cisco explicitly mentions Asterisk here in instructions for their phones:

Configure SIP Settings on the Cisco IP Phone 8800 Series Multiplatform Phone - Cisco

Yes, the vendor - Cisco - has to pay Sangoma for it to be added as supported. I assume Cisco believes it’s phones are so great that they don’t need to pay anybody anything. [eyeroll]

Basically, it’s a high tech mine is bigger than yours game. If you look at the list of EPM supported phones, most of the phones that are supported are the Chinese-made no-names (Yealink, etc.) who are vendors who are small and are eager to get their stuff out into the world. To them, paying FreePBX to add in support to EPM is worth it because FreePBX is bigger than they are. But Cisco, naturally, sees FreePBX as smaller than they are and so isn’t interested in paying them to add support into EPM by testing their phones. The ironic thing is that once upon a time when FreePBX was smaller they went ahead themselves and added support into EPM for the -older- Cisco phones - which don’t work very well with the BLF border cases, which is why the usecallmanager patch I referenced was developed in the first place. Just because EPM supports the 79xx phone from Cisco and can generate an XML file the phone can digest, doesn’t mean that the phone will work perfectly with FreePBX.

Ultimately, if there’s an issue, the phone can be replaced with a different model that’s “supported” by FreePBX. I would, naturally, prefer that if that were the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, that it would only be necessary on a small subset of instruments. Determining if that sort of heterogeneous approach is feasible is why I’m here and asking.

Please keep in mind that Cisco Enterprise phones won’t work, since you can’t feed them with their individual enterprise config. However you mentioned in the begining to change to 3pcc, which is really nescessary.
However about 300 phones need 300 configs. Manually or read from server while starting up.
But someone has to write them.
Concernig video feature: It*s working on freepbx. I’ve testet it with linphone on 2 of my mobile phones.
An yes, you may connect 2 systems via IAX2-trunk, as long as extension numbers are not doubled.

Cisco phones in Enterprise mode pull their configs via tftp. The issue generally isn’t basic SIP calling. I’ve run Cisco 7940’s on FreePBX and those are about as ugly a config as you can imagine. Basic calling, yes, that works. It’s the call control, status, etc. that don’t and you may or may not care depending on the application the phone is used in.

300 phones need 300 configs but that’s exactly how the Cisco UCM works, when you “configure a phone” in the UCM all it’s doing behind the scenes is writing a configuration file to a tftp server in the UCM for the individual phone.

If I had Endpoint Manager on a FreePBX system I’d still have to configure 300 phones I’d just be using a GUI to do it. Dealing with the XML files is not as difficult as you might think. You create a series of template files for different phone models then when you provision a new phone you copy the appropriate template to the MAC address of the phone then load it into vi and change a few variables. Or, you write a script that asks “what is the phones extension, what is the phones mac, how many buttons, what extension number on button 1 what on button 2, etc. etc.” This can be done in good old /bin/sh or even in PowerShell under Windows.

Or if you want to be really slick about it, you can setup the following:

GitHub - Wriar/Cisco-Provisioning-Server: An open-source node server to provision Cisco phones and devices.

Yes. I have a few CP-8841 basically running (with enterprise firmware). Up to now I did not understand how firmware change to might work, from whom to get legally correct, and how much it would cost not being a cisco-client. Anyway, I wrote tftp config files manually by try and error for the single macs. There are no BLF-lights for lines, for occupied lines and such luxury things working, which are main reasons to run a pbx. Maybe shortcuts to forward a call to another extension may work.
I will try your link to githup over the weekend intending to install the application on a stand alone raspberry-pi server first. Hope there is no need to install it on the pbx itself.

Here is how a firmware change works:

  1. If the phone is running vulnerable firmware, you are entitled to a free upgrade to a corrected version of firmware from Cisco in that same release train whether or not the phone is under smartnet. Just contact Cisco TAC and explain it and they will send you the updated firmware. Or for the same money you can relicense the CP-8841’s with 3PCC firmware which then gives you a webinterface on the phone so you can configure it using the webinterface, or using tftp files, and supposedly BLF then works. And then you will get the latest updated 3PCC firmware.

  2. You can put the phone under smartnet pretty cheap. A Cisco Partner won’t be interested in selling you a single smartnet for $30 a year or so but CDW will. They can also sell you the 3PCC license.

  3. I brought up the provisioning server in the github link last night. It works to create SEP files. It’s a bit buggy and needs the attention of a node.js programmer.

  4. To get BLF working you have to install the usecallmanager patch. It’s a massive somewhat octopus like patch. There’s instructions elsewhere in this forum to do it. It patches Asterisk so you will have to turn off Asterisk patching in FreePBX once it’s applied otherwise updates to FreePBX can overwrite it.

In summary all of the Lego pieces exist out there to drop in a FreePBX server that will replace a Cisco UCM with a bunch of Cisco Enterprise phones hooked to it. But it’s completely a roll-your-own effort.

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