Newbie Looking for Advice

Looking for advice in terms of what hardware to purchase/General setup. I’m a complete newbie, but I’ve read a lot of random articles, and watched a lot of videos and feel like I’m almost ready to take the plunge.

Here is my setup —

I have an old Nortel phone system, with 4 extensions and 4 analog phone lines feeding it.

I know I could ditch the analog lines and set up an account directly with a VOIP provider. (Not quite ready to do that). For the time being though, I’d like to keep my analog phone lines, and just swap things out for a more modern system. What I’m not sure about is how to physically connect the analog phone lines to the FreePBX server.

Any help advice would be appreciated (I’m getting caught with all the jargon, so please go easy on me on that front :slight_smile: ).


I have always used digium analog cards. Sounds like you will want a 4 port FXO with echo cancellation.

You will plug your analog lines into this and then create a DAHDI trunk.

As @moodinsk says. Note that Digium is now owned by Sangoma; there are also Sangoma-branded FXO cards. For example, see (just an example, you’ll likely find better pricing elsewhere).

Another approach is an FXO gateway such as

A third option, if your POTS provider offers ‘call forward on busy’ and can forward multiple concurrent calls, would be to drop three of the lines, forward on busy to a VoIP trunk (with a new number), using a device with one FXS and one FXO such as

(You could use the FXS port to connect a fax machine or cordless phone.)

Yet another option is to get a SIP trunk and forward your POTS number (unconditionally) to there. If it works well, you can run that way for a while. When satisfied, port your number. If you have problems, go back to the old system, buy some FXO hardware and when it’s working well, try the new one again.

Anyone tried the generica fxo cards? Massive price difference. (53USD for a 4 port fxo). Concerned because I don’t know what I’m giving up by going with the generic, but by the same token, don’t know If I’m being taken advantage of when buying a $500 card…

I have no experience with generic cards.

The high-end Digium and Sangoma cards have hardware echo cancellation, warranties and excellent support from the FreePBX guys.

Without EC, you could consider or a used older Digium FXO.

We could give better advice if you tell us more about your application.

I assume that you bought or will buy IP desk phones to replace the Nortels. If not, please explain.

What are your concerns about switching to VoIP? Internet connection packet loss, jitter, insufficient upload speed? Connection unreliable?

Is your Nortel system working ok? If so, is it feasible to run both systems in parallel for a while?

How are your analog lines provided (copper pairs from central office, cable MTA, fiber ONT, etc.)?

What country are you in? Internet connection type (fiber, cable, DSL, fixed wireless, mobile data)? Speed up/down?

Yes, I’ve bought 4 IP phones so far.

My big concern about making the switch is that I dont know enough yet. Last thing I want to do is paint myself in to a corner. I also have no idea of how much use (and therefore cost) we need. If things go completely sideways I want to make sure I have a ‘way out’.

Currently my phone lines come in on a coax cable with the internet and then are broken out in to analog lines.

Like you Dale I was a novice in this field but have a strong IT background. I bought cheap Cisco phones and set up a Lab at home and learnt from scratch. A lot was self taught and a great deal was learned from the knowledgeable and helpful guys on this Forum.

Long before I went live at my business I worked on the test lab until I got it right!. As I grew in knowledge and confidence I got rid of the Cisco and bought Sangoma phones, then went live with the IVR (that virtually eliminated SPAM calls), I haven’t stopped learning and really enjoy reading and learning on here.

My point is… take your time, build a test set up first, glean as much as you can from the guys on here who know their stuff before you go live and land yourself with big problems and huge pressure. :wink:


I don’t blame you for being concerned. You should plan for recovery from hardware failures, software failures and internet connection outages. Your system should be well secured, but also take the possibility of a breach into consideration.

For example, my present production system has US incoming numbers from Anveo Direct, with FreePBX running in the cloud at RamNode. If the PBX is down, Anveo routes calls to my mobile. If this was caused by a hardware failure, RamNode would move the VPS to an alternate node (in another city if necessary) automatically. If a software issue, I’d restore from the last regular backup. If RamNode went out of business or we had a dispute, I could quickly move the system to another VPS provider. If there were a successful attack and fraudulent calls drained my account, I have a ‘minimum balance for outgoing calls’ set, so incoming would still work while the issue was resolved. Local internet outages are no big deal – calls would normally ring a SIP app on the mobile (over LTE). If that were also inaccessible, calls forward as mobile voice calls. If even that doesn’t work, the system would still take a voicemail and I could return the call from another phone.

You could start by getting a VoIP service and configuring one or more phones to use it (without FreePBX). Some providers include basic PBX features (multiple extensions, IVR, forwarding, etc.) with all accounts. Examples are Callcentric, and Anveo.

Next, set up your PBX (in the cloud or on a virtual or physical server of yours) and learn how to configure it. When it’s working well, forward you business number to the temporary VoIP number. If you have trouble you can just turn off the forwarding and go back to the Nortel. Once you believe it’s stable, you can port your number.

What model Nortel do you have? Most units, even ancient ones, have a printer or serial port for logging calls. Or, your cable company may have a portal where you can download call logs or usage info. Or, go with a VoIP plan where you pay by the minute and don’t have to worry about capacity.

What country are you in? Who is your cable provider? Have you spoken with them about SIP trunks instead of the analog connection?

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I’m in Canada… using Shaw for my phone and Internet. This is the box that breaks the cable out to analog lines I feel like it might be able to do more than what they tell me it can…

Oh not sure of my nortel model (inherited it with the business), but I’ve never seen any serial or printer ports on it. I’ll take a look next time im at work,

For Canada, there are many good solutions:

Shaw offers SIP trunking. Though it appears to be oriented to larger businesses (brochure mentions 20 DIDs), they may have a suitable plan for you. They also offer hosted IVR, queues, etc., so you may not need to set up a PBX at all. While this is likely the most expensive solution, there are some technical and reliability advantages (voice uses dedicated bandwidth and private IP infrastructure). It also avoids the unlikely situation where the trunking provider blames your ISP for an issue, and vice versa.

Another first class choice is from Sangoma. It’s well integrated into FreePBX and comes with great support. Pricing is by channels with a bursting option. If your usage is relatively constant through the year, it’s also a good value, especially if you can commit to a year or more. However, if your business is highly seasonal or gets inundated with calls during promotions, a pay-per-minute provider would be more suitable.

Other Canadian VoSPs include (good feature set; may not need PBX) and (won’t need PBX). is a budget brand of Acrovoice with per-channel inbound and per-minute outbound pricing.

You may also consider US companies with servers in Canada and/or direct media from Canadian carriers. At the high end, look at and .

Budget providers:

If three incoming channels is sufficient, offers an ‘Office Unlimited’ Canada DID for US $4/mo. + $1.50 for E911. Outbound calls to Canada (except 867) are $0.005/min. (outgoing calls don’t count against incoming channel limit). offers Canada DIDs for only $0.08/mo. + E911 @ $0.60/address. $0.00325/min. incoming; $0.0072/min. outgoing. has Canada DIDs $0.50/mo.; $0.004/min. incoming; less than $0.002/min. outgoing to most Canada destinations. E911 not offered. Static IP address required.

Many of these providers offer free trials with a small credit at signup.

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Well researched @Stewart1!!, I am also with Shaw Cable and my POTS lines come out of an Arris box for the business. My current contract with Shaw has unlimited calls and only CAD$13/month/line (x4).

If I haven’t retired by February I will follow up on your very useful information as I’m sure Shaw won’t repeat or extend the good deal I have with them.

Thank you for posting the info on here and for your efforts. :grinning:

Thanks @Stewart1 … I spoke to shaw yesterday — their response — use all our hardware, rented from us or we arent going to work with you (they said it nicely, but thats essentially what the conversation boiled down to)

@Ducktour — can you give me some more details on how your system is physically set up? You mentioned you have the arris box — are you taking the analog lines out and feeding your freepbx system with them? Or somehow making use of the ethernet port that the shaw support people tell me is inactive?

You would connect the lines that come out of your touchstone cablemodem using the same cables you are using now. You would need either an analog card like the ones already mentioned or an FXO Gateway.

If they mean that you must rent their SBC (Session Border Controller) but can still use your own PBX and phones, that’s standard for carrier-supplied VoIP. The SBC acts as a demarc, protecting each network from the other. If the contract price including the SBC lease is within your budget, IMO you should still consider it.

@Ducktour has an impressively good deal, especially for heavy users. If your pricing is similar, connecting the existing MTA via an FXO card or gateway would be a good approach. If @Ducktour is using an FXO card without hardware echo cancellation (and doesn’t have echo issues), then there would be little risk for you to buy one of the cheaper cards.

If you will be forwarding some calls off site, e.g. to your mobile when you can’t answer at the office, you may still want to get a SIP trunk so the forwarded calls can display the number of the original caller.

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That sounds like Shaw! :wink:

@arielgrin sums it up, my lines go straight from Shaw’s Arris box into a Digium 4 port gateway PCI card, very simple and works fine. I have not (yet) worked with SIP trunks, my choice if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it :grin:

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Does your card have hardware echo cancellation? If not, the OP could buy a much cheaper card with confidence.

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Not sure about Canada, but I can tell you that even though here in Argentina the PSTN is definitely not in the best shape, I have several clients using analog cards from Digium and Sangoma without hardware echo cancellers and they don’t experience echo anyway. I have several fxo gateways too but those always include some kind of hardware echo cancel.