Open Source VOIP for Small Businesses, 20 July 2010
CommuniG8 Limited is a small start-up IT consultancy.
From the outset we have opted for the use of an Open Source Telephone system that would allow us to integrate traditional telephony with VOIP services (such as SIPGate and Skype), utilise IT based extensions such as voice-mail and click-to-dial (e.g. from Microsoft Outlook), have a relatively simple web based management system, allow for growth and keep costs low.
This article shows which technologies we have chosen to achieve our objectives and how we have implemented the system.
Every business, no matter what size, needs to communicate with suppliers, partners and most importantly customers. In the connected Internet world we now live in, communication is assisted by many IT messaging infrastructures. They provide many alternatives to traditional voice based telephony in being able to contact those we do business with. However, the humble telephone conversation still rightly holds a very important position in the hierarchy of communication tools available to us. The vast majority of small businesses will utilise some form of IT infrastructure to help manage their activities. This may just be a single laptop but will be packed with the tools needed to communicate in various ways. But it will almost certainly be sitting next to a normal analogue telephone. Traditionally, in order to gain some form of integration between telephony and computer systems was prohibitively expensive for small businesses. Even the cost of providing a small telephone system to support a few extensions, without any sophisticated integration, starts to become a noticeable cost to a small business. What is needed is a cost effective and highly functional IT based digital telephony system. It has been possible to achieve this with the use of Open Source Software based systems for some time now. However, there would seem to be a vested interest from traditional phone system suppliers to push the use of traditional propriatory phone systems for small businesses. Not surprising when you consider the costs involved in supplying, installing, maintaining and licensing these systems. In order for a small business to take advantage of an Open Source phone system an amount of knowledge or the use of a specialist supplier is required but the advantages in terms of costs and functionality are very attractive.
Stage 1 - The Home Office
Working from home posed a few voice communication issues. A new business number was required but there was a lead time on installation, a business Skype account would be needed, an existing domestic phone line needed to be catered for, the existing household phones needed to included and voicemail was needed for all. Before the physical line was installed, a free SIPGate account was created allowing inbound calls over a SIP trunk on an 08450 number. A business Skype account was registered. A PC was built from parts purchased from Maplins for about £300 and a Digium 4 port telephony card was purchased via eBay for about £120. The PC was constructed and the CentOS Linux based Operating System installed. Asterisk and FreePBX were installed and configured to communicate via the Digium card for two phone lines and one extension, and via SIPGate and Skype for VOIP. The new Asterisk system was on the house LAN and also communicated with a Linksys Analogue Telephone Adapter (cost £50 via eBay) which allowed the existing DECT phones to communicate with Asterisk over the LAN. This all took about a day and cost a total of £470. The new business line was connected when it was installed about a week later.
Stage 2 - A Real Office
Moving to an office in a small business start-up centre operated by the local Council presented the next set of issues. A new business line had to be installed, the existing business line was to be kept (at least from the remainder of the 12 month minimum contract) and any long distance calls would need to be routed over that line, calls into the old and new office needed to be available to pick up at either office, a new staff member required a phone and direct dial number. This time an existing PC was was rebuilt to be the Asterisk system and another one port line card was purchased via eBay for £50. A pair of Cisco SIP phones were purchased via eBay for £30 each. A LAN and ADSL Router had already been installed so were not considered as part of the telephone system costs. The Router was used to establish a VPN with the old office and the Asterisk systems were configured to communicate with each other over an IAX trunk (the native protocol for Asterisk to Asterisk communication). An additional SIPGate account and local phone number were registered for the new staff member. Asterisk configurations were updated and job done. This time the costs were £110 and a days work.
Stage 3 - Sub-Letting
In order to share costs, a business partner moved into the office. This presented a couple more issues. They had their own Skype and SIPGate accounts. They needed a phone and wanted their calls routed out over their SIPGate account. The phone was again from eBay at £30. A license was required for a new Skype account for Asterisk which was £45. The rest was just a matter of configuration with took less than an hour. The cost of £75 was met by our new tenant.
The Asterisk/FreePBX phone system in use at CommuniG8 now supports two office locations, two companies, multiple phone lines, multiple Skype accounts and multiple SIPGate accounts. Calls are automatically routed over the appropriate communication links based on cost and which user is making the call. Voice-mail is utilised along with click-to-dial via Outlook. Call logging and reporting is also provided. A real time display of system activity is provided via the FreePBX Operator Panel web application. System update and configuration is all handled online via the web interface of FreePBX. Not to mention Call Recording, IVR and many other applications. All for a total cost of £655 and two days work.
Its important to remember that there are no ongoing software costs.
For Your Organisation
If you would like to investigate the use of Asterisk/FreePBX within your organisation then contact CommuniG8 Limited.
Richard Gate, CommuniG8 Limited
Rats Pen Lane