Is DIY PBX the Right Plan for Your Company

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Not too long ago, a company’s business phone system was sort of the oddball in the company’s data management. The business phone system is essential because it is needed for voice communication. But, it was also relegated to the data department and IT experts. Because phone systems are not the expertise of the data team, thy basically left the care and maintenance of this important system to the voice specialists. As time went by the oddball got less attention.

Jump ahead a few decades and a new player has recently arrived on the scene. This new challenger has provided an innovative solution to telephone systems based on common knowledge data technologies as opposed to proprietary telecom technologies. We are talking about Digium the same innovative creators of open source PBX, which they created back in 1999 when they were first starting out.

Asterisk today is accepted internationally due to its massive cash-saving benefits, height versatility and flexibility to a variety of business needs. As with any investment, there are some advantages and disadvantages handling your Asterisk phone systems rather than investing in the comprehensive package solutions.

How to Build Your Own PBX Business Telephone System

Step 1: Buy the Server

The best thing about the Asterisk software is that it isn’t especially costly and won’t be too straining on your computer resources. As a matter of fact, you could probably purchase a suitable server for the Asterisk program for about $600.

Step 2: Install the Server Software

The next thing to do will be to set up your Linux operating system. This used to be rather complex, but today a Linux OS installation is a walk in the park. Depending on the version of the software you download, you may need to include some of this open source support software.

  • kernel sources
  • kernel headers
  • bison
  • OpenSSL, OpenSSL dev
  • libnewt
  • MySQL, MySQL dev

Step 3: Install the Open Source PBX Software

There are three flavours of Asterisk available and you will need to select the option that is best for your needs. Some of the leading products derived from Asterisk include Asterisk Now, PBX in a Flash and Elastix. Because they all share the same source code, these programs are all fairly similar.

Elastix

This option certainly feels a bit more refined than the others and it comes with more bells and whistles for sure. There is also a very convenient graphic interface that is based directly on the PBX software. Elastix is currently the most popular option of its kind.

Some of the popular features of Elastix include:

  • Call recording
  • Callback support
  • Support for videophones
  • Voicemail-to-Email functionality
  • Support for Bluetooth on cell phones
  • Conference center with virtual rooms
  • Support for call queues
  • Voice synthesis support
  • Elastix Operator Panel (EOP)

Support: Elastix will also be there to support the use of their software via a subscription model or on-demand basis, which means that the support is paid for as needed.

FreePBX

FreePBX is one of the most popular options and has over 1 million users to the day. After purchasing the basic PBX your systems can be improved and upgraded with new commercial models that add value to an already impressive system.

Additionally, FreePBX also offers PBXact a commercial option sold by the same FreePBX sellers.

Some of the popular features seen here include:

  • PBX Endpoint Manager
  • Call Center Builder
  • Appointment Reminder
  • High Availability Option
  • Outbound Dialer

Support: the best support to be found for FreePBX is on several online forums, or by contacting a FreePBX reseller.

AsteriskNow

Digium, the original creators of Asterisk, created AsteriskNow and still offers support for this PBX system. Asterisk now is a distribution of Linux and DAHDI driver framework. This specialized program was created for system integrators, hackers, application developers, students and others who need customized results from their PBX. Within the Asterisk community, AsteriskNow is commonly considered the most reliable option yet.

Some of the things we like about AsteriskNow include:

  • Automated Attendant
  • Call Recording
  • Call Queuing
  • Database Store / Retrieve
  • Conference Bridging
  • Text-to-Speech (via Festival)
  • Database Integration
  • Spell / Say
  • Roaming Extensions

Support: there are a variety of different sources of support for the AsteriskNow System and there is even an option that contains a guaranteed service agreement, which is not a common sight in the open-source world.

Step 3: Connecting to the Outside World

If you hope to connect to the public telephone network through your analogue lines or PRI, you will also need to include a proper PTSN or digital gateway. Another way to do this would be to utilize SIP trunking, which won’t require any specific hardware. Just remember that configuring your PTSN can be a time-consuming process.

Step 4: Choose your Telephones

Because your Asterisk PBX will be based on a SIP (Session Initiated Protocol) you can choose from a wide variety of business telephones from different companies. So many options make choosing the best for you a fun treat. The trick here will be in provisioning the phones to work with the Asterisk PBX you have installed, this is also time-consuming and can take anywhere from an hour to just ten minutes per phone.

Furthermore, if you will be using phones from different manufacturers it is important to remember that the time for learning how to use the various makes and models you will employ.

Advantages of DIY PBX

Besides the pure satisfaction that comes from performing a task like this all by yourself, there is also the price saving advantage of not having to pay for this service to be done professionally. The software is free and you can easily purchase a suitable server for the system for less than $1000. Furthermore, some of the Asterisk distribution services make the task of setting this up much easier.

Some other advantages include the flexibility to set up your PBX system exactly how you’d like to see it done.

Disadvantages of DIY PBX

The DIY path to PBX setup will require someone who has some familiarity. As Digium mentions in their description, “To build with Asterisk you will need to have a basic understanding of the Linux system administrator as well as the fundamentals of VoIP or legacy telephony, as well as have a functioning knowledge of script programming.”

You will also need to understand what PBX technology is all about and be able to handle call features with precision. You will be able to get your hands on plenty of support from your open-source developer and there is also the chance to purchase additional support from a provider. When the support does arrive I may not be as user-friendly as some would like and may involve written instructions or links to pertinent forums where your issues are being discussed.

Conclusion

Using a DIY PBX makes you the boss of your very own phone company, along with the awesome title comes to the complete responsibility of its care, functions and maintenance. IF there is a problem, you will need to know how to fix it yourself. There are not any local vendor who will come out to your locations and provide service, possibly because fixing free PBX is not a lucrative business. Vendors typically work on the commercially developed systems that come with hefty charges.
So is a DIY PBX the right plan for you? It could be, it has worked wonders for a wide variety of businesses. But, these businesses typically have a very knowledgeable Asterisk professional on-board to support this component.

For those organizations looking to take full advantage of a free PBX, they should know that inexperienced DIY PBX can be an error of massive proportions. It is vitally important therefore to carefully consider the options and weigh out your alternatives.