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Cheap and Reliable IP Telephony?

Cliff posted more than 10 years ago | from the getting-a-handle-on-new-technology dept.

Communications 62

anomalie asks: "I am trying to sell IP telephony to my employer. The idea was shot down once already because of the cost (using a Cisco solution). I would like to find a cheap but reliable IP PBX because everyone liked the idea of IP telephony, just not the price associated with it. I need a system that could initially handle about 80 users at a single location, and eventually handle about 350 users at 7 locations. The two systems I have been looked at so far are Asterisk & Pingtel's SIPxchange IP PBX. I'm not looking here for a final solution, just some starting points for more research. Any feedback/tips/warnings from the Slashdot community?""I am looking to have at least the following capabilities:
-Auto attendant
-Handle a PRI (hopefully allow forwarding of old PBX DIDs)
-Handle long distance T1 (we would initially segment off some channels from our current PBX)
-Handle WAN Traffic so we could utilize our unused channels for long distance from other locations
-Forwarding of voicemails to email

Nice optional features:
-Web based GUI for voicemail administration
-GUI call manager

Eventually, we would have relay units at the other locations to handle the local calls and call routing and have 1 central PBX at corporate headquarters."

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What problem are you trying to solve? (5, Insightful)

ObviousGuy (578567) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855288)

It seems like replacing your current phone system is going to cost more in the short term than just sticking with what works. Will the IP telephone system cost less in the long run? What is the time frame to break-even? Will your company still be around by that time?

Re:What problem are you trying to solve? (1)

anomalie (693098) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856407)

Well, I hope we will be around for a while (the company has been around for over 40 years).

We currently have 6 locations running 5 different phone systems, and a few of the older phone systems are really showing their age and have reached their maximum capabilities. And I am afraid that it may become more difficult to find someone to support some of our remote locations the older these systems get. We have a new CEO & I have a new PHB who is really energetic about making IT a very utilized resource rather a black hole in the budget (which is how the 'old' management sees us). Every impression the new CEO has given is that we are facing some aggressive expansion in near future, so it just seemed like a good opportunity to look at integrating our phone systems and trying to save some money over the long run on phone bills (especially long distance between divisions). I really liked the Cisco solution, and thought I could sell it beginning with one of our plants we just moved to a new location. But while everyone was impressed with the features, they balked at the cost. I am not looking immediately deploying an entire new system, but I plan on evaluating different solutions over the next 1-2 years so that when they are ready for something new, I have a handle on what would be a relatively feature-rich solution with a reasonable ROI. And maybe by then we would be ready for a corporate wide rollout, and the cost wouldn't seem so prohibitive with a Cisco/3Com/whatever solution. I did just order the Asterisk DevKit [yahoo.com] to play around with a bit, and I will probably mess around with some SIP softphones just to get a feel for the system. But I would definitely look into any system pointed out to me.

Re:What problem are you trying to solve? (3, Informative)

mbrinkm (699240) | more than 10 years ago | (#8858887)

I am currently running a project for a small (less than 800 subscriber) telephone company that is looking at replacing their switch. Because of this I have been doing a lot of research on available solutions. Now, not knowing what Cisco gave you as a quote for the system (Cisco may be significantlly cheaper than a softswitch), I would suggest looking at some of the Softswitch vendors that work in the ILEC industry, MetaSwitch, Taqua, CopperCom, Santera, Etc. A few of the vendors that offer services in this market came from the corporate PBX world and the majority, if not all (currently in the reasearch process), offer VoIP in their product. From the layout of your company you may find this to be a better fit.

"I am looking to have at least the following capabilities:
-Auto attendant
-Handle a PRI (hopefully allow forwarding of old PBX DIDs)
-Handle long distance T1 (we would initially segment off some channels from our current PBX)
-Handle WAN Traffic so we could utilize our unused channels for long distance from other locations
-Forwarding of voicemails to email

Nice optional features:
-Web based GUI for voicemail administration
-GUI call manager


Of the list of options that you are looking for, the only two that I'm not sure of availability with a Softswitch solution is the auto attendant and the voice mail forwarding (I think the voice mail forwarding is available, not positive). Also, a softswitch could provide more flexibility than a limited PBX system. I'm not sure if this is a better option, or even if a softswitch would fit into your system, but I thought I'd throw it out there as a potential option.

When I started my initial research into switch vendors I found this site Sipcenter.com [sipcenter.com] was a useful resource for identifying potential vendors, although a few of the links are dead from the market fall. They have a section for IP PBX vendors, it may help you find a solution.

My recommendation, if you haven't already done this, is to put together a list of 10 - 12 potential vendors and send them a RFI/RFP. You may find a RFI/RFP process to be a valuable way to not only find a good solution, but provide you with the information to sway your boss(es).

Re:What problem are you trying to solve? (1)

WizardX (63639) | more than 10 years ago | (#8873138)

Sound not too dissimilar from my situation. I am in the final presentation process of going with Csico AVVID. What I am doing, and working with a very good reseller, is doing it as a self funded project. if you are not familiar with what the means, it is quite simple. Find all the ways you can save money (hard costs, soft costs will not cut it) and use the savings generated to pay the monthly lease on the equip.

Please email me at jason AT vilter DOT com
I can discuss with you the +/- with Cisco and others. (I have been working ont he project since Oct, I have amassed quite a in that time.)

You should probably think things over. (5, Insightful)

sinergy (88242) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855359)

The only corporations that would actually stand for a gain from the benefits of IP phones are the ones that would not balk at the price of the hardware.
The largest sum of money spent on phone systems is usually interoffice calls. Why would you set up IP phones in a single location as your goal, then add more offices as a secondary "good to have?"
This is not sound economics -- just because speaking over your cat5 network is cool does not make it a smart thing to do.

Re:You should probably think things over. (2, Insightful)

Molina the Bofh (99621) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855492)

Don't forget that the word of the day is globalization. More and more companies are needing to make international calls.

The largest economy of money VoIP can provide is in international calls. Some countries can have ridiculous fees, like $5/min.

VoIP leaves the company free to have some parts - like customer assistance - in another part of the world. That can mean lower costs.

Re:You should probably think things over. (1)

sinergy (88242) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855583)

This is true, however he speaks nothing of globalization in his question.

And, is anybody actually doing this? I would not consider running an entire offshore call center over VoIP. The cost of a dedicated network circuit would surely offset the cost of telco communications.

Re:You should probably think things over. (1)

Molina the Bofh (99621) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855827)

Companies like

Amazon [slashdot.org] ,

CollabNet [slashdot.org] (a company that would not exist if they didn't have access to engineers from India),

Dell [com.com] (wich didn't get a good level of support for their users), and many others.

So, yes, there are companies doing this.

Re:You should probably think things over. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8856042)

Everyone except the traders and sales staff at Lehman Brothers uses VoIP. They put it in after the rebuild of their global HQ, after Sept. 11.

Re:You should probably think things over. (2, Interesting)

raju1kabir (251972) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855921)

And, is anybody actually doing this? I would not consider running an entire offshore call center over VoIP. The cost of a dedicated network circuit would surely offset the cost of telco communications.

Now this is precisely the sort of application where VoIP does make sense. If you're filling even a moderately-sized pipe with calls a good portion of the time, then the data haul cost is a whole lot cheaper than metered phone rates - even after you throw in infrastructure and maintenance. You don't need a "dedicated network circuit", assuming that vague term means what I assume you mean.

I'd be surprised if there are any overseas call centers that don't use VoIP these days.

Re:You should probably think things over. (2, Informative)

raju1kabir (251972) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855882)

Some countries can have ridiculous fees, like $5/min.

You're getting screwed.

I do a lot of international calling to some strange places. The most expensive place I know of is Kiribati (while it lasts) for about $3/min. Afghanistan and Wallis & Futuna follow at $2. After that, it falls off quickly. Most places that people actually call are dirt cheap these days. The only calls that will cost $5 and up are to certain types of satellite phones, and VoIP's not going to help you there.

Using an ordinary service here in the USA with no fees or thresholds I can call dozens of countries for 5 cents a minute or less: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lesotho, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

At those rates, it's not worth the hassle of private VoIP arrangements unless I do huge volume.

Re:You should probably think things over. (1)

Molina the Bofh (99621) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855931)

I do a lot of international calling to some strange places.

Ok, you can pay that when calling TO that places, but what about when THEY call you?

Re:You should probably think things over. (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 10 years ago | (#8858647)

There are some schemes where you, in distant country, place a call to a machine in the US, which immediately hangs up then calls you back giving you a US dial tone. Calls in the US then cost your standard 5c/min, calls to other countries perhaps twice that (once into US and same again out). I have had calls from Hungary routed to me in the UK like this.

Optiop (2, Informative)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855938)


Internet-initiated calls: It may be interesting to compare this to Internet-initiated calls using Bigzoo.com's BigTalk [bigzoo.com] , which cast 3.6 cents per minute to call the U.S. from New Zealand.

Free VOIP: An option if both sides of a call have internet connections is Skype [skype.com] . At present it's free, and provides better quality than normal telephone. Skype is a great way to try VOIP without paying anything. Skype provides AES encryption of your calls, too. Skype can use port 80 for connections, so it can get past any firewall. (This shows the alarming lack of security of firewalls, and the need for a software firewall like ZoneAlarm [zonelabs.com] that alert you when a program tries to connect.) Skype is brought to you by the designers of the original KaZaa program.

3.5 cents per minute, but free to the U.S. caller: If you want someone with only a normal telephone to call you in New Zealand without paying, you can put $10 into a BigZoo.com or OneSuite.com [onesuite.com] account, and give them the PIN number. OneSuite only costs 3.5 cents per minute from the U.S. to New Zealand, if the U.S. caller calls from a local number. With OneSuite.com or Bigzoo.com can have as many accounts as you have friends for whom you want to provide free calling.

Other ideas? Are there any options like this that aren't mentioned here?

Re:You should probably think things over. (1)

Jeagoss (661909) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855942)

Have you seen the costs of a phone call to some of the islands in the pacific? Or islands offshore of India. I know for a fact that a call to some of the islands in the pacific have charges of $7.50 a minute. Granted, internet connections are hard as hell to get into places like that, but, it would be cheaper to have VOIP. Yes, I understand that places like this are special cases, but it goes to show even in small volume, VOIP can save money.

Re:You should probably think things over. (2, Informative)

raju1kabir (251972) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856259)

Have you seen the costs of a phone call to some of the islands in the pacific? Or islands offshore of India. I know for a fact that a call to some of the islands in the pacific have charges of $7.50 a minute.

Like where?

I'm looking at the rate sheet for my LD service:

$0.15 American Samoa
$0.61 Antarctica (okay, below the Indian Ocean)
$1.25 Christmas Island
$0.50 Comoros
$0.81 Cook Islands
$1.24 Diego Garcia
$0.49 Fiji
$0.37 French Polynesia
$0.28 Guam
$2.99 Kiribati
$0.73 Maldives
$0.20 Marianas
$0.60 Marshall Islands
$0.42 Mauritius
$0.73 Mayotte
$0.78 Micronesia
$1.09 Nauru
$0.36 New Caledonia
$0.79 Niue
$1.25 Norfolk Islands
$1.08 Palau
$0.32 Reunion
$0.20 Saipan
$0.40 Seychelles
$0.85 St. Helena
$0.45 Tokelau
$0.43 Tonga
$0.78 Tuvalu
$0.70 Vanuatu
$2.14 Wallis & Futuna
$0.41 Western Samoa

The only places where you're paying that sort of money are those that have no local phone system so they have to use satellite phones.

Options. (1)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855986)


Slashdot software failure? Seems to have posted nonsense before. Here is the correct version, edited from a previous comment to another story:

Internet-initiated regular telephone calls: Internet-initiated calls using Bigzoo.com's BigTalk [bigzoo.com] , which cast 3.6 cents per minute to call the U.S. from New Zealand, for example.

Free VOIP: An option if both sides of a call have internet connections is Skype [skype.com] . At present it's free, and provides better quality than normal telephone. Skype is a great way to try VOIP without paying anything. Skype provides AES encryption of your calls, too. Skype can use port 80 for connections, so it can get past any firewall. (This shows the alarming lack of security of firewalls, and the need for a software firewall like ZoneAlarm [zonelabs.com] that alert you when a program tries to connect.) Skype is brought to you by the designers of the original KaZaa program.

3.5 cents per minute, but free to the U.S. caller: If you want someone with only a normal telephone to call you in another country without paying, you can put $10 into a BigZoo.com or OneSuite.com [onesuite.com] account, and give them the PIN number. OneSuite only costs 3.5 cents per minute from the U.S. to New Zealand, for example, if the U.S. caller calls from a local number. With OneSuite.com or Bigzoo.com can have as many accounts as you have friends for whom you want to provide free calling.

Other ideas? Are there any options like this that aren't mentioned here?

Re:You should probably think things over. (3, Interesting)

vensub (197488) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855770)

Please don't go to a Linux or windows based software solutions. Go to always hardware/appliance based or else you loose your job, since both OS sucks always, no matter how great/political they are!

Re:You should probably think things over. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8857815)

Ever seen a giant Lucent commercial phone switch? Plug in a dumbterm and it will proudly display UNIX SYSTEM V RELEASE 4.

Re:You should probably think things over. (1)

Detritus (11846) | more than 10 years ago | (#8858325)

The operating system that is used to manage the switch is not necessarily the same thing as the operating system used by the switch software.

Re:You should probably think things over. (1)

anomalie (693098) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856451)

But it is soo cool! Actually, saving money on inter-office calls was what I was trying to sell. But, we have a lot of other expansion going on right now, so my timing probably wasn't the best. And I think it will take a while for all of the old school management here to start believing that technology isn't scary and doesn't have to be a drain on finances. Oh...I should probably post anonymously in case one of them learns how to work that newfangled Internet!

Final solution? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8855369)

Are you trying to kill the Jews or set up IP Telephony?

Vonage (2, Informative)

ClydeBear (654996) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855398)

We've been using Vonage for over a year now and it's great. We pay something like $25 per month for each line (we have 3) and it includes free long distance. It's cut our phone bill (while our call volume has increased!) from $1500 to $600. They send you very simple little cisco VOIP boxes, all you do is plug the ethernet into the network and the phone into the PBX/Phone and you're set.

Re:Vonage (0, Troll)

dj245 (732906) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856840)

We've been using Vonage for over a year now and it's great. vonage vonage vonage vonage blah blah blah

are the moderators on crack or just don't know what the vonage can and can not do for you?

Parent post wants a PBX. Not a phone company. Vonage is a phone company, not a maker of PBX devices. Nor do they sell PBX devices that are up to the job.

Obviously this poster knows nothing about what the parent poster wants and/or doesn't care. Mod him down. As to the subject at hand, I personally don't know a lot about the subject, but I am an expert on Vonage, having had (and cancelled) their service. They make sense for a 1-number 1-building 3-4 room small business. Anything more is seriously overpimping what they can provide.

Re:Vonage (1)

Zebra_X (13249) | more than 10 years ago | (#8868962)

THis guy isn't a troll, he's right.

Why is that moderated "troll"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8887062)

He has a very vaid point and states it clearly. What's the problem?

I'm just an IP phone user. (5, Interesting)

johnnliu (454880) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855416)

I work in a company with IP phone system. While it's good for long distance calls to branches in other cities (pay local call rates), the overall system has let us down many times.

I'm not sure whether it's that this particular service provider is no good, or whether the service itself is still unproven.

Anyway, just remember when the phone doesn't work, your internet also doesn't work.

No phone calls & no emails - might as well go to the bar.
Phones and emails are almost at the core of most businesses now, they are expected to be always working (like electricity in the building), and when they don't work, the managers get really upset.

Anyway, I don't know who (this person is probably no longer with us) got the company to use IP phones, but they have mentioned many times how much they hate the system.

Good luck. May be services in your area are much better.

Similar experience with Cisco (4, Insightful)

jtheory (626492) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856852)

The company I was in previously used the expensive, Cisco system (and it was cool to see our phones in the movies - Ocean's Eleven and others)... and we still had issues with it. Even once all the wrinkles were worked out and we no longer had echoes or constant rebooting of the phone server, it was still only as resilient as our network.

Like parent poster said, it sucks when your network goes down and you reach for the phone only to see that it's also rebooting, and you are stranded.

Granted this was a year and a half ago, but you're still taking the risk of much greater technical complexity, plus sharing a network that can be brought down by a lot of other factors (whereas POTS is independant).

Before you get on the boat, you'd better be able to point to a significant savings to justify it AND you have to either factor in downtime, or pay for a bank of backup standard phone lines. Here's a good tip for evaluating providers -- ask them for contact info for a few current customers that you can talk to. They should be able to find one who can share the experiences so far. You do NOT want to be the guinea pig on the cutting edge.

Re:Similar experience with Cisco (1)

earlytime (15364) | more than 10 years ago | (#8866646)

Adgeed! Having a single cable plant for telecomm and datacomm is a risk, but there are many benefits if you do it properly.

Before I go to far, a proper setup means redundancy on all critical components. Dual/rendundant core switches, dual links to all distribution switches, redundant voice gateways, backup power suplies and UPS power for all switches. Most important is an independent path to the pots world. Don't use your internet connection for access to the phone company, get dedicated circuits to the phone company for this purpose. We use two PRIs and haven't had any problems. Our internet connection has had several hiccups during this time, but we can still call the ISP to make sure the link comes back up. We can still do business over the phone, and email can still move via dsl while the T-1 is down.

The major advantage that an ethernet/ip network has over a pbx network is that an experienced engineer will design in redundant physical and logical paths for traffic. Convergence time for current link and routing protocols is down to several seconds, and configuration is much simpler (harder to do wrong) than just a few years ago.

You also get the benefits of shared costs, integration of corporate apps with phones, seamless moves/adds/changes, integrated voicemail/email, and greater independence from outside contractors. If you coordinate a voip implementation/pilot with your companies telco maintenance cycle, the real costs can be fairly low. Just swapping in a replacement for your current system will be quite expensive. But, for nearly every company, a major operating savings will be long distance calls. Especially any organization with multiple sites.

My company was able to coordinate our voip migration with a office move. When everybody got to the new office, we had the Cisco callmanager/unity system running. Although the sticker price was high, the real cost was fairly low since we had to rebuild our cable plant, and pay consultants for the move/reconfigure of our old pbx anyway. We were even able to sell the old system at a decent price after the move. We now have a much better data network, and our phone system operates underneath our data network.

One thing that is important is to be sure that if you use the same cable for voice and data, that the voice network is the foundation, and the data rides on top of that. This way the voice network has priority, and it isn't affected by data network problems. The voice systems ride on an entirely separate vlan, and aren't dependant on routing issues, or server problems. The only part of the voice service that depends on the data network is voicemail, which stores the messages in exchange.

Overall, I'm very happy with the system, and our management and staff have been pleased with the service since we implemented it. We can provide more telephone services to staff while maintaining the same high standard of reliablity that they're used to. The coolest feature is that staff can place calls directly from teh computer, just choose a contact from the directory, and hit dial, the speakerphone picks right up and places the call. Second best is that staff can listen to their voicemail messages via webmail. Even the real technophobes can get their heads around that.

Re:I'm just an IP phone user. (1)

dissy (172727) | more than 10 years ago | (#8859294)


It sounds like your system is just setup totally wrong.
IP phones have nothing to do with the internet unless you purposly set them up that way, and you shouldn't.

The way our setup works, we have local lines going into the PBX (The PBX is IP based, the lines are BRI based.) You dial 9 and a local number and the calls go out the local lines. This won't be affected by the internet at all.
If you dial 9 and a a long distance number, the PBX will see if we have any friendly PBXs in that areacode and then attempt to route over the internet to place the call through a local line there, -however-, if that PBX is unreachable over the internet, the call is placed as long distance over our local lines.
Additionally, you can dial 8 instead of 9 and force the call out the local lines and not at all use the internet (IE the PBX is reachable enough to reply, but there isnt enough bandwidth somewhere between to actually have a decent quality phone call.)

Relying on local lines over the internet is just needless and stupid.

Relying on long distance is also stupid without some sort of fallback, but -having- (not relying on) longdistance over the internet is good as it can save long distance charges when working (Which admittantly is most of the time.)

Re:I'm just an IP phone user. (1)

johnnliu (454880) | more than 10 years ago | (#8859905)

Like I said, I'm just a user, I have no idea how the system works. I'm not interested to know how electricity works in my office, nor how a normal phone call goes through to the callee.

But funny, they all work doesn't it? :-)

I do know everytime the networks' no good, the network admin gets on the mobile (cell) to the providers, and it's usually problem on their side.

It seems the only "necessary" service that always goes up and down is either the internet, or the ip phone system. I never hear about normal phones not working, or there's no water in the office.

Sounds bad to me. (3, Interesting)

JMZero (449047) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855435)

Unless you're having problems with your current phones, I'd keep them. It's almost certain you'll have some downtime during the switchover, and a few things to iron out during the startup.

I've talked to a few people who've just moved to IP based phones. While they've ended up with a system that works, they had some problems setting up. And end users didn't like the new phones much - they didn't have as many speed dial buttons and certain features were awkward (well, probably just different).

If people are complaining all the time about the phones, then this cost is OK. But if people are happy with their phones, this is going to look like a big waste of time and money.

Wait a couple years, and you've got a good chance stuff will get cheaper, better, and your old phones will look worse.

Re:Sounds bad to me. (1)

satanami69 (209636) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856059)

"I need a system that could initially handle about 80 users at a single location, and eventually handle about 350 users at 7 locations."

It sounds like his current system isn't the problem, but rather the expected growth from 1 to 7 locations. Having a plan that can cheaply expand to those requirements sounds like a good idea.

Cost vs Savings? (4, Insightful)

JLester (9518) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855714)

When you looked at the Cisco solution, did you just look at the bottom dollar or did you run the numbers on line savings, labor savings, etc? We're going from an all-Centrex phone system with about 420 lines spread across 21 sites to a Cisco VoIP system in the next few months. The initial cost is pretty high, but we're looking at a 2-2.5 year payoff. After the payoff, we're estimating a $7-$8,000 savings per month! Our network techs can do all the maintenance (no more $200+ service calls), all phones have advanced calling features and voicemail, we're leveraging the XML-based displays to add company directories and clock-in/out capability, etc.

Don't just look at the actual cost, run the numbers on everything else too. If it doesn't work out now, stick with current setup until either the numbers work out better or until the added features justify the cost.

Also, I personally wouldn't want to stake my company's phone system on a smaller vendor. We looked primarily at Cisco, 3Com, Nortel, and Avaya. All three have good reputations in the industry.

Jason

Re:Cost vs Savings? (0)

karnal (22275) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855898)

"We looked primarily at Cisco, 3Com, Nortel, and Avaya. All three have..."

Do you work in finance? :)

Re:Cost vs Savings? (1)

JLester (9518) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856057)

Oops, I originally forgot about Nortel and then remembered and went back to add it before I submitted. None of the Nortel resellers bid on our project anyway though, not sure why.

Jason

Re:Cost vs Savings? (1)

TTL0 (546351) | more than 10 years ago | (#8858495)

I had the same experience w/ Nortel . They seem to make great voip equipment but did not seem eager to make a sale. Avaya on the otherhand was great. got me all the info i needed and put in touch w/ the right people. Afterwards they followed through to see if i needed more help.

Astrisk (3, Informative)

Lenolium (110977) | more than 10 years ago | (#8855792)

Ironically, we just switched off of using astrisk on Friday, to a non-IP phone solution.

Astrisk really has a great set of features, a lot of which I am really going to miss. On the downside is that we were constantly having problems with it. Not major problems mind you, a couple lost calls here or there and sometimes the voicemail prompts would stutter. I'm not sure if the dropped calls were actually the fault of astrisk, or the PRI circuit we had coming in, because the astrisk console always was feeding warning messages about a particular PRI.

This could all be because we were running off of CVS versions of astrisk, with local patches but aparently, it is the way to go, because stable releases of astrisk are very few, and very far between.

So take this as a word of warning, astrisk is rad, but it'll take some work to get it to settle down.

Re:Astrisk (5, Informative)

tzanger (1575) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856593)

I second that.

I am using Asterisk right now to offload our high-volume long distance calls over to Nufone [nufone.net] . $0.0295/min anywhere in the continental US and Canada. Great service but not offically open for business yet. Talk to Jerjer in #asterisk on OPN.

Anyway -- Asterisk for the most part works great -- I currently have our Norstar system with four trunk lines going into an Adit600 channel bank to Asterisk. We also have 8 regular PSTN lines which go directly into the KSU. Speed dials are set to pick up a VOIP trunk line. When we move to the new building we will have a PRI going directly into the asterisk box, and a channelized T1 connection between the Norstar system and the Asterisk box. We're only going to have one "real" phone line in the building, with everything else going over VOIP to a colocation place downtown.

Biggest problems with Asterisk (for us) seem to be with VOIP phones, not VOIP calls. Since we're using our regular Norstar system we avoid most of these issues but we are slowly moving to VOIP phones to replace the KSU since we want (much) tighter integration of the phones and computers. You pretty much require end-to-end QoS though for guaranteed reliability and clarity of calls. We do pretty go with having QoS working on both ends of the data T1 such that it's not possible to fill the pipe and cause havoc.

Asterisk is really becoming VERY stable over the past few weeks -- I think there are under 8 bugs open in the bugtracker which are preventing 1.0 stable. (yes I realize how funny that sounds)

Satisfied Shoreline customer (2, Interesting)

slappy (31445) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856161)

Well, we just ripped out our (not so old) PBX in favor of the Shoreline [goshoreline.com] VoIP solution and we love it. No more calling in the vendor to move a phone, calling in the vendor to change workgroups, no more calling in the vendor to ... you get it. Now, we take care of everything with a web based admin tool, handle our own hunt groups, moves and adds, etc. Plus, the shoreline system offers soft phones which let you use a usb-headset and their call manager software so you can have an extension on your computer -- or laptop. Just today I worked from home with VPN and a soft phone and had my office extension at my house. Yes, it's pricy, but it rocks!

Re:DISsatisfied Shoreline customer (1)

Cyrano_De (2992) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856649)

We run a shoreline switch where I work. It is pure junk. Nothing but trouble. Constant dropped calls. Horrible sounding music on hold, so much so that just about customer that calls in a hears it complains. We have swapped out the shoregear24 box already, had three separate consultants out to look at it, had Shoreline Engineers connected directly to our system all to no avail. This is all at one location with customers calling in to the DIDs. We are not even talking about office to office calls. At one of the .coms I worked at a couple of years ago we ran nothing but trouble there as well. The company was >500 employees and we ran into user limits in the system. There were only so many T1 units we could have on the system if memory serves me correctly. Shoreline has a VERY long way to go before I would stake my job on them. Not a system to have your company rely on.

Re:DISsatisfied Shoreline customer (1)

Creepy Crawler (680178) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856700)

You know what, I think you responded to a "Plant".

By the way, I've dealt with Shoreline products. That Merlin doesnt sound THAT bad, now does it...

IP for the sake of IP (4, Interesting)

salesgeek (263995) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856302)

Moving to IP based phones can have some great benefits to your company. If you do it right you will end up:

- With almost unlimited flexibility for managing call routing
- Easy integration with databases for tricks like skills based call routing
- Low cost for intra-office communications
- Near perfect support for work from home employees
- Flexibility to set up spot call centers and so on
- Really cool voice mail

Unfortunately, most companies don't use a fraction of the capability of IP phones - a lot of time they end up being used just like the crappy 80's AT&T Merlin they are replacing. Oh yeah - make sure you have a really good SLA on your T's... downtime is SUPER EXPENSIVE when sales and customer service are down.

Enough of the FUD! (5, Informative)

jaredcat (223478) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856394)

Wow there are so many armchair quarterbacks in here it is unbelievable!

I work at a mid-sized telco that heavily relies on IP telephony. To put it simply, this is where things are moving to on the carrier side and the PBX side. The technology is mature. Everyone is using it. 'Nuff Said.

It looks like the poster is looking for a basic IP PBX that does the stuff that pretty much EVERY modern office PBX does. AutoAttendents, lite web client, simple IVR's, voicemails, and being able to interconnect with a T1 are all very standard features.

Having researched the PBX and call center solution for my own company (about 300 users with 100 call center agents), these are my 2 recommendations:

Artisoft Televantage
--------------------
-VERY Inexpensive for small offices like 5-20 people. Pretty average priced when you get up there in the users. Low base cost, high per-seat license cost.
-Supports pretty much EVERY feature under the sun, along with some neat stuff like 'follow me' routing lists, announced hold times, and a free SDK for ODBC integration if you want to build your own IVR's and plugins.
-Televantage runs on standard Intel Dialogic boards, so you can use T1's, DS3's, POTS lines, whatever you want. It also supports something like 1000 SIP users per server if you want to use standard SIP IP phones.
-Biggest disadvantage to TeleVantage is that it runs on a lite version of MS SQL server. On average, we reboot our TeleVantage system about once a month just for stability's sake.

3com NBX SuperStack
--------------------
-The 3com is pretty lite on features though it does cover everything that the poster asked for. Certainly not a solution for a call center, but defenitely a great box for an office environment.
-The 3com box runs Cisco Call Manager which is a plus since the poster specifically said he likes the Cisco stuff.
-The 3com box is very inexpensive for small-to-mid sized offices of like 30-50 people. The license cost and the base cost are both reasonable.
-The 3com box runs the same OS as artificial hearts, so it is VERY VERY VERY stable.
-Disadvantage is that you have to use proprietary 3com phones since insted of going with a standard protocol, 3com uses some Layer2 ultra-efficient monster of a codec that they developed internally.
-Another disadvantage is that if you want to add features that are not available in the 3com SuperStack, you basically have to put them on a seperate box next to the machine. For instance, if you desperately wanted ACD or announced hold times, you'd end up putting a 2nd box just as expensive as a PBX right next to your PBX to handle those calls on pass-through.

Re:Enough of the FUD! (1)

anomalie (693098) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856539)

After some reading, I have the impression that the Artisoft system is fairly easy to expand on?

Thanks for info!

Re:Enough of the FUD! (1)

jaredcat (223478) | more than 10 years ago | (#8857406)

Yeah the Artisoft Televantage system is basically built on Microsoft COM API, Microsft MSDE Database, and Intel Dialogic Hardware. Its got more API's and SDK's than you can shake a stick at and you can pretty much customize and add whatever you like.

Really the only significant drawbacks to the system are 1) lack of robust call center recording, quality monitoring, and reporting features (they are all there, but not as refined as I would like), and 2) stability issues due to being basically a microsoft/intel box.

However, if you're not running a 24-7 operation that considers a few minutes of downtime every week or so to be unacceptable, its a nonissue. Even in a mission critical environment, TV can be relied on quite strongly provided that there are IT staffers on call.

Re:Enough of the FUD! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8858828)

Wow there are so many armchair quarterbacks in here it is unbelievable!

It's Ask Slashdot you retard.

Re:Enough of the FUD! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8859012)

-The 3com box runs Cisco Call Manager which is a plus since the poster specifically said he likes the Cisco stuff.

You're an idiot.

This is false.

VoIP in Reality (3, Informative)

Whatchamacallit (21721) | more than 10 years ago | (#8856549)

Here goes...

We deployed several offices with VoIP in a large enterprise environment. Some offices have more bandwidth then others. The one's with the least bandwidth have more issues with VoIP.

Most problems have to do with initial setup and configuration of the phones. i.e. programming of voice mail, features, etc. The next problem is setting up the routing and networking. Then out of the blue problems with dropped calls, voice mail issues and no incoming calls.

The hardware is only part of the problem. You have a lot of choices to make.

1. Quality phones and PBX gear that's stable and reliable.
2. Bandwidth, enough to handle the load of normal data and VoIP.
3. Quality tech's to set it up the right way. Network engineers to ensure the quality of the data circuits.
4. Quality provider with stable systems. This includes the Internet pipeline / leased line. You need to keep this circuit up and running during business hours. If the network is unstable and computers are disconnected frequently, then you can expect the phones to go with it.

There are advantages to having your data and phones on different systems. The big advantages to VoIP come when you already have circuits in place and you are connecting multiple offices from across the country (or world). This way you can save money on inter-office calls and long distance calls (depending on the provider). Workers can setup VoIP at home and connect it to their Cable modem along with a VPN connection. This makes a lot of sense both technically and financially.

The initial cost of VoIP hardware is justified when you need to service it.

This may be a job for asterisk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8856880)

Sorry to post as an ac.

This may be a job for Asterisk, the price performance ratio on systems running asterisk is absolutely fantastic. You can build alot of redundancy into the systems by being clever with your load balancing / failover practices and distributing services, and the featureset is absolutely first rate. I would seriously recommend paying an Asterisk consultant to do the work though, or at least get you a quote. There are alot of "gotchas" and spending the time to work through it all yourself is an expensive proposition. Sure, there are alot of proprietary solutions that are fantastic, but being able to run these systems on open hardware with the source at hand is a huge boon if you are looking to do any custom integration with existing systems down the line.

I've done this. (4, Informative)

adolf (21054) | more than 10 years ago | (#8857263)

The company I work for recently (~6 months ago) sold a system almost exactly as you describe, to great effect. My job was to make it all work together between them closing one PM, and reopening the next AM. So far, they're quite happy with it.

As configured, it has an LD T1, local DID PRI, auto attendant, VM retrieval by email, slick client-side GUI, about 120 analog (POTS) extensions, a handful of active h.323 IP extensions, and an operator console. Consumes only 4 rack spaces, instead of the couple dozen square feet of wall space occupied by their old switch. 17 PCI slots, hotswap Adaptec RAID, hotswap redundant power supplies, redundant quick-connect fans, audible alarms, gig-o-RAM, backplane, captive screws, yadda, yadda.

80 extensions in one spot, be they IP, analog, or 80 of each, is not a big deal.

Runs Win2k, has a network-operable Win32 GUI for administratia. It'll do all the fancy automatic least-cost call routing you can ask for between branches (via IP, or whatever other means you have). It will also do the remote PBX thing at least as well as anything else available today. Tenant-oriented resource allocation and detailed call reporting (and recording, if that's your gig) will keep the beancounters happy.

It's called Altigen [altigen.com] . It mops the floor with Cisco's paltry offerings, across the board. And it's way, way cheaper.

Questions?

Avaya - IP Office (2)

b00m3rang (682108) | more than 10 years ago | (#8857657)

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned them yet, they have a great line of products.

Re:Avaya - IP Office (1)

b4freedom (541212) | more than 10 years ago | (#8873931)

Avaya Sucks! Customer Service Sucks! Hardware Sucks! Great sales team!!!

IP (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8858165)

I pee.

And, ICUP.

Did you look at... (1)

FreeLinux (555387) | more than 10 years ago | (#8859197)

Did you look at Nortel [nortelnetworks.com] ? These guys have been in the phone business for over 100 years and they know how to do it right. They don't offer "low cost" solutions and definitely don't offer free solutions but, you can't go wrong with their products.

One of the products that might fit your needs very well is their Business Communications Manager [nortelnetworks.com] . It is an all in one box for small businesses and branch offices. The Business Communications Manager(BCM) provides PBX funtionality for IP phones as well as standard analog and digital sets. It offers Interactive Voice Response(IVR), Call Center, Unified Messaging(voice mail, fax email), call routing and much more. Indeed, it offers just about all of the services of a full scale PBX, not a key system, a PBX. On top of all the voice stuff, the BCM also offers WAN routing and internet access features such as firewall, proxy and VPN services. Management is performed via a browser based GUI that is really excellent.

I have used this system on several occassions for international branch offices where, interoffice long distance calls and transfers were done over the internet with good results. Not always perfect results as the internet offers no QoS but good results for the most part. The businesses that use this setup feel that the long distance cost savings have more than made up for the occassional degradation in call quality. By the way, when the internet connection quality degrades to unaccepable levels the system automatically switches to POTS connections for new call setup (not IP calls already in progress). How much does it cost you to route your calls from Canada, South America or Europe to your HQ in the US? For these guys it only costs them the price of the BCM and an internet connection.

Business Idea (1)

Space_Nerd (255762) | more than 10 years ago | (#8862765)

Im trying to come up with a cost effective way to unite two PBX using VOIP. My idea is that since most companys here (hint: third world) are not ready cough up the money to go to full-fledged VOIP, they might be willing to pay for a hybrid-solution: a kind of "point-to-point" line using VOIP, which let's them dial an extension on the other PBX.

Am i just talking funny ? or is this idea doable ? i dont know a lot about PBX, but im learning (working tech support for a call center actually), i would like to know how this if this is doable / get some pointer for it...

My basic idea is to get 2 asteriks boxes talking to each other through VOIP. A user on site A dials the VOIP workgroup, it picks up and asks for a remote extension, and then asterisk routes the call.

The idea seems doable, and i think there is a market here for it. But im a little hazy on the hardware requirements for interfacing asterisk with analog lines. This is actually the point where im lost the most.

Thanks a lot slashdot.

Snom (1)

lathama (639499) | more than 10 years ago | (#8863424)

http://www.snom.com/

I like their systems and they are $200 on the bottom end and go up to $400 on the phones. I mention this because I here the Cisco phones are steep!!! Also have built in switch and POE.

cisco 802.11b voip (1)

KB3JJY (679513) | more than 10 years ago | (#8864196)

cisco and a few other companies offer voip systems with 802.11b enchantments that allows for 802.11b wireless phones

Cheep and Reliable IP Telephony. (1)

Symon_Sayz (771574) | more than 10 years ago | (#8870519)

I really didn't see what you were trying to gain by switching to IP telephony. Most of the features you mentioned can be accomplished using traditional PBX's. The big issue to implement some of these features would be security. Just about any standard voice mail system will give you auto attendant capabilities. You can add equipment to your existing PBX's to convert voice traffic to IP and send it across your network. I highly recommend this approach because you can still fall back to traditional voice circuits if your ip network fails. It is also a better way to make sure your IP network can handle the additional traffic. New IP phones are expensive and the trade in value for most PBX phones is less than 20% of the original purchase price. Unless you have a pressing need for features that only VoIP to the desktop can deliver, you would be better off with VoIP from PBX to PBX.

ignore FUD and investigate the many options (1)

jsailor (255868) | more than 10 years ago | (#8874705)


IP Telephony is a reality. If you have a reliable network than you should investigate it. If you don't have a reliable network, then you've got some other business issues.

The following link is a year old, but provides a good overview of the market:
http://www.nortelnetworks.com/products/01 /eedge/bc m/collateral/nn103560-032103.pdf

All of the major vendors have low-cost small-mid sized solutions that are very price competitive. Those that do a better job in the small-mid size market are:

Avaya - IP office - tends to be expensive - especially for maintenance.
NEC - very competitive on price - excellent integration with aerospace for wireless
Cisco - via CallManager Express (call manager on a router)
Nortel - newer Succession systems are better, phones are old and lesser than the others
Alcatel - can be price competitive. offers a IP adapter for their digital phones so you can upgrade to IP for a small fee.
Shoreline - no experience, but I've heard reasonable things.

For a single office, follow some simple rules.
- Put voice on it's own VLAN and disallow traffic to/from other VLANs
- protect your server IP call server as you would any other business critical server
- plan extensively
- enable simple Qos on your switch for the phones
- pay for Power Over Ethernet capable switches (or powered patch panels)
- connect all relevant components to a UPS
- retain a few POTS lines for emergency purposes
don't forget analog/IP adapters for fax machines and modems.
- manage your data network better. there are many free tools available

How about this for a solution (1)

VoIPPaul (771737) | more than 10 years ago | (#8877084)

We are Altigen resellers. It's an inexpensive, reliable phone system that supports VoIP, analog and digital interfaces in a mixed environment. It has all the features you'd expect and a few you wouldn't. Check out the company page (www.altigen.com) and if you're interested, email our sales@ivrusa.com for a quote and demonstration of the product. Make sure to mention slashdot in your email.

cost? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8883752)

i recently went through the process of researching and purchasing a new telephone system for our company. while we're a little smaller, our requirements are similar.

we ultimately decided on the 3Com SuperStack3 NBX.

at first, we weren't looking at VOIP because we felt it would be cost prohibitive. not the case:

- while the individual handsets are more expensive, the base unit is more affordable than a comparible PBX.

- the 3Com has features built into it that are extra on a comparible PBX, including voicemail and basic call reporting. once you've factored in additional cost for hardware, licensing, additional cards, management software... the PBX solution was actually more expensive.

- this nonsense about the phones being down whenever the network is... maybe. depending on your configuration. if you isolate your telephone system on its own segment, and have POTS rollover for your PRI, you can eliminate a lot of potential headaches. and service provider failure is just as much of an issue with standard PBX.

- and lastly, every company selling traditional PBX is selling a VOIP hybrid. why? because they all intend to move in that direction over the next 5 years and don't want to strand their current customer base. companies like 3Com and Cisco have no such customers to be concerned with.

we compared with a Toshiba CTX650 PBX and an NEC NEAX system.

apples to apples the 3Com was cheaper and did more.
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