PBX, VoIP & Telecom FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions about IP telephony

 

Answers to many IP-PBX and hosted VoIP Questions. Key questions about open source Asterisk and how it has effected telephone systems answered.

What is IP telephony?
What is an IP-PBX?
What is Asterisk?
What is an Asterisk based PBX?
What are the Asterisk based IP-PBXs that users can self manage?
Which IP phones are best for an in-house Asterisk based IP-PBX?
What are the benefits of using an IP-PBX with underlying open source?
Will an Asterisk based IP-PBX deliver more features than a traditional PBX?
What are the advantages of an IP-PBX?
What features are typically included in an open source Asterisk IP-PBX?

 

Best PBX Brands

 

What are the most recognized PBX brands?
What are the advantages of a traditional PBX?
Do traditional PBX manufacturers offer systems tailored for particular industry niches?

 

Hosted VoIP Companies

Why choose hosted VoIP as a service?
Which hosted VoIP company offers the best service?
What are the unique advantages of hosted business VoIP?
What are virtual business phone systems?

VoIP

What is VoIP?
How does VoIP work?
What kind of Internet connection do I need for VoIP?
Can I use my computer when I am on the VoIP phone?
What are the advantages of VoIP?
Are there considerations with VoIP?
What is a Hosted PBX?
Is Hosted VoIP right for my business?
What phones would you recommend for using with a Hosted VoIP service?

Asterisk UC Appliances and the Telecom Industry

 

Has the affordability of some Asterisk IP PBX appliances brought down other telecom PBX costs?
What effects on the telecom industry has IP as a whole had?
How are Asterisk appliances using FreePBX and other similar GUIs different than traditional IP PBXs GUIs?
Are non-telecom people able to manage small Asterisk appliances?

 

What is IP telephony?

IP telephony is the transmission of voice over the Internet (VoIP). This transmission can include either the LAN or the WAN.

What is an IP-PBX?

An IP-PBX is a complete telephony system that manages telephones throughout an organization. It acts as a gateway to both voice and data and allows calls to be made over a network instead of a normal telephone infrastructure. Results are seen with increased features with convergence with other network applications and saves money over more traditional based phone systems. An IP-PBX phone system can connect to traditional PSTN connections, a PRI (Private Rate Interface), as well as to the Internet via SIP trunking.

What is Asterisk?

Asterisk represents the leading open source PBX software available today and it allows connectivity to both the PSTN and VoIP networks. It has proven to both reliable and stable in the hundreds of thousands of installations worldwide. Having dominated the market since its inception, Asterisk has confirmed itself to be a robust, PBX software whose open-source code can be engineered to accomplish numerous features sets. Additional applications and improvements to Asterisk are continually being written by the open-source community and are readily available. Using open source Asterisk along with other open source software allowed companies an easier path to design and offer hosted VoIP services than having to build everything from scratch. Much of the early 2000's development of hosted VoIP services were the direct outcome from open-source projects with Asterisk being an integral part. SIP allowed for the adoption of hosted VoIP. By 2015 two-thirds of all US business lines are VoIP based. Without the use of these license free platforms early on we would not be experiencing the robust hosted VoIP services we see today. As 2020 ends more companies are using VoIP PBXs and hosted VoIP providers to connect remote workers from anywhere.

What is an Asterisk based PBX?

An Asterisk based PBX is one that uses Asterisk as its PBX software. Typically sitting on Linux, as an operating system, both are open source software which greatly lowers the cost of these feature rich business phone systems. In some cases, an "Asterisk PBX" may have been configured and engineered with software designs that overlay Asterisk and in a sense lock it down and re-engineer it. These types of PBXs then market their PBX software as unique and may or may not charge some licensing fees, but in many cases most of the core operating system is based upon open source Asterisk.

What are the Asterisk based IP-PBXs that users can self manage?

Traditional business phone systems were proprietary, often having software that quite frankly one would have to take numerous classes in to understand and navigate. Asterisk based appliances with FreePbx or a similar GUI are designed for intuitive administration and can be fairly easy to navigate. For owners who are computer savvy and have some network knowledge several companies manufacture well designed appliances that can be self managed. A few small business systems that would be recommended are Grandstream's 6200 series IP-PBXs and Sangoma's PBXact or Sangoma's FreePBX UC systems. Yeastar makes another excellent IP-PBX server that is highly regarded and has a well thought out GUI.

Which IP phones are best for an in-house Asterisk based IP-PBX?

There are many good SIP based IP phones which work well with an Asterisk based PBX phone system. Some manufacturers are Polycom (now Poly), Grandstream, Digium, Sangoma and Yealink. All of these companies make very good phones at very reasonable prices, so a lot of the decision making will be based on affordability and features. However, we would recommend in most cases that if you are going to get a specific manufacturer of an Asterisk IP-PBX appliance, then get the same manufacturer's phones. For instance the UMC 6202/4 is setup to auto-provision Grandstream's GXP IP phones. Likewise, Sangoma's UC appliances will work exceptionally well with their own SIP phones. Yealink does extremely well with Yeastar.

What are the benefits of using an IP-PBX with underlying open source?

Benefits range from great stability and a lower cost for users through community based continuous development and widespread technical support information. Like well known open source developments such as, Linux and Apache Web Server, Asterisk benefits from high performance and customizable functionality. In addition, as new applications come forth they will be made available to the general public, which will significantly lower the long term cost of an IP-PBX built with an open source software. As companies proceed they customize their underlying code and build upon it to create an Asterisk-based PBX without the need to start from the bottom up.

Will an Asterisk based IP-PBX deliver more features than a traditional PBX?

Possibly yes, however many other PBX systems compete effectively well. Although some Asterisk based IP-PBXs have more features than others, they all were built upon an open source PBX software and have available many applications from the open source community which can be incorporated into their IP-PBX. Then some companies lock down and individualize their software for their particular PBX. Getting the "most system" available for for a price will result in getting an Asterisk-based IP-PBX that offers the right features at an affordable price. Especially when compared to some traditional manufacturer's PBXs, which charge additional fees for add-on feature sets. An example might be the need to record calls. Recording calls can be an added advanced feature for a hosted PBX company that comes with an extra charge, however in the last few years most hosted VoIP providers now offer a plan with call recording included. Recording calls on a typical traditional PBX branded manufacturer, like NEC or Avaya would require extra hardware and extra costs. Many PBXs that are based on Asterisk have that option included with no extra license cost.

What are the advantages of an IP-PBX?

Using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) allows for expansion of a business office phone system to include other branch offices or even remote workers with extension dialing. Calling using the Internet greatly reduces telephone costs and allows for easy expansion or adding new extensions. A remote worker can just plug into their Internet connection from any location and connect up the the IP-PBX using extension dialing and other features. IP-PBXs enable calls to be made using IP networks from one location to another even if the remote location were located in another country, resulting in significant savings.

What features are typically included in an open-source Asterisk IP-PBX?

An Asterisk PBX is routinely a feature rich and robust business phone system and will offer both traditional PBX functionality, as well as more advanced features found with VoIP systems. Asterisk based systems might contain nearly all of the features that a buyer would expect to find in an enterprise class PBX including directory-based voicemail, voicemail to email, conference calling, interactive voice response (IVR), three-way calling, caller ID, and call queues. There are in fact many more features, with many additional applications being written by the open source community which are freely available. Developers are continually building upon the platform creating business opportunities to offer highly effective solutions. Many of these unique systems can be found in business today. Hosted VoIP systems have taken the forefront in recently developing advanced communications features. With multi-channel communications becoming the present day need, companies are finding that some providers are integrating advanced apps that deliver chat, phone and video all from one integrated application. Additionally, integration with many well known business CRM software packages is standard.

 

What are the most recognized traditional PBX brands?

Currently, the most prominent brands of traditional PBX servers and phone systems would include Avaya, Samsung, ShorteTel, NEC, Mitel and Cisco. There are many others, this being a short list of the most prominent companies. Avaya may be the most recognized name and many systems are installed worldwide. Well-known PBX brands are from manufacturers that offer some of the best systems and have developed PBX phone systems over many years. Challenges in the telecom industry has led several large companies to seek bankruptcy, however the companies that exist today offer systems that are well regarded.

What are the advantages of a traditional PBX?

Traditional PBX systems have years of development which has resulted from providing telecom services to thousands of different types of companies. Traditional PBX manufacturers typically offer their products through vendors who must be trained in installation, configuration and repair. These vendors usually offer service agreements to customers for ongoing maintenance and administration.

Do traditional PBX manufacturers offer systems tailored for particular industry niches?

Yes, one of the most significant advantages of choosing a specific on-premise PBX is its individual strengths for a particular situation. For instance, Avaya produces systems that can adapt well to hybrid installations where some phones will remain digital and others will be IP using VoIP. Several PBX manufacturers offer industry specific phone systems. Hotels and hospitality find certain phone systems are considerably better than others for their type of operations.


How does VoIP work?

First, voice is converted by a device from an analog signal to a digital signal. It is then sent over the Internet where it will be converted back to an analog signal for the remaining distance over a traditional circuit switch (PSTN). The device can be an ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter), computer (softphone) or a IP-PBX.


What kind of Internet connection do I need for VoIP?

VoIP connections typically require a broadband Internet connection such as DSL or Cable, T1, or others, (PRI, wireless, etc.). Generally, depending on variables such as the Codec in use, a connection should have at least 100kbps on both the upload and download for one connection. In an office environment where multiple lines are being used it is important to have enough bandwidth to handle both the simultaneous calls and data needs. Compressed voice Codecs can be used which require less bandwidth (G729).

Can I use my computer when I am on the VoIP phone?

Yes, you can work on the computer while on the VoIP phone. They should not conflict with each other as long as there is enough bandwidth.

What are the advantages of VoIP?

There are several advantages to VoIP over a traditional phone service, such as, price, portability, and extra features. Many VoIP providers allow unlimited calls throughout the US and Canada at one low monthly fee. The taxation and regulation of VoIP is less than traditional phone service making the cost cheaper. A person can pick a number rather than be locked into certain area codes and prefixes. With many providers numerous features are offered as part of the basic monthly fee, such as call waiting, call forwarding, voicemail, call forwarding on busy, etc.

Are there considerations with VoIP?

There are several considerations when using VoIP as the only connection. These considerations will also depend on if you are a small business or a residential user. Some of these would include integration of other services such as faxing, alarms, elevator phones and credit card machines. These services may not work correctly over a VoIP connection and in many cases a copper line should be kept for their connections. If the connection is DSL then many providers require that a phone number and account also be kept fro the DSL line. Available bandwidth, as well as the network stability are also important considerations that could affect quality.

What is a Hosted PBX?

A Hosted PBX is a VoIP business phone system where the "PBX Hardware" (PBX server) resides at the provider. Also known as a Cloud PBX or Cloud phone service, Hosted business VoIP offers a financial advantage, as well as reduces installation and management time and expenses. Usually rich in features, a hosted PBX can save significant upfront hardware charges because the PBX software/hardware sits remotely at the provider's facility and connection is made through the Internet. Typically the only hardware that would need to be purchased would be desk phones, however some providers like Grasshopper have a service that is designed more for remote on the go small businesses and use existing cell phones to connect.

Is Hosted VoIP right for my business?

Hosted VoIP is an excellent service especially for companies with between 2 and 100 employees. Not only is it cost effective compared to a traditional PBX phone system, most VoIP providers have reasonable calling rates, with some having plans that include unlimited* minutes per month inside the US and Canada. So, yes, Hosted VoIP might just be the right choice for your company. Additionally, remote workers can connect very easily as if in the office and setup and configuration can be done by non-professional personnel.

Why choose hosted VoIP as a service?

Hosted VoIP services are exceptionally well designed phone systems. They remain easy to install, quick to get up and operating and can bring significant savings. Instead of buying and installing on premise equipment, signing up for hosted VoIP services typically only require phones. You could actually use your computer and a headset for even less of an initial expense. Many businesses have come to realize the many benefits of a cloud based PBX including using at home workers which become easy to get setup and connected and where the provider offers support as part of monthly fee.

Which hosted VoIP company offers the best service?

There is no one best hosted VoIP company or service. No one provider is just right for everyone. There are, however many really good hosted VoIP providers that deliver excellent platforms at a reasonable price. That is why we suggest doing some initial research to find which provider might be best for you.

What are the unique advantages of hosted business VoIP?

Among the many benefits of a hosted VoIP service, are a few that are often overlooked. One is that when a company signs up for services from a business hosted VoIP provider they not only get a great phone system, they also get a partner who is constantly maintaining and upgrading their systems. Secondly, when an unexpected change in operations come about, much like what has happened with the need to work from home due to social distancing, the provider already provides a platform where establishing home workers is simple and integration with other apps can be quickly carried out. And thirdly, administration of the system is more straight-forward than any other type of phone system allowing for cost savings over time.

What are virtual business phone systems?

Virtual phone systems typically use only virtual numbers or DIDs that then get forwarded to a "real" phone number. A real number can connect to the PTSN, unlike a virtual number which is forwarded. Virtual business phone system providers offer PBX features that often include multiple ways to handle incoming calls to the virtual number. These features typically are an auto-attendant, extension dialing, time restrictions, voicemail, music or message on hold, etc. Two well known companies that offer a virtual phone service are Grasshopper and MightyCall.

What is VoIP?

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is a technology that allows voice to be sent over the Internet. In most cases calls are set up using SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and these trunks then establish a call with an Internet Phone Service Provider traveling over a broadband Internet connection (DSL, Cable, T1, ISDN). Subscribing to a VoIP provider allows a person to make phone calls over the Internet, saving on toll charges both domestically and Internationally.


How does VoIP work?

First, voice is converted by a device from an analog signal to a digital signal. It is then sent over the Internet where it will be converted back to an analog signal for the remaining distance over a traditional circuit switch (PSTN). The device can be an ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter), computer (softphone) or a IP-PBX.


What kind of Internet connection do I need for VoIP?

VoIP connections typically require a broadband Internet connection such as DSL or Cable, T1, or others, (PRI, wireless, etc.). Generally, depending on variables such as the Codec in use, a connection should have at least 100kbps on both the upload and download for one connection. In an office environment where multiple lines are being used it is important to have enough bandwidth to handle both the simultaneous calls and data needs. Compressed voice Codecs can be used which require less bandwidth (G729).

Can I use my computer when I am on the VoIP phone?

Yes, you can work on the computer while on the VoIP phone. They should not conflict with each other as long as there is enough bandwidth.

What are the advantages of VoIP?

There are several advantages to VoIP over a traditional phone service, such as, price, portability, and extra features. Many VoIP providers allow unlimited calls throughout the US and Canada at one low monthly fee. The taxation and regulation of VoIP is less than traditional phone service making the cost cheaper. A person can pick a number rather than be locked into certain area codes and prefixes. With many providers numerous features are offered as part of the basic monthly fee, such as call waiting, call forwarding, voicemail, call forwarding on busy, etc.

Are there considerations with VoIP?

There are several considerations when using VoIP as the only connection. These considerations will also depend on if you are a small business or a residential user. Some of these would include integration of other services such as faxing, alarms, and credit card machines. These services may not work correctly over a VoIP connection and in many cases a copper line should be kept to connect up to. If the connection is DSL then many providers require that a phone number and account also be kept fro the DSL line. Available bandwidth, as well as the network stability are also important considerations that could affect quality.

What is a Hosted PBX?

A Hosted PBX is a VoIP business phone system where the "PBX Hardware" (PBX server) resides at the provider. Also known as a Cloud PBX or Cloud phone service, Hosted business VoIP offers a financial advantage, as well as reduces installation and management time and expenses. Usually rich in features, a hosted PBX can save significant upfront hardware charges because the PBX software/hardware sits remotely at the provider's facility and connection is made through the Internet. Typically the only hardware that would need to be purchased would be desk phones, however some providers like Grasshopper have a service that is designed more for remote on the go small businesses and use existing cell phones to connect.

Is Hosted VoIP right for my business?

Hosted VoIP is an excellent service especially for companies with between 2 and 100 employees. Not only is it cost effective compared to a traditional PBX phone system, most VoIP providers have reasonable calling rates, with some having plans that include unlimited* minutes per month inside the US and Canada. So, yes, Hosted VoIP might just be the right choice for your company. Additionally, remote workers can connect very easily as if in the office and setup and configuration can be done by non-professional personnel.

What phones would you recommend for using with a Hosted VoIP service?

Most VoIP providers have specific IP based SIP phones that they use with their services, so we would always recommend choosing a provider first and then depending on what's compatible, get the ones that they recommend. Some services offer packages that might come with IP phones, another reason to shop with the provider first. Typical phones that many providers do work with are Polycom and Yealink. Some top SIP phone picks would be Polycom, Yealink, Sangoma, and Grandstream. Each manufacturer has several models that offer a reange of features at very good prices. Most cloud PBX providers will have a list of preferred suggested phones.

Has the affordability of some Asterisk IP PBX appliances brought down other telecom PBX costs?

Yes, many traditional telecom companies have found themselves facing stiff competition from open source Asterisk based systems and the companies who have used Asterisk for their own IP PBXs. This has lead to lower prices in general and lower licensing fees for traditionally priced proprietary PBX companies. Some of these traditional companies have faced thinner margins causing financial issues, including chapter 13 protections and industry consolidation. Hosted VoIP providers have taken the lead in gaining customers where cloud based applications becoming more and more the norm. Many existing traditional PBX manufacturers are now including cloud solutions in their offerings.

What effects on the telecom industry has IP as a whole had?

IP has afforded benefits in gains toward the goal of unified communications. The traditional PBX systems of the past are no longer being designed as they once were, but as new models come out they are striving to create more standardized GUIs and norms from the computer world. IP has caused a change in wiring infrastructure where all cabling is now data cables rather than older telecom only wiring.

How are Asterisk appliances using FreePBX and other similar GUIs different than traditional IP PBXs GUIs?

Traditional PBX companies started many years ago before personal computers, Windows and other systems we now take for granted were mainstream. This caused many telecom companies to keep tracking down the same paths building on previous models, but never fully revamping their proprietary systems. FreePBX, an open source GUI which is made for Asterisk and some GUIs built off of it, have created systems that are intuitive for data people and easier to understand and manage. This has created an additional cost savings demand for these Asterisk based systems rather than getting a proprietary PBX and having to hire telecom vendors at additional expenses to handle their phone systems.

Are non-telecom people able to manage small Asterisk appliances?

Yes, however they probably should have a good understanding of networking. Many Asterisk based systems are built with the data person in mind and some companies understand that many buyers want to install and manage their systems themselves. Managing your own PBX has some advantages in being able to completely customize service for your companies' needs and picking SIP trunk providers for lower costs, however the easiest self management type of business phone system would probably be using a hosted or cloud PBX service.