VOIP and Asterisk Overview

By now most people have heard of the open source PBX Asterisk and what it can do, but how does this translate in to savings for your tiny business? I have written this brief HOWTO to show the way it’s saved my company over $450 per month by leveraging the synergy of open source program and VOIP.

Why use VOIP?

The cost savings from using VOIP (Voice Over IP) over the traditional PSTN (public switched phone network) are tremendous. By eliminating the necessity for using traditional phone companies pricey infrastructure (a switched phone line originating at your office and terminating at your customer’s), a tiny business can eliminate the necessity to pay per-minute long distance fees and outrageous access charges levied by Ma Bell to make use of their antiquated phone network.

Why use Asterisk?

Someone that has started up a new business office knows behind labor and their leased space, rings often rank third. For one you must buy or lease a PBX (personal branch exchange) from a company like Avaya. On top of the lease for equipment you pay for the actual lines and usage charges for local and long distance calls. If your business has a high call volume you could basically be paying a tiny fortune. Asterisk was created by Mark Spencer the CTO of Digium and is licensed under the GPL which has attracted lots of third party add ons that increase its functionality. What does this mean for the tiny business owner? No program licensing fees, no hardware leasing and the power of a fully functional pbx with robust features built for voip

This sounds great!

How do I start saving cost with Asterisk?
The Main PLAN

There’s a few steps that they must take in order to start with our new high tech phone technique.

1.Choose a VOIP provider
2.Choose a broadband net provider (DSL/T1)
3.Purchase a computer to put in Asterisk on
4.Install Asterisk
5.Purchase Rings
6.Configure Asterisk to Communicate with Provider

Choosing a VOIP Provider

For my new office they selected Inphonex. They offer limitless 1-800 calling designs which was important to us as they have a high inbound call volume and must offer an 800 number. xctel is Asterisk-Friendly, and was the only business class service that offered an limitless 800 plan. They are based out of Frankfurt and have written a HOWTO on how to setup asterisk servers to connect to their service as well. After five months I haven’t experienced any down time with their service.
There’s a few other providers I thought about such as Teliax,T elasip, viatalk. Perhaps someone could post in comments about their service or others?

Choosing A Internet Provider

When choosing a broadband provider there’s several considerations to take in to consideration. The most important is the number of rings your company will need along with the compression codecs the provider supports. My new office requires only 4 rings at the moment. There’s several bandwidth calculators that can guide you through your choice of necessary ip bandwidth and codec choice. A quick check of the Inphonex net site shows what codecs they supports. They offer support for several codecs including G.723, G.729a, G.726 ulaw and alaw. This provides you with some compression options in case you need several lines over a DSL line.

Making Ready Your Server

I built a bare bones computer by purchasing a case, motherboard, cpu, hard drive and network card at NewEgg. Any elderly computer will do, but beginning on a fresh machine ensures to some extent that parts will work for some time to come. Since this machine isn’t running any Microsoft bloatware, the machine doesn’t need to be a supercomputer. My computer cost a total of $150. One of the advantages of running it on a linux server is that you can SSH in to the machine remotely and manage it or you can access the net enabled GUI. I am using trixbox which comes with FreePBX already installed which makes managing your asterisk server simple even if you’ve never used linux or SSH before.

Installing Asterisk

I have installed asterisk on several different linux distros but the simplest way to get asterisk up and running on a dedicated server is to download trixbox. Trixbox is fundamentally a linux distribution that grew out of the Asterisk At Home distribution of a few years back. AsterikNow makes use of a database back finish to store configuration values but other than that it is similar to a typical Asterisk server compiled from the vanilla source. AsteriskNow also bundles in several features including an apache server, mysql database, web based management, and community based forums that are helpful in solving configuration issues.

You will need to:

Download an ISO Image from Asterisk
Read the quick start guide
Refer to the Asterisk forums for help