Tidewater Four Ten-Oh-Nine
March 16, 2005 12:35 PM   Subscribe

I need a phone system for a small (1-5) person business. [+]

Currently we have one line and we're using SBC voicemail--if I'm on the phone and someone calls, the caller is switched into voicemail, and you have to remember to check for the "boop-boop-boop-boop" stuttering dialtone if someone has called and left a message. We're going to need multiple lines and (maybe) separate voicemail--I believe the previous tenant had such a system since this phone box is mounted near the standard phone jack.

How do I install multiple lines? Can I do it myself? Is there a cheap workaround or a better solution? Can I keep using my vintage touchtone phone, or will I need to buy special phones? If so, do you have any recommendations? If I can't do it myself, what should I know about ordering such a system so SBC doesn't charge us to "install" the box and hit us with all sorts of added expenses?
posted by fandango_matt to Technology (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Here's the existing phone box, left behind by the previous tenant.

posted by fandango_matt at 12:38 PM on March 16, 2005

I've heard a lot of positive reviews for Asterisk, "The Open Source Linux PBX". Depending on how comfortable you are with the technology, this would be a great and relatively inexpensive option. There are "Setting Up Asterisk" guides out there to get you started. If I were setting up a small office this is what I'd use, but I'm used to mucking around in linux.
posted by sohcahtoa at 1:20 PM on March 16, 2005

Asterix may be a good solution, albeit a more complicated one. What you are probably looking for is a cheap KSU; Basically you'll have a DMARC point, where the SBS lines will "come in" to your building. The picture looks like a regular punch down block. Wires typically run from the Dmarc to the punch down block, and from the block to a ksu; Barring creating an open source pbx, you'll probably have to spend around 2-3 grand for a ksu, possible with the phones you would need. I'd suggest buying used equipment on the cheap. Something like a starplus system. It really boils down to how many lines you want, are these lines hunted, etc. Are their jacks wired about the place? If you give more details I might be more helpful.
posted by AllesKlar at 1:37 PM on March 16, 2005

Excuse my lazy typing, incorrect word usage, etc. You get the gist
posted by AllesKlar at 1:43 PM on March 16, 2005

that's funny; my work decided to look into this today. We were thinking about buying an el cheapo pbx from one of those companies that sells on ebay (in this case datalabs) Anybody know if these are any good or crap? Are we going to have to run new lines into the office so we have four incoming lines?

on another related subject for us, how do those fax switch thingies work? Are they *all* done with distinctive ring? Because we want it to tell whether it's a fax or a caller and route it accordingly, not send everything on one line to the fax (which if i understand it correctly, distinctive ring would be used for).

the asterisk thing looks crazy expensive, because the hardware ain't cheap. maybe i just need to find a howto that tells you what inexpensive hardware you can use.
posted by fishfucker at 1:51 PM on March 16, 2005

I'd suggest Asterisk as well. I've played with it a bit, and it's very nice. Otherwise, if it's a small system you're after, Panasonic has some nice options if you just need a few phones. Two of my friends went with Panasonic systems in their small offices and love them.
posted by raster at 1:55 PM on March 16, 2005

There are some fax switch systems that listen for the fax CNG tones that fax machines make when dialing out. Voice callers calling in will probably hear silence or dummy ringing while the fax switch tries to determine if they're a person or not.
posted by zsazsa at 2:10 PM on March 16, 2005

You might also want to look into a service provider such as Access Line.
posted by donovan at 2:11 PM on March 16, 2005

Covad now provides VOIP for small businesses, with web administration. I saw their pitch, seemed pretty slick. We don't use them, but in my experience (~40 users), with the smaller number of users outsourcing is the way to go (no local PBX box!).

If you still want to do it yourself, there's the aforementioned Asterix and SipX which is reportedly easier to set up, but has less features (SIP (a voice over IP protocol) only). You can use your analog phone with either of these systems, but an adapter may be needed if you're going with a strictly IP solution.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 2:22 PM on March 16, 2005

I should probably add I have no idea what the acronyms VOIP, PBX, DMARC, KSU, SBS and all the others mean. I know how to plug the phone into the wall jack, and that's it.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:28 PM on March 16, 2005

I know how to plug the phone into the wall jack, and that's it.

In that case, it's most likely best you consult someone in your area who might be able to setup a system like this.
posted by dflemingdotorg at 2:46 PM on March 16, 2005

Packet8 offers a "Hosted PBX" system that sounds like it'd be right up your alley. It's roughly similar to running an asterisk PBX, except they do all the hard parts for you; all you need is an internet connection with sufficient bandwidth and you're all set. Prices look reasonable and I've had good experiences with their home product.

Oh, it appears that their hosted pbx thing is called "Virtual Office" and can be found here.
posted by AaronRaphael at 3:48 PM on March 16, 2005

Mmm... Can I have your Ericofon if it doesn't work with the new system?
posted by astruc at 5:23 PM on March 16, 2005

the asterisk thing looks crazy expensive, because the hardware ain't cheap. maybe i just need to find a howto that tells you what inexpensive hardware you can use.

Fishfucker - Asterisk will run quite happily on whatever old P-3 class PC hardware you have sitting around or can get for $100 off of eBay, and handsets run from $69 to $500... or you can just use what's called a "Soft Phone" and your computer's sound card with a headset and headphones. All you need is SIP-compatible hardware. Go to the Asterisk Wiki or search on ebay for "SIP phone" and you should find plenty. Cards for T-1 or POTS are also cheap and can be had either on eBay or from your telecom provider.
posted by SpecialK at 6:25 PM on March 16, 2005

I have all the same problems right now and have been researching exactly the same thing. I'm looking into Norstar for the very near future when we move into our real office space. Pretty sure I can get multiple lines, multiple VM boxes with easy transfer from live call to intended box, plus hold music and compatible cordless units. It's going to run us about $2500-$3000 CAD (including equipment for 4 stations) and takes about 3-4 weeks to deliver, but I don't have to do anything beyond determine the configuration and order it. Best part is that whatever 3rd party I end up going with will have to deal with Telus (again, Canadian) on my behalf, which ought to save me about an hour a day. Not kidding.
posted by mireille at 6:38 PM on March 16, 2005

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