Phone Equipment
September 20, 2012 6:20 AM   Subscribe

Where can I get cheap PBX phone-exchange switching equipment?

If I want to set up my house like a small business, and have land-line phones that could call each other using a three-digit extension, what kind of PBX equipment can I get that would provice a dialtone and power to POTS phones? I have lots of copper wires and lots of phones, I just need the central core.
posted by shipbreaker to Technology (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You can use this and asterix to setup a linux based pbx.
posted by majortom1981 at 6:31 AM on September 20, 2012

Fred Wilson just posted a blog entry about his phone setup. He uses a Panasonic KX-TGP500 SIP DECT Phone System with a VOIP PBX called Onsip. Might be what you're looking for.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:37 AM on September 20, 2012

You can use Asterisk and a set of FXS cards in a cheap PC.

FXS cards provide power and dialtone to 2-wire phones (pots). FXO cards can accept analog phone lines, if you still have those.

I'm currently using Asterisk (although with Sangoma T1 cards and IP phones) to run a 50 person office.
posted by mu at 6:59 AM on September 20, 2012

Asterisk is probably going to be at the core of any solution. You can either install it yourself, or get one of the many pre-rolled PBX distributions (recommended).

There are a couple of ways of attaching extensions:

1. You can get FXS cards, as mu suggests, which you then wire up to each extension. This requires that each phone be "home run" to the location where the server is being kept. There used to be a way to use certain types of PCI faxmodems as cheap one-line FXS cards, but I don't know if that's still supported, and these days it may be harder to find the right kind of modem than it is to just buy a legitimate FXS.

2. You can use an Ethernet-to-POTS Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA) for each extension. This means no phone wiring; everything is done over the premises Ethernet, which presumably you already have. But each of the boxes has to be configured individually, which can be a PITA to manage if it's more than just a few.

3. You can ditch your analog phones completely and get SIP phones, which are like an analog phone and ATA in one unit. They plug into Ethernet rather than into an analog phone line, and communicate with the PBX (and through it, the outside world) over SIP exclusively. These tend to be fairly pricey but you can get inexpensive ones from no-name Chinese manufacturers pretty inexpensively now. If you've been in a newly-refurbished office recently, you've probably used phones like this (Ciscos are very popular in the corporate world). Although beware buying corporate-surplus equipment, some of it is not compatible with Asterisk.

Just as an aside, if you are going to pull any new wire, for the love of all that is good in the world pull Cat5E or something decent; don't pull crummy old Cat3, or worse yet untwisted phone wiring. The cost of wire is so low compared to the labor to install it, and having Cat5E in the walls is so much more useful, that it doesn't make sense to do anything else.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:11 AM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kadin2048 is spot on.
As for a nice package ready to roll is PBX in a flash. I have been running it for years. It works great.
As for phones, I run Cisco, Polycom, Linksys, Aastra and Dreamwave. If you are going to go with Asterisk you will want to stay away from the Cisco phones. They are nice but don't play well with Asterisk. If you have a lot of analog phones and want to go that route it might be worthwhile to look at some Linksys ata's (PAP2T-NA). But if you can swing it, go all VOIP. I would highly suggest the Aastra phones. You can find a lot of support for them.
posted by Climber at 11:57 AM on September 20, 2012

Seconding PBX-in-a-flash, or else Trixbox. You want something that packages Asterisk+FreePBX. You may prefer to use standalone ATAs or a media gateway rather than cards in the actual PBX computer to handle the extensions. You can use fully digital trunks through VOIP providers to reach the PSTN, rather than copper lines (e.g. POTS or a PRI).
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:58 PM on September 27, 2012

Just as an aside, if you are going to pull any new wire, for the love of all that is good in the world pull Cat5E or something decent

These days installers will tell you to pull CAT6 instead of 5E.

Here's a link to voip-info's page on media gateways, so the above makes more sense.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:11 AM on September 30, 2012

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