(I Don't Want to Have) Telephony Nightmares
January 15, 2015 4:28 PM   Subscribe

I am searching for an inexpensive way to provide phone service for a small business.

It seems like I have two obvious options:

1. Run my own Asterisk server and use FlowRoute (or a similar wholesale SIP/PSTN gateway). The con is that I'm responsible for all the security, maintenance, management and deployment of all the equipment and the configuration and that to handle this, I need to learn all about SIP/VOIP/Telephony/other daunting, esoteric things. (I am fairly technically competent, but this stuff looks complicated.) The pro is cost: FlowRoute charges a about a cent a minute (for United States calls, where I am) and allows concurrent connections. This means that in theory, if I successfully set up an Asterisk server at my office and everyone at the office spends 100 hours on the phone in a given month (between me and the other 3 people who work here), I'm paying $60 (not including the monthly charge for the DID number)--even less if I use their unlimited inbound option.

2. Go with a turnkey cloud provider (8X8, Jive, RingCentral) and pay somewhere $30 per month per phone. The con is cost: If I have five operational phones, that's $150 plus taxes and fees (which in Florida, where I live, are outrageously high)--I'll ballpark it at $200 a month. I've gone through a handful of providers and this seems like the going rate for turnkey cloud SIP providers. (From what I can ascertain, FlowRoute sidesteps the tax issue somehow. I have no idea how--something to do with not being an 'official phone company'?) The pro is that everything is already done and they all have very ABC-123 interfaces for configuring the dialplans and such and have technical support available.

Is there some cost model in between these two options? One who has the standard telephony options we all know and love figured out (autoattendant with voice prompts, voicemail, follow me, internal intercom, conferencing and so on) that can run a secure Asterisk (or whatever--I don't care what it is, as long as it does what I want) server and let me configure it and tailor it to my needs--and charge a flat monthly rate for this privilege--but let me use my own SIP/PSTN gateway provider or provide SIP at a comparable cost?
posted by ostranenie to Computers & Internet (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We use OpenVBX/Twilio.

OpenVBX is not quite as complete or end-user friendly as I would really prefer, but it does work--at least the basics do--and if you have a few technical chops you can tweak things the work just the way you would like.
posted by flug at 9:10 PM on January 15, 2015

Best answer: What you're looking for isn't actually that complex if you're using a solution like Elastix and it is all IP. The first key thing regarding security is to ensure that you have your packages up to date and you have all unnecessary services/ports firewalled to be inaccessible from outside your network, just like you would any server. The second is to ensure that any dial out capability is secured by strong passwords or PINs. That's your belt.

The suspenders is monitoring your CDRs regularly to make sure that nobody has found a way in. You'll notice when your account balance suddenly starts decreasing faster than usual.

As far as what you'll need, you'll probably want at least one landline for emergencies, as it is considered bad form to have the system go out and leave the office with no way to dial 911. Beyond that, a PC of any recent vintage with good network cards and the space for 2 disks so you can run software RAID or one of the purpose built boxes can serve as the server. You'll be best off with a separate network for the phones, so you'll want a (preferably managed) switch that does PoE and a UPS to plug them both into. (In the past, I've seen turnkey boxes that have a built in PoE switch) You'll also need phones, of course, but if you're not interfacing with analog lines or a legacy system, that is it.

Feel free to MeMail me if you have any more specific questions regarding hardware, phones, etc. My knowledge isn't as up to date as it once was, since my installs were all years ago and have been humming along with minimal maintenance since, but I find Asterisk pretty entertaining aland wouldn't mind an excuse to see what's new in the market.(just not at 4AM ;))
posted by wierdo at 1:04 AM on January 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Skype and USB handsets, if you need handsets at all? Premium Skype with a phone number and unlimited calling to in the US and Canada is less than $10 a month, and it'll forward to a call phone if you don't answer online. Pair that with some sort of outsourced automated attendant service to give you a single number with extensions and forward calls and I think you can do it all for about $50 a month.
posted by COD at 5:19 AM on January 16, 2015

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