DIY phone installation
May 4, 2007 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Can installing a multi-line phone system be a DIY project?

Our office will be moving in the coming months, and I'm responsible for getting us wired up. The ideal solution would be to throw a large wad of cash at a vendor to come run phone wires from the building's demarcation point to each of our offices and install a multi-line phone system that's adequate for three workers. Mainly because of the cost, that's not an option.

We will have three phone lines, one fax line and a DSL line. Our local telco is going to connect the lines to the new building's demarcation point, but from there it's our responsibility. I know a decent bit about networking (and in fact, we're going to run the data cables ourselves), and I can't help but think that running phone lines ourselves would save a ton of cash. Unfortunately, I'm clueless even about the terminology to use, which makes it hard to hunt down any useful information.

Surely what I envision can't be that difficult. All we'd need is to run five phone lines (RJ11?) from the five designated ports at the demarcation point to our office, right? Then in our office do we simply plug the three voice lines into a "router" that handles the incoming phone calls, and then run mult-line phone cables (RJ25?) from the "router" to each phone?

What is the "router" called in the above analogy? Is the $1000 cost I'm seeing for these things normal, or am I looking at the wrong things? Are there any details I'm missing that would make this more complicated than running data cables? Finally, can anyone identify any resources that would help me do this (or even help me figure out if I can do it myself)?
posted by Doofus Magoo to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What kind of phone system are you using? If it's Voice over IP, you may be able to use the "router" you're referring to , but if it's a basic system that's the wrong terminology.
posted by lootie777 at 11:34 AM on May 4, 2007

The "router" can be called a switch or PBX. That pricing is probably in the ballpark.

I have never done this myself and have always wanted to - out of curiosity why not go with VoIP ?
posted by jkaczor at 11:38 AM on May 4, 2007

Yes, sorry -- it's not VoIP, and I know it's not called a router; I was trying to describe as best I could, and in my mind it mirrors the functions of a router, but for voice. The fact that I don't know what it is called is part of the problem. :)

For a small business, is VoIP as reliable as POTS?

And jkaczor, good link -- thanks.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 11:48 AM on May 4, 2007

My 10-person consulting company used the BizFon 680 device (granted this was installed in 1999) and it worked great for us:

In 2002 I sold the company and as far as I know the owners are still using it.

I am about to start another company, and times have changed enough that I think now I'm going to use an Asterisk PBX.

Just google Asterisk PBX and you'll find tons of information. You can "roll your own" or buy a system from a vendor that is based on Asterisk, but already configured.

It looks like Bizfon has some offerings that they didn't in 1999 (imagine that) so you might want to check them out too.

DISCLAIMER: I have no affiliation w/ Bizfon other than as a satisfied (former) customer.

One last thought -- I'd recommend staying away from the "big telco" systems such as Lucent, Nortel, etc... We had several of those systems and the problems were myriad, everything from cost of ownership to maintenance to capacity to flexibility to....

(Regarding the wiring -- it's as simple as "pulling cable" from the demarc into the PBX. From the PBX you run lines to each office/extension and the PBX allocates your telco lines to the extensions on demand.)
posted by Radian at 11:53 AM on May 4, 2007

I installed a 40 line, 5 site, 140 phone system more or less by myself. As long as you can find the programming docs, and have a brain on your shoulders, its rather trivial.

I setup our old nortel system at my house to bench test phones before I sold them rather easily as well.
posted by SirStan at 12:03 PM on May 4, 2007

Take a look at VoIP without a doubt, we've got ~10 people in the office here on Voip phones with a T1 to the asterisk server in some floating datacenter in the sky and it works brilliantly.

I've never done a PBX install, but I am in the process of rewiring my house's 50-year-old phone system(literally, my grandmother worked for Bell Telephone when it was still called that), and if you've got the technical aptitude to wrangle some wires it's no big deal. I used cat5 and a 110 block and it was all pretty straightforward, if you're running ethernet it'll be cake. This page has good information on terminating the cables, but if you're running cat5 you probably know it already.
posted by Skorgu at 2:43 PM on May 4, 2007

Well, the first thing you should do is look at the phones and find out whats the name of the system, because what kind of system you'll be using will determine what kind of hardware you'll need after the demarc.

The wire for voice is usually called Cat 3 (Category 3) and data is referred to as Cat 5 (Category 5). If you're used to pulling data cabling, voice will be a breeze. You will have to know how to create the actual "jack heads" aka RJ11 (voice) and RJ45 (data). This is the part of the cord that plugs into the jack in the wall at the phone or computer end and it requires knowing the pinouts and a crimp tool. Again, if you've done this with a RJ45 you should be able to do a voice jack.

If your system is a KSU (Norstar, Vodavi, Avaya) you will need a lot of wiring at the system, including a 66 or 110 block (this looks exactly like what the phone company uses at their demarc. The phone company has an orange cover on it).

There are many different ways you can go, but the first step is to find out what you'll be using as phones. If you need more info, I'd be happy to email you at the address in your info!
posted by lootie777 at 3:38 PM on May 4, 2007

There's nothing particularly difficult about telco wiring as long as you're not color blind. I strongly suggest pulling Cat5 even if you wire the jacks with RJ-11 plugs - The stuff is just too useful, and the price difference is trivial compared to what it's going to cost you to put it in later. I'd suggest 110 blocks over 66, just because it'll run ethernet better. I've gotten good prices and service from PI Manufacturing, but the quality varies.

The PBX manufs are big on proprietary lock down - If you buy a system, buy something from a major company, or you're going to be replacing the whole thing the first time it pops a spring. They're also going to eat you alive on part costs.

Definately Nth-ing the suggestion of using VoIP.
posted by Orb2069 at 9:12 PM on May 4, 2007

As it turns out, we're currently using an Avaya Partner system (looks like one processor module, 3 206 modules (the only purpose of which seem, and a voicemail module). I'm tempted to just get the telco to extend the demarcation point to our server room, and then just haul the Partner system lock, stock and barrel to the new office. I think from there it should be pretty straightforward to just run wires from the wall to the Partner box, then from the Partner box to our phones. Alternately, I could probably just buy a new Partner system consisting solely of a processor module, which can handle 5 incoming lines and 9 extensions (we'll have three voice lines and three extensions). Anyone have any reason to recommend against that system, given that it's what we currently used, and which with we've had no problems in the several years I've been around?

Our phones are pretty basic Lucent multi-line phones, and we'll probably just end up using those.

NB: If anyone lives near Harrisburg, PA who would be interested in taking on an installation like this (for a fee, obviously), drop me a line.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 4:18 AM on May 5, 2007

If you've been using the Avaya with different modules, it's been programmed and I would continue to use it. I've installed Norstar, Avaya, Vodavi and NEC and they're all about the same as far as programming and use.
To program a new Avaya system would be just another thing to add to your to do list.
If you're pulling it off the wall at your old place it should be relatively easy to install it at your new place. Just make sure you keep all your blocks and cable together as much as possible. And put a backboard on the wall at the new place before mounting the Avaya!
You can pull all Cat 5 for voice and data, a lot of places are just skipping Cat 3 all together. And that would require the 110 block, as noted above. If you have to buy jacks, please don't go cheap on those. Cheap jacks are notorious for causing all kinds of problems and you'll just end up buying the more expensive ones later.
Check on pricing for extending the demarc. I'm in Texas and it costs major money for the telco to do that.
You may want to try this on your own, but I would get information on some 3rd party vendors that could at least install the Avaya system and repunch your jumper cable connections. If you know of any supply houses that sells telephone equipment or cable, you can usually get a good recommendation there.
posted by lootie777 at 5:43 AM on May 5, 2007

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