Telephone solution for a very small office
March 5, 2008 12:36 PM   Subscribe

I work in a small UK based office with 4 people and I’m looking for a phone solution that will allow us to transfer calls between each other and receive more than 1 call at the same time. Our current setup is just 1 standard phone and 1 standard BT line. I realise I will need to invest in some new software / handsets and maybe a VoIP service. I don’t want to spend more than £300 on 2 handsets and the service and I’m hoping someone can recommend a service and what hardware I will need to buy. Our requirements are: Need to use our existing BT phone number (or have it redirect somewhere without the caller knowing or incurring us cost to us) Ability to make and receive calls via a handset Ability to transfer calls between the 4 handsets Ability to redirect calls on busy or out of office to another number Help appreciated
posted by toocan to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I've not set it up personally, but Asterisk is the common solution for a backend VoIP "PBX" system (it runs on a PC, and, if you're doing straight VoIP, won't need anything but an Ethernet card and then a connection to your phone line.) I believe there are 'versions' of Asterisk adapted to be easy to configure.

You might look to using VoIP for your additional lines, although it's precisely because I'm a computer geek that I wouldn't trust a solely-Internet-based phone system right now. (How often do you lose Internet access? At least once a week for me, even if just a brief hiccup. When did I last lose phone service? Never.)

I love the Cisco 7960s, but you can get cheapo VoIP phones (SIP-based mostly).
posted by fogster at 1:01 PM on March 5, 2008


+1 for asterisk. It's not trivial to setup, but not too difficult if you have a reasonable amount of Linux knowledge. Trixbox (formerly Asterisk@home) makes things a lot easier, gives you a nice web-based control panel. You might be looking at more than your budget for the server, but if you could justify the cost by putting other things on it (mail?), or if you already have a Linux machine not doing all that much, then it could work.

Voip phones can be got for about £50, look at http://voip-info.org or somewhere to check for asterisk compatibility - some will require the firmware flashing to make them work, and some are just a pain.

Gradwell do a reasonable VOIP service (SIP or IAX), but aren't 100% reliable (not close enough to rely on entirrely...) but if having a number (or multiple) that's there 95(+)% of the time with a 2nd that's just got a single regular phone on the end of it is acceptable, then that's probably worth looking into.

Otherwise you'll need a card to put in the phone server that your BT line will go into, they're not particularly expensive, but again worth checking what's known to work with asterisk - digium are a pretty safe bet
posted by gregjones at 1:22 PM on March 5, 2008


"it runs on a PC, and, if you're doing straight VoIP, won't need anything but an Ethernet card and then a connection to your phone line."

Possibly a silly question but how does the phone line connect to the pc? at the minute i have the phoneline going directly into an ADSL router/modem
posted by toocan at 1:31 PM on March 5, 2008


For 300 quid...

I'd buy the Panasonic GigaRange base station and two extra units that would allow 2 lines in (or similar model if you can't get that in blighty), to share among the office, and ability to intercom/transfer/hold/conference calls. I'd sign up for a Skype business account and buy a little converter for it which would allow you to use the other line with VOIP, and I would buy one or more skype-in numbers where my customers are located so they can cheaply reach me.

As for busy/unanswered call-forwarding-- I think BT already has that function on standard phones. I'd set it up to forward to my Skype number and let my Skype manage the forwarding or answering services, so I can access it and easily manage it wherever I am in the world. In that case I'd incur the forwarding fee to my Skype number, which would only be a local call, which might be flat-rate in your phone plan?
posted by Static Vagabond at 1:54 PM on March 5, 2008


Possibly a silly question but how does the phone line connect to the pc? at the minute i have the phoneline going directly into an ADSL router/modem

If we're talking an analogue phone line, then you can just pipe the analogue cable from the splitter straight to a modem hooked up to the asterisk box.

Bigger offices have direct digital connections to the central exchange of course.
posted by pharm at 2:53 PM on March 5, 2008


Thirding Asterisk. VoIP handsets, modem connection to the outside world, day or two futering with the software, you're done.
posted by bonaldi at 4:48 PM on March 5, 2008


I've recently setup asterisk for a small office. If you're not into spending a good few days fiddling with getting it setup and learning all about VOIP, you might want to hire someone. Asterisk is a bit of a crazy piece of software and people do everything from running personal voicemail to setting up call centres and calling card businesses. As a result, the community (and documentation) is diverse. (To get a taste, check out: voip-info.org)

All you need to use asterisk is a linux box, a VOIP provider, and a VOIP phone. You configure your phone to make calls to other phones through your provider, and you get a DID (aka phone number) so people can call you. The linux box can be virtual (a VPS) which is nice, because it's one less thing to worry about.

In your office setup, you would need 4 voip phones and then configure each phone to connect to your asterisk server. Asterisk would answer the calls to your main number, and when people pushed various extensions (22 for bob, 23 for jane) different phones would ring. And then if there was no answer you can ring other extensions (cellphones) or just go to voicemail. The amount of incoming calls you can receive depends on your VOIP provider, but they usually do a bare minimum of 4.

Trixbox (mentioned previously) is an asterisk install that is designed to be a bit friendlier. (e.g. web interface) I would also suggest running the system for a while before porting over your current number. Asterisk is awesome, i love mine, but there are something like 10 more points of failure than a regular phone system.
posted by kamelhoecker at 6:04 PM on March 5, 2008


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