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A Real Life Example: The J.E.B. Solutions Phone System

Needs Analysis

We sat down with the J.E.B. Solutions Inc. team and looked at our needs and business realities.

Our Realities

  • We are a small, but growing company
  • Staff can be at the office, at home, at the client's location, or on the road
  • Some staff and clients are a long distance call from our office
  • We have high tech staff willing to invest time to get things working the first time
  • Our communication infrastructure was limiting our growth potential
  • We have a small budget but we want the best!

Our Needs

  • Low cost
  • Expandable - The system must grow with our business needs
  • Not getting locked into a single vendor solution
  • Ability to log all incoming and outgoing calls
  • Company wide voicemail
  • Increased ability to communicate with our staff and clients
  • Reduce cost and time overhead for each support call
  • Make better use of offsite staff

Comparison Shopping

There are many phone systems from Nortel, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel and other companies. You might ask "why did you choose the little known Asterisk system?" That is a very good question.

After doing a bit of research we realized that for under $3,000 the best we could get was a very basic phone system. No bells. No whistles. Expanding would be either expensive or impossible and would likely mean replacing the whole system.

Tough Choices: Cost or Features?

The traditional phone system vendors didn't sell what I wanted. At least not in my price range. Should I mortgaging the farm to get what I needed? Or should I making do with a cheaper, but less functional phone system?

I didn't like either alternative. So I started doing some searching on the web to see if there were any do-it-yourself solutions.

The Asterisk Alternative

After some searching I found Asterisk. The more I read about Asterisk the more I liked it. Not only would it be less expensive in terms of hardware, but it hand many of the features of the most expensive systems on the market. My only worry was that it sounded too good to be true.

Asterisk PBX: Trial and Error

The only way to know if it was too good to be true was to test it. We installed the Asterisk phone system at our office on a spare PC. The more we tried it out the more we could see the vast potential.

Asterisk reminds me when I was learning Assembly language on my old PC. And that magical excitement when I first realizing that I really could make the computer do ANYTHING I wanted it to.

In comparison other phone systems seemed pretty cut and dry. As a techie how could any system compare to Asterisk? No other phone system is as flexible. This system is like Lego! In the hands of a techie Asterisk can be made to do just about anything you can dream up.

And that's when I knew that I was going to have to shell out a few bucks and set up a real Asterisk PBX Phone system at our office.

Asterisk Benefits

There are quit a few benefits that leap to mind with Asterisk
  • Can be Less expensive than systems from Nortel, Mitel, and other vendors
  • Expandable
  • Not locked into "old" technology
  • Not locked in to one vendor
  • Asterisk integrates both "old school" and "new school" (VOIP) phones seamlessly giving the best of both worlds
  • Extremely customizable — A phone system that can be tweaked to meet your needs.

Asterisk: Our Costs

  • Asterisk Software ($FREE)
  • A new computer to run the phone system ($800)
  • A new APC 1000VA UPS ($150)
  • Two Digium TDM22B phone cards ($1,000.00)
  • Total cost ($1,950).
Of course we were fortunate. We were able to do all the configuration and customization work in-house. We also did all our own Network and phone wiring.

Caution

The fun of learning about a new cost effective phone system was priceless! However, most people would rather have someone else do all the grunt work for them. Be sure to take into account your setup, training, and support costs.

What We Got: Nuts and Bolts version

We got a phone system with these features:
  • Supports up to 4 incoming lines
  • Supports 4 regular phone handsets
  • Supports a large number of local and remote IP Phones or soft phones
  • Cost savings: route long distance calls through Vonage line (long distance = free)
  • Cost savings: Offsite staff can take advantage of Vonage lines
  • Extra Profit: Detailed call logging helps minimize lost revenue for non-billed support calls

What We Got: A Priceless Business Advantage

We got the ability to scale our business cost effectively. This is a priceless advantage!

Support staff working remotely can now be a part of our phone system. This is not to be underestimated. Instead of passing along messages to offsite staff we can now easily transfer calls to offsite staff or direct the client to voicemail. This improves communication, reduces telephone tag, and reduces the delays and overhead of distributing calls to our team.

Having our own company VOIP network means there are no monthly fees associated with adding extra on or offsite phone extensions. Plug in a new VOIP phone, or computer soft-phone and a few clicks on the Asterisk web interface and you are good to go. We can handle increased business volume cost effectively and avoid any phone company related delays (e.g. Bell Strikes).

20/20 Hindsight: Thoughts and lessons for next time

We learned a lot setting up this phone system. Knowing what we know now we could probably have a similar phone system in a lot less time.

Reusing our analog handsets still makes sense. However, if we were to do it again I'd consider spending less on the Digium cards and instead spend on VOIP phones.

Looking Forward: Future Upgrades?

If we need to add more phone lines we can easily plug in another phone card.

What about new features and tweaks? The Asterisk software is free. As new features are released we can

Integration and imagination! What about integrating Asterisk into our other software? What other cost saving tricks can we dream up? Asterisk is very flexible and your imagination is the limit!

Continue reading about the JEB Office PBX Server configuration in more detail

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