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VoIP hardware suggestions for small organisation

atomsheep
atomsheep used Ask the Experts™
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After scouring the net for information for the past couple of weeks, I thought I might ask here for some concise expert advice.

The situation: Our not-for-profit organisation is considering setting up a VoIP system. Currently we have normal 2 telephone lines and 1 fax line being used by 8 staff. The number of staff may change (increase) over the next few years. All are in one physical location. All are using normal phones currently.

The dream: VoIP system with separate direct in-dial numbers for each of the 8 staff with voicemail and call forwarding (e.g. to mobiles when out of office) as well as the ability to send calls to extensions. Fax machine hooked up to the system as well. Also a normal landline hooked into the VoIP network for fall-back and emergencies.

The options I've considered (which may be totally wrong!): (1) Hosted PBX which means buying IP phones for everyone and switches and other networking hardware - quite an expensive option I figure. (2) Running a simple physical IP PBX (Cisco SPA9000?) with assorted hardware (SPA400 and SPA8000?) which then connects to one PSTN line and the VoIP service.

Just wanted to throw this out there and see if anyone had any comments? All comments welcome! I have virtually no experience when it comes to VoIP, sorry, which makes me wonder why I was asked to research this!
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Commented:
Where I work we use skype from our computers as its free and all our sitelite offices are using it so the cost of calling our other offices is free and a lot of customers are starting to use it and as its free you can use it along side a voip system. If you wanted to you can build a voip system using software
see http://www.voip-info.org/wiki/view/Open+Source+VOIP+Software
most are linux based based on an old pc

Commented:
Hi atomsheep,

I have heard of small non-profits using Magic jack. Likely would be a less expensive option than what you are considering with a hosted PBX.

Here is the FAQ page.

http://www.magicjack.com/5/faq/

Hope this helps you.

Commented:
The one i've come across in the past is http://www.asterisk.org/asterisk

Another project for me for another day :)

L

Author

Commented:
Thanks very much for the suggestions thus far.

I have looked briefly into Asterisk but it seems the complexity and perhaps cost of building our own IP PBX is a bit beyond us. But it would be a great idea for others of higher skill. Plus I think FXS/FXO cards aren't cheap and server hardware isn't either.

Skype was an option also considered but I think the staff want a computerless solution, plus a solution that allows call forwarding when they're away from the office.

Another consideration is that we're in Australia so would need a local solution.

Thanks again for the comments, looking forward to more suggestions.

Author

Commented:
Hmm, interesting. I guess my high price estimate was based off cards from more 'reputable' manufacturers. But this may be an option worth investigating, if we can rig up an old PC to run Asterisk with these cards.

Are there other 'ready made' solutions available?

Author

Commented:
Along those lines, but would need 8 FXS ports to serve 8 separate PSTN telephones.
Commented:
Not going to upgrade to IP phones?

Author

Commented:
That's one of the options being considered. IP phones would be nice but they're a bit on the expensive side, but I guess the VoIP gateway hardware is also expensive!

It's difficult because I haven't been given much information to work with (like volume of calls, destination and duration of calls, etc) so can't make a good call (no pun intended) about which path to follow. I guess I'm just collecting information at the moment about options available.
Commented:
look out at local auctions for ip phones as some went recently at my local it auction for I think £5 each

Commented:
You can also look into Switchvox. http://www.switchvox.com/sv?page=free_edition

They are the company that commercial Switchvox out of Asterisk core and now sell it as a seprate solution. I am using free version (15 users, 8 simultaneous calls) and it works great. Throw it onto some old PC (you may need to buy analogue FXO card to plug your existing PSTN line. And to cut the costs I recommend to buy some Linksys PAP2T ATAs (one can handle 2 analog phones, so you need only few of them). That way you have your original phones, the same cables. Transition from analogue to VOIP will be much simplier and cheaper.

HTH

Cheers

Author

Commented:
Seems like the general direction is to build an Asterisk/Asterisk-based IP PBX and hook up some IP phones. Funnily enough, when I asked this question in an Australian tech forum, the suggestions leant towards a hosted/virtual PBX solution instead of running our own IP PBX box.

Good ideas all round. I'll keep this open for a bit longer to see what other nice ideas people have.

Commented:
I'm actually starting to do some research/testing of my own- i think something i'd also be looking for is OCS (microsoft office communication server) integration- might be something you also want to consider

L

Author

Commented:
Thanks for the suggestion but I think it might be overkill for us... I'm starting to think VoIP is overkill!

Commented:
Voip is a great and powerfull technology which takes over the telephony world as we speak. You can see it especially when you compare it with analog telephones.

HTH

Cheers

Author

Commented:
Some decent ideas to look in to...