Tuesday, September 2, 2008


About two years ago it became apparent that our current phone system was not long for this world. As we began to search for a replacement, we discovered Asterisk, an open source voice over IP PBX. We downloaded it, installed it on an old machine, and began testing and developing it. After a while we were far enough along that we needed some real phones, not just the software ones, so we purchased a batch of phones for testing. We tried phones from Polycom, Linksys, Grandstream, Snom, and Aastra. After about three weeks of testing we sent back all the phones except the Grandstream and the Snom.

In that first round of testing we liked the Polycom a lot, but we noticed that there were problems getting it to hang up reliably. The receiver would appear to be hung up but would be slightly off hook. The Grandstream had issues, but many of those were fixed by a firmware update about halfway through our testing. We felt the Linksys was light on features but very well made, and nobody liked the Aastra. The Snom is a great phone but has so many buttons it would be very confusing for our pastors.

About a year ago we replaced our old voice mail system with the Asterisk, making the first step of the transition.

About a week ago we started to receive reports that the church phone was not answering. As we tested it, we found that the old system would intermittently just ignore calls. We tested it and everything claimed to be working, but it clearly was not. Uh oh. Time to move on the replacement.

So this weekend we connected our T1 directly to the Asterisk instead of breaking it out to analog channels and running it through the old NEC. All incoming calls now are processed by the asterisk first, and then are transferred to the NEC. Outgoing calls are sent over analog lines to the Asterisk, which then connects them with the telco.

After much testing and a little tweaking it is working, and quite well. Today we are deploying the second round of testing phones. We are trying the Linksys again, a Polycom 430, and the Grandstream 2020. We also still have the Grandstream 2000 from last time, the Snom 360 and the Polycom 320 we plan to deploy to locations that don't need a desk phone. Our POE switches should arrive today, allowing us to prep the next phase of transition.

On the whole, the asterisk is amazing. The last time I put in a phone system I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $100K and it involved working for months with an outside contractor. This time my IT team has been able to build the phone system as a project, and we are doing the deployment ourselves. The savings are huge. If you haven't considered asterisk for your next phone system, now's the time to look into it.


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