Asterisk is no longer just a PBX footnote

The open source PBX software is at the center of an alternative telephony market

While Asterisk IP PBX software can be a boon for cash-strapped businesses that need phone upgrades, the free, open source platform has also spawned a host of for-profit vendors that charge for Asterisk professional services, peripherals and software extensions and still manage to undercut the prices charged by more established IP PBX vendors.

Digium, the business founded by Asterisk creator Mark Spencer to capitalize on his PBX, says it plans later this year to release a new version that will support much larger deployments. New Jersey-based service provider VoicePulse plans a hosted PBX service based on Asterisk deployed on virtual servers.

With successful partnerships already under its belt, the company promises to broaden its influence this year as 3Com makes Asterisk available on a blade for its multifunction branch-office routers. This is in addition to the relabeled commercial Asterisk appliance made by Digium for 3Com small-business customers.

In Japan, NTT Software, a subsidiary of the country’s biggest phone company, is preparing PBX appliances of its own that are based on Asterisk.

On a smaller scale, a growing group of start-ups lies at the heart of an Asterisk-based business community that has sprung up to exploit the basic platform. For instance, vendors Escaux and Fonality, to name a few, sell full-blown custom Asterisk PBXs. Critical Links’ Edgebox surrounds Asterisk with a router, Wi-Fi access point, NAC and other security to fashion a branch-office-in-a-box device.

Even an Asterisk online superstore called The VoIP Connection has sprung up to sell Asterisk appliances as well as phones, headsets, gateways and other add-ons needed to set up Asterisk networks.

It may not be right for every business, particularly the largest, but some vendors claim their Asterisk-based gear and services can cost one-tenth as much as equipment sold by major vendors such as Avaya, Cisco, Nortel, NEC and Siemens. (Learn more about IP PBX products from our IP PBX Buyer's Guide.)

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