IP PBXs built on open source software show promise

Tests show four inexpensive systems target ease of use

In this Clear Choice test of four open source-based IP PBX systems, we found products that are well suited for the low end -- defined in this testing as supporting as many as 250 concurrent users.

While this initial test of these products focused on smaller-scale deployment models, several of the systems tested also lend themselves to larger deployments. They incorporate more-advanced features, such as standby systems for failover and presence capabilities. All provide full Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) support for endpoints as well as trunks. The management interfaces are simple but also provide detail for troubleshooting and bandwidth control necessary in larger environments.

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The vendors that accepted our invitation were Escaux, Fonality, Four Loop Technologies and Pingtel. Three of the four products tested (PingTel is the exception) were built on top of Asterisk, the original open source IP PBX (see the assessment of Digium's Asterisk). The four vendors in our test demonstrated tangible improvements to existing open source IP PBX base code, especially in their efforts to facilitate installation, management and maintenance with GUIs.

The systems were ordered and provisioned as a customer would procure them. We then put them through their paces looking at management, features, interoperability, ease of use and architecture. Because such performance metrics as voice quality depend on the endpoint chosen, it was not a key factor in this test.

Pingtel's SIPxchange earns the Clear Choice award for triumphing over the field in our endpoint interoperability and architecture categories. In the latter category we examined how the product was designed to work. SIPxchange comprises some of the more common practices found in larger, proprietary systems, such as direct paths for the media streams. This limits the burden on the server and allows for better scalability and reliability.

Open source IP PBX price tagFor this test, we asked vendors to submit list pricing for a 250-user configuration consisting of call control, 200 midrange IP hard phones, 50 softphones, three T1/PRI PSTN interfaces, voice mail, management software and all appropriate licenses.
 SystemT-1/PRI200 hard phones50 softphonesTotalPer seat
Escauxnet.PBX Escaux Gateway, one-year service, $16,316T-1/PRI interface, $3,198Grandstream GXP-2000, $23,600CounterPath Eyebeam, audio only, $2,307$45,421$181.68
FonalityPBXtra Standard Edition, three-year NBD service, $4,744Quad Span T-1/PRI, setup fee, $2,694Aastra 9133 phone configuration fee, $42,800PBXtra Eyebeam, phone configuration fee, $4,700$54,938$219.75
Four Loop TechnologiesSwitchvox SMB, one-year service, $4,355Wildcard TE407p Quad T-1, $2,661Polycom IP 430, $37,190Not a reseller*$44,206*$176.82*
PingtelSIPxchange ECS 250, one-year service contract, $7,200SIPxchange ECS 250 TP-260 Quad T-1/PRI, $11,122Polycom IP 430, $37,190CounterPath Eyebeam Basic v1.5, $1,110$56,622$226.48
*No softphone included in pricing.

Also garnering respectably high scores in our tests were Four Loop and Fonality, but these companies earned their kudos for different reasons. Four Loop's Switchvox has advanced features -- such as a built-in switchboard -- that were better than most. Fonality's PBXtra was the leader of the pack in terms of ease of use, mainly because standard support includes off-site monitoring and management services.

ProductSIPxchange ECSSwitchvoxPBXtranet.PBX
VendorPingtelFour Loop TechnologiesFonalityEscaux
Price as tested

$7,200* for software and one-year service contract.

$4,355* for software, performance upgrade and one-year service contract.$4,744* for software, appliance and three-year service contract.$16,316* for software, appliance and one-year service contract.
ProsSingle CD installation; extensive support for autoprovisioning of third-party IP hard phones; group provisioning; load balances and high availability supported.Offers group provisioning and extension templates; switchboard application available for all users.Full turnkey system, hosted maintenance and management service, simple remote user support.Company provides maintenance and management as a service; offers group user configuration; high availability supported.

Limited remote user support.

No autoprovisioning of third-party IP hard phones; no IAX phone support.Limited adds, moves and changes permitted with model; requires Internet connection for management.Requires Internet connection for installation and maintenance.
Link to our IP PBX Buyer's Guide
The breakdown Pingtel Four Loop Technologies  Fonality Escaux 
Management 20%4454
Features 20%4544
Interoperability 20%5434
Ease of use 20%4453
Architecture 20%5434
Scoring Key: 5: Exceptional; 4: Very good; 3: Average; 2: Below average; 1: Subpar or not available

Tarpley is a senior engineer, Hommer is engineering manager and Smithers is CEO of Miercom. They can be reached at rtarpley@miercom.com, mhommer@miercom and rsmithers@miercom, respectively.

NW Lab Alliance

Tarpley, Hommer and Smithers are members of the Network World Lab Alliance, a cooperative of the premier reviewers in the network industry, each bringing to bear years of practical experience on every review. For more Lab Alliance information, including what it takes to become a member, go to www.networkworld.com/alliance.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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