Open source IP PBX: Fonality PBXtra

Fonality's PBXtra 3.5 Professional edition appliance is based on CentOS 4.3 and Asterisk 1.2. Fonality sells two other retail versions -- Standard and Call Center -- and offers a free downloadable open source IP PBX version called Trixbox.

PBXtra is offered as a complete turnkey IP PBX appliance. Customers fill out a simple questionnaire online and the device is preconfigured, provisioned and shipped to the customer site. It is designed for any level of technical knowledge or capability. The only requirements are an internal network and an Internet connection.

Fonality shipped the system to us as it would to a customer. We were able to get it up and running within five minutes. We did have to call technical support for one minor setting for outbound dialing that took all of five minutes to find. It's notable that two hours of setup support are included with purchase.

An annual software maintenance and support agreement can be purchased and is based on the number of users. The most current user database and configuration information is saved by the hosted site. If connectivity to the Internet is lost, the system will function normally based on its last known settings until the connection is restored.

The vendor externally monitors the health of the IP PBX at all times, and its technical support staff addresses any problems it detects per the service-contract agreement. This service certainly takes the headaches out of day-to-day management and maintaining VoIP network uptime.

The PBXtra offers all of the features inherent to Asterisk, as well as some extended, proprietary features, such as the Heads Up Display (HUD), an optional $998 client application that extends call-control features to a user's desktop and is available to all users in the system after a one-time purchase. The HUD feature also provides real-time presence awareness, one-click Outlook integration, barge-in capabilities, record, chat, hold and park features.

HUD privileges are controlled through class-of-service settings controlled from the Web-Admin Interface. Adding extensions and setting permissions is simple to do. A fully functional autoattendant editor is included should an administrator want to customize the system. We exercised the HUD remotely and found it added a rich call-centerlike functionality for users.

Fonality provisions only approved hard phones from Polycom, Cisco and Aastra as well as PBXtra EyeBeam softphones. It will provision other models for an additional fee, but for the purpose of meeting quality-assurance and performance standards, you must send the device to Fonality for setup.

Fonality's approach addressed configuration and connection hassles associated with remote users by keeping a record of the IP PBX's host file on the Fonality hosted Web site. The mobile user's IP phone is configured to use Fonality's host server as a proxy to make the connection to the local IP PBX, and all VoIP traffic is then routed by Fonality. We tested this feature from several locations via Comcast, Verizon and other ISP connections without issue.

Fonality supports SIP and IAX trunking, and offers Sangoma digital (T-1/E-1) and analog (FXO/FXS) cards for public switched telephone network-trunking interface. Fonality offers a similar manual/active passive standby unit for failover, but did not supply a second unit to test it.

The entire system is turnkey, and while most things can be managed by the user once Fonality initially installs and configures them, all new devices need to be registered through the Fonality service. If you want total control of your VoIP network, this system service model might give you pause.

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