My VOIP experience so far

I have been “planning” to swap mine an my wife’s office over to VOIP for some time now. What has slowed me down is the complexity of getting the software setup.

The software most site use is Asterisk or Asterisk-based. Then there was getting a suitable GUI to set it up and get it working. That wasn’t fun either. There are two main ones. Asterisk-GUI and FreePBX neither of which I liked much. Asterisk-GUI comes from the same company that supplies Asterisk, but it hasn’t seen much development in months and FreePBX seems geared to call centres and the like as it wants mySQL installed on the server as well.

The “simplest” way to get Asterisk up and running is to install AsteriskNOW. AsteriskNOW is essentially Centos 5.1 and FreePBX install in a single step. I tried that and could not get my X-Lite softphone to connect to the PBX so I gave up.

So I went with Ubuntu 10.04 and installed Asterisk 1.6.x and then downloaded the Asterisk GUI from This version works brilliantly with Asterisk 1.4 but with 1.6 it can stall out on the login screen. There is patch to the javascript to hack around it.

I easily got my X-lite softphone to connect and also setup the other extensions. I quicky got it to setup voicemail boxes and e-mail sends of the messages. Getting a VOIP provider to work with me was another issue.

I first tried VOIPtalk which worked on incoming calls but I just could not figure out how to get outgoing calls to work. They use IAX to speak to Asterisk server. Though they supported SIP there was no documentation on their website as to how to get that working. I sent a note to their technical support but didn’t hear anything back.

I then tried sipgate. This time outgoing and incoming calls did work but without audio on the external phone. People could not hear me though I could hear them. A quick test by directly connecting softphone to their server showed that it was nothing to do with my Asterisk server.

I then tried voipfone. I got incoming and outgoing calls working with audio on both ends. I was soo happy!

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be hopefully porting our old landline numbers to VOIP and testing the switching. Essentially to ensure that my wife’s phones use her account and my phones use my acount when dialing in dialing out.

Next obstacle is to sort out my broadband. Which is fast enough for a couple of calls but my ISP has told me that my line is operating at 50% of its expected speed. sigh.

asterisk CRM freepbx iax sip sip trunks social crm voip

What is Social CRM and why do beans taste so damn good

I recently read an article in one of the rags I get on a weekly basis – or is that monthly. No matter, it was an interesting article on the business merits and real necessity of employing social media as part of a new strategy to engage with customers.

This overall area is known as SocialCRM. Its not a single package, its a strategy. A company would employ their website, forums, Twitter, Facebook and other websites in engaging with customers and the general public. For example my broadband ISP allows customers to open service tickets in different ways. A customer can do this by phone, e-mail, ticketing on their site iself or by posting to their forums. Almost immediately one of the ISP service reps. will pick up the conversation and assist the user.

Such interaction is open to the public and is searchable. When I shop I now not only look for a product that fits my needs and budget I also search the web for reviews of the product. I then base my decision on what I find. A company can either win my business with great reviews and feedback and great customer service, or lose it by doing neither of these.

So the challenge then becomes keeping track of all of this information. How does staff do all this. Are they sitting inside their CRM with RSS feeds of hot topics flowing in. Are they responding withing the CRM or directly to the social media. I’m just getting my head around this now. It is a huge area and a potential for about £10bn in the CRM market.

Now that I’ve completed the latest project I’ve been working on. I’ve no time to do what I love. Fiddling with my wife’s office network. I’ve just installed a Asterisk server in the office. Asterisk is a VOIP office server which builds a small office PBX as quite a low price. I mean you can’t get much lower than free can you? It is then necessary to get a SIP/IAX supplier so you can make outside calls. The call rates are quite good and the service is usually excellent – unless the power goes out.

Installing Asterisk was simple – its part of the Ubuntu libraries and a simple apt-get Asterisk did the trick. Then…the hard work starts. Luckily there are two simpler solutions.

One, get AsteriskNOW. This is basically a iso which has a prebuilt Asterisk server using CentOS 5.1 distribution. This comes with a Asterisk web GUI which makes life soo much easier than fiddling with .conf files.
Two, install Asterisk and then install FreePBX. This is a great Web GUI front end to Asterisk.

I did neither. Though I am presently evaluating whether doing number 1 is the way to go. None the less I have it installed and have installed the AsteriskGUI manually. The instructions for that all over the web so I won’t repeat them here.

Now I’ve been looking for a IAX/SIP provider. Some a better than others. Some have no idea that I can install Asterisk myself – others are more clued up. As always, shop around and choose the best for you.

Of course you can avoid all this and just get it hosted. You pay more, but then you don’t have the headache of running a server. Now, to buy some IP phones. They sure are expensive. I think its time for some beans on toast. They sure do taste nice don’t they.