Adventures with new VoIP based phone system

Discussion in 'Business & Enterprise Computing' started by Gecko, Oct 6, 2010.

  1. Gecko

    Gecko Member

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    Evening all,

    tldr version: built a VoIP based phone system, here is what happened

    Just doing the final stages of migrating the main office of the company where I work these days from a legacy Panasonic system with a heap of POTS lines into an ISDN/VoIP system and thought I'd share my notes on the experience for others who are in the same scenario. Also going to be a nice basis for the internal docs on the system

    The goal was to deploy a system with 30 handsets (scalable to 50 or so in the near future), which could handle all of the fun such as direct lines, voicemail, proper queuing of callers, integrated VoIP for international calls etc. We are pretty light users of phones, at any one time there is probably only 3-4 simultaneous calls, but we do need the capacity to scale out without too many growing pains. We used to have a huge number of POTS lines, primarily becuase we needed to be able to separate calls to different destinations, ISDN solves that very nicely for us by allowing 100 different phone numbers to come down a 10 channel trunk - wiring nightmare = gone.

    On to the technology :)


    What I needed to achieve:

    • Stability
    • Low cost
    • Direct numbers (management liked the idea, so it became a requirement)
    • Ability to have different phone numbers for various different brands that the office deals with, and alert people who answer the phone which brand they should be answering for
    • Easy to operate
    • Flexbile - company is growing faster than I can implement systems at the moment, can't have anything limiting

    Handets
    As at writing this, the T22's are still on backorder, will try to remember to update when they arrive next week.

    The T28's are magnificent - the hardware is great but the software does have some rough edges. Every firmware release makes it 10 times better though (found out today a new version came out last week, will be trying it on the lab phone next time I get a free minute). The sound quality is fantastic, they feel solid, and (the best part) - they're ludicrously cheap. I don't think I'm able to say exactly how much we paid for them (got them at just above reseller pricing), but it was well under $170/handset (the retail). These even have OpenVPN support for remote users (will give it a go when I have time to - would be great for when I'm working from home)

    We have them set up so that you can even push a DSS button and get the current sales statistics for the company displayed on the screen (via the XML browser and a bit of PHP code on one of the servers)!

    The only issue I really have with them is the auto-provisioning doesn't let you remotely control special features such as the functions of the DSS keys (yet? - one can only hope)

    Server
    Dell T410 - not much to say here. In hindsight, a rack box would have been better, but originally the plan was to use FXS cards for plugging in the fax machines, which needed the slots of the tower box. We also have a few other T410's (including a cold spare) for other systems, so that helped with the purchasing decision.

    ISDN
    Telstra ISDN10 connected to the Digium TE121P card - again, not much to say here. The configuration was a bit of a pain with docs that didn't really say much about Australia, but figured it out. This is the primary link to the outside world, all inbound calls come through here, and all local calls go out through here. Pretty painless overall, had a really good Telstra tech who did the install - went well above what he needed to do to get it all hooked up in the right spot for us.

    GSM Gateway
    The motivation for the GSM gateway is that we get free calls between mobiles on our Optus account, and the office is often calling reps on the road / they're calling the office - so if we can elimintate that cost then we're ahead.

    The Topex gateway, to be totally honest, is pretty poor. The configuration is a mess and the sound quality leaves a lot to be desired - I happened to call the big boss today on his mobile, which, due to the dial plan rules, was routed down the GSM link - had to assure him that the problem would be gone ASAP. Thinking of removing the unit entirely and returning it to the supplier.

    MyNetFone VoIP
    We have been using MNF for ages, for the last few years it has just been an old ATA double-sided-taped to the side of the Panasonic PABX for cheap international calls. Have it configured so if a number is prefixed with "8" they go down the VoIP link.

    We have a large overseas presence, so given the 100 numbers we are given with the ISDN 10 from Telstra, we have set up a forwarding over IP so overseas people now have an Australian number. Great for when execs are out of the office and want to quickly/cheaply call one of our overseas staff members. The best way I found to handle this was to add a custom extension in, with the dial string set to SIP/xxxx@mynetfone_1 (where xxxx is the number to call, and mynetfone_1 is the name of the trunk to send it up). After that, just point a DID at that extension and off you go. As a bonus, calling that extension number within the office acts as a speed dial for that person.

    Linksys ATAs
    These are used to connect the fax machines to the rest of the system. Note we do not run fax over VoIP outside the LAN. Nothing of real note to report here other than the default config of the PAP2T's will time out if the fax machine picks up the line and takes more than 3 seoncds to start dialling. A quick config change fixed that up quickly.

    EdgeCore Switches
    Nothing to report here, they do the job. Behave very similarly to the Dell/Cisco Small Business/etc switches - I suspect they all use the same OEM chipset somewhere up the line. We don't use them for anything complex really, but management is nice to have if we ever do need it, and the price was right on them.

    Trixbox
    Now for the glue that joins it all together - and Trixbox really is a great system. I highly recommend setting it up in a lab environment first and just tesing it though (soft phones and VMs help a lot here) - there WILL be some teething issues.

    One slight complication we had was that, on the old Panasonic system, calls from internal extensions were automatically answered by the phones and put up on speakerphone - which was integral to our workflow.

    A quick bit of custom dialplans (in the file /etc/asterisk/extensions_custom.conf) solved this issue:
    Code:
    [from-internal-custom]
    exten => _2xx,1,Macro(user-callerid)
    exten => _2xx,2,SipAddHeader(Call-Info: <uri>\;answer-after=0)
    exten => _2xx,3,Macro(dial,60,,${EXTEN})
    
    Basically, if the call comes from an internal handset, and is going to an extension with the pattern 2xx (starting with 2, 2 digits after that - our extension number plan) - a header is added to tell the phone to automatically answer. The Yealink handsets also need to be told to not automatically mute the microphone when this header is received as of the V50 firmware..

    We also do fun things like prefix caller IDs with the name of the queue that the caller came in from, and also have a spoken queue to the person who answers to doubly-remind them of where the caller is coming from.

    Conclusion
    We have had this system running for about 50% of the company for the last month or so, and found it totally faultless. Will be pushing it to full production in the next few weeks :)

    Tried to put enough detail in here to make it understandable, but not too much that it was overwhelming - let me know if there are any holes.
     
  2. evo800v

    evo800v Member

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    If you dont mind me asking, how long did it took you to get where you are now? and what was the project cost roughly?
     
  3. dink

    dink Member

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    Is there a reason you didn't get a specialist company to do this?
     
  4. Paul Warren

    Paul Warren Member

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    You are a brave/silly:)P) man using Trixbox for a business environment using 30 phones.

    I sincerely hope you know how to lock it down securely and have done so.

    (nb: We've been using trixbox for around 6 years now at warcom. We only have around 9 phones hanging off the system though).

    ... Awesome choice on the YeaLink phones too, we sell truck loads of em!
     
    Last edited: Oct 7, 2010
  5. Skitza

    Skitza Member

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    Any reason you didn't get the Trixbox pro which is a rack mount box all setup to go ? Our setup is so close to yours it's not funny haha :)
     
  6. OP
    OP
    Gecko

    Gecko Member

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    To knock over all the questions at once :) :

    Been working on it for about 3 months now, probably an hour or so a week on average (been weeks where nothing was done with other projects / waiting on parts etc).

    All up, we're a tad over $9,000 in parts, haven't added up the time cost though, but it would be pretty minimal given it has been done "in between" other projects.

    Didn't use a specialist company because we didn't need to really - have the in house skill to do it, no point bringing in external people. Also, having worked here for some time, it meant the I knew the exact business requirements and could make sure that those were being addressed properly.

    Our Trixbox box is locked down as hard as it will go - don't worry about that :) Will be monitoring it very closely though for obvious reasons.

    Didn't go the Trixbox Pro appliance becuase of the need for remote configuration basically (for those who haven't looked at it, you do the configuration through the Trixbox website, and then that is pushed down to the appliance you have) - I don't like relying on external providers to that level where I can avoid it.

    As another topic, also evaluated using SIPxecs as well, that got booted out pretty quickly because it can't use internal cards to speak to the outside world, and external SIP->ISDN boxes are 2-3 times as expensive as the Digium card.

    Given everything we have used is pretty open, we always have the option of swapping out one or another component if we ever have to. For example, if the handsets all manage to die at the same time, we can just install softphones. If a PoE switch dies, we are only using 30 ports of a total of 48, we can just move the essential phones to the surviving switch and keep moving like that. If both switches die, the handsets all came with an AC adaptor, we can just swap to using them on another switch. If the server dies, swap the ISDN card to a cold spare box and fire it up. Would like to pick up another ISDN card though if I can find one cheaply, thats really the only component of the whole system that we cannot re-create/replace in a hurry.
     
  7. 3t3rna1

    3t3rna1 Member

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    Congrats on a well thought out deployment. Sounds like you did a great job :thumbup:

    I love my Trixbox server at work, it never causes me any pain. If Exchange UM didn't stop answering calls at random it would be perfect.
     
  8. ECHO

    ECHO Member

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  9. OP
    OP
    Gecko

    Gecko Member

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    Thanks 3t3rna1 - haven't gone as far as doing the Exchange UM etc yet, may look at doing something like that down the track. As a slight aside, click to dial out of Outlook contacts would be awesome.... will have to see if I can code up a small Outlook plugin / TAPI provider to handle that.

    ECHO, primarily, Trixbox seems to have a bigger community / user base

    Also, forgot to mention another fun thing in the OP, we have a Hylafax server setup with a great app called IAXModem, which (as the name suggests), connects to Asterisk over an IAX trunk, and appears as a modem on the Hylafax side. A tiny bit of config later, and people can have private fax->email lines if they want - the accountants already love me for it :leet:
     
  10. Rass

    Rass Member

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    Very cool - thanks for the write up, very interested in seeing solutions like this.

    A few questions:
    1) in your setup, do your handsets require their own ethernet port or do the they share a port with the pc?
    2) are you running voice and data on the same common network, or are you chopping it up into a different vlan for each?
    3) are you implementing QoS at all? if not, have you experienced any loss of quality? (I recently found a site at work which didn't have QoS implemented in a workable manner - interesting to see the results).
    4) I love the idea of the mobile gateway - have you seen if you can trial one of the other models or brands? The cost reduction is pretty cool; not sure how optus would react if you had a few of these and hammered it :)
    5) Does the voip pbx have the option for voice mail boxes and IVRs? How advanced can you get with them?
    6) What about call recording? parts of my work require voice recording as part of the law - we've got some kick-ass enterprise level gear for that, just wondering if it can be done on a budget.
     
  11. Skitza

    Skitza Member

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    If you had of gone with the Pro and Fonality you get a plugin for Outlook along with HUD so you can make calls straight from there, it all integrates and into Firefox as well :) HUD is awesome.
     
  12. OP
    OP
    Gecko

    Gecko Member

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    1) Dedicated ports, the old system ran over Cat 5, so basically just repatched from the old system to the new PoE Switches
    2) At the moment, it is a common network - but the VoIP gear is on its own switch for the most part (still got a few bits and pieces that need to be tidied up - primarily the ATAs)
    3) No QoS, but then again there is never a point where there would be any meaningful contention for a link on this particular setup - have not experienced any issues at all. Once we split it all off onto a totally separated network, the issue will be gone entirely.
    4) Haven't seen many SIP->GSM gateways out there, most would need SIP->POTS->GSM. Just seemed like a fun idea with ROI being after a few months (office->staff mobile calls are in the region of a couple of hundred dollars month for us). Got more important things to look at now though.
    5) Trixbox does all of that fun, we're not using IVRs yet, but the voicemail is great.
    6) The call recording is good as well, can be defined on a per-extension or a per-DID basis. I've made it optional for people to use (they just ask and I'll switch it on/off). Currently only have it switched on for my phone, seems to work well. Only issue is it is a bit of a hassle to get recordings back out of the system, when I get a moment I'll figure out how they're stored and make a better interface I think.

    Trixbox has HudLite, I've found it very bloated when testing it though, so I'm attempting to avoid that.
     
  13. samus

    samus Member

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    Gecko, great write-up, exactly the kind of thing I'm doing now, even though my project has been stalled for a few months!

    I'm also using Trix and Digium cards, did you manage to use and AD integration? Thats one requirement of my system, and I'm still fiddling around with it in my spare time.

    Cheers, Mario.
     
  14. OP
    OP
    Gecko

    Gecko Member

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    Samus, can actually thank you for putting me down that path :)

    Didn't bother with AD integration, we may consider doing it down the track, but I really don't see anyone in the organisation using any of the "special" features really.
     
  15. KonMan

    KonMan Member

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    GSM Gateway

    Also consider changing the GSM boxed plan to an 'unlimited' plan ($129 for business) - maybe you can pocket the iPhone :p

    Advantage is that you could have 1 (or 2 depending on how many units you install) channels of mobile calls going to any mobile number for a flat cost.
    Obviously if another call is made when all channels are taken, then it would overflow.

    Dont worry about being 'caught' by Optus - Ive had 2 going in the one place since timeless plans came out (over a year) and have had multiple visits by Optus Reps trying to sell stuff and nothing has ever been said.

    edit: I installed 'GSM Gateway' cheapies from ebay ('bout $75 delivered), volumes to the ipPBX Analog trunk had to be tweaked and it was 'ok', but not stellar. There was still a faint noise of the GSM interference similar that you hear next to an amp but the boss said it was ok and I had no complaints since.
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2010
  16. gwills

    gwills Member

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    +1 we have an office of 300 people and 10 GSM gateway sims and slam them with calls to mobiles as its free within our fleet
     
  17. ir0nhide

    ir0nhide Member

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    Any reason for going with ISDN over a SIP carrier?
     
  18. OP
    OP
    Gecko

    Gecko Member

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    Update on the GSM module, tweaked it a bit and still no joy. Probably give it another 30 mins or so of effort before it gets removed.

    With using ISDN instead of SIP, number of reasons there:
    • IP connectivity to our building isn't great - no available fibre in the area so we're stuck on microwave / adsl backup
    • Management didn't like the idea of running everything over IP
    • ISDN gives us a more "guaranteed" service
    • Management liked the idea of it
     
  19. Grunner

    Grunner Member

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    Thanks for the interesting read. I have been thinking about migrating our 100+ key system to VOIP, you may have inspired me to think more about it :)
     
  20. BoutS

    BoutS Member

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    I always recommend inbound ISDN service's, utilise sip for outgoing and having failover to isdn should sip go down for whatever reason.

    Well done.
     

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