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Suggestions on home VOIP Provider and hardware?

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arias

Regular Contributor
I've been a Vonage client for the past 3 years due to their release of the wrtp54g as a VOIP router that runs linux and allowed me to hack it and customize it to my desired specifications with customized firmware (much like the wrt54g cottage industry). My router has since died and Vonage no longer offers this model router. I've been searching for a different provider for some time that offers me better rates, and with my router now hosed puts more impetus upon my finding a solution ASAP, as I would like to keep the number that I had acquired from Vonage.

I'm looking for a reasonably priced provider, as well as a VOIP router that also runs linux. Whether the router has restrictions from accessing the command line via ssh does not matter to me, since I'm confident I'd be able, like with the Vonage router, to find a way in.

Does anyone have any suggestions of what I can look into that would meet these qualifications? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advanced.
 
You say your "confident and able" - this means you can have fun! You could try trixbox (based on Asterisk, a really powerful and fairly easy to set up PBX). You can get Asterisk to connect to a vonage trunk (tons of people do it), so from there you have the ultimately flexibility and can do virtually anything you want, and connect to your asterisk PBX virtually however you want (regular analog phone, SIP phone, any IP phone, PC based softphone). You don't necessarily have to have menus, voicemail, and all that jazz, but something along the lines of Asterisk/Trixbox would be the ultimate choice for VOIP and phone flexibility. You could add more Vonage accounts, or even go with any number of decent SIP providers out there (basic SIP lines are as cheap as about $3/mo). If you like to play and are 'confident and able', this would be the ultimate solution.
 
Thanks for the instant response Scott!

Trixbox looks like an excellent software solution, however the prices for their certified hardware solutions look pretty outrageous with the trixbox appliace server priced around 1k and obviously targeted for small business. I'm looking
for a home based solution with a price to match. Do you have any hardware suggestions for a trixbox solution that isn't that bank?

After searching around, the most reasonably priced hardware solution I found that claims to run trixbox is the polycom soundpoint IP301 running just over $100. Do you or anyone you know have any experience with this phone?

Also, you mentioned that SIP providers can cost as low as $3. Can you recommend some providers like this?

I was paying $30 a month for a phone and fax line, and would like to keep the numbers that I had. Do you know if I can transfer these numbers to another SIP provider should I choose to switch?

Thanks for the tip on trixbox. It claims to be formerly asterisk@home so I'm assuming that asterisk@home was a commercial version of asterisk that is now trixbox? Looking through the source it looks like asterisk with more features and designed for the technically disinclined. And of course since it's based on asterisk it's open source (cept hudlite, whoop d doo) which is the best part.

Curious as to what you use for your setup with Trixbox.

Thanks again.
 
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Polycom are good phones in general. I have no experience with the 3xx series, but I recently bought a handful of refurbished IP430s in great shape for $120 each.

Remember, life's too short to to use a cheap phone.

Michael
 
You're right, trixbox is 'generally' geared towards business, but tons of people still use it at home. Trixbox is essentially what asterisk@home used to be, but it's now supported by its corporate overlords, Fonality. Fonality does, however, have a full paid product - Trixbox Pro. Trixbox 'CE' is the free open sourced community edition.

Regarding the appliances, it doesn't take much digging on the trixbox forums to discover they're just basic off-the-shelf hardware in a fancy box. You can throw trixbox on just about anything out there. The amount of horsepower behind the hardware just depends on concurrent calls, but in a home scenario where it's going to be 1-2 calls tops, just about any 500+MHz machine will work. It's pretty minimal.

I can't recommend any SIP providers just off the top of my head. I'm actually in Canada (assuming you're in the states), but if you head on over to the TB forums, there's lots of recommendations depending on your area. Not sure if you can transfer numbers to a SIP provider. I know here in Canada you're able to xfer numbers between companies, but at least up here, most SIP providers are pretty small and can't be bothered with it.

As far as phones go, there's tons of choices. First of all, you don't HAVE to use a pure IP based phone - you can get ATA's (Analog Telephone Adaptors) for pretty cheap, and use the existing phones you already have. But if IP phones are your fancy, there's obviously lots out there. Generally speaking, most IP phones tend to tailor to businesses, as they're not quite in the home space yet - so in that sense you're not going to find quite as much that's going to tailor to the average joe. Polycom's are really solid units though, as are Astra's.

I don't personally run asterisk at home (as much as I'd love to, I just don't need anything it offers). I've set it up for a couple businesses though using HP/Dell servers and usually polycom or Astra phones, with a few linksys or Cisco phones thrown in the mix.
 
Okay, I'm starting to 'get it' ...

on handling a trixbox setup. Sounds much more attractive suddenly with the revelation that off the shelf stuff can be used. I was thinking before about where I would get pci cards that would allow the oldskool style telco cabling or whether I could use a cable modem. But upon further reflection, d0h, that standard is obsolete and all phone wiring has gone ethernet.

So the polycom phones only act as IP phone clients I'm assuming. I was confused at first with the mention of trixbox along with these phones, almost like each phone had its built-in hardware capability to run its own mini asterisk server while serving as a phone too. Know of any phones that fit such a description?
 
I can't say as I know of any phones that can run as their own server as well, but it depends on what you're getting to. The phones themselves actually just act as SIP clients and connect to your asterisk server, which acts as a SIP host/gateway. There are a variety of SIP services on the internet like FreeWorldDialup (FWD) etc, and even many DID providers terminate in SIP. This being said, you can connect the phones directly to said services without the need of Asterisk. This is sort of like the Skype phones you see out there, they simply connect directly to Skype without the need of your own Skype server of some kind. Normally though, your trixbox server connects to the outside SIP services, and your phones connect to your trixbox server, also using SIP. There are a few companies though, Linksys being one, that offer pretty simple 'out of the box' phone servers though. Linksys has a product called an SPA-9000 (or something similar) which is it's own PBX in a small package which you can connect a few linksys phones to. There is nowhere near the capability of an asterisk box, and is intended for the small business, not home use. But it's a little more lean and a little more what you might be after.

But otherwise I don't think the phones have the horsepower to run Trixbox or any sort of serious server app on their own. Like many Linux distributions, Trixbox is pretty lean so it can run on certain embedded hardware, but that's generally not what it's intended for. I can't think of a phone that has enough of its own horsepower to support this. For home applications you don't need much, you there's nothing to stop you from creating a slick little HTPC style asterisk server. For home use you can get away with Pentium 3 vintage hardware so you can get away with just about anything.

You only need to add special cards in the trixbox server if you need it to interface with something beyond an internet/SIP connection (i.e. connecting it to a PRI/T1, POTS lines, etc). For example, a larger business with a couple PRI's will buy a couple T1 cards so they can connect their PRI's.
 
Polycom are good phones in general. I have no experience with the 3xx series, but I recently bought a handful of refurbished IP430s in great shape for $120 each.

Remember, life's too short to to use a cheap phone.

Michael

Cool, I'll check out the spec differences, but it sounds like far more bank for the buck for an IP430 for only twenty bucks more. What sort of hardware do you use on the (i'm assuming) asterisk based server that you plug your polycom's into?

Thx for the heads up.
 
My home office Asterisk server is actually a recycled HP T5700 thin client, although in the past I've also used a Soekris Net4801 as detailed in an article here:

http://www.smallnetbuilder.com/content/view/24210/82/

You might also consider the new ALIX hardware from PCEngines. These are cheap and very flexible.

For home and small office use I think that an appliance approach is most excellent. I don't need server hardware sucking power, creating noise & heat 24/7/365.

The one big consideration wrt appliances is the question of FXOs. Do you need analog line interfaces? If so then will you use a PCI card like digium's TDM400p or a standalone device like a Sipura SPA? That defines what kind of hardware you must select for the Asterisk host. PCI capable or not?
 
It sounds like you're just doing PC to PC calling / chat, so a relatively simple chat or IM program would work fine for that. In a few scenarios I've used Skype and it works really well. Individual students would need to sign up for their own accounts, so the deployment isn't ideal, but it would work - and it's free.

As mentioned above, you could do your own custom asterisk/trixbox thing, but it sounds like it would be overkill. I think you just need as chat/IM program of some type.
 
So anything goes?

Hi, I would really want to use software wherein I would be able to set up my own server and configure it in a class. I would also prefer freeware or service providers to provide simple but quality VoIP services. I'm planning just to have a voice chat connection with my student's computers in order to check them during our speech lab sessions. Can anyone recommend VoIP software which I can use in my speech lab class using headsets on the computers?

If that's all you want to do, sounds like you would ideally using skype. IP to IP connections are free, and there's really easy to setup and use software that can even use a browser as the interface medium to listen to the sender if there is no handset on the receiving end. So your students can listen on their computers to your instruction even if their machine is not equipped to allow them to speak back to you. For your handset you can purchase a skype handset that just plugs into an ethernet port, or you can even ghetto rig by just purchasing a simple microphone that just plugs into the mic port of your soundcard or motherboard. Students can respond by just having a cheap mic that they plug in as well.
 

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