There’s a great open source PBX called Asterisk that lets you run a full-blown office phone system off a single Linux PC. It’s very robust, with voice mail accessible over the web, roaming calls, call groups, everything you’d expect to find in a PBX costing tens of thousands of dollars. Best of all, it works with really cheap phones, like the $65 Grandstream BudgeTone. The phones themselves even have built-in web servers, so you can configure people’s extensions from your desktop with an ordinary web browser. Talk about management-friendly – the polar opposite of those expensive proprietary systems.
Anyway, if you put in Asterisk or if you’re playing with Voice over IP, you need to check out e164.org. It’s basically an open directory of VoIP phone systems. If you run an Asterisk server at your business (or any VoIP system, for that matter), you can tell your Asterisk server to use e164.org for lookups. Then, phones hooked up to your Asterisk server can call phones hooked up to my Asterisk server without any special handling or routing – they just look up my phone number in e164′s DNS servers, and presto, the call is routed without any work on e164′s end.
At first blush, this doesn’t sound special: it’s just like a web browser hitting a web page. Your browser looks up the IP address for www.brentozar.com from a DNS server, and then connects directly to my machine. Big deal, right?
Well, the big deal is that most people are using third-party VoIP providers to accomplish this, like www.FreeWorldDialup.com. That’s like using a Hotmail address for your business email. Sure, it might have worked fine when Hotmail first started, but as it grew, Hotmail added all kinds of restrictions like maximum mailbox sizes. Then if you wanted to change away from Hotmail, you had to tell everybody you knew that your address changed, and was finally something professional like me@mySuperCompany.com.
If you’re doing VoIP, do it right from the beginning, and spend the time setting up your own Asterisk server and using e164. If not, get together with Linux geeks in your area and do a community Asterisk server. The server doesn’t have to be in the same network as the phones: for example, I can buy my mom a $65 BudgetOne phone, ship it to her house, and have her plug it into her cable router. Instantly she’s online and can send and receive phone calls (as long as I configured the phone correctly with a proxy). You could do the same in your neighborhood or community – and if you use e164.org, you’ll be able to route calls automatically without having to do any heavy lifting.
This man wrote a pretty dang good blog entry talking about the same thing, which is what got me fired up about writing it as well. E164.org has the ability to save VoIP from becoming a bloated mess of standards, and I hope it succeeds.