Open Source PBX

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Open Source PBX Feature Article 

September 27, 2006

Sangoma and Open Source PBXs: Enabling Next-Generation Telephony

By Mae Kowalke, TMCnet Associate Editor


In recent years, the telephony market has been disrupted by the introduction of both Internet Protocol (IP)-based technologies and open source software. Although telephony is becoming more and more software centric, it does still rely on hardware.
A whitepaper prepared by J Arnold & Associates for Sangoma explores the evolution of modern telephony generally, and looks specifically at what Sangoma is doing to enable open source PBX (News - Alert) solutions. Presented here is a summary of the whitepaper.
TDM to IP Migration Drivers
To start off with, the Sangoma whitepaper looks at some of the reasons why businesses are migrating from Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) telephony to IP.
Voice connections to the outside world are one of the most mission-critical functions of any business. TDM delivered reliability by dedicated phone systems to that one function. But, one result was that telephony products were very propriety. Because of these closed systems, once a business chose to go with a particular vendor they were locked in, unless they wanted to do a complete rip-and-replace.
Enter IP-based telephony. This new technology “is flexible, and has enabled the development of a wide variety of innovative telephony solutions that are gaining acceptance among businesses,” the whitepaper says.
That flexibility translates into cost savings for businesses. For example, advanced PBX features can be obtained without paying through the nose. IP-based telephony lets businesses combine their voice and data functions, saving money through more efficient communications systems.
“All businesses – both large and small – recognize the economic benefits of IP telephony, especially in areas such as toll bypass, reduced trunking costs and eliminating MAC costs – moves, adds and changes,” Sangoma’s whitepaper notes.
The Role of Open Source Telephony
While many IP-based solutions have been targeted at the enterprise PBX market, there are other fish to fry in the telephony arena. One of these is businesses that do not use PBX systems because they can’t justify the investment.
Because “vendors and carriers have yet to develop strong channels to educate and support these businesses with IP,” the stage is set for open-source telephony to get in on the action.
“The inherent appeal of open source is lower cost, and with the advent of PC-based PBX solutions, the addressable market opportunity is substantial,” the whitepaper notes. “There are millions of small businesses that cannot afford a PBX but would certainly desire its feature set.”
The benefits of open source telephony are summarized in the list below. 
  • Low-cost replication of TDM PBX features make advanced telephony functions available even to small businesses.
  • Open source makes it possible to create systems with richer feature sets than traditional, closed TDM—better meeting the needs of users worldwide
  • The flexibility of open source means it can adapt to and integrate with existing telecom infrastructure
  • Customization is the name of the game with open source; users can make modifications or add new features and functions to their telephony systems
  • On the strictly economic side of things, open source introduces the power of scalability; systems can be easily and cheaply expanded
Components of Open Source Telephony
Open source telephony systems consist of both software and hardware components. Theoretically, IP makes it possible to eliminate the hardware completely. But, at least for now, businesses still need some measure of PSTN connectivity, which requires a hardware component to perform digital signal processing (DSP).
In the past, DSP was performed using standalone media gateways. Today, though, PC-based processing cards have been developed that take care of this function. The whitepaper calls these “DSP-free processing cards,” and cites Sangoma, Digium and Varion as the leading providers.
When combined with open source software, DSP-free processing cards have “led to the development of PC-based IP telephony systems, where no external hardware is needed,” the whitepaper says. “For the first time, businesses had an alternative for telephony that was not based on costly, purpose-built hardware components.”
On the software side, some of the more popular open source PBX platforms are Asterisk, SIPX, FreeSwitch, and Yate. In order to meet the needs of businesses, these platforms typically are designed with the following factors in mind. 
  • Support for various telephony features (e.g. fax, conferencing)
  • Support for different operating systems (e.g. Linux, Windows, Solaris)
  • Support for different types of hardware interfaces (e.g. analog, digital, PRI)
  • Support for IP telephony vendors (e.g. Nortel (News - Alert), Avaya (News - Alert), Cisco, Polycom (News - Alert))
  • Support for various telephony-related protocols (e.g. TDM, ISDN, SIP, H.232)
How Sangoma Enables Open Source PBXs
Although Sangoma today focuses mostly on IP-based telephony solutions, when it was founded more than 20 years ago the company’s core business was producing WAN connectivity hardware and other data-related products.
Sangoma has taken its two-plus decades of experience and applied it to the open source PBX market. Because the company used its Advanced Flexible Telecommunication architecture to build a family of PCI cards for T1/E1 and analog environments, those cards can “handle some PSTN functions on board at low or no cost, hence reducing the workload for voice communication on the host CPU.”
“Sangoma has paid close attention the nuances of open source software, and it understands the value its cards bring in making open source PBX a viable alternative to hardware-based PBX solutions,” J Morgan & Associates said in the whitepaper. “It is the overall quality of the AFT architecture that is making Sangoma successful in the open source PBX market.”
Some of the things that differentiate Sangoma’s products are listed below.  
  • High level of compatibility with the different motherboard and peripheral combinations
  • Support for wide range of PC operating sytems--Linux, Windows, Unix, Solaris, FreeBSD and OpenBSD
  • Support for a variety of open source telephony platforms, including Asterisk (News - Alert), FreeSwitch, and Yate
  • Support for both read-only and voice & data environments
  • Field-upgradeable hardware firmware
  • Carrier-class echo cancellation
  • Multiple and single channel SS7 support for Linux and Windows
To learn more about Sangoma’s open source PBX solutions, visit the company’s booth (#512) at INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & Expo, WEST, October 10-13, 2006 in San Diego.
Mae Kowalke previously wrote for Cleveland Magazine in Ohio and The Burlington Free Press in Vermont. To see more of her articles, please visit Mae Kowalke’s columnist page.
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