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New Monthly Section – Open Source Communications

By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis

Welcome to the newest section in Internet Telephony magazine, “Open Source Communications”. Each month you’ll see one page of news items and another page by Yours Truly consisting of a one-page interview with an industry luminary (or some equivalent content) addressing open source industry issues and their relationship to telecom.

The world is being changed by open source software, an alternative to commercial software sold by vendors. Open source means that users can easily be “co-developers”, and programs such as the Linux operating system, the Apache Web Server, the Firefox Browser and the suite of business programs have been worked and reworked by thousands of programmers. Open source companies make their money by selling “surround stuff” such as hardware and support.

Telecom has been a particular beneficiary of open source. There’s something quite appealing about the scenario of struggling smaller businesses (or perennially budget-minded verticals such as education, municipal and state government, and financial services), stumbling across a way to enjoy the same call control and other telephonic capabilities as a larger, prosperous enterprise.

Once upon a time. a computer engineering student at Auburn University named Mark Spencer (News - Alert) began tinkering with the programming code for Jim Dixon’s Zapata Telephony Project, nicknamed “Zaptel”. (You’ve got to love any disruptive technology named after a guerilla leader, General Emiliano Zapata.) After some considerable programming, Spencer brought forth what has become the world’s most popular open source IP PBX (News - Alert)– Asterisk. Instead of Dixon’s BSD Unix-based hardware drivers for homebrew PC telephony interface cards, Spencer ported his code to Linux and founded Digium ( in 1999 to make slicker plug-in PCI bus boards so that Asterisk (News - Alert) could reach the PSTN as well as IP communications networks.

Digium eventually devised the Asterisk Business Edition, the professional-grade version capable of voice and data transport over IP, TDM, switched and Ethernet architectures. Asterisk has now become the cost-effective alternative IP PBX for Small and Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs), since it can run on a PC and works with legacy PBXs (e.g. Lucent, Nortel, Siemens (News - Alert)), IVR, next-gen gateway, auto-attendants, media servers and application servers. Asterisk’s functions match those of any IP PBX, including call control, voicemail, SIP, H.323, MGCP and Spencer’s own IAX (Inter-Asterisk eXchange) protocol.

This is why Asterisk/Digium (News - Alert) will be the subject of our first interview, in the March issue.

Many programmers and companies continue to adding scalability, reliability and security to efforts such as Asterisk. Yours Truly and many industry pundits have urged that some company make the same kind of effort to support open source telephony the same way IBM (News - Alert) has been a booster for Linux. Still, open source communications appears to be on a roll anyway in terms of popularity. To make it even more popular, some companies have drastically reworked existing code (so that it no longer takes several weeks for a C++ programmer to figure things out) while others have written user-friendly GUI front-ends to these systems.

Mobile Open Source Telephony

Linux, the open source operating system underlying open source telephony, is lean and mean enough, yet has sufficient features, to be incorporated into mobile phones processing multimedia applications. Those handset makers wanting to avoid licensing the Windows CE platform have adopted Linux. The first two companies to provide developers with fully programmable Linux-based handsets, were Trolltech (News - Alert) (which announced the Qtopia Greenphone in 2006) and First International Computer (which introduced the Neo1973 smartphone, running a Linux-based environment called OpenMoko).

Resellers and Integrators

Like traditional telecom, open source communications has spawned opportunities for resellers, VARs, VADs and integrators. We’ll be examining them too in this new section of the magazine. For example, NeoPhonetics (News - Alert) ( will custom design a VoIP PBX solution for your SMB or enterprise, implement the solution at your location, and train your staff and support the implementation through 24/7 maintenance. NeoPhonetics also offers their Unified Management System which delivers a fully-redundant IP PBX, simple real-time management of IP PBX changes and centralized management of your whole voice infrastructure.

So regardless of whether you consider open source communications an innovation, developer community phenomenon, socio-economic movement or a cult, open source is increasingly making its mark on the contemporary IP communications scene. And you can read about it each month right here. Hope you enjoy it, and when you get a chance, give us some feedback on how we’re doing. IT

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.

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