A few years ago I got interested in being able to offer VOIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone systems to my small business IT customers. I heard about Asterisk, an open source linux offering, and thought ‘this is cool – a powerful phone system and it is free’. I spent a few weeks, after hours, gathering the hardware and software components and trying to get an Asterisk/Trixbox system up and running. As always, in the open source (free) world, getting technical support is difficult. After about a month I actually got my system working. At first I was happy – thinking I had something I could sell. On further reflection I realized that I had absolutely no idea how I had gotten it to work or why it had not worked previously and that there was no way I could sell and support this system. I just don’t have any background in Linux and don’t have the time or interest to develop it.
Enter Response Point. At an SMB Nation conference in Seattle, I saw a small demonstration of the Microsoft Response Point small business telephone system. This really got me interested. Response Point was a windows based, complete phone system with an extremely easy to use interface that someone with basic networking knowledge could easily learn and support. Hopefully you noticed the was in the last sentence. After a lot of money, excitement and support Microsoft made one of their great decisions and pulled the plug on this product which is ending 8/31/10.
Moving On. Since I still get businesses that are interested in a new phone system I wanted to find a Windows based PBX system to sell and support. After looking around I found a company called 3CX that has a software product called interestingly – 3CX. 3CX is a global business with offices in 9 countries around the world. This system doesn’t have quite as simple an interface as Response Point had but that is because this system does so much more than Response Point. That said, I was able to set up my 3CX system fairly quickly – so probably almost anyone could. The 3CX software (there is even a free version) supports standard SIP soft/hard phones, VOIP Services and traditional PSTN phone lines. Depending on your call volume – VOIP phone service for the outside connection – might really save you money. I am changing outside service for a new client and we expect their monthly phone bill to go from $600/mo to about $150-$200/mo. That is quite a savings – an annuity that will ‘keep on giving’.
3CX has a ton of features – many, many more than Response Point had – too many to mention for an article like this. Two key features though are – 1) Remote Extension and 2) Remote Office.
With Remote Extension an employee can have a phone from the office connected to their network at home (or ANYWHERE) and with the help of a simple Proxy Manager software on their remote computer – be able to take calls, make calls and all of the other tasks the same as if they were in the office. People at the office will be able to tell when the remote worker is on their telephone by using the Presence Indicator in the 3CX Assistant software.
With Remote Office two 3CX systems in remote locations can be bridged together over the internet so that employees in one office can intercom or extension dial employees in the second office just by dialing a single digit and the other person’s 3 digit extension. These calls are free and will travel over the internet, not using the company’s telephone service.
Before I forget – I have to mention that the technical support available for the 3CX system is great. They have a wealth of searchable information on their website, a very responsive trouble ticketing system for online questions, a user forum and a very available group of live on-the-telephone support people.