VOIP – Skype, Asterisk, and mobility

Digium
Digium
Skype
Skype

Regardless of the devices we carry, or connectivity we select, issues of staying in touch with co-workers, clients, and family are plentiful.  From simple issues of cost to those of complex dialing rules and lack of cellular coverage, staying in touch while on international travel can be frustrating and expensive.  Additionally, providing global clients with direct access to professionals, conference calls, or other meetings can cost a firm significant dollars.  It’s time to start taking advantage of some top-notch technologies that come with an open-source price tag.

Digium has created a potent combination of technologies to address just such issues.  First, a little background…

When we went to design our international connectivity, we wanted to focus on low cost, high value solutions for voice and data.  From a telephony standpoint we knew we needed to leverage VOIP in order to manage phone calls between our offices.  Over 40% of calls originated from offices outside the United States are to one of our other offices.  After much research, we settled on using Asterisk as our PBX.  It’s an amazing, open source solution for any user count.  A Linux based phone system with a feature set rivaling commercial systems, broad hardware compatibility, and a support network as good as any.  Additionally, Asterisk supports a custom protocol for trunking multiple phone systems, (IAX2), that resolves many connectivity and NAT issues by tunneling everything through a single port and single media stream.  In short, for the price of hard phones, (we use Polycom), and a mid-range server, remote offices are online very quickly, and connected via VPNs over the internet.

For calls between offices, or least cost routing to originate calls in region or country, Asterisk provides profound flexibility and ROI.  However, we wanted to provide a gateway type service to bring clients into our conference bridges, or allow them to directly dial professionals, without the cost of phone lines in country.  Some solutions came easily.  For example, want a US 800 number that connects to your office in Brazil?  Use Teliax to create a low cost, pay as you go PSTN gateway that connects via IAX2 directly to the Asterisk server in Brazil.  Sounds complicated, but in reality it’s as simple as filling out an online form.

Other solutions, such as generic client connectivity anywhere, eluded us until recently.  Digium created a convergence between Asterisk and Skype.  With the introduction of Skype for Asterisk, Digium created a ‘channel driver’ for Skype within your PBX.  What does this mean?  Set up a simple and free Skype Business account, create a couple user names, make a few tweaks to your Asterisk PBX, and you have complete interoperability between Asterisk and Skype.

You might ask what does that mean in real, business terms?  You can create a Skype name like “Company_ConferenceBridge” and have it connect directly to your conferencing system, allowing clients in countries where you don’t have a presence to connect without cost to your conventional phone systems from their Skype client.  You can build direct inward dialing from a Skype account, which allows your personal Skype account to ring on your desk phone, regardless of whether you are logged into Skype on your computer.  You can build direct outward dialing, allowing you dial an extension on your desk phone, and connect to a remote Skype user, regardless of how they are connected to Skype.  In short, Digium has created a free, public gateway into your phone system, allowing you to build value and save costs globally.  The only cost for deploying this?  About $70 per channel (concurrent call) in one time fees to deploy Skype for Asterisk.

The next question may be: that all sounds great for a company that has offices on multiple continents, and clients around the globe, but what does it mean for an individual user or a small business?  Many individual users are opting to move to services like Vonage to take advantage of the flexibility and savings of VOIP.  It’s not a great leap to take an old desktop or laptop computer and deploy Asterisk (or more simply AsteriskNOW).  Digium has recently jumped into the business of providing trunking, (a connection from VOIP to a conventional phone number).  Migrating a current land line number to a VOIP trunk is easier than ever…

I’m not saying Asterisk is completely ready for the non-technical to deploy at their homes, but with a small amount of technical savvy, it can provided tremendous flexibility and cost savings for everyone from the home user to the multi-national corporation.  And, to be completely honest, I do run one at home.

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