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Beginner’s Navigation Guide to VoIP PBXs and Nerd Vittles

Here at Nerd Vittles, we cover a lot of VoIP territory over the course of a year. To kick off the new year, we thought it might be helpful for those just beginning their VoIP adventure to sketch out the VoIP lay of the land for you. We’re assuming that you came to our site because you wanted a VoIP solution that gives you something to play with and to learn from. That’s not for everybody, and there are less flexible, turnkey VoIP solutions that function pretty much like a toaster. At the top of that short list would be the Ooma Telo and OBi200. Both offer (almost) free calling in the U.S. and Canada.

Keep in mind that all of us started as beginners so there’s no reason to be intimidated if you choose to deploy your own PBX. We’ve gotten a dozen years of enjoyment out of our adventures with VoIP telephony, and there’s no reason you can’t do the same. Let’s begin.

Choosing a Hardware Platform for Your VoIP PBX

First, you’ll need to choose a platform for your VoIP-based PBX: dedicated hardware, virtual machine, or cloud-based PBX. In no small part, this choice depends upon the target audience for your PBX. If it’s for home use or a SOHO business, a $35 Raspberry Pi may suffice. On the other hand, if your PBX will be supporting more than a dozen users or more than a handful of simultaneous calls, we’d look elsewhere. Many of Intel’s Atom-based PCs work very well. And a VirtualBox virtual PBX running atop an iMac or beefy Dell PC can support dozens of users if you have the necessary Internet bandwidth to handle your call volume. Cloud-based servers come in all shapes and sizes as well. As prices have plummeted, cloud solutions have become our favorite. For $3 to $6 a month, you now can host your PBX in the cloud with automatic image backups of your entire server every week. If you’re willing to forfeit backups, here is a cloud solution that will only set you back about a dollar a month. If your server is primarily for business use, we strongly recommend our Platinum Sponsor, RentPBX, that offers dozens of VoIP choices for $14.99 a month with coupon code: NOGOTCHAS.

Choosing the Best PBX to Meet Your Requirements

Once you’ve nailed down your hardware platform, the next step is choosing an operating system and PBX to support your individual requirements. As you might have guessed, there are dozens from which to choose. In both the open source and commercial PBX world, most systems require a specific version of Linux so your operating system choice typically is dependent upon the PBX you choose. In the open source world, the PBX learning curve is often related to the feature set being offered. More sophisticated feature sets typically have a steeper learning curve. If you’re just getting started with VoIP and you want a platform for learning, experimenting, or home use, you can’t beat Incredible PBX 13-13 Whole Enchilada. It was designed by us to be a turnkey PBX for first-time users with rock-solid security and all of the features you will ever need. It includes 31 applications for Asterisk® that cover every imaginable function that can be performed with a telephone including faxing, voice dialing, SMS messaging, wakeup calls and telephone reminders, free calling, conferencing, text-to-speech applications such as News Headlines and Weather Forecasts, Wolfram Alpha for Siri-like queries, plus all the usual PBX features: blacklists, call forwarding, call waiting, call transfer, call parking, call recording, intercom, voicemail including voicemail transcription with email delivery, IVRs, paging, AutoAttendants, DISA, and many more.

If you’re an experienced Asterisk developer that just wants a lean PBX where you can customize it to meet individual customer’s requirements, then Incredible PBX 13-13 Lean should be just the ticket. All of its components are configurable including Asterisk which can be recompiled from the included source code.

At the sophisticated end of the spectrum is Incredible PBX for Wazo which is based upon the Wazo PBX, an Asterisk 15 realtime implementation with full support for High Availability redundancy, multi-party videoconferencing, WebRTC, and automatic nightly backups. It includes API libraries from which you literally can build your own customized PBX from the ground up. The Incredible PBX feature set provides a platform with virtually identical applications to those found in Incredible PBX 13-13.

Sandwiched in between Incredible PBX 13-13 and Incredible PBX for Wazo is Incredible PBX 13 for Issabel. Issabel is an enhanced fork of the previous Elastix 4.0 PBX. The 2018 release includes Asterisk 13, the LTS version of the Asterisk platform. With the new Incredible PBX 13 add-on, you get the best of all worlds with Google Voice support and dozens of applications for Asterisk. Issabel provides a Unified Communications platform that is second to none in the open source world.

Thus far, all of our recommendations have been to open source, GPL-licensed PBX platforms. But you’d be making a mistake to limit your search for business telephony platforms to open source offerings. Our corporate sponsor, 3CX, offers a full year of their commercial PBX running in the Google Cloud at no cost. It’s incredibly simple to install and configure. And the beauty of the 3CX commercial platform is it can scale to any size as your business grows. And the 3CX feature set can be expanded geometrically as your business requirements mature. We added free text-to-speech applications for News and Weather reports just last week. Our favorite open source deployment strategy is to install a 3CX PBX alongside Incredible PBX which yields literally the best of both worlds. The 3CX clients for Windows and Macs, Android, and iOS make VoIP telephony available from anywhere with a couple of button clicks, and 3CX users experience none of the traditional communications problems that invariably crop up on platforms deployed by novice VoIP users running Asterisk.

Getting Started with Extensions, Trunks, and Routes

The Big 3 when it comes to PBX configuration are extensions, trunks, and routes. Extensions carry calls between phones on the PBX and other phones either inside or outside your home or office. Trunks actually provide the links between your PBX and the outside telephony world. Inbound routes tell your PBX where to send incoming calls while Outbound routes tell your PBX which trunk to use when calls are made to numbers outside your PBX. We’ve covered this in more detail including dozens of trunk setups in this Nerd Vittles tutorial.

Making Free U.S./Canada Calls within the United States

There are three ways to make free calls using your PBX. If you’re in the United States, you can use Google Voice to make free calls to the U.S. and Canada if your PBX supports Google Voice trunks, e.g. Incredible PBX 13-13 Whole Enchilada and Incredible PBX for Issabel. An alternative, if your PBX does not directly support Google Voice trunks, e.g. Incredible PBX for Wazo and 3CX, is to use the Simonics SIP to Google Voice Gateway service. For Nerd Vittles users, there is a one-time $4.99 signup fee with no additional charges ever. Whether you live in the U.S or not, all the PBXs we’ve covered today can make free SIP calls to anyone in the world that has a SIP URI address and a SIP phone. Most SIP softphones are free.

Mastering the Incredible PBX Feature Set

Incredible PBX 13-13 Application User’s Guide

Configuring the Travelin’ Man 3 Firewall

All Incredible PBX servers include a firewall that is configured automatically as part of the installation process. On the 3CX platform, you’ll need to add the Travelin’ Man 3 firewall after installing your 3CX PBX. Here’s how:

3CX in the Cloud: 8 Great Ways to Secure Your Server

Configuring a Firewall WhiteList:

WhiteListing Users with Travelin’ Man 3 and IPtables Firewall

Learning to Build Effective IVRs

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems and AutoAttendants are the bread-and-butter applications for businesses. If you’ve ever called a business and actually spoken to a live person without encountering an IVR, lucky you! But, believe it or not, IVRs can actually be a useful tool including our Stealth AutoAttendant which lets you intercept incoming calls with a greeting which provides a slight delay to allow the caller (or you) to reroute the call to a specific destination before the default destination kicks in. Nerd Vittles and the Incredible PBX offerings provide all of the tools you’ll need to build any type of IVR imaginable. Mastering Allison Smith’s Top 15 is an excellent starting point.

Harnessing Nerd Vittles Resources

Google is your friend when it comes to finding tutorials of interest in the VoIP world. To narrow searches to just Nerd Vittles, use the following syntax:

stealth autoattendant site:nerdvittles.com

And the Nerd Vittles site itself provides several powerful ways to drill down into topics of interest. In the upper right column of any article, you’ll find a search function which will return a list of matching articles to peruse. At the bottom of every article, check out the all-new Articles of Interest section of Nerd Vittles arranged by topic. Also in the right column of Nerd Vittles, you’ll find a listing of Categories with Nerd Vittles articles conveniently grouped by topic. And, finally, you can quickly jump to the lead article on every major Incredible PBX implementation in the color-coded tabs labeled: GPL VOIP SOLUTIONS FOR ALL.

Happy New Year!

Originally published: Monday, January 1, 2018

Support Issues. With any application as sophisticated as a VoIP PBX, you’re bound to have questions. Blog comments are a terrible place to handle support issues although we welcome general comments about our articles and software. If you have particular support issues, we encourage you to get actively involved in the PBX in a Flash Forums. It’s the best Asterisk tech support site in the business, and it’s all free! Please have a look and post your support questions there. Unlike some forums, ours is extremely friendly and is supported by literally hundreds of Asterisk and 3CX gurus and thousands of users just like you. You won’t have to wait long for an answer to your question.

NEW YEAR’S TREAT: If you could use one or more free DIDs in the U.S. with unlimited inbound calls and unlimited simultaneous channels, then today’s your lucky day. TelecomsXChange and Bluebird Communications have a few hundred thousand DIDs to give away so you better hurry. You have your choice of DID locations including New York, New Jersey, California, Texas, and Iowa. The DIDs support Voice, Fax, Video, and even Text Messaging (by request). The only requirement at your end is a dedicated IP address for your VoIP server. Once you receive your welcome email with your number, be sure to whitelist the provider’s IP address in your firewall. For Incredible PBX servers, use add-ip to whitelist the UDP SIP port, 5060, using the IP address provided in your welcoming email.

Here’s the link to order your DIDs.

Your DID Trunk Setup in your favorite GUI should look like this:

Trunk Name: IPC
Peer Details:
host={IP address provided in welcome email}

Your Inbound Route should specify the 11-digit DID beginning with a 1. Enjoy!

Need help with Asterisk or 3CX? Visit the PBX in a Flash Forum.


Special Thanks to Our Generous Sponsors

FULL DISCLOSURE: ClearlyIP, Skyetel, Vitelity, DigitalOcean, Vultr, VoIP.ms, 3CX, Sangoma, TelecomsXchange and VitalPBX have provided financial support to Nerd Vittles and our open source projects through advertising, referral revenue, and/or merchandise. As an Amazon Associate and Best Buy Affiliate, we also earn from qualifying purchases. We’ve chosen these providers not the other way around. Our decisions are based upon their corporate reputation and the quality of their offerings and pricing. Our recommendations regarding technology are reached without regard to financial compensation except in situations in which comparable products at comparable pricing are available from multiple sources. In this limited case, we support our sponsors because our sponsors support us.

BOGO Bonaza: Enjoy state-of-the-art VoIP service with a $10 credit and half-price SIP service on up to $500 of Skyetel trunking with free number porting when you fund your Skyetel account. No limits on number of simultaneous calls. Quadruple data center redundancy. $25 monthly minimum spend required. Tutorial and sign up details are here.

The lynchpin of Incredible PBX 2020 and beyond is ClearlyIP components which bring management of FreePBX modules and SIP phone integration to a level never before available with any other Asterisk distribution. And now you can configure and reconfigure your new Incredible PBX phones from the convenience of the Incredible PBX GUI.

VitalPBX is perhaps the fastest-growing PBX offering based upon Asterisk with an installed presence in more than 100 countries worldwide. VitalPBX has generously provided a customized White Label version of Incredible PBX tailored for use with all Incredible PBX and VitalPBX custom applications. Follow this link for a free test drive!

Special Thanks to Vitelity. Vitelity is now Voyant Communications and has halted new registrations for the time being. Our special thanks to Vitelity for their unwavering financial support over many years and to the many Nerd Vittles readers who continue to enjoy the benefits of their service offerings. We will keep everyone posted on further developments.

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