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Free At Last: Introducing PBX in a Flash 5

Today is a big day. We are thrilled to introduce PBX in a Flash 5 powered by 3CX®. As many of you know, 3CX has been a platinum sponsor of Nerd Vittles for quite some time so this may not be a complete surprise. The good news is a new Debian-based PIAF5 ISO is now available to ease the installation process for those getting their feet wet with Linux for the first time. Debian 8 is a terrific Linux distribution used in the very best server products.

The most important change is the transition from Asterisk®/FreePBX® to 3CX. Say what, 3CX? Isn’t that a commercial product? Yes, but PIAF5 remains free for up to 8 simultaneous calls with a SIP trunk as well as 5-user web conferencing. That’s sufficient to support about 25 employees and represents a very large segment of the existing PIAF installed base. While the code is not open source, it is standards-based. Keep in mind that neither Sangoma’s FreePBX Distro® nor Digium’s AsteriskNOW® product is open source software either. When Digium decided to adopt the Sangoma business model, we decided to take a fresh look at the Unified Communications landscape. Navigating Sangoma’s licensing labyrinth coupled with the commingling of GPL modules and nagware for dozens of commercial VoIP components plus a closed source ISO was no longer an acceptable business model for us.

Some of our users prefer open source code, and we will continue to enhance Incredible PBX for XiVO in the grandest GPL tradition. But others wanted a product that offered 24×7 commercial support, and we’ve heard you loud and clear. After carefully reviewing available UC offerings, 3CX was the hands down winner in the commercial sector. Frankly, our only reservation was its Windows platform requirement. PIAF5’s new Debian ISO solves that.

In reality, what matters to users are reliability, support, upgradeability, and ease of use. 3CX has all of them in spades not to mention a feature set that is second to none. And now it’s available on the Debian platform with PIAF5.

We know some are wondering how 3CX became the new PIAF5 platform. So let’s start there.

First, the 3CX installed base includes almost 100,000 companies. That’s not downloads. And it’s not hobbyists. It’s entire companies that are actively using and relying upon 3CX for their day-to-day operations. Simply stated, 3CX is a proven, stable, and dependable product that you’d be willing to stake your business on. Many have including some of the world’s finest corporations. Stay tuned for a special PIAF5 hosting offer from our friends at Vitelity!

Second, 3CX is incredibly flexible, easy to configure, and simple to manage. Whether you’re new to PBXs or a diehard telecom guy, you’re in for a pleasant surprise when you see how intuitive 3CX is to set up and manage. Nothing comes close in the open source world.

Third, the 3CX feature set is impressive. You won’t be nickel and dimed for every component you wish to add. While there are standard and enterprise editions of 3CX as well, we think you’ll find the free version has the vast majority of components you would expect to find in any PBX, particularly for use in a home or small business. But don’t take our word for it. Review the 3CX feature comparison chart, and you can judge for yourself.

Last but not least, support is dirt cheap for end-users and free for resellers. We hope many of our long-time gurus will consider signing up as 3CX resellers and make yourself some money after all of these years wrestling with FreePBX. You won’t be disappointed!

PIAF5 deploys on premise with Linux-compatible, local hardware, or you can set it up as a virtual machine, or you can install it in the Cloud using most Linux VPS providers including Google, OVH, Digital Ocean, and Vultr. Use our referral links and take PIAF5 for a free or almost free spin for a few months while supporting Nerd Vittles. You have nothing to lose!

So there you have it. We think it was worth the wait. We encourage everyone to try out PIAF5 for yourself. And, just to repeat, Incredible PBX for XiVO isn’t going anywhere. It will remain our featured open source, GPL alternative as we move forward. And now you have a Real Choice in free alternatives with the best of both worlds, commercial and open source.

Getting Started with PIAF5 on Dedicated Hardware or a Virtual Machine. If your platform supports ISO installs, here are the simple steps to get PIAF5 up and running. First, download the PIAF5 ISO and burn it to a CD or thumb drive. Second, obtain a free license key for 3CX. Next, boot your server from the ISO image and walk through the Debian setup process. We recommend 2GB of RAM and a 20GB drive for PIAF5, but it will run on even a minimal CloudAtCost server. When the install is finished, make note of the IP address to access with a web browser to complete the setup. Enter your 3CX license key when prompted. Set up a SIP trunk with inbound and outbound call routes. Once you have the ISO and your license key in hand, the installation procedure takes less than 10 minutes.

Getting Started with PIAF5 in the Cloud. Begin by setting up a 64-bit Debian 8 platform. Obtain a free license key for 3CX. Once your Debian install is finished, log in as root using SSH or Putty and issue these commands. NOTE: What appears as the third line below needs to be added to line #2!

wget -O- http://downloads.3cx.com/downloads/3cxpbx/public.key | apt-key add -
echo "deb http://downloads.3cx.com/downloads/3cxpbx/ /" | tee /etc/apt/sources.list.d/3cxpbx.list
apt-get update
apt-get install 3cxpbx

When the initial setup finishes, choose the Web Interface Wizard and complete the install using your favorite web browser. Enter your 3CX license key when prompted. Set up a SIP trunk with inbound and outbound call routes. Done.

Configuring Gmail as SMTP RelayHost for 3CX. 3CX has a detailed tutorial explaining how to set up your Gmail account as the SMTP relay host for 3CX. Be advised that there is one additional step before Google will authorize access from an IP address it doesn’t already have for your GMail account. In addition to Enabling Less Secure Apps (as covered in the 3CX tutorial), you also will need to activate the Google Reset Procedure while logged into your Gmail account. Otherwise, Google will block access. Once you have configured Gmail as your relay host and performed the two enabling steps above, immediately test email delivery within the 3CX GUI while Google security is relaxed: Settings → Email → TEST.

Free Calling in the U.S. and Canada with PIAF5. We know our more frugal U.S. residents are wondering if there’s a way to make free calls even with 3CX. You didn’t really think there would be a release of PBX in a Flash without Google Voice support, did you? It’s easy using the Simonics SIP to Google Voice gateway service. Setup time is about a minute, and the one-time cost is $4.99 using this Nerd Vittles link. Setup instructions for the 3CX side are straight-forward as well, and we’ve documented the procedure on the PIAF Forum.

Free Calling Worldwide with SIP URIs. There’s another free calling option as well. PIAF5 and 3CX support worldwide SIP URI calling at no cost. As part of the PIAF5 install procedure, 3CX registers an FQDN for you with one of the 3CX domains if you indicate that your server has a dynamic IP address. Unless you really know what you’re doing with DNS, it’s a good idea to tell 3CX you have a dynamic IP address whether you do or not. Here’s why. Once you have an assigned FQDN in the 3CX universe, one very slick feature is the ease with which you can publish a SIP URI address for any or all of your 3CX extensions thereby allowing PIAF5 users to receive calls from any SIP client worldwide at no cost. Setup takes less than a minute. It’s as easy as 1-2-3. Here’s how:

1. Login to the 3CX GUI and go to Settings → Network → FQDN. Tick "Allow calls from/to external SIP URIs" and make note of your FQDN, e.g. mypiaf5server.3cx.us. Click OK.

2. For an extension to enable (e.g. 001), go to Extensions → Edit 001 → Options → SIP ID and create any desired SIP URI alias for this extension, e.g. billybob. Click OK.

3. Anyone with a SIP client anywhere worldwide can now call extension 001 using SIP URI: billybob@mypiaf5server.3cx.us.

SMS Messaging with PIAF5 and Google Voice. Just to demonstrate why you’re going to love the new PIAF5 platform, here’s a sneak peek at one of many applications which are on the way with Incredible PBX for PIAF5. Meet SMS Messaging. First, complete the two Google enabling steps documented in the Gmail SMTP RelayHost section above: Enable Less Secure Apps and Activate Google Reset Procedure. Then install the Google Voice CLI tools as root:

cd /root
apt-get -y install python-setuptools
wget http://incrediblepbx.com/install-gv-cli
chmod +x install-gv-cli

To Send an SMS Message Blast to one or more destinations, (1) create a message in /root/smsmsg.txt, (2) specify the SMS numbers in /root/smslist.txt, (3) insert your Google credentials into /root/smsblast, and (4) run /root/smsblast to send the message. Enjoy!

Published: Wednesday, October 19, 2016


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.

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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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  1. Well, I must say that 3CX works very well, I use it for several years, installed locally and for 3 years installed on a Win Server 2012 vpc AWS. I also use it with EC2, version free for one year for 4SC version without problems and now in version 8SC. Soon I will try the version in Debian
    The webmeeting 3CX works very well, I use it in my business multilevel continuously for presentations
    Greetings from Argentina and do not speak English, I use a translator, excuse me

  2. Interesting. I checked the 3CX version comparison and it shows supporting: "Single SIP Trunk"

    Does that mean only one provider (Vitelity, Voip.ms?)

    [WM: That’s correct for the free version. Could also be Google Voice SIP trunk as documented in today’s article. There’s a simple workaround that will give you 4 trunks including Google Voice plus faxing for under $50. Article coming soon.]

  3. Would love to try 3CX – but there’s no way to get a registration key. The link provided here and on their site just creates a registration validation email – but never a key.

    [WM: This has been fixed. Just try it again. Thanks for the heads up.]

  4. You lost me on this Ward…

    Way too many limitations in functionality.

    One SIP trunk? … (Yes, I see your note there is a workaround for $50… no thanks! That’s not free…)

    No integrated Google Voice? Have to pay separately a setup fee for it? That’s not free.

    No faxing without payment? Not free.

    no conference calls without payment? Not free

    Looks like you might have decided to pick the sponsor over the community.

    Goodbye to PIAF. It was nice while it lasted.

    [WM: Please read the article again. We promised 2016 would be the Year of Choices. PIAF 5 is only one option, and it’s the only one we’ve covered that is not pure open source, GPL (free) code. Already this year we have featured Incredible PBX for Elastix 4, Incredible PBX for XiVO, plus TEN other versions of Incredible PBX just for Asterisk 13. Most address every single shortcoming you’ve mentioned.

    Commercial software isn’t for everybody, and we made that clear. But some may prefer it for a whole host of reasons. It is just one of many alternatives. Nobody has sold out. IT’S ALL ABOUT CHOICES… which you never had until recently. $4.99 for Google Voice. Free unlimited conferencing through Anonochat. This free CallCentric conferencing service is featured in the Nerd Vittles banner almost every week! Free faxing and four additional trunks including Google Voice for under $50 with an OBi. A commercial PBX in the Cloud for life with unlimited free calling in the U.S. and Canada for $15.45. Too expensive for a full-featured commercial PBX? Seriously?? Have you actually priced "the competition" for the features you’ve ticked off? You’re in for a rude awakening.

    For some other views, see this thread on the PIAF Forum.]

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