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Now for something completely different

August 2, 2012

We have been occupied with the office move and the millions of details that are involved with such a thing. Temporarily, the office was in the basement of my house but before the end of August we will be completely moved into new office space in Davenport, Iowa.

One of the fun things that got decided to do with the office move was to switch from a Panasonic Digital Hybrid phone system to a VOIP/SIP system. Initially, it was decided to try out SIP Hosting where we would have nothing but SIP phones in our location and the phone switchgear at the hosting company. This is pretty popular because of low costs, but there can be some problems.

One of the biggest problems was the hosting company expected us to be a lot more familiar with their system than we were. This led to all sorts of issues where we were not getting phone calls, not getting voice mail. One of the biggest concerns was how things were to be handled when our Internet connection was not active.

After a lot of education and educational experiences, the end result was that it was decided that SIP Hosting wasn’t the way to go at all. With SIP Trunking we would have a box at our office which held the voice mail and we would be completely in control of it – and more or less know when changes were occurring. It does mean that you have to sit and read up on how to actually do all of this configuring.

There are plenty of choices for dealing with SIP Trunking and one of the popular ones is Asterisk. Asterisk is an open-source solution that can run on generic x86 hardware. It runs under Linux and you do need to be pretty comfortable with Linux and editing endless text files in order to set up an Asterisk system. But the advantage is you can buy a cheap PC and have such a system up and running without any other costs.

We decided not to go with Asterisk for a number of reasons and just raw out-of-the-box complexity wasn’t really one of them. One of the things that we discovered with SIP Hosting was that we would also need to have one or more analog phone lines for faxing. Without that sending and receiving faxes gets pretty complicated. It is possible to hook up a VOIP-to-analog interface with Asterisk and be able to do faxing that way, but now you are in the realm of Linux hardware compatibility. Also, you can’t just pick the cheapest generic PC any longer – you need something with compatible slots.

With the desire for what is called FXS added to the hardware mix, I started looking around at other solutions. There was a box from Grandview (the GXE-5024) that sounded like it would be perfect for this application – except it was discontinued after round and round of fixes. It wasn’t ever really finished, much to my dismay. Grandview seems to be a pretty big player in the VOIP phone market, but unfortunately their budget system never seemed to get all the support it needed.
Well, back to searching…

The second option was a little more expensive (street price, same list price) but was currently supported by a company in existance for quite a while – Talkswitch. They have a box that is comparable to the Grandview unit for the same list price but not discounted as heavily, probably because the big discounts were people trying to dump their stock after it was clear Grandview was discontinuing theirs, so the discounts weren’t really that good a deal anyway.

One very large factor in selecting a VOIP PBX unit is the licensing costs. There are several manufacturers that will sell you their hardware cheap but there is a charge for each phone connected, each SIP trunk, etc. So you were thinking you could buy a $1000 piece of hardware but end up spending $2000 in licensing fees. Neither Grandview nor Talkswitch operates this way – I wouldn’t buy into that for a small business.

Talkswitch has some good software for the box and so far it is clear it will do everything we need it to do. Their support is a little restrictive, but that is to be expected with support costs being a huge factor for this sort of thing.

One thing that inspired me to write this was the fact that with our initial SIP Hosting adventure we bought 4 Cisco SPA303G phones. These are nice phones and are represented to be pretty much industry-standard devices so they should work with just about anything, right? Well, my initial conversations with Talkswitch people and resellers indicated that there might be some problems as Talkswitch directly supports only their own phones and those from a few other manufacturers – such as Grandview. It was clear that experience in configuring Cisco phones on a Talkswitch box wasn’t going to be easily found and Talkswitch said they could not assist with such a configuration.

After spending nearly $400 on Cisco phones and having them be pretty much industry-standard I thought it should be possible and could be worked through. We also went with a Talkswitch-recommended SIP Trunking provider (Broadvox) who has been very helpful. Getting connected up with Broadvox has been trivial – highly recommended.

OK, so how did the Cisco configuration go? Well, it turns out that the instructions for connecting a Cisco phone to a Talkswitch box are pretty simple. You need to configure a very small number of items in the Cisco phone to get started even thought the list of items that can be configured is impressively large. I will post the list in the next posting.

The important thing, and something that I hope others find useful, is that it really isn’t hard to configure a Cisco phone to work with Talkswitch at all.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Robert permalink
    October 11, 2012 9:52 pm

    Paul,

    Thanks for the encouraging words. I am trying to connect a Cisco SPA525G to a Talkswitch 480VSX, and the experience has been an epic fail. I have a lot of Talkswitch experience, but I am new to Cisco phones.

    I had the same thoughts as you, industry standard phone, open PBX system, should work. I’ve attached a number of other IP phones to the same switch, so I know the router, switch, and cables are not the issue. The problem is in the very complicated Cisco setup software and the incredible lack of useful instructions.

    I just went over the 332 page Cisco manual, and I think I’ve made progress, but still cannot connect.

    I will say the Bluetooth feature on the SPA525G is quite nice.

    Robert

  2. daniel permalink
    October 19, 2012 3:18 pm

    Hi Robert, got a Fortivoice System, (used to be talkswitch), have 10 cisco 303 and i am having the same problem with the support, can you please advise on the solution. many thanks

    danny Kattan
    dannykattan@gmail.com

  3. Patrick permalink
    May 28, 2014 3:52 am

    Hi, I know this post is quite old but did you ever get around to documenting the operation of the Cisco SPA phones with a Talkswitch? Like Daniel and Robert, I’m also attempting to get the Cisco phones running with a Fortivoice system and after several hours, aren’t really any closer.. except I can see from a packet capture the Cisco doesn’t even look like its attempting to authorise with the Fortivoice. If you could possibly share what you did hopefully the rest of us can take it from there!
    Thanks
    Patrick

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