Open Source VoIP Takes A Few Steps Forward - InformationWeek

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11/7/2006
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Open Source VoIP Takes A Few Steps Forward

Several vendors, including Fonality, Digium, and Polycom, unveil new VoIP software, gear, and partnerships designed to move open source telephony into the mainstream.

As voice-over-IP gains ground in businesses and with consumers, the open-source community sees an opportunity. While open source never posed a strong challenge to conventional voice technology, the move to converged IP-based communications lets open-source developers treat communications in the same way they attacked commercial computer software.

This trend became more evident as open-source VoIP vendors announced a slew of new products in recent weeks. Most recently, Fonality on Monday unveiled a new IP PBX for midsize companies, joining the host of recent announcements that have underscored the potential and progress of open-source telephony.

Fonality CEO Chris Lyman says he hopes that PBXtra, based on a modified version of the Asterisk code from Asterisk that first brought open-source telephony some notoriety, will compete with the likes of Cisco's CallManager and other big name IP PBXs. PBXtra supports up to 500 users for as low as $1,995. It includes Web-based management capabilities and round-the-clock support, as well as most of the standard functions expected in a business phone system. The higher-end Professional Edition also supports unified voice mail and e-mail, click-to-call capabilities, softphones, and more. "It's feature parity to what the big boys sell for half the cost," Lyman says.

The company, which says it has more than 1,300 customers, also introduced a desktop-based contact management application that includes enterprise chat and presence awareness. Those releases follow on the heels of the introduction two weeks ago of trixbox 2.0, Fonality's latest VoIP application development platform.

Several open-source vendors made announcements at last week's AstriCon, Asterisk's annual conference. Probably the most significant was that Digium, which makes commercialized Asterisk VoIP software (and soon hardware), is partnering with Polycom to codevelop a SIP-based suite of telephony products for small and midsize businesses. Polycom phones will be able to be bundled with Digium's Asterisk Business Edition, and Polycom will be Digium's preferred VoIP phone manufacturer. Other companies announced applications like click-to-call for Asterisk.

Conference organizer Steve Sokol says AstriCon has grown each year since the first event two years ago. This year, for the first time, there also were a significant number of enterprise users at the conference. Sokol suggests news stories, venture capital funding for Digium, and developments like Sam Houston University dumping Cisco VoIP for Asterisk have solidified open-source telephony as an option.

Other companies have also recently bought into open-source communications. Amazon said last month that it would be rolling out open-source telephony from Pingtel enterprise-wide after a pilot in its Seattle headquarters; and marketing group [email protected] Marketing Solutions' 1,000- seat call center will soon be powered by Ranch Networks' Asterisk switches.

Fonality's Lyman says the examples of his company, Digium, and Pingtel show that there's a support model out there that works for enterprises and raises examples like Apache Web servers to show where open source is being used today in other critical applications. Still, don't expect an immediate groundswell of support for open-source IP PBXs just yet. The open-source telephony movement is in its early phases—Asterisk is a fly to Cisco's 800-pound gorilla—and most large vendors and customers haven't jumped on the bandwagon.

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