Thursday, December 20, 2012

Home PBX Project - part one

This project is about installing a PBX and connecting to an external SIP provider for domestic and international calling.  Eventually, I plan to replace our current landline and home phone system.

Here's the high level "plan" for the project:

  • Learn about Asterisk
  • Choose a SIP provider
  • Set up a couple of SIP clients to just to get my feet wet
  • Select the hardware
  • Install and configure Asterisk, and various "helper" software
  • Set up an outgoing connection
  • Set up an incoming connection
  • Set up voice-mail and explore the features
  • Hook up a SIP phone or two along with a couple of softphones

Progress so far

I did some searching on the interwebs for someone who could connect me to the world of phones.  I ultimately selected AXVoice - I had read a couple of reviews that said they were easy to work with and their pricing was good.  I wanted unlimited domestic and international calling and they had a good package for about $17 a month.  I opted for a new number (so I could keep my existing land line while I experimented with this.)  

Just to get some experience with SIP based clients, I installed Bria on my iPad and iPhone and hooked it up to AXVoice.  I wanted to be sure that I had something working correctly before trying to configure Asterisk.  The iPad and iPhone version work well and they're relatively cheap.  The Mac version is $50, and I thought I could find something cheaper to test with.  I ultimately installed X-Lite and it seems to work fine - though you have to put up with some advertising at the bottom of the screen.


For hardware, I had an old Dell Desktop that I had retired a few years ago.  It had a half a Gig of RAM and a 40G hard drive and a 2 GHz processor. I had already set it up with an internal static IP address on an internal switch, inside a router connected to a cable modem for access to the Internet.


I thought I'd start by trying the method outlined in "Asterisk The Definitive Guide": compiling Asterisk.  

I know, I know... I figured this probably wouldn't work, since the book was based on an earlier version and things change quickly.  And, I was right.  I ran into several stoppers around missing libraries, things that didn't compile correctly, old instructions, old advice, etc., etc.

But my "Plan B" was to install PBX in a Flash.  There are some good getting-started instructions at Nerd Vittles.  So I grabbed the ISO image from SourceForge (PIAF- and burned it to a DVD.  It's pretty much a PBX-in-a-box including the CentOS operating system (a Red Had Linux derivative), Asterisk and FreePBX - a really (really) handy front-end to Asterisk.

I installed the "purple" version which loads the OS, Asterisk 1.8 and FreePBX 2.10.  This took several hours and a few reboots.  The only problem I had was entering a "master password" - for some reason the app would only "hear" the keys from my keyboard (2 that I tried) if I pressed them twice in rapid succession.  This took a while to figure out... I still don't know what the problem was, but I managed to get the password established.  That problem never occurred anywhere else in the installation or at any other time on that machine.

Once it was installed and running, I connected via SSH, just to see if I could. I then connected to the FreePBX GUI via a browser connected to the web server that is included in the configuration.  No windows manager gets installed on top of CentOS, so you do everything using CLI and the web app.   The web interface is well done and functions well. 

Next time

I'll be working with Mabel to set up an outgoing connection!

It's fun, so far!

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