If you have an analogue business phone system, you may be wondering if you can go 'digital' and make use of your existing data network. With so many phone system vendors and options in the market, you may also be wondering if you can "do-it-yourself". Well, we did this, and here is a quick summary of the things you should consider.
You can use your existing phone lines (landlines) and connect to telephone handsets or "soft" phones on your Mac or PC. The device that connects the landlines to you phones is called a Private Branch Exchange or PBX server (PBX) and it communicates with the phones using a set of rules called Voice over IP or VoIP . The PBX is just a general purpose computer on which you install your PBX software - we used Open Source software, Asterisk.
In general, the cost of purchasing a PBX server and VoIP handsets with which to run your OpenSource software is less than you would pay for a proprietary system. But you should not underestimate the time and expertise involved in setting it up. You also need to establish that your network is suitable to run VoIP. The real benefits come when you want to expand the system, especially to include remote extensions - for example, for staff working from home. The savings here can be huge.
For JPY, a major factor was that we wanted to be able to administer the PBX and handsets, from a web browser AND by computer program. Many of the proprietary PBX systems we looked provided these facilities only for PCs running Windows. We needed to be able to do this with Apple Macs.
If you are considering a similar move, then it is very important to plan it a step at a time with a fallback position in case things don't work as planned.
For the detailed story of our experience, have a look at our paper entitled "Adopting an Open Source VoIP Phone System".