Saturday, June 22, 2024

VoIPowering Your Office: VoIP Appliance Power-Shopping, part 3

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In our first two installments we ran some price comparisons of iPBX appliances,
based on our ficticious 50-person office. We looked at Pingtel’s SIPxchange
ECS, RockBochs’ Phonebochs, Asterisk Business Edition, and Switchvox. Our last
candidate is Fonality’s PBXtra. But first, I must correct a rather major omission:
Some of these charge annual per-user license and/or support fees, which ups
the cost considerably. They have be included in any price comparison, so we’re
going to hop back in time and do some calculations.

Support Redux and Per-User Licenses

Asterisk Appliance

The base appliance starts at $1,259.50. This includes Digium’s Silver Support,
which means you get unlimited email support and software updates for the first
year. Renewals are $299 per year. When your business depends on your phone system,
you may not want to dink around with e-mail support. Gold support adds $220 to
the purchase price, and buys five phone support incidents limited to weekday business
hours. Platinum adds $660 to the purchase price, and you get 15 phone support
incidents 24x7x365. Both Gold and Platinum include next-business-day replacement
and discounts on training. Gold renewals cost $499, and Platinum renewals are

There are no per-user licenses.

Switchvox SOHO

The base appliance is $1,595. It is advertised to support up to 20 users, hence
it doesn’t meet our 50-person office model. So let’s look at the Switchvox SMB
series. It appears we have to go up to the AA300, which claims to support up to
150 users, and up to 45 concurrent calls. The base unit costs $4,195, and that’s
just the beginning. That price is for VoIP only, no T1/E1, no FXS/FXO. Per-extension
Silver subscriptions are $55 each for the first year, and then renewals are $11
each. Not only that, Switchvox charges for virtual
as well. At least these are support subscriptions, but that’s still
expensive for something you may never use—plus you’re buying multiple subscriptions
for single users who have multi-line phones and virtual extensions.

SIPxchange ECS SE

The base unit costs $2,945 and includes one year of support for 35 users. Our
50 users costs an additional $600. Support is tiered, so you get Web-based support,
e-mail, or phone support based on the severity of your issue. As I noted last
week, SIPxchange offers a bewildering menu of support and extended warranty options,
so shop carefully.

Fonality’s PBXtra

Unlike all of the others in this series, PBXtra employs a hybrid-hosted model that combines customer premise equipment with hosted services. Configuration and management, remote access, call data reporting, and software updates are managed at Fonality’s data center. This relieves you of hassling with getting SIP through firewalls and going crazy managing access for remote users and branch offices. Voicemails and other data stay on your premises. Call data is copied to the remote management server for report generation and archiving. If you don’t want your CDRs living off-site you have the option to disable archiving.

The lowest-end PBXtra appliance comes with the free Fonality Minitower, which is a pretty wimpy machine for an iPBX. The next step up the ladder is a Dell minitower for an additional $699; this is a much stouter machine and it comes with a 1-year next-day on-site warranty.

The Dell minitower comes with:

  •  Dual 80GB SATA hard drives
  •  Software RAID
  •  512MB RAM
  •  Pentium Dual Core 1.6GHz CPU
  •  Single power supply
  •  Three PCI slots
  •  Two hours of installation support

PBXtra comes in three editions: Standard @$995, Professional @$1,995, and Call
Center @$2,995. This
compares the three. Then there’s HUD (“Heads-Up-Display,”
Fonality’s graphical management interface.) You definitely want at least HUD personal
to get a great user interface; this is free. HUD Team is $995, and HUD Agent (for
call centers) is $1995. This
compares the three.

You could go super-cheap and purchase the Standard edition with the free Fonality
server for $995 and install the free version of HUD. There are no additional
per-user licenses, and you can throw as many extensions on the server as you
like—until it keels over.

FXS/FXO or T1/E1 interfaces are extra.

If you want support and software updates, that is priced on a sliding scale
that charges less per user for as the number of users increases. Technical support
is tiered, with critical problems getting 24-hour phone support, and non-emergencies
getting e-mail and Web support. For our 50-person office that is $52 per phone,
annually, or $2,600. And note: That is per phone, not per extension or virtual

So let’s add it all up. I think the Professional edition of PBXtra plus HUD Pro are a great mix for most busy shops, and cheaping out on hardware costs more over the long run, so it pencils out this way:

PBXtra Professional $1,995
HUD Pro$1,995
50-user support$2,600
Dell minitower$699

total  $7,289

Summing up

Cisco and Avaya are the big gorillas in this space. I may do a comparison on them
sometime; for now the short story is they are significantly more expensive than
any of the vendors in this series. They dominate the market—all of the vendors
in this series lumped together own maybe a couple percentage points of the market.
Any of these smaller vendors will give you good service and save you a bundle
of money; you don’t have to pay the big gorilla tax.


VoIPowering Your Office: VoIP Appliance Power-Shopping, part 2
VoIPowering Your Office: VoIP Appliance Power-Shopping, part 1
Thank you to Chris Lyman of Fonality for his generous assistance with this article.

This article was first published on

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