Article:
  The PBX Is Dead; Long Live VoIP
Subject:   Still a lot of life left
Date:   2006-03-11 16:11:27
From:   RonBee
I'm a PBX tech (Nortel), so I may be a little biased. I'm also interested in the possibility of building and selling Asterisk boxes (as key system alternatives) because, with the proper cards, Asterisk supports traditional telephony and, since it includes voice mail, CDR, a conference bridge, etc, it could be very cost effective alternative.


What I'm not particularly interested in is using VoIP for businesses. Why? Because it does not consistently work, especially in small markets. In a small business enviroment there is too much out of my control -- and reliability suffers. And reliability is the major concern of business phone users, not whiz bang, gosh golly, gee whiz features.


The main problem that I see with Asterisk (and to some extent the whole Open Source community) is the constant tinkering mindset. "Open and flexible" is nice, but open source folks tend to constantly rebuild. Business users simply want certain features and they want the phone to work when they pick up the handset. Recompiling the Linux kernel five times a week isn't going to hack it in the telephone business. (Neither will the lack of good documentation.)


Asterisk, especially certain flavors like Xorcom, may be close for the key system, but as a PBX replacement they aren't even on the radar. Modern Nortel hybrid switches, like traditional PBXs, are highly reliable. Redundancy and hardware stability are the basic principles behind every PBX switch Nortel sells. New Nortel switches have added inter switch redundancy. The goal is to retain the reliability of the traditional PBXs on the hybrid IP platform.


I recently downloaded and read "Asterisk -- The Future of Telephony." I was very enthusiastic, and I still think it may be in my future, but the tendency of those who work with VoIP phones to pooh pooh reliability in traditional telephony, shows they are out of touch with the needs of businesses. Disconnect a business PBX from its power source for five minutes some time. You will probably lose your job -- or you'd better have a damned good reason. On the IT side, it seems quite acceptable to announce the network going down for installation of patches in the middle of the afternoon. That's part of the IT mindset -- it will not fly in telephony. Period.


VoIP promoters also want to pooh pooh the very real problems with QoS. Even the writers of the Asterisk book acknowledged that it was a real concern, but then ignore it. They also explained that IP packets are not condusive to real time speech. So, until there is a solution to these problems, I think any prediction that the PBX is dead is a bit exaggerated.


I think another problem for Asterisk (and other VoIP switch makers) is the very real reliability problems in the Cisco Avvid systems. Many corporations have "gone Cisco" only to return to a traditional PBX when the system did not perform up to past standards. In other words VoIP is gaining a very negative reputation. I think I've read recently that Nortel and Avaya IP switches are both now outselling Cisco's VoIP switches. There's a reason for that.


And one more point. The author suggests that the big PBX makers go fully VoIP. They tried going that direction (admittedly with the Windows platform) and it didn't work. Now that they've taken the NEC route (hybrid) their sales are growing. They've been able to retain reliability while supplying some IP features -- including IP phones.


Asterisk claims that its TDM support is "trasitional." Yet, to me, that's the attraction. I know the telphone network supplies reliable voice circuits, while the IP network is still struggling with QoS and trying to fit the square peg IP packet concept into the round hole of real time. Until there is a viable solution, in small markets as well as in big ones, VoIP will never replace the circuit network.


In short, traditional PBXs work, VoIP only sometimes "kind of" works. And, until VoIP foks really understand that reliability is the main feature required in a phone system, they will not take the market.

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  • Still a lot of life left
    2010-09-21 06:29:35  astr77 [View]

    I too have worked for a PBX and I completely agree with you RonBee. It is refreshing to hear from someone else who isn't slaying traditional PBX systems in favor of VOIP which they don't really understand.

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  • Still a lot of life left
    2006-03-30 10:45:52  Cador [View]

    I worked for an ISP for a few years programming the phone system (using Nortel phone equipment) for the call center and I agree with your many points. I self-taught myself how to program the PBX, CallPilot and Third Party software to connect the Nortel equipment to Dialogic cards. The company recently set up another call center out of town with VOIP phones connected to the PBX and the calls get constantly disconnected because of QOS. The company did not want to spend extra money on a dedicated internet connection between the two offices.

    Will Asterisk overtake the traditional PBX? Not until the QOS issue has been resolved. But then all major advances in technology always had a steep curve at first anyhow.

    And just to let you know, being an IT guy, I've taken down the PBX several times a week some times :) I probably should have gotten fired about 20 times!

    I'll feel badly for those who invested quite a bit of time and money getting the proper certification in traditional PBX training only to find that the open source community has robbed them of their livelihood (when the traditional PBX eventually loses it's market share). On the other hand, when life hands you a lemon--make lemonade. A PBX technician could use the opportunity to learn the new technology as well.