Switchvox Free Edition vs. Key Systems Functionality

Sunday, November 4, 2007

If you have been selling Asterisk based systems for any amount of time you have probably run across the potential client that either demands Keys System functionality or just simply can’t grasp the PBX concept. Often times the prospect just wants his new system to act like his old system so that they don’t have to re-train the mindset of their employees.With this in mind, I have been watching a few threads on the Asterisk-Biz list talking about Asterisk and Shared Line Appearances (SLA) and have been wondering why people are so desperate for this feature. The only logical answer has been presented many times by our prospects and customers- For the most part we have been able to combat the client objective by outlining the PBX features that make a PBX more useful than a Key System – for the rest we have tried this…

Switchvox Free Edition Like a Key System?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Key Systems you’d probably like to know what the true difference between Asterisk and a KSU are – Other than the obvious i’ll add.

Key System – The feature that most clients want from a key system is the Shared line appearance- this feature allows all users on the system to see a busy lamp on their phone when a physical line is in use. Most often times the feature that clients think they are losing is the ability to tell someone that there is a call holding for them on a specific line…

Key System Example:

An external call reaches the receptionist station on line one- The receptionist then notifys the the external callers desired user that they have a call holding on line one. When this internal transaction takes place either by paging the user to tell them about their call or through .e4’s common method (yelling across the room) and end-user can walk to any phone, select the specific line that is represented by a Blinking (BLF) key.

Asterisk Parking:

Typically, when setting up a PBX… There are features like parking that can give you the desired result above however, it requires some tinkering both with Asterisk’s config files and also the endpoints involved. Having said all of this, there is one thing that is lacking with some Asterisk installs from a basic install perspective… Busy Lamp Fields for parking Positions…

Now before you go flaming me about Asterisk 1.4 and the Metermaid Patch – remember that I am comparing Switchvox Free Edition to a key system and have ZERO acess to anything within the solution other than the Web User Interface. Switchvox has kindly installed all of this for us so we only have to worry about the phones themselves to create this functionality.

Our Solution:

Switchvox Free Edition…

Currently I am running Switchvox on an IBM xseries 306 1U server- Now I know that you are thinking that this system is not in the certified hardware category on http://www.switchvox.com/ and it is definitely known to be problematic with most Asterisk PCI hardware in the market – I just decided to use it for three reasons. One – I have a few laying around… Two – I will be using a SIP trunk for testing with the third reason being that this system will never go in to production. The box is just another test device in my growing list of lab gear.

Speaking of certified hardware- In our example we will be using a mix of phones that from what I can see are not supported with Switchvox free edition. Although this is the case I will be the first to mention that we have many Switchvox platforms both SMB and SOHO installed and I feel quite comfortable with using phones other than Polycom on the System.

The rest of the Gear:

Aastra 57i CT (Ext 102) –>

Polycom IP 550 (Ext 101)–>

Aastra 9133i (Ext 100)–>

Fortunately for us- Switchvox has already included the system “hints” required by our phones to monitor stations and parking positions… All you’ll have to do as an admin is create the extensions. voila – “Switchvox Presence” – Remember that in my scenario we are monitoring the parking positions and not the presence or availability of the specific end-users on the system.

Once you have created the extensions and configured the phones to register to Switchvox free edition there will only be a few changes needed to complete the set up. in my example I am using the web user interface to configure the phones- This is quick and easy… I have decided not to provision the phones via a centralized server because honestly I feel the solution can be more easily understood by the average Asterisk Newbie this way and the screenshots will make the install pretty cut and dry.

(if you want me to send you a copy of my config files for this scenario you can always message me)

Switchvox Paging:

Currently all of our example phones have the ability to auto answer should they be paged… Another fantastic thing about Switchvox free edition is that they have made it easy to utilize the auto answer feature within the Polycom and Aastra line by simply creating a paging/intercom extension. When creating this type of extension you have the ability to select who has the feature available and what devices will be in the paging/intercom group. To use the feature simply dial the paging Extension and POW- The phones in the group “beep” and go off hook giving the paging admin station the ability to talk with the available group extensions.

Note: Auto answer can be configured on the 57i Web user interface… Navigate to the preferences page and check the auto answer button…

Okay- Just a few things to mention here- This was never intended to be a tutorial however, I feel that it may be useful as one… I have made a few assumptions here…

  • you know how to find your phones IP address 🙂
  • you know how to create an extension in Switchvox Free Edition
  • you know how to register the phone to Switchvox using the Web UI of the phone

Once you have the phone set up and working you will need to point your web browser to the Soft Keys and XML Page of your Aastra Phone… My demo example will use the 57i CT… The 9133i also has a similar page listed as “programmable keys” To save time I will tell you what to do on the 57i to get this working and leave it up to you to figure the 9133i out as the set up is similar.

Soft Keys and XML:
Switchvox, again was kind enough to set up the hints for the parking lot that they have created as a default extension (700) within Switchvox free edition. When you transfer a call to 700 – You will hear the position of the call you have parked – The lot has been set up as 701-799 and will logically place calls based on the number of calls parked and the order in which they were parked

Once we have navigated to the Soft Keys and XML, in our example we’ll be configuring the parking positions on the bottom keys. To do this you will only need to select BLF from the pull down menu and enter the label and value parameters- I have used 701, (the first announced parking position within Switchvox Free Edition) 702, and 703

  • Label = What it will show on the 57i’s display
  • Value = the position to monitored by a busy lamp field (BLF)

Call Flow…

In my example I will be using the Polycom IP 550 as the receptionist’s station – lets assume for a minute that she has just taken a call for someone and wants to let them know that there is a call holding for them. She then transfers the call to 700- once she has done this the system will tell her that the caller has been placed at parking position 701 – assuming that there are no other calls parked there- If a call were already parked at 701 Switchvox Free Edition will announce another position from the logical group. 702 for example.)

Paging the desired end-user…

In our Switchvox free system we have created a paging/intercom extension 850 – The receptionist would now dial 850 and announce that there is a call holding on 701… Because we have set the Aastra phones to monitor the parking position 701 in the Web User Interface all phones that are configured this way will have a red blinking light and in the 57i’s case a small telephone that appears off hook on the display. To answer the parked call simply press the 701 key on any of the phones that are programmed with the above methodology.

In reality this is a bit different from the standard key system set up but I have found that this is an easier way to present Switchvox Free Edition or Asterisk for that matter to the customer that simply can’t survive without the functionality of their antiquated key system.

Questions and comments are welcome – Thanks for checking this out