Review: PBXtra professional provides advanced features for small companies.
Fonalitys asterisk-based PBXtra Professional is a good voice over IP solution for small companies that need some advanced telephony features but dont want (or cant afford) a call-center-oriented solution.
PBXtra Professional offers a new middle ground in Fonalitys suite of PBX offerings, providing conference bridging, intercom, paging and reporting capabilities not present in the base-level Standard edition.
Companies that need a full-featured ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) system, skills-based routing or SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) trunking capabilities will need to look at the higher-end Call Center version of PBXtra.
Prices for PBXtra Professional, which was released in November, start at $1,999, with a number of optional upgrades available.
The system we tested came in at $4,112 and included a 3.06GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of RAM, a pair of 80GB SATA (Serial ATA) hard drives in RAID 1 configuration and a four-port FXO (Foreign Exchange Office) analog trunk adapter from Sangoma. Fonality also offers different tower and rack-mount chassis options.
We tested PBXtra Professional with a pair of IP phones that Fonality resellsthe $169 Aastra 9133I and the $245 Polycom SoundPoint IP 501.
Fonality charges $45 per phone to configure the device to work with the customers server before shipping it out. We also tested Fonalitys $49 PBXtra Soft Phone, a rebundled version of CounterPath Solutions EyeBeam that comes with a Plantronics headset.
Unlike other Asterisk-based distributions weve seen, Fonality uses a hybrid-hosted model. While the PBX server and phones are premises-based, the management infrastructure and Web page are hosted in Fonalitys data center.
When the PBXtra server boots, it establishes an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer)-encrypted tunnel back to Fonalitys data center, allowing Fonality engineers to push software upgrades to the PBXtra server or perform hands-on troubleshooting without bothering the customer.
All PBXtra versions include an unlimited number of free extensions, but this is somewhat deceiving. Fonality has done extensive testing with a small number of SIP phones to ensure that they work properly with the server for all supported features.
Consequently, Fonality discourages the use of other devices and impedes their deployment because Fonality engineers must set up the SIP device profiles in the PBXtra Professional server.
However, the company does offer a workaround for savvy customers who wish to get an unsupported device working on their ownprovided they pay a small license fee per device.
Configuring PBXtra Professional was an absolute breezeits quite simply the most intuitive PBX weve ever encountered. The Web management pages easily lay out how to create call flows, implement menus and instruction sets, set up extensions and groups, and monitor the health of the system.
The pages also provide insight into the current and historical status of the CPU, memory, trunks and network.
Unlike the lower-end PBXtra Standard, the Professional version includes a conference bridge, which we also found quite easy to use and configure.
We were disappointed, however, that we could set up only a single conference. Fonality officials claim multiple conference bridges will be a feature in an upcoming revision, but in the meantime, customers can pay Fonality to add more bridges.
Technical Analyst Andrew Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Evaluation Shortlist
Four Loops SwitchVox SMB
Also a PC-based Asterisk solution, but a little more expensive than Fonalitys PBXtra Professional and with fewer hardware options (www.switchvox.com)
Nortel Networks BCM 50
Offers good features and a strong reseller channel but lacks SIP support (www.nortel.com)
ShoreTels ShoreTel 6.1
Still lacks the complete SIP support that vendors are moving toward (www.shoretel.com)
Toshibas Strata CIX40
A newcomer to the small and midsize business space, the Strata CIX40 offers a migration path from TDM (time-division multiplexing) to IP (www.toshiba.com)
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Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at email@example.com.