Fonality Trixbox (Base Appliance)

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Fonality's trixbox is an ISDN and traditional POTS-style telephony system based on the open source Asterisk software, and comes with dedicated hardware eliminating compatibility issues. We found trixbox to be competitively priced and easy to set up.

Trixbox's features extend beyond the Asterisk software on which it is based. It has a number of modifications providing a range of additional functions and bug fixes, which makes this product more flexible and reliable than a standard Asterisk installation.

Furthermore, a dedicated trixbox appliance eliminates concerns about hardware compatibility. Fonality offers a "Base" trixbox appliance, as well as an "Enterprise" appliance.

Test procedure
Our main focus is useability; we assess a product in terms of ease of installation, and ongoing maintenance and the range of features possessed. We consider menu structure and content, documentation and vendor support. Hardware is considered in terms of physical durability, component types and numbers as well as redundant features.

Design and features
The trixbox PBX appliance employs trixbox Pro software which is in turn based on a hardened form of Asterisk and provides for VoIP, ISDN and traditional POTS style telephony. All the PBX features you would expect are included plus extras such as forwarding of voice messages to your e-mail accounts.

The first thing about a trixbox appliance that grabs one's attention is the colour -- a lightish green that would sit well between potted plants. The styling is also unusual; silver flanges set in front of the forward cooling vents appear to be external heat sinks, yet could easily be taken as being part of the unusual curved styling of the font panel.

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Also at the front we find a four line LCD display with blue back-lighting. This status screen is configurable to display practically any details which administrators might wish to monitor.

At the rear we find a standard range of PC ports (VGA, 2x PS2, 4x USB, series, parallel, NIC and audio ports) allowing for direct administration of the device. Additionally there are seven slots available for telephone connections.

The device we tested had two cards installed, a network card with four ports (each of which may be attached to a switch to provide for many more IP phone connections) and there was one Sangoma telephony card which can connect up to eight POTS telephones. Up to six telephony cards can be installed.

As tends to be the case with applications have such a wealth of options, it takes time to learn where to find things in the menu system. While we can certainly appreciate having the vendor's support staff doing much of the administration for customers, there are probably times when we are going to want to make a few minor changes ourselves. Adding a new phone extension should not require a chat with your supplier. Making changes to dial plans and extensions is reasonably straightforward, but I'd like to see the product being supplied with a written guide explaining where to find particular options.

Fonality describes their product as hybrid-hosted. Although the equipment is physically at your own premises, many essential management and configuration procedure can be conducted remotely by Fonality. Having the box in your own office provides certain benefits -- there is lower latency (particularly for internal calls) and a failure of Internet services to your premises need not take out your telephone network. Internal VoIP is reliant on your own LAN and external calls can be routed via PSTN.

The trixbox makes use of a VPN to connect your equipment with central administration. This allows Fonality staff (or your own system administrator) to remotely configure the device from any Web browser at any location. It also facilitates trixbox remote diagnostics. Serious hardware and software faults are monitored for you and updates and other minor repairs will be done automatically. If one of the two RAID drives fails a repair ticket is automatically generated and trixbox staff will contact you regarding the repair -- possibly before you even realise you have a problem!

Combining trixbox developers' software and hardware makes for such a reliable product, they are willing to offer substantial discounts on support contracts over a software installation on your own hardware.

Trixbox also has a heads-up-display application which provides useful shortcuts and information to individual staff -- such as who is currently available for communications. Outlook and CRM integration helps users to identify who is calling and allows you to have all available information on the caller available at your fingertips. The interface allows for one-click calling from your onscreen display and there is even a chat function which is useful for coaching new call-centre staff.

Verdict
There were a couple of issues when integrating the trixbox with our existing VoIP network, but support staff solved this within 24 hours without the need for us to do anything. The VPN assisted remote management meant that the vendor can configure anything without physically visiting your premises. All you really need do is plug everything in ... not difficult, but a few short notes on this wouldn't hurt!

An impressive array of features and options are supplied -- certainly more than the Asterisk software upon which trixbox is based. We won't waste time by listing them here -- you can investigate further at the trixbox Web site.

We found the service provided by the local vendor, Insightful Solutions, to be excellent. We were assisted efficiently and with good humour. We would suggest, however, that such good phone support is essential when the written documentation is somewhat lacking.

Fonality's sales pitch is aimed at small/medium businesses looking for a lower cost alternative for their PABX telephony needs. A review of the prices on the net certainly suggests that trixbox is competitively priced. A system designed for 20 users with eight analog (POTS) lines will set you back AU$3,216.76 including GST.

You can purchase new phones or you can use your existing phones with trixbox. Service pricing for trixbox software depends on hardware, but is excellent where a trixbox appliance is concerned (12 months included in above price). The hardware warranty lasts 12 months.

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