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PBX Price Crazyness

In previous posts, I've spoken highly of Grandstream UCM 62xx PBX's, as they are very reasonably priced and time proven with Grandstream having been around since about 2003. However, at present, Grandstream concentrate on the smaller end of town - and there's nothing wrong with that, as small business makes up over 99.99% of all businesses in Australia, so there is indeed a huge market to be tapped into, and Grandstream are on a winner with their UCM line with features and reliability, and beat the competition hands down in pricing.

But in the age of NBN where most POTS exchanges are being turned off (unless you're lucky enough to be in an NBN Wireless footprint where you get to keep your POTS line), SIP (VoIP) is growing exponentially, and larger businesses like Hotels, Motels, Resorts, Aged Care/Retirement Villages and others in the medium upward size markets that are still using standard POTS lines, are also going to need to move that way, and that's where thing's get price crazy for hardware.

Some businesses in this medium sector will be needing phone systems with hundreds of lines, Grandstream's top line unit can handle 2000 registrations, but due to hardware limitations, the 65xx series max's out at around 200 concurrent calls, and I certainly wouldn't be using advanced music on hold or expecting to store a lot of voicemail messages on them, which although is still suitable for many medium sized businesses, it's out of the race for many medium size and larger businesses who need to replace POTS lines, this means alternatives have to come into consideration, the two that I would consider genuine contenders, and also long established in the VoIP world, are Xorcom and Sangoma (who as of 2018 own FreePBX), and this is where it gets crazy.

Take for example a system with a maximum of 1000 SIP registrations (be they pure VoIP phones, Analogue ports, or combination of both) and 300 concurrent calls...

Xorcoms match is their XR3000 which comes in at around 1700 US Dollars, the Sangoma equivalent, the PBXact UC1000 and UC1200, comes in well over 7000 US Dollars, the local Australian dealer lists them as being 3,600 AUD and 12,500 AUD respectively (the latter even more expensive than likes of Avaya who's phone systems are very popular in Australia) - for doing pretty much the exact same thing, how can Sangoma justify that is... well... it's just mind boggling, how in fact can anyone, any business, justify that. You can download, install, and use (the now Sangoma owned) FreePBX software free of charge and install it on decent enterprise hardware like HP DL360 for half the price of their hardware, a popular choice for small to medium size businesses is a Dell Optiplex, I favour the 5050 series with 256 GB SSD, more than enough for a PBX, they're about AUD 950, for something that will handle hundreds of registrations and over 100 concurrent calls it's perfect for most businesses.

I tweeted about Sangoma's price shock which prompted me to blog about it in greater detail, and as I was almost finished this blog post, about to publish, when I received a tweet from someone (related to Sangoma) attempting to justify the high cost by labelling Xorcom as outdated - well, sure, you wont get too much of an argument of out me there (unless they are more update than their literature alludes to), it's underlying software and OS might be a few years old, but it still works perfectly well and still does everything most businesses could dream of in a PBX. So to the tweet...

OK, so, is a new version of a free downloadable open source operating system (CentOS), and a newer version of a free downloadable copy of FreePBX (Software wise, PBXact and FreePBX are identical less some of the commercial modules), another drive, and 12G RAM worth the massive price indifference? Seriously?

I've been told it's mostly hardware that dictates such high pricing, but with my earlier comment on decent rackmount HP, or even Dell servers costs, that's obviously not the case here, especially when you look at their software only licencing, where you provide the server and they provide you the software... Staggering isn't it.

I've also heard Sangoma are hard to press for warranty claims, a case in the USA I'm aware of they wanted to charge USD 1500 to replace a dud SSD that died, well within its warranty - that alone sets off alarm bells in my mind.

*** Update ***
Sangoma reached out and informed me that they have the cheaper FreePBX appliance range, which is a fully featured latest FreePBX appliance, it uses the exact same hardware as their PBXact range, the difference is the FreePBX appliance range does not include the extra add-on modules (except the property management system which is installed and included free for up to 10 rooms) where as PBXact includes a number of them (but nowhere near all of the commercial mods), and I've yet to discover anyone who needs all the other stuff anyway, though, as with the downloadable FreePBX, the extra modules can be purchased separately if you really do need them.

But these appliances are only a little cheaper, at just under USD 6000, compared to the USD 7000 PBXact, for the 1000/1200 series, providing some cost savings, however with the terribly performing Aussie dollar, still much pricier than Avaya and NEC, and still way more than a commercial grade HP or Dell all set up ready to go.

I will attempt to further update this article once I receive localised pricing on this range of appliances, though I expect it to be in the region of US price plus 45-50% due to current exchange rates. (Update: It's been over a month and nobody can give me local pricing on the standard, not a good sign eh?)

When considering phone systems, shop around, not just for appliance/system best prices, but for competitors offerings that do the same things, or, at very least, tick all the boxes of your requirements, don't fixate on one thing just because some business centre sales guy (who lives for commissions) says you need.

You might even have spare hardware lying around you could install FreePBX onto - I do not recommend using virtual servers! You need to make sure the hardware is reliable, you can install it on a Raspberry Pi if you have a small office, it's actually what I do and far more reliable than most people might think, however many Raspberry Pi experts don't recommend the pi for more than about 10 or so concurrent calls. The only cost to you then is for someone to install and configure FreePBX for you if you don't feel confident in doing so yourself, it shouldn't take more than a couple of hours if you have complex requirements, and about an hour if your needs are basic (times for PBX system only, not including handsets configurations which obviously vary depending on how many and make/models)

Make sure you seek out a few quotes from techs experienced with FreePBX, they will likely be much cheaper than specialist IT consultants, some of whom have none to little experience taking forever and charging you like a wounded bull for every last second, why should you pay them to learn how to use it, might as well do it yourself.

Need to keep existing analogue phones?

These aren't going away any time soon, they are still very popular in hotels, resorts, retirement villages, mining camps etc, due to the greater distance of the POTS service (up to 6km's V ethernets 100 metres), larger FXS gateways are needed, there are pros and cons with most offerings, I will look at the Sangoma Vega 3050g, the Xorcom Astribank and the Grandstream GXW4248 because they offer high port capacities and ease of use.

* If you only require a handful of FXS ports, look at Grandstream and Cisco (Cisco have now EOL'd their 8 port FXS units) ATAs.
* The Xorcom XR3000 PBX appliance can be purchased with up to 16 internal FXS ports.

  • Sangoma Vega 3050g

    • Simple to use and configure, setup takes mere minutes
    • 50 FXS ports
    • Line length of 8 Km's
    • Two standard Telco 50 sockets
    • IP Based
    • Lacks RJ11 ports useful for testing
    • Lacks per port status lights, extremely useful for testing
    • Price is around $3K

  • Astribank XR0008

    • Plug and Play with any Asterisk based Server
    • Up to 32 FXS ports
    • Line length of 6 Km's
    • USB connectivity, (in rare cases this can be a problem with multiple units and port assignments if changed out)
    • Has rear a TCO socket of sorts, but is non standard with proprietary pin out and wiring codes
    • Has front mounted RJ11's, can be used as main input, or as a test point, doesn't isolate TCO pair.
    • Has front mounted LED's for status and activity. This is essential in such devices. Can be made to fast blink to locate a DAHDI port from the PBX.
    • Price is around $2K

  • Grandstream GXW4248

    • Simple to use and configure, setup takes mere minutes
    • 48 FXS ports
    • Line length of 2 Km's
    • Two standard Telco 50 sockets
    • IP Based
    • Lacks RJ11 ports useful for testing
    • RJ11 ports available on lesser capacity gateways
    • Per port status LEDs, extremely useful for testing
    • Price is around $1200

I'd like to see Sangoma provide per port status LED's on future Vega models as they can be a techs best friend. Vega Gateways are well suited for larger fit outs over huge distances, where the cheaper Grandstream Gateways are more suited to smaller hauls, but their 48 ports make a perfect match when pairing to most DSLAMs.

Sangoma as mentioned earlier now own the rights to the free open source FreePBX software, so they could elect to pre install it onto more cost effective yet just as reliable low power hardware like Grandstream does, perhaps one day they will, who knows, but at present, even their entry level appliance is more than twice the price of the more powerful Grandstream, and about the same cost as the much more powerful and capable Dell Optiplex 5050 micro or HP Z2 mini.

*** Before you decide to break the bank, it's possible your existing PABX can be upgraded or made to work without total replacement.

Finally, as I touched on at the very beginning, greater than 99.99% of the countries businesses are small business, who don't need older analogue phones in their new systems, hundred of lines, or gateways, so the smaller Grandstream UCM 6202 with hundreds of users and 50 concurrent calls, is the absolute best reliable bang for buck you will find in a complete off the shelf appliance for under AU$500. For something much more powerful if you're a fan of FreePBX, then the Dell Optiplex 5050 or HP Z2 Mini G3 loaded with FreePBX on SSD would be an even bigger winner, though both items coming in around AUD 900 would be more suited to a busier business.

By the way, if you need an easy to use perl script to mass add bucket loads of extensions and DIDs in FreePBX, contact me (top of page) and I'll shoot you over a copy.

Disclaimer: I have no direct affiliation with any company or product linked to or mentioned in this article.
I offer no guarantee that any links to sellers are to authorised agents, or that the prices they provide are the best available.

Please perform due diligence on all sellers, and review all of their polices before making any purchases.

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