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PBX Price Crazyness

In previous article, I've mentioned Grandstream UCM PBX's being fantastic for small business, as reasonably priced and time proven, with Grandstream having been around since being formed in Boston USA around 2002. However at present, Grandstream only really 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 (and likely elsewhere), so there is indeed a huge market to be tapped into, and Grandstream appear to be on a winner, their phones are not too bad either - not as crystal clear as say Cisco SPA or even the current 7800 range.

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 your new and only option, so businesses like Hotels, Motels, Resorts, Aged Care/Retirement Villages and others in this market using POTS or ISDN are going to need to move towards SIP, and like traditional PBX's, that's where thing's get price crazy.

Some businesses in the medium sector will be needing phone systems with hundreds of lines, Grandstream's top line unit can handle up to 2000 registrations they claim (dubious. but we'll run with it), but also claim a maximum of only 200 concurrent calls, and although it runs Asterisk under the hood, that immediately says the hardware is pretty gutless, so I certainly wouldn't be doing a lot of transcoding, or using advanced features like music on hold (which you can only do via uploaded files - no streaming even despite Asterisk being able to support it for years) or expecting to store a lot of voicemail messages on them, although still suitable for most small and some medium sized businesses, it's out of the race for most medium and certainly dead in the water when it comes to large businesses.

This means alternatives have to come into consideration, ordinarily you would expect me to say names like Mitel, Ericsson, NEC, Panasonic, Avaya etc etc, and many of these brands do offer a hybrid solution allowing SIP, but come on, they are just way over priced to be taken seriously any more in the small and medium sized business space.

So for out of the box ready PBX genuine contenders for medium sized businesses in the VoIP world, may be Xorcom, Yeahstar, and Sangoma (who as of 2018 own FreePBX and Asterisk), and even here it gets price crazy.

Take for example a system with a round about maximum of 1000 SIP registrations (be they pure VoIP phones, Analogue ports, or combination of both) and about 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. For smaller sites, a popular choice is Dell Optiplex, I favour the 5050 series with 256 GB SSD, more than enough for a PBX, they're about AUD 900, for something that will handle hundreds of registrations and over 100 concurrent calls it's perfect for most SMB's.

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 do they think we were born yesterday?

Being told it's mostly hardware that dictates such high pricing doesn't quite gel, as with my earlier comment on decent rackmount HP or Dell servers costs, so 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 (including most commercial modules) is more than a PBXact device... Staggering isn't it.

And Sangoma's entry level PBXact 25/40 hardware offerings is a Partaker N3. Now the N3 configured with 8G RAM ahd 256GB SSD will set me back only USD 260 posted, that's about AUD 376 - a far cry from Sangoma's closest offering, a PBXact 40 which one of their premier dealers crosstalk solutions in Oregan USA sells for USD 675 a PBXact 40 model that only has 2G RAM and 128G SSD, so a quarter the memory and half the disk space for twice the price? Ok, I get they need to recover costs for their custom badging, but twice the price? :-O Not forgetting my price is joe average retail where Sangoma would pay nowhere near that. Be interesting to know if Partaker supply all of Sangoma's hardware devices.

By the way, Partakers are industrial mini/micro PC's, they are perfect for a VoIP based PBX using SIP trunks, so purchasing one of these types of machines yourself directly and installing FreePBX on them, is very economical, yet a most reliable approach.

*** 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 minimal 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 server manually set up ready to go, so, sorry Sangoma, it's still too hard to justify these prices to customers.

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 sales agent or consultant (who live for commissions) say you need - ask about alternatives.

You might even have spare hardware lying around you could install FreePBX onto (Note: It is NOT recommended to use virtual servers, this is for performance, hardware interop and reliability reasons), you could even at a pinch install it on a Raspberry Pi if you have a small office, it's actually more reliable than most people might think or have you believe, however many Raspberry Pi experts don't recommend the pi for more than about 10 or so concurrent calls.

Need to keep existing analogue phones? We have Gateways for that!

Analogue lines 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 7km's V ethernets 100 metres).

There are pros and cons with most of the common gateways, but one recommendation is to ignore any dedicated gateway with less than 24 ports unless you're sticking it into a 12 room motel that will never expand.

Below I will look at the Sangoma Vega 3050g, the Xorcom Astribank and the Grandstream GXW4248, because they offer high port capacities and generally are easy to use. Although using multiples of these units may be cost efficient if you need only a couple hundred of ports, if you need more, then you need to look at higher grade enterprise carrier solutions such as the very popular Adtran Total Access range, with chassis that cater up towards 700 ports, or 480 ports on combo cards (that can also supply ADSL/VDSL over the same pair) they are perfect for your larger mines or retirement campus style installations, especially where you want to give voice and data on the same cable pair.

  • Sangoma Vega 3050g

    • Simple to use and configure, set up takes mere minutes
    • 50 FXS ports
    • Line length of up to 7 Km's at 1 REN
    • 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 AUD 3000

  • Astribank XR0008

    • Plug and Play with any Asterisk based Server
    • Up to 32 FXS ports
    • Line length of up to 6 Km's at 1 REN
    • USB based DAHDI connectivity, (in some cases this can be a problem with multiple units)
    • Has rear a DIN socket of sorts, custom 70 odd pins, is non standard with proprietary pin out and custom wiring codes
    • Front mounted RJ11's sockets, can be used as main input, or as a test point when rear connector used.
    • Per port 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 AUD 2000

  • Grandstream GXW4248

    • Simple to use and configure, setup takes mere minutes
    • 48 FXS ports
    • Line length of up to 1.5-2 Km's at 1 REN
    • Two standard Telco 50 sockets
    • IP Based
    • Lacks RJ11 ports useful for testing
    • RJ11 ports available on 24 and lesser capacity gateways
    • Per port status LEDs, extremely useful for testing
    • Price is around AUD 1200

Gateway Summation

REN distances mentioned above are from marketing material, as we all know that means in the real world it will be substantially less, the distances also relies on using decent copper, at least 0.64 or 22AWG.
Note: Most modern analogue phones are around 0.6 REN each.

Sangoma's Vega Gateways need per port status LED's (they are a telco techs best friend), they are well suited for larger distance hauls, typically over a few Km's like mining camps, large retirement villages, island sized resorts, etc, but 50 ports working with standard 48 port DSLAMs and TCO leads result in loss of 2 ports, that's not a big deal though, what is, is the excessive price tag compared to competition, especially with USD to AUD conversion.

Grandstream Gateways are more suited to local and short hauls, like hotels, mine camps or retirement homes, but 48 ports make a perfect match when pairing to most DSLAMs that are standard 24 pairs per connector. They need output power beefed up to reach at least 5Km's at 1 REN, as that's about the maximum line distance with DSLAMs.

Xorcom's Astribank Gateways are plug and pray with USB so work out the box on any Linux machine with asterisk installed, this idea worked well in the 00's, but needs to modern up with standard Telco 50 connectors and wiring to be relevant again, if you need more than a couple devices, they can be cumbersome to manage, other IP based gateways are more suited to modern and larger environments but they still work in smaller budget constrained environments. 32 ports is the maximum one unit, this needs beefing up to 48. I'd probably not use these again.

*** 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 is a reliable ready-built option for AU$500.

For something more powerful, and expandable - especially storage wise, and with way more grunt, still running FreePBX you can buy Partaker units which will handle many hundreds of concurrent calls for around AUD 5-600, you could even get a lower spec unit that would be a perfect fit in a small office for under AUD350 like a Partaker I3 C1037U 8gigs RAM which could handle 100 calls with reasonable ease.

Then there's other more pricey units that are as powerful as the Partakers, but with local offices, like
- Dell Optiplex 5050
- HP Z2 Mini G3
- Intel NUC

Having a local presence helps if you need support if you end up with a failed bit of hardware.

Of late, I am tending to favour the Partaker b7 units, cheap, reliable, and have a real rugged industrial feel to them.

It goes to show you don't need to spend many thousands of dollars for a new phone system.

This article was originally written June 2019, but has now received updates from Sangoma,

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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Mike Pezalaory on :

We bought a dell optiplex micropc off ebay for 350 and installed FreePBX on it, wow, performance was amazing for a small device, we have a caravan park with 18 self contained cabins, the grandstream gateways are awesome, we have the 24 port model, took like 3 minutes to setup, last cabin is about 600 meters away, it has 3 phones in it and they all work perfectly, so I think the 1.5 km limit is accurate, they are rock steady baby, though it cost us 990 for it, we are very happy, so are our residents.

As for the sangoma stuff, we got a quote off crosstalk solutions that was gonna cost us about 4 grand, for a tiny low end spec sangoma unit, geez sangoma are ripoffs

DJ Amliter on :

The grandstream fxs gateways are awesome, I work in mines IT, we have a lot of them for the rooms, gym, we even use them in the bar and lounge, dinning hall and couple of security cabs, one of those is easily two kilometres away from the admin building where the IT room is, so the 48 port gateways can most definitely work over that distance without a problem.

When you think about it, two kilometres is a long way for a private phone line, I don't see that as a weakness compared to the other gateways that claim up to seven k's? in their dreams LoL and no carrier is going to use that anyway, so hardly any point.

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