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PBX Price Crazyness

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 are going to need to move towards SIP, and like traditional PBX's, that's where thing's get price crazy.

In the smaller sector, where you have a few dozen extensions and lines, a small PBX can be purchased for around $400 for a mini industrial PC like a Partaker i3 where you can install FreePBX on it, or ready-to-go PBX like a Grandstream UCM, the former being more powerful hardware and feature ability, and with device level access, debug and patching is easy, the later is not as feature rich, and you have no device access.

But some businesses in the medium sector will be needing phone systems with hundreds of lines, beware the claims some make, Grandstream claims its top line unit can handle up to 2000 registrations (dubious. but we'll run with their marketing), 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) nor should you expect to store a lot of voicemail messages or recorded calls, although still suitable for some small and 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, 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, they are just computers with no special hardware these days.

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 well under 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 concurrent transcoded calls, it's perfect for most SMB's, as are many of the just as capable mini/micro industrial PC's from likes of Partaker (who actually supply some of the smaller capacity Sangoma PBXacts), these are very powerful and cheap reliable devices, though you do have to import them yourself, at the time of writing, there is no Australian distributor).

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, 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, in fact more, it's multi tenant capable, something FreePBX is not. 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 licensing, 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 reportedly a Partaker N3. Now the N3 bought privately configured with 8G RAM and 256GB SSD (far more gutsy than Sangomas supplied units) 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, that's 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?
Not forgetting my price is joe average retail where Sangoma would pay nowhere near that wholesale and in bulk. Be interesting to know what other models Partaker supply Sangoma.

*** 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 - wait doesn't that come with the free ISO download of the software anyway) 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 anyway, 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 or 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.

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 interoperability 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 transcoded 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 or more versus ethernets 100 metres).

There are pros and cons with most of the 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-like 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, but do all of your sums, it still may be cheaper to have ten Vega Gateways than a TA5000 loaded up.

  • Sangoma's Vega 3050g

    • Been around a long time. Sangoma bought out UK based VegaStream in 2011
    • 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

    • Xorcom are a long time VoIP vendor, HQ'd in Israel
    • 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

    • Been around since early 2000's, Gateways only since 2013
    • 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 noticeably 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 good few Km's like in 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 and no per-port status indicators.

Grandstreams Gateways are more suited to local and short hauls, like hotels, smaller mine camps or retirement homes, but 48 ports make a perfect match when pairing to most DSLAMs or splitter cards that are standard 24 pairs per connector. They need output power beefed up to reach at least 5Km's at 1 REN, that's also about the maximum line distance with ADSL2+

Xorcoms 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. and if asterisk server reboots, there's been many reports the units come up in wrong order throwing out extension mapping, I'd probably never use these again, they were ok for a single small hotel with a dozen or so rooms, but that option is now better taken with Grandstreams cheaper unit that follows standards.

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

Finally in summary, as I touched on earlier, greater than 99.99% of the countries businesses are small business that don't need multi thousand dollar replacement phone systems, maybe just an ATA or two for existing PABX users or if you're starting fresh a mini PC with FreePBX, a Mikrotik PoE switch and a few cheap but reliable Cisco 7800 IP phones, you'll save thousands.

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 may use now or have in the past devices mentioned here if they are fit for purpose at the time.

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.

Eddie Miers on :

I can relate to this madness, when we were moved onto the NBNco our IT company tried to tell us we had to replace everything, our phone system was about 30 years old, it worked, but was limited, so we agreed to modernise, but they wanted to sell us phones worth nearly $400 each, and a PBX that would cost $4000, I went on ebay and bought a Lenovo Thinkcentre, a micro PC (for such a small thing, it sure weighs a lot!) for $150 spent the weekend putting on FreePBX, as a proof of concept for management, I only had my own old SPA 941 VoIP phone, so used it along with my mobile, tablet, and desktop software clients to simulate a few users, my managers were impressed, we bought a dozen new Cisco phones at $140 each, bought the Lenovo off me for same price I bought it, we were lucky, the old phone cable wired by previous tenant was cat5e, so did not have to rewire the office, and as I new Cisco phones and I was his time anyway it cost him nothing for labour to program them up

In the end, we paid $1800 all up not the $8500 the IT company wanted

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