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Introduction to the PC Phone System

A PC-based phone system is simply a phone system that runs on PC hardware. These systems are not as widely implemented in the telecommuncations field as they are in the I.T. world, so my experiences have been limited. Mainly for the purposes of testing, I decided to build an Asterisk lab. Here was a low-cost way for me to have a phone system in my home, that I could tweak and monitor to my heart’s content. I could also see if this system was actually practical for business telecommunications.

Not really having the desire to learn the ins and outs of the Linux operating system (which Astrerisk runs on), I decided to use a turn-key installation that installs both the operating system and the software. Needless to say, the supposed turn-key solutions did not install without difficulties. I was able to get it to work, but only because I am a quick study, an excellent “googler”, have knowledge of FTP and Telnet connections, and had the time to spare. I am beginning to understand why the IT guys have it in their own office, yet I don’t see it deployed widely. Of course any IT company with a resident Linux guru can have one. Another option is to pay a company to build one for you, but then you may as well buy a phone system. And here’s why:

Reliability

Everyone knows that PC’s are the most unreliable pieces of office equipment. That is a glaring contrast to the reliablility of traditional phone systems, which even function when mounted in non-ideal dusty and hot locations.

Ease-of-use

Only traditional phone systems can be configured as “square”. That means that everyone in the office can see the lines and extensions on buttons (as long as there are enough buttons available). This allows them to access them directly with no fuss, and to see at a glance if the line or extension is busy. Assigning direct access to any feature by pressing a dedicated button is valued as well.

Compatibility

Connection to analog trunks and devices is either an expensive option, or simply not available. Examples of these devices are: paging systems; loud ringers; dialup devices like credit-card machines, fax machines, time clocks, and alarm systems.

Conclusion

There is a place for PC-based phone systems. Many of the hosted phone systems (where the provider has the system in their data center, and you have the phones in your office) are successfully using Asterisk or similar platforms. IT guys love things that they get to tweak all the time. These systems, however, are too complex and not reliable enough in most commercial environments.

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