Easy I-PBX Play for Small Businesses

Simicomm rolls out self-installing, self-configuring Asterisk implementation

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Sep 19, 2007
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Madison, Wisc. doesn't have a big reputation as a center for communications technology, but it is the home of a tech company, Simicomm LLC, that's just emerging from stealth mode. It recently announced the official roll-out of EasySpeak, a low-cost, low-hassle PBX software package built on the open-source Asterisk code.

"We were formed to take a product that has been in development for three years now and commercialize it," Simicomm CEO Dennis Barnum told VoIPplanet.com. "We focused on making the product very easy to install, to utilize, and to maintain. So we spent a lot of time on two things. One is a very quick installation," Barnum said. (The software reportedly self-installs—including the Linux distribution on which the package runs—in about 15 minutes.)

"Second, the ability to plug full IP phones in and have them automatically register and configure, so they're literally ready to go with all the extensions and voicemail and everything you need, just by simply plugging it in," Barnum explained.

Another key piece of the package is the "toolbox" that lets an administrator with fairly limited technical know-how manage the system, make changes, and generally configure any aspect of the system. The toolbox, a Web-based portal, is installed on the customer's network along with the PBX software itself.

"When you plug a voice-over-IP phone into the system, there's some things it will do automatically for you," explained CTO and EasySpeak developer, Jeremy Fall. "It will register that phone with the PBX; it will create an extension for that phone based on the next available number, and it will create a voicemail format.

"The toolbox allows you to get finer control over that," Fall explained. "You can log in, make changes to your extensions and voicemail. You can set up auto-attendants, you can set up call queues; you can manage your phone service providers. Anything that you need to set up in a PBX system you can do through this easy Web interface," he said.

EasySpeak will run on just about any PC hardware, according to Fall. However, he cautioned, "we are recommending you install it on a server because, typically, if you go to Dell or HP or whoever and order an entry-level workgroup server, it's going to be better tested hardware than just going out and buying a workstation."

Fall pointed out that Simicomm has done all its testing on an entry-level Dell PowerEdge server that sell for about $500.

Barnum sees EasySpeak as a strong product that fits a gaping need in the market place: "A small business—with anywhere from 5 to 50 phones; maybe from 3 to 15 phone lines —who is not interested in going out and paying $20,000 to 25,000 for a Cisco system, or even in bringing somebody in and spending 10 to 20 hours customizing an Asterisk-based system."

"We're looking at that customer who's saying, 'I want something where I can get into this whole thing, including phones and all the equipment, for under $5,000—and that my network administrator can maintain,' " Barnum said.

Purchased direct, over the Web, EasySpeak is priced at $995, but Simicomm hopes to make most of its sales through the reseller channel that it is currently building. "We're signing up resellers around the world," Barnum told VoIPplanet, "We expect the resellers to install the software on the machine, take it into the customer site, place it into their network, solve any ancillary things that are required, train the customers in the use of the toolbox, then provide some ongoing support," he said.

For customers for whom $995 up front is an entry barrier, Simicomm is offering a lease option (really more of an installment plan): $50 per month for 24 months. "For the first 30 days, you have the right to cancel," Barnum added. "If you install it and it doesn't seem like it's going to work for you, we don't require that you continue the service. And you could also, if you decide you want to convert to a purchase, you can apply the first month's payment to purchase of the software."

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