Vendor Network Architectures�Part XLVI: Fonality

This is one of the most successful commercial adaptations of the free, open-source PBX, Asterisk—engineered for SMBs and call centers.

By Mark A. Miller | Posted Oct 10, 2006
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Open-source IP PBXs, many of which are created from the Linux-based Asterisk software platform, have created quite a buzz in the VoIP industry. Rich feature sets (many of which rival traditional TDM-based PBXs) coupled with very attractive price points (since ongoing software licensing fees go away) are two key factors that network managers consider when contemplating a move away from a more traditional voice switching solution. With many of these solutions based upon the same software architecture, vendors must create unique features and functions to distinguish their products from the rest of the pack. That distinction is what Los Angeles-based Fonality (founded in 2003) considers their strong suit within the small-to-medium (SMB) business segment.

Fonality's product, PBXtra, is built on Asterisk—but with the addition of an amazing 250,000 lines of extra code (on top of the 170,000 or so lines that constitute the open-source implementation). Fonality comes in two editions: the Standard edition, priced at $995.00, and a Call Center edition, which sells for $1,995.00. Both offer standard PBX features, including automatic attendant, conferencing, voicemail, caller ID, call forwarding, and so on. Call Center product adds a full-featured automatic call distributor (ACD), call monitor, agent call recording, and other related functions. The software license is good for an unlimited number of telephone extensions, easing the concerns for small businesses that have visions for future growth. Fonality claims to have shipped over 1,200 servers, supporting over 20,000 phones, with over 30 million completed calls on these systems.

Both products come with the software installed and preconfigured on a new server box, and can support either analog or Internet Protocol (IP)-based telephones, including Cisco and Polycom models. Phones are priced separately, but come preconfigured to insure interoperability and full functionality.

Of note: The Fonality phones come with internal Ethernet bridges so that only one Ethernet connection is required for the user's PC and telephone—a feature that obviates additional building wiring in the many cases in which the network was installed years in the past. The systems are "plug and play" when configured for IP telephones, and simply require the addition and configuration of PSTN or T1/PRI (Primary Rate Interface) line cards to add connectivity for analog phones and high speed trunks.

So what's inside all of that extra code? Fonality calls it their Hybrid-hosted Architecture, a patented system that affords customers both the telecommuter and VoIP benefits of a hosted PBX, while still maintaining the reliability, scale, and PSTN benefits of an on-premise PBX. Here is how it works. First, Fonality ships its customers the premise-based server, which allows the customer to use VoIP, PSTN, or a PSTN-fallback technology (which seamlessly sends calls over PSTN when VoIP is not available or slow). Then, customers can take some of their phones (hard or soft) to their homes or even on the road with a laptop. Fonality's patented telecommuter system, which runs in their public data center, always monitors the remote phones and provides them with a gateway back to their PBX. This lets employees work from home, or call center agents work from the field, all sitting behind dynamic IP addresses (such as the ones that a cable/DSL provider gives their customers) without the need for a complex virtual private network (VPN). With this system, telecommuter customers can just use the normal public Internet and make free calls to and from their headquarters PBX.

A second key feature that sets Fonality apart from the pack is their web-based administration utility, which eases system administration for SMB customers, many of which do not have Linux Geek on their resumes. This software allows business owners to maintain their PBX from anywhere in the world with a simple web browser. Fonality also provides a web-based User Panel, which is given to each employee. This User Panel allows the employee to manage their extensions from anywhere at any time. This includes listening to voicemails, click-to-call from their call logs, call forwarding, and more.

Fonality also has a free Outlook integration utility that pops an employee's Outlook contact screen on inbound calls and allows him/her to call contacts right from their Inbox. In addition, Fonality offers a graphical user enhancement called HUD, which stands for Heads Up Display. HUD is a real-time call control application that allows drag-and-drop calling, on-the-fly call recording, and real-time call control for both inbound and outbound calls.

Further details on the Fonality architecture and products can be found at www.fonality.com. Our next tutorial will continue our examination of vendors' architectures.

Copyright Acknowledgement: © 2006 DigiNet ® Corporation, All Rights Reserved


Author's Biography
Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet ® Corporation, a Denver-based consulting engineering firm. He is the author of many books on networking technologies, including Voice over IP Technologies, and Internet Technologies Handbook, both published by John Wiley & Sons.

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