Jazinga: PBX for the Technically Challenged?

Small businesses looking for an IP-based phone system that will give them the appearance of a big company—with voice mail, auto attendant, unified communications, hunt groups, etc.—have two basic choices: a hosted PBX service or purchasing, configuring, and maintaining a full-blown IP PBX.

The hosted option has much to recommend it: easy set-up and management and low-to-no capital investment. But you pay forever and have to trust the service provider to ensure reliability.

Toronto, Ont.-based Jazinga claims to offer some of the benefits of a hosted PBX –simple set-up and management—in an on-premise IP PBX. Capital outlays are modest, about $1,000, exclusive of phones, and you don’t pay forever.

The product is a combination phone switch and wireless network hub/router running simplified SIP/Asterisk-based PBX software written by Jazinga. It won the company a “Best Newcomer” award at the Internet Telephony Conference in Miami last year.

Jazinga’s contention is that small business owners or employees without a lot of technical expertise can set up and maintain the system themselves using the built-in Wizards and browser interface. We decided to test this proposition.

The initial set-up Wizard does make configuring the system relatively simple. Connected IP phones are automatically activated at start-up, for example. And the system worked as advertised in our limited testing.

But we recommend it only to companies that have an amateur geek onboard who won’t be intimidated by the still considerable complexity of the system once you get past the initial set-up stage.

Jazinga sees its market sweet spot as small and home offices with up to 25 users, with overlap into residential and small enterprise markets. It’s probably overkill for most homes and one- or two-person home offices, but will undoubtedly attract some looking for high-end features.

One attractive feature: It lets you use both IP and analog phones and IP and analog services. That is, you can make and take and calls over either type of trunk using either type of phone.

Jazinga sent us the switch/router, plus two Linksys SPA942 (four-line) IP phones. It also provisioned VoIP service to use in testing.

The system will work with most SIP-based VoIP services—but not the Vonage service we already had. Jazinga is also involved in the Skype for SIP beta program, so it may soon be possible to add Skype trunks.

The Jazinga Quick Setup Guide, the only paper-based documentation provided, looks like documentation for a consumer product, with plenty of pictures, diagrams and screen shots, plus step-by-step instructions.

It might be somewhat more densely packed with text than the average consumer product quick-start guide, but it’s still fairly clear.

Using Ethernet cables, you plug IP phones and at least one computer into the LAN ports, and connect your Internet gateway/modem—or an existing router connected to the Internet—to the Internet port.

There are only four LAN ports, but an Ethernet hub (around $55 for 16 ports) will expand the number of devices you can connect.

The officially supported process described in the quick-start guide assumes you’re connecting the Jazinga device directly to an Internet gateway/modem and that you’ll use it as a wired and, optionally, wireless (802.11b and g) network router.

But you can plug the Jazinga box into a LAN port on an existing router and follow all the same start-up steps. It’s just that with another router between it and the Internet, the Jazinga quality of service (QoS) functionality—which gives voice packets higher priority than other network traffic to ensure call quality—won’t work. This is only a concern in networks with very high peak data traffic.

The Jazinga box also includes two ports for plugging in analog phone sets, and one into which you can plug a line from a regular phone jack—or from an adapter for a non-SIP VoIP service.

We plugged in our phone company line, one analog phone and the two Linksys IP phones.

The Jazinga box can take as long as five minutes to boot the first time. While there are blinking, different colored lights on the front, they don’t tell you much about what’s going on. You need to listen for three beeps to know when the process is complete—and they’re not terribly loud.

At that point, you can use a connected computer to launch the browser-based configuration software.

The initial steps in the set-up Wizard—license agreement, password, Internet connection—won’t tax any but the most naïve users.

The wireless network configuration does not allow you to set up a wireless network without either WPA or WEP encryption, so you need to know which to choose. (WPA unless you want to use legacy devices on the network that don’t support it.)

If you’re adding the Jazinga box to an existing wireless network that only uses MAC filtering for security—the case in our test bed—you will have to turn on and configure encryption on all existing devices or do without the wireless features.

To set up a VoIP service you’ll need critical information, which you should already have, or your VoIP provider can provide: proxy address and port number, username, password and telephone number.

One quibble: The field in the Wizard where you type in the SIP proxy address is labeled “gateway.” This was momentarily confusing, since it’s referred to as “proxy” elsewhere in the interface and in the printed information Jazinga sent.

The next step—still in the start-up Wizard—is setting up users. After naming them and assigning a username (for log-in purposes), you assign a phone to each by selecting one from a drop-down list. The list includes connected phones that were automatically configured at start-up.

The Wizard also takes you through setting up the automated attendant. You can type a script in one field and Jazinga will automatically convert it to voice using text-to-speech technology.

If you select the Record button instead, the next screen asks you to choose the name of one of the users you’ve already set up. That person’s phone rings. You answer and read your script into the phone. (There is no option to record on the computer and upload a file.)

The final set-up task is assigning actions for each button-press. If your greeting was, ‘For sales, press 1; for support, press 2; for accounting, press 3,’ you select the type of destination—user, team, or new branch (of the auto attendant menu)—from drop-down lists beside each number.

If you choose User or Team, another drop-down list appears from which you can select users or teams you set up in a previous step. If you choose New Branch, you go back to earlier steps in the auto attendant set-up. (You can also use this option to set up a recorded message—with directions to your facility, for example.)

That’s it. At the end of the process, we had a simple auto attendant that worked, two IP phones assigned to two different users that worked, and an analog phone that also worked.

In a real-world implementation, there would be more to do, of course. The rest of the process—configuring additional phones, adding new trunks, adding new users, etc.—is done using the Jazinga firmware’s browser-based interface.

It’s well designed and, for many tasks, self explanatory, but we did run into difficulty on a couple of things. This was partly because of misperceptions about how the system worked, partly because documentation for advanced set-up functions is not quite as clear as it could be—although the information is all there.

We needed to set up the system so phones could access both available trunks: the VoIP service and the telephone company line. The Linksys phones were automatically set up to use the VoIP service, but how to give them access to the analog line?

The phones have buttons along one side of the screen for accessing up to four available lines. We assumed we could configure one of these for the analog line. Not possible—although you can configure them to select multiple VoIP trunks.

By default Jazinga was automatically using the VoIP trunk when we dialed ten or eleven digits—from either of the IP phones or the analog phone. To make the analog line available, we needed to add a new Dialing Rule—which is easy enough to do once you realize it’s required.

Now, when we dial 9 and then ten or eleven digits, Jazinga routes the call over the telephone company line. It’s not as elegant as pressing a button on the phone to select a line, but works as well—and works with phones that don’t have line buttons.

Bottom line. The company’s suggestion that you can set up the system in “minutes” is hyperbole. And the implication that it can be done even by technical neophytes is also exaggeration. Still, given its sophistication, this system was remarkably quick and easy to set up.

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