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Rolling My Own Unified Home Phone System
Exploring the mystifying world of VoIP, SIP, and more
We plant our flag in several locations throughout the year, and in each place, we have good internet connectivity. What we don’t have in each place is good cellular connectivity. While I can make and take calls on my smartphone over wifi, I do note some lag in the transmissions. I’d also like to not be quite so dependent upon a single device and account for critical communications, i.e., I’d like a good quality backup system in the places I regularly stay.
I’d like the home phone system to have the following characteristics:
Voice over IP for voice clarity and portability
SIP so that multiple endpoints can be employed
No on-premises server
Configurable so that all endpoints will ring, or some can be excluded
Ability to have extensions so that other family members can have some privacy on their calls
Notification of calls and messages
Voice mail automatically sent to my email
SMS texting possible from a phone app
Conferencing of phones (in anticipation of several family members wanting this)
Can be implemented on several different operating systems
Can be administered by more than one person
As inexpensive as possible to keep costs down
I have an Ooma home phone system in one place. I had hoped that Ooma would be something that would check all the boxes for me but that hasn’t been my experience over the past few years. Voice quality on our Ooma phones has been disappointing, especially now that I can compare it with the quality I get on my Cisco IP phone through LES.NET. The Ooma system also has noticeable lag in the when someone speaks and when the other person hears it. That has caused awkwardness in conversations as one party thinks the other is done and so starts talking, only to discover that now they are talking over the other party. Also, when picking up the Ooma phone and answering with a “hello,” the hello is usually cut off, causing the person on the other end to wonder if anyone is there. Both parties wait extra seconds to see if there really is an active connection. Awkward.
At work, we have a Ring Central system with two extensions. Voice quality is good. I don’t detect much, if any, lag. But it’s expensive and the administrative interface is a bit oblique at times. Ultimately, I’d like to extend a VoIP system to our two business locations a few hundred miles apart. I need to learn more before I will feel comfortable giving that a shot. It feels like I could do better with a self-built system but I’m not willing or able to go there quite yet. At home, though: yes, I’m ready!
I don’t want to run my own Asterisk server. I’ve experienced a little of that with my ClearNode and by running an AllStarLink node on a Vultr.com cloud server. Both nodes have provided great learning, but I think I’ll be most comfortable if someone else is managing such resources for a home phone system!
There are alternatives to Asterisk that I have not yet explored, other than to initiate a free 3CX instance. I don’t yet understand how to link the 3CX instance to a DID (phone number) and extensions. The feature set of linphone looks pretty interesting and the open source nature of linphone appeals to me.
And so I am exploring the mystifying (to me) world of VoIP. I started this journey by experimenting with a Hamshack Hotline number on a refurbished Cisco SPA303 IP phone. Then I added a “real” phone number via a SIP service. Except for a few quirks, I’m very pleased with the quality and reliability I’ve experienced with the SIP service.
The list of things I want is a bit broader than my current SIP provider supports, so I think much of what I want will revolve around the services available from other VoIP providers. Most of the resources I’ve been reading are oriented toward small business phone systems but I think some bits and pieces of those articles can be directly applied to a multi-extension home phone system. For example:
What I’m learning is that at my experience level, and with my budget, I’m probably looking at a SIP provider and VoIP to get some of what I want. Unified communications would be ideal, but these solutions are more complex and thus more costly.
Advice and suggestions will be most welcome. Feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts!