I’ve had the opportunity to purchase and install the AastraLink Pro 160 PBX in a small doctors office and I wanted to post a brief review of the product.
My good friend is a dentist who was moving offices. As part of the move, a new phone system would need to be procured. I am a home user of Asterisk, the Linux based IP PBX system and I have been very happy with its overall use. I started doing a fair amount of research on Asterisk based PBXs. I did research on premise based systems, hosted systems and hybrid systems. I also looked at non-Asterisk based systems based on Microsoft Response Point and proprietary systems. Prices are all over the map. My biggest concern for my customer was first and foremost, usability. But, it also had to be priced right and feature rich.
- Auto-attendant (AA) with day/night/holiday scheduling and custom announcements
- Easy to use telephones that integrated into the PBX cleanly
- Support for FXO, PSTN line
- SLA (Shared Line Appearances) support
The last item was the most important. This office was moving from an old punch-key system and my fear was that the users would not transition well to the new PBX without the idea of a shared line system.
At home, I’m a user of PBXinaFlash (http://pbxinaflash.net/) and I’m well aware of its close relationship and integration with Aastra phones. The XML based system that Aastra IP phone supports integrate easily and tightly to Asterisk PBX. I purchased a Aastra 57i CT phone a few years ago and have been very happy with it. When I saw that Aastra had a Asterisk based PBX that was tightly tied to Aastra IP phones, I knew I had a winner. At about $750 for the PBX and about $150 per phone, they hit the sweet spot for a small office. After a bit more research, I purchased the Aastralink Pro 160.
Powering the PBX up and getting it online is a snap. The initial config is to grab a DHCP address, so no console access is required. One complaint is the external power brick. These bricks should be done away with universally for IT systems, the Aastralink Pro 160 is no exception.
After connecting the PBX to the network, you must connect a phone to the network as well. This will not only setup the admin account it will also tell you what the IP address of the PBX is so you can administer it. Plugging the phone into the network, it quickly found the PBX, loaded the latest firmware and began the registration process. After some short and easy questions on the phone (Extension info, password, full name and email address) the phone reboot again and on the Phone UI, the IP address of the Aastralink Pro 160 was displayed. This was the last part of the setup on the phone and I moved on to the web based config.
Logging into the Aastralink Pro 160 is pretty straight forward, extension and password is all you need. The Main Menu is displayed and you are off to the races. The GUI is not like any other Asterisk based GUI I have seen before and it is obvious that it was created in-house at Aastra. I’m a FreePBX man myself and I think the Aastra GUI is pretty good. It’s missing quite a few things that I would like (more on that later) but its great for the target audience, the small business.
Each subsequent phone that comes online gets registered and appears available in the GUI. You can modify quite a few things to make it custom to the end-users requirements. Is it as customizable as an out-of-the-box Asterisk system? No. But, for a small business, it does pretty much everything you would need.
For my dentist office, he wanted a single operator (receptionist) who would take the calls. The calls would either be transferred to an extension or placed on hold. The extension would be either answered or go to voicemail.
He did have some unique requirements that the 160 was able to handle without issue. The first was the need for every phone in the office to ring, not just the receptionist. This was easily done by creating a group, adding all phones to the group and then sending incoming calls to the group. The second was the ability to pickup a held call from any phone in the office. The Call Park feature handles this easily. Instead of just placing the call on hold, the receptionist simply places the call in the “Parking Lot”, which is available from any phone.
The killer piece of the Aastralink Pro 160 is its integration with the phones. Because Aastra makes both the PBX and the IP Phones, there is a very tight integration between the two. The user can modify the soft-keys via the web GUI, can open/close the office and can check the Visual Voicemail. This is all because the phone and PBX play very well together.
Also a neat feature is the function of the web GUI. You can listen to you email, check your call logs and even place outbound calls, right from the GUI. Neat stuff, that FreePBX doesn’t do.
The external SIP based connectivity worked right away. I entered in the login details to my SIP provider and it quickly registered. I was able to make outbound calls right away. With some tweaking on both the provider side and PBX side, inbound calls started to work. We decided on FlowRoute for the SIP provider, for its highly available service, great prices and support. I also did a Local Number Port to FlowRoute that resulted in about 4 hours of downtime. I don’t think this was FlowRoute’s fault, as they didn’t do anything and then suddenly it starting working. My bet is Verizon was slow on the gun.
All in all, a great product at a great price that fits the bill for a small office. But, that does not mean I didn’t have problems…the negatives for me were minor, but still negative. They were:
- Inability to designate more then one phone/user as the “Operator”
- No way to view logs — I’m having trouble getting the voice mail to email working. I don’t know if SMTP is getting blocked by my ISP, if my credentials are wrong, nothing. There is no error message, no email and no way to track down the problem. The ability to look at /var/log/messages or /var/log/mail is important.
- Many things that should be configurable, are hard coded. Thinks like the outbound calling key (8+ for SIP) should be editable.
All in all, I’m happy with the install. The dentist has moved his office, the phone system is working great and the staff were able to make a very quick and easy adjustment to the new phones.
Asterisk based open source PBX with Aastra IP phone expertise
- Quick and easy IP Phone provisioning that makes turn-up a breeze
- No hidden costs, support fees or licensing charges
- Visual and standard voice-mail
- Shared Line appearance
- Great price
- Works with SIP trunk providers
- Proprietary system that is fairly closed off
- Hard limit on number of phones and number of interconnected systems
- When there is a problem, tough to determine the cause
- No access to logs