[kwlug-disc] Unlimitel/ATA pricing

L.D. Paniak ldpaniak at fourpisolutions.com
Wed Mar 11 23:28:53 EDT 2009

Hash: SHA1

Paul Nijjar wrote:
> --- On Wed, 3/11/09, L.D. Paniak <ldpaniak at fourpisolutions.com> wrote:
>> Let's try mutual ignorance reduction:
>> What is a Norstar CICS phone box and how does it relate to
>> phones with RJ11 jacks?
> Here is a Norstar CICS:
> http://www.athq.com/customer/home.php?cat=440
> It's some proprietary (and rather expensive) phone system. This box
> does the phone routing and extensions. 
> Regular analog phones with RJ11 jacks don't work with the
> system directly. Rather, the CICS transforms the analog lines into
> some digital format, and expensive proprietary phones interpret that
> format and work with the system. There's one thick cable that takes in
> punched-down lines from Bell, and another thick cable that you punch
> phone connections into (for extensions on the system). 
> I think that the incoming phone lines from Bell are analog, though. I
> have bypassed the CICS and used a regular analog phone on the line,
> and it has worked okay. (I don't know this for certain, however.) 
> So I think the diagram is:
> Bell lines -> CICS Box -> Extensions block -> Digital phones
> Does that reduce ignorance at all?

Yep, thanks.  Let's see if I can make any useful comments:

1) I don't think you should worry about swapping out your Nortel system
any time soon.  If you want to go that way, you should talk to John and
the guys at Netdirect.  They'll be able to help you (I see a note from
John just popped up).

2) To start with your own experimentation, I recommend an ATA or two, a
couple of good analog phones, and some willing participants with good
senses of humour.  The VOIP users will be cut off from the main PBX
during testing and will have different phone numbers (DIDs).  At this
stage the VOIP system might be most useful for outgoing calls.

The basic Linksys/Cisco ATA is the SPA2102:

It can support the registration of two DIDs with a provider like
Unlimitel ($2.50/month/DID +calls) and has two FXS ports.  This means it
can connect two separate analog phones, each with their own numbers.  In
fact, each FXS line can support a ringer equivalence number of 3, so it
can ring a fairly large number of modern phones (modulo interconnect
wiring losses). These phones will all share the same number and
extension - just like a typical single-line home phone.  If you want
independent extensions you need a PBX (see #5) - or something like the
hosted PBX service offered by Unlimitel:

3) Place an ATA at the front end of your incoming network connection,
just behind the modem.  This will avoid possible problems with NAT
traversal.  The ATAs also have reasonable (not heavy-duty) router
capabilities and can do basic QOS between voice and LAN packets.  The
ATAs have nice web interfaces and are drop-dead simple to configure with
Unlimtel supplied account data.

4) Do *not* use soft-phones in any environment where you are trying to
convince someone that VOIP is a replacement for Bell.  They will never
leave Bell.  Voice quality is nowhere near what you can get with even a
basic ATA and a cheap analog phone.

5) If you want a pure VOIP system with the possibilities of independent
extensions and voice menus, then you have to go beyond a simple ATA.  A
test installation of Elastix or trixbox on real (non-virtual) hardware
will give you a PBX where you can handle a small/medium office worth of
phones.  The ATAs can be used with this setup as well - this time on the
LAN side and the PBX server is now the gateway router.  If you get to
this stage, SIP/VOIP desk phones like the Cisco SPA942 are a nice touch.
 There are other options as well.

This kind of system can be dressed up with expansion cards to interface
with regular Bell lines for failover and your existing PBX. Again, John
knows all about that.

6) Outgoing fax over (Unlimitel) VOIP is a crapshoot and not worth the
effort.  Hopefully others will disagree and share the secret of their
success.  Incoming fax-to-email is offered by Unlimitel and works well.

7) I do not recommend using Asterisk directly in an undiluted form
outside of a PBX distro like Elastix or trixbox for a typical office
setup.  It is not necessary and you will just be painfully reinventing
the functionality provided by the distros - if you are lucky.  If there
is something that can't be done within these GUI-driven PBXes then
you'll probably be calling an Asterisk expert anyway.  I was forced into
mucking around with Asterisk on the router due to limitations in storage
and compute power.  Even a basic recycled Pentium IV system will not
have these constraints.

Hope that helps a bit.
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