If you make a lot of international phones calls, or even if you don’t make a lot of them but need to be flexible in how and when you make them, running an Asterisk server could be the way to go.
Asterisk is a OpenSource telephone system that runs on top of Linux. Asterisk can be quite difficult to manage as it involves editing text based configuration files. If you don’t want to do this you can install a web based management interface called FreePBX. This provides lots of management functionality from a nice web based GUI.
Here are just some ideas for how you could use your own phone system –
Cheap calls abroad from your cell phone
Asterisk/FreePBX provides a feature called DISA. This enables to dial into your Asterisk server (via a local access number available from an ITSP such as CallWithUs) and then dial back out again (again via an ITSP). This would enable to call anywhere in the would at a local rate, right from your cell phone.
With call conferencing you can have many callers all connected to the same call. These callers could connect via a softphone on their PC, a SIP handset or via a regular phone calling a regular phone number (available from an ITSP)
IVR – Digital Receptionist
In FreePBX you can create Digital Receptionists right from the GUI interface. This would be great if you ran a business where you had a single telephone number but wanted to route calls based on what the caller pressed (Press 1 for sales, Press 2 for support, etc…). This is surprisingly easy to setup.
Ring multiple phones/extensions from a single incoming call
Would you like to never miss an important call? FreePBX has a feature called Ring Groups. This enables you to ring multiple phones/extensions from an incoming call. The call is put through to whichever phone answers first. Or you can choose to have it ring your work phone first, then your home number, then your cell phone and divert to voicemail if none of these answer.
FreePBX includes a flexible voicemail system which includes being able to forward your voicemail to an e-mail address and web based access to manage your voicemails.
Sell calling cards or cheap phone calls
When combined with a billing system such as Asterisk2Billing (a2billing) you are not only able to make cheap phone calls yourself, you can sell them to other people. A2Billing includes everything you need including managing customers, accepting payments (though PayPal etc), configuring your charge rates, selling local telephone numbers …
A2Billing is configured through a web based GUI.
What you need?
These are just some of the things that you can do with Asterisk. To run Asterisk you will need a Linux server and a pretty good internet connection (depending how many concurrent calls you want to be able to make). You will also need to sign up with an ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider). Your ITSP will connect you to the regular telephone system for both oncoming and outgoing calls.