When you use a FreePBX server there are various options you have when choosing a device for making calls.
Here are some of them …
Physical desk phone
A physical VOIP desk phone connects to your FreePBX server over a broadband connection. One of my current favourites is the Yealink T22P pictured here. It has softkeys for selecting things like do-not-disturb and call history. There are 3 lines so you can do things like conference in another caller to an ongoing call. The sound quality is great and there is also a built-in speaker phone.
There are other makes and models, ranging from phones with no display to those with full colour displays. Any phone that is ‘SIP compatible’ should work, but some phones will work better with FreePBX, especially things like the voicemail waiting light and the softkey menus.
If you are rolling out a lot of phones it’s worth checking the phone is compatible with the FreePBX module called End Point Manager. This allows you to configure and manage phones centrally (on the FreePBX server) rather than configuring each phone individually.
The phone pictured here costs around £80 GBP.
Benefits : Fairly straight forward to configure. Good sound quality. Lots of features.
Negatives : Can be expensive
An ATA adapter is a device that turns a traditional analogue phone in to a VOIP phone. You plug your phone in to the ATA, and your ATA in to your broadband router.
The ATA will connect to your FreePBX server as a regular SIP extension. This can be useful in certain situations, maybe you have specific handsets that you want to continue to use. Also some ATAs will also allow you to plug in a regular PSTN telephone line. This could be use as a backup should your broadband connection go down.
It may also be possible to plug a fax machine in to an ATA and use it to send/receive faxes via your FreePBX server. However, while this can work, sending faxes over VOIP is not always reliable.
Another good use is if you have a DECT handset that you want to turn in to a VOIP handset.
An ATA would cost around £50 GBP
Benefits : No need to ‘learn’ a new phone. May work with fax machines.
Negatives : Can be as expensive as a cheap VOIP handset. Need a power socket near the phone for the ATA. Can be difficult to configure.
You may think that if you wanted a ‘wireless’ phone at home or in the office it would make sense to look for one that worked over your broadband WiFi connection. Unfortunately WiFi is a very poor choice for VOIP calls due to interference. A much better option is to use DECT for this wireless part, and then your broadband connection to connect to the FreePBX server.
Pictured here is a Gigaset N300IP, which will work as a base station for up to 6 compatible DECT handsets, and allow 2 VOIP calls at the same time. I’ve not used this model myself, but do have a previous model which works very well.
A base station plus single DECT handset would cost around £80
Benefits : Uses DECT for the wireless part of the call, a technology specifically designed for phone calls
Negatives : Could be complex to configure, especially if you go for multiple DECT handsets on a single base station
iPhone or Android App (soft client)
There are several applications for both iPhone and Android phones that work as a SIP client. There are both paid-for and free applications. Any that are SIP compatible and not tied to a specific call provider should work.
The one pictured here is Bria from Counterpath.
Some clients will integrate with the phone more than others. Making things like your contacts available, or choosing whether to call via VOIP or GSM when calling a contact.
Do bear in mind that when you are making a VOIP call from an application like this the IP data with be going over either 3G/4G or WiFi. Neither of these are specifically designed for VOIP calls and you could suffer with interference. It can work very well indeed – I have made calls from New Zealand to the UK using an application like this over 3G and the calls were perfect. You would have struggled to tell that they were not landline to landline calls. But if you have poor signal reception or are on the move (especially between GSM towers) call quality will likely be poor.
If you are going to do this ensure you are aware of any data limits, especially on 3G/4G connections. Also it may be against the terms of service on your mobile phone contract.
The cost starts at free
Benefits : Ultimate in flexibility
Negatives : Requires a good 3G/4G/WiFi signal, even then call quality may not be good. Beware data limits!
PC soft phone
Another option to a standard desk phone is to use a software phone on your PC/Mac/Linux computer.
The one pictured here is x-lite from Counterpath. This can be a good choice for users that spend a lot of time on the phone. Maybe a contact centre agent or receptionist.
While it’s possible to use the built-in speakers and microphone on a laptop the results will be poor. Much better would be to get a USB headset/microphone combination designed for this. I have a Plantronics Audio 655 which works well, but may not be comfortable to wear for long periods.
The major downside of this solution is that, obviously, your PC must be switched on to make and receive calls. It could be a good solution if you travel with a laptop that you can plug in to a wired internet connection.
Benefits : No or little cost. Flexible.
Negatives : PC must be switched on to make/receive a call.
Dial In and call bouncing
Finally an option that is not a VOIP device at all, but a way to call in to your system and then dial back out again. In FreePBX this is called DISA (Direct Inward System Access). This allows you to call in to your system from a regular landline or mobile phone, and get a dial tone. You can then dial back out again as if you were on a regular system extension.
This could be useful if you want to present a specific caller ID, or maybe all of your calls get recorded. It can also be used to make an international call at your FreePBX system rates.
Security is a very serious consideration when setting this up. You should ensure any access numbers are password/pin protected.
A similar option is to ‘bounce’ an incoming call back out again, to a fixed number. This is like the option above, but without the security worries of providing an unrestricted dial tone. This option can be really useful for making international calls at local rates. You could have a UK DDI number which, when called, rang an international number. I’ve used this a lot to make international VOIP calls from my mobile, by dialling a local UK access telephone number.
Benefits : A great way to make cheap international calls or where a VOIP phone is not available
Negative : Security implications should be considered