Easy Asterisk in a Box: Jazinga VoIP PBX Appliance Reviewed

Originally published in December 2008 at Small Net Builder.

It has been nearly three years since I first published an article detailing my experience setting up an Asterisk server on an embedded PC platform. That turned out to be just the start of a wave of interest in the embedded system or “appliance” approach to Asterisk. Since then, a number of companies have offered ready-to-roll Asterisk appliances.

Many of these Asterisk “appliances” are really just pre-configured servers running a bundle of software built around Asterisk. To meet my definition of “appliance” the system should have no moving parts. That means diskless, fanless, silent and reliable.

Preconfigured servers are very capable but they often have much of the administrative overhead of an old-school Asterisk installation. They usually require someone with Asterisk or telecom experience to plan and implement a working system.

I have deferred upgrading my own Astlinux server a very long time. I knew it had to be done, but also knew that it would be essentially rebuilding the system from scratch. When Jazinga offered to let me evaluate their new Asterisk appliance, I saw the possibility of deploying something simpler, with less administrative overhead.


In their flagship MGA120 PBX appliance, Jazinga set out to build a device that could be installed in a typical small business, home or home office by someone with minimal IT skills. It combines common networking and IP telephony functions with software designed to make installation and administration truly easy.

Jazinga is actually the company name. While the device is officially known by its model designation, MGA120, it is more commonly known as “The Jazinga Box” or simply “Jazinga”.

The system is intended to be the core of a small office network. At its heart it is a custom single board computer running an embedded Linux system that also functions as a router. Various other supporting applications, most notably Asterisk, also run on the system as necessary.

Design Details

Figure 1 is a photo of the box’s board. It is based on an AMD Geode 800 (500 MHz) CPU, with 256 MB of DDR-333 RAM in one DIMM slot and a 2 GB Intel SSD.

My old Astlinux system was designed to eliminate writes to disk to safeguard the CF media. Jazinga takes advantage of newer technology, using a 2 GB Intel SSD as both boot media and file storage for VM, music-on-hold, configs, etc. Modern SSDs don’t have near the trouble with write wearing that early systems encountered using common CF cards or USB keys.

Jazinga Mainboard
Figure 1. Jazinga Mainboard

Figure 1. Jazinga Mainboard

An IC+ IP175C is behind the four-port 10/100 switch and 10/100 WAN port. The board also has two USB 1.1 ports an FXO analog line interface and two FX2 analog station interfaces (Figure 2).

Jazinga rear panel
Figure 2: Jazinga rear panel

Figure 2: Jazinga rear panel

The 802.11b/g Engenius EMP-8602 PLUS-S mini-PCI radio provides the WLAN. This Atheros-based radio supports 802.11b/g wireless networks and includes support for 802.11e, aka Wireless Multi-Media (WMM) extensions for wireless QoS. This should be especially useful if you wish to deploy any Wi-Fi-based cordless phones in conjunction with Jazinga.

Jazinga runs a somewhat stripped-down version of Linux derived from Ubuntu. The status page in the advanced menus shows a v2.6.20 kernel and Asterisk v1.4.20.1.

Routing Features

If we set aside the VoIP application and just consider its features as a router and access point, Jazinga seems to be typical of most SOHO/SMB products. The basic routing features of the system are listed below.

  • Firewall / NAT router based upon netfilter
  • DHCP server w/ MAC reservations and “next server” support for provisioning IP phones
  • DNS Server
  • Dynamic DNS client
  • VPN pass-through
  • QoS management including auto QoS for VoIP and assignable QoS for other applications
  • Port forwarding
  • UPnP Service
  • TFTP server
  • 802.11B/G Wifi Access Point w/ Single detachable antenna, WEP and WPA encryption and MAC address client filtering

  • shamus rask

    I would strongly suggest you take a look at http://www.rowetel.com/ucasterisk/. Not only is this a completely open-source project, but you can purchase one for < $300. So far, they don’t have support for G.722 or other wide-band codecs, but they are working on them (the beauty of Open Source).

    • Shamus,

      I’m well aware of that project. It doesn’t really relate to the target market for Jazinga. A lot of Asterisk appliances are still too complicated for an end-user to setup & configure. The GUI that Jazinga has developed makes the system more approachable. To the VAR it’s a way to ease the rollout of a new site, and perhaps hand-off some admin functions to local staff. For some people it will be enough that they can pick up admin operations on their own.

      In many cases being the absolute cheapest is simply not the point. I run Astlinux on an HP thin client that I recycled. Cost $0. But that’s not very approachable for many people. Further, having a vendor to turn to for help can be very valuable.

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  • Thanks for your very informative blog. I hope it’s ok that I post on a somewhat tangential topic to this review. Do you know about hybrid phone systems such as the Panasonic KX-TDA50G, Samsung OfficeServ 100 or NEC DSX-40? They come to the IP-PBX market from a legacy of key systems, but otherwise they seem relatively comparable to me. It’s almost as if you need to focus more on what kind of handsets/cordless phones they offer than the systems themselves.

    I’m currently using a Google Voice+Vonage+Skype setup but I know my ancient Cisco ATA186 and discontinued Philips VOIP841 won’t last forever. Since I’m moving to a new house that we’re renovating, I’m trying to find a future-proof solution that’s a grade above the usual consumerware (Philips or Gigaset come to mind) but doesn’t cost too much ($1,000-$1,500 top with 4 or 5 handsets) and whose administration won’t ask me to turn into a telephony expert. Any additional thoughts welcome, if you have anything to add on the topic.

  • Olivier,

    We once used a Panasonic KX-TG4000 key system, and really like it a lot. We had the main base, four cordless handsets and one cordless desk set. It worked really well in a very PSTN kind way.

    Now we use a Gigaset system and a couple of Polycom desk phones, all through a hosted IP-PBX. All wideband capable. Very nice, though the Gigasets are definitely consumer gear. Good, but consumer grade.

    If you want to go one step up I’d look into the new low-end Polycom Kirk DECT cordless systems. The cost has come down. The handsets are very nice, better than consumer grade. You can still use a couple of Polycom desk phones to fill it out. Probably within your stated budget.

  • Rod

    The restriction to the G711 codec is very limiting. The Rowtel IP04 provides much more functionality at a much lower price.

    • Rod,

      Perhaps what you say is true at some level, but they’re fundamentally different devices. I really admire David Rowe and his various projects, but they target at a different group of users. More of a techie, open source crowd.

      In contrast, Jazinga is a commercial offering by a company devoted to its ongoing support and development. They have a unique GUI that makes system admin very simple, and possible even for end-users. The codec limit was something that they were willing to reconsider based on user feedback. Have you listened to the VUC podcast when their CTO appeared as our guest? Here’s a link: http://recordings.talkshoe.com/TC-22622/TS-172964.mp3

      I think that both systems have a legitimate place in the market.

      • Jan

        I agree that the IP04 used to be strictly for the open source techie, but I hope I don’t promise too much when I tell you that we have a stable firmware with GUI available in two flavors. There is the VoIPtel CE (Community Edition) which we support through our Forum, and for the business user we have VoIPtel SE (Supported Edition) that is available with 3 different level Support Contracts. More info is available at http://voiptel-se.com
        And there is a new and very innovative player around. We have just signed up with http://www.positrontelecom.com , they have a similar unit to the Jazinga without the WiFi. But what is even more interesting is their Blade PBX’s, PCI cards with a complete PBX onboard. You can install several of them into a PC, no software or drivers required. We are currently finalizing a series of 2U and 4U Blade Appliances based on these cards. The initial models will be with Positron Blades only, later we will introduce a Server Blade Upgrade for added functionality. You will find some more info at http://blog.voiptel.no