Why Asterisk Has Merit In The Home

This is arising from the VOIP Users Conference call of Nov 9 where someone commented to the effect that “Asterisk may not have much use in a typical home environment.”

I can’t completely agree or disagree. It’s not that simple. There are atypical people who will always undertake cutting edge things. They are few. But the uptake of Asterisk in general points to a broader group of people who are willing & able to do, or have done, interesting technological things in their home.

I’m not saying that I’ve done all these things. They are things I’ve read about, done or considered implementing around le maison du Graves.

  • Separate, private VM for each of the kids*
  • After hours filtering of calls from “friends” with known sleep disorders**
  • IVR based home automation
  • CRM-like caller-id pop-up on TV screen when the phone rings (a Tivo plugin)
  • Automatically duck the stereo volume when the phone rings (a Squeezebox plug-in)
  • Track your kids calling patterns through CDRs
  • Block calls to certain numbers
  • Provide for multiple simultaneous calls, without resorting to multiple analog lines
  • Conferencing beyond the three way calls found on most small two or four line phones (ala Panasonic KX-TG 4500)
  • Call recording
  • Hold & music on hold, using music from your private stash (presuming your have the rights)
  • Video phone, I’ve wanted to try this ever since we bought a new HD LCD TV last year

This is by no means a comprehensive list. But if that’s what I can recall of the top of my head then you know there are some really great ideas out there. We just have to sit and brainstorm a while.

Why expose your home network to another possible attack vector when you can access your home automation via IVR & DTMF? If you still use a land line (I don’t) you could keep it completely off network if you wanted. Not everything needs to be web-based.

*I once joked to my wife that, not having children, we should setup extensions and voice mail for each of our cats (2) & dogs (2).

**I once had a customer who fought with insomnia constantly. Each day I’d get to my desk and find a dozen emails from him overnight. It was impossible to keep up with his productivity. At least I was able to send his overnight calls to a custom voice message box with greeting that eased his frustration about not actually reaching me after 11pm.

And none of the above gives any consideration to the needs presented by my home office, which is why I switched to voip/Asterisk in the first place.


How To: Building an Embedded Asterisk PBX

Back in January of 2006 I wrote an article about my experience building an embedded Asterisk server based on the Astlinux embedded distribution and a Soekris Net4801 single board computer. Here’s the link.


What with all the recent enthusiasm for “Asterisk Appliances” this article seems more useful then ever. It’s a little bit dated as it references Astlinux 0.28 and 0.29 whereas Astlinux is presently around 0.45.

Even so the article is written from the point of view of a Linux novice and includes a glimpse into manually editing the configs using SSH from a Windows PC. There’s minimal emphasis on GUI, which should make some people happy.


How I Got Started With Asterisk: My First Asterisk Server

Back in Dec 2003 I had decided to finally take the plunge and build an Asterisk system to replace my home office phone system. I’d been tinkering with voip in various forms for many years, since using Vocaltech software over dialup in 1996, but this was to be my first production system. For the hardware I repurposed a P3-800 as the server hardware, bought some X101p cards, an ATA and one hard SIP phone.

The installation of the OS (Fedora Core 2) was simple enough given the availability of online guidance. It was my very first Linux experience so I made a few mistakes but eventually achieved what I needed. However I found the initial setup of Asterisk daunting. So, I decided to offer to pay someone to help with the initial config setup.

To get up to speed I’d been reading the Asterisk Users mailing list. So I just watched to find someone who seemed both knowledgeable and approachable. That someone ended up being Leif Madsen who was at the time a student at the Waterloo University in Canada. As a Canadian myself (although living in Texas) this seemed appropriate.

Leif and I discussed what I wanted to setup and he coded the requisite conf files for the vast sum of $100 CDN. Of course since then he’s gone on to be one of the authors of “Asterisk: The Future of telephony.” In later correspondence it came out that I was probably his very first paid Asterisk consulting gig.

Small world, isn’t it?

Phones That I Have Known

OK, maybe more than just phones voip-related devices….inspired by Randy’s question about our collective experience with hardware:

* denotes things that I continue to use

  • Polycom IP500*, 501*, 600*, 430*
  • Polycom CS100* (speakerphone gadget for use with soft phone)
  • Aastra 480i CT*, with 1 cordless handset
  • Pingtel Expressa (the single most worthless device I’ve ever bought…but pretty)
  • Zultys 4×5
  • Snom 200
  • Hitachi Cable WIP5000 Wifi cordless SIP handset
  • X-Lite* soft phone
  • X-Pro soft phone (sadly, there’s no migration path from X-Pro to EyeBeam)
  • Firefly IAX soft phone
  • Grandstream BT100
  • Phoenix Audio Duet USB speakerphone device
  • Mvox MV900 USB speakerphone gadget with bluetooth
  • Mvox MV100* USB speakerphone gadget
  • Sipura SPA-2000, SPA-2002*, SPA-3000
  • Digium X100p FXO (3)
  • Digium TDM400p with 2 FXOs
  • GN Netcom GN9350 DECT Cordless Headset
  • T-100* generic headset (a Plantronics clone I think, only $16 on E-bay!)

My operative principle is very simple…if something looks interesting I buy one. Then use it for 30-60 days and decide if it has merit. If it’s a good device put it into heavier service. If it’s not a good device then list it on Ebay and accept a small loss as the cost of aquiring the knowledge about the device.