An assortment of information, discussions,events, news and views on VoIP Services.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Want a free VoIP platform? * Conditions apply

Many of you might have guessed what I’m talking about by reading just the title of this post, as the phenomenon called Asterisk is not new to the world of IP telephony. For those who haven’t, pay heed. Listed on both the good and the bad sides of people, it has proven to be a blessing for upcoming ventures who don’t have enough funding, and a shape of things to come for the likes of established businesses such as those of Cisco, Nortel or Avaya.

Asterisk was developed by Mark Spencer, a 29 year old Computer Engineering graduate from Auburn university while still in college. He is presently the CTO and Chairman of the Board for Digium, the parent organisation of this open source application for VoIP, which currently has over 2 million users, according to their official website. The company had mainly been operating as a Linux consultant when it was started, but the IT crash in 2001 led to Spencer taking Asterisk seriously, since the organisation’s future was at stake now. What transpired since then is history. Asterisk is today the fountainhead of many popular SMEs operating in the VoIP arena. With Asterisk, a company can take out 80% of its telephone related costs and negate the requirement of a traditional phone switch, as the free software establishes phone calls over the Internet and handles voicemail, caller ID, teleconferencing and many other telecom features. Digium now has 50 employees and an annual turnover of $10 million by selling hardware installed with tested versions of applications based on Asterisk. With enterprise VoIP deployment reaching an all-time high, the future for this organisation is clearly very bright.
A few fast facts are listed below :

  • Electric utility Southern Co. is using Asterisk in a pilot program to translate voicemail into text messages for 30 managers’ BlackBerrys.

  • Manchester, Connecticut is about to begin using Asterisk to run an application tied to the 911 service that will cost less than $1 million, half the price it would have paid had it used traditional phone equipment, and at 10% of the operating costs.

  • Intel now makes Asterisk-compatible cards for computers and has tested large deployments
  • IBM, which itself resells internal telephony gear for Cisco, admits to have a “positive but very informal” relationship with Digium.

Spencer was actually ‘forced’ to develop Asterisk because he could not afford standard PBX systems that were very expensive. This is a classic example of necessity is the mother of invention combining with a case of intended serendipity, which led Asterisk to become one of the most popular platform on which many budding organisations have based their systems (an apt example would be SwitchVox, which used Asterisk’s system and was later acquired last year under a unification plan by Digium). While I might be going slightly off-track, it is truly a commendable effort by Mark Spencer towards expanding the application and usability of VoIP. While many websites have termed it as a threat, I would most certainly support the development of Asterisk as a saviour for small and medium business houses.

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