Digium, Fonality in ‘Free’ IP PBX Fight


Open-source IP PBXs were supposed to target the incumbent telephony world’s lunch. But right now the Asterisk community finds itself in a food fight over the free, small-installation market, between upstart Fonality and the house of Asterisk itself, Digium.

The two well-funded companies have been in a constant state of bickering. The fight over the open source PBX market reminds us of the early skirmishes in the Linux land, where every new feature or a milestone merited a news announcement.

Digium on Wednesday announced some upgrades to its AsteriskNOWoffering, including simpler ways to purchase IP phones and VoIP services. The Digium upgrades follow closely the release earlier this month of version 2.0 of Fonality’s Trixbox, another Asterisk-based offering that provides GUI-based setup of a simple, small IP PBX deployment. For users, it’s all good since the competition spurs development and makes moving to an IP telephony setup easier and easier. Hey, there’s even a geekout video from Asterisk big brain Mark Spencer, showing you how easy it is to install!

For the vendors, it’s mainly a lead-generation play where turnkey IP PBX offerings hopefully lead to an upsell of pricier supported versions. And maybe then they take more food off traditional telco suppliers’ plates.

In the meantime, it should be interesting to watch the low-level open source dance as it plays out. For a bit of background, Asterisk is the open source code developed by Spencer, who heads both Asterisk as well as Digium, the commercial entity that sells and supports Asterisk-based wares.

Fonality, which drew some blogosphere heat from Marcelo “Voxilla” Rodriguez about the company’s hosted-services model, is doing its best to be the pirate ship in the Asterisk market, using the open source code as the base for new business models.

Fonality CEO Chris Lyman spent some time on the phone with us to talk open source IP PBX and Trixbox, which (like AsteriskNOW) is an all-you-need product, combining the IP PBX with a Linux distro and some useful apps (like conference calling) all in the same download or CD.

“Trixbox is basically a huge lead source for us,” Lyman says, noting that the downloads (he claims there are 80,000 a month) are mainly going to telephony geeks or other Linux types who want to play around with or install a phone system. Whee. “They can play with it [TrixBox] all day long,” Lyman says. “But when real IT directors need communications, they look for enterprise-grade stuff with extensive support.”

Which both Fonality and Digium are only too happy to sell you. For more on Asterisk, read Alec Saunders’ update of Digium’s news.


Buzz Hansen

As the CTO of a traditional PBX/KTS company, I am of course interested in where the Asterisk thing is going. In this industry, intellectual property has always been what adds value to a company. Specifically, unique features and architectures along with proprietary hardware (phones, line cards, etc.) protected by patents (open source community cringes). Trying to derrive reasonable revenue by reselling low cost PCs with “free” software (and maybe a cut of the SIP phone sales) seems to be a weak business plan at best. I am also curious why the “hardened” industrial versions of Asterisk (i.e. PBXtra) aren’t open source as well. Surely these modifications fall under the GPL. Not to be too negative, kudos to Fonality for what looks like an excellent call control package (HUD).

Steve Ferandez

Fonality’s model is not sustainable. One time charge of $1,000 and maybe a piece of the long distance (LD). The barrier to entry is very low. Proprietary technology is a must!
If Fonality is participating in the LD revenue -the question to ask is what would happen if that piece of the model went away.

That said I think Fonality has done a very nice job coming up with a clean and easy to use GUI. However, the barrier to entry is some web developers.

William Henderson

Besides open source linux IP PBX software, there is now also Free Windows IP PBX software available from 3CX… A valid option for those not familiar with Linux.


Oops, in my last post, there was an error and I should have stated:

“… especially in light Digium announcing their first appliance.”



Asterisk also has also recently forked on the Mac OS X platform into what the forked group is calling OpenPBX — interesting developments to watch especially in light Asterisk announcing their first appliance.

Linux Guy

I think Fonality has a great strategy. Supporting open source applications such as Trixbox in this way creates a stable and completely open environment for people to learn not only Asterisk, but Linux and web application development.

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