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.

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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.

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