First Looks: Linksys SPA9000

Voxilla's been playing with the eagerly anticipated small-form PBX for a while and, now that it has finally been officially announced, we tell you what we think. In short: this baby's powerful, innovative and, depite some minor annoyances, well worth the small price.

Now that Linksys has finally let the cat out of the bag regarding the highly anticipated SPA9000 IP PBX, Voxilla can now give you a first look at what you can really do with this powerful little device.

These views are based on the early availability version of the SPA9000 we have had for a few months.

The SPA9000 (full data sheet, in PDF format, available here) is similar to the previously-released SPA2100 in that it has a built-in router, two FXS ports, and comes in a very similar case to the SPA-2100's.

That's where the similarity ends. The SPA9000 includes a full-featured PBX where devices can register as an extension, utilize many standard telephony services, and make calls to other extensions or via external Internet telephony service providers.

The PBX features included in the SPA9000 are fairly typical. It includes standard features such as call transfer, forwarding, call parking and pickup, intercom, call hunt groups, direct inward dial mapping, music on hold, do not disturb, and three-way calling.

But it gets better, particularly pairing the SPA9000 with Linksys IP phones, the recently released SPA941, and the soon-to-come SPA901, SPA921, SPA922, and SPA942. By plugging these phones to a network switch connected to the LAN port of the SPA9000, the devices will automatically pick up a configuration file from the SPA9000 and within a few minutes, will be automatically registered with your SPA9000 PBX, assigned an extension, and be ready to make calls. Whenever the configuration changes on the SPA9000, the IP Phones will automatically reset and update their configuration as well.

Of course, it is possible to register any SIP compliant device with the SPA9000. You do not get the autoconfiguration benefit that you have with the supported Linksys IP Phones, of course, but you can use any device you like. We tested both Linksys and non-Linksys SIP devices, specifically Polycom and Grandstream phones, and they worked well.

As it comes from the factory, the SPA9000 supports four SIP extensions. With the included two FXS ports for legacy equipment, you get a total of six extensions for the suggested retail price of $399.

For an extra $300, you can register a total of 16 SIP devices with the SPA9000.

The SPA9000 includes support for up to four different Internet telephony service providers for both inbound and outbound VoIP calling. When making an outbound call, you may route calls to the different providers automatically or manually as you see fit. Incoming calls can be forwarded to the auto-attendant, a particular extension, or hunt group.

Speaking of the auto-attendant, you can record an auto-attendant message in your own voice from a telephone handset attached to one of the FXS ports. In addition to customizing the voice, you can customize when the auto-attendant picks up (e.g. after 5 rings or on the first ring after 5pm, for instance). You can also customize the auto-attendant menu.

The one feature that is not included in the SPA9000 is direct support for voicemail. However, Linksys provides a mechanism to integrate with the voicemail systems provided by Internet telephony service providers.

Linksys has made a special version of Asterisk that integrates with the SPA-9000. The changes Linksys has made to Asterisk are getting integrated into future Asterisk releases.

The SPA9000 currently employs a fairly limited authentication for SIP endpoints that register. A single password is used for all of the remote SIP extensions along with any extension number. However, attempted registrations after the licensed limit is reached are rejected. You may also restrict whether or not the SPA9000 accepts registrations on the LAN or WAN interface as appropriate.

While the device is not perfect — few first releases of a product are — it is a great IP PBX for the price point. Linksys will undoubtedly address some of these issues in a future firmware release and will continue to expand the functionality of the SPA9000 and successor devices. Anyone who utilizes more than one Internet telephony service provider or needs the functionality of a full IP PBX should seriously look at the SPA9000.