A PBX in Every Home

There’s probably little data tracking this, but the PBX is no longer limited to the business setting.

It’s a safe bet to say that many of the thousands of installations of the popular open source Linux-based Asterisk PBX) and off-shoots such as TrixBox, FreePBX and others, are chugging away in private homes helping to create a fledgling internet phone connectivity system that is poised to give pricey international carriers the fits.

The home PBX is not yet simple enough for the casual computer tinkerer, but given the pace of development, that day is probably not far off.

Or it may have already arrived.

It’s still a bit of a secret, but some users of the Communigate Pro (CGP) internet communications server have discovered that the recently released version 5.1 of the powerful system is now free for up to five users.

This means home users (and micro-businesses) now have full use of Communigate’s suite of communications tools (including an industrial-grade email server, contact server, calendar server, XMPP-based IM server, PBX, Flash-based online access tools and full-fledged web server) that can be installed on dozens of different platforms, including Windows, Linux, Solaris and Mac OSX (install it on a Mac Mini, as we did a few weeks back, and prepared to be impressed).

Jon Doyle, Communigate’s VP of Business Development, confirms that the company, well-known for its email server solutions among large enterprises and internet service providers, has decided to make a five-user version available for free, though “no official announcement” will be made until November.

“We’re doing the Community Edition for two reasons,” Doyle said. “Communigate Pro comes packaged with several open applications and a simple but powerful programming language and we expect that there will be a lot of interesting uses and capabilities added by the community.”

“Just as important, though, is that we see the future as having a domain for any house,” Doyle said. “All communications, including phone calls, will go to that domain.”

It’s all part of a future Communigate sees built on open communications standards.

In time, Doyle predicts, “there’s no concept of tolls or location-based services as there is in legacy communications networks or closed networks such as Skype’s. User@domain is the address space, or identity, for all forms of communications on the internet; whether it be email, voice, video, presence information, instant messaging or web sites. It’s all open standards communications, whether in your business, your home or in your car.”

To Doyle, a household computer server is the natural progression of the growth in recent years of home networks. He envisions the Communigate Pro Community Edition server to be the backbone for all communications in a home where it is installed.

And because CGP version 5.1 includes a software-based session border controller, which overcomes the sticky NAT difficulties that has hindered the VoIP-standardized SIP protocol, it allows for remote registration of devices right out of the box.

“It means you can send a low-cost ATA to Brazil,” Doyle said, “and have it register with your CGP box in San Francisco. Calls between the two locations are free.”

The way CGP treats a user account is different than how Asterisk is configured. In Asterisk, any device that registers with the server is addressed separately, and no two devices (IP phone, ATA, etc.) can have the same log in credentials or share the same extension (though macros can be used to direct incoming calls to more than one device).

CGP, on the other hand, allows multiple devices to register with the same credentials (usually, the same as the user’s email credentials) and to share extensions. What this means is that a single account can have various devices attached to it (i.e.: a phone at home, one in the office, a WiFi enabled mobile, or an IM client running on a laptop connecting to CGP’s built-in Jabber-like server). The user sets his or her extension as an alias to the email address, and when someone dials that extension, all the devices attached to the account will ring.

Another aspect of CGP that differs is how voice mail is handled. Besides managing voice mail over the telephone, a user can listen to messages sent to his or her email account, and can forward or delete the messages (which erases them from the server) on an email client such as Outlook or Mac Mail.

Doyle believes that CGP’s built-in web server will also be of great use in the home. “We think that people will quickly develop tools to easily publish home photos or a family blog, without need for an outside server.”

In order to facilitate use of the CGP Community Edition in homes where broadband internet access does not include a static IP, Doyle said, a plug-in is available that allows seamless interaction with No-IP.com, a service that allows a URL to point to changing dynamic IP addresses.

It may seem a stretch for a company like Communigate to move from the enterprise space and the ISP right into the home. But Doyle points out that more than 125 million around the world are now end-users of the CGP email server, and “the leap into the home is not that great.”

“CGP has shown that’s its architecture scales up cleanly, with less resources, and less administration than any other platform,” Doyle said. “It also scales down because of that same architecture.”

Doyle expects that a series of documents to help new home users of CGP will be available on a community web site at the end of November.

Communigate Pro can be downloaded for free at http://communigate.com/download.