HomeBlogFonality Asterisk Phone System Review

Fonality Asterisk Phone System Review

Published January 12, 2006

I wanted to share my experience with Fonality.

We outgrew our current PBX system and we decided the new one should be based on an open source environment, that of Asterisk.

Why did we decide to go with an open source PBX platform? The answer is two fold.

(1) RustyBrick builds hundreds of Web based applications, many of these applications are business critical applications, off the open source environment, that it just made sense to move our PBX to an open source solution. It shows a sign of commitment and faith in the open source community and it is a statement we would like to make.

(2) We want the ability to customize our PBX for any situation. For example, we were able to integrate our custom task management system (yes built on PHP) with the phone system. One example of the integration is that we enabled click to dial from our task management system. An other example is that we enabled our iTunes to pause when an outgoing call is place or when an incoming call is received. Geeky, yes, but very useful. The possibilities are endless, in terms of integration.I do not want to get too specific about our future plans, but they will increase our staff's productivity and help streamline our backoffice processes even further.

Ok, so what about Fonality? Well, let me first explain why we went with Fonality and did not build it ourselves.

I personally wanted an extra level of support. If something breaks or if we need a extra set of hands, to help with a configuration or two, we have it. Fonality has a strong and professional bunch of tech people on hand. They continue to expand the base system they have and we benefit from those updates. So on both a software upgrade, support and reliability level and a hardware support and warranty level - we have them to go to. Just the other day, the Wildcard TDM400P had a failed port on it. I reported it, they tested it with me and sent a replacement, free of charge. So it is nice to have someone outside of the company to depend on and look to for these types of hassles (we have our own fires to take care of). Overall I am pretty happy with Fonality.

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posted by Zak on: Jan 30, 2006 04:30pm

Hi Barry, We're thinking of buying the fonality system, came across your review, and wanted to see how things were going with it. Still a system you recommend? Any pros/cons? Thanks! Zak

posted by Barry Schwartz on: Jan 30, 2006 04:33pm

I still recommend it. If you're an open source type of company, it is a no brainer. IMO, it is the best way to go with an asterisk solution.

posted by Rick on: Feb 6, 2006 06:31pm

Are they really OpenSource though...granted Asterisk is a true Open Source solution with their baseline adhering to GPL, but Fonality has their source code locked down....just concerns me that it is taking advantage of the OpenSource Community

posted by Chris Lyman on: Mar 20, 2006 10:00pm

Somehow my post came out with strange characters. So, let me try to post it again, and hope they remove my prior, and now duplicative, post: -- begin -- Hi Rick, I popped by this blog today and saw your question. Let me see if I can shed some light: No Fonality is *not* an Open Source vendor. Rather, we utilize Open Source technology inside of our company. Fonality *is* GPL compliant in accordance with GNU 2.0. We use Linux 2.6 and Asterisk 1.09 and our software is not part of Asterisk or Linux itself. All of our software communicates with Asterisk using its "standard interfaces" and runs under their "own daemon". Our software also usually executes in its own "binary" and is not part of the Asterisk binary. Therefore, our work is not "derivative" in nature. I purposely put quotes around these words because they represent some of the legal definitions that determine GPL software as defined by the FSF. So, to be clear Fonality's commercial products are *not* open source. They are built on top of open source. Think of Asterisk like Linux. There are hundreds of commercial companies who have built their product on top of Linux without violating its GPL. There are hundreds more doing the same thing with Asterisk. You wrote this above: "just concerns me that it is taking advantage of the OpenSource Community". I have heard this concern before. In truth, there will always be organic tension between open source communities, open source vendors, and the commercial companies built using open source technology. The tension is quite understandable: communities want everything to be free, but commercial companies need to keep the lights on. All I can say is this: Fonality intentionally buys all of its hardware from Digium. And, as you know, Digium is a huge contributor to the Asterisk project. Therefore, by "monetizing" Asterisk, we are very powerfully contributing to the community. Fonality has become a major source of revenue for Digium and also a contributor in identifying enhancements for the Asterisk software and Digium hardware platforms. In truth, we pay Digium a big $$ figure each month, and we do so proudly. We know that a percentage of each dollar we give them gets plowed back into R&D for the Asterisk platform as a whole. To dig a little deeper, Fonality's applications, quite simply, are *not* a part of Asterisk. They stand alone. So, even if we wanted to, we couldn't simply release some sort of patch to Asterisk. We write all sorts of independent applications that sit above and below Asterisk, enhancing its functionality to the desktop, etc. We have grown Asterisk from an open source project into a commercial product that fits the needs of the SMB marketplace. Much of our work is in a Web-based GUI so you can have telecommuters, manage the system from anywhere, etc. All of this being said, Fonality is about to "give back" to the Asterisk community in a big way. Fonality is soon to release a 100% free piece of software called HUD, which stands for Head's Up Display. When we launch the free version, HUDlite, there will be some minor modifications to Asterisk. We will, of course, be publishing these patches, in accordance with the requirements of the GNU 2.0 GPL. Fonality has been working on HUDpro and HUDlite for over a year and we are really excited to give it back to the Asterisk community. That being said, we couldn't have afforded the rooms full of engineers it took to author HUD if we weren't a bunch of evil, commercial, mercenaries taking advantage of the innocent Asterisk world. Read our press release on HUD here: http://www.fonality.com/press.html?20060314#20060314_anchor All seriousness aside, I thank you for your comments and appreciate where they come from. Trying to monetize something "free" (as in freedom not beer) is a delicate line to walk, and not one that is necessary comfortable for us at Fonality. That being said, we are huge fans of Open Source. I personally have been staring and running Open Source-based tech companies for over 10 years now and I am excited to extend the LAMP (Linux Apache Myql, Perl/PHP) acronym to "LAAMP". The extra "A" is for Asterisk. The entire acronym is an exciting testament to the economics and validity of the Open Source movement as a whole! -- Chris Lyman CEO & Janitor, Fonality http://www.fonality.com

posted by mustang on: Apr 3, 2006 03:19pm

do you know any Fonality competitor? please send me an email

posted by Tom Waterloo on: Aug 8, 2006 01:06pm

We have been using Fonality for several months. ACD works fine but reports are almost nonexistant. Additionally the que displays only update once every 90 seconds which is in effect worthless. Fonality is ok as a pbx replacement but it is not anywhere close to serving call centers. Additionally we we have found their tech support terrible, if they answer their phone at all. Overall, we are very disappointed with our experience with Fonality. tomw@fortephones.com 312-287-8604 Tom Waterloo

posted by Adnan on: Nov 8, 2006 12:59pm

I have had this system and have been working on getting it up and running for the last 2 months. FYI: PROS: Good sales team. Will explain what the product will do. CONS: -No user guide. It came with 3 sheets of photocopied paper that had user name and password. -Its upto the buyer to find provider that will support this PBX. The technology is not standardized. My SIP provider gave me 4 lines and 4 different registeration strings, but FONALITY accepts only 1, unless you upgrade to call center. There are ways around it, but its upto the buyer to figure out the solution. -Support has been so so. -Product was missing the softphones. I had to call and find out how to get the program that I paid for. Still haven't got the softphones to work because it requires license keys, which were also not given to me in the beginning. When I got an email for the license keys, the softphones wouldn't accept it. -2 months and still haven't made one call. If I knew the number of problems I was going to face, I wouldn't have bought this system. There are much cheaper options on ebay. I should have went that route. Be ready to be upsold many things at every corner which is very ANNOYING. Thanks, Adnan

posted by Barry Schwartz on: Nov 8, 2006 01:03pm

Yes, you need to be somewhat tech savvy to get this all set up. Good thing RustyBrick is all very tech savvy.

posted by njal larson on: Nov 30, 2006 09:51am

Barry, are you still happy with Fonality? I see a lot of blog posts about how great Fonality but they seem to be either new deployments or simple review tests. My experience is opposite, long-term production deployment, and we are not happy. The product is unstable and can not handle a 25 person team never mind the enterprise space. Here are some highlights… We have had 6 major Fonality caused phone outages this year. Our DR failover has yet to correctly fail over in any outage. Their support is abysmal, and we have issues that have been in place since day 1 that are still not resolved in 14 months. Don't even get me started on their QA program for software updates... suffice to say 48 hour outage to both production and DR with 5 days gone before we got a full resolution; this was a result of a 'painless 15 second update'. We have had the system for 14 months I can tell you this was the worst decision we ever made. Regards - Njal Larson, Satuit Technologies, Inc.

posted by Barry Schwartz on: Nov 30, 2006 09:57am

We are 10 people right now, and we are fairly happy. Normally, with each release, are bugs. I believe some of my older advanced call routing doesnt work since the newest release. Because it probably isn't 100% backwards compatible. But I need to go in and rework that. I don't mind those things too much. But im sure many do.

posted by hbmorty on: Dec 2, 2006 07:18pm

Hi Adnan. You mentioned "My SIP provider gave me 4 lines and 4 different registeration strings, but FONALITY accepts only 1, unless you upgrade to call center. There are ways around it, but its upto the buyer to figure out the solution." Would you expand on this and the solution you came up with for Fonality to accept the four lines/registration strings? Thanks!

posted by Adnan on: Dec 13, 2006 09:36am

hbmorty, You have to ask your SIP provider to give you more than one live connection with one registeration. If you consider normal Bell lines where you can make one concurrent call, with SIP provider, you can still have one DID but 3-4 concurrent phone conversations. This way, you only have to register one account. My SIP provider wanted me to register one account per DID but I couldn't do that with my package so I requested another option, and they told me that they can put all 4 lines on one account. To follow up my review, its now December 13th and I still haven't made one single call with my Fonality system. It's been over 4-5 months since the PBX arrived. Problems so far: They emailed me to tell me that I would be upgraded to Professional edition. Its been 2 months and after several inquiries as to its delay, I still have the standard version. I forwarded them the email they sent me but still no response. I still can't make outgoing calls. Went through 3 sip providers to make sure it wasn't my provider. Fonality is more concerned about making money on tech support than providing a working product. All my requests for help on something that should have worked out of the box is met with "you don't have tech support contract blah blah". Isn't the onus on the seller to make sure that the system is installed properly and any necessary help is provided till that point. Note that the softphones sold by Fonality are not supported by the Counterpath who is the company behind softphones, or by Fonality unless you have an arrangment. The softphones do not come with a help file or any other documentation to help you in configuration. Actually the softphones do not come at all, unless you request them and they give you the link where you can download them from. Same goes with HUD. My experience has been very disappointing so far. I am kicking my self for spending over $3000 for this system which I had big expectation from. If you have any questions, email me adnan at trusa.net

posted by Bruce Runyan on: Dec 15, 2006 08:27pm

Adnan, I feel compelled to respond to some of your comments; “They emailed me to tell me that I would be upgraded to Professional edition. Its been 2 months and after several inquiries as to its delay, I still have the standard version. I forwarded them the email they sent me but still no response.” The email with the free upgrade offer was sent only to Fonality customers who were on annual support and software maintenance contracts at the time of the offer. You chose not to purchase annual support and software maintenance. If we erroneously sent you the offer, then I apologize. “I still can't make outgoing calls. Went through 3 sip providers to make sure it wasn't my provider. Fonality is more concerned about making money on tech support than providing a working product. All my requests for help on something that should have worked out of the box is met with "you don't have tech support contract blah blah". Isn't the onus on the seller to make sure that the system is installed properly and any necessary help is provided till that point.” You haven’t paid for support, therefore we are simply not able to afford to support you. We have learned through experience that over 90% of our support calls involve troubleshooting local network configurations, routers and firewalls, and customer carrier interconnect issues. Only a very small percentage of our calls actually pertain to our PBXtra and HUD product lines. This level of customer specific infrastructure support and troubleshooting is exactly what I pay my Technical Support Engineers to do day in and day out. This is why over 92% of our Customers pay for annual support and software maintenance. “Note that the softphones sold by Fonality are not supported by the Counterpath who is the company behind softphones, or by Fonality unless you have an arrangment. The softphones do not come with a help file or any other documentation to help you in configuration. Actually the softphones do not come at all, unless you request them and they give you the link where you can download them from. Same goes with HUD.” Again, you haven’t paid us for support. If you were on annual support and software maintenance, we would provide additional assistance above and beyond our knowledgebase for these issues. As an aside, we have spent considerable time and effort in engineering our soft phone client to allow it pre-configure itself locally when given a proper software license key. Upon installation, the soft phone interacts with our Hybrid-hosted center and inherits the settings specific to your pre-configured PBXtra. With the majority of our customers, we find that this eliminates the need for additional technical documentation above and beyond that provided within our web accessible knowledgebase. If you feel that you fall outside of this scope, then you need to pay for support. Bruce Runyan Vice President, Operations and Customer Care Fonality

posted by Jason Taylor on: Feb 6, 2007 12:57am

We recently upgraded from a Meridian phone system to a Fonality PBXTRa. As with any type of technically oriented cutover there are always problems, three ways. Most of it is making sure everyone is on the same page with the right definitions. PBXTra or any other advanced phone system including Nortel or NEC phone systems should not be installed by your self unless you are familiar with configuring these types of systems and with setting up networking components such as switches routers etc. If you are not you should hire a company who specializes in phone system installation and configuration to plan and install your system for you. With that said, Fonalitys support has been good thus far with no major problems. PBXTra is a really awesome system and is recommended for any size of team. Just make sure to do your homework on your actual hardware requirements or have your vendor contact them to determine your actual needs and plan a solution.

posted by Joy Oh on: Feb 7, 2007 06:38pm

My company has been using the PBXtra from Fonality over a year now. From the beginning, we experienced call drops during conversation, call drops during transfer, call forwarding when it's not forwarded, call unforwarding when it's forwarded, etc, etc. Right now as I speak, I have three phones that just wouldn't stop forwarding. I've changed on their web control panel as well as in the phone menu itself, but it wouldn't work. When the call volume increases, a phone gets stuck and the buttons wouldn't work so only way to resolve that was to power cycle the phone. When we contacted Fonality on those issues, their answer was that the phones we bought were the cheapest (Swissvoice IP10S)and that's why it's not working. I don't think we were advised on that when we decided to purchase over $100 phones from them. We purchased over 30 phones. A few times a week, we get calls on our cell or emails from customers complaining our phone line is not working and only way to resolve that is to reset the server. Sometimes it works through web control panel, but in some cases, you just have to hard reset the server. Is this the phone issue, too? Yes we are not on their maintenance contract any more. If you have experienced what we experienced, you would seriously doubt if the decision of paying over 30% of your purchase price per year would be wise. When we contacted their sales on the warranty issue of the swissvoice phones, they told us to go to swissvoice. But the swissvoice website is advising to go to the dealer we purchased the phone from and doesn't answer email. We're still on manufacturer's warranty period but not on Fonality maintenance contract. Where can we get the warranty service? As for their web control panel, it is easy to use but it also seems to be another way to keep control over the product they already sold. When either their web server is down, or our internet is down, you can't do anything. This is a classic manifestation of "you get what you pay for". But, wait a minute, it's not that, because you would be paying over 30% to keep the maintenance contract. Did they make system bad so that people have to stay on the maintenance contract? Something has to be done to the company that sells non-working products and don't take reponsibility. It was the worst decision our company made that we switched from the working-great Nortel system to the Fonality because we needed a call center feature.

posted by Shaun on: Feb 21, 2007 03:17pm

We deployed a Fonality PBXtra Call Center system and from the start it has been an absolute nightmare, oh my god what a mistake.. Our client is a Heart Center with high call volumes and we have NEVER had a fully functioning PBXtra or HUD system (Its the PRO version to!) call park and call transfer seems to have a mind of it's own, call queue problems, calls dropping etc.. The support has been MANYANA level at best and no one knows who is doing what or any of the history of issues.. I think Fonality is working for Bill Gates to discredit the open source Asterisk effor.. They seem to keep getting awards for this crap and yet in 7 plus month and with $30k worth of onsite support from us still get it to work. Who the hell test's the system and gives awards or is like an award that you get in a Corn Flakes Packet??.. We have had contact with every one including Chris Lyman, Marc Smookler, Mike Joyce, Senyo etc. Our client calls every day with the same or sometimes another PBXtra issue or problem.. Wow I just can't say enough about the damage they have caused us and our client, get a blanket and a pile of sticks and send smoke signals before ever buying Fonality.

posted by ICBRAIN on: Mar 15, 2007 04:59pm

Well the Fonality situation for those unhappy customers seems to have a New home and maybe a Voice! http://fonalitysucks.com Take back your PBX! Join the growing not so happy Fonality customers by adding your post!!

posted by Peter Grosfeld on: Mar 15, 2007 11:51pm

We purchased our PBXtra over 18 months ago. At the time we were looking at Avaya and Shoretel and honestly,,,their cost was almost 3x the price, so we made the decision to go with a lesser cost PBX with similar features. We have benefitted from a number of upgrades, and over the course of time we have grown our Fonality system from 24 users to over 50. I would agree, some time ago there was very little documentation, and that was frustrating...but since then they have addressed many technical questions in their Wiki http://fonality.com/help; and added a great deal of info to the inline HELP in their GUI. We love our PBXtra and we are happy with Fonality. Peter Grosfeld

posted by Devin Gibson on: Mar 19, 2007 09:37pm

We own a Fonality pbx, we have approximately 120 phones. We have several call centers and many professional users in an office environment. (3 buidlings connected via fiber) Fonality now offers 5 conference bridges with the call center edition. Setting up the system is a no brainer. While Fonality is not perfect. The HUD software works great and is customizable. I use the drag and drop feature to make calls almost every time I make a call. We chose Fonality over Shoretel, Avaya, and Iwatsu. Shoretel was more than 50K more than our Fonality system. The conference bridge was an add on that we didn't even consider with Shoretel. We have had to call support for a few issues. If I had it to do over again we would buy Fonality again no question. They are not perfect but they have come through for us. Thanks Thanks,

posted by Dale Ranney on: Mar 20, 2007 06:50pm

Gentleman I see a wide range of comments regarding the Fonality PBX system and I just wanted to add my two cents worth here as a business owner. First I am a Fonality user. Second, at the end of the day Fonality has saved me allot of money, provided me with functionality that I could not buy at twice the price and the best thing its always up and running and I most likely have the oldest system they have out there. When I have had any level of techical support requirements they have always been quick to respond, professional and I have never been left with a down system. I can't say that about every other PBX supplier/Telco that I have ever used. So lets keep the eye on the ball here and not every issue is an IT issue, some times it a strictly a business decision. I would also say without question, I buy it again! Dale Ranney Chief Operating Officer Atlantic Development PArtners, LLC

posted by David Katz on: Apr 23, 2007 12:40pm

I have been reading a lot of the postings on his site and felt compelled to share my experience with Fonality. I started my due-diligence about 36 months ago comparing several different PBX systems and was committed to an Avaya system when I stumbled upon Fonality. Fonality has saved my company allot time and money witch first off I thought was too good to be true and they proved me wrong. In the initial start-up the system booted up as they advertised with a few exceptions, I had a ton of echo problems, and could not make outgoing calls. My initial thought was “what did I get myself into”. I am not the most technical person so I called support spoke to two different levels and came to two different conclusions. The Echo problem was my Service Providers; Support discovered this after some tweaking and a call to my provider. The second was due to the fact that in MN we have to dial a 3 digit area code along with the local number. This was one piece of information I neglected to inform them at provision time. Thus all the problems were solved. I too most likely have the oldest system they have out there, the support is great, the Fonality team is always quick to respond, and are open to any suggestion that might enhance my experience with the product. In closing I have and will continue to recommend this product. David E. Katz, CFO Durand & Associates Property Management, Inc.

posted by Stephen Tenberg on: Jun 5, 2007 05:32pm

We are one of the larger Fonality users with 120+ phones and 4 T1's. From the beginning our installation was remarkably bad. 4 pages of photocopied info as posted above, no account representative, just chaos. What we thought was call center software was just some very limited call queues with old displayed data. The fail safe cluster we ordered didn't work because they don't have the software yet to support multiple units fully - so the whole thing has to run on 1 server. In addition all of our T1's would not work with the system as promised and we had to order all new T1's. Eventually we were able to overcome and go live, with almost herculean effort. Since then its been a mixed bag. Right now it crashes about twice weekly, and has to be restarted or rebooted. Each new release gets a little better in some ways but then crashes in new ways. They have a major release scheduled for roll out in mid June, so I am standing by for that. I still like the system and would like to see Fonality succeed, but at some point my pain tolerance will be exceeded. We are going to make a decision witin a few weeks of receiving that new software. On a positive note, its a great idea. We have been able to do a little scripting to integrate telephony into our applications. And I suspect a lot of their customers half of our size don't have any problems. My guess in a year or two they will shake up the company and hire some people more customer proactive. The question is can we hold on until then by our nails. I am getting some pressure from the rest of the board to just write it off and get a new system. Stephen Tenberg CTO ComSearch, Inc. www.com-search.com

posted by Don G on: Jun 30, 2007 05:09am

well, i am about to order (this coming Monday) Call Center Edition on the 1U HP will all the upgrades along with the Aastra 9133i phones. i am not sure what to make of this thread, seems to cover the entire spectrum. like most of us, i cannot afford to have a call center that isn't functioning 99% (or better) of the time. i have had a good experience with my sales rep who has gone the extra mile with me to ensure that my T1's and SIP trunking are setup properly. any thoughts before i put my job on the line? regards

posted by Stephen Tenberg on: Aug 8, 2007 10:09am

Since the big upgrade in June, its been better and we are holding steady. No crashes in 3 weeks. Our sales rep was great too but never heard from him again after the sale. They have a new customer support manager that is much better, and things are looking better if you are patient and a bit of a risk taker. ST

posted by Wade on: Sep 3, 2008 05:56pm

Just got into one of these systems 2 weeks ago for about 5k. Whole thing crashed this morning... and it looks like I'll be paying a couple hundred bucks for shipping.

posted by Benny on: Apr 9, 2009 10:19pm

I am looking at purchusing the Fonality System for approximately a 75 person inbound call center. ANy recomendations? Does anyone recomend this system over the Arreva Indigo system or a Cisco (refurbished) system. The cisco is cheaper by approximatly 5k. The Fonality system is costing be approximatly 24k. He advise would help.

posted by Arnold on: Jul 26, 2009 05:18pm

We just got our Fonality system up and running about 2 weeks ago. The system has bee great. Obviously, there were some challenges at the beginning but overall, we are really happy. 1 thing though: do not use a cordless phone with an analog port. The inteference is really bad. Arnold CEO Appnovation Technologies

posted by Mary Chris on: Aug 6, 2009 12:57pm

We've had fonality for 4 years now. Have a bonded T1 connected to it along with land lines. Before I get into details, my single comment about fonallity is you get what you pay for! Cheap is never "cheap". I know this post is old, but surprised to see how many recent comments there have been. I'm also surprised to see the webiste fonalitsucks.com taken back by fonality. :-) That's unfortunate. there's nothing wrong with free speech. The only reason I came across this post was because, after having used a fonality PBX for 4 years, we came across another frustrating situation with them. And the most amazing thing is when we escalted it to the manager (Mike C) he felt that there was nothing wrong, when in actuality there obviously was! Keep in mind when we did purchased and installed our system, the now board members were the ones answering our phone calls and resolivng our issues. In any case, I have to say I'm EXREMELY surprised and dissapointed to still see some of these internal issues there. Mike seemed more interestd in covering his own but with someone in his dept, than acknoledging there was a problem. Low and behold when he found out it was also related to the sale dept, he said he would jump on it right away and make sure to push it up the chain of command to have that corrected. In the 4 years we've used their system, it's been truly some very frustating moments and some great moments of amazement that was built into this system. We've gone through 2 servers already that crashed and in situation like that, it's obvious they're still going through growing pains. I think we had the first server that crashed due to a HD and they didn't know what to do. And of course along with their growing pains, we feel it directly. And it can be VERY frustrating working these issues out with them, while their lower level techs are running around with their heads chopped off. Of course it takes a few hours of very frustrating, yelling and hair pulling, before it gets escalted to a level of compentency that can do anything. But it is more afforadable than antyhing on the market. Again, you get what you pay for.


Barry Schwartz is the CEO of RustyBrick, a New York Web service firm specializing in customized online technology that helps companies decrease costs and increase sales. Barry is also the founder of the Search Engine Roundtable and the News Editor of Search Engine Land. He is well known & respected for his expertise in the search marketing industry. Barry graduated from the City University of New York and lives with his family in the NYC region.

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