FREETALK Connect might be an easy to install IP-PBX, but it doesn't skimp on features, packing quite a punch in advanced features, including Skype for Asterisk & Skype Connect support, paging, conference bridges, PSTN failover, custom CallerIDs per user, find me/follow me, and more. I took a FREETALK Connect system for a test drive and was pretty impressed with how easy it was to setup and configure, but was also impressed with its tight integration with Skype.
First, I should mention that FREETALK Connect runs with Asterisk in its core. Currently running Asterisk v1.4, the box relies on a Web portal for all administrative (add users, configure auto-attendant, etc.) and user interaction (voicemail, call forward settings, etc.). You don't get console access to the Linux kernel. I was told the reason is that they wanted a turn-key, easy-to-use system that couldn't be messed up by an administrator hand editing Asterisk config files. FREETALK Connect has all the core Asterisk features accessible from the web interface, including support for Skype for Asterisk, so for most businesses having console access to the box isn't a big deal.
Installation was a breeze. I connected the LAN port to to a test network with some new out-of-the-box IP phones connected to it as well. I also connected the WAN port to a network providing DHCP IP address assignment so the device could connect to the Internet. Next, I configured a PC to one of the ports on the LAN side which would be assigned IP address, gateway, and DNS settings by FREETALK's built-in DHCP server, which also provides auto-provisioning of the IP phones. I powered on the FREETALK Connect and then went to http://freetalk.gui/ to bring up the FREETALK web interface.
A wizard guided me through setting up the system, including configuring Skype, analog trunks, and extensions.
The box sports 4 analog PSTN trunk (FXO) ports and a 5th FXS port for hooking up a phone for emergency dialing. It also has a LAN port, WAN port, 4 US ports, and an A/C jack for power
Simply plug each supported telephone into the company’s existing network, and the FREETALK Connect auto-detects and configures it. An on-screen wizard then guides the customer through a few business-related questions that helps configure the company’s communication system and immediately enables Skype calling from every supported desktop phone in the office.
The admin interface was very easy to navigate and sported a nice clean design with large colored icons for each important function. From the Home screen you can access the status, users, teams, phones, networking (LAN & WAN), and more, as seen here:
Creating a customized auto-attendant was a snap using a graphical application generator to edit each branch menu option. You can use text-to-speech to simply type a script spoken back to the caller using TTS or you can ring your IP phone and/or your Skype username to record the prompt. I didn't see a browse for .wav or .mp3 option here, which makes it tricky to try and get professional recordings uploaded into the system. I'd like to see this option in a future release. Here's the auto-attendant editor in action:
FREETALK Connect has powerful mobility support. With FREETALK Connect, a user’s extension can call multiple phones concurrently, for instance, an IP phone, a mobile smartphone and any Skype client where the user is logged into Skype. For instance, I dialed into one of the four analog trunks connected to the FREETALK Connect and entered my extension (x100) and my Aastra 6731i IP phone rang and my PC rang because my Skype username (tkeating) was logged in and associated with x100 via the FREETALK admin interface. I could take the call using either the IP phone or Skype.
For traveling employees, this is a huge value-add. In a few ways, Skype is better than SIP-based softphones. For one, with SIP softphones, users or IT admins have to configure SIP usernames, SIP passwords, SIP proxy, SIP registrar, etc. Secondly, with Skype, users simply install Skype, which they may already use and have installed anyway. Not to mention some hotels or hotspots may block port 5060 (SIP port) or have NAT traversal issues, while Skype is renowned for it's firewall traversal capabilities. Thirdly, Skype has IM, video, and collaboration capabilities built-in, which the enterprise may want to take advantage of.
The user experience is pretty good. Users can access their voice messages, configure call forwarding, view call history, and more from the web portal, as seen here:
The voice messages display CallerID info and can be played over PC speakers/headset or downloaded. I was a bit surprised the web portal couldn't call my extension to play the message over the phone handset. That's a nice feature to have for privacy reasons. You could of course have a PC headset, but I know I often take my headset off and use desktop speakers. You can of course access voicemail from the phone, but if you save a lot of messages, using the TUI to playback a private message could be a bit time consuming. I'd also like to see a 'Call Back' button here for quickly returning someone's call.
You can also configure it so you receive your voicemails as emails. FREETALK Connect can even synchronize messages with your IMAP server to unify your inbox. If the message is opened or deleted in email it will also be opened or deleted from the phone and vice versa.
Features & Specifications:
Size and Weight
- Height: 70.0 mm
- Width: 308.0 mm
- Depth: 247.0 mm
- Weight: 2.09 kg
- Telephony interfaces: 4 FXO, 1 FXS
- Unlimited SIP trunks (fewer than 10 recommended)
- Concurrent calls dependent on available Internet bandwidth
- 1 x WAN (DHCP, Static IP, PPPoE)
- 1 x LAN (10/100 Mbps)
- USB, Audio In, Audio Out ports
- G.711, G.729 (Requires purchase of license, included with Skype for Asterisk licenses. Only suitable for Skype calls.)
- ITX Main Board- ATOM N270 @ 1.6 GHz , Intel
- GMA950 display core
- Broadband Internet connection.
- Skype for Business SkypeID, established via Skype Manager.
- Skype Manager Account to manage User Skype accounts, Skype credits, Skype Online numbers and usage reporting.
- PC for access to Administrator Portal and User Portals.
- If using IP phones, a multi-port Ethernet switch to connect via the LAN port for auto provisioning.
- Ready access to power (110/240V) via UPS (preferred) or surge protector.
- Aastra (most models)
- Cisco Small Business Pro
Skype for Asterisk
- Skype inbound & outbound
- Skype Online
- Buddy lists
- One license included
- Additional licenses required for additional voice channels.
In the box
- FREETALK Connect
- Universal power adaptor (UL, CSA, CE Approved)
- 1 x RJ-45 Ethernet cable
- 2 x RJ-11 Y-cables (for PSTN line inputs)
- 1 x RJ-11 cable (for analog phone or device)
- Quick start guide
- Quick reference cards
- Operating temperature: 0°C to 45°C
- SKU: TALK-1000
- EAN: 3744706100011
- UPC: 374470610008
- 1 year limited warranty
- Manufactured in China
- ISO 9001 qualified
- ISO 14001 qualified
The FREETALK Connect is a powerful, yet easy-to-use and maintain Asterisk-based system. Resellers and VARs will like how easy it to install and configure even when compared to other Asterisk-based systems. They've gone a good job of abstracting the complexity behind the scenes and even making it easy to get Skype for Asterisk and Skype Connect up and running. It only has a single conference bridge unfortunately with up to 10 participants. I'd rather have two conference bridges with maximum of 5 participants each since I know many SMBs require at least two conference bridges. It's interesting that they don't offer a T1/PRI option, but with many businesses going the SIP trunking route, that's not a big deal. Also, the built-in four analog ports is perfect for many SMBs until they decide to migrate to SIP trunks. Overall, I was pretty impressed with the FREETALK Connect and would not hesitate to recommend it to SMBs looking for a feature-rich IP-PBX that is easy to maintain and doesn't break the bank.