Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Linux Authors: Pat Romanski, Liz McMillan, Carmen Gonzalez, JP Morgenthal, AppDynamics Blog

Related Topics: Linux

Linux: Article

Open Source Telephony Answers the Call

Innovation is key

Open source telephony will play a key role in keeping North American companies competitive in today's global marketplace. Not only does open source reduce upfront and operational costs, it increases productivity and furthers innovation in ways proprietary technologies cannot.

Take Aheeva as an example. Montreal-based Aheeva, a developer of call center applications, considered launching a spin-off company that would provide contact center outsourcing services including technical support, sales, and newspaper and cable TV subscriptions services.

However, at first glance it seemed too expensive since the start-up cost of setting up a call center (based on a proprietary PBX solution) would have cost close to $2 million.

In addition, many companies find that once an expensive standard PBX solution is implemented, it's not customizable, does not provide the level of support needed, and there is often little they could do to improve it.

Drawing from their vast expertise in evaluating and recommending call center technologies, Aheeva was in a position to compare solutions and implement a best-of-breed solution for its spin-off, the Atelka call center.

In March of 2003, they discovered Asterisk, the open source PBX/telephony application for Linux. Aheeva began as a three-man consulting service, with no call center. Working with high-end, very expensive, proprietary, hardware-based Lucent Genesis PBXs, they struggled to find contracts where they could deliver a fast return on investment.

By September 2003, six months after they discovered Asterisk, Aheeva dramatically increased the number of contracts they were able to pursue and win. Their new list of happy customers received the benefit of a reliable technology and a huge cost savings that Aheeva was able to pass along to them. Aheeva now continues to grow its consulting arm, adding 25 new employees including 15 engineers. Furthermore, they were now able to create the Atelka call center, which provided a new line of revenue for the company. By September 2005, Atelka will exceed 500 call center employees providing a wide range of services.

"We immediately saw the potential in the Asterisk solution," says Georges Karam, CEO of Aheeva. "We adopted Asterisk and got to know it very well."

Many companies now need call centers that can handle a high volume of calls for their technical support or sales department. Asterisk already has the functionality needed for this application built in: call queues, parking, extension logic, contexts, etc. "Call centers can benefit extensively from Asterisk-based call center solutions," says Karam.

Another key value-add for Aheeva was Asterisk's customizability. Aheeva was able to create several specialized tools to complement existing features and increase their contact centers' productivity.

Aheeva needed to simplify the configuration and administration of the existing Asterisk dial plan (Asterisk normally uses text-based configuration files to handle this). In addition, Aheeva needed to expand the ability of Asterisk to handle load balancing over an array of multiple Asterisk servers and switches, without losing track of the channel in which each individual call resides. This improved Asterisk's quick deployment and scalability.

AGI, or Asterisk Gateway Interface, is patterned after the Web's Common Gateway Interface so that the programmer can use his or her favorite programming language to create Asterisk applications, then communicate with Asterisk through STDOUT, receiving Asterisk's response through STDIN.

In the process of adding new features to Asterisk and testing its limits at the time, Aheeva discovered and fixed two bugs within the Asterisk code that appeared when you scale it to installations of this size. The Aheeva team submitted patches back to the community, which were well received. The stable branch of Asterisk 1.0 was introduced back in September 2004.

Though Asterisk started out as a basic PBX in 1999, it has expanded, integrating all of the major features needed in any type of telephone network for businesses. Because Asterisk has provided Aheeva with a high level of quality, as well as the ability to customize and upgrade inexpensively, it has enabled the company to compete with both the quality of big telecom companies, as well as the price of call centers in low-wage areas like India, Pakistan, and South America, as Aheeva is saving money on hardware and software instead of wages.

In the past six months since Asterisk has developed a stable development branch, Aheeva has not experienced any technical difficulties. Written for Linux, Asterisk is the most versatile open source telephony application available. Asterisk was launched as a C-based open source soft-PBX for Linux, but because of its open source model, Asterisk has expanded into an end-all be-all for telephony. It handles Voice over IP protocols in addition to TDM traffic (over traditional copper-wire telephone lines). In addition to PBX functionality, an Asterisk server can function as a soft-switch, an IVR menu system, a voice mail server, a call conference server, a media/music-on-hold server, etc.

Aheeva's COO, Francios Lambert, explains that if it weren't for Asterisk and Digium, "We would have never been able to grow the way we have, and the costs to implement our call center would have been prohibitive."

Instead, they quickly built an array of Asterisk servers, Digium high-density T1/E1 data and voice PCI cards, and soft phones for each user. Their total cost ended up being less than $400,000. Lambert added that the cost savings associated with implementing an Asterisk-based PBX to support its call center business has enabled the company to pass the savings onto its customers, and remain competitive in the outsourcing market.

Computer telephony integration applications are traditionally very expensive. But with an IP-based Asterisk call center, all the CTI functionality comes naturally. This has allowed Aheeva to build several new CTI applications to Asterisk make their call system more efficient. Because Aheeva uses soft phones, which go through the PC, calls can be integrated with e-mail, Web browsers, and the operating system. This eases Customer Resource Management as data can be routed wherever it needs to go, and can be presented to the agent receiving a call (e.g., customer name, photo, order history, etc.). Calls can also be routed to any agent anywhere. If a sales person receives a technical question, he or she can easily transfer the call to the first available agent with the correct skill set to provide an answer.

System administrators can also maintain an extensive database containing important statistics, such as how many agents are logged in or on the phone, how many calls they have made or answered, how long the average call is, etc. This data can be viewed and managed remotely. Statistics on each agent's work schedule for past days can be viewed in bar chart format representing the time they were working, took lunch or a break period, etc. An administrator may even listen into an agent's conversation if need be. Data on each agent's time talking to customers, time on hold, time off line, etc., may be compiled and computed to create a "Productivity ratio" for the entire group as well as each individual agent.

In addition, Aheeva has added an important CTI-based feature - answering machine detection. "We could not do without it," says Lambert. Answering machine detection can usually tell whether the phone on the other end was answered by a human or a machine, because people tend to answer the phone with a one-word greeting (like "Hello"), whereas recorded greetings tend to run on for a couple of sentences (e.g., "I'm not in... Please leave a number..."). The server can also detect the length of the pause before the greeting, another clue as to whether or not there is an answering machine on the other end.

Other custom solutions Aheeva created include a video screen capture application based in Macromedia Flash that merges sound and video; a multilingual, VoiceXML text-to-speech application that reads text to a caller (from documents such as help files or Web pages); and an automated, speech recognition application that transcribes contact center employees' voice recordings into text and loads it into a database. The text can then be archived and screened for words and phrases.

Aheeva has used Asterisk alongside its own technology to serve a variety of applications, including an automated stock quote service that users can call to obtain stock quotes through speech recognition applications. There are also applications for telephone flight schedules, movie ticket ordering, and winning lottery number information.

Aheeva's goal in the coming year and beyond is to remain the number one Asterisk contact center. Although they have a huge head start in developing the necessary technology to complement Asterisk, they will need to continue to innovate to compete with those companies who are quickly catching up.

More Stories By Rick Segrest

Rick Segrest is marketing manager for Digium, Inc.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
P2P RTC will impact the landscape of communications, shifting from traditional telephony style communications models to OTT (Over-The-Top) cloud assisted & PaaS (Platform as a Service) communication services. The P2P shift will impact many areas of our lives, from mobile communication, human interactive web services, RTC and telephony infrastructure, user federation, security and privacy implications, business costs, and scalability. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Robin Raymond, Chief Architect at Hookflash, will walk through the shifting landscape of traditional telephone and voice services ...
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at Internet of @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems at Red Hat, described how to revolutioniz...
The 17th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. 17th International Cloud Expo, to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Microservices, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal today!
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo, June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be
The security devil is always in the details of the attack: the ones you've endured, the ones you prepare yourself to fend off, and the ones that, you fear, will catch you completely unaware and defenseless. The Internet of Things (IoT) is nothing if not an endless proliferation of details. It's the vision of a world in which continuous Internet connectivity and addressability is embedded into a growing range of human artifacts, into the natural world, and even into our smartphones, appliances, and physical persons. In the IoT vision, every new "thing" - sensor, actuator, data source, data con...
Container frameworks, such as Docker, provide a variety of benefits, including density of deployment across infrastructure, convenience for application developers to push updates with low operational hand-holding, and a fairly well-defined deployment workflow that can be orchestrated. Container frameworks also enable a DevOps approach to application development by cleanly separating concerns between operations and development teams. But running multi-container, multi-server apps with containers is very hard. You have to learn five new and different technologies and best practices (libswarm, sy...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DragonGlass, an enterprise search platform, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. After eleven years of designing and building custom applications, OpenCrowd has launched DragonGlass, a cloud-based platform that enables the development of search-based applications. These are a new breed of applications that utilize a search index as their backbone for data retrieval. They can easily adapt to new data sets and provide access to both structured and unstruc...
There's Big Data, then there's really Big Data from the Internet of Things. IoT is evolving to include many data possibilities like new types of event, log and network data. The volumes are enormous, generating tens of billions of logs per day, which raise data challenges. Early IoT deployments are relying heavily on both the cloud and managed service providers to navigate these challenges. In her session at Big Data Expo®, Hannah Smalltree, Director at Treasure Data, discussed how IoT, Big Data and deployments are processing massive data volumes from wearables, utilities and other machines...
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists will peel away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud environment, and we must architect and code accordingly. At the very least, you'll have no problem fil...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MetraTech, now part of Ericsson, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Ericsson is the driving force behind the Networked Society- a world leader in communications infrastructure, software and services. Some 40% of the world’s mobile traffic runs through networks Ericsson has supplied, serving more than 2.5 billion subscribers.
The 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 17th International Cloud Expo - to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - announces that its Call for Papers is open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
The worldwide cellular network will be the backbone of the future IoT, and the telecom industry is clamoring to get on board as more than just a data pipe. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Evan McGee, CTO of Ring Plus, Inc., discussed what service operators can offer that would benefit IoT entrepreneurs, inventors, and consumers. Evan McGee is the CTO of RingPlus, a leading innovative U.S. MVNO and wireless enabler. His focus is on combining web technologies with traditional telecom to create a new breed of unified communication that is easily accessible to the general consumer. With over a de...
Disruptive macro trends in technology are impacting and dramatically changing the "art of the possible" relative to supply chain management practices through the innovative use of IoT, cloud, machine learning and Big Data to enable connected ecosystems of engagement. Enterprise informatics can now move beyond point solutions that merely monitor the past and implement integrated enterprise fabrics that enable end-to-end supply chain visibility to improve customer service delivery and optimize supplier management. Learn about enterprise architecture strategies for designing connected systems tha...
Cloud is not a commodity. And no matter what you call it, computing doesn’t come out of the sky. It comes from physical hardware inside brick and mortar facilities connected by hundreds of miles of networking cable. And no two clouds are built the same way. SoftLayer gives you the highest performing cloud infrastructure available. One platform that takes data centers around the world that are full of the widest range of cloud computing options, and then integrates and automates everything. Join SoftLayer on June 9 at 16th Cloud Expo to learn about IBM Cloud's SoftLayer platform, explore se...
SYS-CON Media announced today that 9 out of 10 " most read" DevOps articles are published by @DevOpsSummit Blog. Launched in October 2014, @DevOpsSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development cycles that produce softw...
15th Cloud Expo, which took place Nov. 4-6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, expanded the conference content of @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit to include two developer events. IBM held a Bluemix Developer Playground on November 5 and ElasticBox held a Hackathon on November 6. Both events took place on the expo floor. The Bluemix Developer Playground, for developers of all levels, highlighted the ease of use of Bluemix, its services and functionality and provide short-term introductory projects that developers can complete between sessions.
From telemedicine to smart cars, digital homes and industrial monitoring, the explosive growth of IoT has created exciting new business opportunities for real time calls and messaging. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Ivelin Ivanov, CEO and Co-Founder of Telestax, shared some of the new revenue sources that IoT created for Restcomm – the open source telephony platform from Telestax. Ivelin Ivanov is a technology entrepreneur who founded Mobicents, an Open Source VoIP Platform, to help create, deploy, and manage applications integrating voice, video and data. He is the co-founder of TeleStax, a...
The Internet of Things (IoT) promises to evolve the way the world does business; however, understanding how to apply it to your company can be a mystery. Most people struggle with understanding the potential business uses or tend to get caught up in the technology, resulting in solutions that fail to meet even minimum business goals. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jesse Shiah, CEO / President / Co-Founder of AgilePoint Inc., showed what is needed to leverage the IoT to transform your business. He discussed opportunities and challenges ahead for the IoT from a market and technical point of vie...
The 3rd International @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 16th International Cloud Expo – to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY – is now accepting Hackathon proposals. Hackathon sponsorship benefits include general brand exposure and increasing engagement with the developer ecosystem. At Cloud Expo 2014 Silicon Valley, IBM held the Bluemix Developer Playground on November 5 and ElasticBox held the DevOps Hackathon on November 6. Both events took place on the expo floor. The Bluemix Developer Playground, for developers of all levels, highlighted the ease of use of...