Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Linux Authors: AppDynamics Blog, Carmen Gonzalez, Roger Strukhoff, Pat Romanski, Hovhannes Avoyan

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
SYS-CON Events announced today the IoT Bootcamp – Jumpstart Your IoT Strategy, being held June 9–10, 2015, in conjunction with 16th Cloud Expo and Internet of @ThingsExpo at the Javits Center in New York City. This is your chance to jumpstart your IoT strategy. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but includes hands-on demos and walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of Do-It-Yourself IoT platforms including Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Spark and Intel Edison. You will also get an overview of cloud technologies s...
“In the past year we've seen a lot of stabilization of WebRTC. You can now use it in production with a far greater degree of certainty. A lot of the real developments in the past year have been in things like the data channel, which will enable a whole new type of application," explained Peter Dunkley, Technical Director at Acision, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
The best mobile applications are augmented by dedicated servers, the Internet and Cloud services. Mobile developers should focus on one thing: writing the next socially disruptive viral app. Thanks to the cloud, they can focus on the overall solution, not the underlying plumbing. From iOS to Android and Windows, developers can leverage cloud services to create a common cross-platform backend to persist user settings, app data, broadcast notifications, run jobs, etc. This session provides a high level technical overview of many cloud services available to mobile app developers, includi...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Ciqada will exhibit at SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Ciqada™ makes it easy to connect your products to the Internet. By integrating key components - hardware, servers, dashboards, and mobile apps - into an easy-to-use, configurable system, your products can quickly and securely join the internet of things. With remote monitoring, control, and alert messaging capability, you will meet your customers' needs of tomorrow - today! Ciqada. Let your products take flight. For more inform...
Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York June 9-11 will find fresh new content in a new track called PaaS | Containers & Microservices Containers are not being considered for the first time by the cloud community, but a current era of re-consideration has pushed them to the top of the cloud agenda. With the launch of Docker's initial release in March of 2013, interest was revved up several notches. Then late last...
Health care systems across the globe are under enormous strain, as facilities reach capacity and costs continue to rise. M2M and the Internet of Things have the potential to transform the industry through connected health solutions that can make care more efficient while reducing costs. In fact, Vodafone's annual M2M Barometer Report forecasts M2M applications rising to 57 percent in health care and life sciences by 2016. Lively is one of Vodafone's health care partners, whose solutions enable older adults to live independent lives while staying connected to loved ones. M2M will continue to gr...
Dave will share his insights on how Internet of Things for Enterprises are transforming and making more productive and efficient operations and maintenance (O&M) procedures in the cleantech industry and beyond. Speaker Bio: Dave Landa is chief operating officer of Cybozu Corp (kintone US). Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Dave has been on the forefront of the Cloud revolution driving strategic business development on the executive teams of multiple leading Software as a Services (SaaS) application providers dating back to 2004. Cybozu's kintone.com is a leading global BYOA (Build Your O...
While not quite mainstream yet, WebRTC is starting to gain ground with Carriers, Enterprises and Independent Software Vendors (ISV’s) alike. WebRTC makes it easy for developers to add audio and video communications into their applications by using Web browsers as their platform. But like any market, every customer engagement has unique requirements, as well as constraints. And of course, one size does not fit all. In her session at WebRTC Summit, Dr. Natasha Tamaskar, Vice President, Head of Cloud and Mobile Strategy at GENBAND, will explore what is needed to take a real time communications ...
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit 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. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
SYS-CON Events announced today that GENBAND, a leading developer of real time communications software solutions, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's WebRTC Summit, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. The GENBAND team will be on hand to demonstrate their newest product, Kandy. Kandy is a communications Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) that enables companies to seamlessly integrate more human communications into their Web and mobile applications - creating more engaging experiences for their customers and boosting collaboration and productiv...
SYS-CON Events announced today that BroadSoft, the leading global provider of Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) services to operators worldwide, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's WebRTC Summit, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. BroadSoft is the leading provider of software and services that enable mobile, fixed-line and cable service providers to offer Unified Communications over their Internet Protocol networks. The Company’s core communications platform enables the delivery of a range of enterprise and consumer calling...
What exactly is a cognitive application? In her session at 16th Cloud Expo, Ashley Hathaway, Product Manager at IBM Watson, will look at the services being offered by the IBM Watson Developer Cloud and what that means for developers and Big Data. She'll explore how IBM Watson and its partnerships will continue to grow and help define what it means to be a cognitive service, as well as take a look at the offerings on Bluemix. She will also check out how Watson and the Alchemy API team up to offer disruptive APIs to developers.
The IoT Bootcamp is coming to Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo on June 9-10 at the Javits Center in New York. Instructor. Registration is now available at http://iotbootcamp.sys-con.com/ Instructor Janakiram MSV previously taught the famously successful Multi-Cloud Bootcamp at Cloud Expo | @ThingsExpo in November in Santa Clara. Now he is expanding the focus to Janakiram is the founder and CTO of Get Cloud Ready Consulting, a niche Cloud Migration and Cloud Operations firm that recently got acquired by Aditi Technologies. He is a Microsoft Regional Director for Hyderabad, India, and one of the f...
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!
So I guess we’ve officially entered a new era of lean and mean. I say this with the announcement of Ubuntu Snappy Core, “designed for lightweight cloud container hosts running Docker and for smart devices,” according to Canonical. “Snappy Ubuntu Core is the smallest Ubuntu available, designed for security and efficiency in devices or on the cloud.” This first version of Snappy Ubuntu Core features secure app containment and Docker 1.6 (1.5 in main release), is available on public clouds, and for ARM and x86 devices on several IoT boards. It’s a Trend! This announcement comes just as...
SYS-CON Media announced today that @ThingsExpo Blog launched with 7,788 original stories. @ThingsExpo 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. @ThingsExpo Blog can be bookmarked. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
The world's leading Cloud event, Cloud Expo has launched Microservices Journal on the SYS-CON.com portal, featuring over 19,000 original articles, news stories, features, and blog entries. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. Microservices Journal 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. Follow new article posts on Twitter at @MicroservicesE
SYS-CON Events announced today that robomq.io will exhibit at SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. robomq.io is an interoperable and composable platform that connects any device to any application. It helps systems integrators and the solution providers build new and innovative products and service for industries requiring monitoring or intelligence from devices and sensors.
Wearable technology was dominant at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) , and MWC was no exception to this trend. New versions of favorites, such as the Samsung Gear (three new products were released: the Gear 2, the Gear 2 Neo and the Gear Fit), shared the limelight with new wearables like Pebble Time Steel (the new premium version of the company’s previously released smartwatch) and the LG Watch Urbane. The most dramatic difference at MWC was an emphasis on presenting wearables as fashion accessories and moving away from the original clunky technology associated with t...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Litmus Automation 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. Litmus Automation’s vision is to provide a solution for companies that are in a rush to embrace the disruptive Internet of Things technology and leverage it for real business challenges. Litmus Automation simplifies the complexity of connected devices applications with Loop, a secure and scalable cloud platform.