Let me say first that I was very reluctant to get involved with Kerio Operator. It's not that I had objections to Operator itself; it's because I have had bad experiences with VOIP in the past. Kerio isn't selling VOIP, but Operator is a PBX for VOIP and I just didn't want to have anything to do with that.
There was also the matter of terminology. I have avoided telephony for many years now and would have to pick up unfamiliar jargon to have any hope of not sounding like a fool to potential customers.
Finally, Operator was new. It plainly would be buggy, would lack features- why would I want to get involved with a product that might be cranky when I was myself cranky about VOIP and easily confused by terminology? It seemed best to just ignore it.
Time goes by
Time went by and my attitude softened. My office internet connection was upgraded to 20Mb up and down. As my previous VOIP headaches were at least partially due to slow connections, that made me feel more accepting. I also noted that my Internet hasn't gone down in a long, long time - I felt I could probably depend on it, but I also noticed that VOIP providers also now offer fallback routing - I could send phone calls to my cell phone or Verizon land line in the even of dead Internet. Finally, Kerio Operator had also matured - perhaps it was time to give this another look?
A PBX like Operator might seem like overkill for a one person office, but there actually are advantages. One single 4-channel VOIP account gives me up to 4 phone calls - incoming or outgoing. I can create voice attendant recordings, configure messages for specific times and days of the week, can change options from any web browser.. and I don't necessarily have to buy ANY hardware - Kerio Operator can run in a virtual machine (VMware, for example) and my phones could be all in software too.
Because Kerio Operator can be downloaded for a free 30 day trial and many VOIP providers will also offer a 30 day trial, if you have virtualization capability and computers with microphones and speakers, you can test drive all this for no cost at all - a little setup time is all it takes.
My test drive
I signed up for a test account with VoicePulse ($11.00 a month for 4 channels) and installed Kerio Operator in a Parallels virtual machine. I set the Parallels network adaptor to "bridged" mode for this machine, which makes it get an address on my local lan. I needed that so that I could configure port forwarding on my Verizon firewall, which is unaware of the other subnets that are used for the "Shared" Parallel machines. I'd love to replace that Verizon router with a Kerio Control firewall, but our TV Set Top Boxes apparently need it..
As I already had a nice USB headset/microphone, I just downloaded a free version of X-Lite to use as a VOIP client. I also purchased Bria for my iPad and ordered a physical IP phone from Amazon, but I wouldn't need those last two for configuration or testing.
While waiting for VoicePulse to activate my account, I began setting up Operator.
There is nothing particularly difficult about any of this, but I would recommend that if you haven't done this before, you should enlist the help of a reseller like me. The terminology can be confusing, so being guided by someone who has done it before is helpful. If you can't do that, the following very basic setup will at least get you started.
As noted above, I configured Parallels for a bridged network setup and installed from the ISO image. After the install (which requests an Admin password be assigned), the splash screen tells you where to point your web browser for administration:
After logging into the browser administration, your first task is to add a user and assign an extension to that user.
You need to add at least one extension for this user - I added two, one for X-Lite and one for Bria.
When you add the extension, you'll need to enter a SIP Password for that extension. This will be used when we register the phone (or software) with Kerio Operator. Note that you CAN make the password the same as the user's password (I did), but if it is not, it is THIS password you will need when you configure your telephone.
Although not strictly needed for testing, I suggest to also turn on some of the PBX services. This will allow you to test your phone without necessarily having your SIP account working.
My VoicePulse connection was ready when I reached this point, so I added it (Call Routing in the Admin interface).
Note that Kerio has Knowledge Base articles for several providers: How to configure Operator with your SIP provider. It really can be as simple as those articles describe. If your SIP provider is not listed, I suggest reading a few of the others just to get a feel for the sort of questions asked.
Because my Operator is behind a Verizon Router, I had to add port forwarding rules for port 5060 (TCP and UDP) and 10000-20000 (UDP). I'm not sure that the UDP was actually needed for Voicepulse, but I added those at their recommendation.
I also had to tell the System section that this was behind a firewall.
That's it. We're now ready to configure the X-Lite
This was very simple. As shown here, all you really need is the IP address of your Operator and the password for the extension you want to use.
Configuring a real IP phone like the Yealink I bought from Amazon isn't much more difficult:
I did have a little trouble setting up Bria - it was just a matter of adding a CODEC and then it worked perfectly.
If your SIP line isn't ready yet, you can test your phone(s) using the PBX services I recommended turning on above.
A very different experience
While I'm not ready to give up my land line quite yet, this is a very different experience from what I had years ago with a slower Internet connection and nothing like Kerio Operator to allow me to avoid the consumer based VOIP products. I've had a couple of voice quality issues, but both of those were with people where I have had those issues on my land and cell phone lines also, so it's impossible to blame it on VOIP - it might well be ther lines. I had one call go dead in mid-conversation, but I've had that happen with my normal lines too, so again, I can't get worked up yet. Moreover, in general the voice quality is actually better than my land line (probably because I use wireless phones on that, but it is better).
I'm going to try this out for a few months and see how I feel. As an adjunct to my land line phones, it's already helpful. I did set up some auto attendant scripts but have them turned off right now as I'm not ready to publicize this number yet. However, if you'd like a demo of how they work, give me a call at my normal number and I can turn them on for you.
I am testing this by using it with Google Voice - it's one of the lines that will ring when people call my Google voice number. Doing that means that I don't have to publicize the number in case I want to change it later.
Given the low cost of Operator for a base license, this is really ideal for even the smallest home based business. For example, the plan I chose gives me one phone number with four channels. Each channel can serve an extension, so you can have four simultaneous incoming or outgoing calls for very little money. Even if it's only you, that still means that three other calls can be in your attendant scripts, perhaps getting recorded product information or leaving voice mail while you are tied up on another call. That's powerful stuff for a home business!
Slightly larger businesses of course will be interested in saving money. There's quite a lot to be saved when compared to POTS lines, but you shouldn't neglect the convenience and added value features either. Operator also lets you control access, including blocking outgoing calls to certain countries or from certain extensions - I'd need many more pages to tell you all the features, but Kerio has plenty more at their website.
Call me for competitive quotes, assistance with demos or general questions.
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