FreePBX is very flexible when in comes to which phones it can use, especially with the Commerical Endpoint Manager. There are currently more than 20+ brands of phones and devices that can be auto-provisioned with FreePBX. HOWEVER – just about ANY standard SIP-based phone or device can be manually configured, including software-based phones that run on desktop computers or mobile devices.
In this article, we’d like to briefly cover our experiences using FreePBX with specific brands of phones. This is not meant to be an absolute comparison, just what our experiences have shown over time with our customer base (primarily small-to-medium sized businesses).
Here are some of the top brands, listed in alphabetical order.
Right off the bat, you may not have necessarily heard of Aastra as a major phone manufacturer, but they manufactured phones for Nortel Meridian systems, so you have more than likely seen a couple of their products.
For the most part, Aastra phones are a good balance between quality, reliability, features, and price. Their 53i,55i,and 57i (pictured above), are the workhorses of many FreePBX installations because they often offer the most “bang for the buck”. However, many people feel that the Aastra phones are essentially compromises in most areas and thus the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” would seem to apply.
Incidentally, Mitel purchased them in January, 2014. So new Aastra phones are now Mitel phones.
Aastra IP Phone Positives:
- High “Bang for the Buck”
- Clear backlit LCD display on most models
- Unique XML call control language allows for many different API uses
Aastra IP Phone Drawbacks:
- Low handset volume complaints
- Low speakerphne audio quality
- “rubberized” keypad buttons – often not liked by high volume phone users
If there is one “500 pound gorilla” of the IT world – it is Cisco Systems. And yes, they do make IP Phones. However, they do make two different types of IP phones, the Cisco Small Business series and the Cisco Unified IP series. The primary difference is that Cisco Small Business phones are SIP ONLY, whereas the Cisco Unified IP series can either use SIP or SCCP firmware (SCCP firmware is for use with Cisco’s Unified Communications Manager (UCM). But, either series of phone will work with FreePBX.
The Cisco Small Business series of phones pictured below are based on technologies purchased from LinkSys. As a matter of fact, they used to be LinkSys phones. They are fairly inexpensive new, and have all the basic features required in a phone system. As a matter of fact, they are a pretty rugged and feature filled phone.
The Cisco Unified IP series phones (7960 phone pictured below) are much more robust and are somewhat of a “status symbol” phone. These phones are seen everyone in corporate america and if you pay attention, movies and television. Their key benefit is they are essentially “bullet-proof”. Once you get them working, they just keep working until they mechanically fail somehow.
Cisco IP Phone Positives:
- VERY reliable
- Nice design
- Great sound
Cisco IP Phone Drawbacks:
- Difficult to get to work properly with Non-Cisco equipment (such as FreePBX)
- Not supported by Cisco for use with Non-Cisco equipment
One manufacturer who has been working with FreePBX systems the longest is Grandstream. For the longest time, the GXP-2000 was considered the workhorse in the FreePBX phone system stable. It was cheap, it did its job well, and was relatively easy to configure. The latest Grandstream models (like the GXP-2160) are no exception – although as with older model Grandstream phones, their features can be a bit “clunky”, but they still do the job and do it well. The build quality has increased in the newer models as well.
Grandstream IP Phone Positives:
- Fairly rugged
Grandstream IP Phone Drawbacks:
- Some features “Clunky” to use
- “Rubberized” buttons on older models not friendly to power users
Polycom as a telephone equipment manufacturer is known for making the best conferencing equipment available. For the longest time, they were the market leader in both video and audio conferencing. The technology used in their award winning conferencing solutions has carried over into their line of IP phones. Polycom phones are considered to have the best quality speaker phones, bar none.
Polycom carries a wide range of IP phone models for a wide variety of phone systems, but their SIP phones are all compatible with FreePBX and are probably one of the best brands to use with a FreePBX system. Their entry level Soundpoint IP 330 was the “General Desktop Phone” used in companies for years. The SoundPoint series of phones has been replaced by the VVX series which includes not only Gigabit Ethernet, but in some cases color touch screen as well.
Polycom IP Phone Positives:
- EXCELLENT sound quality
- EXCELLENT build quality
- Large number of customizations configuration options available for phones
- Nice range of phones available, from entry level to high end, color touch screen phones
Polycom IP Phone Drawbacks:
- On average they are more expensive than most other brands, but because of their abundance in the market, refurbished models can be found
- Fairly complex XML configuration language that can prevent proper configuration of the phone if the firmware and the FreePBX configuration setup do not match
Now that FreePBX has been acquired by telecom giant Sangoma – there are a lot more resources available, including a phone SPECIFICALLY designed for FreePBX.
Sangoma has a complete line of phones specifically integrated into FreePBX (although it requires the commercial Endpoint Manager module to provision them). The phones have the ability to “zero-touch” provision as well as work natively with many of FreePBX’s features.
Sangoma IP Phone Positives:
- DEEP integration with FreePBX – including REST Apps
- Easy setup with FreePBX
- Excellent sound quality
- Beautiful interface
- Easy provisioning with Sangoma portal
Sangoma IP Phone Drawbacks:
- Expensive price point
- Requires commercial Endpoint Manager module
Snom is a German company that specifically designs SIP phones. SNOM phones are designed to work universally across all SIP systems. They are popular with system designers because they not only have a lower price point than most other phones with similar features but also have a complex feature set accessible through XML configuration files or through a web administration portal.
SNOM IP Phone Positives:
- VERY inexpensive
- Great for developers because of XML features
SNOM IP Phone Drawbacks:
- Marginal build quality
- Ring tones are strange and most clients do not like
Entry level Yealink phones are almost on par with Grandstream in terms of their ruggedness, just a bit less well known. However, their button quality is higher. But the high-end Yealinks really do have a lot of nice features and truly stunning displays. However, where they fall short is in provisioning. They are truly abysmal to provision in bulk.
Yealink IP Phone Positives:
- Nice buttons
- Excellent audio quality
Yealink IP Phone Drawbacks:
- Difficult provisioning
Based on the information provided here, you can choose your own brand of phone based on your particular needs, however, it is worth noting that by FAR the most popular phone used with FreePBX phone systems is Polycom. Their great feature set, combined with relatively low cost and excellent secondary (used/refurbished) market make them an excellent choice. Followed closely by Grandstream and Yealink.