Many people in the U.S. and around the world use Google Voice's free calling feature. Basically, Google Voice lets you make free calls to any phone in the U.S. and Canada. To apply, you need to have a U.S. phone number (for verification purposes) and also register for a free Google account. There are plenty of tutorials on the web.
To make Google Voice easier to use, several third-party applications integrate with it through the XMPP protocol. These include the OBi100, Groove IP, Talkatone, etc. These applications make it possible to make GV calls via WiFi or 3G, send or receive SMS via WiFi, and in the case of the OBi, can even replace one's home phone.
Unfortunately, Google had announced that all third-party app developers "must stop making unauthorized use of Google Voice to run their services and transition users by May 15, 2014" (source). As a result, providers of the above mentioned apps OBi, Groove IP and Talkatone all stated that their products will stop working with GV on that date.
The solution for existing users? Set up a personal VoIP PBX server. Asterisk is a PBX software which can interoperate with multiple low-cost VoIP providers, thus giving the users many more choices. There are several pre-built software that bundles Asterisk, e.g. PBX in a Flash, FreePBX Distro and AsteriskNOW. Personally I use PBX in a Flash.
As a side note, check out my tutorial on setting up your own IPsec VPN server with both IPsec/L2TP and Cisco IPsec.
What is PBX in a Flash?
"PBX in a Flash™ is the Lean, Mean Asterisk Machine designed to meet the needs of hobbyists as well as business users and VARs. You'll have a high-performance turnkey Asterisk PBX that's easy to upgrade with dozens of add on scripts to provide virtually any feature you can imagine. With PIAF you can choose from tons of Nerd Vittles and FreePBX® applications that install in under 15 seconds: AsteriDex, Weather Reports, News Feeds, Email by Phone, Telephone Reminders, and many more."
- From pbxinaflash.com, Ward Mundy & Associates LLC (Google+).
PBX in a Flash (PIAF) is a free full-featured IP PBX server that bundles Asterisk, FreePBX and other apps. You can make cheap phone calls by integrating the PBX with a low-cost VoIP provider (such as Localphone). For example, integrating with an existing Google Voice account will enable free calling (via Wi-Fi/3G) to anywhere within the U.S. and Canada.
What's even better is that in IP PBX, calls between extensions are FREE! No matter where in the world you are, as long as you have Internet access. And generally you get good sound quality, too. With a suitable codec, you can even place and receive calls on 3G or make video calls.
Getting a VPS
The first step is to get a virtual private server (VPS) with 512MB RAM or more.
DigitalOcean is the provider that I use.
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Setting Up Your PIAF Server
If you decide to use DigitalOcean, I wrote up a tutorial right on this blog:
Install PBX in a Flash (PIAF) on a DigitalOcean Droplet
Alternatively, if using a VPS from another provider, first try my guide above. You can also check out these tutorials:
Incredible PBX 13 ISO: A Turnkey Asterisk 13 Server for Everyman
Incredible PBX GUI for Asterisk 13 and CentOS (or Ubuntu)
Incredible PBX GUI for Asterisk 11 and CentOS (Ubuntu, Apps Guide)
For install on Amazon EC2, use my DigitalOcean guide, or browse to:
VoIP Communications with Asterisk in Amazon's EC2 Cloud
GUIDE - PBX in a Flash on Amazon EC2 with Free GV calling + SILK codec
If you are more adventurous and want to run PIAF at home:
An Asterisk OVF Template for VMware and VirtualBox Fans
Incredible PBX GUI for Asterisk 13 and VirtualBox 5
Incredible PBX GUI (for Asterisk 11) Comes to VirtualBox
For running PBX in a Flash at home, don't forget to set up port forwarding on your router to allow incoming VoIP connections.
Finally, you can even run PIAF on a $35 Raspberry Pi 3 (or similar):
Raspberry Pi 3 Featuring Incredible PBX with Raspbian 8 Jessie
Incredible PBX with Asterisk 11 for the Raspberry Pi 2
Introducing Proxmox 4 for the Intel NUC and Asterisk 13
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and that it can help you to set up your very own Asterisk server. Continue reading my next article for important tips on securing your Asterisk server with IPTables.
Disclaimer: I wrote this article as a hobby and I have NO affiliation with either the PBX in a Flash project or Ward Mundy & Associates LLC.
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