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SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

PartnerPower: 3CX Review

I started on the 3CX telephone system journey with my customer hat on. I believed I could do it all. So, I jumped right in without, you guessed it, reading the manual (RTM). I quickly discovered that this was my first telephony rodeo in a 3CXwhile and I needed help after I tripped up on a security certificate implementation. Help isn’t bad. It doesn’t mean the 3CX is overcomplicated. Just the opposite as I discovered 3CX is very powerful and I needed the help of a certified 3CX partner.

I reached out to my favorite telecom expert, Allen Miller, a well-known 3CX consultant based in Cincinnati, OH (Allen Miller Computer Consulting; www.MillerManor.net). Full disclosure: Allen and I worked together nearly a decade ago on a now discontinued Microsoft small business phone system. I credit Allen with introducing me to the world of VoIP. Needless to say, I trust him when it comes to everything telephony.

Over the course of a few working sessions, Allen and I configured 3CX for a test network at my company, SMB Nation. In the first session, we completed the server-side installation starting with the security certificate matter through the naming conventions and administrator authentication. We did this on a small Lenovo ThinkCentre desktop unit. And therein was one of the first magical 3CX experiences. This big-league phone system can run on tiny computers. Literally. Loosely translated, I’m saying the 3CX, which can scale well through mid-sized companies, has low overhead and hardware requirements. I was officially impressed!

Also, undertaken in the first session was configuring the external firewall. We configured the SMTP email connection to the email server capabilities as well.

At the end of the first session, I realized I “didn’t know what I didn’t know” about the 3CX system and its robust strengths are indeed its asset. I could see where I was of wise mind to secure the services of a subject matter expert (SME) like Allen. I recommend this as your very first step in working with 3CX!

In the second session with Allen, we set up the client side with desk phones. I offered to re-flash a few old Cisco phones from yesteryear for this stage. Allen overruled me. He was very strict in his beliefs to not only use approved phones on the 3CX support phones list but to use a specific few brands he had successfully worked with.

Allen shared that “Some suggestions – I am partial to Yealink phones.  The one I use is the T48G which has a lot of soft buttons that you can use for speed dials which I like.  I think you have a T46G which is nice with fewer buttons.  They also announced a new line in the last couple weeks called T4S series.  I believe these have blue tooth and Wi-Fi if those matter to you.” Yealink it was and a shout out of appreciation to 888VOIP.com (888VOIP also hosts 3CX Training events which are very useful for partners to get help toward their 3CX Certifications. Visit http://www.888voip.com/events/) for providing our test bed. This intercompany cooperation from all aforementioned parties is a credit to 3CX for having built a reputation where stakeholder and suppliers work together and want to cooperate. I’ve worked with other vendors where such a community didn’t exist.

By the end of the second session, we had successfully configured the desktop phones including assigning extensions, basic call rules, identities, etc. At this point, we had the server-side and the client side ready to go.

In the next and final session, we secured dial tone. Allen had arranged for carrier services to make the phone real and ready to roam in the wild using a SIP Trunk Allen provided from vendor/partner Vitelity.com. Again, deferring to my consultant, he quickly configured the proverbial last mile to give me dial tone. I then ran both traditional and secret tests. First, I called myself from my mobile phone to confirm the 3CX system was operational. Then I answered a Craigslist ad for boating merchandise where I normally wouldn’t want someone to know my real phone number. I asked them to call the phone number I had been assigned and the phone rang as expected without problem or concern. The call fidelity over my broadband connection was excellent.

Mission accomplished. A bona fide 3CX system was up and running real time and big time. I’ve had the test bed up for over a month. No drama. And, again, I want to reiterate, hire a 3CX partner as your first step. Don’t be like Harry as that was my second step. LOL.

Customer Evidence
Not content to simply share my own experience, I wanted to seek out 3CX customer evidence to balance my opinions. I didn’t have to look far. Since the first of the year, I’ve been working with CSG Services, a well-respected Seattle-area vendor in the technology ecosystem. CSG Services provides services to Microsoft, Amazon, Dell, CenturyLink and other clients. It’s stock in trade is a number of global call centers. You know it takes telephony seriously. It depends on 3CX which is a testament right there. In this scenario, I’ve been using 3CX via the native softphone application. This is the basic CSG Services configuration for 3CX: softphones, not desk phones, for each of its 100+ employees in its call centers. While not my preference (I still prefer a desk phone), I grew increasingly fond of 3CX once I hooked up my Sennheiser professional headset, freeing me from a four foot USB headset cable and allowing to walkabout and pace on calls within Bluetooth range.

My experience on the 3CX customer side is this. It’s battle tested in the CSG Services call centers. It has passed the test. By the way, it’s running 3CX on an Azure instance (that’s a whole future blog).

Goodness of Fit in an O365 World
Finally, I thought about how 3CX, a real phone system, fits into the Office 365 community. To me the answer is very simple. Microsoft is not a telecom at its core but a software company. I think you must strongly consider 3CX as your telephony solution when you are running Office 365. ‘Nough said.

Next Steps
Click HERE to learn more about 3CX.