VoIP Phone Systems: Proprietary and Open Source Solution Comparison
A modern day VoIP phone system (IP PBX) is essentially nothing more that a software that performs similar duties as a traditional telephone system, regardless of whether the IP PBX is hardware based, virtualized or hosted in the cloud. As with almost all types of software, VoIP phone system solutions fall into two main categories: Proprietary Systems and Open Source. The following explains what lies behind these two terms as well as examines the pros and cons the individual solution types have for businesses.
Proprietary and Open Source Briefly Explained
Proprietary VoIP Phone System Solutions
Proprietary software includes programmes whose specifications and source code are not openly and freely accessible. Only the manufacturer knows and determines the full scope of functions and interfaces available on the proprietary VoIP phone system. Other terms for such solutions and licensing models include non-free software or closed software. Only the manufacturer themselves and possibly licensed partners are able to access the inner workings of the solution and therefore implement changes or modifications to the functionality of the phone system. Consequently, you will not be able to modify your proprietary software telephony solution. Even if the solution is hosted by you on-premise as a hardware appliance or a virtual phone system server, it is likely that you will not even be able to implement the smallest changes required to better adapt the solution to your business needs. To do so, you will probably need to employ a certified technician who will then charge you to make the required adjustments to the relevant aspects of the software.
In addition, a proprietary manufacturer’s business model often requires that the phone system is only compatible with selected endpoints. In such cases, the manufacturer has developed the telephony solution server software using closed standards, which may only be used by permitted developers. Therefore, the software will only function in conjunction with specific hardware as developed by the manufacturer or their licenced partners. As a result, should you choose to deploy a proprietary VoIP phone system solution, your choice of endpoints you will be limited to the range and pricing policies of the manufacturer.
Open Source VoIP Phone System
Open Source refers to software whose source code, i.e. the code from which the software is programmed, is openly accessible. Unlike closed systems, the principle behind Open Source is that everyone can read, understand and modify the code. The ultimate goal is to enable developers from all over the worldto simultaneously work on a project. This approach often attracts specialist developers, who in turn bring increased motivation and innovation to the project. The end result should be that the quality of the software solution should increase.
Open Source does not mean that the source code of the telephony server is in the public domain. Nevertheless, it is a fundamental principle of Open Source solutions that software may be customised and subsequently distributed. In addition, the usage is typically not restricted and as such an Open Source VoIP phone system can be used by any number of participants, without requiring special licences. How this is permitted is explained in the licensing agreement. It is conceivable, for example, to deploy Open Source software such as Asterisk telephone system and for your in house programmers to modify the solution to include desired functions and use the platform exactly as required by your business. Licence fees, royalties are uncommon and undesired in the world of Open Source as they undermine the underlying principle of the format. Instead, you will be required to invest in labour, whether that be in-house developers or outsourced to third-party consultants who specialise in the installation and customisation of Asterisk telephone systems. Further to this, it is entirely possible that a fee based support option is offered, particularly by larger and / or better-known projects. Otherwise, the VoIP phone system is in itself free of charge.
Proprietary and Open Source: Telephone System Pros and Cons
When it comes to VoIP phone systems, a direct comparison of the two licensing models reveals that both variations have their advantages and disadvantages:
- Regular updates: it is important to the phone system manufacturer to ensure that the technology works smoothly and is kept up to date.
- User-friendly installation: proprietary phone systems are expertly developed to ensure as easy an installation as possible.
- Reliable support: access and rely on the professional help from certified support teams should you have any questions regarding your telephony server.
- Modular system: software based phone systems are conceptualised to allow you to adapt your phone system, with manufacturer support, to exactly match your requirements.
Open Source Solutions
- No licence fees: the Open Source model ensures that open software remains free. Meaning, an Open Source telephony software solution (e.g. Asterisk telephone systems) in itself and therefore costs you nothing.
- Cross-system usability: Open source invariably ensures Open Standards which can be used by telephony server developers. Thus, it is entirely possible that both hardware and software from multiple manufacturers are then interoperable with the phone system, giving you more choice.
- Collaboration: software such as Asterisk telephone systems are developed by a variety of developers, bringing not only innovation but also the desire to developer not only the highest quality but also generally useful solution.
- Quick reaction times: As so many people globally are involved in the development, errors are often quickly uncovered and corrected.
- Independence: The server and telephony hardware for an Asterisk telephone system and other open systems can be sourced from a number of manufacturers, who also utilise open standards. As such, Open Standard phone system users have more freedom when choosing their telephones, server and gateways.
- Cost: Normally, you can expect relatively high licence fees when deploying a proprietary developed phone system. Capital expenditure for server hardware can be reduced by deploying a virtual phone system or almost entirely eliminated when opting for an OpEx model i.e. a cloud phone system solution.
- Closed system: further development of the telephony server on the part of the customer is restricted due to closed.
- Dependency: You will only receive phone system software updates as long as the manufacturer releases them or as long as the product / manufacturer remain on the market.
- Limited choice of hardware: often you will be required to deploy the hardware for your [VoIP phone system](https://www.pascom.net/en/virtual-phone-system/ “pascom Virtual IP PBX”") as dictated and supplied by the manufacturer. Such vendor lock-in can lead to comparatively higher costs, especially as proprietary phone system hardware often incorporates a go-to-market strategy focused around an important supplemental revenue stream for the manufacturer.
Open Source Solutions
- Support options: Not every VoIP phone system offers you the benefit of professional support. It could be the case that you might have to solve problems on your own or rely of voluntary help.
- Uncertain development: Open Source project developers are not as coherently organised as their counter parts in the proprietary world. Depending on the system, reliable new feature innovation implementation within the phone system can take longer.
- Irregular Updates: A freely or ad hoc developed VoIP phone system may not benefit from as frequent updates as you may like.
Proprietary and Open Source phone systems – which suits best?
As described, both models have their pros and cons associated with them. Which type of VoIP phone system is ideally suited for your business will largely depend on your requirements and resources. For starters, do you have an in-house development department with the skill set and time to deploy and maintain for example an Asterisk telephone system and the required 3rd party applications? If so, then an Open Source solution could well be a great choice. If you require a turnkey solution with professional support and are not concerned by the hardware restrictions, the proprietary is an option for you.
However, if like most SMBs you are looking for the middle ground that combines the benefits of both worlds, then there is a third option – the open standards IP PBX. An open standards phone system that offers the flexibility of Open Source combined with the professionalism of proprietary solutions and at a fraction of the cost.