$150 Video-Enabled Home PBX Voip System

I recently built a 3-phone, video-enabled, full-blown PBX Voip phone system based on a RaspberryPI B. The system makes extension-to-extension and Voip video calls (very good for talking to kids without yelling upstairs), and the system makes and receives normal outbound and inbound phone calls for about 1 penny a minute through FlowRoute’s normal SIP/Voip rates. This is the 3rd Raspberry Pi running systems at home, I already have two Raspberry Pis running independent music servers, which we described earlier.

Dinner is ready
“Amelie, dinner is ready” “Okay, Daddy”

 

You’ll need a few pieces of equipment, which I’ll outline here, and a little bit of Linux experience to get the system going. Once set up, though, you’ll have a Donald Trump-quality phone system but your telephone call charges are unlikely to exceed $30 for the year.

The Software: RasPBX/FreePBX for Raspberry Pi

The brain is a standard, $35 Raspberry Pi, available on Amazon, and a 4GB SD Card, which I subsequently upgraded to a 16GB card. The software to run is donation-supported freeware (RasPBX) available here: http://www.raspberry-asterisk.org/. With a little bit of tweaking and some detailed insight from Nerd Vittles on their RasPBX installation, and I was up and running in about 1.5 hours. RasPBX bundles a linux operating system along with a slimmed-down version of the popular FreePBX/Asterisk Voip software. For a SIP provider, I use FlowRoute’s SIP service to connect calls, and FlowRoute provides easy setup instructions for FreePBX.

Here’s the RasPBX using a modest amount of space in my network rack:

raspberry

The Phones: Nortel-LG 1535 Video Voip Phone

There is a bit of a mystery behind the Nortel-LG 1535 Video Voip phone. You can pick these up easily for $30 on eBay, but the features far exceed the intemperate $450 Polycom Voip phone I have on my desk at work.

The Nortel 1535 is strangely abundant, hence the low price. Here’s the wrinkle, and a further clue to the mystery: it loads a Turkish Telecom logo at the start. Hmmn. I imagine an ambitious transaction to bring Voip service to Turkey that went sour, leaving a glut of these feature-rich phones available for pennies on the dollar.

Nerd Vittles has a writeup on how to change the phone over to English menus, and some general information on the 1535. Note that the non-wifi version of the 1535 will be significantly less than the wifi version of the phone that goes for about 70 or 80 dollars.

nortel

 

I picked up 3 of these phones for $30 each on eBay, at last check, they remain available. I’ll likely add 3 more phones to my system.

Fun With Features

With the FreePBX software running I was able to easily set up a ring group that rings for inbound calls to the kitchen and office phones, but not to my daughter’s room. Voicemail is an easy setup in FreePBX, and the system can even email you a .wav file of the voice message. All the basic features of FreePBX are included in RasPBX.

Here’s a great feature: the Nortel 1535 includes and SD Card slot for importing and exporting images, so I went to work creating backgrounds for each of the 3 phones. I simply created a few 320x240px backgrounds in Gimp in about 5 minutes, and loaded them into each phone (use a low-capacity SD Card like a 256MB).

Amelie’s My Little Pony-Inspired Phone:

 

amelies

 

The Office Phone:

office

The Kitchen Phone:

kitchen

Tasty Pi: Raspberry-Powered Audiophile Network Audio Player

Raspberry Pi Network Player, Rack Mount

Rack Mount
Fully Assembled
Ready to Play
$300

Well, we’ve done it…we’ve gone bat-shit crazy. Our linux tinkering and obsession with Raspberry Pi micro-computing has led us to create the Tasty Pi, a Raspberry Pi-powered network audio player that we’ve installed in an elegant rack-mount configuration (although the svelte rack enclosure can easily be ditched in favor of laser-etched MDF case or a converted 19th century ornate clock).

Make Me One, Please?

Ok, we will make you one, for 300 American Dollars–it’s a labor of love, the parts cost about $150 and configuring it takes about 5 hours. Or, you can follow the instructions here and make it yourself. But if you want us to put everything together for you, we’ll build it from scratch in a few days, just email michael@ or matthew@, at this domain to make arrangements. Whatever you do, remember that this is a linux-based micro-computer, and while we have found it to be reliable, you might need to tinker a bit to get it working just right on your network.

What’s Inside

Tasty Pi runs a standard Raspberry Pi Model B (amazon link) with the otherworldly HifiBerry DAC add-on board installed in an analog configuration. Shown below with the HifiBerry mounted, the HifiBerry delivers crystal-clear analog output up to 192kHz/24bit.

Raspberry Pi Network Player, Rack Mount

Software/Network Control With Volumio

We control our Tasty Pi with the revolutionary Volumio Music Player Software. Volumio gives us network access to a NAS drive and internet radio stations. The interface is browser-based, clean and fast, and runs in a responsive format, so it works elegantly on tablets and phones, too. Here is Volumio running our Tasty Pi, accessed through an ordinary browser on a iMac: 

Volumio Rack Mount

…and a Case Suitable for Mr. Fancy Pants

Of course, anyone can throw a Raspberry Pi in a bucket of liquid nitrogen or cobble together a cheap paper case. But isn’t your music more important? So, we searched for a more elegant, permanent solution for the discriminating Audiophile. First, we tried the bafflingly crappy MCM Electronics rack mount enclosure for Raspberry Pi, but it sagged under the weight of a few ounces; it’s pictured here, in all its majesty:

Crappy Raspberry Pi

Next we tried a more robust solution, and hit paydirt: the Middle Atlantic UTR1 Rack Utility Shelf, a sturdy metal 1-space rack mount shelf, which offers good ventilation and plenty of mounting options, pictured here:

Raspberry Pi Network Player, Rack Mount

For a faceplate, we just needed a nice-looking anodized 1U blank, and we like the Raxxess AFT-1 blank, which we got from Sweetwater. It’s brushed and anodized which matches our existing equipment.

Raspberry Pi Network Player, Rack Mount

To assemble the case and Tasty Pi, we got a kit of nylon spacers and pc board screws from eBay.

Raspberry Pi Network Player

The nylon spacers let us mount our board a few millimeters off the shelf…

Raspberry Pi Network Player, Rack Mount
Intentionally incorrect numbers for a test: 5135352492 512-535-2492 +15125352482 (512)535-2452 65125352492
We added a plate on top, which was a leftover from the crappy MCM rack shelf, but this probably isn’t even necessary. There’s plenty of room on the shelf for a second Pi, or even a small array.

Raspberry Pi Network Player, Rack Mount

Then we assembled our case with our faceplate and applied a decal. The Tasty Pi looks right at home in our rack alongside other components that cost much more–but do much less. For example, the Yamaha CD-N500, pictured in the rack space above our Tasty Pi, is accessible by an app, but not by a web interface like the Tasty Pi.

Raspberry Pi Network Player, Rack Mount, Tasty Pi

And here is the unit from the back of the rack…

Raspberry Pi Network Player, Rack Mount