This morning I stumbled across a hosted Asterisk service that’s being offered for free by a company called Aretta. To sign-up for the free service called, NetPBX Free, you need to visit this link https://www.aretta.com/free/. The free service doesn’t seem to be advertised on the main Aretta site so it looks like they are using word of mouth to let people know about they offering.
As far as using the service goes the account set up was painless and I was up and running with a dedicated Asterisk instance in about 5 minutes. However after that things weren’t quite so easy. The NetPBX Free admin interface is fairly comprehensive and also includes a FreePBX install, which is a web management portal that sits on top of Asterisk. Anyone not very familiar with Asterisk is going to really struggle as the configuration options are bamboozling and the FreePBX interface means there are two ways to get most things done. That’s not a deficiency of the NetPBX product that’s just how Asterisk is. Anyone who thinks sipsorcery is difficult to get a grasp on would be in for a rude awakening with Asterisk. Even the basics of setting up a SIP account and configuring the dialplan to allow inbound and outbound calls can be a tricky exercise.
The main problems I had with the Aretta NetPBX product was the lack of visibility to the Asterisk console, which is absolutely essential with such a complex piece of software, and likewise the lack of visibility to the configuration files. There is a Logging tab available that dumps the Asterisk log file to a web page but it seems to be using a cron job or something as it only refreshes every 10 or 15 minutes. As far as the system configuration files go I wanted to set up an extension to allow my default SIP account to dial into music on hold. After setting up the dialplan I dialled into the extension but the call failed with a declined error response. The likely cause of the failure was a problem with the music on hold set up but it’s very hard to diagnose that sort of thing with no console and no access to the musiconhold.conf file. The FreePBX interface does have a music on hold section and after fiddling around in there for a while and doing a few restarts I was able to get it kind of working but it took a lot longer than it would have normally.
To be fair to Aretta it’s a free service and SSH access is available on the paid versions. The NetPBX product may be good for someone already familiar with Asterisk and with lots of time and patience on their hands to play around with but I wouldn’t recommend it for someone wanting to learn Asterisk. A better option for that would be to use one of Voxilla’s EC2 AMI’s and fire up an instance. I’ve used the Voxilla images a few times to check something on Asterisk or when I wanted to do some tests with a media server and sipsorcery.