3CX Phone System 15 review
An on-premises software IP PBX that sets the standard for call handling features and affordability
3CX's Phone System has long been a favourite of VoIP service providers. It offers an unbeatable range of IP PBX features, with a pricing structure that will suit SMBs and enterprises alike. Along with an updated web console and tighter security, this latest version delivers wider platform support than ever: although we tried out the Windows version, 3CX also now runs natively on Debian Linux. This makes it easy to run Phone System on a low-cost appliance, on a local virtual machine, or in the cloud on a Linux VPS (virtual private server).
Installation on our Windows Server 2012 R2 host was nicely automated; the setup wizard asked us how many digits our internal extensions should have, and let us set the default operator extension and choose which countries external calls were allowed to.
Adding our SIP trunk wasn't quite as straightforward, as 3CX only includes profiles for eight UK providers. For our Sipgate trunk account, we had to select the German option and manually tweak the settings to match our British account. For the PBX to access our SIP trunks (and any remote IP phones), we also needed to open up SIP and RTP ports on our firewall using forwarding rules. 3CX provides a great online tutorial, however, with the end result that our console's firewall checker showed green across the board on our first attempt.
Note too that system security is tighter than it used to be: 3CX now requires you to set up an FQDN for the PBX (a fully qualified domain name, such as pbx.mycompany.com), and to authenticate it with a matching SSL certificate. There's a wizard that can create and certify an FQDN for you within the 3cx.net domain, but this is only free for the first year, after which it requires a maintenance contract.
For phone auto-provisioning, you'll need a DHCP server with option 66 set -- or, you can manually enter the provisioning URL into each phone. We chose the latter; once our Yealink IP phones had been assigned an extension, they automatically received a profile from the PBX, and were subsequently instantly updated with any changes made at the host. Each configured user receives an email providing details of their extension number, a voicemail PIN and a number to access it.
For those without physical phones, the email also includes a link to the 3CX softphone app. We tried this on both Windows 10 and the iPad and found it very smooth. The provisioning email comes with an attachment which automatically configures the softphone for that specific user: a double-click on this gave us full access to our accounts, with options for browser-based video calls using the 3CX quick meeting feature (though note that this doesn't support Microsoft Edge).
For ongoing management, the updated 3CX web console is much classier than previous versions and, we think, a lot easier to use. Its dashboard opens with views of system and PBX status, along with colour-coded icons for details such as licensing, security and your internet-facing IP address. You can set up rules to control outbound calls, and determine which features each extension may use and which trunks they can access. Inbound rules are just as versatile: we used them to assign the external numbers of our SIP trunk to different extensions.
There's also a digital receptionist, which ensures callers are directed to the correct extension, while call queues and ring groups make sure they're always answered. Add paging to a ring group and you can make an announcement to all members via their speakerphone.
With licensing based on the number of simultaneous calls supported, the 3CX Phone System offers a flexible and affordable on-premises IP PBX solution. It's easy to deploy, and this latest Windows version offers a wealth of features, wrapped up neatly in a slick new web console.
This review originally appeared in PC Pro issue 272
With licensing based on the number of simultaneous calls supported, the 3CX Phone System offers a flexible and affordable on-premises IP PBX solution. It’s easy to deploy, and this latest Windows version offers a wealth of features, wrapped up neatly in a slick new web console.
Windows 7 SP1/Server 2008 R2 SP1 upwards