ℹ️ Update September 2018: OpenVBX appears to have been abandoned by Twilio. There are some efforts to keep the project going over at GitHub which you could try.
Our options

When searching for a reliable, low-cost and functional solution for a business phone number here at Amazorize the list of options was never ending. The obvious ones we looked in to were…

Full phone line

Since we don’t operate from a single physical premises, this option was easy to discount.

Second mobile phone

A second mobile phone would have been a simple solution however a mobile number is not very professional, it is limited to one phone and involved carrying around another phone.

Skype online number

A Skype online number was a potential solution, it is $60 a year and you can choose a number that looks like a landline phone. You can answer it using the Skype client and also forward it to mobile phones. This seemed like a reasonable solution. Inbound calls are free and outbound are just under 8p a minute to UK mobiles (from the UK).

A VoIP phone service and network phone

We investigated a number of VoIP phone services and a IP phone, however these could get quite costly and involved being near the phone at all times.

A call forwarding service

We also looked at a number of call forwarding services that could just divert calls to my mobile. These were straightforward but lacked flexibility and seemed to cost over the odds for the value compared to the other options.

These options work great for lots of people but as lovers of managing our own platforms, when we stumbled upon an open-source piece of software called OpenVBX, we had to give it a go.

OpenVBX & Twilio

OpenVBX is an open-source call centre software built in PHP, just like WordPress, which you can install on your standard web hosting. It integrates with a service called Twilio which we were familiar with already. Twilio is a Voice & SMS developer API that powers companies like Coca-Cola, eBay and Uber (as well as a number of the other providers we looked at in our search for a phone solution).

The whole process was quite straightforward and amazingly affordable.

  1. Download OpenVBX and install on web hosting.
  2. Sign-up to Twilio
  3. Deposit $20 in to Twilio account
  4. Register a phone number, we could choose a local Fareham based number and could even search for different available numbers to pick a memorable one.
  5. Copy the provided keys in to our OpenVBX admin panel.

At this point, our work on the Twilio admin was done and we will only refer to them for billing and developer applications, the rest of the management is done on our own OpenVBX panel. We now had a phone number that we could call (and answer in OpenVBX with a computer & microphone or leave to a built-in voicemail), send SMS’s to as well as dial out and send SMS from OpenVBX.

“We now had a phone number that we could call (and answer in OpenVBX with a computer & microphone or leave to a built-in voicemail), send SMS’s to as well as dial out and send SMS from OpenVBX.”

Creating our call and SMS flows

To handle calls, OpenVBX uses a number of ‘flows’. We only use one number, however each number can have its own flow if you would like different departments for example.

The interface is totally drag and drop and really easy to use. You can play greetings either with a robot voice or upload a MP3, create your own dial menus to create different options, forward your calls to another member of the team, choose when to divert the user to a voicemail and much more.

SMS flows also have a similar interface with functionality such as forwarding and auto-replies.

We decided to keep it quite simple and set our call flow up like so…

  • If somebody is logged in to OpenVBX, play a short greeting and ring the panel. We can then answer it straight from the browser and our computers microphones.
  • If nobody is logged in to OpenVBX, play a short away message and take a voicemail message. Then email a recording of that voicemail to our support email address.
  • If I am expecting to be working away from my desk or expecting an urgent call, it is also possible to forward all calls to a mobile number which is another great feature.
  • Email all SMS messages to our main support email.

All things considered, the pricing definitely beat out any of our other options.

  • OpenVBX Software (free)
  • Web Hosting (already owned)
  • $1.00 monthly for the local phone number
  • $0.0075 per minute to receive calls
  • $0.0175 per minute to make calls to landlines
  • $0.04 per minute to make calls to mobiles
  • $0.0075 to receive SMS
  • $0.04 to send SMS

To answer in the OpenVBX interface, you would just pay the standard receive calls fee, however, to forward to a mobile you would pay the receive calls fee as well as make calls to a mobiles fee for both parts of the calls journey.

You can set your Twilio account to auto top-up or just deposit money when you are running low.

Further reading