Aastra/Nortel 390 Unboxing

It’s been a while since I have been updating the site. In fact, I haven’t logged in for a while ether. While I have some time catching up on things, I thought I’d share the unboxing (albeit sound only) of an Aastra 390 screenset, received by Joe the UCX Guy earlier last month. Joe: I’ve tried to reach you for acknowledgment and my email has  been acting very moody. Future correspondences can be sent via steven@vanitydomain (see banner). I have not forgotten you.

I’ll have stills and hopefully a video portion sooner than later.

Anyways back to some emails and other things I have to follow up. Been a busy summer for me, hence the silence here.


My Collection: Aastra Analog Sets

I tried to email Joe the UCX Guy this picture of these sets he gave me last winter and the other set I had for a couple years now. My AOL email has been acting glitchy.

Anyways this is part of my private museum I am completing. More details to follow.

I’m sending emails out of steven-at-vanity domain for this site and folks can use this or Dial Zero to contact me.


Video: Nortel Meridian M9617 POTS Telephone

Thanks to Joe the UCX Guy who contacted me offline to offer one of his two sets he had. According to his post, “A friend sent me this set, and it works, although it’s a bit strange, the volume on the handset is really low on both lines.  Hands free is loud and clear but the handset is quite low volume.”

These sets were basically NOS or perhaps “New Old Stock” because he had opened them recently.

He tried to install the app on Windows 10 PC to no avail. Well there is such thing as virtualization and running older operating systems.

This video features the unboxing. The next video I’m trying to shoot for tomorrow, the 19th, where I will literally try to install the application per to Nortels specifications (I’ll try it on NT Workstation 4, with 8MB ram, 10MB harddisk and USB, TAPI, and all the other fun stuff for it to work and run it on Fusion on my Mac mini. I will say it will sure be fun to try!)

Without forgetting, Thank You!

PBX Knock-off Guide

This post is for you Jason, you know who you are!

Prior to 2010, having a phone system in the house would be cost prohibitive. With hardware and the needed software cards, it could’ve been up to $300.  VOIP or not didn’t matter (in fact you probably would’ve paid more on VOIP sets than the system itself. And ROI would be out of the window, because at home users would not see cost savings as opposed to a business.)

But if you are in a situation where you can’t afford a system, but want something that resembles it, here is a matrix of wireline phones that look like they could run off a PBX but it doesn’t need to. And they’re analog



Any model number with the second digit of 1 in the Avaya model range like a 7102 indicates it’s an analog telephone that can work in a POTS setup. Avaya will scare the pants out of the customers and claim that you may damage the telephone lines if you plug these sets – especially the ones with the MWI, but that was probably the days when there was ground start and loop start lines, mixed around.

7101 (Think of the Merlin sets and a trimline, and you get this set. Very rare, if you find one, don’t be surprised to pay top dollar.)

7102 (basically a shell of a Merlin BIS or 7400 BIS, but just a single button for flash)

8101 – Supposed to resemble the 8400 series, but it looks more like the 900 series sold to consumers. The difference? Similar quality to the 8400s!

8110 – has up to 10 number speed dial functions

6210 – Resembles the 6400 series or 4400 series in the Magix world, a basic model

6220 – Has multiple buttons for speed dial and a built in modem port for dialup or faxing


Soundstation are the conference room sets, perfect for the dining room. The first generations are the most solid, but are prone to blemishes and scratches. the SoundStation 2 are more plasticy, but aren’t prone to blemishes or scratches, but are prone to cracking.

The SoundPoint analog telephones have been on the market for years, and you can still find them new, or new old stock, like this one from my mother’s work taken years ago.


If you’re up for crummy IP, the SoundPoint IP would be the next option. The requirements would ether be a SIP service or a SIP PBX. Polycoms are considered the poor man’s Cisco to me,  but they also have the resemblance of a Nortel with the removable “Button caps” Polycoms also lack the neatness of having line or handset cables tucked in, they sit loose. I’d just pass on it.


Aastra was spin off of Nortel’s analog telephone offerings. Unlike Lucent, Nortel sold sets intentionally to consumers, and some of their popular consumer-styled sets are found on Etsy and eBay. For enterprise wannabees, Aastra licensed the Meridan name even after the spinoff. There are several models (please forgive me if I don’t have the model numbers right.)

  • M8314
  • M9116 (resembles the T7200 Norstar sets)
  • 9316CW
  • M9216
  • 9417

Another least known feature from Nortel/Aastra was a KSU-less phone system called Venture. Similar to the ComKey, and the modern ones found at Staples, the Venture could run a mini phone system of up to 8 Venture phones. Typically one phone would be the “slave” and the other sets working as “masters”, the latter would be the most expensive. The systems would talk to each other on the same circuit. Unlike offerings from “AT&T” at the time, the Venture was more flexible, such as creating your own extension numbers, and some of these sets also supported voice mail.


An analog Aastra found at the NYS Capital, Albany NY, 2011

The Venture extended through VOIP with an IP offering since VOIP phones typically connect to a PBX or a “cloud” service and only rarely do VOIP phones dial out to analog trunks, that really this concept is unneeded.

Meanwhile, if you wanted a Meridian-like set (like the 3900 series), look at the Vista series. Some resemble the boxy sets from the 90s, but later models have the more curvy look. It’s large screen can be supported if your phone company has support for ADSI (forgot what that stood for – to lazy to search.)

ADSI which gives bits of data to the phone to check stock quotes, directory services, book a plane, etc… it may be outdated for 2015, but it was the dream around 2000. The people at Asterisk must’ve seen something to this as they supports this specifically for sets like the Vista. Some phone providers use Asterisk, so just check your provider. If your provider doesn’t support it, it does retain a 100 number call directory, speed dial, etc.

A Picture of a Nortel Vista 390 phone

This is an Aastra 390 that is used as the “house phone” for my mother and grandmother that is not tied to the phone systems. The cool thing is depending in your provider, it may push out the time when a call comes through. (makes it easier when a power outage occurs or when you go out of daylight/standard time zones during late winter, fall times of the year.) This feature probably requires a CLID service from your telco.

The Vista supports message waiting notification, so you’ll get the red light blinking if you have voice mail waiting. Even from the phone company!

Downside is the Vista’s backlit display is always on. There is no on or off features.

There is an IP version of this set, that supports up to 4 line appearances

Other vendors

boston 200

I still can’t drool over this Telematrix telephone taken at the Boston Harbor Hotel when I was having my complex jaw surgery in 2010. This was actually a solid terminal. Great plastics, heavy base, so it won’t move off base and seemed to be reliable. On their own website, they would tout this for centrex users or for the government (and hospitality markets obviously.)

I hope this buyer’s guide helps you out finding your short term fix of a long term issue – wanting your own PBX or key system.

Nortel/Northern Telecom Comtempra Trim set

DSC_0094 Nortel (at the time Northern Telecom) back in the 1970s broke away from making Western Electric clones of their telephone offerings and made somewhat more stylish telephones. This was taken recently at the NH Telephone Museum.

On a related note, Nortel also sold this same type of set as a lineman’s test phone (also called a buttset.) Albeit somewhat modified for a use for a test phone, those were common for some technicians during the 70s into the 80s. I do not know if the test set of the Comtempra had a dial or not.

Phones @ Work – CBS’ Ed Sullivan Theater – New York

The Embedded photos were taken directly from the Flickr servers with no intention to violate any copyright. I do not own the rights of the content embedded. 

From the same Flickr account, there is a gallery where the NBC staffer had toured or visited the Ed Sullivan Theater last year. A user can spot phones in this gallery.

CBS was in interesting animal as a company in a period of time. CBS had went from the Tiffany Network to Wal Mart by the end of the 1980s, they had only owned 6 TV stations, nearly a couple dozen radio stations and some other properties as well. They were an inch close to being bought by Ted Turner in the mid 80s and CBS stood their ground and paid about a billion dollars for a financial restraining order (basically the cost to fight Turner off). As a result, it cost CBS a lot of money, and they sold off properties and went very cheap, while being cheap, they didn’t invest in phone systems like say in NBC for instance and just had hodge podge systems in one area (or region) and another system in another area or place.

In New York, CBS had like a Centrex service, and some studios used that infamous 1A2 key phones (WCBS-TV, the CBS Evening News, 60 Minutes, etc.) and in other studios they had key systems like Merlins or Panasonics (Up to the Minute, WCBS 880).

Oh and when I’m talking 1A2, I’m not talking about I saw footage or saw it on YouTube, I’m talking about I saw it in action in my lifetime like I was about 18 when watching 60 Minutes seeing that they were still using 1A2 sets. Even Andy Rooney still had his 1A2 up till his last days doing his commentary.

Outside of New York, the hub in L.A. had an Avaya Red, the CBS Television City had Avaya Red, and WBBM TV and radio in Chicago was an Avaya Red too. Their Miami O&O TV station is an Avaya Red to this day seeing news footage from WFOR-TV.  CBS also merged with Westinghouse’s broadcast properties that were mostly Nortel. Before the Nortel bankruptcy, CBS standardized on Nortels across all their studios and stations throughout the country. CBS built new studios for the local markets from the ground up for LA, Chicago and Philadelphia where it was easy to build tapeless HD and a network to support it plus VOIP.

As I digress again,  the Ed Sullivan Theater (where David Letterman did his show up until the spring of 2015) has basically a Centrex setup, just some with Nortel Digital Centrex (notice the the top buttons with the mute and handsfree (speaker) key on the very top as opposed to the bottom on the other setups and a 2565 telephone that I wouldn’t be surprised that still works. (Obviously the one that was on the stage of the Late Show was a fake – c’mon!)

Call Appearances

Call Appearances is a feature used on many multi line telephone systems (or MLTS) to allow a single telephone to handle multiple calls at once without having to be bombarded with an annoying call waiting tone or be able to switch to the other call or calls at once.


An Avaya 4602 IP telephone that has two call appearances. This telephone can be a single line if the user wants the “b” button to be a feature key. Just expect a call waiting tone if someone wants to call when you’re on a line.


To explain the phrase simply, anything that makes a telephone ring – from the inside or outside, buzz (Nortel term), page, act as an intercom, would appear on a preset button. Typically call appearances are designated on the first group of buttons set for lines. Some support a few, some can support tons. Some are easy to toggle (with hard keys), some require using a screen (like Ciscos.)


A Cisco 7941 IP phone can handle up to two lines, but in some environments can support up to 200 call appearances! When you get a call when you’re in a middle of an existing call, you can toggle the other appearance using the soft key. Unfortunately call appearances cannot appear on any fixed buttons, and managing more than a few calls with the softkey/rocker switch can be cumbersome.


The phrase Call Appearance comes from AT&T when such feature was used on their System 75 and 85 PBX systems. Prior to the launch of the System 75 in 1984, AT&T sold a system called the Dimension and Horizon PBX. The problem that plagued AT&T’s telephones, was they had multi button sets with lights, but they were simply speed dials with the ability to give you an indication (like if a user was busy or a feature was on. To transfer calls, it was just like a POTS set, hit the “Recall” and number and hang up. Multilines were non existent, and wasn’t an option.  This was their proprietary phone offerings for about a decade. (Check out the Lee Goeller page where he explained this flaw in his essays in the past.)

thetelephonebook_Page_102_Image_0001 2

The MET 40 was AT&T’s largest PBX phone outside the operator consoles. This over foot long phone unlike a 1A2 phone, could only handle one extension or number. Want to conference, transfer, etc? You had to hit the flash button just below the keypad – like it was a 1A2 set – but yet you couldn’t have more than one number on that set! Operator consoles did have more than a single appearance at the time. There was a reason why it was called the Multibutton Electronic Telephone not Multiline.


To owe up for a flaw like that in the Dimension, the System 75 basically allowed what was once for operators available for everyone.  By default, all digital sets programmed gave users 3 call appearances. You can have as many as you want (virtually given the oldest and newest sets from Avaya could max just beyond 48 buttons – the system’s max per telephone is 96.) The call appearances are concurrent and they are referred to letters (a=, and so on) as opposed to numbers (like “Line 1”.)

These Nortel/Aastra 5300 used to be for the front desk, this was taken in a room that used to be a sales office for luxury properties around the Mount Washington Resort. It's been since scrapped by Omni.

This Aastra 5300 Centrex phone shares characteristics of a Nortel Meridian PBX telephone. Similar to AT&T’s the phone looked the same but would act a little different. The button arraignment is just like Mitels, and Multiple line appearances would appear on the lower right hand, by default you could have two. Nortel was more for dedicate feature keys as AT&T was more for dedicated line keys.

Bridged appearances gives you the “key system” like functionality out of a large PBX. You can pool a dozen phones and share the lines on that same number. Bridged appearances are similar to daisy chaining multiple home phones on a single line from the phone company. You can have several bridged appearances, and regardless if it shares the same number, you can still make calls. (so you can’t eavesdrop and listen to some office gossip unlike the party lines or the bridged lines in the home!)


A Nortel 7308 taken at a local Party City. This phone tied to a Norstar system allows for one call at a time. You can however, have one call from the outside and inside occur at once, but you cannot do both in multiples. This goes true for Avaya’s Merlin and Partner systems as well. The closest to a call appearance environment for Norstars is when its in a bridged extension setup.


The same features were in parity with AT&T’s 5ESS switching system used for the phone companies. AT&T produced the 6500, 7500 and 8500 sets that resembled their on site phone portfolio, the only noticeable difference was the display, fixed feature keys and the ability to plug them into an PSTN with an ISDN BRI line jack. Typically ISDN sets were used for secure environments (the Oval Office for one) or in Centrex environments for attendant/operator services or conference calling (as posted earlier.)

Mitel IP Phone 5224 for SIP purposes. it's a lovely looking phone!

The Mitel 5224 IP Phone under SIP has resembles some of Avaya’s call appearance setup. The sequencing range however starts on lower right hand keys and ends on the upper left. The first 4 buttons acts like the call appearance and the fifth key acts as a bridged appearance. You can’t go beyond that.

By the 1990s many vendors had mimicked the AT&T standard, and not only that, the ISDN implementation lead to the CA-EKTS or Call Appearance for Electronic Key Telephone Systems. Don’t start thinking 1A2 or a Norstar because despite the initials, this was used for Centrex or ISDN phone service. Various vendors like Telrad, Fujitsu, AT&T and Nortel produced telephone sets that could be interoperable with each other’s PBX or carrier switches. ISDN was what VOIP is today, it was supposed to integrate phones and computers with a fixed, always on dial up quality of broadband connectivity.


An original AT&T 301 attendant console for the then System 75 PBX. Call appearances are located on the bottom right six buttons. As infinite as call appearances were on AT&T systems from yesterday and Avaya systems today, you could only handle up to 6 calls before the attendant would busy out or if you were lucky, you could have additional consoles to take over the load.



ISDN’s bugs (and derogatory  abbreviations like It Still Doesn’t Nothing) and when the Web and Internet became mainstream and as networks were standardized on the TCP/IP setup, at least for the States the telephones never took off, and ISDN was used for the closets and the end users were in a niche markets for voice over artists that would start movie trailers “In a world…” dominated by the late Don Lafontaine and the late Hal Douglass. ISDN gave life like voice quality where many broadcast, radio, TV and production houses a direct line to voice overs and not have to worry about crummy MP3, old POTS grade voice quality and so on.

But since the “Call Appearance” became a standard in some way, many vendors caught on with the name and then made their own version of it, however the idea was still the same – anything that made a line usable, would “appear” on a dedicated button with indication statuses, etc.

Call appearances are useful for

  • Operator/attendant environments (this is a requirement; not having call appearances would make an operator’s terminal useless)
  • If you handle more than one call at once, or often make frequent conference calls
  • the ability to not just have one extension, but ether share other extensions or monitor other extensions
  • That call waiting can be disabled as the other call can “appear” on the idle line below your current call

Without call appearances in todays modern world of telephony, you’d be better off with a POTS/landline telephone.

My Collection: Nortel/Aastra 8417 Analog Telephone

Here for you tonight is a one of my newest additions to the Museum called the Nortel 8417 analog telephone. This will for sure please the Nortel fans!



I got this at my local Savers at a dirt cheap steal of $2.99, no power adaptor or anything like that, but was able to find a compatible one in the office where I keep a lot of things (and not so well as you can tell by the clutter!)


I’ll give the old Nortel where credit is due. They made some pretty damn good analog sets. If there is a such thing as “poor mans Meridian” telset, this would be it. AT&T on the other hand already dumped domestic and in house production of their household sets right after the infamous Divestiture to a subcontractor in Mexico. The set has the similar industrial design (and shares quality) parity to the the proprietary sets.

While I don’t have button caps for the auto dials, it was also to my surprise that even the feature keys could pop off on the analog sets. Not that would do any difference to the performance since it’s hard programmed.

This set support Caller ID, however when tied to my G3si PBX, it isn’t pushing the local caller ID on the set. Must do a display-station-6101 to figure out why it’s not working.




This set was well designed and it could easily be mistaken to an actual Norstar or Meridian telset, given the parity of design and quality.


the back of the set


Now this is interesting: this set shares two different logos, the NT-pre Nortel brand underneath the handset, and the post 1995 Nortel era near a setup button cover plate. The set itself was made in 1999. One of the reasons why I got this set due to the abnormality of branding.

DSC_0082This secret hideout button is to change ring tones, add speed dials to those uncovered button caps, to change up to 4 ring tones, and other personal settings. The reason why this probably is covered up is to prevent accidental changes to the systemic provisioning of analog sets. (Remember these “poor man’s Meridian” could be used in PBX environments or even Centrex setups. A “system administrator” type may require consistency on the desktop layer (i.e. these sets) since again these are plain old sets, any changes from the phone company or the PBX vendor wouldn’t work at all. That would change after VOIP would come along and make provisioning of semi dumb sets easier.

DSC_0085 By pushing down you can take the desktop stand off



Another look at the set with the stand off and how good the design is in terms of reliability.


The set requires the power for caller ID, for the display to work and for the personal ring tones, up to 4 tones can be used, unlike the 8 you can have on a native Nortel set. When there is no power, the message waiting lamp does not work, a very basic ring tone will alert, and Handsfree (speaker), conferencing and others will not work.


New Addition: Nortel/Aastra Vista 390

I got this phone a month ago at the local Savers for my house. I replaced the landline jacks to a digital jack once I cutover to the trunking to the Avaya IPO PBX. I wanted to maximize the port abilities, since digitals cannot be daisy chained. I had an AT&T 952, but the audio sucked, and it was best to have a wall mount.
Later that day, as I did the port change, I found this $10 treasure! It was essentially NIB or New In Box. This was in packaging from Quest, the BOC in the Western states.

This Nortel (later Aastra) Vista 390 looks like a fancy office phone. But its not. It can be tied into a Plain Ol Telephone Service land line jacks, and the phone has more intelligence. If you get service from Quest, or another Bell company that uses Nortel backends, this phone can retrieve information like spell by name White Pages like services, retrieve stock quotes or even the softkeys on the screen can act as a more user friendly voice mail, by using those  softkeys. Quest calls this a Digital Receptionist package.

A Picture of a Nortel Vista 390 phone

This telephone looks similar to a M3900 series or the i2000 series telephones. It is smaller than the former, since it is a consumer telephone afterall.

Secondly, the thing to set up is a pain in the ass, especially for the wall mount. Thankfully this puppy is tied to a PBX, so the thing isn’t really on hook so you know I don’t get a reversed 911 callback, or heaven knows what else I could be inadvertently dial. This phone requires an AC power, and when the thing is not receiving power, a basic dialtone and ring can still operate.  So setthing this thing up was a task of itself.

Third, given this was sold during the still significant Dialup years, the thing has no data jack. Hell, people still fax to this day.

Other than that, this is one of my couple Nortel sets I have around.

Private Systems – The New York State Government – Albany, NY

This post focuses on Private Branch Exchanges and one of the largest PBX network using Avaya’s PBX solution.

I thought the larger governments would had been Nortel users, and many of the New York State buildings and agencies do use Nortel, but a few years ago, I didn’t realize that their buildings in the city of Albany and the other communities were in fact users of Avaya systems (or the largest single site users from the best of my own knowdlege…)

The story begins back in the late 80s, the government agencies for the State of New York started a large project known as Empire Net. The project included all telecommunications improvement, one was for the services from the Bell company, second was a large scaled microwave network, and third their private phone systems. AT&T’s Information Systems unit was picked through a bid and installed the NYS Government – a hugge, huuuggee PBX network consisting with multiple System 85 switches with 13 unique PBX systems in the Capital Region of New York! This humble network would replace the existing Centrex service that the NYS government was using prior to.

Connecting these switches, were ether using TIE trunks and/or later with the magic of the Distributed Communications System (DCS), these systems can talk to one another as if they were one big happy voice family. At the time in the late 80s, there were other multivendor systems used statewide. DCS was or is a proprietary protocol that is kinda like the “cloud” of the modern days for the System 85/Definity systems. Some of the buildings had talked via microwave links and now its virtually all fiber.

If you guessed about 20,000 terminals* that was installed here, you sir guessed too conservatively – you were off about 60,000! Yes, 80,000 lines and/or terminals through this almost exclusive single vendor private phone system! I was quite surprised to see such number because no individual traditional Definity PBX could handle no less than 20,000 ports to begin with! This information is courtesy in part of the IT agency of New York as they mention this on their website. I don’t think any other company or even another corporation could brag about such  port count! Granted AT&T never made their own carrier class PBX like Nortel did with their amped up SL-100 (now Communications Server 2100) PBX so to see such customer and the creativity of the old AT&T is pretty awesome to see.

*the average for most enterprises.

While being commissioned originally as a System 85, and various names such as the Definity, etc. the folks in the NYS Government had called their system collectively the CAPNET (for the Capital Region Network) however they do have a Centrex type service with the same name.  Its highly believable this network or system went though the respective upgrades over the years from the original systems into the Generic 3 RISC (G3r formerly the System 75) Definity platform, and may have changed the cabinets to rack mount media gateways and servers with the respective software upgrades and might had gone to IP Telephony or IP trunking, not sure. I don’t know much other than the References listed at the end of this post. The legendary voice messaging system known as AUDIX is withheld from mention, and its known as the CAPNET voice mail service.

I went to Albany in April of 2011, and I grabbed a few pictures. I was not going to blog about this beast without placing images of various phones.

unused desk with ether a 7405 or 7434 terminal

This unused desk shows a pair of ether a 7405 or 7434 terminal that is probably as old as me.

Security Guard Officer near Governors Hall with a 6424 terminal and a XM24 sidecar

The next one shows a security guard at the Governors Hall with a newer 6424 terminal with a lone sidecar adding 24 more buttons.

This one was rather interesting, just because they have a big PBX, doesn’t mean that smaller offices could be using a different system. This Aastra terminal was spotted in the Assembly Chambers. These should not to be confused with the first generation IP phones made by Cisco (or Celius.)  They appear to not be an IP Phone

The Senate Chambers has 8400 types, including the power user 8434 which can handle up to 50 something programmed lines or features with an additional sidecar.

And a random 50 pair ampthenol cable I spotted inside that NYS Capital

Sources: Network World: October 17th, 1988 (Pgs.1& 55) Google Book link New York State Office For Technology, Telephony bureau (cio.ny.gov)