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What Is SIP Phone Provisioning?

What is SIP Phone Provisioning?

Provisioning, in the context of business telephone communication, is a process for configuring phones (or other SIP devices such as a DECT base station) to connect with a SIP server, function as part of an IP-PBX system, and provide users with all associated telephony services.

Provisioning is used for setting up users' extensions and SIP credentials, line and DSS keys, time zone and format, alerts, BLF and speed dial, and voicemail. 

It can also control specific features on phones as per company's policies, provides phones with different resources (like language packages or custom screen savers/ring tones), define dialing and usage rules, and load the company's directory and important contacts to each phone so users don't have to input them manually.

Impact of Provisioning on Users

New or factory-reset phones always have to be provisioned before they can be used.

Phones that are already in use may be reprovisioned occasionally by administrators to apply new settings and policies or to resolve functionality issues.

Some phone models (like DECT handsets) support provisioning that is transparent to users and allow them to keep using their phones. Provisioning certain parameters on most phones can also be done without rebooting the phone or noticeable impact to users.

But in most cases, provisioning does involve rebooting the phone once or a few times, making it temporarily unavailable. Additional delays may happen if the configuration update also requires a firmware upgrade.

So while provisioning is generally a short process, taking no longer than 5-10 minutes, it is still preferable to perform it during off hours, especially in call centers or other situations where phones are crucial to ongoing operations.

Manual, Assisted, and Automatic Provisioning

There are three kinds of provisioning methods Manual, Assisted, and Automatic. Be aware that the methods have overlapping elements (assisted provisioning is a type of automatic provisioning) and that these names could be used differently by phone manufacturers or service providers.

Manual Provisioning

In a complete manual provisioning, phones are configured and registered to the server one by one using the phone's menus, the phone's web interface, or a combination of the two. Not all features can be configured this way and it is, obviously, time-consuming and potentially error-prone.

Manual provisioning does make sense for small companies with only a handful of phones or even for big companies where a few odd phone models happen to be in use. Setting up and managing a provisioning server or the configuration files for those phones or odd models may be overkill. 

Manual provisioning is also required for SIP devices that are not regular phones (like door phones, intercom, Gateways/ATAs, and overhead speakers) or for phone models that don't support Zero Touch or other automatic provisioning methods.

Assisted Provisioning

Since business VoIP providers, including Telebroad, usually manage and handle all the provisioning servers and services, there is rarely ever a need for complete manual provisioning. 

Rather, the term is often reffering to a user that manually enters the provisioning server details and selects to trigger automatic provisioning for a specific phone(s). After he does so all the configurations are updated automatically.

This is also called assisted provisioning and it is useful when full automatic provisioning doesn't work well. This may happen when the local network has some restrictions, a phone has to be set up for an external location, a phone had to be factory-reset, or when it was bought second-hand or from a third-party vendor.

See these two articles for instructions on how to trigger assisted provisioning for Poly and Yealink phones. We are no longer supporting Cisco phones, but you can still find provisioning information here.

Automatic Provisioning

With automatic provisioning, all required configurations are fetched from a provisioning server and the process is completed automatically. Automatic provisioning can handle different phone models simultaneously and is used by administrators to perform mass configurations of multiple phones, making for a tremendous saving in deployment time and effort. It is an essential method for large companies and organizations.

 Note that a provisioning server is not the same as a SIP/PBX server. While a provisioning server configures a phone the SIP/PBX server allows it to perform the actual communication. 

Preparing for Automatic Provisioning

Before provisioning can take place, the phone administrator or bussines VoIP provider (Telebroad) has to set up the provisioning server and configuration files for each phone model used by the company.

Setting up the server is done with relevant software and is not too complex.

Depending on the brand and phone model, preparing the configuration files may be done with a GUI or it may involve editing the XML code of each file in a text editor to include or enable/disable various features, rules, and resources. Administrators can start with template files, available from manufacturers, to make editing easier.

In addition to general configuration files for each phone model, administrators can also create specific configurations for individual phones or groups of phones in the company. These phones are recognized by the provisioning server based on their MAC address.

Establishing the Provisioning Server Address

Each phone has to establish the provisioning server address, port number, and login credentials where it will fetch the configuration files from. The full URL of the address could vary by phone model or method used, or it may be one dynamic URL with wildcards (the wildcards are automatically replaced by model or MAC address so the correct configuration files are fetched.)

There are different ways to provide the address to phones. One is the assisted provisioning we discussed above, where a user enters the address using the phone or web interface.

The following ways to provide the provisioning server address are usually enabled and configured on each phone in advance, before being delivered to a client, by the manufacturer, vendor, or service provider. But it is also possible to configure or select a different method after the delivery. Be aware that the names and actual process may vary by manufacturer or context:

Zero Touch: The server address is established when the phone is first started. Many manufacturers include this as a default firmware option that launches automatically or that users can select when the phone is initially powered.

While Zero Touch is generally associated with an automatic process, you may encounter some phone models where the process is manual.


With manual Zero Touch the provisioning address is entered by the user on the phone interface immediately after the phone is powered on. This is useful when a phone fails to boot and has to be reconfigured. 

If Zero Touch is automatic, the phone will contact a special server, managed by the manufacturer, that will redirect it to the provisioning server based on a database of service providers. 

The phone's MAC address is entered in this database by whenever a phone is sold, hence tying it to a specific service provider. Of course, if the phone is resold and used with a different service provider Zero Touch will not work correctly (unless the database is updated with the new provider) and other methods have to be used. 

Plug and Play (PnP)/DHCP options: These are two automatic methods to automatically deliver the URL to phones. With Plug and Play, the URL is contained in a SIP message that phones receive from a PnP server. With DHCP options, phones will broadcast a DHCP option request and the DHCP server will respond with the provisioning server address.


Triggering Auto Provisioning

After the provisioning server is ready and the relevant phones have its address, the provisioning process can be initiated. This is also can be done in different ways. 

With assisted provisioning, a user selects the exact time when provisioning is performed. Phones can also be provisioned at the choice of a user by dialing a code or entering a PIN.

With Zero Touch/PnP/DHCP Options, the process is triggered automatically  after the provisioning server address is established.

Other options are to have phones provisioned when powered on, at regular times or intervals, when the phone is inactive, or when the phone receives a special SIP notification.

Using a Provisioning Tool

A provisioning tool is software that helps simplify and improves the provisioning deployment workflow. It takes care of the manual aspects of automatic provisioning and lets administrators focus on performing bulk provisioning, monitoring phones, managing security, and firmware upgrades.

Such tools are available either from the phone's manufacturer or the service provider. The latter will probably be integrated with the service provider's PBX software for smoother extensions configuration and assignment.

A good provisioning tool allows the administrator to create groups of phones, track their relevant configurations, and set provisioning schedules. 

It may include a GUI for editing the configuration files and customizing phone settings, although this will be limited to a specific phone brand (otherwise configurations still need to be edited in a text editor.) Regardless, once a configuration is edited the administrator can apply it to any number of phones in a matter of minutes.

Collecting Phones MAC Addresses

A provisioning tool also keeps the important database of all company phones' MAC addresses so the administrator can manage and provision each phone on the system.

Ideally, the tool will include a feature to identify and collect all these MAC addresses on the local system. If it doesn't, a third-party network scanning software can be used instead, but for it to be effective it has to be able to figure out the phone's brand and model so the correct configuration file can be applied. Otherwise, another option is to use a barcode scanner to scan the MAC address sticker on each phone as it is being installed.

If you buy your phones from a service provider who, like Telebroad, also provision your phones, the provider will already keep a record of each phone's MAC address and specifications.