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The Difference Between Norstar Phone Systems.

04/22/05 - White Paper© Tele Technology
Norstar, Nortel Networks, Meridian and Meridian 1 are registered Trademarks of Nortel Networks.
Tele Technology is in no way affiliated with Nortel Networks, but a third party seller of telephone equipment.

If you are reading this, it's because you are interested in knowing the difference between all of the current and extinct Norstar phone systems from Nortel Networks.

I only mention the past models as there are some companies out there who will still try to sell you these 10 year old Norstar phone systems and there are some dangers involved. I'll get into that in a moment.

As of current, Nortel only offers 3 Norstar Phone Systems for small and medium offices.

They Are ...

  • The Norstar 3x8
  • The Norstar Compact ICS (or CICS)
  • The Norstar Modular ICS (or MICS)
Each is designed to fit a different "size" of user environment.

They all are ready to take a Norstar Call Pilot Voicemail Unit.

Beyond that, they almost all share the same set of features, so let's get into the major differences.


norstar 3x8The 3x8 KSU (or phone system) is really intended to be quite simple.

And it is. It comes out of the box pre configured to run 3 phone lines and 8 Norstar T or M series phones.

There is NO expansion for this phone system. 3x8 is it.
The 3x8 also does not support Caller ID.

Nortel does make a small device that goes between the phone system and the incoming lines for Caller ID, but it's a rare and hard to find item, practically non-existent. If you do find one, it will knock the total price higher than a CICS, so what's the point?

The strong point of this phone system is the price. At a cost of around $450.00 and straightforward installation, this phone system can be a wonderful addition to a small office or home.

It sports all of the typical features you want out of a phone system and will run operate forever barring you spill a coke on it or keep it in a super hot room.


Norstar CICSThe Compact ICS is the all around winner for offices up to 24 phones.

The CICS comes out of the box ready to run 4 incoming lines and 16 Norstar phones.

You can then expand it to 8 lines with the addition of a simple trunk card and you can expand it to 24 phones with the addition of an 8 port tcm card.

You can upgrade either of these items independently of one another as you need.

Another great thing about this phone system is it's Caller ID support. Basically Nortel makes two different "types" of trunk cards for this phone system. One WITH Caller ID and one without. The difference in cost from one to the other is about $40.

The Compact ICS also sports all of the features you would like from a phone system.

It is voicemail ready and is normally mated up with a Norstar Call Pilot 100 Voicemail System.

Another interesting bit. The CICS has a built in auto attendant (something the 3x8 nor MICS do). This built in auto attendant is a lessened version of the one built into the Call Pilot voicemail system and is perfectly capable of routing calls to specific extensions. (i.e.. for sales press 1, for purchasing press 2)

This auto attendant is not sophisticated, will not go more than one level deep and does not have any voicemail boxes, but if you are on a budget.... it IS there.

A WORD OF CAUTION. When you are about to purchase a Compact ICS, it is important for you to understand that they also make three different levels of software.

The software is housed on a small PCMIA card that slides into the front of the phone system under the cover.

  • Basic or Restricted ( restricts cics to only run 8 phones)
  • Standard (restricts cics to only run 16 phones)
  • Expanded (allows owner to run 24 phones on system)

We sell our CICS's with ONLY expanded software. Just be sure to know what you are buying for the price.

The CICS does not directly support a T-1 or PRI.


Norstar Modular ICS The Norstar Modular ICS is the big brother to the CICS.

It is intended for up to around 270 users and is highly expandable in such a way that it allows you to grow the system as you need in increments.

The base phone system itself comes out of the box 0x32. This means that the phone system has everything needed to run 32 Norstar phones already, but no trunk cards.

The base Modular ICS has two slots built in for norstar trunk cards (or a T-1/PRI Card) which means it can max 8x32 without expanding it.

Expansion is straightforward and simple. The phone system has two slim slots. In those slim slots you slide one (or two) fiber expansion cards. They make a 2 port expansion and a 6 port expansion.

Once the fiber expansion card is installed you can plug Norstar "modules" directly into the newly available ports.

They make a module for expanding the number of phone lines the phone system will run.

They make a module that expands the number of phones the cabinet will run.

They make a module that will run 8 analog phones or devices along with a few other handy devices.

In all, you can attach 12 modules using two 6 port fiber cards (requires XC software to run two fiber cards)

The Modular ICS is also voicemail ready and is usually mated to a Call Pilot 150 Voicemail System.

It does NOT have a built in auto attendant like the CICS, but uses the same trunk cards with or without caller id.

The Modular ICS DOES directly support a T-1/PRI and can route target DID's directly in the phone system.

In summary, there are not a ton of difference between the 3 current Norstar Phone systems.

All three are serious workhorses that are the most trusted and reliable phone system that you could purchase.

All that needs to be done is match the right phone system to the size of your business and you are off and running.


The two outdated but still sometimes sold Norstar phone systems that I mentioned at the start of this paper are the Norstar 616 and the Norstar 824.

Both phone systems were phased out by the CICS and MICS around 1995.

This means if you are looking at one, it's at least 10 years old. Not many will tell you that, especially if they are sitting on a lot of them.

Here's the danger of these old phone systems.

I've heard a hundred times. Business owners will call and state that their phone system suddenly "doesn't work". That the phone system doesn't know which phones are which.. which line is which and so on.

They then do the usual, they pay a tech to come out and reprogram the phone system as it somehow "forgot" all about it's programming.

Two weeks later, they call back and state the very same thing, adding this time that they had a storm last night... same as before.

Here's the trick. The Norstar 616 and 824 both had a battery inside them that help all of the phone systems memory together. It's a special battery that is soldered to the backplane in the KSU. Not only are replacements scare these days, you have to physically de-solder and re-solder a new on in place.

These batteries had a life expectancy of about 5 years. So when you buy a 10 year old phone system with this old battery and the power goes out, even for a second..... you get the picture. The savings is hardly worth replacing the battery and reprogramming your phone system. It's a nightmare for some.

That's just one issue of a whole host of problems these aging phone systems can encounter. I always recommend against them.

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