When considering upgrading or shifting to a new IP telephone system it is wise to do some research before you dump the old system, especially if you are new to IP Telephony. The problem is that voice over IP (VoIP) means many things to many people and there is little consensus between vendors as they are busy pushing their own perception of VoIP. Unfortunately, there lies the problem, as VoIP covers a multitude of technologies and applications both in the consumer and business marketplaces. Skype for example is probably most consumers’ idea of VoIP, they see it as a consumer service for free long distant calls to other Skype enabled PC’s. Unfortunately, Skype has always been synonymous with good consumer quality voice, but not something you would want to rely on for business. Consequently, that consumer level perspective has for a long time tarnished the reputation of business class solutions such as RingCentral who provide cloud based VoIP PBX systems, that are feature rich, reliable and provide business quality voice. Therefore, the first thing we must establish when considering a new business class telephone system, is to differentiate between the consumer and the true business products – many vendors will have you believe that there is considerable overlap, there is not.
So let’s first look at the options available to us:
- Hosting Options – there are two options when considering a cloud based IP PBX solution. 1) cloud-hosted VoIP and 2) On-premises hosted VoIP. Fortunately, this is an easy choice as cloud-based solutions such as RingCentral host the IP PBX on your behalf on their cloud-based servers. You, the customer provide nothing but the Internet connection so there is no upfront Capex costs to concern the accountants. What you are paying for is VaaS (Voice as a Service) which means you pay a monthly subscription based on the levels of service provided. For the vast majority of SMBs cloud-hosted solutions is the preferential choice as it removes all the burdens of implementations, support and maintenance and provides the better total cost of ownership – or at least it does in most situations. The case where on-premises hosted IP PBX is favorable is when the business has very technical IT support people on hand who prefer to have systems under their direct control. The drawback to on-premises is that the customer is responsible for buying the on-premises server and for all support and maintenance of the server hardware. However although this is an on-premises solution, the server is hosted on site – it is actually a hybrid solution as the software is still hosted partially in the cloud, so don’t expect total control of the system. Whatever, on-premises can result in faster fault resolution and support as the technical team are on-site and lower software rentals making total cost of ownership favorable, so long as you don’t have any server hardware problems.
- There is also a plethora of user endpoints (VoIP devices) to choose from and these can make all the difference between a consumer and business quality system. For example, there are Softphones, which are software applications that run on a computer, laptop or tablet, and they utilize the host devices soundcard, microphone and speakers. These are perfectly suitable for consumer class services. However he obvious failing here is that it becomes the weak link of a professional system as most business PC’s are not blessed with high definition soundcards and speakers. At the other end of the spectrum are the dedicated desk IP phones that can typically support high definition voice. However these devices are not only expensive, they must be deployed properly within the network. For instance they cannot just be connected to the LAN per se, they should have their own dedicated LAN network or at the very least a dedicated Voice VLAN in able to leverage the inbuilt quality. The good news is that you are not restricted to one or the other, and you can easily mix and match softphones and IP desk phones.
- The next thing you must consider is the network infrastructure. The problem here is that most companies have no idea whatsoever what is going on in the network. IT concern themselves with servers, applications, and the occasional network duties but rarely do they have an understanding of the traffic traversing the wires. If you are going to deploy VoIP within the business, then that has to change. In order for VoIP to work there must be visibility and a clear understanding of network volumes and patterns across the LAN. Typically, most SMB businesses do not have the volumes of traffic to cause major problems on Gigabit LAN connections but that is not the case with the internet WAN link. By moving voice traffic from dedicated P1/E1 telephone links to the Internet IP WAN link can cause congestion, poor voice quality, dropped calls or even the ability to make a call due to lack of available bandwidth. It is therefore essential to consider the upgrade and redundancy of the business Internet WAN link in order to support the number of concurrent calls that your plan envisages. If possible, deploy a WAN link strictly for VoIP only, so it does not have to compete with YouTube or other capacity grabbing applications. As a rough baseline, each call requires 90kbps, although this is dependent on the codex used, some vendors claim 30Kbps is sufficient. However, by experience, for a SMB of 5-7 concurrent calls a minimum of 5Mbps down and 2Mbps up is required – but the more you have the better.
- Understand the difference between Cloud and traditional PBX. Before you dump the old PBX, understand the difference between Cloud-based and traditional PBX. Here is a quick list:
- Understand pricing for cloud VoIP. Telco charges are based on per line. In the VoIP world, specifically for cloud-hosted VoIP like service from RingCentral, the number of calls are priced as “per endpoint” Extension.
- Line limits are non-existent. There are no line restrictions therefore as long as the hosted provider is not having issues, callers will never get a busy signal and all calls will be answered.
- VoIP lives and dies by the WAN. PRI costs are done away with but so is their reliability, the downside to cloud hosted VoIP is that when your WAN connection goes down, your phones also go down.
- SIP-based desk phones are near universally supported now. Don’t get pushed into buying into vendor specific hardware or software. RingCentral, 8×8, FreedomVoice among others, all support SIP based VoIP which has become the open standard for VoIP services and hardware.
- Don’t skimp on cabling. If your cabling infrastructure is still Cat3-grade from your existing PBX, you need to invest in Cat5e or better for new data lines (if you don’t already have data in place). Don’t try to make savings here, or try to use Wi-Fi, it will provide inferior quality.
- Fax is a problem – If you cannot use VoIP fax services, which are just like shared network print queues, then you will have to use ATA adaptors on each of the analogue lines on your FAX machines, there is no way around this.