If your business is looking for a better way to communicate, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) may be the answer. SIP, a signaling protocol, can improve voice and video over Internet Protocol, video conferencing and file transfers. And best of all, it can spell substantial savings for a business compared to traditional phone lines, says Anton Loon, director of enterprise sales at PowerNet Global.

“When a company uses SIP technology instead of traditional phone lines, it can move much more quickly and at a lower cost,” Loon says. “SIP solutions are available for businesses of all sizes, from a small company that needs only one line with local and long distance for about $20 per month, all the way to corporations that have large call centers that operate 24/7.”

Smart Business spoke with Loon about how companies might benefit from implementing a SIP solution.

What is the primary difference between a SIP solution and traditional call routing?

A traditional time-division multiplexing (TDM) system uses physical switches to route calls. SIP uses IP routing, which provides a company’s employees with a much easier way to connect with each other, as well as the outside world.

SIP is not a new technology, so why have companies only recently begun to adopt it? 

In 1994, IT managers knew that ‘AT&T worked’ in the telecom industry. If a business switched to another company and there were mistakes as a result, that IT manager’s head was on the line.

It’s been the same with SIP over the last few years. IT directors and managers have been leery about making the switch to this technology because, as with most things in life, change is scary. However, the technology has now progressed to the point that the cost savings are just too good for a business to pass up.

How can SIP improve a corporation’s flexibility and efficiency?

In terms of flexibility, a business can have the service up and running within 24 hours of requesting it. For example, a construction company can add trailers to various job sites and have phone service at those sites within a day.

The same holds true if a business moves to a new location. With a traditional system, you would typically have to wait 30 to 45 days for the new phone lines to be operational.

With a SIP solution, you can move around and operate anywhere in the world. SIP also provides flexibility for call center operations, because you can launch a new operation within days. For businesses like telemarketing centers, this means you can start selling more quickly.

In terms of efficiency, choosing a SIP solution will eliminate the 30- to 45-day waiting period required to implement a TDM system, as well as all the time that is required to coordinate the effort between all parties.

What are the three most important things that companies need to know about SIP technology?

First, that it works. There is no reason to fear this technology.

Second, it’s scalable. This is important because it allows you to start small to test the waters in order to get comfortable with the technology. It also allows you to ramp up for a larger call volume at any given time without having to add equipment to handle the increase. For example, if you want to launch a new outbound calling campaign tomorrow, you can do that. It also goes the other way, in that you can cut back on the number of phone lines servicing your company if business slows down. There’s a misperception that SIP is fraught with quality issues, but that is not the case. In our experience, there are no more service tickets with SIP than there are with traditional TDM systems.

Finally, the technology is here to stay, and it will only get better and more robust as time goes on. Another common misconception about SIP is that it’s the future, but it’s not. It’s here now, and it’s not going anywhere.

How is SIP being used practically in businesses?

A good example is a company in the health care industry. Their patients have to call in to confirm appointments and get verification of their medications. Obviously, this is a critical operation. One company had a TDM system and was dealing with high costs and quality issues. Then it switched to a more cost-effective SIP solution with a redundant platform. Now if it has problems with one of its carriers, it can signal to another platform. In total, it can toggle back and forth among three platforms to avoid outages.

How can a SIP solution help companies better manage remote employees?

Remote employees have become more commonplace today — not just salespeople, but call center employees, as well. SIP solutions improve productivity by enabling remote workers to quickly and easily access the company network.

In addition, sophisticated reporting tools such as hosted PBX solutions are available that can help managers monitor the number of sales calls being made, to whom they are being made, when and at what cost per call.

Anton Loon is director of enterprise sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

Published in Cincinnati

More than 13.4 million people are currently working from home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The challenging economy has forced employers to cut back on costs, such as office expenses, and let people work remotely. There’s also evidence that those unable to find traditional jobs are earning a living by starting home-based businesses and work-from-home businesses.

In order to be successful at telecommuting, an employee — or even a home-based business owner — needs to have the right phone equipment.

“When a client is contacting you, you want to put your most professional foot forward,” says John Putnam, vice president of direct sales at PowerNet Global. “You don’t want your client to see that you’re sending calls to people working from home; you want them to get that same professional experience, regardless of where  that call is being taken.”

Smart Business spoke with Putnam about how the right virtual phone technology can ensure a seamless transition from the office to home and back again.

What are some of the advantages that can be found with telecommuting?

It reduces cost. Employees don’t have to drive to work, avoiding wear and tear on their cars, paying for gas and spending time stuck in traffic. Business owners don’t need as much space in their facilities and can reduce the heating, air conditioning, electricity, etc., that go along with having that person in your building.

Another advantage is flexibility. When a client calls on the East Coast at 7 p.m., you can route those calls to someone’s home or someone on the West Coast, giving business owners the ability to expand their service hours.

It’s also a recruiting tool. If the employee is disciplined and can do the work from home, it gives him or her the opportunity to work flexible hours that fit better into his or her schedule.

Why do employers need to ensure telecommuters have the right phone technology?

Along with having a dedicated workspace, telecommuters need technology that doesn’t limit their ability to do their jobs. With a home phone, someone within the household could pick up a phone and interrupt a call, and a cell phone only gives you the ability to answer and place calls. A cell phone also has more of a chance to be used for personal calls or get lost or stolen.

With a dedicated work-from-home handset, you have the ability to transfer calls, put calls on hold, place conference calls and create hunt groups that select which of several phones will receive the call. This creates the appearance of the telecommuter being at your facility, while providing customers with a more professional experience.

Using a home or cell phone can lessen the client experience. A prospective client may even think twice about giving you their business because of questioning your company’s level of commitment. The prospect might think, ‘If this guy is working off his cell phone, is he really in business or is he just doing this until he finds something better?’

How does this phone technology create efficiencies for telecommuters?

With a premise-based IP or  a hosted IP private branch exchange (PBX), phone handsets can be used anywhere in the world, as long as you have a high-speed Internet connection.  With both of these solutions you have all of the business-class features unavailable on a cell phone.

There’s also a higher level of accountability with a phone system that is tied back to the company. The service provider can put limits — such as limiting international calling and the time of day that the phone is in use — on that phone versus just handing someone a cell phone. Also, if an employee uses a personal cell phone, it can raise questions about them receiving business calls after separation from the company.

How expensive are these types of phones? 

It’s not that expensive. For between $25 and $35 per month, you can lease an IP PBX handset and get phone service. The company gets a more professional experience for clients that makes that expense easy to justify. Otherwise, the company would be paying for a cell phone or reimbursing for a home line at the same cost, with fewer features.

How will phone technology continue to assist with telecommuting in the future?

As more applications continue making it ‘into the cloud,’ it makes telecommuting even easier. The applications a person needs to do their job — whether voice or data related — are getting taken off office computers and phone systems, so it doesn’t matter where you are located to access those resources.

As more companies replace their internal phones with an IP phone system, it also gives employees the flexibility to work from home part of the week, for example, by taking their phone home and then bringing it back to the office. They can move that handset to anyplace with a high-speed Internet connection, working as if they were in their office. Employers get the best of both worlds by giving employees the flexibility of working from home one or two days per week, while keeping the same phone system and having the accountability that comes from seeing them daily and knowing they are working.

John Putnam is vice president of direct sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329 or pngdirectsales@pngmail.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

Published in Cincinnati

Standard business VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) sales are increasing as business owners become more aware of the technology and how it has matured over the years. Business IP phones are no exception, and improved features are impacting business efficiency.

“Five or 10 years ago, early adopters were willing to accept poor quality to be on the cutting edge, but now, the quality has caught up with the demand,” says John Putnam, vice president of direct sales at PowerNet Global. “Today, you have low cost, good quality and a lot of features that people with older phone systems didn’t have and are now necessary in order to be competitive in the marketplace.”

Smart Business spoke with Putnam about how business IP phones can improve all areas of your operations, from customer service and communications to sales force activities.

What are some recent feature improvements with business IP phones?

Unified communications, a big buzzword within the industry, combine email, fax and voicemail into a centralized location. Within your email inbox, faxes are converted to emails through E-Fax, and with IP-based phone systems, voicemails are converted to a WAV file and emailed to you. Then, faxes and voicemails can be saved in the relevant customer file. By integrating the phone and computer technology, employees are able to retrieve information quicker.

Phones and computers can also be used more efficiently. A phone call brings up the caller ID and relevant contact information — if that person is in your contact management software — on your computer screen before you answer. You can also open your contact records, click a button and dial the phone. From a contact management standpoint, you now have a record of incoming and outgoing calls in your system, including missed calls that didn’t leave a voicemail.

The next big thing is cell phone integration, in which mobile employees can push a button on their phones or cell phones to forward calls from the office to their cell phones.

How can these advances help employers run their businesses more productively?

Businesses with sales organizations are routing calls to the company first and then bouncing them out to the sales force. As a result, the company directly owns that relationship, while calls still get out in an efficient manner. Then, if a salesperson leaves the organization, you can easily reroute those calls to his or her replacement or manager within, maintaining the client relationship.

Business IP phones give companies options in terms of employees who aren’t located in the office by routing calls to either an IP-based phone or a cell phone. This allows employees to telecommute, so you don’t have to have square footage to house them in your bricks-and-mortar location.

Some business owners have closed their office space entirely and have all employees working remotely. Customers never know they are calling into someone’s house through auto-attendance and IP-based phone systems, and employers aren’t paying rent or any of the other costs associated with having a bricks-and-mortar location.

Routing calls works well with a sales force but also for others such as lawyers who often travel between their offices and court. Travel time becomes more productive for those who have meetings outside the office. Not only can those employees receive calls, but it can be easier for them to retrieve voicemails. They see the caller ID, date, time and duration of voicemails on their cell phones, and then choose what to listen to based on priority, improving your company’s response time.

Additionally, the ability to easily transfer calls to a different location provides better disaster recovery options. For example, if there is a problem in the work space, such as a loss of power, you can take your VoIP handsets and relocate to a place where there is Internet connectivity and power to get the company back up and running as quickly as possible.

How else can business IP phone features improve customer service?

By having remote employees across the country, businesses can extend their hours. For example, an organization can take advantage of the fact that 5 p.m. on the West Coast is 8 p.m. on the East Coast, allowing office hours or support line hours to be extended without paying overtime.

Companies that have teams dedicated to specific clients can bounce calls between offices so that only someone who is on the team is dealing with that important client. This skill-based call routing is possible because there is flexibility not only within offices but also call routing between branch offices.

How do these phones make communication more efficient in an office?

With unified communications, you have a centralized location for voicemail, email and faxes so employees aren’t spending their time chasing down and sharing information. Communications are saved in a shared folder on your network and multiple people can retrieve them more quickly.

Digital recordings also can be used for training purposes, such as for customer service in terms of coaching — the customer was angry and here is how the account manager defused the situation and addressed the client’s needs. Your sales manager can refer back to recorded conversations, and say, ‘Here’s what you said in this situation. Maybe you could have tried this or addressed it differently. Next time, why don’t you try saying this?’ This allows salespeople to more easily take advantage of each others’ experiences.

In addition, recorded conversations can be used as a part of contract negotiations or for a dispute on the collections side. Recorded calls and digital voicemails also create an easily transferred reference if someone else is working that account because of turnover or employee absence.

Business IP phones create more flexibility and accountability, which, in turn, increases your company’s efficiency and productivity.

John Putnam is vice president of direct sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329 or pngsales@pngmail.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

Published in Cincinnati

Most businesses want the same thing when it comes to their phone system: quality phones, reliable service and helpful features, designed with flexibility in mind and fitting neatly within their budget.

To achieve those things, some companies are letting their service provider do the heavy lifting. A hosted IP private branch exchange (PBX) solution integrates multiple locations in a feature-rich package, while eliminating the upfront costs that often make businesses reluctant to upgrade.

“The premise behind hosted IP PBX is that your company will run its phones off the hosting company’s switch — a large, expensive piece of equipment that you are sharing with a bunch of other companies,” says John Putnam, national sales director for PowerNet Global. “The only equipment in your building is the phone handsets themselves.”

Smart Business spoke with Putnam about the advantages of switching to a hosted phone system and how to determine if doing so could help your company.

Why are companies moving to a hosted IP solution?

It comes down to a couple of different reasons. Obviously, financial reasons play a major part, but also, companies are looking for features that allow them to run their business better.

Many organizations upgraded their phone systems for the year 2000. Those systems don’t have the features and capabilities that companies want, but the capital expenditure of buying a new system in today’s economy makes them uncomfortable.

However, if they choose a hosted solution, the capital expenditure is much less because they are running their system off the hosting company’s phone switch. With some of the handset leasing programs available, companies can get by without a large capital expenditure up front.

What types of features are available?

Aside from financial concerns, many companies decide to switch to a hosted solution because they want features their current system is unable to provide, such as caller ID, individual voice mail for everyone in the company and the ability to forward calls to cell phones. If your phone system is missing these features, but you don’t want to write a check for $30,000 to $60,000 for a new phone system, a hosted solution is ideal. Even for smaller companies, a $5,000 capital expenditure for a new phone system is daunting given the uncertainties in today’s economy.

Now those features are available without a huge upfront capital expenditure. For a small business with 10 handsets, you may be looking at $60 a month versus a $5,000 to $10,000 capital expenditure.

What are the benefits of integrating multiple sites through hosted telephony?

Multisite companies with premise-based PBX systems have to maintain, upgrade and support those systems at each site. Sending someone out to make the necessary changes to each system is costly and is not the most effective use of resources. With a hosted solution, companies can make a change at one location to update the phone systems at each of their sites, reducing their continuing cost. Each phone handset is running off the hosting company’s equipment, so they are all integrated.

That allows you to treat the customer in a different manner. For example, if a customer calls one store and it doesn’t have the item he or she is looking for in stock, the hosted system can transfer the customer to another store without requiring that person to call another number. If someone at one store doesn’t answer, the system can automatically dial another store. If a store needs to transfer a customer back to the corporate headquarters for centralized billing functions, the customer is transferred, not called back from a different number.

What are the other advantages of using a VoIP system for telecommunications?

Typically, if you are using VoIP technology, there is a lower cost for the service itself. Companies can take advantage of VoIP services that are normally less expensive than traditional services. The cost per line is lower, the cost for long distance is lower and the continuing costs are lower. And because it is an IT-based solution, if you call from one store to another, there is no long distance involved at all. A Milwaukee store calls a Chicago store, and because all phones are on the same switch, that is now a zero-cost call.

For what type of companies does this strategy makes sense?

Smaller businesses, the three to 20 handset market, have been the early adopters. Now, larger corporations are adopting this strategy, as well, as this technology is particularly well suited for large companies with 200 small sites. These enterprise clients have recognized that they aren’t necessarily an enterprise; they are a bunch of small businesses.

For example, if a business has 1,000 sites and each of those sites has five to 10 phones, this strategy becomes very attractive. It looks like an enterprise play, but, in fact, it’s a small business play multiplied a thousand times.

What kind of results can companies expect from a switch to a hosted IP phone solution?

A number of clients have been able to take advantage of a new phone solution for either the same price or less than they were paying for service before. So, in essence, it is a free service, because if you paid $500 for service before and save enough on the service that, when taken in conjunction with the handset leasing program, your total spending is about the same as it was before. However, you’re getting all these new features and capabilities with the service.

John Putnam is national sales director for PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329 or pngsales@pngmail.com.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

Published in Cincinnati

If your business is looking for a better way to communicate, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) may be the answer. SIP, a signaling protocol, can improve voice and video over Internet Protocol, video conferencing and file transfers. And best of all, it can spell substantial savings for a business over traditional phone lines, says Anton Loon, director of enterprise sales at PowerNet Global.

“When a company uses SIP technology instead of traditional phone lines, it can move much more quickly and at a lower cost,” Loon says. “SIP solutions are available for businesses of all sizes, from a small company that needs only one line with local and long distance for about $20 per month, all the way to corporations that have large call centers that operate 24/7.”

Smart Business spoke with Loon about how companies might benefit from implementing a SIP solution.

What is the primary difference between a SIP solution and traditional call routing?

A traditional time-division multiplexing (TDM) system uses physical switches to route calls. SIP uses IP routing, which provides a company’s employees with a much easier way to connect with each other, as well as the outside world.

SIP is not a new technology, so why have companies only recently begun to adopt it?

In 1994, IT managers knew that ‘AT&T worked’ in the telecom industry. If a business switched to another company and there were mistakes as a result, that IT manager’s head was on the line.

It’s been the same with SIP over the last few years. IT directors and managers have been leery about making the switch to this technology because, as with most things in life, change is scary. However, the technology has now progressed to the point that the cost savings are just too good for a business to pass up.

How can SIP improve a corporation’s flexibility and efficiency?

In terms of flexibility, a business can have the service up and running within 24 hours of requesting it. For example, a construction company can add trailers to various job sites and have phone service at those sites within a day.

The same holds true if a business moves to a new location. With a traditional system, you would typically have to wait 30 to 45 days for the new phone lines to be operational.

With a SIP solution, you can move around and operate anywhere in the world. SIP also provides flexibility for call center operations, because you can launch a new operation within days. For businesses like telemarketing centers, this means you can start selling more quickly.

In terms of efficiency, choosing a SIP solution will eliminate the 30 to 45 day waiting period required to implement a TDM system, as well as all the time that is required to coordinate the effort between all parties.

What are the three most important things that companies need to know about SIP technology?

First, that it works. There is no reason to fear this technology. Second, it’s scalable. This is important because it allows you to start small to test the waters in order to get comfortable with the technology. It also allows you to ramp up for a larger call volume at any given time without having to add equipment to handle the increase. For example, if you want to launch a new outbound calling campaign tomorrow, you can do that. It also goes the other way, in that you can cut back on the number of phone lines servicing your company if business slows down. There’s a misperception that SIP is fraught with quality issues, but that is not the case. In our experience, there are no more service tickets with SIP than there are with traditional TDM systems.

Finally, the technology is here to stay, and it will only get better and more robust as time goes on. Another common misconception about SIP is that it’s the future, but it’s not. It’s here now, and it’s not going anywhere.

How is SIP being used practically in businesses?

A good example is a company in the health care industry. Their patients have to call in to confirm appointments and get verification of their medications. Obviously, this is a critical operation. This company had a TDM system and was dealing with high costs and quality issues. Then it switched to a more cost-effective SIP solution with a redundant platform. Now if it has problems with one of its carriers, it can signal to another platform. In total, it can toggle back and forth among three platforms to avoid outages.

How can a SIP solution help companies better manage remote employees?

Remote employees have become more commonplace today — not just salespeople, but call center employees, as well. SIP solutions improve productivity by enabling remote workers to quickly and easily access the company network.

In addition, sophisticated reporting tools such as hosted PBX solutions are available that can help managers monitor the number of sales calls being made, to whom they are being made, when, and at what cost per call.

Anton Loon is director of enterprise sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

Published in Cincinnati

Network reliability is vital for any business. With so many systems and departments being dependent on your company’s network, it’s vital that your systems are up 100 percent of the time.

As most of us already know, network outages can potentially cost a company thousands and, in some cases, millions of dollars. One way to prevent outages is by doing a proper network assessment and finding out where your network’s weaknesses are.

A company’s network architecture includes hardware, software, connectivity, communication protocols and the mode of transmission, such as wired or wireless. You need to assess your network architecture routinely to ensure that everything is current and in line with your ever-changing business model, says Mark Giles, wireless design engineer at PowerNet Global. If not, you’ll want to begin integrating changes to ensure your network is running efficiently. Conducting an assessment also allows you to see if your company’s security has been compromised, allowing you to fix any problems and prevent these breaches from happening in the future, he says.

“When you go through an assessment, you end up with good documentation and can find where your weak spots are,” says Giles. “A lot of companies have single points of failure, meaning there’s no redundancy if a portion of their network fails. A network assessment can help identify those single points of failure so that a plan can be put into place to fix these issues.”

Smart Business spoke with Giles about what you need to understand about a network architecture assessment and how to implement any changes.

What is involved in a network architecture assessment?

It starts with a site survey done by a network engineer or network consultant who will look at existing drawings and documentation of how the network is set up. Nine times out of 10, companies don’t have documentation or their documentation is outdated. This means the first step in the assessment will be to map out how the network is currently run.

Next, your network engineer or consultant will look at the current hardware and bandwidth utilization to see if your circuits are overloaded or your hardware is maxed out. Then they’ll review your routing to see if that’s being optimized and how your configuration is set up. This will help determine whether you need to upgrade or just optimize how traffic is flowing and configure your equipment accordingly.

Very often, it’s less likely that you need new hardware or circuits, and more likely that your current equipment needs to be configured more efficiently. This is where many companies fail to do a proper network assessment. They will pay top dollar for hardware but go cheap on the person configuring and maintaining the hardware. You could have the best hardware possible, but if the person configuring it has little to no experience, it will end up costing you more money in the long run.

What are some key items business leaders need to understand about their network architecture and implementing a plan?

A lot of it comes down to what your benefits will be and the costs associated with them to determine if it’s going to be worthwhile. If you’re going to be upgrading a piece of equipment, you need to understand why you are upgrading it and if the cost outweighs the benefit.

You’re also looking for service-impacting changes during the implementation portion while ensuring everything is designed well and that your implementation plan is solid. You should ask whether the network changes are going to be service or customer impacting. That’s the big one people want to know — who will be affected? Is there going to be an outage when you’re implementing or upgrading? How long is that outage going to be?

Who should be involved in the network architecture assessment and what are the costs?

Your network engineer or consultant should be the one doing the assessment and it should be conducted any time you’re coming into a new business environment or making changes. Then every six months to a year, depending on how rapidly your network is changing, you’ll want to go through it again. Check everything within your network and make sure the drawings and documentation are current. You’d be surprised how quickly things can change and become outdated.

The cost of an assessment depends on the size of your network and the accuracy of your documentation. It also depends on what you are looking to do. If you need new equipment, it might be more expensive than updating drawings. If you hire a consultant to run the assessment, the cost will typically range anywhere from $125 to $200 an hour.

How often should you implement changes to your network architecture and how should this be accomplished?

You should never stop making changes to your network; you should always try to improve it. According to CISCO’s model, you need to prepare your network, develop a plan to assess your company’s readiness to support any changes and create a detailed design to address any technical and business requirements. Then, implement any new technology, operate and maintain the most up-to-date network systems on a day-to-day basis, and optimize your network by making ongoing improvements to ensure that you have the most efficient network running.

Once you find you’re at the optimization stage, go back to step one. You need to go through this process continuously to make sure your network is up to date and running efficiently.

Mark Giles is the wireless design engineer with PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 764-7329.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

Published in Cincinnati

Digital phone technology lets you take advantage of all the benefits of Voice over Internet Protocol without having actual VoIP equipment installed.

“A gateway appliance is available that converts  VoIP to an interface that your existing phone system recognizes without having to replace the equipment  you already have,” says John Putnam, vice president of direct sales, PowerNet Global. “This type of system is very flexible. You only purchase what you need, so you’re not paying for capacity that you’ll never use. In many cases, you’ll also pay less for long distance.”

Smart Business spoke with Putnam about how to reap the benefits of adding digital capabilities to your business’s existing phone systems.

What key benefits does a company stand to gain by going digital?

A gateway appliance  enables you to keep your existing phone system and take advantage of new technology at the same time. These are very cost-effective solutions and, in many cases, you’ll save money.

For example, a traditional T1 line gives you 23 or 24 lines, no matter how many lines you actually need. With the gateway, you can get the exact number of lines that you need. So if you only need six, you get six. The gateway is flexible and accommodates for growth, so you can add lines as needed. It also has multiple T1 interfaces and can accommodate up to four T1s, or 96 lines.

Is the technology cumbersome, and is there a learning curve?

No. The installation is simple and takes place  in the background.  Your phones will function just as they did yesterday. You’ll have the same phone, the same phone number, the same dial tone and the same features — only now, you’re potentially saving money.

How long does it take to get the digital technology in place?

It’s a quick and painless process. There are no lost calls. The service provider installs, verifies and tests that the gateway is working and then moves your numbers to the box. If you’re adding capacity to your existing system, the provider can work quickly. If it’s a case of porting numbers from a different carrier, however, the provider is at the mercy of the other carrier in terms of time required to move the numbers over but typically less than 30 days.

Can digital phone service be used in tandem with a traditional T1 phone system?

Yes. Say you have a maxed out T1 and you need six more lines; instead of installing another T1 with 24 lines, you can order those six lines as digital lines over the Internet. Then if you need additional lines down the road, you can easily add them. If you need fewer lines, you can easily scale down.

This approach not only gives you redundancy but also allows you to test the digital technology and get comfortable with it. Once you’re comfortable, you’ll feel confident adding more lines over time.

What are the advantages of being able to add or subtract phone lines?

This is particularly useful for companies that experience seasonal fluctuations in their sales cycle. For example, say you’re a trucking company that handles a lot of shipping in the summer. In the summer, you need to crank up your capacity to 50 lines, and in the fall and winter, you only need 20 lines. With digital, you can go up or down with just a single phone call and a few clicks of the mouse.

Are there drawbacks?

When voice is  delivered over the Internet, a good connection becomes paramount. You need to make sure you have enough bandwidth and it must be a high-quality, reliable connection. If you frequently lose your Internet service, you’re going to lose your calls, as well.

Fiber, Internet T1s and other higher-quality Internet connections are preferred. It’s one thing if it takes awhile to receive your emails, or if web pages load slowly, but it’s quite another thing to lose your voice connection.

Are there any quality of service issues?

In the early days, providers would put cheap solutions in place that ran both voice and data on the same Internet connection, and the data side would negatively impact voice. Downloads of music, videos, etc., would chew up bandwidth at the expense of voice quality.

Today, we attack that in two ways. First, the newer gateways  have  quality of service built in that prioritizes voice traffic or carves out specific bandwidth for voice. Second, because the Internet is more affordable now, we can set up two separate connections — one dedicated for voice and one dedicated for data — and they can be sized according to need.

What would you say to companies that are hesitant to try digital?

There’s nothing to be uneasy about. There are companies using millions of minutes of VoIP per month with no problems whatsoever.

If you have traditional phone service,  chances are your carrier is  backhauling its traffic over IP anyway.

John Putnam is vice president of direct sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 813-9455.

Insights Technology is brought to you by PowerNet Global

Published in Cincinnati

Although the Internet has made everything move faster, voice communication is still a vital part of doing business.

Today’s Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology enables companies to make changes to their calling systems much faster and more economically than they were able to in the past. In addition, early problems with quality have been addressed, says Matt Ziebro, executive vice president of sales at PowerNet Global.

“Companies may need to scale up or down depending on client requirements, seasonal factors, campaigns, election cycles and economics,” says Ziebro. “Today’s VoIP solutions enable them to be nimble.”

A triple whammy of sorts has made the time ripe for companies to pursue VoIP solutions. The economic downturn, which began in 2007, hit the telecom industry hard, and carriers began raising rates. In addition, there were no new technologies being introduced to lower costs.

At the same time, companies became very margin conscious.

“Infrastructure costs to support networks became an issue,” says Ziebro. “General contraction and a need to stay profitable to shareholders started forcing change. If a carrier sent you a rate increase, you had to increase your costs, suffer lower margins, or go out of business. So costs have been a big driver in the move to VoIP.”

Smart Business spoke with Ziebro about how company call centers can integrate voice, data and network to reduce their costs and obtain a competitive advantage.

What trends are happening today with call center operations?

A call center may need to deploy rather quickly. There may be seasonal issues or an organization may need to rev up for a campaign. The operations need to be flexible, insulated against price increases and capable of weathering the ups and downs of a turbulent economy.

Why should a company integrate voice, data and network?

You have to be able to plan for things that you don’t know are going to happen. An event could occur that requires you to mobilize and talk to customers, prospects, or supporters, increasing your voice usage in a given month or months. Companies can use and leverage VoIP technologies very quickly, and if the business expands, you can simply increase bandwidth.

The flexibility of VoIP affords you the ability to make additions and cutbacks as needed. All you have to do is add a data circuit to your network that enables you to send and receive calls. You can also purchase integrated services over the cloud and the  technology enables you to establish a call center wherever you choose.

Does a company have to change over from its old system all at once?

Companies that have invested in traditional copper voice lines may be opposed to ripping it all out and bringing in something new, but you don’t have to invest in all new technology right off the bat. If you don’t want to do a full conversion, you can go halfway. There are inexpensive routers and gateways available that enable the conversion of voice lines to VoIP. This inexpensive solution lets you try the technology before going all in. It gives you the pseudo benefit of integrated voice, data and network, and serves as a nice entry into a full conversion over time.

How quickly can a company be up and running with VoIP?

If a company’s technology is already Internet Protocol-enabled, it can be up and running with an integrated VoIP system in less than 24 hours. If it is not yet IP-enabled, the vendor can supply a router, configure it and ship it to the company for plug-and-play installation. In that scenario, the company would be up and running in about one week, versus the 30 business days required in the past for traditional copper wire voice connections.

Are there any drawbacks to VoIP?

There were many early issues with quality, but these have been addressed. Early adopters had issues with the network itself. The technology that enabled turning voice into digital packets was fine; it was more of an issue with early equipment.

Equipment needs to be able to distinguish between voice and data packets. You can’t slow voice, so voice trumped data. Today, the voice packet processing is much improved, as is the data transmission. Carriers have invested heavily in fiber optic networks that are far better than the old copper wire systems. In addition, the Internet is more streamlined now.

What should a company look for in a solutions provider?

Reputation is critical. In this business, realistically, any company with three people can flip a switch and be in business tomorrow. Look for longevity, for a company that has found and fixed the bugs. Identifying a company that knows how to fix problems is important because challenges will arise.

Look at the platform you’ll be utilizing. Does the vendor have the capacity to handle the traffic? Does it have relationships with carriers? Does it have a billing platform that enables you to see your usage reports and metrics quickly?

In addition, look at its references, what the industry says about it and how much time and effort it has invested in the company.

MATT ZIEBRO is executive vice president of sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 813-9455.

Published in Cincinnati

The massive influx of Wi-Fi enabled devices into the marketplace has created a need for network managers to improve or change their wireless networks.

“AT&T recently reported that 1.2 billion Wi-Fi connections were made during 2011,” says Greg Gerber, senior manager of wireless technologies at PowerNet Global. “By the end of 2012, it’s expected that sales of smartphones and tablets will exceed those of PCs.”

Not only are there more people using more devices, they’re also using more data. Consumers are no longer limiting their use to e-mail and Web browsing — they’re also streaming video.

“When all of this hits, it drastically increases data over the network, presents security issues and exposes other problems, such as dead spots,” Gerber says. “In addition, when a new standard comes out, manufacturers upgrade their products and new devices appear.”

Smart Business spoke with Gerber about how network managers can keep up with the increasing demands on their wireless networks.

What is the first step the network manager should take when considering adding to a company’s network?

You have to assess your present networking capabilities before you add anything. During the discovery phase, examine how your wired network is currently designed. You probably know what devices you are interested in adding, so you explore ways to build your network to meet the increasing demands.

Look at what you have in terms of bandwidth. How much do you have as a whole and how is it being used? How much additional bandwidth will you need for the devices you want to add?

What else should be considered during the discovery phase?

You have to consider how much data newer devices consume. One university found that the iPads on its wireless networks consumed 400 percent more data than any other wireless device on the network, primarily due to video streaming.

Will you allow tablets on your network? If so, you need a realistic estimate of increased data use. You also need to determine how much mobility you will provide with your network. Will you also require additional bandwidth for video conferencing, projectors, smartboards, video surveillance, etc.?

You also need to review your security policy. How do you allow users to access the network? Do you need to segment that access? How will you authenticate users and watch traffic? How will you identify and stop rogue users?

What is the next phase?

The next phase is the site survey. Some vendors provide this service, but I recommend that you also utilize a vendor-neutral integrator that is certified from a vendor-neutral source. This should be someone who has a broad range of experience over a range of industries, along with networking experience.

There are different types of surveys. A ‘passive’ survey is one in which someone comes in and measures the signal levels around the building. That’s OK, but if that’s all that is done, that’s not enough. There should also be an ‘active’ survey, during which the surveyor moves around and tests real performance on links with the worst possible device.

Some companies do a ‘predictive’ site survey, in which you send in your building plans and the company sketches out a best guess scenario, but this is not an ideal solution. A good site survey will contain more discovery and consider factors such as future growth, total number of users in each area per access point and areas where security is more of a concern.

What is one of the most important things that should be done during the site survey?

A spectrum analysis should be undertaken. The surveyor scans all frequencies to be used and detects any areas of interference. A good site survey should result in a wireless map that shows you where the access points will be placed and what you can expect in terms of strength of signal and mobility. If done right, you’ll be able to deploy with confidence. The site surveyor will then make recommendations on a vendor that fits.

What types of networks are available?

There are controller- and traffic-based environments, which usually duplicate things you already have (e.g., firewalls and traffic analyzers). There have been some huge differences in technologies over the last three years. The real differences start to show up with vendors who are using beam forming technology.

With this technology, user performance is improved by 10 times what it used to be when compared to standard antenna technology. Beam forming technology has been around for a long time in applications such as radar but is just now finding its way into Wi-Fi.

What should a company look for in a vendor?

Does it have a complete set of solutions to handle a campus environment? Does it have indoor- and outdoor-rated equipment and bridge kits (point to point wireless to provide service between buildings)? How does the vendor handle voice, data and video? Can it integrate correctly with how you want to segregate your network? How long will it take to install the system?

Also look at other jobs the potential vendor has done. Is the work neat? Finally, be aware that there are huge differences in terms of warranties. Look for a lifetime warranty without excessive support costs.

GREG GERBER is senior manager of wireless technologies, IEEE Mbr. No: 90528541, PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 884-9976.

Published in Cincinnati

Most businesses want the same thing when it comes to their phone system: quality phones, reliable service and helpful features, designed with flexibility in mind and fitting neatly within their budget.

To achieve those things, some companies are letting their service provider do the heavy lifting. A hosted IP private branch exchange (PBX) solution integrates multiple locations in a feature-rich package, while eliminating the up-front costs that often make businesses reluctant to upgrade.

“The premise behind hosted IP PBX is that your company will run its phones off the hosting company’s switch — a large, expensive piece of equipment that you are sharing with a bunch of other companies,” says John Putnam, national sales director for PowerNet Global. “The only equipment in your building is the phone handsets themselves.”

Smart Business spoke with Putnam about the advantages of switching to a hosted phone system and how to determine if doing so could help your company.

Why are companies moving to a hosted IP solution?

It comes down to a couple of different reasons. Obviously, financial reasons play a major part, but also, companies are looking for features that allow them to run their business better.

Many organizations upgraded their phone systems for the year 2000. Those systems don’t have the features and capabilities that companies want, but the capital expenditure of buying a new system in today’s economy makes them uncomfortable.

However, if they choose a hosted solution, the capital expenditure is much less because they are running their system off the hosting company’s phone switch. With some of the handset leasing programs available, companies can get by without a large capital expenditure up front.

What types of features are available?

Aside from financial concerns, many companies decide to switch to a hosted solution because they want features their current system is unable to provide, such as caller ID, individual voice mail for everyone in the company and the ability to forward calls to cell phones. If your phone system is missing these features, but you don’t want to write a check for $30,000 to $60,000 for a new phone system, a hosted solution is ideal. Even for smaller companies, a $5,000 capital expenditure for a new phone system is daunting given the uncertainties in today’s economy.

Now those features are available without a huge up-front capital expenditure. For a small business with 10 handsets, you may be looking at $60 a month versus a $5,000 to $10,000 capital expenditure.

What are the benefits of integrating multiple sites through hosted telephony?

Multisite companies with premise-based PBX systems have to maintain, upgrade and support those systems at each site. Sending someone out to make the necessary changes to each system is costly and is not the most effective use of resources. With a hosted solution, companies can make a change at one location to update the phone systems at each of their sites, reducing their continuing cost. Each phone handset is running off the hosting company’s equipment, so they are all integrated.

That allows you to treat the customer in a different manner. For example, if a customer calls one store and it doesn’t have the item he or she is looking for in stock, the hosted system can transfer the customer to another store without requiring that person to call another number. If someone at one store doesn’t answer, the system can automatically dial another store. If a store needs to transfer a customer back to the corporate headquarters for centralized billing functions, the customer is transferred, not called back from a different number.

What are the other advantages of using a VoIP system for telecommunications?

Typically, if you are using VoIP technology, there is a lower cost for the service itself. Companies can take advantage of VoIP services that are traditionally less expensive than traditional services. The cost per line is lower, the cost for long distance is lower and the continuing costs are lower. And because it is an IT-based solution, if you call from one store to another, there is no long distance involved at all. A Milwaukee store calls a Chicago store, and because all phones are on the same switch, that is now a zero-cost call.

For what type of companies does this strategy makes sense?

Smaller businesses, the three to 20 handset market, have been the early adopters. Now, larger corporations are adopting this strategy, as well, as this technology is particularly well suited for large companies with 200 small sites. These enterprise clients have recognized that they aren’t necessarily an enterprise; they are a bunch of small businesses.

For example, if a business has 1,000 sites and each of those sites has five to 10 phones, this strategy becomes very attractive. It looks like an enterprise play, but, in fact, it’s a small business play multiplied a thousand times.

What kind of results can companies expect from a switch to a hosted IP phone solution?

A number of clients have been able to take advantage of a new phone solution for either the same price or less than they were paying for service before. So, in essence, it is a free service, because if you paid $500 for service before and save enough on the service that, when taken in conjunction with the handset leasing program, your total spending is about the same as it was before. However, you’re getting all these new features and capabilities and the service.

John Putnam is national sales director for PowerNet Global. Reach him at (513) 645-4848 or jputnam@pngmail.com.

Published in Cincinnati
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