Building out an effective telecommunication and technology infrastructure that meets current needs in the most cost-effective manner possible while providing a base for expansion isn’t an exact science.

You need to account for future changes in the nature of work within your organization and with your partners, customers and suppliers, keeping in mind that working models are becoming more flexible and customer contact is increasing.

You also must consider specific needs, such as security, disaster recovery, technology performance requirements, public/private boundary controls within systems and networks, and critical tools and datasets.

If you underestimate your needs, you could end up needing a complete technology replacement — an expensive proposition. If you overestimate, you may be paying today for services you never actually need.

It’s no wonder that business owners find this a challenging task, especially when so many factors affecting growth are outside of their control.

Smart Business spoke with Kevin Conmy, regional vice president for Comcast Business, about implementing technology infrastructure that is geared for today and ready for tomorrow.

What are some key considerations to planning for growth?

You must first determine your current baselines with existing systems, hardware, software, policies, etc. Then, audit each to see how your infrastructure can serve as a foundation for growth. Plans should include benchmarks that trigger technology upgrades, but there should also be a budget built into the plan to ensure the business has adequate technology to achieve its initial growth targets and increase the chances of hitting those triggers.

Technology tends to get better and less expensive over time, so be careful about purchasing the ‘latest and greatest’ without careful analysis, such as creating a pro-and-con list. You may be surprised by what you really need. There’s a great story about Americans designing a special ‘space pen’ that could write in zero gravity, while the Russians used a pencil.

Remember that technology rarely solves a business problem on its own; it needs to be married to a core business process or user behavior.

How are the cloud and bandwidth affecting these infrastructure plans?

Cloud-based services are changing the game for all aspects of technology infrastructure, including telephony, Internet access and applications — allowing small and midsize business to more easily scale. With each technology system, weigh whether it’s more cost-effective to run services in-house or outsource them as third-party applications hosted externally.

Bandwidth is a key enabler. As users add Wi-Fi, move to cloud apps, stream video and bring devices to work, the demand for bandwidth is escalating exponentially. You need to consider the number of current users accessing your networks and the kinds of applications they are using, as well as the user growth you expect. If employees and customers both need Wi-Fi, you may want separate services so the public Wi-Fi doesn’t affect your private network’s speed.

This is a complex equation; do you have tips for the right approach?

Many companies that have implemented a technology infrastructure geared toward growth recommend that unless a particular technology promises to solve a major pain point, being a little late in adopting a new technology is conservative and smart.

Even with proven technologies and a carefully designed proof of concept, a phased rollout should be planned for any hardware projects. That same approach can be used for software and cloud services, but the phases can be more rapid because of the easier rollout and scalability.

Plans may vary by industry and your business’s circumstances, but it’s typical to buy the most basic package with the greatest flexibility first. Then, as your revenue grows, you can add bandwidth and expand your cloud storage and speed. And as personnel increases, you can implement portability and integration phases. It comes down to tying your selection criteria and implementation approach to your business objectives and the explicit assumptions about where your business and industry are going.

Kevin Conmy is regional vice president at Comcast Business. Reach him at (215) 642-6457 or kevin_conmy@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business

Published in Philadelphia

New research findings, new technologies and the ever-more urgent need for speed and cost-efficiency are converging to drive a revolution in medicine. Supporting this convergence are high-speed, secure telecommunications networks, enabling unprecedented teamwork among institutions, researchers, practitioners and patients to create a new paradigm — telemedicine.

“Telemedicine is the exchange of medical information via electronic communications among dispersed facilities and patients to improve health,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “The goal of telemedicine is to improve access to care, and Ethernet enables high-bandwidth telemedicine applications including remote consultations, remote monitoring and continuing medical education.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how telecommunications and medicine are joining forces to improve patient health.

How does telemedicine work and what are some examples of its use?

Telemedicine breaks down the barriers of distance and time to improve outcomes, especially for emergencies such as stroke, heart attack and trauma. It can be used in rural areas where the doctor-to-patient ratio is high and quality care — both routine and emergency — can be hard to reach. In cases where routine check-in supports successful results, telemedicine brings doctors and patients together.

Telemedicine also helps overcome practical barriers. Delivering medical care in prisons, for instance, offers challenges that can be mitigated with telemedicine. And in nursing homes, Ethernet-based services offer a cost-effective network alternative to transporting patients to a medical facility.

In addition, Grand Rounds are used as a teaching tool to permit medical specialists to consult on patient prognosis, evaluate patient status and collaborate with colleagues without leaving their point of care location. Ethernet enables multimedia distance applications such as Virtual Grand Rounds, which uses audio, video and synchronized visuals over the network, dramatically changing the way continuing medical education is delivered.

How does telemedicine create lower costs and better quality treatment for health providers?

As high-speed, high-volume telecommunications overcome time and miles between doctors and patients, the speed of effective care delivery accelerates, and the costs of delivering quality treatment can fall. By being able to activate new users with minimal training and low equipment costs, the flexibility and functionality of Ethernet delivers quality health care into areas that were sometimes previously problematic. Instead of requiring patients to travel, data from individual households can be centralized and monitored remotely. Doctors and patients can communicate without time and money expended on travel or the slow transfer of records. Patient portals permit patients to participate actively in their own cases, send and receive real-time information and take daily steps to better health. As Ethernet services deliver greater bandwidth, collaborations have emerged in every medical specialty.

The financial advantages offered by Ethernet make it a better investment than legacy T1 systems. The bandwidth is multiples of that of legacy systems and can be rapidly scalable to add capacity. This speed and flexibility permits care providers to expand practice areas and collaborate with other growing networks without being limited by technology.

How can health information exchanges (HIE) benefit from telemedicine?

HIE are an important development in transforming health care, relying on secure sharing of electronic patient information among clinicians, administrators and payers. Affordable and flexible Ethernet-based services are ideal for supporting HIE. The key is high bandwidth and low latency in connections among medical facilities, the care team and the patient. When providers can access all of a patient’s information, better treatment decisions are made, resulting in lower costs and improved outcomes.

What are additional applications of telemedicine?

  • Telepathology, with which tissue samples can be imaged digitally and transferred to pathology laboratories for review in real time.

  • Picture archiving and communication systems, in which large image files can be transmitted, stored and retrieved securely.

  • Physician dictation and large data files that can be transmitted instantly.

  • Patient care supported by geographically dispersed collaborators with maximized cost-effective results.

What does the future of telemedicine and Ethernet applications look like?

Ethernet is gaining traction in health networks thanks to its network simplicity, high bandwidth capacity, scalable and flexible service provisioning, and significant savings in capital investments for equipment and service deployments. Ethernet handles a high volume of data that permits doctors and researchers to innovate and collaborate in ways never before possible. Health care enterprises should have no trouble adopting Ethernet for network services.

With a robust, scalable backbone, Ethernet costs less than legacy T1 networks, and offers the size and scalability to support applications such as high-definition video that are essential to quality diagnostics and treatment. Market forces further impel this expansion, such as aging populations, widespread increases in chronic illnesses, more patients who desire to receive treatment at home, financial pressures resulting from limited financial resources and the need for ever-greater cost-efficiency and time pressures where patients can’t wait.

The key is robust multidirectional information flow among all involved parties — research institutions, health care practitioners, government and patients. Ethernet communications permit vast quantities of data to be moved securely, accurately and quickly, supporting these new capabilities, delivering critical, cost-management benefits and helping to accelerate this revolution in medicine.

 

Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

Published in Philadelphia

When Dr. Hansen Chang’s medical practice began to grow, he needed to double his office space. Chang, who shares his practice with another physician, opened his medical office 15 years ago as a place where patients could receive expertise in both Eastern and Western medicine.

Within a decade, the two physicians, board certified in internal medicine and acupuncture, had grown the medical practice to six full-time employees, with a patient load of 10,000.

“Our practice was expanding and we were looking to move from a smaller office to a larger location 10 miles away in Berkeley Lake,” says Chang.

Along with the need for a larger office space, Chang’s telecommunications needs were also growing, and the office’s old T1 line was not able to handle the massive volume of data transfer that took place on a daily basis.

Smart Business spoke with Chang about the telecommunications needs his growing medical practice faced and the solution that worked for him.

What kind of telecommunications challenges did you face before your move into the larger space?

We were using a telecommunications provider that provided us with a T1 line. Not only was the smaller office incapable of handling our growing patient flow, but the T1 line, although reliable, was extremely slow and overloaded.

Additionally, medical records are required to be transferred electronically, which was part of the problem. Laboratory services that use email added to the issue. Lastly, the pharmacy needed a reliable connection. We needed a telecommunications provider that could accommodate all of this and make things more efficient with a faster Internet connection.

In a medical practice, security is paramount because we deal with sensitive material and personal patient information, so having a secure and reliable connection was important to us.

Why did you choose Comcast Business Class for the new office space?

We constructed the new office from the ground up and at the time there were no fiber optic lines or cables in the location, so we had to find someone who could build our cable infrastructure and complete it before we moved in. Because we deal with health emergencies regularly, we also needed to ensure that the transition was seamless and that we didn’t experience any downtime.

We evaluated various carriers, but Comcast offered fast Internet speeds as well as Norton Security Suite and Cloud Services from Microsoft, so that made it easy to choose.

The actual switch took place outside regular business hours, when the phone lines were forwarded to an answering service, but it was instantaneous.

We also wanted a private static IP address to access medical records from anywhere — from the office computer, home computers or laptops, so that if an emergency call came through, medical records could be accessed remotely. This private IP would also allow for viewing and transferring data safely and securely.

Additionally, Comcast Business Class provided a bundled phone line with our Internet service so we now work with one provider rather than multiple companies.

How long did the process take?

The planning stage took approximately a month, but it was worthwhile because the process went so smoothly. After that, the actual cutover was instantaneous and was done over the weekend before the new office opened on a Monday.

How has the new system helped your medical practice run more smoothly?

In order to provide a reliable service, we require a reliable backbone. With the high volume of patients coming in, efficiency is key. For example, patients should be able to go straight to the pharmacy after the doctor’s visit to pick up prescriptions, have a lab report emailed directly to them, and all their insurance information entered and sent instantaneously. Without a reliable network, this would not be a smooth process for our patients.

Communication is key in the medical business, and doctors are using more electronic devices and methods to do this. The system works very well now but as the practice expands, there may be a need for increased speed or bandwidth, which can be easily done.

What other factors are critical with the service?

Reliability comes first. Speed is next. Downtime can be disastrous in a medical practice, as missed phone calls from the ER or a pharmacy can be critical.

When dealing with human lives our telecommunications system is critical. To be able to handle any type of emergency, I have to put my trust in my provider’s network.

Dr. Hansen Chang runs an internal medicine and acupuncture practice in Berkeley Lake, Ga. Reach him at doctorsLLC@hotmail.com or (770) 454-9047.

Anthony Catinella is director of sales for Comcast Business Services. Reach him at Anthony_Catinella@cable.comcast.com or  (770) 559-2132.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast

Published in Atlanta

While “location, location, location” remains a primary concern for a business choosing new real estate, the criteria used to compare buildings is shifting.

“It’s clear that hyper-connected businesses are increasingly relying on high-performance networks capable of supporting cloud computing, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), business continuity/disaster recovery and other high-bandwidth applications,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of Comcast Business Services. “This not only makes having a highly reliable network connection essential, it also makes the advanced communications infrastructure of a company’s office space a key part of its IT strategy and daily operations.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about the rise of hyper-connected business and how advanced communications services affect commercial real estate.

How are hyper-connected tenants demanding access to advanced communications in commercial real estate?

An online poll of more than 450 building owners and property managers across the country asked respondents about the importance of advanced communications. Ninety percent said that advanced communications services are the fourth most important selling point behind location, price and parking. In high-rise commercial office buildings and with owners/managers of 2 million or more square feet of property, communications capabilities rose to even more importance.

This is as result of a changing workplace. Instead of a business hosting email servers in its office, storing backup files in its IT room and holding team meetings in a conference room, now a company is likely using a cloud service for email, with its storage backed up to a data center across the country and gathering teams via video conference. Public IT cloud services will account for nearly half of new IT spending by 2015, according to IDC research.

Can having advanced telecommunications services in a commercial building create a competitive advantage?

A majority of building owners and property managers view advanced communications services as a competitive advantage, regardless of other traits, according to the poll. A notable undecided group acknowledged a trend in the market but is unsure how it affects them; they may not have received direct feedback from prospective tenants to validate this. As businesses increasingly rely on network connections for day-to-day operations, ensuring those connections are modern and reliable translates into more uptime, revenue and customer satisfaction.

What role do multiple communication service providers play in occupancy rates?

Nearly two-thirds of the owners and managers surveyed said they have multiple providers of fiber-based communications services in their buildings. With a U.S. vacancy rate of 18.1 percent in the second quarter of 2011, a competitive climate has building owners and property managers looking for any advantage to attract and retain tenants. Nearly one out of two respondents said that access to multiple service providers in their buildings positively impacts occupancy rates by up to 19 percent. Warehouses make the most use of multiple providers, likely due to the key role they play in moving inventory, order fulfillment and related logistics that require redundant network connections to maximize uptime.

By having access to multiple service providers in one building, tenants have options for different services, plans, prices and service level agreements, and the flexibility to switch providers in the future. More important, access to multiple service providers provides critical redundancy and load balancing so the company can ensure that it maximizes network uptime and overall performance.

How often is advanced communications service a topic of negotiation with prospective tenants?

More than one-third of respondents say that in 75 percent of negotiations with prospective tenants, the topic of advanced communications is raised. This was even higher for respondents who own or manage suburban office buildings. In today’s competitive real estate market, negotiations are important, as the outcome represents a fixed outcome of revenue and cost for years to come. As lease rates often do not have much room for negotiation, other items grow in importance, including advanced communications services. If managers and owners do not have access to advanced communications services, they should discuss a plan for bringing them into the buildings and be aware of available service providers.

How can property owners and managers highlight their buildings’ communications services?

Once properties have the right communications infrastructure, ensure that marketing and sales materials list the services and providers available so these selling points stand out for prospective tenants. Highlight network access points, data rooms or other onsite communications facilities when giving tours and make sure brokers are knowledgeable about what services are offered in each building.

Do an advanced communications services audit that covers what service providers and associated products, services and prices are available as compared to competitive properties in the area. This will help you validate and communicate your competitive advantage, and identify and fill in any access gaps.

Research local service providers and discuss the requirements for extending providers’ networks, including the construction timeframe and the bandwidth capacity of the network. It’s critical to ensure that buildings have a wide range of bandwidth capacity options delivered over multiple, diverse networks so that if tenants access both, they can still be connected, even if one network goes down.

Don’t wait for tenants to ask about advanced communications infrastructure. Take the time to understand your tenants’ business and potential applications, as well as the services needed to run it. Then proactively discuss how your building’s infrastructure is suited to those needs.

 

Mike Maloney is a vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

Published in Philadelphia

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Now more than ever, companies need their employees to remain connected and productive. New, affordable cloud-based solutions enables companies to transform operations while trimming expenses and reducing the burden on IT support resources.

“An average 25-person business saves $11,556, or 82 percent, during the first year of replacing its premises-based email and messaging with a cloud-based one. This yields a two-month pay back period,” says Mike Maloney, vice president of business services at Comcast.

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how to save money by moving your business toward cloud-based solutions.

What  challenges are businesses facing with setting up and managing email and messaging?

Small and mid-sized businesses have limited IT staff and must balance their IT expenditures against other corporate priorities. Setting up and managing various pieces, including email and messaging, is expensive. Not only are the initial equipment expenses sizable, but ongoing IT support, server maintenance, licensing and software updates also add costs in future years.

How can businesses decide if the implementation costs of a cloud-based solution are worth it?

In 2009, the Yankee Group researched the real costs of email and messaging operations in a 25-employee business for one year. Its cost results found:

 

On-premises

Deployment   $0

Licensing, maintenance, support   $12,000

Security   $1,382

Backup   $638

Training   $0

 

TOTAL   $14,020

Cloud

Deployment   $240

Licensing, maintenance, support   $1,761

Security   $0

Backup   $0

Training   $0

TOTAL   $2,001

The upfront migration and implementation costs of the Microsoft/Comcast cloud-based platform of $2,001 still resulted in savings. Additionally, the cost savings grew to 84 percent over three years, for a total savings of $36,042.

The study assumed there were no custom-built exchange applications; no unified messaging platforms; standard email and messaging security; and a server already capable of handling on-premises email and messaging. In addition, the features and functionality were replicated in both email solutions, even though cloud-based technology typically has more applications and features.

With the help of telecommunications and computer professionals, employers can explore the cost and feature trade-offs between hosted and on-premises email. A hosted solution even can be appropriate for a small business with 10 or fewer employees that generally has no IT staff and where an on-premises email might be impractical.

What are some of the additional features found in cloud-based email and messaging?

Features that are commonly found with both on-premises and cloud email are addresses with company domains, shared calendaring, shared contacts, email storage of 2 gigabytes per year, anti-spam, anti-virus, mobile email, and email archiving and retrieval. Even with these shared features, there still are cost savings with the cloud because anti-spam and server-based anti-virus, which companies are typically paying for with their premise-based email and messaging, are included as part of the cloud.

Some additional cloud features include a collaboration solution such as Microsoft SharePoint, secure email backup and document sharing. The cloud’s secure email backup is important because many small or mid-sized companies employ tape drive based storage for this service, which comes with a fairly low level of security as tapes easily get lost, stolen or damaged.

Based on research into cloud-based email and messaging, what steps do you suggest mid-sized business IT departments take?

  • Switch to cloud-based messaging and email platforms, empowering remote and mobile employees. A number of vendors, including Comcast, provide a compelling suite for businesses.

  • Take the opportunity to start using cloud-based collaboration solutions. A collaboration solution, such as Windows SharePoint, can be used for sharing documents where multiple people can access a document simultaneously and incorporate a number of comments and edits. This software also is useful for sharing files that are too large to email such as those with high-quality graphics, technical diagrams or photographs.

  • Budget a few IT days for training. Switching applications creates stress, so plan for training, even if these costs are only opportunity costs for your IT employees. Not all organizations will need this, but it provides a safety net for companies where the transition to cloud-based technology is more difficult.

  • Develop a good change-management plan to help alleviate end-user pains. Switching from premises-based email to the cloud can be less onerous than switching vendors’ products, if you stay within the same company. Therefore, the change-management plan can be fairly simple, but make sure it includes employee outreach, reminders, training services, online guides, printed guides and contingency plans.

A hosted solution can provide a level of simplicity, reliability and functionality while offering a more professional-grade solution to emailing and messaging.

 

 

 

Note: The Yankee Group is a leading source of insight and counsel trusted by builders, operators and users of connectivity solutions for nearly 40 years. For more information, visit http://www.yankeegroup.com.

Mike Maloney is a Vice President of Business Services at Comcast. Reach him at michael_maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

Published in Philadelphia

Cloud computing is revolutionizing information technology, and if it hasn’t yet impacted your business, it will soon, says Mike Maloney, vice president of business services at Comcast.

“Cloud computing is a new way of delivering resources, not a new technology,” says Maloney. “And the timing for cloud computing to reach critical mass couldn’t come at a better point.

In today’s belt-tightening climate, this new economic model for computing is enabling companies to accomplish more with less, and the move to cloud-based computing marks a historic point in the evolution of business.”

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how to harness the power of the cloud for growth, profit and success.

What is cloud computing?

Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. The cloud allows users to connect from anywhere at any time, making connections via a shared platform.

Until the advent of the cloud, computing tasks were not possible without the application of software on a computer. You bought a license, installed the application and then used the program. With the development of local area networks, or LANs, the client-server model of computing was born, offering an opportunity to begin sharing resources.

Today, cloud computing has leapfrogged the client server model by providing applications from a server that is accessed from a web browser.

Is use of the cloud catching on with U.S. companies?

In a June 2011 survey of U.S. companies, only about 28 percent were using cloud computing in a meaningful way. However, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for cloud capabilities.

More than 90 percent of IT executives believe that the cloud will provide some kind of business advantage to their businesses, 63 percent say they’ll realize cost savings and 29 percent say they’ll achieve increased flexibility.

How can the cloud environment impact businesses?

When it’s deployed properly, it should give a business extra value over a long period of time. It should be able to address the quick-changing needs of businesses better than traditional IT services do, and the cloud should enable business innovation. When you go to the cloud you reap the benefits of speed, agility, price, innovation, simplicity, a managed system and availability. Most of all, it’s about scalability. Whether you’re talking SaaS, DaaS, IaaS or any of the services, you can quickly scale up your activities to meet demand,  add new users and cut costs.

What are the shortcomings of the cloud?

The biggest concern may be security, which includes privacy, compliance, and legal and contractual issues. To be considered protected in the cloud, your data must be properly segregated from that of another company. Data protection, then, is a requirement for any enterprise that seeks to protect the core of its business. Businesses must also address other key areas, including physical security where data are stored, and customers must be sure that they will have regular and predictable access to their data and applications.

Cloud computing can offer the enterprise or mid-sized businesses a significant business advantage, but it’s up to you to understand the opportunities and risks involved. When evaluating any cloud model, make a detailed checklist to ensure you answer all the key questions fundamental to a successful deployment and utilization. Smart customers ask tough questions before committing to any cloud vendor.

What other factors should companies consider when looking at cloud use?

For any company looking to move to the cloud, it’s important to note that you are transferring new operating risk and requirements on to your network. Upon moving to the cloud, 100 percent of your application has to travel the WAN every time users want to access it. So it’s critically important to invest in your network infrastructure to ensure you have the uptime and reliability you need.

As you conduct your evaluation of network providers you should look at four key criteria:

  • Absolute speed. What is the absolute speed of the underlying transport that is available to you as more traffic from all users begins traversing the network? Traffic doesn’t necessarily grow linearly, but it will grow with your users and the number of applications you add over time. Your ability to turn up bandwidth quickly is critical.
  • Network reliability. Now that you have 100 percent of your traffic traversing the network every time a customer or employee accesses the application, the reliability of your network becomes that much more important.
  • Scalability. This is critical to scale up to add applications, users and sites. The network must provide immediate opportunity for growth. In this new cloud-based approach, you can easily manage capacity by adding bandwidth, and that changes the conversation with your network service provider.
  • Application-specific bandwidth control. Not all applications are created equal. You must be able to deploy application-specific bandwidth controls so that  you can decide where to prioritize your traffic to address load conditions, or just to ensure that those mission-critical real-time applications get the bandwidth they need.

These criteria serve as a starting point, but you should pull back the covers on any communications company to examine the network infrastructure and the core attributes in the heart of the operation.

Mike Maloney is vice president of business services at Comcast. Reach him at Michael_Maloney@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

Published in Philadelphia

Telecommunications is a critical part of the business environment and always has been. As analog-based telecommunications become obsolete, the evolution of Internet protocol is the next long-term — and unavoidable — solution.

“Voice over IP (VoIP) has come a long way, improving call control and quality immensely since its infancy,” says Michael Louden, director of enterprise sales at Comcast. “As Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) technology matures, it has created a revolutionary ripple effect, setting universal adoption of IP Voice in motion.”

Smart Business spoke with Louden about how VoIP works, its advantages and what to consider before adopting it at your business.

What is the difference between analog voice and VoIP?

For analog voice, POTS (plain old telephone service) uses a dedicated path through the public switched telephone network and enables a connection as long as circuits are available. The network was designed to maintain a stable, high level of voice quality that is available nearly anywhere. POTS is still based mostly on a copper medium and one line handles one call at a time.

Voice over IP uses SIP in much the same way as the public switched telephone network and has similar clarity and consistency. However, there are fewer infrastructure concerns, as IP can run over multiple physical mediums, including copper, fiber or collective forms of wireless technology. As long as you can route IP traffic, you can use VoIP, and you can technically utilize any Internet connection to place calls. There is no limit to your call capacity, as long as the Internet protocol-private branch exchange (IP-PBX) and network bandwidth can support it. Another advantage is that restrictions and surcharges on long distance calling are minimized or eliminated.

How does a business know when to adopt VoIP?

There are a few key questions to ask that will give you a place to start when considering VoIP.

  • Step back and take a holistic look at how the current phone system complements your business, specifically how it is utilized and what the critical functions are. Ask what employees like and dislike about the current system, as receptionist needs, executive management requirements and inbound/outbound call flow are important to consider.
  • Look at the physical networking and switching. Most IP phones have two ports so you can connect both a computer and phone through the same wall jack. However, this limits the port speed of your computer workstations.
  • Are your switches able to provide Power over Ethernet? PoE-capable phones conserve space by eliminating the need for AC power adapters. If not, then AC powered PoE injectors are options.
  • If multiple offices are part of this equation, review interoffice communication, as the ability to extension dial between locations is sometimes overlooked.
  • Are there field personnel who work from smaller satellite offices or remote locations? Teleworkers also impact call capacity. It might be worth having a phone system that allows IP or virtual private network connectivity, giving remote workers the ability to access the system as if they were on site.
  • Consider whether to get a locally managed or hosted private branch exchange. The locally managed PBX is managed within your own organization by a telecom administrator or outsourced IT consultant. It’s a good solution for mid-sized to larger organizations because of scalability and control over provisions, features, handsets and ingress/egress call processing. It takes more initial capital investment but has lower operating expenses in the long run.
  • Hosted PBX is a product powered by a cloud-based software phone switch, often good for small and mid-sized businesses, or businesses with multiple locations. Features are available to unite desktops, mobiles and telephones, and disaster recovery capability is possible. Hosted PBX is an operating expense with predictable costs per user.
  • There are some core considerations when looking also at a service provider, including call quality control because voice quality and stability are directly affected by poor network performance, causing dropped calls, poor quality audio and loss of in or outbound audio. When considering price, look at the value of the provider as a whole and ask about network infrastructure and ownership, reputation with VoIP, how the implement/installation process works, equipment requirements and package options.

What is Metro Ethernet, and how would it impact a business?

A Metro Ethernet network, loosely defined as a regional extension of your Ethernet-based LAN, connects geographically separate sites as if they were offices in the same building. You no longer have to traverse the public Internet for interoffice communication with VoIP. Metro Ethernet also has no special interfaces because most networking equipment has at least one Ethernet interface. It uses network divergence rather than converging voice and data over a single network, which can help with bandwidth availability for both voice and data.

Fiber-based Metro Ethernet enhances business continuity, performance and stability for all types of VoIP communication. The networks are scalable, resilient and built to meet the needs of demanding networking applications.

Why is VoIP the future of telecommunications?

VoIP carries most of the world’s voice traffic today. A vast majority of the advanced services you appreciate now are enabled using VoIP such as voicemail to email, click to dial, find-me-follow-me, web-based PBX administration and more. With VoIP, telephone calls can be made anywhere an Internet connection is available.

 

Michael Louden is Director of Enterprise Sales at Comcast. Reach him at (610) 499-2331 or Michael_Louden@cable.comcast.com.

Insights Telecommunications is brought to you by Comcast Business Class

Published in Philadelphia

Companies are discovering that high-performance connectivity is more than just plumbing; it also provides a competitive advantage. Connectivity is no longer just a business expense. It’s now vital to being competitive in today’s ever-changing world. Several trends are contributing to the demand for high-performance networks, including bandwidth-intensive applications, business disaster recovery and virtualized resources.

“Increasingly, organizations see employing high-performance network connectivity solutions as not just a way to cut expenses or reduce total cost of ownership, but also as a critical enabler of competitive advantage in the global economy,” says Mike Maloney, regional vice president, Comcast Business Services.

Smart Business spoke with Maloney about how connectivity solutions are affecting business performance.

Why is the right type of connectivity so important in today’s economy?

Demand for high-speed, high-performance connectivity solutions is increasing, fueled by growth in mobility that requires more bandwidth-intensive, always-on applications, and emerging technologies such as virtualization and cloud services. Remote workers expect the same functionality and performance on their mobile devices that they do on their desktop systems. These trends are driving new demand for scalable, reliable and secure network connectivity solutions. To meet this demand, IT professionals are showing a clear preference for Ethernet/fiber network solutions over T1, T3, frame relay and other networking technologies.

Business and IT professionals increasingly view high-performance connectivity as a strategic or transformational asset for their business — a significant change over two years ago. Part of the reason for this shift in perception is that organizations are developing a better understanding of the business and technology benefits of high-performance computing. Beyond just lowering connectivity costs — which remains an important consideration — high-performance networking can improve productivity, increase efficiency and enable new applications that improve customer service and help grow the business.

Surveys show Ethernet/fiber as the top-performing connectivity technology across all evaluation criteria, including reliability, ease of use/support, scalability and security.

Lowering total cost of ownership remains an important piece of network connectivity investment, but IT professionals are finding an even more powerful story: how high-performance Ethernet solutions can improve workforce productivity and connections to customers, suppliers and remote sites. Building a strong business case for high-performance network connectivity can help CIOs in their ongoing quest to reposition IT as a strategic enabler of sustainable business growth.

How are economic conditions affecting these vital upgrades?

Technology budgets have been tight over the past few years. Network connectivity investments, however, appear to be somewhat insulated from recent economic pressures. About 25 percent of businesses have increased investments in connectivity solutions during this time. The larger the company, the more likely it is to be spending on connectivity. Investments in Ethernet/fiber solutions are expected to increase in the near term. These investment dollars appear to be coming, at least partially, at the expense of T1 technology.

What is the best technology solution in today’s market?

As organizations embrace the potential strategic benefits of network connectivity, choosing the right high-speed solution becomes increasingly important. IT professionals use several criteria to evaluate connectivity technologies. Most professionals rate reliability, security, high availability and cost-effectiveness as critical or highly important evaluation criteria for network connectivity technologies.

Ethernet/fiber is establishing itself as a best-of-breed solution that meets all of these criteria — in some cases by a wide margin. Ethernet/fiber connectivity solutions are the most common technology choice for data centers today. An increase of Ethernet/fiber in the data center will come at the expense of T1, T3 and ATM/frame relay technologies, all of which are expected to decline in the next 24 months.

This is because Ethernet/fiber is the ideal solution to support data-rich and increasingly virtualized environments. It’s scalable, reliable and its secure architecture lends itself to the nuances of the current and future information technology environment.

How is the view of technology by senior managers changing?

Although cost management is still an important part of any IT department’s mindset, we’re also seeing signs that IT and business professionals are beginning to realize how technology can drive business performance. The majority of business leaders view network connectivity as either a strategic asset or a transformational asset. That wasn’t the case two years ago. With greater reliance on complex applications, the continued data explosion, and the growth of private and public clouds, organizations need to make smart investments in their infrastructure, including advanced network connectivity. Network connectivity has evolved from an operational necessity into something that actually enables business improvements.

Is there an example that illustrates how connectivity upgrades can save money?

At Eastern Bank, a Boston-based bank with 123 locations throughout New England, a switch from SONET to metro Ethernet network services in 2010 enabled it to shorten response times and deploy new applications that have improved customer service and enabled new-product roll¬outs across its contact center, ATMs and branches. The bank’s leadership estimates that the Ethernet network provides nine times the old network’s bandwidth at a lower price, saving the bank more than $75,000 annually.

Mike Maloney is regional vice president of Comcast Business Services. Reach him at Michael_Maloney@cable.comcast.com.

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