Buyer BEWARE – All VoIP Line Services are not created equal.

I thought it was important to add this information so innocent and unsuspecting buyers have a little knowledge before jumping on the VoIP roller coaster. We deal with several service providers when it comes to VoIP lines and it turns out, not all of them are created equal. There are some good ones, but the ones that are bad, are really… really bad.

When purchasing VoIP services from a provider, this includes DSL and lines, make sure you have spoken to another business in your area that has dealt with this company and is happy with the level of service they are providing. We recently dealt with, for the first and last time, one of the largest VoIP providers in North America. We can’t mention any names, but for being one of the largest providers, they are absolutely brutal when it comes to supplying services. On three separate occasions at three different locations, they completely messed up the client’s service requests. Everything from assigning the same phone number to two different accounts, assigning the same account number to two different clients, providing the wrong credentials to our installers for setting up the services, assigning only part of the order and forgetting to assign the rest of the client’s lines,…and the list goes on and on. They mishandled, setting up the services so badly, it was embarrassing and each time they tried to blame someone else for their mistakes. Thank goodness all of the customers were extremely patient with small service requests – (5 lines and under). I’d hate to think what would have happened if these were large clients with several lines and large service demands. It would have been a disaster. So, just a word of caution, they may be great for providing residential phone services, but as far as business services are concerned, we will be avoiding them like the plague. Sorry Mr. Domi.

It can also make a huge difference on the actual location of your business with regards to the quality of the services you are capable of receiving. The provider may tell you they can provide up to 10 Megs down and up to 2 Megs up, but in reality you are only capable of receiving 2.5 Megs down and 0.65 up. This poor service is often caused by the lack of updated cabling in your area and no matter how much you complain, it won’t get any better. This poor quality of service is a huge factor that is often over looked by most consumers and causes major issues when switching over to VoIP, especially when you’ve already purchased a new, very expensive, VoIP phone system.

So what can the average consumer do? Well, again it’s a good idea to talk to your neighbours and it’s also advisable to have some preliminary tests done on the high speed services you already have. Remember, in most contracts, the consumer is responsible for providing sufficient bandwidth for the system, especially when it comes to Hosted Solutions. Without sufficient bandwidth, you’re wasting your time and definitely wasting your money.

VoIP Features – What Are The Advantages?

When it comes to VoIp lines and phone systems, they usually offer a unique set of features. Some are more useful that others, but for the most part, they help keep you connected no mattter where you are. Lets look at the some of the more popular ones.

VoIp phone lines (often referred to as SIP Trunks) can come from various providers. These are phone numbers or lines that are provided to customers usually over a high speed DSL circuit. One of our favorites is a company called NetAccess located in Hamilton Ontario. Stick with one of the larger providers in your area. The service will be more reliable & much more stable. A stable DSL circuit will support up to 7 or 8 SIP Trunks depending on the bandwidth of the circuit. The lesser amount of bandwidth means the lesser amount of trunks it will support. These trunks or lines are usually less expensive than traditional phone lines and some providers include free long distance either in Canada or North America. It depends on the provider, but the average cost per line is between $25 and $35 dollars per month. That can amount to a significant cost savings compared to the cost of traditional business lines that usually cost about $55 to $60 dollars per month.

One important thing to remember about SIP Trunks, we don’t recommend using them for fax services. They are not as reliable for this purpose as traditional analog lines. We often find that faxing services fail more often when using SIP lines and for the few extra dollars it’s going to cost to keep a fax line as analog, it’s not worth taking the risk.

Another important point to consider, it’s always a good idea to keep at least one basic analog line as a backup in the event the DSL service goes down. Most SIP providers can set  your SIP Trunks to reroute all incoming calls to this backup analog line if the circuit fails. This means, even though it will be a little inconvenient, you won’t miss all of the incoming phone calls and potentially lose valuable business. As previously mentioned, these lines can be connected to traditional phone systems. You just have to let the provider know what type of system you are using.

On the next posting we’ll discuss some amazing features offered by VoIP Phone Systems like the Allworx IP System. It’s one of my favorites.

The Best VoIP System – how do I make a decision?

How Do I Choose The Right System For Our Business? – This is the million dollar question. If you listen to the sales people, every one of the systems they are proposing are absolutely fantastic and better than the rest. So … how do you choose the system that will be the best fit for your business?

There are few important factors to consider. First, you really need to look at your wish list and decide what features you are actually going to use. A lot of them sound amazing, but are you actually going to use them. Look at the features that make sense for your particular type of business and for the people who are going to use them. Let’s be realistic, if the system is too complicated for your staff they will start to feel overwhelmed by the complexity of it all, they will continually complain about it, they will hate the new system and productivity will go down along with employee morale.

Talk to your staff about the features they are interested in, let them have some input, and have some of them sit in on the sales meetings and ask questions. It will be well worth the extra time and money it costs to do so, plus they will be happier about the fact they actually had some input and you were concerned about what they had to say.

During our sales presentations, we normally try to encourage one person from each department to join in on the meetings whenever possible. The meeting usually takes a little longer, but it gives us a better chance to gather information on how your business is operating and some of the challenges your staff are trying to overcome. Every business is unique and has it’s own set of issues and if that isn’t taken into consideration, you’ll never help them solve those issues.

One of the most important factors you should always consider is “Licensing”. This is something that can become very costly, very fast. Most VoIP systems and the features that are offered are provided through something called “System Licenses”. These licenses are something you have to purchase to allow users to access the available features. Licenses are usually sold on a per user basis, or in small blocks. For example, most systems will provide voice mail to email notification for a limited amount of users… maybe 5… however if you need more than the basic number provided, you are required to purchase an additional license for more users. The fees for these licenses range from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars depending on the feature and the number of users required. In addition, some licensing on certain systems, like Shoretel and Cisco, are only good for a limited amount of time and requires renewal once that time period has elapsed. Beware of these types of vendors, again the long term costs are often over looked and those hidden costs can add up very quickly.

There are a few systems on the market where licensing really isn’t an issue. Once you purchase the software or one license, it’s regarded as an open license, and that feature is available to all users on the system. This can quickly become a real money saver over the long term. Two examples of manufacturers that offer this type of licensing are Allworx and Grandstream.

Another important item to look for is called “Software Assurance”. You must remember these new phone systems. or IP PBX’S, are classified as “PBX Servers” and are software driven just like any PC or Server. Software upgrades are not free. It’s just like upgrading the Windows software on your PC. When a new version of software comes out… if you want the upgrade you have to purchase it. The big difference is, upgrades come out usually twice a year, so unless you have “Software Assurance” you won’t have access to the new features or to any improvements that may be available for the features you already have. Software Assurance is usually purchased for a period of one to five years. Obviously if you purchase a 5 year agreement, it’s not as expensive over the long term, but it is a cost factor that has to be considered. Software Assurance is often bundled in with a “Maintenance Agreement” and sometimes not available unless you purchase both together. Make sure you ask questions and understand the terms of the agreement. This is imperative before you sign on the dotted line.

In the next posting, we’ll talk about the most popular features and the advantages they often provide.


Telephone Equipment and VoIP

Telephone Equipment and Systems: This is a really broad category. There are “Hosted Systems” and “In-House Systems”. Both provide VoIP features and services, just each system does it in a slightly different way. Current trends and statistics indicate that “In-House Systems” are becoming the system of choice over the “Hosted” versions due to the increased feature capabilities which we will cover in one of our later postings.

There are two ways of installing these systems. The first way is by connecting the new IP telephone sets to the existing data cables within the building and, the preferred method is by setting up a completely separate network for the IP phones. I’ll go into detail a little later.

The In-House systems can either be pure IP systems or Hybrid systems. The hybrid systems allow you to use a combination of digital telephone sets, IP telephone sets, traditional analog telephone lines, IP lines, and digital or PRI lines. It is a cost effective way to venture into the IP world without having to re-cable your building and still take advantage of some of the more popular IP features.

The other type of In-House system is the pure IP version. This system consists of a telephone server that is normally installed in your server room and the IP telephone sets. Some systems, like the Allworx IP PBX, allow customers to use any combination of analog, SIP, or PRI line services. The Allworx also allows you to connect some basic analog telephone sets to the system for areas where only basic functionality is required.

Hosted systems are a little different. The actual server for the system is located and controlled by the company who sells you the system. It can be located almost anywhere in North America. Most, at least in this area, are located in or near the Toronto area or in the U.S. The customer normally has to purchase the IP sets from the provider, which are usually of a generic version, either Cisco, Polycom, Grandstream, or Yealink.

System Installations: As previously mentioned, there are 2 ways of setting up an IP system. The first method is by using the existing data cabling within the building. This method is definitely the least expensive, however, can often cause the most grief. By using this method it helps keep the cost down, but unless your current LAN (local area network) is in stellar condition, you will undoubtedly have some issues.

First of all, you IP sets require power regardless of how they are installed. This is usually provided by a network switch. So if you don’t already have PoE (Power over Ethernet) switches, and a lot of companies don’t, you now have the expense of upgrading all of your network switches, which can prove to be fairly costly. Now, some of the IP phones available (Allworx, for example) can be powered by individual transformers, but most of the generic sets require PoE from a switch. Also, If you are going to try using your existing switches, remember, there are a lot of switches on the market that were never designed to handle “Voice Packets”. Yes…. there is a difference between voice and data packets and some switches are just not capable of handling this type of information very well so don’t forget to check this out.

Secondly, I know you don’t want to admit it, but there are some networks out there that aren’t in very good shape. You have small switches all over the place, your network will often slow down, some computers regularly lose their connection, instead of having the proper data jacks installed your IT guy has simply crimped on the network ends, and your server room looks like a spaghetti factory. So if you try to keep the costs down by using your existing data cabling, all of these items must be fixed prior to the installation of the system, or your network will slow down to a crawl. This is due to the fact that each IP phone will plug into the existing network cable that your PC was using, and then your PC now plugs into the back of the telephone. You are essentially adding an additional device at each location which will increase the load put on your network and, if it isn’t up to snuff, it will slow down and create multiple disasters for you and your staff.

The second and recommended method of installation is by using a separate network. This means there has to be an actual separate data cable for each IP telephone set. These data cables are connected to a separate PoE switch in the server room and this new switch is connected to your existing network to allow remote access for maintenance and to allow the on-site “System Administrator” to make changes to the system if required. This obviously is the most expensive method but creates a an environment free from IP conflicts, or headaches from slow PC’s, allows for easier troubleshooting, and less down time for your data network when issues arise. This method is definitely worth considering and makes a lot of sense over the long term.

Just a quick note….as far as the Hybrid systems are concerned, a hybrid system like Panasonic or NEC, allow you to reuse the existing voice cabling that your old Key System was using and provide the traditional features your staff have become accustom to while still allowing you to add some of the more usable IP features. It’s almost like having the best of both worlds. The IP features are added with system cards and user licenses. The most common and favorite feature is voice mail to email notification. You can also link these systems together, just like the IP systems, to allow interaction between locations and facilities. Hybrid systems are a definite contender in the new market and still very popular. It really depends on the features you want and what your budget is.

I don’t want you to go into information overload, so I think I’ll stop here and continue this in the next posting.

What is Voice over IP and will it benefit my business?

In the world of Telephone Equipment & Systems or Communications, the new buzz word is VoIP (Voice over IP). As a provider of these types of services and equipment, I’m constantly amazed by how confused most people really are about Voice over IP. VoIP can mean a lot of different things, so I thought I’d start my blog by trying to explain what VoIP means when talking about our industry of Communications.

First I thought I’d provide a little back ground about our company, BCT Communication Systems Inc. The company was started in 1995 in Brantford Ontario Canada. We provide telephone equipment and systems to a variety of business customers both large and small. We are Authorized Dealers for Panasonic, NEC and Allworx IP telephone systems. Our service area includes Brantford, Hamilton, Burlington, Niagara, Cambridge, Kitchener & London.

We also provide data cabling, access control (Hartmann Controls-Authorized Dealer), video surveillance, and we have recently merged with Gilbert Security Systems which allows us to offer a full range of burglar alarms and security systems for residential and business customers.

Now, lets get back to the important stuff…. VoIP.

Voice over IP includes telephone numbers or lines, the actual telephone equipment itself, and the features the telephone systems can offer. There are “Hosted Systems, and In-House Systems” and unless you, the customer, know the pros and cons of these items, you really can’t make an educated or well informed decision and have to rely on the sales people who are trying desperately to push their product. This often results in spending a lot of money on something that doesn’t really work that well or provide you with the options you wanted in the first place.

Telephone Numbers or Lines: I hear this over and over again, “I’m interested in VoIP, because I want to save money on our long distance”. VoIP lines are usually less expensive than traditional analog telephone numbers. Some offer free long distance throughout Canada, and some have reduced packages for the U.S. When it comes to overall costs, the savings are usually on the line costs and not on the long distance. Long distance from traditional carriers is only about$.03 per minute and if you’re paying more you should call them and ask for better rates. However, buyer beware, unless you have a very stable internet service, you run the risk of having unstable telephone numbers once you switch to the VoIP lines.

A basic DSL service will usually support 4 or 5 VoIP lines. Any more than that and you will have to talk to your provider about increased bandwidth and now suddenly your increasing your costs. If you try sharing your DSL service with your computers as well, once you start using bandwidth for data, sometimes there isn’t much left for voice transmission and now you have a problem. Also it’s important to realize you can use VoIP telephone lines on most traditional telephone equipment. The line providers usually offer adapters (called ATA’s) that convert the VoIP lines into a usable service that most telephone systems can use.

REMEMBER – IT’S ALL ABOUT AVAILABLE BANDWIDTH AND STABILITY. Your internet service provider may tell you they offer up to 5 megs in your area. That simply means they can’t offer anything better in that area and doesn’t necessarily mean you are getting that much bandwidth. You may only be getting 2 megs and that may on the download end of things. The upload speed is usually less and it normally comes in around .5 megs for most customers. Have your IT department verify your upload and download speeds first. If the bandwidth isn’t there and your internet service is sometimes unstable, stay with the traditional analog lines. It’s not worth the headaches you’ll encounter when you start dropping calls.

I’ll cover other items in the next post. Thanks.

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Welcome to BCT Communication Systems Inc. blog, where we will upload information important to our clients and potential clients. Please don’t forget to check our blog on a regular basis for important information and facts regarding telephone systems, new technology and ideas, as well as customer comments and information from our manufacturers.Thanks again and we are looking forward to your continued support and upcoming return.