Nowadays, many small to medium companies are thinking about and looking into Voice over IP (VoIP) PBX systems, if for no other reason than to save money over their existing or antiquated traditional phone systems. Making this transition requires a lot of analysis and decision making. One of the more important decisions is whether to purchase your own VoIP PBX or to go with a “hosted” or virtual PBX, which is a system hosted by a VoIP provider. There are good arguments for both solutions, including cost, voice quality and reliability. Let’s look at each solution to see which works best for your business.

Premise Based VoIP PBX

With a premise based VoIP system, you either install the IP PBX yourself, or have a dealer or VAR (value added reseller) Install it for you. The equipment sits in your company’s data center, connects to your LAN, and distributes calls to IP phones also connected to the LAN. You own the equipment and software, and administer and maintain it. Calls can come to the IP PBX from a communication service provider over traditional PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) lines or over your company’s broadband Internet connection, or both.

The premise-based approach has several advantages. Although the upfront cost is higher than with a hosted service, your company owns the system, rather than having to make payments forever. And with ownership comes increased control—you can customize or extend the capabilities of your systems more than you can with hosted service, provided you have the technical resources or are willing to pay somebody to do it for you. Another advantage is that it’s not necessary to rely solely on the Internet to deliver calls.  A premise based IP PBX gives you fallback capabilities should your Internet service be interrupted. Security is also higher because all messages and call data remain on your company’s premises.

But when compared to hosted solutions, there can be a significant disadvantage depending on the needs and resources of your organization. The biggest is monitoring and maintenance. Someone has to be available virtually all the time to make sure the system is running right. Someone also has to maintain and upgrade the software on a regular basis. Premise-based systems typically require maintenance contracts that add significantly to the total cost of ownership. Configuring remote users can also be somewhat complicated and thereby expensive.

Here are a couple of premise-based solution providers:

GSolutionz

Cisco

Here is a great post on VoIP-News comparing premise-based systems to hosted systems:

http://www.voip-news.com/news/hosted-premises-pbx-pro-con/

Pros

  • You will own the system
  • You can customize it to suit needs
  • Doesn’t necessarily have to rely on Internet for quality, reliability
  • Messages, prompts, records remain on your company’s premises

Cons

  • Significant costs for hardware and software maintenance contracts
  • Requires staff for monitoring and maintaining
  • Configuring remote users can be tricky
  • Hardware, software upgrades could eventually become necessary if your user numbers and/or call volume grows

Hosted PBX

Hosted VoIP, also known as hosted PBX or virtual PBX, runs on equipment belonging to and located in the data center of a service provider. Calls travel to your office via its broadband Internet connection. Hosted services can provide many of the features and capabilities that traditional phone systems offer. Users can make or transfer calls by dialing each other’s extensions. They can also make conference calls, park and pick up calls, and answer calls forwarded to groups of extensions, known as ring groups. That’s not to mention all the new capabilities that IP makes possible, such as listening to voice mail messages through e-mail or another online interface, or placing calls by simply clicking on names in onscreen address books.

This solution also allows you to create extensions in different locations, such as multiple offices or employee homes. Remote VoIP extensions act just like extensions of traditional PBXs in that you can call them directly by dialing extension numbers, page them, or include them in call groups. The real benefit of VoIP extensions is that you are not charged for calling between them, no matter where they are located.

The biggest benefit of the hosted approach is its low upfront cost. The only equipment you need to buy to get started is IP phones for your employees. You then pay a monthly fee for each extension, which typically includes packages of minutes or unlimited domestic calling as well as cheap international rates. This approach lets you increase the number of users as needed and eliminates some ongoing costs. There are no hardware or software maintenance contracts, for example, and no need for in-house IT staff to monitor equipment and fix problems.  All service, maintenance, and updates are managed and provided by your service provider.

Hosted services can also have considerable drawbacks, though. The monthly charges can add up, especially when they involve paying full rate for little-used but necessary extensions. And unlike equipment purchases, hosted PBX payments don’t end until you cancel the service, and upon termination of service the business is left with no associated asset. Security is another concern, since voice mail messages and call records reside on the service provider’s servers, not you servers. Call quality and service reliability can also be significant worries, since both are totally dependent on your Internet connection(s).

Today, their are many hosted PBX providers. Here are a few:

Aerioconnect

NCISP

Here is a great blog for finding out all you need to know about hosted PBX:

http://www.voip-news.com/blog/

Pros

  • Low upfront costs
  • Increase capacity exactly as needed
  • No need for maintenance contracts or staff
  • Remote extensions

Cons

  • Quality, reliability depend on Internet
  • Pay full rate for little-used extensions
  • No end to payments, no eventual ownership of equipment
  • Messages, prompts and call records reside in service provider’s data center

A Third Alternative

Another alternative, sometimes called “hybrid-hosted,” combines the key elements of hosted and premise-based systems. You buy and own the IP PBX equipment, which resides at your premises. But the vendor monitors and helps manage the equipment from its data center. This arrangement offers most of the benefits of both hosted and premise solutions, while doing away with most of the disadvantages of both. However, it is also by far the most costly.

As with conventional premise solutions, hybrid-hosted systems lets you pay once to purchase the equipment rather than paying forever for extensions, some of which may see little use. And messages and call data remain within the company.

And as with hosted solutions, hybrid-hosted systems significantly decrease the hassles and headaches of premise solutions. Part of it is ease of use. Administrators and managers can access their systems from anywhere via web browsers, rather than having to be on premises or to have configured special routes through their firewalls. Setting up remote users is simple too, and linking branch offices is often a one-click process. Users can even configure their own extensions from wherever they are.

Perhaps most important, the hybrid-hosted approach alleviates monitoring and maintenance headaches. From its data center, the vendor proactively watches the customer’s hardware and software, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for impending failures, and takes action before they happen. It also transparently maintains the software, pushing out automatic updates without the need for someone at your company to do anything. The vendor can also choose to back up call records and generate reports, taking a significant load off the premise equipment. And it also backs up the customer’s configurations (though usually not its voice mail messages or prompts due to privacy concerns), allowing for easy recovery in case of disaster.

Pros

  • You own the system
  • Can customize to suit needs
  • Messages, prompts, records remain on company’s own premises
  • Vendor monitors for faults 24/7
  • Vendor backup of customer configurations with easy disaster recovery
  • Automatic software upgrades
  • Easy remote administration through web browser
  • Easy setup of remote users
  • One-click linking of branch offices

Cons

  • Upfront costs higher than with hosted solutions
  • Hardware and software maintenance contracts recommended
  • Hardware upgrade eventually necessary if user numbers grow
  • Support and management contracts can be quite high, eliminating the savings you would gain from using VoIP.

William Harrel – www.williamharrel.com

Does Voice over IP (VoIP) save you money on phone service? Absolutely. Sometimes as much as 50 percent over standard plain old telephone service (POTS) phone lines. But having bad VoIP service or excessive downtime (no service at all) will quickly eat up those savings, and could wind up costing dearly in lost business. Still, all too many companies go out and buy VoIP or hosted PBX service, only to run it on a lowly cable or DSL connection with all their other Internet traffic-and then complain and blame the VoIP provider when they have problems with their phones.

Unless your company has upwards of 3Mbps synchronous (same speeds up and down) Internet broadband, it is seldom a good idea to run your Voice over IP (VoIP) or hosted PBX phones over the same connection you use for data. Even then, you are running the risk of poor quality service, or no service at all. Face it, as reliable as Internet service has become, broadband connections still go down. With VoIP or hosted PBX systems, when you’ve got no Internet, you’ve got no phones. Slow or saturated broadband connections turn your phone conversations into jittery garbage, cause dropped calls, and can even stop your phones from working at all.

Phones and data on two separate Internet connections.

Phones and data on two separate Internet connections.

Unless you’ve got only one or a couple of workstations and IP phones, it’s just not a good idea to let your phones compete with your other Internet traffic. Why? Say, for example, that you have an average office with five workstations and five IP phones. During the normal course of business, your people are uploading and downloading email, viewing websites, connecting with a vendor’s server to place orders, and so on. (And this says nothing of the employee or two who are sneaking in a YouTube video or chatting with four or five friends and family members.)

Your VoIP phones have to compete with all this other traffic. And when the traffic is high, call quality suffers. This is especially critical on uploads, information leaving your facility and going out to the Internet-your half of the conversation. Most broadband connections are asynchronous (different upload and download speeds, with the upload being significantly lower) and have much lower upload speeds than download speeds. Most DSL connections, for instance, cannot upload faster than 768k. This is not much bandwidth-it takes only one or two large outgoing email attachments to gobble it up. And during those email uploads, your VoIP quality can suffer.

Granted, there are routers and other devices you can buy that apply quality of service (QoS) packet prioritizing, allowing VoIP traffic to go out the broadband connection before any other data; however, on a very congested connection, these devices can’t perform miracles, and, frankly, even under the best of circumstances, except for the very best and most expensive products, they don’t really work all that well.

When the Internet connection is saturated, phone quality suffers. If the connection is too saturated, your VoIP devices won’t work at all. This can become a real problem if a server or one of the workstations starts misbehaving. For example, a computer with an email virus that shoves hundreds of emails a minute up your Internet pipe can (and usually does) take out your VoIP phone service.

We all have had our Internet connection go down, sometimes for very long periods of time. Another benefit of having two Internet connections is that, if one goes down, you can easily flop your phones onto the data line, or vice versa.

So, don’t gamble with your company’s telecommunications. Spend the extra $40 to $75 for a second DSL or cable connection to run your VoIP phones. It doesn’t have to be the fastest connection available. Since the phones won’t act up and use huge amounts of bandwidth, as computers frequently do, it is easy to determine how much bandwidth to buy. A properly-operating, 768k-up-DSL line can safely run between 10 and 15 simultaneous VoIP phone calls.

For lots of great info on VoIP, go here: http://www.voip-news.com/blog/

Bill Harrel – http://www.williamharrel.com/

By now, everybody knows that Voice over IP (VoIP) saves big money on local and long distance business calling, especially on calls originating and terminating in the U.S. It’s easy to find a VoIP provider that provides flat rate, all-you-can-eat, calling domestically. However, many businesses have offices offshore in other countries. These offices need to communicate frequently with their counterparts, offices in the U.S., as well as numerous other calls to U.S. phone numbers. Here is a sure-fire way to eliminate the fees typically generated by these calls.

(Since this solution depends on reliable Internet service in all locations involved, please make sure that you have good service in each location where you put VoIP extensions and that that service is not saturated, or over used.)

The Problem

Making international calls to and from the U.S. incurs per minute charges in either direction, whether you call your offshore office or whether your offshore office calls your U.S. office or any other U.S. number.

Calls from U.S. to offshore office incurs per-minute fees.

Calls from U.S. to offshore office incurs per-minute fees.

Calls from offshore to U.S. incur per-minute fees

Calls from offshore to U.S. incur per-minute fees

 The Solution

You can solve this problem by putting VoIP extensions with U.S. phone numbers in your international locations. This allows you to call between your U.S. office and international offices for free. It also allows you to call U.S. all numbers from the international offices for free, provided your VoIP service is flat rate.

Have your VoIP provider give you a U.S. number and assign it to an IP phone at your international office.

Have your VoIP provider give you a U.S. number and assign it to an IP phone at your international office.

All calls to the international extension are free.

All calls to the international extension are free.

All calls from the International extension to the any U.S. number for free.

All calls from the International extension to the any U.S. number for free.

Here is a link to a Flash movie that shows this scenario in detail: http://www.dock.net/2006/flash/internationalvoip.html

 Find the Right Provider

Not all VoIP providers support this scenario. Here are links to two that I know of, one on the West Coast and one on the East Coast:

http://www.aerioconnect.com (west)

http://www.ncisp.net (east)

Here is a link to a good solution for residential customers who call offshore often:

http://www.2millionblog.com/2008/12/reducing_expenses_eliminate_your_phone_bill_with_ooma_review_1.html

Bill Harrel – www.williamharrel.com

Goggling VoIP invariably brings up a host of complaints about poor call quality, dropped call and downtime. Often, these complaints center around Vonage. Nowadays, Vonage is just another big phone company. And like most big phone companies, it has a team of sales people who” know little to nothing about the technology they are selling. Some” will simply just do anything to make a sale.

Up until about 3 months ago, I owned and operated a nationwide ISP/VoIP provider. One of the more dastardly tricks I saw Vonage sales people pull off” was selling their service to people who didn’t have Internet service, or to people who had DSL service attached to their telco telephone service, without telling the customer that when they port (transfer) their telephone number to Vonage, the DSL service will go down. Most telephone companies will not allow DSL to ride on a phone line that does not also have dialtone (phone service) on it.

(While the major phone companies have been ordered by FCC to provide standalone DSL service, sometimes called “naked DSL,” out of the 7 or” 8 telcos we dealt with, only Verizon” allowed DSL service on phone lines that did not have dialtone. So, the would-be Vonage customer gets their Vonage VoIP equipment, has their number ported to Vonage, and all of a sudden they no” longer have DSL or phone service.

Invariably, several times a week (and this was especially true in more rural areas, where many users simply didn’t understand Internet service), we would get calls from new Vonage customers needing broadband to make their VoIP phone service work. The conversations would go something like this:

Caller: Do you sell high-speed Internet service?

ISP: Yes, we sell DSL. Do you have a phone line with ___________(insert local phone company name)?

Caller: No.

ISP: Then I can’t get you DSL.

Caller: But I have a phone line.

ISP: With who?

Caller: I have Vonage.

At this point our sales person is stuck trying to explain to the caller that Vonage is not exactly a phone line; it is phone service that works over the Internet. They can’t use it if they don’t have Internet service and they can’t get Internet service if they don’t have a phone line–not DSL, anyway. The call usually ended with the caller mad at us.

I checked with the sales people at my old ISP” a few days ago. Vonage is still doing this, and the calls from new Vonage customers who suddenly find themselves with no phone service and no Internet service after making the switch to Vonage” have not slowed down a bit.

Why does Vonage continue to do this? I’m guessing that it is either lousy training or sales people striving to achieve quota’s or commissions. In any case, it is wrong and a hell of a way to do business. Perhaps somebody from Vonage can comment, explaining why they do this their customers.

Other Vonage horror stories can be found here :”  http://blog.tmcnet.com/mt/mt-tb.cgi/33349

Or here: http://voiptelephonyservice.blogspot.com/2006/12/reader-reviews-vonage-and-voipcom.html

Here’s one where Vonage is being sued for scamming customers: http://voiphow2.blogspot.com/2008/11/vonage-scam-or-how-2-receive-free-video.html

Bill Harrel – www.williamharrel.com

Does Voice over IP (VoIP) save you money on phone service? Absolutely. Sometimes as much as 50 percent over standard plain old telephone service (POTS) phone lines. But having bad VoIP service or excessive downtime (no service at all) will quickly eat up those savings, and could wind up costing dearly in lost business. Still, all too many companies go out and buy VoIP or hosted PBX service, only to run it on a lowly cable or DSL connection with all their other Internet traffic-and then complain and blame the VoIP provider when they have problems with their phones.

Unless your company has upwards of 3Mbps synchronous (same speeds up and down) Internet broadband, it is seldom a good idea to run your Voice over IP (VoIP) or hosted PBX phones over the same connection you use for data. Even then, you are running the risk of poor quality service, or no service at all. Face it, as reliable as Internet service has become, broadband connections still go down. With VoIP or hosted PBX systems, when you’ve got no Internet, you’ve got no phones. Slow or saturated broadband connections turn your phone conversations into jittery garbage, cause dropped calls, and can even stop your phones from working at all.

Phones and data on two separate Internet connections.

Phones and data on two separate Internet connections.

Unless you’ve got only one or a couple of workstations and IP phones, it’s just not a good idea to let your phones compete with your other Internet traffic. Why? Say, for example, that you have an average office with five workstations and five IP phones. During the normal course of business, your people are uploading and downloading email, viewing websites, connecting with a vendor’s server to place orders, and so on. (And this says nothing of the employee or two who are sneaking in a YouTube video or chatting with four or five friends and family members.) 

Your VoIP phones have to compete with all this other traffic. And when the traffic is high, call quality suffers. This is especially critical on uploads, information leaving your facility and going out to the Internet-your half of the conversation. Most broadband connections are asynchronous (different upload and download speeds, with the upload being significantly lower) and have much lower upload speeds than download speeds. Most DSL connections, for instance, cannot upload faster than 768k. This is not much bandwidth-it takes only one or two large outgoing email attachments to gobble it up. And during those email uploads, your VoIP quality can suffer.

Granted, there are routers and other devices you can buy that apply quality of service (QoS) packet prioritizing, allowing VoIP traffic to go out the broadband connection before any other data; however, on a very congested connection, these devices can’t perform miracles, and, frankly, even under the best of circumstances, except for the very best and most expensive products, they don’t really work all that well.

When the Internet connection is saturated, phone quality suffers. If the connection is too saturated, your VoIP devices won’t work at all. This can become a real problem if a server or one of the workstations starts misbehaving. For example, a computer with an email virus that shoves hundreds of emails a minute up your Internet pipe can (and usually does) take out your VoIP phone service.

We all have had our Internet connection go down, sometimes for very long periods of time. Another benefit of having two Internet connections is that, if one goes down, you can easily flop your phones onto the data line, or vice versa.

So, don’t gamble with your company’s telecommunications. Spend the extra $40 to $75 for a second DSL or cable connection to run your VoIP phones. It doesn’t have to be the fastest connection available. Since the phones won’t act up and use huge amounts of bandwidth, as computers frequently do, it is easy to determine how much bandwidth to buy. A properly-operating, 768k-up-DSL line can safely run between 10 and 15 simultaneous VoIP phone calls.

For lots of great info on VoIP, go here: http://www.voip-news.com/blog/

Bill Harrel – http://www.williamharrel.com/