18 Sep 2017

A Beginner’s Guide to Disaster Recovery and your Telephone System

So how do you plan for Business Continuity around your phone system? In light of the multiple natural disasters that have plagued the US, it is prudent to review this now.

 

The world of telephony is changing. Subtly, over the past several years, there has been continual change as the convergence of voice and data continues. Everyone agrees about the need to have data accessible via some cloud strategy.   What I have discovered is that people think primarily about the data, and the idea of keeping the pulse of your business alive – your phone system, is relegated to a distant second place. Phones are taken for granted, and, as a result, most people do not even know the questions to ask.

The purpose of this article is not to provide you with all the answers but to help you start thinking and asking better questions. A checklist is included at the end.

 

We start with deciding between a premise-based system and a hosted one. The way Disaster Recovery (DR) is handled with Hosted systems IS NOT the same as with premise-based systems.

 

Premise-Based Systems

How do you identify a premise-based system? It is fairly simply. If the PBX is located in your building it is premise-based. Your carrier connects directly to that PBX. They have responsibility to deliver dial tone to that PBX only. Meaning if that PBX is not “there” to receive that call, the person originating the call will get a fast busy. For the customer to not get a fast busy that PBX will need to stay up. This means that you need extra protection, extra features and even a secondary PBX to protect you in case of a natural disaster.

 

You will want need to talk to your PBX maintenance person about an off site PBX or off site backups. You will also need to talk to your carrier about what to do when your PBX is off line. Where can you forward your calls? The most common answer is to a cell phone. You will need to keep in mind that one cell will get every call that comes on that forwarded number with no ability to transfer that call. Plus, juggling calls in a cell is not easy, and, typically, you can only manage two calls at a time.

 

Hosted Systems

Hosted VoIP is a model that leverages the Internet. The idea is that the call control is out of the building and in the cloud. You should make sure that the company that is hosting the PBX (call control server) has it housed in a facility like a carrier hotel and is, preferably, georedundant. Georedundancy means that the facility is operating at more than one geographical location, as a form of redundancy in the of case site failure.

Hosted systems have become more popular as VoIP has become a stable and effective business model.

But not all hosted VoIP providers are the same. It is very much caveat emptor when it comes to VoIP, especially if you are basing your choice of providers exclusively on price. When considering a telephony DR plan you must be an educated buyer and interview each potential vendor.  A separate article will cover how to interview VoIP providers.

 

Click here for a simple check list that will help organize some of your thoughts around DR. It is meant as a starting point and is far from an exhaustive list. A comprehensive DR plan will spell out hourly costs associated with downtime, a business impact analysis, and action guide that outlines the roles and responsibilities of each employee.

 

Most companies do not do this exhaustive planning and become comfortable as long as “most bases are covered”. The checklist below is designed to assist in helping you start to think through some of the major needs.  You can count on a high-quality VoIP provider to assist with DR planning. You can reach any of our experts at (718) 887-0330 to discuss your company’s specific Disaster Recovery needs. We look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

 

16 Aug 2017

Beware the Auto-Renew Clause

Here at CompuVoIP, we get calls every week from customers that are unsatisfied with their current dial-tone service provider or VoIP business telephone service providers. After spending some time with the customer to get a better understanding of their concerns, we generally share with them how the CompuVoIP VoIP service will better meet their needs. That’s when it usually happens. When the CompuVoIP representative asks the question “Are you under contract with your current provider?”, a period of heavy silence usually follows. Far too often, the silence is followed by the response “Yes, and our contract just auto-renewed and we are stuck for another 24 months!!”.

While often touted as a convenience for the customer with the promise of hassle-free uninterrupted service, auto-renewal or “Evergreen” Clauses are clearly advantageous to the service provider. They lock the customer in for the full duration of the original contract term.

Auto-renewal clauses are often referred to “boilerplate clauses” with the intent of giving the impression that they are fixed and cannot be changed, and most customers are sufficiently intimidated by the term to acquiesce to their presence in their agreements. The truth, however, is that EVERYTHING is negotiable. As the customer, you can leverage the power of the purse and the pen. Never relinquish that power unless it is to your advantage.

And what to do if your carrier tells you that your 24 month contract has just auto-renewed and you want out?

California Law requires that automatically renewing charges for subscription services be disclosed in a “clear and conspicuous” manner, which means that it must be more conspicuous than the surrounding text and in close proximity to the signature line. The extraordinary remedy for a service provider failing to comply with this provision is that any additional services provided to the consumer will be deemed an “unconditional gift. Illinois, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Oregon have similar “clear and conspicuous” requirements in automatic renewal provisions.

Are you located in New York State? Rejoice!

New York has taken the “clear and conspicuous” requirement one step further by requiring the service provider to notify customers at least 15, but not more than 30, days prior to the renewal that the provision in the clause is to be activated. See New York General Obligations Law Sec. 5-903. This notice must be served on the customer personally or via certified mail and failure to comply will render the automatic renewal unenforceable. The New York statute only applies to contacts for service, maintenance, or repair, but the customer can be an individual or a business.

There’s never a contract for our service at CompuVoIP. We ‘lock you in’ by delighting you so you’ll never go anywhere else. Looking to upgrade your service, or to move to a service provider that doesn’t lock you into a contract? Visit us at www.compuvoip.com or give us a call at (718) 887-0300.

 

09 Aug 2017

Six Things to Get Right in Your IVR

Here are some key insights from Bill Price, Driva Solutions:

 

Keep IVR menus short and simple. Don’t have more than 3 options in a menu.

Our short term memory is limited in capacity. Be mindful and respectful of your customer and don’t overwhelm them with too many choices.

Only play messages when they are needed.

Your customer has a mission: to get what they need as quickly as painlessly as possible. Superfluous messages are distracting and confusing. Make sure that you only play what your customer absolutely needs to hear.

Always provide an option to exit to an operator.

Your IVR should not be a maze with dead-end paths. Make sure there’s an escape route available in every path in your IVR.

Make it clear how the customer can repeat options or get help.

Tell ‘em once, and then tell ‘em again at each level of the IVR.

Allow the customer time to act: – build in pauses.

If you are too aggressive in setting time limits for response, you will end up with higher abandonment rates and heavier loads on your customer service staff.

Provide touch-tone (DTMF) options.

Voice responses are not appropriate for all callers. High levels of ambient noise can confuse voice recognition systems and frustrate your callers. They may also not be comfortable speaking their personal information if they are making their call in a public space.

Keep the same voice across the IVR and in your ACD

Invest the effort to present a consistent voice to your customer for the entire time that they are interacting with electronic call control. Complement your use of the IVR/ACD by investing in professional voiceover artists and you will impress your callers with your professional treatment.

19 Jul 2017

The End of the PSTN (conclusion)

PSTN Baggage

Why bother, you might ask? Why not let the old geezer die a slow death? Simply put.. It is costing each one of us big bucks in the form of government subsidies, to maintain the PSTN. The Universal Service Fund (USF), which is collected by carriers from phone users and redistributed by the government, still supports rural telephone service. With the flight to packet well underway by the more lucrative PSTN customers, the cost of subsidizing the remaining customers – rural dwellers, elderly urban dwellers for the most part – will skyrocket. USF revenue, sourced mainly from PSTN users, will continue to decline.

Dropping the subsidies alone would not be a viable option, as it would leave the aforementioned customer base stranded without voice communication and access to 911.

Another serious concern is reliability. In a power failure, POTS customers can still make calls because copper wires still provide current. Some home alarms and medical-monitoring systems don’t work with wireless systems.

The TAC has recommended that the government ensure that everyone who now has PSTN service has access to either a broadband or cellular communication alternative, or that the PSTN sunset by synchronized with this availability.

How telling is this quote from an AT&T filing with the FCC in 2014:

In other words, it is inevitable that over time circuit switched telephony will become irretrievably obsolete. And that day is fast approaching. Not only are customers abandoning circuit-switched networks and services in droves, making it increasingly uneconomic to maintain those legacy networks, but manufacturers of the equipment needed to maintain and operate those networks are likewise moving on. Those manufacturers want to focus their businesses on the networks of the future, not technology that is being displaced, and so they are discontinuing production of TDM equipment. As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain needed spare parts to keep legacy TDM networks going.

 

It has been a great ride with you, PSTN…. Thanks for the memories.

13 Jul 2017

The End of the PSTN

The PSTN Today

In the United States, there has been a steady decline in the revenue from PSTN traffic. In fact, the National Center for Health Statistics projects that only 6% of the US population will still be served by the PSTN by the end of 2018.

As early as 2011, the Technical Advisory Council (TAC) to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) recommended that the FCC set a date for the sunset of the PSTN rather than let the service fade slowly.

In early 2015 AT&T reported that, on average, its Illinois customers were dropping 1,000 old-fashioned landlines every day.

Ford’s Detroit headquarters purchased 8,000 wireless phones for the staff and ripped up its landlines. Eighty-five percent of the company’s business is now conducted wirelessly

In 17 of the 21 states where AT&T is the main carrier, lawmakers have eliminated regulations that require phone giants like AT&T and Verizon to keep POTS in place. However, even in states that have deregulated, the phone companies are waiting for the Federal Communications Commission to give its blessing before they get rid of the old landlines.

Next week we’ll talk about why we should care about ending the life of the PSTN.

05 Jul 2017

The End of the PSTN

The Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). It’s been around forever. Since 1878 to be precise. To consider its demise seems blasphemous and even suicidal. I ask you to be brave and join me on a journey to explore the possibility of a world without the PSTN, and why you should care.

Why a PSTN?

In 1876, telephones were sold in pairs. If you wanted to talk to your sister on the telephone, you would need to lay cable between your house and hers. In January, 1878, the world’s first telephone exchange was established in New Haven, Connecticut. Call switching was performed manually. Operators manned switchboards repeatedly requesting “Number, Plee-uhz”. As the popularity of the telephone grew, iconic telephone poles became part of the landscape in both urban and rural areas in the United States.

By the late 1880s electromechanical switches were introduced, and in the 1920s, rotary dials on telephones replaced the telegraph key on telephones. Crossbar switches that were capable of completing a call in a tenth of a second were introduced in 1935. Electronic switches that completed calls within nanoseconds were introduced in 1968.

In the 1980s the industry began planning for digital services assuming they would follow much the same pattern as voice services, and conceived end-to-end circuit switched services, known as the Broadband Integrated Services Digital Network (B-ISDN). The B-ISDN vision was overtaken by the disruptive technology of the Internet.

Next week we’ll discuss the role of the PSTN today.

29 Jun 2017

Premise vs Hosted IP PBX – Which One is Right for You? (Part 3)

SURVIVABILITY

In the event of a physical disaster that makes it impossible to operate the enterprise from its regular location or to reach that location, both system types support the ability to take one’s desk phone to any location where there is internet service, plug the phone in, and continue to operate as though one was at their desk at work.

However, if the location where the premise-based PBX is located suffers physical damage that impacts the electrical system, and/or the communications infrastructure, the entire phone system will be offline. Off premise phones plugged into the internet will not operate at all. With the hosted system, the PBX “in the cloud” generally has a hot spare redundant system typically located in a geographically distinct area that virtually eliminates the possibility of switching system failure.

With a bit of stretch, let’s include the subject of feature enhancements. The hosted PBX solution will generally install feature enhancements and software patches during its regularly scheduled maintenance window. With the hot spare system taking over during that time, there is no impact to system users. This is especially important to enterprises with locations across multiple time zones or continents.  Premise-based systems would need to schedule the upgrade at time that would cause the least amount of disruption to its users.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Compu-Phone and CompuVoIP offer a comprehensive selection of premise-based and hosted VoIP solutions. We’d be delighted to talk to you about creating a future-proof solution for your business. Give us a call at (718) 230-9292 or visit us on the web at www.compu-phone .net.

21 Jun 2017

Premise vs Hosted IP PBX – Which One is Right for You? (Part 2)

USABILITY

Usability is a mixed bag when comparing hosted and premise-based PBX systems. For the most part, the two system types support an equivalent set of the most sought-after business features.

Where the two system types diverge is in their ability to support line appearance buttons.  Here’s the scenario:

A company has 4 lines. A call comes in for John on line 2. After speaking with the customer, John wants his colleague, Sam, to pick up the call to continue the conversation.

In the premise-based PBX world, John can merely call out to Sam saying “Sam! Pick up line 2, please!”. Sam has a button for each of the four company lines on his phone. To pick up the conversation, Sam merely needs to depress the button for line 2 and begin talking.

In the hosted PBX environment, it is not that simple. To enable Sam to continue the conversation with the call, John would need to use the Call Park button to put the call on ‘public hold’. Sam can then access the call by depressing the Call Pickup key on his phone. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a different way of operating. For new enterprises not coming from the premise-based PBX world and are not accustomed to the ‘squared’ systems it won’t really matter. For customers that are transitioning from a premise-based PBX, it is something that will change.

Both system types typically support softphone applications for Windows, IoS, and Android operating systems.

Next week.. we’ll talk about survivability.. summarize, and wrap things up.

14 Jun 2017

Premise vs Hosted IP PBX – Which One is Right for You? (Part 1)

So, you’ve decided to move to IP-based communications! Congratulations on having made that decision. The next fork in the road involves choosing between a premise-based or hosted IP PBX. Read on. We’ll help you make your decision by providing some considerations that you won’t see elsewhere on the web.

Let’s first outline the areas we need to consider. Then, we’ll examine each one in greater detail. The areas of focus include: CAPEX and OPEX costs, usability, and survivability.

CAPEX and OPEX Costs

CAPEX Costs

The two options diverge significantly in this decision space. The premise-based PBX option requires purchase of the PBX, a router, as well as a sufficient number of telephone instruments to meet your business’ needs.

If you choose the hosted option, your only CAPEX expense is the cost of the telephones, and a router. There is no other on-premise equipment required. (At CompuVoIP, most customer are eligible for a rebate on their phones..so the net cost for their telephones is zero!)

For a 75-seat solution, a typical premise-based PBX solution would cost $75,000 contrasted with the much lower $22,500 required for a hosted PBX system.

OPEX Costs

The numbers tell an interesting story on the OPEX side of the spreadsheet. The premise-based PBX demands care and feeding. Software upgrades and patches, feature upgrades all require the expertise of a trained PBX administrator. Adds, moves, deletes also need to be processed by the PBX administrator. While this may not require a full time position, these OPEX costs are directly attributable to the premise-based PBX.

The premise-based PBX would incur an additional cost associated with a maintenance agreement with the manufacturer to protect against hardware malfunctions. No such maintenance agreement would be relevant in the hosted-PBX scenario.

When it comes to monthly recurring charges, the premise-based PBX has a definite edge on usage charges. Let’s look at two scenarios:
Scenario A:

This enterprise requires 20 telephones. 6 of those telephones are used actively each day. The other 14 are courtesy/convenience phones.

Using typical pricing, a hosted PBX user would be charged 20 x $8 per extension and 6 x $30 for the active extensions for a total of $340 per month.

The monthly recurring charges for the premise-based PBX would be 6 x $30 or $180 per month  – a net difference of $160 per month, or $1920.00 per year.

Scenario B:

This small enterprise has 6 active phones.

Using typical pricing, a hosted PBX user would be charged and 6 x $8 for each extension and 6 x $30 for the active extensions for a total of $228 per month.

The monthly recurring charges for the premise-based PBX would be 6 x $30 or $180 per month – a net difference of $48 per month, or $576.00 per year.

(To be continued next week)

05 Jun 2017

Problems with VoIP

Problems with VoIP

Are you considering making the move to cloud VoIP? You have, no doubt, heard your share of shining success and equally gloomy horror stories about colleagues that have moved to VoIP. And they are all true!

Let’s look at some of the things that can go wrong with a VoIP implementation and discuss what steps can be taken to fix them or avoid them completely.

Latency

Latency is the time between the moment a voice packet is transmitted and the moment it reaches its destination. When this time is long (roundtrip voice delays of 250ms), callers will notice echoes or other degradation in voice quality.

Remedy

Although the voice packets that make up a VoIP call travel within your network, they also are subject to delays outside of your network. You can reduce or eliminate latency by ensuring that voice packets are given high priority over other data packets in your network. Generally accepted guidelines tell us that if we can ensure that voice packets in your own network have transit latencies of considerably less than 150 ms, you can go a long way towards improving overall VoIP call voice quality.

There are a number of proven techniques for prioritizing VoIP traffic. And you don’t have to be a trained network engineer to make this happen. A quality VoIP router, like the CompuVoIP cloud-based managed router, can solve many of these issues and help you achieve high-quality VoIP calls in your organization.

Jitter

Jitter is the measure of variability of latency across a network over time. The sending side transmits packets in a continuous stream and spaces them evenly apart. Because of network congestion, improper queuing, or configuration errors, the delay between packets can vary instead of remaining constant. Jitter is another cause of poor VoIP call quality.

Remedy

We again look to the VoIP router to come to the rescue. When a router receives an audio stream for Voice over IP (VoIP), it must compensate for the jitter that is encountered. The mechanism that handles this function is the playout delay buffer. The playout delay buffer (aka de-jitter buffer) buffers these packets and then plays them out in a steady stream to the digital signal processors (DSPs) to be converted back to an analog audio stream.

Poor Internet Connection

Most residential internet service offerings are optimized for web surfing, not for VoIP calling. Voice packet transmission requires an additional set of internet protocols

Remedy

These days, ‘business class’ internet service is just about ubiquitous. Make sure you are subscribed to your internet provider’s ‘business class’ internet service if you want to ensure high-quality VoIP calls. Chances are that you are already subscribed to this level of internet service as it usually includes symmetric bandwidth levels for both upload and download.

At CompuVoIP, we assess your network and make recommendations and adjustments to ensure the highest level of VoIP phone call quality. Learn more about us at www.compuvoip.com.