Outsource Your Phone System - Page 2

By Gerry Blackwell | Posted June 05, 2008

Free Inter-office Long Distance

Hosted PBX solutions offer one enormous cost benefit, which in Integrus’s case delivered most of the economic advantage over on-premise solutions. Calling between a company’s offices is typically toll free because calls stay on the provider’s private IP network.

A large part of any multi-office company’s long distance bill is for calls between offices – about 50 percent on average in fact, said A.J. Byers, senior vice president of business services at Primus Canada. “So it’s just in the nature of hosted IP services that right away, you’re reducing your long distance [costs] by about 50 percent,” Byers said.

Integrus has three offices, the one near Toronto, one in Montreal and a new one in Vancouver which it was just in the process of opening up. “There was already a lot of calling between Montreal and Toronto,” Aniballi said. “And we were anticipating a high volume [of calls] to and from Vancouver.”

Avoiding those additional long distance charges was a big inducement to go with a hosted IP solution.

Direct cost savings were not the only significant benefits, though. Integrus now has one integrated phone system for all three offices. To call a colleague in another office, employees only have to dial the four-digit extension, as if they were in the same office. And a receptionist at headquarters can see all calls on the network on her computer screen and can transfer calls to one office to an employee in another.

The capability to collect voice mails as e-mails and for mobile workers to make calls from anywhere they have an Internet connection using the softphone feature also helps increase employee productivity, Aniballi said.

Host with the Most

At least some of these benefits would be available from any hosted IP PBX service, but not all are created equal. Primus Canada’s approach of using a dedicated connection between its data center and clients’ premises makes for more reliable voice connections, it said. (The company also offers a service for smaller offices that uses a less-expensive dedicated DSL connection instead of a full T-1.)

Voice traffic travels over the dedicated link as digital data from the phone sets at Integrus to the IP PBX at Primus, then out through digital-analog gateways on to the public switched telephone network (PSTN).

Other providers use the customer’s high-speed Internet connection to carry voice traffic, so phone calls share bandwidth with computer data and travel to the provider’s facility over the often congested public Internet. This is similar to the way consumer VoIP providers such as Vonage work. It makes it difficult to ensure high-quality voice connections, Primus said.

Vonage in fact also offers a hosted PBX service, which Integrus considered. “We didn’t have a high degree of confidence that Vonage understood the telephony needs of an enterprise,” Aniballi said of his firm’s decision. It preferred Primus in part precisely because it did offer greater reliability with a dedicated connection.

More Reliable

For Integrus, Primus engineered even more reliability by building in a fail-over mechanism that, in the event the voice line goes down, automatically transfers voice traffic onto a second T-1 the firm normally uses only for data.

Primus managed the entire implementation process. There were only “minor problems,” Aniballi said. The most vexing had to do with getting the auto attendant working the way the firm wanted. Those arose in part because of his own inexperience at designing IVR (interactive voice response) menu systems, he said.

The firm ran both the new system and the old Nortel/Bell Canada system in parallel for four weeks. “Primus wanted to make sure we didn’t run into any downtime [before cutting over to the new system],” Aniballi explained. “But, plus or minus a few hiccups, most of our people were off the Bell lines within a day or two.”

There was some slight resistance from employees to the idea of using supposedly less reliable IP telephone technology – some tended to be hyper-critical of the technology in the early going, and Aniballi figures the firm is still not getting everything it could out of the new system.

Bottom Line

But in this case, with this provider, a hosted IP PBX is delivering solid, reliable phone service, as well as substantial cost savings and productivity benefits. If you’re in the market for a new phone system but don’t have capital to invest or in-house IT or telecom expertise, and you want the advantages of IP telephony, this may be a good option for you.

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s.

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