Four reasons why on-premise PBX will stay - for good

Four reasons why on-premise PBX will stay – for good

Many businesses have embraced digital convergence by replacing the traditional Telco supplied on-premise PBX with a digital PBX.  The positive benefits of the new features and functions of the digital business telephone system and sharply reduced call costs have proved too good to miss.  In many cases businesses have been able to reap the benefits of a digital business telephone system by moving to an external hosted solution managed by a service provider and moving away completely from the traditional Telco.  

There is a current debate going on about if it is better to use an on-premise PBX or an outsourced service provider.   There is no definitive answer, other than that for small businesses outsourced makes better economic sense, and on-premise is better for large business.

However, having said that, there is a bit of a sting on the tail, which ensures that on-premise PBX installations will still be around for many years to come.

The four main reasons are:

  1. Availability

    Availability

    Externally hosted business telephone systems are reached using a communications line, often an Internet connection.  If this line fails for any reason, then both internal and external phone services are lost.   For a digitally connected business, reliant on its connections to current and prospective customers, loss of connectivity, particularly to the call centre could be business threatening.   At the very least, if new or existing customers cannot contact the business, there will be reputational damage and lost sales.

    There are also potential problems in contacting external business partners, for example suppliers and delivery agents.

    If, in addition, internal communications within the business are disrupted because internal callers cannot contact each other, then normal day to day operations will be compromised and customer service levels adversely affected.  For example, delays in on-line order processing will knock-on to delivery delays and dissatisfied customers.

    Non-customer facing operations are also affected.   The inability to download call information from the PBX will affect the gathering of sales and marketing information.

    Some businesses have adopted a hybrid solution, where internal calls are routed over the internal business network without needing to go via the hosted PBX.

  2. Call Quality

    Call Quality

    Because hosted systems are reached over an Internet connection and managed by a third party, there is little or no control over call quality.  On-premise systems on the other hand allow you to manage call quality yourself.   Usually, on-premise networks and PBX systems prioritise data traffic, leading to higher voice quality.

    There is nothing more frustrating and irritating to callers than to have dropped and low quality calls.  Again, reputational damage.  At worst, you could note incorrect information leading to poor decision making.

  3. Safety and Security

    Safety and Security

    Many businesses requiring confidential communications are wary of hosted PBX solutions.  They fear that calls could be recorded or otherwise monitored without their knowledge and confidential information or intellectual property stolen. 

    Encryption of calls is a possibility, but this requires both ends of the call to be aware that encryption (sometimes called scrambling) is in use.  In some jurisdictions encrypting voice communications is unlawful.  In any event, with a hosted solution, the service supplier will need to implement the encryption, thereby reducing its effectiveness as a security measure.

    An on-premise solution is needed to mitigate this risk. Your information can be secured against unauthorised tampering and access. 

  4. Multimedia Integration

    Multimedia Integration

    The traditional PBX allowed businesses and customers to interact using simple voice technology.   Nowadays that isn’t enough.   Businesses want to have a fully integrated communications environment linking multimedia, social media and voice communications, often operated on a web platform.

    Larger businesses need to integrate their call centre, email and texting into their communications platform.  They also need to extract incoming and outgoing data from the PBX to develop and manage sales and marketing strategies. 

    That is only possible with an on-premise PBX.  The costs and communications requirements of using these technologies on a hosted platform are likely to be uneconomic in comparison with an on-premise solution.

Overall, while the prospect of moving to a hosted PBX solution is enticing, there are several issues that need to be carefully considered before fully outsourcing your communications platform.   On-premise PBX installations are here to stay, at least in the larger business.

3 simple tips on saving fees on International calls

3 simple tips on saving fees on International calls

The advent of Voice over IP telephony (“VoIP”) has radically changed the face of communications for both personal and business users.  It has opened up opportunities for enhanced, and substantially cheaper communications, especially for long-distance and international calls.  VoIP for Business has provided communications options that are not possible with a fixed line environment.

However, the prudent personal and business user needs to be vigilant to make the best return on their investment and achieve the lowest possible international call rates.

Here are three simple tips for personal and business users to make sure that they accrue the full benefit of cheaper international communications.

  1. Reduce Personal Costs

    Reduce Personal Costs

    Smart device apps like Skype and Whatsapp provide the ability to make essentially free international calls.  Clearly, they require a network connected to an internet service provider to operate successfully, but the spread of WiFi networks has made this much easier to manage.

    A personal user can connect from a desktop linked to a broadband service provider at home, and increasingly from a smart device attached to a home WiFi network.  You will need a high-speed connection for an acceptable video image, especially if you make group calls between several participants.

    Out in the wide world, many municipalities and malls are providing publicly accessible WiFi networks and many stores and cafes are also providing their own networks.   In theory, you can connect internationally from your smart device while sitting having a cup of coffee in your local mall.

    There is no difference between local, regional and international calls, just select the person you want to call and off you go.

    If you cannot find a WiFi service, or your smart device doesn’t support WiFi for some reason, there is a second option.  International call service providers will connect you internationally for the cost of a local call.

    Dial the service provider at local rates, enter the international number you want to call, they connect you using VoIP and you are talking.  Some even offer a video call service.  However, local telcos and cell service providers lose revenue when you use this service and some actively try to prevent you making international calls in this way by cutting off the service provider.  Enlightened ones have adopted a revenue sharing business model, but many service providers are short-lived and change their access numbers frequently.   You will need to search for service providers locally.

    VoIP can also be used to call home from overseas, but your options are much more limited, perhaps to Skype from an Internet Café.   If you have a local cell service number, you can use an international call service. Be aware the costs of using data over your home cell provider roaming service, even for Skype or Whatsapp from your smart device are very high and should be avoided.   Many users have been shocked by the size of their data bill when they come home.

    The increasing use of VoIP based call services is worrying cell service providers, since again in theory, if all the people you want to talk to are registered with Skype or Whatsapp and have decent access to WiFi, you don’t need a cellular service at all.  With Skype, you can pay a relatively modest fee and make calls to landlines.

  2. Reduce Business Costs – Improve Outbound Call Security

    Improve  Outbound Call Security

    Most VoIP for Business systems provide the capability of assigning security levels to users and user groups.  The business can assign logon PIN numbers to users and assign users to user groups to ensure that they are restricted to the type of calls they are likely to need to make during the working day.   Call logs and registers provide management information to make sure that call services are not being abused, for example by borrowing the managers phone to make an international call.

    Unauthorised international calls can be largely eliminated by using user PIN numbers and group security levels.

  3. Reduce Business Costs – Use Video Conferencing

    Use Video Conferencing

    Companies with an international presence pay a lot for international communications, particularly video-conferences.  The costs of a video-conference are usually less than bringing all the participants together, but they can be reduced further by using the power of VoIP, coupled with video to provide a video-conferencing environment.

    As an example, Skype for Business allows a meeting organiser to set up a video-conference, and email a conference id to each participant.  They then log-in using a standard browser interface and the conference id.   The meeting them proceeds using VoIP.

    More sophisticated video-conferencing environments, for example Polycom, use a similar principle to arrange conferences.  The difference is that they offer a wider range of ancillary facilities like desktop sharing, file transfer and less common video options.

Overall, VoIP will provide substantial savings in international calls. The prudent business needs to make sure that they are achieving the full benefit of VoIP.

3CX: A PBX System that doesn't break the bank

3CX: A PBX System that doesn’t break the bank

The case for moving to Voice over IP (“VoIP”) telephony is undeniable.  Cost savings, flexibility, and additional functionality are all major benefits of making the move.  However, for some organisations the cost of acquiring and installing a full-blown VoIP PBX System makes the move uneconomic.  There are alternative ways of having a VoIP PBX System that are easier on the budget, and not just by using some fancy financial footwork.

One way is to turn capital expenditure into operational expenditure by moving to a hosted PBX environment. 

In this scenario, you move your telephony to a third party who manages and maintains your PBX System on their equipment, on or off your premises. The only potential one-time costs of the move are any infrastructure upgrades and the supply of appropriate handsets.  In most cases, the handset costs can be included in the hosting charges.

A second way, is to install a software only IP PBX.   The current award winning market leader is 3CX.

Which should you choose?

3CX handsets

If you are budget constrained, then a solution like 3CX is a realistic alternative to a hardware based solution.

 In slightly more technical terms it operates to industry standard SIP and VoIP gateway protocols. It runs on-site on a standalone server or in a virtual machine environment.  It also supports an on-site or hosted cloud environment.

3CX operates on both the windows and open systems platforms, so will easily fit into your existing environment.   It supports most industry standard handsets, and with the SIP option for windows, android and iOS it can support most popular smartphones.  As an added bonus, it also supports a desktop softphone application, ideal for call centres and handsfree environments.   Want video-conferencing? 3CX supports group sessions of up to 25 participants.

The cherry on top is its ability to integrate with many popular CRM applications, Microsoft Office and Google. Many users state that the “no vendor lock-in” policy is a blessing, in that it allows users to choose virtually any handset, provided of course that it conforms to industry standards.

3CX System

How big can it get?  3CX claim to support an unlimited number of extensions.

Pricing is based around functionality and integration it will support.  If you need integrated Call/Contact Centre  or integration with more than Outlook and the Office 365 address book then the standard version is not for you. You need the Pro or Enterprise version. 

Any downsides. Not many, though some users say it is better to choose the version one up from the one you think you need.  Upgrades are costly.

The principal one-off cost is network readiness.  VoIP needs a minimum quality of network cabling, in technical terms, Category 5e or better.   Any VoIP capable network segments that do not meet this requirement will need to be upgraded or replaced.  Obviously, all places that you need a handset need a network point.  That may mean new cable runs.

The second part of network readiness is providing power to the new handsets.  This can be over the network, in which case all your network switches need to have Power Over Ethernet (“PoE”) capability.

The alternative is to have an adjacent power point for a power brick wherever you have a handset.   The two solutions are not mutually exclusive.  Part of your network could be PoE capable, and part using power bricks.  Note though that both shouldn’t be used on the same handset.

You may need to replace existing non-PoE switches or install new power circuits.

Also note that both onsite and hosted solutions need connectivity to your existing telephone system wiring for those extensions having equipment that does not support IP, for example some older fax machines, modems and alarm lines. Don’t rip the cables or frames out when installing the new IP cabling.

Service provider network audit

These costs need to be included in your budget calculations. If you are choosing a hosted solution, your service provider should be able to carry out a network audit for you and advise you of the potential cost of creating a VoIP capable environment.  

If you are going it alone with a solution like 3CX, make sure that you have considered all the potential one-off costs you might encounter.  It may be prudent to use temporary IT specialist support to prepare your network and install the solution, particularly if you are installing it in an existing virtual machine or cloud environment.

The advantage of the off-site hosted solution for the budget conscious is that instead of incurring capital expenditure in buying new equipment you are paying a monthly fee for the service.  In addition to the cash flow benefit, in some places there are also tax advantages in using operational rather than capital expenditure.  

In either case, the cost will be balanced by a substantial reduction in call charges.

Six reasons why a business should switch to VoIP in 2018

Six reasons why a business should switch to VoIP in 2018

Unless you have been living on a desert island, you will have read in the media about Voice over IP (“VoIP”) Business phone systems and knowingly or unknowingly used one.  Why doesn’t your business have one?  Does the cost put you off?  Does the technology worry you?  Does the switch from the Plain Old Telephone System (“POTS”) to a digital Business Phone System worry you?

Here are six reasons why you should switch to a VoIP Business Phone System in 2018.Continue reading

Questions to ask to your VoIP Provider

Questions to ask to your VoIP Provider

The use of VoIP phone systems is increasingly common in both the smaller and larger businesses.  The advantages and benefits provided by VoIP phone systems over traditional POTS systems are undeniable.  The business owner needs to ensure that their VoIP service provider can provide a level of service that meets their business requirements.

The wide range of services, tariff plans, bundled deals and other incentives available from potential VoIP providers ensures that a deal can be made that meets the requirements of potential Business VoIP users.  However, the potential user needs to be careful as the proposed deals may not be all they seem to be.Continue reading

When is the best time to move to VoIP?

When is the best time to move to VoIP?

The benefits of an Internet phone based communications system are well known and undeniable.  That the business will benefit from savings on phone bills, from increases in business profile, from flexibility in usage is no longer in doubt.  Having made the decision to move to VoIP , the big question is when to make the move.

Simply put, the answer is as soon as possible.  The longer you delay, the longer it will be before you accrue the cost, operational and profile benefits of a VoIP system.

When you move and how you move to a VoIP for business system will be driven by several factors.Continue reading

5 reasons to get rid of your phone lines

5 Reasons to Get Rid of Your Phone Lines

Once thing that the IP revolution has done is to reduce the dominance of the national Telcos over the communications space.  VoIP has revolutionised communications at a business and personal level.  Taken together with the increasing use of smartphones and tablets in conjunction with VoIP Phone Systems, there is no defensible reason why a business should not install a VoIP for Business phone system right now.

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6 Business benefits of using virtual numbers

6 Business benefits of using virtual numbers

A major advantage of a hosted VoIP service is that of low-cost flexibility and function.  Compared with copper-based PSTN telephony, the use of IP as a communications base allows the savvy user to capitalise on new technologies at very little additional cost, if indeed there is any additional cost at all.

Often implementation of a VoIP system in an organisation focuses on replacing the existing PSTN systems, and other useful features and functions can be overlooked or deferred till later.  As we all know, sometimes later never comes.

One easily implemented function that can be overlooked is that of Virtual Numbers.

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Identifying and defending your system from vulnerabilities

VoIP Security: Identifying and defending your system from vulnerabilities

First we had viruses, then rootkits, now we have ransomware.  One thing is certain, the next bit of malware technology is currently under development and be with us soon. Even systems like VoIP are under attack and are being used as portals to gain access to corporate information. 

What kind of threats are currently being seen in VoIP systems and how are they to be countered? 

The first thing to understand that because VoIP is based on IP technologies it is vulnerable to all the malware and attack techniques that are inflicted on IP networks.  The second is that VoIP goes over the Internet, and while you can contain and manage IP security in your internal closed corporate network, you are at the mercy of third-party service providers of varying quality in their security systems.  The third, and one often forgotten, is that all devices in the VoIP network are IP devices and are therefore vulnerable to all the threats found with other IP devices. That must be factored into the overall data and voice protection scenario.Continue reading

When and why should you choose an IP PBX Systems?

When and why should you choose an IP PBX Systems?

One of the more commonly encountered results of the digital convergence between voice and data is the IP PBX System. There are obviously costs and benefits to moving to IP telephony, and a business needs to consider if it should move to a IP PBX System and if it chooses to, when is the best time.

Typically, an IP telephony installation consists of a central PBX function and VoIP phones on user desks. Rather than dedicated cables needed for traditional non-IP systems, conversations are digitised and carried over the cabling that supports the office network.  For the very small business there is the option of a Hosted PBX system, where the IP PBX is hosted at an external service provider.Continue reading