Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Best Way to Manage Your Phone System: Get Rid of It

By: John Shepler

What is a common denominator for all businesses? Telephones. What’s a common denominator among business phone systems? They need to be managed. Well, what if they didn’t. Would that be a load off your mind and a competitive edge for your business? It certainly could be. Let’s see why. Even more importantly, let’s see how.

More phone features, flexibility and lower costs with hosted PBX serviceThe Trouble With Desk Sets
The legacy business phone is a heavy black box full of analog circuitry and connected to the phone company its own telephone “line”. Today, the phones are lighter, some have digital circuitry, others are cordless with multiple handsets. They still have their own unique “telephone” network wiring.

When you have a single phone or a cordless set with several handsets, managing the phone system is no big deal. There’s really nothing to manage. If you’ve got a dial tone, you’re good to make and receive calls. The one thing you might add is a backup battery if the phone has an AC power adaptor. Legacy analog sets get their power right from the phone line. Newer electronic phones, especially the cordless variety, have DC power supplies that plug into the wall.

Management headaches begin when you get a number of phones shared outside lines. Sure, each phone can have its own outside line, but that gets real expensive real fast. Plus, not everybody is making outside calls at the same time. Some are calling within the company. Many are not on the phone at all.

Types of Business Phone Systems
The two most popular types of business phone systems are Key Telephone Systems (KTS) and Private Branch Exchange (PBX).

Key systems let you call between phones inside the company using only your internal telephone wiring. That’s a big advantage over independent phones because the telephone company will charge you for every call that has to go through their network. The limitation of KTS is that each line has its own button on every phone and has to be manually selected to make or receive calls. That limits the practical number of outside lines to typically 4 or 6.

Private Branch Exchanges are little phone company switches within your business. You can still make internal calls through the PBX without using an outside line. The PBX system manages a pool of outside lines that are shared among all the phones in the system. The number of lines you need depends on what percentage of employees are making or taking calls from outside the company at the same time. A dozen lines can often serve dozens of users.

Why Get Rid of Your Phone System
Someone in the company, and it may be you, is responsible for telephone expenses. These include local and long distance charges, the cost of purchasing and maintaining the phone system, plus moves, adds and changes to your telephone assets.

The cost of “moves, adds and changes” comes from the fact that each phone has a dedicated line that goes to the KTS or PBX. The connection tells the system which phone is picked up or needs to ring. If you want to move a phone to another desk, you have to also move the connection in the phone wiring or reprogram the system so that it knows the new location. Otherwise employees have to change phone numbers every time they are relocated. Add a phone? You’ll need to add a phone jack at that location and a line back to the system.

The larger the company, the more phones there are, the more phone wiring there is to wrangle and the more expensive the phone system becomes. Worse, if your company grows beyond the capacity of your system, you’ll have to upgrade it if possible or rip it out and put in a new one if not. At some point the technology will become obsolete and it will get really pricey or impossible to keep the beast running. Then you are looking at a major capital investment.

How to Get Out of the Phone Business
Whatever business you are in, it is probably not the telephone business. You simply need those phones to get your job done. Even call centers are focused on the services being provided and not the telephone equipment itself.

What if you could just buy or rent the telephone sets as you need them, plug them into your existing computer network and let somebody else worry about buying and maintaining all that expensive switching equipment?

You can with a service called Hosted PBX or Hosted VoIP. Both mean the same thing. VoIP is the technology that turns telephone sets into network peripherals. Like all computers, the phones have their own internal address on the network. They can be plugged into any network jack and will work just fine. No need to change any wiring.

There is no KTS or PBX on your premises. A much larger “Cloud” system is located at the service provider’s data center. All you have on-site are telephone sets called SIP Phones and a special router or call controller to direct phone calls to the provider. You no longer need outside lines to the phone company. Instead, you have a digital SIP Trunk that connects your location to the provider.

The Pay as You Go Advantage
What’s happened is that you have traded a large initial investment in a phone system and the ongoing costs to maintain it and make changes for a simple “cost per seat” for each phone. Some providers include all new SIP phones when you sign up for service. They’ll send more when you expand the business. No need to pay up-front for phones and lines that will sit unused until you need them. If you need to downsize at some point, you return the phones and stop paying for the ones you no longer need.

Advanced Features
Chances are that your existing business phone system doesn’t have the ability to include smartphones or integrate with computers for efficient call center operations. You many not even have the functionality to support auto attendants or hunt groups for multiple agents for your call center. The hosted system will not only have many more advanced features that what you probably have now, but will be kept up to date as new features are offered. You never have to upgrade your phone “system” because the system is provided for you in the cloud.

Are you feeling limited by the functionality, inflexibility or high costs of your current phone system. Before paying a small fortune to upgrade your in-house equipment, take a closer look at Cloud Hosted PBX Business Telephone Service.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Software Defined Network Comes to Austin

By: John Shepler

The Software Defined Network (SDN) has been one of those nebulous concepts that is coming someday to do something better than current IT technology. Well, that day has arrived and here’s what SDN is going to do for your company.

Austin Texas at nightWhy Software?
Like software everything, the software defined network is intended to replace fixed hardware functions with reprogrammable software. It’s not really a simplification process. The hardware may be more generic, like microprocessors and digital signal processors, but if you include the lines of code, the component count shoots through the roof. The beauty of software is that all those “soft” parts can be replicated instantly at little or no cost. Even more importantly, software can be changed from afar as needed.

The Idea of Virtualization
You’ve probably run into virtualization in the IT racks. Not that long ago, a server was a stand-alone computer with its own operating system and software load. Each server had a designated function. If it was overloaded, you needed to buy a more powerful computer and swap out the boxes. If the application wasn’t that demanding, the server would loaf along most of the time.

In this type of environment everything needs to be planned up-front and changes are time consuming and sometimes expensive. There’s also a poor utilization of resources. You may need a lot of lightly loaded servers all cooking in the racks in order to run your myriad of business applications.

Virtualization changes all that. The server is no longer a hardware appliance but a software function running on one or more processors. The computer hardware might not look much different, but what used to be one server may now be a dozen running on the same box. Huge applications might span several boxes to get the job done. It’s just a matter of how much in the way of resources an application needs.

Some of what virtualization has accomplished is to reduce the number of physical computers needed since each box is running at a higher capacity. Even more important, a new virtualized server can be installed in minutes since it is simply a software “instance” running on the hardware already in the racks. Don’t need a server anymore? Simply have the software release the resources back into the pool. You don’t even have to set foot in the data center to make this all happen.

Does this sound like “The Cloud”? Virtualization on a huge scale is the magic behind cloud data centers and cloud services.

Virtualization for the WAN
Now consider your telecommunications network connections. Like all hardware based approaches, there are many specialized functions implemented by very specific equipment cards and boxes. Some are in the central office, some in the network path and some at the customers premises. It takes a long time to provision a new service and get everything wired up correctly so that you get the service you pay for and don’t interfere with others or have them interfere with you. The term “nailed up” goes back to the days when physical copper wires were literally nailed up on a board while they were assigned to a particular customer.

If you’ve ever tried to upgrade service, you know what a pain it can be. You need to submit a new order that needs to be processed. The changes to the network for your extra bandwidth have to be engineered. Then a truck has to roll to your location delivering a CPE (Customer Premises Equipment) box with the proper interface for the new service. Bandwidth is typically available in major increments and you better get your order placed well in advance of running out of current capacity.

Now, what if the network could be virtualized like the servers? The hardware becomes more of a life support system for the software. That software can be changed, upgraded or supplemented at will. All of a sudden, network changes become fast and easy. That’s the software defined network.

What AT&T is Doing in Austin
AT&T is launching its software defined network in Austin, Texas with the moniker AT&T Network on Demand. That’s pretty much what it’s all about. Businesses will be able to increase or decrease the bandwidth of their broadband speeds in near real time. In olden days (before SDN) this could take hours maybe days in the case of Ethernet services or weeks or longer for legacy SONET and T-Carrier.

The Carrier Ethernet services over copper and fiber that have appeared on the scene recently were engineered with more of the software defined network idea in place. One of their bragging points is that you can usually get a bandwidth increase by simply calling your service provider and making the request over the phone. No need to keep watching out the window for the service truck to roll in. As long as you have enough port capacity, the carrier will make the changes “invisibly” while you are doing other things.

In fact AT&T’s SDN will let them provision new communication ports in days compared to weeks. That’s an extension of the software-defined philosophy that separates physical hardware from software. Once again, as long as the installed hardware has the capability of handling the demands placed on it, what it does is really a function of software parameters and apps. Look for this approach to expand rapidly throughout the industry. It will be a matter of competitiveness among the communication carriers and other service providers.

Are you limited by your current MAN or WAN network capability? The service offerings are changing fast. Chances are that you can get more capacity and flexibility without a cost increase with MAN and WAN Network Services available now.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

Note: Photo of Austin, Texas at night courtesy of Daniel Mayer on Wikimedia Commons.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The 3 Types of VoIP Lines for Business

By: John Shepler

Businesses large and small have been migrating to VoIP telephone technology for years now. Some are delighted with the move and have never look back. Others feel like they’ve lost something in the way of performance. The calls are often muddled and it’s hard to carry on a two way conversation. Would you believe that its the exact same technology involved? Why is it that VoIP telephony can range from excellent to unacceptable? Let’s take a look.

Check out the range of VoIP options for your business.What’s VoIP
VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol is a means to convert telephones into computer peripherals. The reason to do that is both to save money and enable applications that just won’t work on the old style telephone network. Network voice is a powerful tool, but can more easily be degraded that simpler analog phones.

Old School Phone Systems
Business phone lines are sometimes called POTS for Plain Old Telephone Service. They consist of twisted copper pair wires that run directly from the phone set all the way to the telephone company. Each phone has its own set of wires. Once you get more than a few phones, however, you face a mounting phone bill since the telco charges you to make internal as well as external calls.

Companies get around this by installing their own phone switches. Small systems use Key Telephone Systems where multiple outside lines are available on each phone but you can also call within the building on your own wiring. Larger companies install PBX (Private Branch Exchange) switches that manage a pool of outside lines that can be assigned to any phone as needed.

If you only have a couple of phones, each with their own line, the phone company takes care of all the switching for you. With many phones, you become your own little phone company for inside calls. That means you have to take care of all the special phone wiring and the Key or PBX switching equipment. Plus, you have to pay for multiple outside analog lines or a digital PRI trunk to get to the public telephone system.

How VoIP is Different
With VoIP, each phone plugs into your company LAN. That gets rid of the second special phone network. You still need something to switch the calls between phones. This can be a VoIP PBX or IP PBX that you have in-house. It can also be a much larger hosted PBX system from a hosted VoIP service provider. Hosted means that a specialized company “hosts” or run the system. You are one of many clients that they host. It’s pretty much like buying web hosting. You simply pay by the month for service instead of having to install and maintain your own equipment.

VoIP Phone Line Needs
All VoIP phones connect to a local network. This can be a small home office network that has only a computer, WiFi router, VoIP phone adaptor (for a regular phone) and broadband modem. Or, it can be an extensive corporate LAN that is bridged into multiple business locations nationwide and even overseas. The principles and the requirements for high quality performance are the same.

Since the network is shared with many phones and other computing devices, it take some doing to make sure that you get high performance. With dedicated analog lines, that’s the phone company’s problem. With VoIP, it’s now your IT problem.

What’s needed is plenty of bandwidth to accommodate all the phones and other devices. But that’s not enough. You need to give the voice packets priority over data because phone calls will start sounding muddled and choppy long before you notice that the file is loading slower. The network also needs low latency, packet loss and jitter to be transparent to the packets carrying the VoIP digitized phone conversations.

3 Types of VoIP Phone Lines
All analog phone lines are alike. All ISDN PRI trunks are alike. VoIP phone lines can be quite different. They range from Internet VoIP to SIP Trunks to MPLS private networks.

Using the Internet as Your Phone LIne
The low end of the market, which keeps costs low for home offices and small businesses, uses a broadband Internet service to connect to the VoIP service provider. You can share your broadband connection with a couple of computers, a WiFi router, and a few VoIP phones. You’ll need a router that creates CoS (Class of Service) to prioritize the phones or the computers will interfere with your calls. Sometimes the service provider will give you an adaptor that does this.

The advantage of using the Internet as a phone line is that it’s cheap. You probably already have broadband for your computer. The lure is to save money by “eliminating the separate phone line.” The downside is that the Internet was never designed for telephony. It was intended to reliably transport data files. There is no prioritization of voice on the Internet and most access lines, like DSL, Cable, Satellite and Cellular, are shared broadband. It’s a cost vs performance tradeoff. You may find that some calls sound perfect but others break up or sound muddled. It all depends on what else is happening on the Internet while you are making your call.

One way to improve Internet VoIP is to use a dedicated Internet access (DIA) like T1 or Ethernet over Copper. This keeps your neighbors from disrupting your calls while they download large video and software programs, but you are still subject to network congestion on the Internet itself.

Private Line VoIP Service
Companies that depend on high quality phone service for customer support and employee productivity usually sidestep the Internet in favor of something more predictable. The outside line that compares most closely to the legacy analog and PRI lines is the SIP Trunk. This is a digital broadband line, but it is a private line that is not shared with others. It’s called a SIP trunk because it supports SIP or Session Initiation Protocol, the switching system for VoIP calls.

A simple SIP trunk is a T1 line that runs from your network to your service provider. It supports up to a couple dozen simultaneous phone conversations or a combination of phone calls and Internet. The Internet service has a lower priority than the phone calls and uses whatever bandwidth isn’t needed for the phones at any given time. Smaller companies that don’t have dozens of phones find this is a great cost saver compared to maintaining separate phone and broadband lines.

Larger SIP trunks are also available for bigger companies or call centers. Both copper and fiber optic bandwidth is available to support as many calls as you need.

Voice over MPLS Networks
Major corporations generally have many business sites located around the country and even in other countries. They still want any employee to easily call any other employee without paying long distance toll charges. They also need to make outside calls to anyone with a phone.

A sophisticated solution is called VoMPLS or Voice over MPLS networks. MPLS is a private network arrangement with a regional, national or international service footprint. The network operator ensures that each paying customer has the necessary Class of Service, bandwidth and low latency, packet loss and jitter that they need for high performance.

VoMPLS works a lot like VoIP using SIP Trunks. The difference is that instead of having to run dedicated private lines among all your locations, you simply need an access line from each location to the MPLS network. This can give you a major cost savings, especially on those long international connections, while maintaining high network performance.

Are you in search of a better telephone solution, to reduce costs, increase available features or both? If so, there are VoIP telephone solutions you should take a close look at.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Benefits of Migrating From T1 to Fiber

By: John Shepler

If you’ve been using T1 lines for years, maybe decades, you know how solid and reliable they are. Your natural inclination is to stick with what’s working. After all, why mess with success? You should know that there are really good reasons to do just that.

Moving up in bandwidth beyond T1 linesWhat’s So Great About T1 Lines?
The appeal of T1 lies in its design and technical maturity. T-Carrier technology, which includes T1, E1 and T3 (DS3) line services, was developed in the mid-twentieth century for long distance telephone trunking to replace noisy analog carriers. Being digital, it was easy to expand the role of T1 lines to carrying packets as well as PCM audio telephone calls.

T1 Service Characteristics
T1 lines come into your building on one or two twisted copper pair using the same wires that carry multi-line telephone. This means that you can get T1 just about anywhere you can get regular POTS phone service. The service is symmetrical, meaning that upload and download speed are the same. There are no usage limits. Whatever you can load on the line during the month, you can transport. This is a dedicated private line, meaning you are the only user and security is high. So, with all that going for T1, why would you want to make a change?

Time Marches On
The 1.5 Mbps bandwidth of T1 was more than enough for business users… once upon a time. Today, 1.5 Mbps is still enough for credit card verification, email, casual Web browsing, and backup for small computer systems. It’s not a bad choice for small retail operations and offices, especially in rural ares where other bandwidth services are hard to come by.

Most users are used to higher bandwidths now, even on their smartphones. They expect faster response and really need it to efficiently do their jobs. That’s OK. You can get higher bandwidth from T1 lines. It’s done by bonding two or more together to make one large pipe. The size of that bandwidth pipe ranges from 3 Mbps on up to about 10 or 12 Mbps. If you need more than that, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

How About T3/DS3?
A faster version of T1 is T3, also known as DS3. The terms T3 and DS3 generally mean the same thing, although, strictly speaking, T3 refers to the physical line and DS3 is the organization of the data.

T3/DS3 isn’t just a little faster than T1, it’s a lot faster at 45 Mbps. This is more than enough for most small operations and many medium size companies. That makes T3/DS3 the logical upgrade from T1, right?

Yes and no. T3/DS3 is, indeed, a popular line service. It’s available in many business locations, but not nearly as many as T1. That’s because T3 doesn’t use twisted copper pair wiring. It’s provisioned on a pair of coaxial cables. That’s only for the last few hundred feet at most. T3/DS3 is transported primarily by fiber optics. If the fiber passes near your location, you may be able to get T3/DS3. If not, you’ll need to stick with copper.

The Ethernet over Copper Option
A newer technology than T1 is called EoC or Ethernet over Copper. This never was a a telephone company product. It’s an extension of the LAN Ethernet protocol for metro connections. Whatever goes on your LAN can be carried by EoC.

The big advantage of Ethernet over Copper is that it uses the same twisted copper pair as T1 lines. A more advanced modulation scheme allows EoC to offer speeds ranging from 3 Mbps on up to 50 Mbps, sometimes higher. The tradeoff is that the farther you are from the provider office, the less bandwidth is available. EoC is quite popular in the 10 and 20 Mbps bandwidths.

Moving Up to Fiber
Carrier Ethernet is available over fiber as well as copper. This is called EoF or Ethernet over Fiber. Once you move up to fiber, the bandwidth limitations disappear. Fiber optic service typically starts at 10 Mbps, with 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps as popular service levels. Some companies and now requiring 10 Gbps EoC, which is more and more available.

You may already know that fiber optic service comes in two protocols: SONET and Ethernet over Fiber. SONET is an older service that is the fiber optic extension of T-Carrier. DS/T3 is generally transported to the curb over a SONET service.

Choosing Ethernet vs SONET
SONET fiber services typically range from OC3 at 155 Mbps on up to OC-192 at 10 Gbps, although higher bandwidths are available. The increments are 155 Mbps, 622 Mbps, 1.2 Gbps, 2.4 Gbps and 10 Gbps.

Carrier Ethernet works differently. There aren’t large increments in bandwidth. You can pretty much specify the bandwidth you want in the 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps range. Popular service levels are 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps. You’ll recognize these as standard Ethernet LAN speeds.

Ethernet over Fiber is not only much more scalable than SONET, it is generally less expensive. The cost difference can be dramatic in some locations. You may pay half or less for EoF as you would for SONET. You’ll still get highly reliable professional grade service with low latency, jitter and packet loss.

Are you feeling stymied by the limitations of your old T1 lines? Now may be the perfect time to migrate your connectivity to Ethernet over Fiber at a lower cost than you might expect. You’ll also be laying the groundwork for future expansion, with higher bandwidth levels quickly available as you need them.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Friday, September 05, 2014

Acquiring Studio Quality ISDN BRI Audio Lines

By: John Shepler

ISDN BRI has been the gold standard for audio connections between studios, film production companies, and radio station broadcast locations. One problem is that ISDN BRI service has been getting more expensive and harder to find as of late. In some areas, the old faithful telephone companies have simply refused to provision new ISDN BRI lines. Does that mean you are out of luck for your voice over work or remote broadcasts? Not anymore.

Find ISDN BRI service now.New BRI Service, Not Telco
What’s new is the arrival of a nationwide ISDN BRI line service provided by a company in the audio production business, not the telephone companies. Truth be told, ISDN BRI isn’t a very important service for telcos. It has very specialized uses. Phone companies would really like to phase it out so they can concentrate on higher volume products. In some areas, they are already not accepting orders for moves, adds or changes.

Alternative Approaches
So where does that leave people who’s livelihood depends on high quality audio service connections? One approach is to record the program material and then transport it as you would any other file using the Internet. That’s preserves the quality but is hardly real-time. Another approach is to go with the flow and move to IP network services. These include private lines and the Internet. Private lines give you the quality and immediacy you need, but only go between designated locations. The Internet can be found everywhere, but performance for real-time audio can leave a lot to be desired.

ISDN BRI Still Best
The best option is to stick with a winner, ISDN BRI, but get the service from a nationwide provider, not the local phone company. Source Elements, a major player in the professional audio field, is now offering ISDN BRI service as a complement to their IP Audio and other services.

ISDN BRI is so desirable because it provides an industry accepted method of connecting live audio at high quality between any two facilities that are set up for the service. It’s a dial-up service that works something like your POTS phone line. You dial the ISDN number of the location you want to connect with. Terminal equipment at each end make the connection and you have an FM broadcast quality link for the duration of the call.

BRI For Voice Acting
A very popular use for iSDN BRI is in the voice acting or voiceover business. Professional announcers and actors can voice their lines without having to be present in the recording studio. This includes ADR or “looping” for film recording. What’s required is an ISDN BRI connection at each end along with a CODEC (CODer/DECoder) to handle to analog to digital to analog conversions. Standard microphones and control boards can generate the audio feed to the CODEC.

How It Works
You might think of ISDN BRI as a really high quality phone line. In fact, it is. ISDN stands for Integrated Services Data Network. It uses the switched circuit architecture of the public telephone system and standard twisted pair telephone wiring. Each ISDN line has a telephone number that can be called by any other ISDN line.

What’s different is the signal being transported. Instead of analog currents, ISDN is a digital format. There are two versions: BRI and PRI. BRI stands for Basic Rate Interface. It consists of 2 “B” or bearer channels and one “D” or delta channel. The bearer channels carry the digital audio. The D channel is used for system signaling. The bearer channels can be used separately at 64 Kbps each or bonded together for a 128 Kbps channel. Two bonded channels plus compression such as AAC or MP3 delivers studio quality microphone vocals.

Bidirectional and Low Latency
It should be noted that ISDN circuits are bi-directional. That’s a big selling point for audio work. A voice actor can be delivering lines through a microphone and receiving direction from the studio through headphones without the disturbing latency or time delay that plagues Internet services. ISDN is not a shared bandwidth service, so there is no such thing as network congestion causing dropouts in the signal.

You might recognize ISDNs larger service, PRI or Primary Rate Interface, as the telephone trunking standard used by many PBX business telephone systems. It is organized the same as BRI, but has 23 B channels and one D channel to support 23 simultaneous telephone calls. PRI is likely to be around for many years to come, although it is being challenged by SIP Trunks as a telephone transport technology.

How to Acquire New ISDN BRI Service
Do you have an audio application such as having a voiceover or voice acting business, a radio station with need for high quality remote broadcasts or studio to transmitter link, or a production studio that needs to connect with talent and other studios? If so, ISDN BRI may still be your connection of choice. Get a quote on competitive ISDN BRI service for your particular location now.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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