Options for phone system
- I am looking to learn about all the new technologies for phoning. I know that some VoIP options have been discussed here. I'm interested in learning what's out there. My organization is international and has quite a few telecommuters. We are highly collaborative so voice communication is vital to what we do. We are looking to replace our phone system and are in the initial study phase. So if any of you have experiences, it would be really helpful.
Freedom from Hunger
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Uhh.. where to start... You've asked no small question. Unfortunatley, you've not given (at least) me enough to go on. Picking the right phone system is a function of many interrelated things, including number of people and what they do, calling habits and calling patterns, locations, and... not the least ... budget.
In many ways, buying a phone is like buying a car. You can buy a Ford, you can buy a Benz. You can even buy a Bentley. It's all a question of budgets and needs. You'd be poorly served by a Benz, if you need to haul, for example, bricks.
So.. Perhaps this will help. It's a short response I wrote about Voip and phone systems over on another list. It was a query about buying a new phone system for a small office (12 lawyers). It may not be apropos, but I explain some of the language and some of what I see as the main decision points. And, I talk a bit about VOIP.
I worry here that we often mix up VOIP phone service and VOIP phone systems. They are two different beasts. You don't necessarily need one to have the other, or visa versa. Let me explain:
VOIP Telephone Service -- That's the stuff that gives you dial tone. It's a connection to what's known as the PSTN (or public switched telephone network). Vonage is a VOIP service provider, for example. It delivers dial tone via an Internet connection -- and the bigger the better (bandwidth that is). You need broadband bandwidth for VOIP phone service, IMHO. You [can] connect your service provider to your phone system -- I have, for example. My phone switch is an old KSU system circa 1980.
To date, my experiences most VOIP service providers have been mixed at best. I blame my ISP ( &*^&*% Comcast bozos). My ISP is Comcast, the VOIP carrier is Vonage. I have two lines that terminate into a 3x8 (3 lines by 8 extensions) Executone KSU (key system unit). [and yes, I have a KSU at home. It's fun!] Quality is intermittent and I get lag and cut out -- usually during peak internet usage times (east coast). As well, VOIP especially doesn't seem to like wireless (cordless) phones.
Skype is another example of an VOIP service provider. Their connection to the PSTN is via Skype-Out and Skype-In. Skype is consumer product designed for individuals. while there are some Skype gateways (things that will connect a Skype line to a phone system, when I last looked most were kludges. (there is a PC based one that will bridge a single Skype account into a phone switch, for example.)
VOIP Telephone Systems - These use IP and Ethernet as the connection between a phone switch (PBX or KSU) and handsets (known as extensions). There are lots of these -- even an open source one called Asterisk (and an at-home variant called Trixbox, formerly known as Asterisk@home). Asterisk is not for the phone-illiterate, as it requires a knowledge of lots of phone lingo and concepts. Moreover, you need special hardware to hook up to the PSTN (i.e., digium cards).
The advantage is that you use Ethernet (cat5 or better) to cable your phones, management is usually via a web interface, and ACDs (adds, changes, deletes) are easy to do. Usually, for example, to move an extension (like someone moves offices) you need only unplug the phone in one office and plug it in in the other. There is no cable swapping, no re-configuring ports on your phone switch, etc. (Regular (and older) PBX's and KSUs are notoriously hard to manage and use all sorts of arcane language that only a fone-phreak could or would love). Moreover, your LAN and your VOIP switch can co-exist on the same physical network.
I personally like Nortel's BCM system. It comes in multiple sizes -- small to large to very large. The IP phones that bundle with Nortel BCM are nice because each IP phone is actually a one-port Ethernet switch. Hence, you plug the phone into the LAN Ethernet, and you plug your PC into the phone... You can mix and match digital (non IP) and IP phones, and there is a "universal inbox".. Note: my experience with every universal inbox I've seen (and that's about 4 different ones, including Cisco's) leaves much to be desired.
Ah.. the joys of just one cable...
[ One Cable to rule them all, One Cable to find them,/ One Cable to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.... ]
I think you could size a BCM small enough (and inexpensive enough) to make this workable. Perhaps a 4x16 would work, and should cost less than $6k-10K. (4x16 refers to the number of LINES (4) and the number of extensions (16))
However, my recommendation is to first SIZE your need. The usual rule of thumb is a ratio of 1:3 Three extensions for every 1 line. However, this does not hold true for small offices or for offices with intensive phone usage. You may need a 1:2 ratio -- smaller offices tend towards a 1:1 ratio (Obviously, one to two person offices usually need a 1:1 ratio). Sizing is an art .. but you can do it by just keeping an eye on the office -- about how many people are on the phone at the same time? Is it everyone, or just a few?
Once you've sized the need, then look at feature and functions you'll need. For example, Caller ID is quite nice, so is integrated PC dialing, and T1 support, and ISDN PRI support... but .. for 12 people, a PRI (unless you use it for something else) is overkill. Here, I don't know what you mean by a "hotline".. so I can't speak to that.
Finally, "cheap" and phone system are rarely used in the same sentence, except to describe quality.... just fair warning.
So, I would recommend a VOIP phone system, but I would NOT recommend VOIP service -- especially since this is a law firm, I'll bet dollars to dirigibles that most of the calling is local. Hence, the VOIP service would not be worth the headaches and quality problems. Fact is, if the calling is local, and the sizing turns up you need a 1:2 ratio, or more, I'd go with something that will take a PRI and allow you to use it for both telephone and Internet. (McLeod does this, probably others too). I'd also look for service that has no local per-call fees (ATT/SBC/ETC usually charge a message unit rate or a call setup fee of somewhere's around 5 to 9 cents per call.)
I have a small office with 10 people where we put in a BCM, with a single PRI. They have up to 24 channels for phone service (they'll never use more than 10) and when not in use, the bandwidth is used for their Internet connection. Hence, they have the equivalent of a T1 and phone service. (sizing was easy, as they rarely have more than one or two lines occupied simultaneously). The total cost of the PRI was less than the cost of 4 phone lines, 1 fax, 1 modem, and their current dedicated (static) dsl service. All in all a good deal all around.
>>I am looking to learn about all the new technologies for phoning. I know that some VoIP options have been discussed here. I'm interested in learning what's out there. My organization is international and has quite a few telecommuters. We are highly collaborative so voice communication is vital to what we do. We are looking to replace our phone system and are in the initial study phase. So if any of you have experiences, it would be really helpful.>>[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
- Hi -
We built our own. We are using Asterisk and we bought a series of Cisco "like new phones" off eBay. We also just procured a t1 line through Speakeasy and Voiceplus is handling the Voip service.
If you want more info - send me an email and I can point you in the right direction.
Oh and...I think so far I've spent...800 dollars for a 7 person/4line configuration.
Neil C. Fennessey
President and CEO
Cambridge, MA 02139
It's all about people...
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