Understanding the Power of SIP Trunking and How to Harness It to Take Your Business to the Next Level

How can a communications protocol elevate your business? Consider the impact of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) communications and its ability to lower costs and offer powerful new business applications.  These two benefits alone are accelerating the adoption of IP based technology, also known as the convergence of voice and data, on a global level regardless of the size of company.   Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) raises the bar of IP by adding intelligence to business processes and providing both users and IT departments with greater control over their communications.

SIP is an IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), internet-based protocol originally designed for call set-up and control.  According to the SIP RFC, the protocol defines how two or more end-points can negotiate to set up and control a communications connection that suits the capabilities of the devices and the needs of its users.  In simple terms, SIP supports any form of real-time communication regardless of whether the content is voice, video, instant messaging, or a collaboration application.  Additionally, SIP enables users to inform others of their status, their availability, and how they can be contacted before a communication is even initiated.

Many companies have made the transition to VoIP; however, most are only using it for communication on the LAN.  In this scenario VoIP is only being used as a one-to-one replacement for traditional telephony.  These businesses realize a sound return on investment by lowering administrative costs as well as costs associated with calls made within the company.  SIP trunking, on the other hand, provides a greater return because it takes VoIP a step further.  For instance, full potential for IP communications can be realized only when communication is taken outside of an organization’s LAN.  SIP trunks thus eliminate the need for local PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) gateways, costly BRIs (Basic Rate Interfaces) or PRIs (Primary Rate Interfaces).  Furthermore, it directly operates with existing IP PBXs so there is no need for additional hardware.
SIP trunking also offers a number of unique features that have a direct correlation on improving a company’s productivity.  These features include

  • Enhanced 911 Service
  • Disaster Recovery
  • 411 Directory Assistance
  • Interactive User Portal for setup and MAC’s
  • Multiple Location Interoperability
  • Long Distance Bundles available as well as A La Carte as needed
  • 800 Number

 

Essentially, SIP makes employees more productive, business processes more efficient, and customers more satisfied.  In today’s business world there are many communication channels, but with little or no integration between them.  This presents a guessing game for users and a problem for management.  SIP transforms communications into a single integrated tool determining how calls are handled and the manner in which they are routed.  Communication is the lifeline of every company and SIP gives users complete control.  As a result, SIP trunking has the ability to increase profitability and give businesses a competitive advantage in their marketplace.

 

Video and Telemedicine

For businesses, bringing people together face-to-face leads to advantages like improved communication, better, faster decision making and more effective team work.

In the case of telemedicine, high-quality video conferencing can save lives. Telemedicine can mean many different things, but often it involves connecting patients in small, remote clinics to specialists in large urban health care centers.

Telemedicine makes it possible for patients who need acute, chronic or emergency care to meet face-to-face with highly-trained specialists without the expense, inconvenience and delay associated with travel. Local providers perform assessments and provide care under the guidance of the specialists.

For patients, this means improved access to high-quality care. For local clinics, it means the ability to serve more patients locally and for specialists, it means being able to efficiently deliver more care to more patients from a single, centralized location.

When Renown Health (Northern Nevada’s largest integrated healthcare network) decided to implement a comprehensive telemedicine program to serve rural residents, they evaluated solutions from a number of video conferencing vendors including Cisco (Tandberg) and Polycom. In the end, Renown selected Scopia video solutions from Avaya. The result is the highly successful R-TeleMed program, currently covering 25 specialties with more on the way.

Scopia video solutions offer a number of advantages over competing solutions. Scopia video is the only option that provides HD-quality in both the data and the personal-interaction channel. For a specialist, the ability to view a diagnostic image, for example, in HD is critically important. Scopia solutions also offer important advantages in terms of security, ease-of-use and interoperability with existing systems.

You can learn more about Avaya and Renown Health’s R-TeleMed program here.

The Secret to Leveraging Mobile Devices at Work

Mobile devices like tablets, laptops and smartphones have transformed the way we communicate and share our lives, both professionally and personally.

How can you leverage this technology to your competitive advantage in today’s tough economy?

Watch the video MobileCollaboration Solutions from Avaya to learn about integrated, simple-to-deploy and easy-to-use tools to leverage mobile technology, regardless of your budget or bandwidth.

The benefits of mobile collaboration from Avaya include:

  • Flexible, adaptable and scalable solutions that create efficiencies and put critical resources at your fingertips.
  • Easy access and visibility into employee availability, keeping everyone updated.
  • Secure and quick information sharing using user-friendly, drag-and-drop functionality.
  • Predictable, solid return on investment.
  • Ability to effectively reach new customers and communicate with current clients.
  • Round-the-clock service and support so your IT team can focus on core business initiatives.

See how Avaya can find you a solution that works with your budget and helps you get ahead: http://bit.ly/101P4AL 

Simplifying Video Collaboration for Everyone (Part 1)

Avaya made a number of important announcements at the Avaya Evolutions event in San Francisco about its Unified Communications and Collaboration portfolio. The press release is available here, but the purpose of this blog is it to offer some perspective on the announcements, particularly as they relate to the Scopia® video products.  

Avaya is driving toward enabling the mobile enterprise with easy-to-use, open collaboration solutions that work anywhere, anytime.

For the sake of clarity, it makes sense to break the announcements down into two categories: unified communications (UC) and video conferencing. Avaya provides the best of both worlds when it comes to UC and video. Some of the most exciting announcements have to do with the excellent progress Avaya towards the integration of these two worlds: For example, Scopia interoperability with Avaya Aura and integration with Avaya IP Office, the Scopia Gateway,and Avaya Client Applications (ACA) for Microsoft Lync.

The reality is that most businesses today have two separate networks—newer UC SIP-based technologies and separate H.323-based video networks. The good news is that Avaya offers investment protection regardless of which migration path a customer is pursuing—whether it’s moving from video to fully integrated UC or adding video to its existing UC solution. With this in mind, here’s a recap of the news for Unified Communications, we’ll tackle video conferencing separately (for pricing and availability, refer to the press release):

Unified Communications

  • Avaya announced that Avaya Aura® Conferencing with Avaya Flare Experiencewill now incorporate video conferencing capabilities. Avaya already had video on the Avaya Desktop Video Device (ADVD), and is now expanding it to Apple iPad, Windows PCs, tablets, and smartphones. But wait… there’s more… the cost per user remains unchanged when you add video to your Avaya Aura session. We think that’s pretty cool. And because Aura is a distributed SVC-based switched architecture for very high scale video collaboration, it utilizes up to 25 percent less bandwidth than solutions from other vendors.   
  • Avaya also announced the Avaya Client Applications (ACA)with Microsoft Lync, Outlook and Office integration.  ACA basically adds an overlay to Microsoft Lync and other systems, which enables customers to use their preferred user interface while connecting various platforms for point-to-point and multipoint video as well as other applications.

In summary, Avaya is enhancing its collaboration portfolio to simplify video conferencing, making it easy for people to collaborate by video virtually anywhere, anytime, using any device and over any platform.

How to sell your management on a new IP based phone system

An Internet Protocol (IP)-based phone system is much more than a few new phones plugged into your network.
It transforms your phone system into a next-generation communications hub, complete with cutting-edge
technologies that let your organization deliver better customer service while cutting costs. An IP-based phone
system piggybacks on your IP-network, connecting to the public-switched telephone network (PSTN) via your
Internet connection. Use this checklist to sell management on a new IP-based phone system:
1. Reduce the cost of phone charges.
IP telephony can significantly reduce the cost of your long-distance charges. It also reduces the
number of circuits to the PSTN you must pay for; for companies with several branch offices, this can
be a significant savings.
2. Reduce the cost of network management.
Moving to an IP-based phone system lets you consolidate your data and voice networks onto one
network, which translates to less money and time spent on network management.
3. Provide better customer service.
An IP-based phone system can be integrated with other business applications you use to provide
customer service, particularly a customer relationship management (CRM) program.
4. Simplify phone system management.
An IP private branch exchange (PBX) has an easy-to-use, Web-based interface that can be used to
make changes to any extension on the network. Your IT team can even move and add users remotely.
5. Gain enterprise-scale features.
IP-based phone systems include sophisticated features that are otherwise out of reach for all but the
largest companies. You can add an auto-attendant, integrated conferencing, and even a call center to
your phone system.
6. Leverage new technologies.
IP telephony enables more than VoIP (Voice over IP) phone calls. It also enables advanced communications applications like unified messaging, which integrates voicemail, e-mail, and texts, and Unified
Communications (UC), which integrates real-time and non-real communication media with collaboration tools.

Figuring out Total Cost of Ownership for an IP Phone solution

For more than a decade companies large and small have been taking advantage of the new IP-based communications solutions.  Being able to unify all your communications—voice, e-mail, Internet and more—delivers a wide range of advantages. But do those advantages really put dollars on your bottom line?  What is your true total cost of ownership (TCO)?

Using years of data to collect on thousands of IP implementations, the consulting firm Nemertes has come up with some answers.

Savings —IP telephony does produce some real hard dollar savings that you can take to the bank:

  • Wiring: By making it possible to consolidate Ethernet connections, IP systems typically deliver savings of about 40% on cabling costs in new buildings. Smart use of WiFi phones can cut the costs even further.
  • Administration: As a company grows and changes, the office communications system inevitably needs some TLC, e.g., moving, adding or changing extensions. IP-based systems are much less expensive when it comes to day-to-day administration. According to Nemertes, many companies have justified their entire IP telephony rollout on administrative savings alone.
  • Conferencing: Because IP systems have the ability to route a single call to multiple destinations simultaneously, this can eliminate the need for third-party conference call services, delivering a significant savings.
  • Centralizing servers:  By centralizing servers at the data center, organizations report savings in the number of servers they need to buy, along with reduced tools and resources to manage applications such as unified messaging, conferencing, and even the communications system itself.
  • Connecting offices: If you have multiple offices, linking them via SIP trunks as opposed to traditional PRI lines can save about 40% off the monthly circuit costs, though this varies based on calling requirements and the existing architecture.
  • Mobile costs: Companies with many mobile employees eliminate roaming charges by routing mobile calls through the IP system (typically this involves first calling a local number and routing the call from the IP PBX through the corporate WAN).
  • Staff: Many companies see savings in support staff, (i.e., using the automated attendant to replace a receptionist.)

Costs—IP systems aren’t all a one way street to savings—there are some extra costs.  According to Nemertes:

  • Getting started with IP telephony takes more effort—implementation costs during the first two years run higher than with traditional communications systems.
  • LAN upgrades –If you don’t have Power-Over-Ethernet switches on your LAN, you will need to get them. IP phone deployments typically require Power-Over-Ethernet switches to function in the event of a power failure. This can be an extra cost
  • Many companies don’t budget for voice quality management and monitoring tools, which Nemertes says is a mistake. These management and monitoring tools cost more upfront, but pay for themselves in efficiencies over the long run.

Softphones: A Killer App?
A key advantage of IP systems that is increasingly coming into focus is the ability to equip employees with a softphone. A softphone essentially duplicates the capabilities of a deskphone on the screen of a PC or laptop. You get a dialpad, buttons for Hold, Conference, Transfer, etc., plus you can easily see a directory of contacts. Add a USB headset and you have everything you need to handle all your calls—no need for a phone. In addition to being less expensive than a deskphone, the softphone/headset is ideal for employees who are on the move a lot and also makes it unnecessary to upgrade LAN switches for PoE. A big variable, however, is the cost of the headset. Some companies are fine with a $20 to $100 headset; others say they can only get by with a much more expensive model.

Which Vendor: 
The Nemertes report provided some vendor-specific cost data, primarily for Avaya and Cisco, the only two companies for which it had enough data. Based on several scenarios, Nemertes found Avaya’s annualized cost savings to be consistently higher than the competition. The Nemertes study is available at: https://bitly.com/Sa8Qn4+. We recommend trying both Allworx and SNET Hosted Solutions in calculating total cost of ownership. In case you’re interested, give us a call or send us an email – and we would be happy to work with you on your solution!

More on the Cost Benefits of SIP (Lots of TLA and FLA – all defined)

Let’s try to keep this simple. Regular telephone technology – plain ordinary telephone lines and dedicated circuits are passe. All new communications technologies involve SIP – standard initialization protocol- which is the default new standard for all applications being developed. You need your equipment to be SIP compatible in order to take advantage of it- or you need to have a provider that can host your communications and their equipment has to be compatible with it.

Why is it important? Because it will save you money. You can decrease your monthly spend and get more functionality from these services. I recently came across a blog post that spelled this out. However, the post used too many three letter and four letter acronyms (hence the TLA and FLA in the title of this post). I like to speak and write in English. Yes, it’s a pet peeve of mine- I admit it. I own it. The style should not detract from the message. The message can be summed up: Various vendors (providers, service integrators, value added resellers) have used lack of end user understanding to cast doubt on the benefits of migrating services to the SIP standard. The fact is, you can calculate out your saving easily. It’s all about the math- how much can you save, how much will it cost to implement and is it worth it.

Here is the original post by David Byrd, as it appeared in Channel Partners Online on October 4, 2012. I have edited it a little (to make sure that almost all of the three letter acronyms are defined)…

“Over the last few years, there have been detractors noting that certain estimates for savings when transitioning from TDM (traditional phone services technologies like regular telephone lines, PRI circuits) to SIP have been overblown. Consequently, some companies have delayed or abandoned the effort entirely. For most small and medium sized businesses, the transition is easily monetized. It is in the enterprise space where simple VoIP supports intra-company calling may provide enough savings and optimization to preclude the effort of adding additional equipment to support SIP trunking.

The major access savings are listed as follows:

  • Per line cost: Per line cost can be reduced by 60-80%. Most SMBs purchase some type of phone line that includes a local calling area starting at $29.99 per month for a TDM line. While plans vary between different VoIP/SIP Trunk providers, this service can be as low as $10 per line per month. That is a savings of 66% with the additional 2-5% savings due to lower taxes and fees.
  • Usage/metered services cost for local inbound/outbound calling: Savings can be up to 100% as most ITSPs (Internet Telecom Service Providers)do not charge for outbound or inbound local calling.
  • Toll-free inbound calling: Toll-free calling can be as low as 2¢ per minute, depending upon volume. AT&T’s quotes a low of 5.9¢ per minute or 295% more.
  • Domestic long-distance calling: Calling within the 48 contiguous United States and Canada is widely available and from an ILEC (Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier e.g. THE PHONE COMPANY) purchased for $55 per month with Canada extra. Selected ITSPs include Canada for as low as $24.99 or a 55% savings.
  • International calling: ILEC pricing is dependent upon the selected plan and the country called. In comparing certain country terminations the savings can be 90%. Given the number of countries and rates quoted an average number is difficult to determine.

Clearly, moving to a service provider that can reduce the cost of calling by using IP communications (read: VoIP or voice over Internet protocol)  is well worth the effort. And as most ILECs evolve their networks to IP more of their customers will benefit. It is difficult for the ILECs to compete with the ITSPs since they will experience a revenue drop per customer. However, at some point the revenue drop is preferred over the loss of the customer.”

The VO- Virtual Office- Evangelist

What is keeping you or your clients from setting up a virtual office? Are you searching for the benefits and drawbacks? Here are some thoughts that I have gathered from a variety of sources and from my own experience to frame the conversation:

Work/life balance. Working from a virtual office (VO), combined with a relatively flexible work schedule often gives the employee a healthy work/life balance. Yes, I know that sounds cliché, but you get to wake up with your children, feed them breakfast, get them ready for school, and sometimes do pick-up or drop-off. Then up a flight of stairs and you’re at work. If your kids need something (and your spouse isn’t available for some reason), they know they can knock at your office door and if you’re not on the phone, they can come in for a short interlude of family time.

Why are you still in a cube? So, why aren’t more people working from home? As Dave Michels wrote in a recent CIO Collaboration post, many employees and employers don’t even pause to think if virtual office might be right for their situation. I agree with Dave that many people are missing out on a great opportunity. Many of our clients have done quite well with VO employees and perhaps this is not just because they have an open mind about these things, but because we sell many of the communications solutions that make VO successful, which brings us back to the productivity question.

Engagement. There was an excellent blog by Scott Edinger in the Harvard Business Review last month about how remote workers are as engaged if not more than those who work in the office. You should give it a read as I won’t reiterate his excellent points here, but suffice it to say that when the supervisor and employee are not in close proximity, they consciously work at their communication, resulting in more engagement. I have found regularly scheduled 1:1 meetings are crucial. I meet with all of my direct reports for at least 30 minutes every week. For the rest of my organization, I meet individually with them every other month. Sometimes we talk about work, other times about family or sports. What you talk about matters less than the fact that you are talking. Don’t make this your only opportunity to talk every week, but having time set aside makes sure you really connect.

Communication Tools. As Scott wrote in his HBR post, having the right tools are crucial to making that communication happen regularly. While you can get by with a solid audio connection, video is becoming a huge benefit for VO employees. I’m lucky in that at Prime we have a variety of tools to make working remotely successful. Here is a list of what I use (in addition to my standard desktop software):

  • iMeet video conferencing– a great tool for setting up your own personal meeting room for voice and video conferences -which also allows me to see who is on a conference call and who is speaking.
  • Plantronics CS351N headset with enough range to get to the kitchen for lunch
  • S-NET Glo-com software– for our hosted phones- we can chat securely, see who is on the phone and share one to one video.
  • Allworx Call Assistant– gives me virtual control of my office phones – just like a receptionist would have. I can see what anyone and everyone is doing.

Face Time. Another helpful tip that I’ll share is that whenever you stumble upon a colleague’s picture (LinkedInTwitter, internal sites, etc.), attach it to an Outlook Contact (see here). This way, whenever you receive an email from them, you will see their picture, making it feel more like a personal interaction. As an added bonus, when using an Avaya Flare client, those pictures transfer over, so you can see their pictures for phone calls as well.

Not for everyone. Don’t assume that a very productive employee in an office will remain so at home. VO is a great fit for experienced information workers that spend a good deal of time on the phone with others, especially if those others are geographically dispersed. If an employee is new to the role and/or need access to physical equipment or people, this won’t work. A certain discipline is needed in order to stay focused on work when there are increased distractions (family, television, video games, etc.) The individuals’ personality and work-type must match up to ensure the employee can continue to meet or exceed his/her objectives

The Office in Home Office. Yes, I know, you have a laptop, a smartphone, and a Bluetooth headset. That does not make you a one-woman-home-office. A coffee shop or your kitchen table while the kids play in the next room over will not be successful long term. Get yourself a quiet room with a door (ex. guest bedroom). The room doesn’t have to be office-only 24×7, but during work hours, nothing else should be taking place there. Besides, you don’t want to be the person on the conference call with the dog barking, or worse, “Daddy! I’m all done pooping and peeing!!” (Did I mention my Plantronics headset has a very handy mute button on it?)

Don’t forget your agents. While I have focused on my own experience as a knowledge worker using Unified Communications products, working from home is also a great option for Contact Center agents. I work with a telemarketing employee  of ours in Cleveland and I know that we value our home agents. She is more productive, works harder and better- which is the standard result for successfully deployed home agents. Kay Phelps,  has written a number of articles about these Home Agents, so please go give her a read.

In summary, if I were writing an online review of a product, I’d sum up Virtual Office as:

4OutOf5Stars Amazing, but not for everyonePros:

    • Great work/life balance
    • No commute transportation costs (gas, tolls, car, auto insurance/repairs, etc.)
    • Significantly reduced wardrobe expenses
    • No downtime needed between meetings
    • Positive environmental impact

 

Cons:

  • No after-work camaraderie over drinks
  • More self-reliance for IT and office supply needs
  • Discipline needed by the employee and those they live with

I know I’m not the only VO evangelist out there. So, let me know what you think. Living the dream? Did you try VO and it was a fail whale? Desperate to break out of your cube and into your sweatpants? Drop a note in the comments below.

 

Get Ready for Industrial Strength Wi-Fi

It started in a section of the radio spectrum known as the “garbage bands.” Then came standards, a catchy name and in 1999 Apple made it an option on its flashy new iBook computers.

Today Wi-Fi is one of the most successful examples of consumer technology invading the workplace. It’s well on the way to becoming a dominant networking protocol, on track to carrying the same amount of IP traffic as wired networks and rapidly taking its place in the mobile world. The vast majority of tablets and smartphones today are Wi-Fi ready.

Wi-Fi is also rapidly shedding its reputation as not being industrial strength. It’s actively used by military and public safety agencies in applications that demand stringent performance and security. Utilities are giving Wi-Fi a core role in smart-grid deployments. The fact that all of these agencies often have access to reserved spectrum, yet turn to Wi-Fi, is a huge endorsement. Wi-Fi’s performance, functionality, choice of interoperable devices and cost-effective pricing all remain compelling advantages

In an era of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in the workplace, WiFi’s time has come, with major enhancements poised to significantly increase how it is used:

  • Wi-Fi devices that comply with the 802.11ac standard will use the 5GHz band to achieve speeds of at least one gigabit per second.
  • For very short distances (i.e. from a laptop to external storage) the 802.11ad specification at 60GHz will allow speeds of up to seven gigabits per second, matching USB 3.0 wired speeds and potentially making many of the cables we use today unnecessary.
  • 802.11 – 2012—the first full revision of the Wi-Fi standard since 2007–promises more integration with both wired and mobile networks, holding out the holy grail of the seamless handoff from one to the other. Carriers in the U.S. welcome this as a way to use Wi-Fi to offload data traffic and even supplement coverage footprints.

As the power and utility of Wi-Fi increases, so do expectations and requirements for deploying it. For most businesses, this means implementing Wi-Fi with scalability in mind, knowing that 5GHz speeds are just around the corner. According to a recent Gartner study, by 2015, 80 percent of newly installed wireless networks will be obsolete due to a lack of proper planning. (http://forwardthinking.pcmag.com/show-reports/289313-gartner-why-enterprise-wireless-is-not-ready-for-the-mobile-explosion)

Wi-Fi deployments with just a few access points (APs) were fine when laptops were the only Wi-Fi devices in the enterprise and users were stationary. This is rapidly changing as employees increase their use of smartphones, tablets or other mobile devices designed to be used on the move and/or while conducting some task (e.g., visiting a patient). The Gartner study also found that, without out an effective plan, enterprises deploying iPads today will need 300 percent more Wi-Fi just to be effective. The demands of real time voice and video traffic will increase the pressure for scalability even more.

For more insights into getting your network into shape for the era of BYOD, take advantage of the Avaya whitepaper: “BYOD and the Wireless Revolution” at https://www.avaya.com/usa/registration/byod-and-the-wireless-revolution/

Are You Ready for a Pop-up Branch Office?

The need to have a physical office space where employees do their work has been under revision for years as more companies opt for telecommuting and home office working arrangements.

Now, this same thinking is being applied to traditional branch office expansion strategies.  Companies are now looking at what are called “pop-up” or “ultra-light” branch offices with an expected lifespan measured in months or a few years, at most.

To minimize IT costs, the pop-up branches rely on cloud services, IP-based communications solutions, mobile communications (both company- owned or BYOD), tight user authentication and security processes and remote management.

Interestingly, these branches often get Internet access via consumer and/or wireless as prices continue to decline and reliability increases.

They are also taking advantage of 802.11n-based WiFi solutions to get practical and high-performing multimedia communications. According to a recent Nemertes report, 802.11n “makes WiFi acceptable as the sole means of connectivity for laptops and desktops.”

Heightened security is critical to any pop-up branch strategy. IT will have to implement authenticated network access at a minimum, but also more robust health checks (i.e., is the device properly configured with antivirus software, firewall, etc.) and flexible virtual LAN management.

An alternative to the pop-up branch is the completely virtual branch.  Back in 2008, UMTB, Israel’s third largest bank, gave customers the virtual branch option. Those who enroll cannot get service at any of the bank’s physical branches, with the exception of using teller and ATM services for deposits and withdrawals. In return they have access to one-on-one phone support, e-mail, live online chat, extended service hours and a range of online tools to manage their interactions.  About 6,000 customers have opted for the virtual branch—not big numbers, but the bank says it is satisfied and some other Israeli financial institutions have followed suit.

For more on pop-up or ultralight branches see the full Nemertes report at nemertes.com/reports/ultralight-branch.

Avaya has also posted a wide range of source materials on BYOD and mobile strategies.  Go to http://www.avaya.com/usa/solution/mobile-collaboration