There is no debate that IP Voice installations have been on the rise, and the old complicated PBX is soon going the way of the dinosaur. This is largely due to SIP, which is the protocol that makes setting up a VoIP system a straightforward and manageable process.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Ravi Sakaria, CEO of VoicePulse, a tested SIP provider for our IP PBX, Kerio Operator. Through a provider like VoicePulse, customers are able to connect to the PSTN (public switch telephone network) and take advantage of the benefits of VoIP. Ravi shared his thoughts in an interesting Q&A:
Let’s talk big picture. What value do SIP providers offer to customers?
What a SIP provider does is make configuring IP telephony a heck of a lot more manageable for customers. It’s been a long process for the industry to get to this point. Going back several years, the driving force for VoIP was cost savings, and that is still the case. However, it was difficult to get the technology to provide the quality and reliability that is required in the business world.
The exciting part of being a SIP provider, or what I simply call a service provider, is helping start-ups compete and stay viable. When an enterprise saves money via IP telephony, that’s great, but it is often just affecting the final bottom line. However, when you are talking about a three-person shop, the cost savings is critical. Service providers allow them to compete with larger companies because they can handle calls in a more efficient way.
What does a new business, starting from scratch, need to know to get started with VoIP?
The first step in the process is choosing an IP PBX that offers the features you need for your business. I advise all my customers to think about how they use the phone, and what they need their system to be capable of before going out and purchasing an IP PBX system.
After that, make sure you have the handsets, or softphone clients, that you want to use – and make sure they are compatible with your IP PBX. With handsets, I recommend going with any of the major brands out there – they’ll be the ones that are easy to configure. The Cisco, Snom and Panasonic handsets are the brands that IP PBX vendors have already tested with.
Once you have the equipment, you’re ready to configure your IP PBX with SIP. SIP is what a company like ours provides to connect our customers with the public telephone network. Most service providers offer step-by-step configuration or in some cases auto configuration modules, so it isn’t as daunting as it may sound.
From this point you have a dial tone and can set up a test environment. You’ll want to make some in house extension-to-extension calls. That way you can understand the feature set first, and make sure the service provider is giving you the audio quality and reliability you need. In many ways, service provider vendors are interchangeable, so you can always switch vendors at this point.
The next step is to start making outbound calls. We recommend that you make outbound unidirectional calls first. At VoicePulse, we offer a free trial at this stage so our customers can test connectivity to the outside world without much risk.
After that you either port in or acquire telephone numbers and you are off and running. At this point, VoIP becomes a business product as opposed to an IT product.
Speaking of number portability, how important and how difficult is it?
It’s very important for many businesses. By the time a company is ready for a business VoIP system, its very likely that they have existing phone numbers that they really want to keep – for obvious reasons.
As far as the ease in which number portability is accomplished, we are light years from where we used to be. The regulation has gone the right way and the FCC has done a good job in making moves that are beneficial to customers. It usually takes a day or two for phone numbers to port, and in the meantime service is not interrupted. It’s a process that is greatly improved.
Have SIP service providers resolved voice quality concerns?
Customers, and for that matter service providers, should be aware of Internet connectivity and know they need decent bandwidth. With VoIP, we are providing an application over an Internet connection and you need the IP transit to be solid. However, this has become less of an issue as each year goes by and the Internet pipes gets more robust. There are also network management solutions out there to prioritize voice traffic.
The other thing to be aware of is latency over the Internet connection. Latency is the delay between audio entering the system and sound being produced. High latency is going to result in lesser audio quality and echo. This is an area where the customer is going to want to ask their provider how robust their network is. There are providers out there that have one point of presence in the world. They might have one location in New York. If you are on the other side of the country, even when making a local call, it would be routed through to New York and back. The more points of presence the faster the connection. As an example, VoicePulse has four facilities around the country to eliminate latency issues.
Can you compare SIP to T1 when connecting to the PSTN?
I get asked this question all the time. The comparison between SIP and T1 comes down to two things: costs and reliability.
There is a perception in the market place that SIP trunking is all about cost savings. It certainly is true that it allows organizations to build a more efficient infrastructure, thus lowering their monthly costs. However, when it comes to selecting a SIP service provider, the most important thing is reliability.
We use our own SIP VoIP product for almost all of the conversations we have, and we’ve also had a T1 in the office for testing for several years. I can’t tell you how many times we have had issues with the T1 line. If you really look into the reliability between the two technologies, they are very similar. Both have outages, and that is just the nature of any complex platform. Any telephony agent who touts five nines – that’s 99.999% - reliability, is not talking about the real world environment.
When customers have a T1 and they are connecting to their carrier, 99 times out of 100, whatever phone call they make is going over a VoIP connection at some point. There are hardly any conversations happening today that are not VoIP at some point. So, keep that in mind when it comes to reliability.
How equipped are IT Resellers to offer IP voice to customers?
The IT VARs are well equipped to sell VoIP. The real question is “How are service providers making it easy enough for the IT guy to sell VoIP?” It’s the service provider’s job to provide the tools to make the set-up and configuring of the IP PBX as easy as possible.
Original article available on our blog.