Monday, March 28, 2005

A Closer Look At Reselling Hosted IP PBX Services [Business VOIP Solutions]

Here's a nice article (kinda long) at PhonePlusMag.com on the current state of affairs with hosted IP PBX services. Discusses how some resellers are making the delivery model work for themselves and their customers. Also touches on the impact (or potential impact) to both resellers and customers of Level 3 Communications getting out of the hosted PBX business (full pullout/service shutdown is planned to be effective 15 June).

Now....there are frustrations and challenges for sellers and customers alike. But it appears some have some decent ideas to make things work for everyone. Read the whole article and you might see a few that'll work for you.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

ATT CallVantage Plans To Milk SBC Yahoo! User Base

AT&T Chairman and CEO Dave Dorman gave a speech to the American Enterprise Institute 24 March in which he mentioned the possibility of a merged SBC-AT&T entity harnessing the power and reach of the existing SBC Yahoo! Internet access partnership to sell AT&T’s CallVantage VoIP service.

Dorman was particularly excited about the prospect of CallVantage being marketed to Yahoo’s worldwide base of 166 million registered users.

Seems Dorman envisions a massive marketing campaign (ala Vonnage) to get into the eyes, ears, wallets and pocketbooks of every SBC Yahoo! user on the planet.

Geez....what a concept. Although Vonnage pretty much mastered that technique to create the buzz and perceived "best of show" rep they enjoy (unsupported by reality by the way). CallVantage may as well give it a try as their sales have been piddly compared to their hyped predictions when they bounded out the door not long ago.

Here's a news flash folks. Huge marketing campaigns, hype & buzz associated with them, flashy ads and such, yada yada....don't mean diddley. They don't necessarily translate to a quality product and customer service. Just emotional drivel and entertainment. Kinda like the annual Superbowl ad ritual (although I do enjoy watching some of those....I don't run right out and buy a case of Bud).

I still say you should take a serious look at Packet8...Broadvox and VoicePulse too. ESPECIALLY for business applications. Not just the quality, features, and cutomer service is better....but the pricing too.

Don't be fooled. Step back and do your homework (see the tips previously shared here at Broadband Nation). Otherwise you're just another sucker.

Too blunt? Hey....somebody has to talk straight.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Things To Consider When Selecting A VoIP Phone Provider

The following are very important factors to consider when you are selecting a VoIP/Broadband phone provider. Educate yourself and be informed before you choose.

Monthly costs: A VoIP provider can save you up to 75% or more on your telephone/long distance expenses. There are many VoIP providers out there so it will benefit you from shopping around. Unlimited flat rate calling packages can range from $19.95/month to as high as $54.95/month (per line). Usually the lower priced providers have more customers and are able to offer the service at a lower price due to a lower overhead per subscriber.

VoIP Product Features: Not all VoIP providers are created equal. VoIP offers a great value to the consumers because of the drastically reduced long distance costs as well as inexpensive local phone service with lots of enhanced features. Some providers offer more features than others. Features like Call Waiting, 3 Way Calling, etc. are usually included in the VoIP monthly cost where as the traditional phone companies will charge up to and above $5/month per feature. When shopping for a VoIP provider, be sure to compare VoIP providers by features as well as by monthly price.

Keeping Your Number: Some providers allow you to transfer (port) your current phone number to the VoIP service and some providers do not. It is not recommended to switch your home number to the VoIP service immediately. It is recommended that you try out the service and see if you are satisfied before you request that your current number be switched. Keep in mind that if you have DSL service, you must retain a phone number with the service provider of the DSL because the DSL service is provided over that telephone line. If you want to get rid of your current phone company all together, then we suggest you use a Cable Internet Service Provider.

911 Service: Most of the VoIP carriers offer E911 service, but not all. Be sure to check if the VoIP provider offers E911 because it is not a given. If the VoIP provider does not offer E911, then we suggest that you either have a cell phone or traditional landline to use in case of an emergency. (Note: It is also important to point out that if you take your VoIP phone when traveling, E911 has no way of knowing where you are when you call 911 if you are away from the registered address.)

International Calling: If you make a lot of international calls, you will want to do a lot of research on International Rates as they vary by provider. There are a few carriers that offer unlimited calling to certain countries.

Money Back Guarantee: Since VoIP is a relatively new product; most all VoIP providers will offer a free money back guarantee. Be sure to check with each provider as we have seen the money back guarantees range from a 14-day to a 30-day money back guarantee. (Note: Be sure to keep the original packaging that your equipment came in just in case you need to send it back)

This is only a short list. In fact, there are many things to consider when choosing a VoIP provider. An educated consumer generally results in a satisfied consumer. Hopefully, the above list is somewhat helpful......and at least gives you a foundation to start your search from.

Friday, March 25, 2005

What Is VoIP??

Not everyone has vulcan ears and can talk fluent Borg. Ok.....so understanding VoIP isn't THAT confusing. But for those that would like just the basics.....browse through the nice short little "Getting Started" helper at VoIP Tiki. It's as good a place as any to start or brush up on your VoIP education. Covers how does Voip work and why use it. Pretty basic stuff.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Is A T1 Connection Better Than DSL?

Is a T1 connection better than a DSL connection? A more appropriate question might be "Is a T1 connection MORE APPROPRIATE than a DSL connection. A T1 connection and DSL connection both offer bandwidth at high speed but have two factors that greatly differentiate them from one another. Those factors are price and realiability. A DSL connection has a low price and is less reliable than a T1 connection. A T1 is much more expensive than a DSL connection but is also much more reliable.

So are you looking for reliablity or price? Reliability becomes critical when customers or employees depend on your connection for immediate responses. If your customers use your connection to access your databases or your server or the internet then reliability of your connection is critical. If your employees depend on your connections because you host the e-mail server in house or host web servers, your connections is considered critical. A critical connection can be viewed much like a life line, without which your business would be negatively impacted. Your monthly savings of having a sub-par connections will not make up for the loss in productivity of your employees or loss of customers when your DSL connections gets bogged down or cut off. To reiterate, critical connections should be supported with a T1 connection.

Many customers are extremely price sensitive and cannot afford the cost of a T1 which can be as much as 20 times more expensive than a full T1 connection. Residential customers who are most sensitive to price should not consider a T1 connection unless then have a business reason to pay for such a circuit and cannot access DSL service. You may get lucky and find a T1 connection that is low cost which would give you both price and realiability but be careful. Many T1's sold for less than $5-600 are not truely dedicated circuits and are oversubcribed. In short, if price is your critical factor go with DSL. If reliability is the critical factor purchase a dedicated T1.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

VoIP News & Information Sources...A Practical Side

Voice over IP is a hot technology. Staying up on the latest Voice over IP technology news and information can be difficult. Especially on the practical side of VOIP for non-savvy home and small-business owners.

The content in the TMCNet.Com resource website is a good reference guide covering all things related to Voice Over IP including.... Voice over IP news, articles, references, FAQs, and more. It should be a great starting point to learn all about Voice over IP. Check it out for yourself and you'll see.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

T1 Internet Access For Dummies

The T1 internet access has been around for a long time but never have there been so many "flavors" available. The number of providers has jumped since deregulation in 1996 from a few dozen to several thousand. As the telecom shakedown that began in 2001 continues many of these companies are trying to stay afloat by capturing as many customers as possible with inexpensive products they claim to be T1. Don't be fooled!

Many of the desperate companies are putting together inferior products they claim are T1 products. Be leary of products with the funny titles like "burstable" and "reach". These products are oversubscribed much like a DSL product. This means the provider put's a singled T1 connnection in a CO (Central Office) and sells T1 connections to 3 or 4 customers hoping they don't all use the service at the same time. True T1 access means dedicated access to the internet and you always have access to 1.54Mbps.

Make sure your T1 product is a "clear channel" product and is not shared with other users. Also be sure you have an SLA or Service Level Agreement from your provider. A SLA will specify the access you will receive and the penalty the service provider will pay if they do not provide such service. If you need help establishing the proper SLA seek the help of a professional if you don't have one in house. It's much better to pay a small fee up front than to enter a long term contract with an inferior carrier. You can also get professional assistance free of charge by simply contacting one of the many T1 brokers on the internet. If you need more capacity than a T1 delivers than consider DS3 Bandwidth. A broker should be able to help you with that too.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

....Free VoIP Tutorials & Resources....

Just discovered this new site on VOIP Technologies & thought I'd share it here. It's called ComPointSolutions.com and includes links for tutorials, news, resources and pdf's on learning voip. Learn VOIP H.323, SIP, MGCP, RTP & IP Networking Resources.

Great for people looking to implement VOIP in their companies and Technology professionals seeking knowledge. Might even educate some of you folks looking into potential business opportunities of VoIP.

Friday, March 18, 2005

CallVantage: Only 53,000 Customers

2004 wasn't exactly a banner year for AT&T's CallVantage VoIP phone venture.

Despite plenty of marketing noise made last year, and promises they'd ""bring the technology into the mainstream," CNET reports AT&T's VoIP service CallVantage only managed to sign up 53,000 customers in 2004. When the product first emerged, BroadBandReports.com users complained that the feature set was skimpy, the TA had to be placed in front of your router, and the service price-tag was out of sync with the market.

Geez...Packet8 looks even better to me now. ;)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

VoIP Over Phone Wiring

By tying into the phone lines in your home, VoIP passes the ultimate spouse acceptance factor, because it works everywhere the old landline worked, with the added bonus of no long distance charges.

This nice practical little article at Jake Ludington's MediaBlab shares the exact in's and out's of making that happen.....in easy to understand (and do) language.

Of course...."If you still keep a landline, but want to patch in your VoIP line to the Line 2 pair (the outside two wires of your home phone box– black/yellow), you can do that too. You can either wire the red/green from the ATA to black/yellow in your [junction box], or you can plug it into any wall jack – the easiest way to do this is to buy one of those L1/L2 adaptors from Radio Shack that breaks out one phone jack into three plugs – one will be L1/L2 (normal), one will be L1 only, and one will be L2 only. Just plug the ATA into the L2 port and you won’t have to do any wiring at all."

BTW, Jake uses Vonnage as an example. Me....I still prefer Packet8. ;)

Customers Find Different VoIP Benefits

Network executives who shared voice/data convergence stories at last week's VoiceCon show described VoIP as a new kind of juggling act for IT departments, one where both technical and managerial issues must be handled delicately.

This article at Network World Fusion discusses how the reasons to converge are as varied as the businesses involved: cost savings from administration and pared-down telco bills, improved productivity, deployment flexibility and disaster-recovery capabilities are big drivers, they say. Interestingly the thorniest issues in convergence involve personnel instead of technology.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Wireless (WiFi) Networking

A wireless LAN or WLAN is a wireless local area network that uses radio waves as its carrier: the last link with the users is wireless, to give a network connection to all users in a building or campus. The backbone network usually uses cables.

WLAN is expected to continue to be an important form of connection in many business areas. The market is expected to grow as the benefits of WLAN are recognized. Frost and Sullivan estimate the WLAN market to have been 0.3 billion US dollars in 1998 and 1.6 billion dollars in 2005. So far WLANs have been installed in universities, airports, and other major public places. Decreasing costs of WLAN equipment has also brought it to many homes. However, in the UK the exhorbitant cost of using such connections has so far limited use to airports' Business Class lounges, etc. Large future markets are estimated to be in health care, corporate offices and the downtown area of major cities. New York City has even begun a pilot progam to cover all five burroughs of the city with wireless internet.

Originally WLAN hardware was so expensive that it was only used as an alternative to cabled LAN in places where cabling was difficult or impossible. Such places could be old protected buildings or classrooms, although the restricted range of the 802.11b (typically 30ft.) limits its use to smaller buildings. WLAN components are now cheap enough to be used in the home, with many being set-up so that one PC (eg parents) can be used to share an Internet connection with the whole family (whilst retaining access control at the parents' PC).

Early development included industry-specific solutions and proprietary protocols, but at the end of the 1990s these were replaced by standards, primarily the various versions of IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) (see separate articles) and HomeRF (2 Mb/s, intended for home use, unknown in the UK). An alternative ATM-like 5 GHz standardized technology, HIPERLAN, has so far not succeeded in the market and with the release of the faster 54Mb/s 802.11a standard, almost certainly never will.

The lack of default security of Wireless connections is fast becoming an issue, especially in the UK, where many Broadband (ADSL) connections are now offered together with a Wireless Basestation/ADSL Modem/firewall/Router access point. Further, many laptop PCs now have Wireless Networking built in (cf. Intel 'Centrino' campaign) thus eliminating the need for an additional plug-in (PCMCIA) card. This might even be enabled, by default, without the owner ever realising it, thus 'broadcasting' the laptop's accessibility to any computer nearby.

The use of Windows XP as the 'standard' in home PCs makes it very easy to setup a PC as a Wireless LAN 'basestation' and (using XP built in Internet Connection Sharing mode) allows all the PCs in the home to access the Internet via the 'base' PC. However lack of expertise in setting up such systems often means that your nextdoor neighbour also shares your Internet connection, sometimes without you (or they) ever realising it.

The frequency which 802.11b operates at is 2.4Ghz, which can lead to interference with many cordless phones.

There are two possible types of infrastructure: Peer-to-peer or ad-hoc mode and the so called infrastructure mode.

Peer-to-peer: This mode is a method for wireless devices to directly communicate with each other. Operating in ad-hoc mode allows wireless devices within range of each other to discover and communicate in peer-to-peer fashion without involving central access points. Typically used by two PCs to connect to one another, so that one can share the other's Internet connection for example.

Infrastructure mode: This mode of wireless networking bridges a wireless network to a wired Ethernet network. Infrastructure mode wireless also supports central connection points for WLAN clients. A wireless access point is required for infrastructure mode wireless networking, which serves as the central WLAN communication station. Typically used by a stand-alone base-station (such as a Broadband/ADSL connection box).

....Don't Pay For Your T1 Router....

With the drop in the economy since 1999 came a drop in usage of network capacity. This spells opportunity for broadband buyers. Carriers are bending over backward trying to get people to use their networks. A few years ago hardware was something you had to worry about yourself. Today, most service providers are willing to throw in a t1 router line valued between $750 to $3,000 with your new service contract. Providers have become extremely competetive and one of the ways they are trying to attract customers is by making the start-up process as simple as possible.

Service providers have tried many different methods of attracting customers and simplifying the start-up process. Credit checks have been simplified, application paperwork reduced in size, and there are increasingly higher discounts available for new customers. The free router went from a special promotion offered to increase month end sales... to becoming a standard part of the product offering. It is now the exception to the norm to find providers that do not offer a router with their service.

If you're in the market for a new T1 service be aware that you should be able to get a router with your service. If the provider does not offer this service don't be afraid to ask for it.... and if they do offer it make sure you get the best router possible. Remember, it's a buyers market and you will likely be able to add on a few "extra" when you get your new service. The best way to ensure that you aren't leaving anything on the table is use a broker who knows the service providers and knows how to get you as much as possible.

Friday, March 11, 2005

IP ENERGIZES PBX MARKET

Read this article at PhonePlusMag...and read it again.

Lots of opportunity here if you prepare & follow through.

The Converged Network - What it Really Means to Business

This white paper by Aculab tries to clear up the confusion surrounding convergence, VoIP and next generation networks. Good info & might help answer questions some of you or your companies/clients may have.

....The Future Of Telecommunications May Look Very Different....

The current "frenzy" over VoIP seems to focused mostly on BroadBand phones and their predicted replacement of landline phone calls as we know it.

But that's just the obvious action on the surface.

VoIP technology is & can be much more than that. And company R&D is gearing up in unprecedented ways to prepare for that surprising leap in expectation.

Notice I said expectation.

Seems the old business model in Telco was that whatever the companies came up with is what the consumer would take.

The companies drove the market & what was in it...including any technology "advancements" and their application, distribution, etc.

Remember.....we had dial-up internet....then DSL, cable, & satellite access. Now WiFi & soon reliable WiMax deployment.

We had high cpm PSTN / POTS residential phone calls....then we had bundled local/LD.... then flat rate LD. Now Broadband phone (VoIP).

We had bulky analog cell phones then digital/PCS, text messaging, and now sleek video cellular.

But that is old world thinking.

The reason is 2 fold....

First....VoIP technology (note I didn't say VoIP "phone") stands to afford unprecedented advancements and capabilities yet to be seen. The potential is boggling.

Second....the old business model was that whatever companies came up with consumers would accept. The companies drove what was available & came to market.

No more...now consumers are dictating to companies "we want this now come up with it".

That's a drastic change in thinking that companies must now deal with. Those that do will be better positioned to capture what markets are created by consumer demand...vice the old approach of markets being created by what companies developed and released. And the foundation of this new consumer driven demand will likely be based on VoIP (and I believe wireless) technology.

That aside, I'd really like to see what ya'll think of this shift in product development and market control to consumer "vision" vice company "idea" driven....fueled by the possibilities surrounding VoIP and wireless. We've seen....or soon will....a host of Gee Whiz break throughs & possibilities focused heavily on multi-media & data (both residential & business). What do you think the future holds?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

How To Bring Broadband Wireless Technology To Rural Neighborhoods, Cities, & Towns

Frustrated with the lack of high speed internet access in your area? Wish you could do something about it? Ever thought of starting your own WISP? Broadband Wireless Exchange Magazine has a nice little resource section that shows how to start your own wireless ISP. Look through all the links they provide and be sure to read the below listed articles. Tells you everything you need to know.

* Introduction to Broadband Wireless Technology and Its Benefits
* Do Wireless ISPs Provide a Good Return on Investment?
* How to Select a Wireless Antenna Site for Your Town
* How Much Internet Backbone Bandwidth Does My Town Need?
* How to Select the Right WISP System for Your Town
* How to Get a Wireless ISP Built in Your Town

Friday, March 04, 2005

VoIP-Blocking Telco Fined - Don't Screw with IP Phone!

Serves 'em right!!!!

The FCC has fined Madison River Communications, a North Carolina telecom holding company, $15,000 for blocking VoIP calls to its customers. Besides paying the fine, the company has agreed to refrain from blocking VoIP traffic and to institute measures to ensure that such interference won't happen again. The FCC action came after Vonage and Nuvio told the FCC that broadband providers are blocking or degrading their VoIP service. Vonage now confirms that Madison River was the broadband provider it complained about. Madison River operates four rural local exchange carriers (RLECs) in the Southeast and Midwest US.

"We saw a problem, and we acted swiftly to ensure that Internet voice service remains a viable option for consumers," outgoing FCC Chairman Michael Powell said in a statement. "The industry must adhere to certain consumer protection norms if the Internet is to remain an open platform for innovation."

For more on the FCC's action against Madison River read the CNET News.com article.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

How To Find The Right VoIP Phone For You

This review at CNET has an extensive comparison and review of a number of different VOIP carriers. It's from a May 2004 article so it's obviously a bit outdated (e.g. Packet8 has E911 now.....Broadvox has implemented the "to come" features).....but still provides some good info and resources about BroadBand Phones. Nice place to start your search.

This table at DSL Reports is updated every week from reviews shared by that Forums members (Telcom industry pros/experts/users/management/sales). These folks are pretty picky & opinionated sometimes but it will give you some interesting insights. Note that providers are only listed if a review has been submitted. So a vendor you may be looking for may not be on the list.

They also have a pretty active VoIP discussion board at DSL Reports. Look past any emotion and zero in on trends.....and factual testimonials of performance, customer support, ease of install, and pricing.

You should also look over the info at the FTC website.

Personally...... I'm partial to Packet8 myself. Although perfect for residential users with a flat rate unlimited package for $19.95 to all of the US & Canada...they're also a particularly good choice for small and medium sized businesses. Especially if the Virtual Office via Hosted PBX is a consideration.

.....Creating Your Telephony Business Plan.....

If you are in the market for a new system......this Guide at PBXinfo.com offers lots of things to consider so you make a wise choice. It's great step-by-step walkthru to help develop your Telephony Business Plan.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Tip For Those Attending The Channel Partners Conference & Expo 14-16 March In Las Vegas

Psssst.....here's a little tip for anyone planning to attend the Channel Partners Conference and Expo at the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas. While you're there I suggest you look up Patrick Oborn of Telarus. Patrick is the creator of the GeoQuote real time rate quote program which powers ShopForT1. Besides real time rate quotes for T1 in seconds, GeoQuote also enables quotes for DS3, OC3-OC192, Frame Relay, Commercial VoIP, VPN, WiFi, Co-Located Servers, Point-To-Point dedicated networks, and a bunch more. Word has it Patrick is working on some new additions to the system. Whether you're a carrier, reseller, or potential customer....networking with Patrick at the Show could put you well ahead of the rest of the field. You could position your Channel business ahead of your competition.....or find your business the exact broadband product you need at the best price available. Now THIS is a scoop.

Please don't ask me to tell you what Patrick has up his sleeve ahead of time. I'm sworn to secrecy. You'll just have to ask him yourself.

Also...besides Patrick you need to snag Daniel Pentecost of Anyion Services. When it comes to T1 service Daniel is a wealth of information with an impecable service reputation. He's also a good friend of Patrick's so you could easily be establishing business relationships with 2 very useful contacts.

Now...don't say I didn't tell you. ;)

Virtual Private Networks (VPN) 101

As the VPN market approaches maturity at a brisk pace, vendors have been forced to rethink the tradition identity of their IP Security-based technology for letting users securely access enterprise resources via the Internet. Most large companies in need of linking their offices together have done so on frame relay networks. Although frame is still a useful product many users have found that the reduced cost of VPN gives them an attractive alternative.

During the last 18-24 months, vendors have pushed VPN technology into different devices, have lessened the distinction between VPN and firewall products, and have demonstrated a strong willingness to deviate from standardized technology to meet corporate remote access requirements. VPN services now come bundled with many dedicated services and several service providers are using VPN products as a loss leader so they can sell circuits. When investigating the use of VPN products make sure you speak with a professional who can guide you through the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the product. While it is a cost reduced alternative to frame....it is a different product and should be thoroughly researched.

One of the advantages of a VPN is that internet access is not based only on the hub and spoke layout. The users away from the hub are able to access the internet through their own connection rather than going through the hub and creating a bottleneck. Users will only need to connect through the hub if they need to access information from the central database. When researching alternatives such as VPN, like always, consult with a professional and not just a salesman for a VPN company. Make sure the individual you speak with is unbiased and will give you the strengths and weaknesses of each product. I recommend ShopForVPN.com.

....Oh, What A Tangled Web We Weave....

Standard roaming agreements are one thing; high-value data, content services and cross-technology handsets muck up the reciprocal works...........

Read all about this wireless mess we could find ourselves in at PhonePlusMag.