Wednesday, March 01, 2006

VoIP PBX Solutions For Business....What To Look For

Business communications has always been a challenging arena for management....subject to cost, function, reliability, and other pressures and concerns. The emergence of VoIP technology....and specificly application to PBX systems via IP based protocols....has provided an enormous opportunity for companies to reap many benefits.

Many companies today have multiple office locations around the country or around the world. Currently, each office uses its own PBX system and inter-office phone calls are routed through the PSTN and charged long distance and international rates by carriers. Most companies also employ workers on a part time basis who work from their homes. Those workers get reimbursed for telecommunication expenses they incur while performing their duties. It just makes business sense for companies to explore alternatives to consolidate their telecommunication systems and reduce costs.

The answer.....purchase a Voice-over-IP enabled PBX system and deploy it in a Virtual Office setup.

Voice-over-IP (VoIP) is a fairly new technology for transporting voice calls over the Internet which allows users to realize substantial cost savings on long distance and international calls. Besides cost effectiveness, VoIP enabled PBX systems (or IP PBX) offer easy integration with existing telecommunications systems and are characterized with low operating costs as their upgrade is done through software updates rather than more expensive hardware replacement. Additionally, the technology simplifies the communication infrastructure (no need for separate voice and data cables) while offering high scalability.

Virtual Office models are used by companies that want to consolidate their communications, reduce costs and achieve more cohesive corporate images. To implement the model, a company has to install a single IP PBX system in its headquarters and distribute to employees IP phones or regular phones with VoIP adapters. Employees can make intra-office and inter-office phone calls through dialing PBX extensions. Such calls are routed through the Internet and are practically free. Company customers, on the other side, can dial a single inbound number plus extensions in order to reach the company's employees. The latter receive the calls on their IP/Regular Phones at any location in the world with Internet connectivity.

So what kind of a VoIP PBX solution does your business need? - a turnkey Virtual Office solution that could be customized to meet your company specific needs.

My recommendation for this solution is the highly acclaimed package from Packet8. Recently 8X8, Inc's Packet8 Virtual Office solution for small and medium sized businesses received Network Computing magazine's Editor's Choice award over competitive offerings from Covad Communications and Velocity Networks. That's some pretty stiff competition....and says a lot about Packet8's performance. The Packet8 Virtual Office solution received the highest overall rating for its rich feature set, call management tools and low subscription price.

The Packet8 Virtual Office is a cost-effective, easy-to-use alternative to traditional PBX systems that allows users anywhere in the world to be part of a VoIP-hosted virtual phone system that includes auto attendants, conference bridges, extension-to-extension dialing, business class voicemail and ring groups, in addition to a rich variety of other business telephone features normally found on high-end, premise based PBX systems. Their Virtual Office reduces an organization's telecommunications total cost of ownership (TCO) with a minimal initial investment combined with unlimited local and long distance business calling throughout the United States and Canada and Packet8's low international rates.

Now.....here's an overview of what to look for when making the business case for investment in VoIP technology for a VoIP PBX solution:

* Ways to save money for corporations.....

- Eliminate or reduce intra-office toll charges

- Avoiding service and support contracts on existing PBX hardware

- Eliminate the need for on-going Centrex services -- and charges

- Reduce expansion costs via lower costs for adds, moves and changes; lower user hardware costs

- Reduce the on-going costs for separate voice messaging systems

- Provide productivity benefits for remote and traveling workers who can be empowered with the same integrated capabilities as office workers

- Reduce user training and learning on phone and messaging systems

- Cost-effectively implement unified messaging

- Improve security

- Reduce systems downtime and improve performance

Additional benefits for call centers.....

- Virtualize call centers, allowing more flexibility in the center's configuration....either helping consolidation efforts, or providing enterprise capabilities to telecommuting call center workers

- Improve customer support services and reduce abandoned calls and call times

- Improve customer satisfaction and reduce customer turnover via improved call center services

Cost considerations....

- VoIP telecommunication hardware and software

- IP phone sets or soft phones

- Network upgrades for possible quality of service and performance upgrades

- Implementation labor and professional services

- On-going support and administration labor

- Support and maintenance contracts

- Increased support calls and potential user downtime losses on initial deployment

- IT Training

- User Training

- Write-off, write-down and disposal costs for existing telecommunication assets

Potential project risks......

- Quality of service/performance

- User training and adoption

- Administration and support skill levels and resources

- Proprietary vs. open systems interoperability

How Does The Solution Work?

Inter/Intra office calls.......

Caller A, who is located in the corporate headquarters, wants to make a call to Caller B, who is located in the corporate headquarters or in any of the company's offices worldwide.

Caller A picks up his VoIP device (IP phone, phone with adapter or softphone) and dials Caller B's extension.

The VoIP PBX server searches its internal database and obtains call routing information about Caller B The VoIP PBX server routes the call to Caller B's VoIP device.

If the destination number is unreachable, the system forwards the call to Caller B's voicemail.

As soon as Caller B picks up his VoIP device the conversation starts.

During conversation Caller A's VoIP device convert voice to digital packets and send them to Caller B's VoIP device and vice versa.

Both A and B can use traditional PBX functionality, like call on hold, caller ID, call forward, etc. Calls are free

Outbound calls.......

Caller A, who is located in the corporate headquarters, wants to make a call
to Caller B, who is a company customer.

Caller A picks up his VoIP device (IP phone, phone with adapter or softphone) and dials the customer's number.

The VoIP PBX server searches its internal database and obtains call routing
information about the VoIP carrier, who should terminate calls to Caller B's area code.

The call is routed to the VoIP carrier.

The VoIP carrier terminates the call to Caller's B number over the PSTN.

During conversation, Caller A can use traditional PBX functionality, like call on hold, caller ID, call forward, etc.

Calls are charged on time basis at pre-negotiated rates with the VoIP carrier

Inbound calls.....

Caller A, who is a company customer, wants to make a call to Caller B, who is a company employee.

Caller A picks up his phone and dials the company's central access number.

The VoIP PBX server prompts the caller to enter an extension.

Caller A dials Caller B's extension.

The VoIP PBX server searches its internal database and obtains call routing information about Caller B.

The VoIP PBX server routes the call to Caller B's VoIP device.

During conversation, Caller B can use traditional PBX functionality, like call on hold, caller ID, call forward, etc.

Calls are either free if the company uses a local access number or charged on a time basis if the company uses a toll free one.

Voice over IP (VoIP) technologies carry great promise to reduce telecommunication and networking total cost of ownership while empowering businesses with new capabilities and agility. When making your decision on deploying a Virtual Office VoIP PBX solution consider the strategic and tangible benefits as well as the costs and risks outlined above. If it all seems too overwhelming seek out the assistance of an unbiased independent advisor such as Business-VoIP-Solution

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