Monday, November 30, 2009

Telarus And XO Communications Event In Salt Lake City

The XO/Telarus Partner for Success Luncheon held on October 29 was tremendous. All of the major agents and VARs in the Salt Lake area were there, in one room, to hear from: Richard Gannon (Channel Manager of XO), Tom Gorey (National Sales Manager of XO), Paul Skolmoski (Senior Sales Engineer of SLC or XO), and Adam Edwards (President of Telarus). We learned that XO has more outbound IP traffic from Salt Lake City than any other carrier. We also learned that XO has more lit buildings in Salt Lake than any other carrier. It was clear to everyone in the room that:

1) if you do carrier business in Utah, you've got to have XO in your arsenal

2) Telarus makes quoting XO a snap

Some of the people who came already sold for XO through another master or through direct contracts, but that didn't stop us from offering them a better alternative. XO even went so far as to recommend to some of their direct agents that they join forces with Telarus ASAP.

To top off the 1-hour meeting (a new record for brevity), Phil Chandler, Local Channel Manager of SLC for XO, offered 2 Row-3 VIP tickets to the Jazz game to the first new agent who joins Telarus and submits an order for XO. The palm pilots came out and the new guys buzzed with activity. Those tickets were almost as popular as the 55" LCD TV that we raffled off to one lucky agent! (He was shaking he was so happy!!!)

I really look forward to more "in market" mini-trade shows. If you'd like us to come to your town, let us know. We're actively planning our 2010 calendar now!

If you'd like to learn more about becoming a Telarus Agent or VAR go to:

Telarus Agent Program

Or ......

Telarus VAR Partner Program

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Medical Imaging Transmission Bandwidth Solutions

A Picture Archiving and Communications System (PACS) is integral to the smooth, timely, and quality delivery of health care in every medical setting today. However, PACS have long faced challenges in delivering this digital imaging support. The main issue has always been the availability of sufficient bandwidth (load and speed).....at a reasonable cost.....to support the growing demand for quick easy web-based access by medical providers. Enter the digital solution.

For more read the rest of the article here:

Medical Imaging Transmission Bandwidth

Medical images, such as those generated by Teleradiology equipment, have large file sizes due to high resolution. Rapid transmission between hospitals and medical centers requires high availability, high bandwidth telecommunication services. For smaller offices or infrequent use, a T1 data line or bonded T1 lines might suffice. For medium and larger facilities, DS3, Fast Ethernet and OCx fiber optic services are recommended

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Applications For DS3 Bandwidth

Given the bandwidth intensive applications currently present today in most companies .... DS3 bandwidth is a logical choice for an upgrade or new install of a voice/data network for your company. DS3 bandwidth delivers the speed, reliability, scalability, and performance companies need to do business ... without potential worries whether their applications will run when and as needed ... possibly impacting their bottom line.

To illustrate you need to understand just what DS3 lines deliver compared to the the lesser T1 circuit.

A typical T1 circuit is only 1.5 megabits per second. A typical digital 3 minute song is 3 megaBYTES or 24 megabits in size. A typical digital photo is about 2 megaBYTES or 16 megabits. The typical Power Point presentation is 10 megaBYTES in size or 80 megabits. If 3 or more people in the office were to email a power point presentation at the same time the office internet connection would slow to a crawl for 3 or more minutes. This does not take into account all the spam email clogging up your Internet connection while attempting to reach your mail server. Nor does it take into account many other new bandwidth hogging applications that others in the office are using such as monitoring their nanny cam at home, watching MarketWatch , CNN streaming video channels, or uploading a photo album to a relative. Everyday there are new bandwidth intensive applications being developed for the Internet.

It's obvious that the common T1 connection can't handle this growth. Your best option is to research application of a DS3 bandwidth solution.

A DS3 (sometimes referred to as a T3 or E3) is a leased private dedicated line that goes directly from your office to an Internet Service Provider (ISP). A T3/DS3 connection is equivalent to 28 T1/DS1 connections and uses digital signals on fiber-optic cable at speeds of 45 million bps (bits per second) or 44.736 megabits per second. Generally this type of dedicated line is for 50-100+ users and/or high bandwidth applications. T3/DS3 connections can also be used for point to point access (direct connection between 2 business sites).

As a standard used in the North American and Japanese marketplaces, a DS3 can handle 672, 64Kbps voice conversations or one video data channel. The DS3 line has enough bandwidth to transmit full-motion real-time videos and very large databases over a busy network. Generally a DS3 line would be installed as a major networking channel for a large corporation, research facility, call center, or university with high volume network traffic. But there are multiple smaller scale business uses also .... particularly when multiple locations are involved. Bandwidth for a Fractional DS3, up to a full DS3, generally run at speeds between 6 Mbps through 45 Mbps.

DS3 connection (or T3 connection), is great for companies with large bandwidth needs. It is especially useful as the backbone for Disaster Recovery systems. If your company needs computer access for 50 + users, or needs to run high bandwidth applications like video conferencing, you are likely in the market for a T3/DS3 connection. A T3/DS3 line is also a viable solution for companies looking to resell bandwidth to their customers.

The common T1 line can handle 24 simultaneous voice calls or a high speed Internet connection speed of 1.54 Mbps. This is usually the solution of choice for small to mid size businesses. A DS3 line can handle 672 simultaneous voice calls or provide a high speed Internet connection of 45 Mbps. The T3/DS3 is typically used by high end data and voice customers as it is the equivalent of 28 T1 lines or 672 voice lines.

Most DS3 circuits are "fractional", meaning a portion of the circuit. A DS3 is capable of 45 megabits per second. Fractional DS3s are usually, 8 megabit per second which is equal to about five (5) T1s. Today this is more than fast enough for most all business needs.

The cost of the DS3 circuit is always mileage based. Generally speaking the farther the distance from your ISPs Central Office (CO) connection the more it will cost. On top of that there is often a bandwidth usage charge.

DS3 service can be deployed for a wide variety of applications. The most common uses are DS3 point-to-point (tying 2 distinct business locations together), DS3 internet (data), DS3 frame relay, DS3 voice, and DS3 VPN. The pricing for these connections varies widely depending on the carrier, location of service and the application for which the connection is being used.

For help finding the right DS3 bandwidth solution including the best pricing for your business applications .... at absolutely zero cost or obligation .... I highly recommend using the service found at:

DS3 Bandwidth Price Comparison

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Is It DS3 Bandwidth Or T3 Bandwidth?

In short, a DS3 is a frame structure (28 T1s plus 1.504 mbps overhead, all interweaved in a certain way, etc, etc). A T3 is an actual interface (certain peak-to-peak voltage, certain impedance, etc).

It's rare that you would ever get your hands on an actual DS3 because that is created by, say, a T3 mux. T1s as input, DS3 frame created from those, and T3 out for further transmission. In that example, there’s never a discrete DS3 out in the open - it exists only inside the mux and only briefly.

To (hopefully) further clarify, you won't find a SONET box with a DS3 interface. It'll have a T3 interface.

They're pretty much used interchangeably in industry though. Except that DS3 is the usual terminology used in the US .... while T3 is the terminology most often used in Europe and Asia.

DS3 dedicated internet service offers 45 Mbps of upload and download capability. That's enough to support a medium size or larger office, including file transfers, email and Web browsing, video conferencing, and real-time ecommerce activities.

For help finding the right DS3 bandwidth (or T3 if you prefer) solution including the best pricing for your business applications .... at absolutely zero cost or obligation .... I highly recommend using the service found at:

DS3 Bandwidth Price Comparison

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Friday, November 20, 2009

What Is Your Disaster Recovery Plan If Your Legacy Communications And Network Platforms Were To Fail?

This is a question that comes up frequently among users of legacy and secondary market end-users. I find that it is crucial that the end-users receive the necessary technical support and warranties to keep their network up and running at all times. If there ever is downtime, they should have a hardware provider that can overnight new equipment so as to minimize inefficiencies.

At some point in time your legacy systems will no longer be supported and a failure will severely impact your operation.

The lack of support could be technical, the company no longer manufactures the product and parts are harder to find or no longer available, or the lack of support could be no people with the skills necessary to maintain the equipment.

That is one reason that you need to ensure that your plan is tested on a regular basis. These support issues should become evident during the test. If you are using a third party recovery service provider, they may tell you that they no longer support the legacy system. They may make suggestions on what they can do to accommodate your systems, but you may find that the cost is too high. It may actually be better to do an upgrade.

You also need to make sure that any contract that you sign with a recovery service provider will let you upgrade at little or no cost to the contract price. You also need to include a clause that will let you know when the recovery service provider will withdraw support so that you can plan your response.

BCP is not a project, so you need to make sure that the plan is reviewed and tested regularly so that problems can be identified and corrected before an emergency or disaster event occurs.

A disaster recovery plan should include all key componets necessary to run an enterprise. From a network and communications point of view this may include planning for redundancy not only in the Local Area Network but with the carriers. I had a WAN at one client where I had automatic roll over should the main gateway fail at any point. Many enterprise have backup plans with secondary carriers and can re-point 800 numbers within minutes.

DRP planning is different for all enterprises .... but to be effective needs managment support from the top. I suggest you read the following article as a general overiew on disaster recovery.

Disaster Recovery Planning

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What Is MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching)?

Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is a mechanism in high-performance telecommunications networks which directs and carries data from one network node to the next. MPLS makes it easy to create "virtual links" between distant nodes. It can encapsulate packets of various network protocols.

MPLS is a highly scalable, protocol agnostic, data-carrying mechanism. In an MPLS network, data packets are assigned labels. Packet-forwarding decisions are made solely on the contents of this label, without the need to examine the packet itself. This allows one to create end-to-end circuits across any type of transport medium, using any protocol. The primary benefit is to eliminate dependence on a particular Data Link Layer technology, such as ATM, frame relay, SONET or Ethernet, and eliminate the need for multiple Layer 2 networks to satisfy different types of traffic. MPLS belongs to the family of packet-switched networks.

Basically, MPLS refers to the technological operation that is more properly known as multi-protocol label switching. Essentially, MPLS is an operating scheme that is used to speed up the flow of traffic on a network by making better use of available network paths. The main thrust of the idea is to define or designate the proper path for each function so that the opportunity for bottlenecks within the network are minimized.

The flexibility of MPLS has led to it becoming the default way for modern networks to achieve Quality of Service (QoS), next generation VPN services, and optical signaling. MPLS deployment is the perfect solution for connecting multiple geographically dispersed locations .... no matter whether they are seperated by relatively short distances (e.g. same town or state) ... or more widely dispersed distances (e.g. multiple states).

For free assistance in designing the best MPLS solution for your network ..... take advantage of the expert support available here:

MPLS Network Solution

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Monday, November 16, 2009

What Is DS3 Bandwidth?

DS3 bandwidth (sometimes also referred to as T3) is a dedicated, high bandwidth circuit with a speed of 45 Mbps. This is equivalent to 28 T1 lines (or 672 regular phone lines). A DS3 circuit provides businesses that have a high amount of data traffic, the bandwidth they need - plugging straight into the carrier's backbone.

In stead of using the DS3 line for internet bandwidth, the 672 channels can also be configured to be used as standard analog phone lines (DS3 voice), or ISDN PRI lines (DS3 PRI). DS3 PRI circuits are often used by businesses that require a large number of voice lines - such as call centers, hotels, and universities.

For free assistance in designing the best DS3 bandwidth solution for your network ..... take advantage of the expert support available here:

DS3 Bandwidth Network Solution

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Friday, November 13, 2009

What's The Impact Of Web Applications On Business Telephony?

By web applications .... think Skype or Google Voice for example.

Taking a step back and looking at it from the technology perspective, this has already had a huge impact all over the world. More and more businesses are cutting their travel budgets as they can now 'meet' over teleconference or online meetings, and this has created (as the others mention) a new type of competition for the traditional industries (both travel and phone companies).

Google Voice, Skype are great alternatives to regular telephony, and I know various businesses who have already implemented it as a communication channel. I think this opens new possibilities in an even more globalized world, as we can easily (and sometimes even free) communicate with companies and individuals from all over globe. Markets open up more, information flows freely and it creates competition.

The ability to transport voice communication over broadband infrastructure using a wide variety of software applications will continue to fragment the telecom industry in both the carrier services market as well as the equipment (hardware) market. This is going to become a very confusing place for the end-user, and performance will vary greatly.

Short term, I expect low impact on the enterprise telephony sector due to Google Voice or Skype. In fact, Skype has been around for some time now and I'm not aware of any customers that are using it as their enterprise telephony platform. Sure it can save $$ and make communications easier sometimes, but it lacks a number of features that enterprise applications need: reliability and support amongst some of them. Put yourself in the shoes of an IT Director, responsible for the well functioning of the telephony system, would you choose Skype as your enterprise solution? Or would you rather go to one of the lead vendors?

The other aspect of GV and Skype is that they have been conceived for the end user market, not for the enterprise world. As such, they include the features and functionality that we require as users, but those might not be the same as what we require from an enterprise solution. It might be that we find some ways to stretch those applications and use them for business but even then I still find it difficult to imagine broad adoption in the short term.

It's going to accelerate what we already are moving towards, and that voice and data will all soon travel on the same path. Google voice is going to be a game changer, no doubt, but you cannot have the infrastructure of a business's communications rely on a new platform until you can gaurantee service levels of the internet. How can you hold google accountable as a voice vendor without a service agreement ? It may already be in the works, and until then, it will be a fun toy for CIO's to play with.

They work as a kind of throw-away solution at the moment, i.e. a company has a few remote workers in far-flung destinations and they want to talk to people back in the office. Actually I find that Skype works better than the high-end solutions in many situations.

In my opinion not many sizeable or professional operations would hang their hats on the solution, i.e. Dear Mr Customer, please call my Skype/Google number. I see it as a kind of IM (MSN, ICQ) grown-up at this point in time.

I think what these applications will do is drive the business vendors to push forward and up their game. I believe that many of the main business vendor solutions are poor... I could use the old term of 'flakey'.

The issue in my opinion is that you have traditional telephony vendors and their bods/developers trying to map their traditional solutions to IP/Operating system and at the moment and (in general) they are failing.. 'some' of their resellers/vars may also be somewhat to blame as they just don't get IP and the related technologies (not really)... I know that some do and they do a good job with what they have to work with.

I think we are 3-5 years away from serious and reliable solutions that are purely internet based. Why are Skype and its peers working? It's probably because they are starting from scratch (somewhat)... using IP and new technologies first, rather than trying to map old solutions to a new medium.

What's the answer? A bold vendor with true business solutions stepping out and re-writing their systems, rather than trying to port them.

The older and true business telephony providers do have the upper hand with the business market. They understand the beast, they work somewhat and in their own markets... What about SME? This market is the biggest and the one at the biggest risk... It's easier for the new competition to steal this business and push into enterprise than it is the other way round.

If I was working for a customer and had to choose a vendor - chances are I'd pick one of the major business vendors at this point in time... Could I be swayed? At the moment, probably not ... But the risk is there.

This is just my opinion from what I see in the small and mid-range market.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Converged Network Services & Unified Communications ..... Fad Or The Future?

We are finding a huge pull for convergence among all of our clients. The desire is certainly there for the end users but, we are still finding federated communications to be a Nirvana from the vendor perspective.

Many companies are attempting and succeeding to unify proprietary handsets and PBX design .... by enabling an overarching openess and onboard management solution in most of these cases.

More power to these clever outfits because from what we see, their offering is a real plus in many ways to modern businesses. From reducing communication costs, to improving communications effciency, the benefits of convergence are clear and have been for sometime.

However, I am sure if you ask those clever folks if they think handset manufacturers of say, dual mode phones or IP PBX's, make it easy for them. I doubt it will be a resounding YES of course.

That said, SIP and other protocols are helping us in the right direction. Companies who privately invest in research would always have a reason to ignore true cooperation of communications. Mostly by way of a constant drive towards USP's to hold greater market share of unit sales .... and thereby, recoup such investments. Therefore, for anyone to then try to develop a system to talk to "all" in 100 different code types or more, makes things tricky and costly.

To suddenly say we can get all this technology on the network is still in many cases, a theory. Without true federated communications and standards, convergence doesn't equate to a simple to deploy solution in the real world in many instances.

Each contributor in the space needs to make it simple to see, control, present, maintain and operate their own devices centrally. Sharing this commonality with other vendors in a true co-op. People are different .... and so choice has to remain. But not at the cost of huge management overhead for businesses and IT managers.

We need to share a common language to make this truely workout as the dream promises it can be.

The advantages of UC and convergence are many. I hope one day we will have a system in which we share for the greater good of communication .... and not just corporation.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

How Long Will Google Remain "Relevant" For Information Searches?

There seems to me to be a straightforward conflict of interest in IT, with Google as a prime example, between advertising and information.

Google, and most of the rest of the web, aim to derive viability through targeting advertising at users who seek information. Search on Google for something non-commercial and the results are good. Search for something with a commercial inerest and the results are simply adverts, and sometimes entirely unrelated to the search criteria.

Sooner or later this conflict will surely begin to manifest as users steer away from the medium for commercially related interests.

However, let's not overlook something quite fundamental. Which is that how one searches determines the results returned.

Most users are lazy with their search terms, often posing a search in a form of words that are close to natural language [as you might ask a friend or colleague], and when they do search like that they indeed get ads and all sorts of other irrelevancies returned to them.

Do a more complex search [on Google] using regular expressions and/or exclusions - such as

"my search string" AND "my other search string" -blog*

.... and you cut out all the blogs and any references to them. You also don't get many ads either.

Statistically, not many users explore their advanced search options, or even know about such things as regular expressions.

An interesting experiment can be to think of a search query .... and then try to find at least 10 different ways to 'ask' the same question.

Economically, it's not in Google's interest to educate its users too much about complex searching, but the capability is there. As are specialist tools like Scholar

I guess if you're looking for something which is available commercially, you'll expect to deal with a commercial organization. In the old days of hard copy directories there was still a bias towards advertised services. As a potential customer I tend to think that organizations which advertise are more likely to want my business .... and will therefore give me better service than those that don't. Plus they may be making enough profit to reinvest some on advertising so are (yes, a perception) less likely to go bust on me.

If people steer away from the medium, they will steer away to something more productive and efficient. And it's hard for me to visualize something more productive and efficient than what I have in front of me right now.

So I think the show will run until the next generation of searching.

To summarize, I think advertising and information can be one and the same thing.

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Friday, November 06, 2009

Is the iPhone hurting AT&T's brand .... Or Vice Versa?

Interesting question .....

There's a recent article on CNN's Tech site discussing this "issue". It's based mostly on the following statement(s):

"The Apple iPhone has boosted AT&T's subscriber numbers, but network problems and a bevy of complaints from frustrated customers are likely hurting the company's reputation.

While a recent survey by the consulting firm CFI Group found that iPhone users are the most loyal smartphone users, with 90 percent saying they'd recommend the device to a friend, half of all iPhone owners surveyed said they would like to jump ship to another provider if given the chance."

The rest of the article is here: iPhone and AT&T

I think the question ought to be "Is AT&T hurting the iPhone brand?".

AT&T has an unreliable network with spotty coverage. The iPhone is propping that up with a popular brand but the simple fact is that it has poor coverage. AT&T is acceptable in urban areas but really falls apart when you are outside of town.

AT&T is behind the times and the iPhone just exposes where they fall short. Their billing increments are not as aggressive as other carriers. I think when the iPhone deal is over and all of the carriers have it, AT&T will have to finally get out of the stone age and compete. AT&T is kind of like Microsoft, they have too many hands in too many cookie jars and they do nothing exceptionally well because of it.

I think it's also a perception of Grass is greener on the other side.. since no other carrier has IPhone, no one knows how good that carrier would've been. Its all speculation that Verizon or Sprint or T-Mobile would be better... In reality there are coverage issues with all carriers... it is just that IPhone is making users see the problems that they probably wouldn't have seen with any other device.

IPhone requires lots of bandwidth and again a speculation but if other carriers get IPhone, users will feel the same pain....

AT&T was on a downward spiral anyway .... and I believe it was iPhone that saved AT&T from going down the drain.

AT&T gives pathetic coverage, useless service, and service charges are not reasonable either. It was loosing its market share to T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint ..... and not to forget that new players like Virgin Mobile and US Cellular also dented AT&T's customer base. It was the hype associated with iPhone that changed the world for AT&T.

I don't remember the exact stats, but I remember reading that more than 50% of iPhone customer were changing networks (i.e. were using non-AT&T service before buying iPhone). That helped AT&T more than anyone else. ..... as far as image & market value is concerned.

Also worth noticing is the fact that iPhone happens to be the ONLY phone under the AT&T umbrella that doesn't have AT&T written on it. Seems there was a big time tussle between the 2 companies regarding this .... where finally AT&T agreed to Apple's demand, as it was in best interest of AT&T to not let go iPhone.

So long story cut short .... iPhone did NOT hurt the AT&T image any further. Basically AT&T doesnt have what it takes to be the largest service provider in N.America .... and it needs to decide upon a recovery plan sooner than later.

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

How To Make Ethernet Work For Your Voice / Data Network Bandwidth Needs

I think the answer is simple. The vast majority of networks, equipment, systems, and knowledge available in the market place is based on Ethernet technology. The advantages of this technology clearly outweighs all others.

In my experience very few new networks are built. Expansion is created by upgrades, overlays, or enhancements to existing network in a phased way. As they are all Business Critical and the risk of changing too much at one time is too great.

You are going to use your local LAN/WAN infrastructure - 100%. You are going to run voice, video, and data on your network - 100%.

The obvious is that you are going to have to use Gigabit Ethernet. You will have to make use of static ip addressing and route calls, watching out for switches. DHCP and VLAN's can also work, but not as effective as static.

Make sure of your VoIPp server concurrent call capability (if you have VoIP) - a 75 concurrent call server can accomodate approximately 400 users without calls being dropped.

Also check the channels available on your VoIP server for inbound and outbound calls. For example, if you are going to use your system between branches, your inbound calls should have the same amount of channels available ... or more .... than your outbound calls.

This is crucial, say you setup your system for a 30 outbound and 45 inbound configuration. If you make an important outbound call and you are the 31st outbound caller .... and someone calls a colleage at another branch location ... your outbound call will be cut if there are already 45 inbound calls in process. This occurs because your system has been setup for mainly inter-branch calling.

Video gulps up bandwidth and you must make sure on the amount of bandwith utilized by every single video device. Then you should calculate a dropout percentage. What I mean by this is .... if 20 people make a video conference call at the same time, will they have enough bandwidth or not.

Between branches I definitely reccomend MPLS for the fact that you can run multiple technologies on the same bandwidth.

The solution obviously should accomodate your current DS3 or OC3 infrastructure. If your current infrastructure can't handle the above, you must upgrade.

For more help in designing an ethernet based network for your business .... I recommend taking advantage of the services available here:

Ethernet Network Solution

Their assistance is free and and they often can find special deals from providers in your specific location.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Business VoIP Solution .... What Does It Really Mean?

A business voip solution is an alternative to a traditional switched-voice service. Instead of using dedicated trunks between PBXes, you can share the bandwidth with your data services, making better use of the available capacity. With prioritisation techniques, you can ensure that your voice traffic gets through the network in the appropriate time to maintain voice quality.

For a typical internet telephony application, assume that you have a number of offices that need to communicate with each other. The telephony traffic can be carried across the internet or across a third party network or VPN .... and be delivered to the distant end without using the PSTN or a leased line. It depends on what you want to achieve.

You can have an IP PBX for internal use only, with all your staff connected over the same LAN infrastructure as they use for data - separating voice and data traffic by using VLANs, with external access to the PSTN. If you have more than one office, you can link them using leased T1 or DS3 bandwidth lines, metro ethernet or xDSL in the same way as you would for a data service - VoIP is, after all, voice packets being transported in the same way as data packets.

As the VoIP traffic is handled just like any other data traffic, it doesn't really matter where your PBX is located, just as you can have a hosted server for your data, you can have a hosted server for your VoIP. You can have the IPPBX in your office or in a data centre, it makes no difference.

SIP trunking? Now there's a buzzphrase. SIP is a signalling protocol in the same way as H.323 or QSIG are protocols. SIP is a standard and lots of manufacturers intrepret the standard in their own way but, fortunately, lots of the SIP interpretations work together.

Session Initiation Protocol works over IP and should enable replacement of PSTN trunks by the internet. So, again, voice traffic can go over the internet instead of the PSTN with a resulting saving in cost.

Don't forget though, that the internet is unregulated and unmanaged. Voice traffic is sensitive to packet loss, delay and jitter (variation in delay). So at peak times ( just after school in the evenings and on weekends) your voice traffic may break up. Meaning it would be worthwhile looking at having a managed network service to guarantee the quality of your voice traffic for those critical calls.

VoIP works between products from the same manufacturer and sometimes it works between manufacturers. Some manufacturers have produced interfaces and some third parties will provide gateways to enable collaboration. My recommendation would be to check first.

Hardware? Go for something that lots of other people use.. Cisco, Avaya, Alcatel. Cisco started in data and moved into voice. Avaya and Alcatel started in voice and moved into IP data. They have their own ways of implementing VoIP. Cisco is only VoIP. Avaya and Alcatel can give you a migration from traditional voice, reusing handsets from their analog and digital services adding IP telephones as the transition continues. IP telephone handsets are expensive.

For more help in designing a business VoIP solution for your network .... I recommend taking advantage of the services available here:

Business VoIP Solution

Their assistance is free and and they often can find special deals from providers in your specific location.

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