Monday 27 July 2015

Choosing a VOIP Service

Choosing a VOIP service is not always down to finding the lowest price. Cheap is not the same as inexpensive. You'll need to think about what features you need to support your organisation both now and in the future.

Telephone services vendors are Grand Masters when it comes down to sneaking in additional costs/fees to the customer's bill. The headline price figure displayed prominently on a web site is rarely what you end up paying.

You'll need to consider what access you have to technical support for computers and networks. Once a VOIP service is working they generally work well. However there is often an initial need to tinker with network settings to get everything working properly. You might need to make some improvements to your data network to ensure good data security and a good quality voice on your phones. You should also have access to a technician during the operation of your service for when problems arise. Such problems are infrequent, but baffling for the lay-person. The level of data network support provided by the VOIP service vendor can vary considerably. Their support often stops at the point where the telecom data service enters your building.

If you are using VOIP phones they are generally just plug in and go provided they've been properly configured. Just as with your desk top PC the software hidden in the phones will need an occasional update for fixes, improvements and security patches. You may need technical support to ensure this update process takes place. Some VOIP vendors will do this remotely, others may give you no assistance on this matter.

Before committing to any particular VOIP service supplier be sure to try it out to check the voice quality to several remote destinations. There are different methods of voice encoding used in VOIP which can affect the quality of the voice transmission. I'll repeat it, "Make sure you check the quality of voice received at the other end." It is usually not too difficult to persuade someone at a remote location to asses the quality of the calls. Don't rely solely on what you hear at your end of the call. What might sound good to you can be horrible at the remote end.

You should also carefully check the contract period and how it is handled at renewal. You might pay monthly but still be enrolling in a three year contract with expensive exit charges should you need to change your mind. Make sure you have an exit should the vendor be unable to get your system working. Watch out for extra costs such as telephone number rental.

In assessing a contract make sure you know:
  • Implementation Costs
  • Expected cost
  • Contractually committed cost
  • "Out of plan" cost projections

When comparing phone call tariffs work out how many minutes you'll need per use per month then check what the costs will be if you exceed the plan. Some call plans tie the "minutes" to users with no transfer between user plans. Watch out for how call times are measured. Is it to the nearest minute, or are call times rounded up to the next whole minute. Call Set up fees can vary considerably between vendors; the financial impact depends on the call usage pattern of your business. You may find some vendors particularly BT round up the individual call costs to the next pence amount. If your business makes a lot of short outgoing calls the impact of call set up fees and cost rounding can be significant.

Despite all the considerations mentioned above you will almost inevitably save a lot of money on telecoms costs by moving to VOIP. You also gain considerably in business flexibility. However don't ditch your existing phone system until you've used the VOIP for a while and be sure to retain at least one incoming number on a traditional land line.

Saturday 25 July 2015

Save money on your phone system.

There have been many advances in Cloud Computing. Now any organisation who has dispersed employees or groups of employees with access to the Internet can provide them with the facilities of a PABX telephone system at a very low set up cost. The use of a hosted Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone system can provide the facilities previously only available to larger enterprises.

  • Members/employees can be allocated internal phone extension numbers regardless of where they are in the world;
  • The organisation can gain access to low cost telephone tariffs, a fraction of the main public telephone companies with no noticeable loss in quality. Itemised call billing costs are traceable back to individual users. You will save money!
  • Expensive destinations can be blocked;
  • Members can be assigned to one or more incoming phone lines or share lines.
  • Calls can follow people from their office to their mobile phone or home lines.
  • Call recording, voice mail, SMS messaging and Fax can be quickly added;
  • Receptionist, conferencing, call transfer and call rollover are part of the package;
  • No real technical skills are required to operate the system. The hosting company takes care of the technicalities;
  • You can set up a new desk/role/location with a working phone facility in a couple of minutes or tear it down equally quickly. It is a matter of opening the box containing the phone handset, plug it in and you are ready to go in a few minutes.

You might save a substantial sum: 

  1. The BT standard land line call cost (ex VAT) in the UK, outside of a prepaid plan, is £0.17 per minute and a £0.19 call set up charge.  SIPGate charge just £0.01 per minute and no set up charge.  
  2. A 10 minute call to South Africa would cost £18.50 with BT business land line, the same call via SIPGate would be £0.59
  3. On VOIP systems calls between phone extensions are free, regardless of the geographic location of the participants.

Here are some systems you might like to consider:

We will post some more information on this blog over the next few days.We've set one up recently. 

Edit: 27th July 2015 The day after creating the posting, I received an email from BT announcing a price increase in September 2015. For residential services the price increase is 7% on average, which is way above the annual rate of inflation. Here's a link to a copy of partial details.

Wednesday 15 July 2015

Has the UK run out of power?

Reports in the media point to a statement by the UK National Grid that the margin between on-line electricity generating capacity and demand in the winter of 2015 will be 1.2%. The National Grid are paying power generation companies to keep mothballed plants available and also some large power consumers to "switch off" at times of high demand. The additional measures will give a 5.1% capacity margin. If all goes well it should be sufficient, but there are many risk factors that could cause an overload of that margin. It could be a power station failure, or a grid failure, an interruption to the Natural Gas supply. If this happened on a calm day we might lose the input from wind turbine power. An exceptionally cold winter may cause demand in excess of Government expectations.  There's more information on the National Grid's reserves here.

If you constantly run a complex mechanical system, maintained at the lowest possible cost, within 2% of its maximum capacity you cannot expect 100% availability. UK businesses should be blowing the dust off their contingency plans to see what they intend to do in the event of regional power outages this winter. These outages may be pre-announced or occur without warning.

  • You should run standby power system tests now to give your organisation time to fix any problems found. 
  • The tests should assume extended regional power outages. 
  • You might need to plan for load shifting to other regions/countries in the event of an outage. 
  • You should review arrangements for the supply of alternative fuels such as standby generator diesel. 
  • What will happen to fuel deliveries if a regional outage causes sudden demand on resupply logistics;
  • Who will receive priority in fuel delivery?
  • How will you make media announcements concerning your organisation's plan to your workers, customers, suppliers in the event of a regional power outage?

If your organisation uses home/remote working as part of its contingency planning, are there arrangements to provide standby power in those remote locations? Do your Key Home Workers have safe access to inverter power generators (and fuel) to run their home computers and network?  Will fuel be available for transport of workers? Are your workers aware of what they should do in the event of a local/regional power outage?

You may need to check the preparedness of your major suppliers for regional power outages..