Things to Think About Before
WORST WAY YOU CAN GET SCREWED?
Your VoIP phone line provider goes belly up.
could happen to you if you use VoIP for
incoming calls (who
cares about outgoing?):
CentricVoice, a rather
expensive business class VoIP phone company gave their
customers about a week's notice before they turned
off all of their customer's phones lines. In the message on
their web site to their customers, they said "The regular
porting process usually takes 20 - 30 days, therefore, you
will need to state that this is an Emergency port in order
to have it done sooner."
What would you do if your phone company told you
they were going out of business in a week?
Verizon Voicewing, the VoIP provider division of Verizon,
told their customers they have 90 days to find new service -
they're just shutting it down. Hey,
you're just a stinkin' customer. Their attitude is simply
"Screw you and the camel you rode in on." Is
it possible that a real phone company (utility), formerly
part of the Bell System, would turn off phone service
provided by a non-regulated subsidiary?
Callvantage, the VoIP provider division of AT&T, stopped
taking new customers. Then
they gave notice that it will be turned off.
This is a part of a real phone
company turning off their service. They don't seem to
understand that by screwing their subscribers now, they're
screwing themselves and the whole telecommunications
business over in the future. They know it's not like closing
a restaurant or gas station, but they don't care. Is
it possible that a real phone company (utility), formerly
part of the Bell System, would turn off phone service
provided by a non-regulated subsidiary?
In an interesting note AT&T
also announced that they want to shut down POTS analog phone
lines because they aren't profitable - everybody is going to
VoIP (so if everybody is going to VoIP, why did they shut
down the AT&T VoIP Callvantage service?).
AT&T says: "Congress’s goal of universal access to
broadband will not be met in a timely or efficient manner if
providers are forced to continue to invest in and to
maintain two networks."
This would be fine except that VoIP isn't ready
for prime time, and POTS is in fact the only communications
service that's likely to be left working after many
disasters. VoIP and the Internet doesn't work without power,
and cell service goes down pretty quickly from overload and
lack of power when the backup batteries run down before
power is restored.
Why does the government
allow regulated utilities to own non-regulated companies?
I've been asking that since 1992.
- Sunrocket, a VoIP provider with around
200,000 subscribers, permanently closed their doors and turned off
their system. This left everybody with a Sunrocket phone
number, or a number that was ported to Sunrocket
from a real phone company, with NO PHONE SERVICE. (fast busy
when you called it, and you couldn't dial out).
- Norvergence, a VoIP provider
that preyed on around 10,000 businesses (no home phone
service), permanently closed their doors and turned off
their system. This
left everybody with a Norvergence phone
number (which also included Internet access and cell phones), or a number that was ported to
from a real phone company, with NO PHONE SERVICE.
bought a VoIP phone service called Grand Central, who
advertised that you get a "phone number for life"
(they don't advertise that any more). Google almost
immediately stopped signing up new customers. Some of the
customers who had a "phone number for life" must have been
murdered, since it turns out that Grand Central
wasn't really able to deliver on the claim that the phone
number would work for a lifetime (I don't know if the
customer, or the phone number went dead first).
Google then announced they are starting
a new free VoIP phone service, called
Google Voice. It's
not currently an option for business phone service. They do have some
interesting features that a "One Number Service" charges
money for, like ringing multiple phones at one time to find
you when someone calls the number Google gave you. Google
says it's not a real phone company, so they may not complete
calls to certain phone numbers. You have to have other phone
numbers from a phone company to be able to use this service.
Google then announced that the "phone number for life"
Grand Central service they bought
is shutting down. They say you better get
any voice mail messages off it before they close it down.
Google also announced they are
buying a crummy VoIP phone service called Gizmo5.
When I tested Gizmo5 a few years ago, it wasn't very
good. I emailed them to stop billing me, but they refused.
Then they started sending me hate email that my credit card
expired, and I owe them big bucks for their service that I
don't want. I only made
maybe three calls to test it. Anyway, I think that maybe
now Google is a phone company?
Google recently changed the way their Google Voice
works so that it can't be used as a trunk on a VoIP phone
system (a few systems had put that capability in their
systems). Those trunks are now totally dead.
The most terrifying VoIP story ever?
The FBI had
a search warrant for a data center where they suspected the
owners of fraud. A data center is where lots of companies
either rent servers, or co-locate their own servers. A data
center is like an apartment building for computer servers.
They have multiple fast connections to the Internet, probably
from different companies so there is no one source of
failure. They have heavy duty air-conditioning, battery
backups for all the servers, a generator and high security.
Unfortunately, the security wasn't enough for about 50
customers of the data center who the FBI put out of
business, at least temporarily.
Some companies have servers running in two data centers,
just in case something really bad happens at one of them.
There's some chance that it would be the same owner at both
data centers, which happened in this case.
The FBI backed up trucks and took everything
including backup tapes that could have helped the data
center customers get a server setup at another data center.
It's pretty obvious after the fact that the FBI and judge
who signed the search warrant had absolutely no knowledge of
what a data center is. The FBI guy or judge probably had no
clue that they would be shutting off many innocent company's
web sites, their mother's church's web site, credit card
processing, on-line ordering and tracking, and VoIP phone
calls (they just go through a regular computer server).
Considering the stink the government makes about 911 calls
from VoIP lines, it's interesting that all the telephone
customers of the VoIP service(s) in those data centers
couldn't make any phone calls, including to
911, after the FBI (government) threw all the equipment,
maybe 200 servers where each server could be shared by
multiple companies, into trucks.
I've done a lot of big telecom and IT projects. Nothing
bothers me because I just do everything in a methodical
manner, all planned out. I've never had a cutover go
badly. The thought of trying to sort out the pile of servers
and get all those companies back up in a timely manner is
totally overwhelming to me, no matter how many technicians I
It's unlikely that if the FBI was investigating the owners of
a shopping mall, they would get a search warrant for the
mall management office, as well as every store in the
mall... and then empty every store in the shopping center
into trucks in case the items in each store were somehow
related to the case against the shopping mall owner.
This could easily happen to any
VoIP provider. The only place it probably couldn't
happen is at a real phone company (utility). Every other
CLEC (a fake phone company that competes with the real Phone
Company), VoIP provider or otherwise fake phone company can
go away just like this (just like any other business or even
a church in the US).
You can read a Wired article about it HERE.
the above examples of VoIP providers were the only incoming phone
service a business had,
they'd be in big
They would have to get new phone service, and hope
they can port the number they had with their old VoIP provider to the new
service - which would probably take a few days or more.
VoIP company went belly up overnight with no notice, and a
business depended on incoming calls, they'd lose quite a bit of
business (outgoing isn't a big deal since we can all use our
Why can VoIP service just go away like that?
Because it costs very little to get into the VoIP provider
business. You can start your own VoIP service for very little
money. Here's how:
- Just get a few servers for the calls and the billing
(buy them used on ebay or rent them from an ISP/Data
- Connect the servers to the Internet (just rent some rack
space very cheaply at an ISP/Data Center - a third world
country would be fine).
- Get some backend software to run the business.
- Contract with one of many companies selling VoIP call
terminations by the minute (their business is to connect
local phone lines to the Internet at various points around
the country and the world).
- Find a computer geek to help you setup and maintain the
- Rent local phone numbers from one of the
national companies that "rents" phone numbers to VoIP phone
companies, very cheaply.
- Rent a 911 call center service from a
third world country where they will manually transfer one
of your customers who dials 911 to the local police
- Hire a third world company to answer the phones, to make your customers think
they are getting support (the clueless support person simply
emails your computer geek about a problem).
- Alternatively, don't offer any phone
support. Just put a form on your web page to contact support
(which you never even look at). As long as you call yourself
a "Phone Company," your customers won't have any question in
their mind that they'll get the same support they get from
the real phone company in their area (which is often just as
bad as when it's coming from a third world country).
- Start rolling around on the floor in all the money you
collect. You're a "Phone Company!"
- Stop paying the Data Center bills, the VoIP call
termination bills, the rented local phone number bills, the
computer geek, the third world call center,
and pocket all the money you save until the business folds...
leaving your customer's businesses without telephone
- There are no regulators, no regulations, and only civil
courts to deal with. The customers aren't going to sue you
when their service stops. Oh, and by the way, if the ISP or
the VoIP termination company goes belly up, your service is
down whether you like it or not - to say nothing of what
happens if the computer geek gets sick, dies, or even goes
You have absolutely no way
of knowing if your VoIP provider will be there tomorrow.
Even a huge company like Google or AT&T can simply
turn off their service whenever they feel like it.
not telling you this to scare you away from using VoIP
It's there to give you a
sense of the current reality of the phone business. Make your
decisions so you have a Plan B. Don't put all your eggs in
one basket. Just because someone calls themselves a Phone Company doesn't
mean they will always be here like a local Phone Company (even
if they have Verizon or AT&T in their name). Generally real utilities can't go out of business (they just
keep wasting money, and raising rates to make up for it!).
A VoIP Provider is
NOT a real
phone company. If you know that
going in, you should be able to
successfully implement VoIP
at your company... Because you'll
If you see an ad like the one on
the right on the Internet, don't take it for the gospel!
To see what you're
up against when looking for a dependable VoIP provider, take a
look at this ad for 9X9 Central, and be sure to read the
About Us page...
You don't have to
use VoIP phone lines with most VoIP phone systems. You can keep
your regular analog phone lines from the real phone company for
use a real voice T1 (not a Data T1) if your phone system
has that option.
Just because you can
do something that will save money doesn't mean it's the
right thing to do for your business.
A voice T1 is also known as a channelized T1
(or PRI - Primary Rate ISDN line), where the line is separated
into 24 voice channels (a PRI is 23 voice channels, and 1 data
channel). The voice quality is as good as you can get. In the
old days a T1 that was down would get priority from the phone
company. Not so much anymore since there are so many of them
(and fewer phone company repairmen).
Getting a Data T1,
where you share the T1 with Internet access and VoIP phone
lines is pretty dangerous if all of your incoming phone lines
are on that Data T1 (along with your outgoing line and sometimes
your Internet connection). There is the same probability that the
company you bought that T1 from is going to go belly up as
there is from a VoIP phone line provider (most real phone
companies don't sell this type of line). If you keep some
regular analog POTS lines for incoming calls, the shared Data T1
can be a pretty good deal, and it won't be the end of the world
when the company providing the Data T1 goes belly up or the line
Some VoIP providers will sell
you a Data T1 and let you share the bandwidth between Internet
access and phone service. Sometimes even dynamically, so when
there are less calls you will get faster Internet.
Everybody wants faster Internet,
so these types of T1/VoIP providers sometimes don't leave enough
bandwidth for all the phone calls you could make. You really
don't know when it's sold to you. At some point when enough
people are making or receiving calls in your business the calls
will start to sound like garbage until some users hang-up (in
Some VoIP providers make you
think you're getting a good deal by reducing the bandwidth
available to each call you make so you can make more calls
on a Data T1 or DSL line - but the call quality is not as good.
A regular phone line uses 64K
for an uncompressed voice call. g.711 is a 64 bit VoIP
codec that will sound very good if there's not much latency
(delay) on the particular Internet connection from end to end.
But a VoIP provider may set you
up for g.729, which uses only 8K of bandwidth (1/8th the
bandwidth of g.711, so you can get a lot more calls on a Data T1
or DSL line). Even though it's only using a fraction of the
bandwidth of a g.711 call, it's pretty usable. I can't
personally talk on a g.729 line very long. It's just
annoying. But if you make a lot of short duration calls where
you're not looking to sell something, like maybe a taxi company,
it may be a good deal.
There is some overhead added to
the 64K or 8K call, so leave plenty of extra bandwidth when you
order a Data T1 or DSL line for the number of simultaneous calls
you need to make.
By the way, regular DSL from the
phone company is usually ADSL (Asynchronous DSL). With ADSL you
get a faster download than upload speed. If you have 1.4G down
256K up, since phone calls need the same bandwidth for both
upload and download you'll only have 256K total available for
g.711 VoIP calls that use 64K+ each. Maybe you can get three
calls in the 256K if you aren't downloading big files from the
Internet at the same time (what's being done on the Internet is
pretty impossible to control at a company).
bottom line is that it's perfectly safe and can really save
money using VoIP for outbound calls since if the VoIP or
your Internet connection goes
down you can use your cell phone, your home phone, or even go to
a bus station, airport or the local jail to use their pay phone
(probably the only places left with pay phones). It's not
safe to have all your incoming calls coming in via VoIP
or on a Data T1, no matter what anybody tells you (especially
the guy trying to sell it to you!).
So here's the VoIP Research Tech Bulletin...
thinking of getting VoIP to save money, do a little research before
ordering it. It could save you several bottles of Tums, some hard cash,
and some lost business.
thinking of getting VoIP because your business has
multiple locations, that's where VoIP really shines today - but you
to do your homework.
Like any business with multiple locations using a
PBX or Centrex you have to be very careful in dealing with 911. If you
and 911 doesn't work correctly from one of the locations and someone
job and your whole business are at stake.
Because our company sells all kinds of gizmos to fix strange telephone
problems, we hear about an incredible number of problems implementing
VoIP, T1 and even POTS lines from CLECs (Competitive Local
Exchange Carrier, or "fake phone companies") and cable companies every week. We also hear lots of problems with POTS
real Phone Companies, but they're easier to solve (most can be made to adhere to
standards from years ago that VoIP providers ignore).
VoIP can save money
help your business run better, but you should dip your toe in first to
BEFORE You Dive Into VoIP!
People who buy phone equipment today assume that the stuff is
dependable, mainly because phones and phone service has been pretty
dependable in the past. Not
so much now.
People who get phone lines from a company who says
they're a Phone Company assume that the phone lines they're ordering
will work as well as the ones they've gotten from their local Phone
Just because someone is selling you a telephone device or telephone
service doesn't mean it will actually work, especially when it's
connected to a particular piece of equipment.
In the old days, all
telephone equipment was essentially compatible. These days, there's
some chance that it just won't work in your application - and you don't
find out until after you've
spent a lot of money on new equipment that won't work right, or you
can't make or receive phone calls... and you're losing business. You'll have
more problems when combining your new VoIP phone system with
your old PA system, etc.
Blame your IT Guy!
A lot of business
owners and managers make their IT guy make decisions about which
and how to install the
telephone equipment. There's a pretty good chance they'll make
mistakes since their
time is split between many projects and they often don't have
experience dealing with telephone equipment (so they don't know
the pitfalls to watch out for). Is it better than the owner
making the decisions?
Not everything that
works on a real phone line works on a VoIP line!
generally don't work with alarm equipment,
faxes (consistently), modems (including utility /
water use reading modems), credit card authorization
terminals, or satellite/cable set-top boxes. VoIP telephone
audio is compressed so it won't take up much bandwidth which
makes everything other than plain voice a crap-shoot. Sometimes
it will work. Sometimes it won't.
VoIP lines are seldom
Ground Start (they're usually like a home phone line, Loop Start)
Some older phone systems, particularly those still used in lots of hotels, use
Ground Start instead of Loop Start lines (usually called trunks). Lots of hotel operators decided on their own to turn off
their real phone company (Ground Start) lines and port the numbers to new
VoIP lines without telling the company who services their phone system. When the
porting takes place they get a big surprise when none of the "phone lines" work
on their phone system. I doubt many guests make phone calls from their room
anymore, so maybe outbound calls don't matter - but nobody can call into the
hotel to talk to a room, either.
Could the hotel
owner have avoided the chaos? Sure. All he had to do was get one
VoIP line as a test. It wouldn't have worked, and he would have
saved himself and his guests a lot of aggravation. Then he could
have called his phone system vendor and they could have worked
out how to try VoIP lines correctly.
don't work well on a VoIP line. Sometimes they'll work and sometimes they
won't, on the same VoIP line.
VoIP stuff and T1s
generally don't work when the power goes out (a UPS will
help until it runs down, and a generator helps until it runs out
of fuel or breaks down/never starts up). The battery backups
that cable companies install are pitiful for business use, and
you're generally responsible for replacing the batteries every
two or so years (usually after you find out they
didn't work during a power failure). Of course the same holds
try for the battery backups that run your legacy phone system
and regular computers.
Who will service
the VoIP Stuff?
The technicians installing
and servicing VoIP equipment and T1s for businesses are
sometimes clueless, and may not even be able to communicate
while on-site with the company who's actually providing the
VoIP / T1 line. Sometimes they're forced to call a third-world
country for support themselves, or they have to email support
with the problem - a bad thing if you have no working phone
lines and he's trying to fix the problem.
If you're leaving it
to the IT guy to get the stuff working, same story.
If a technician
can't fix your phone system or phone line,
and needs to email someone to get support themselves, you
know you screwed up buying that system or phone line!
Everybody needs help
fixing stuff, even experts. Being able to talk to someone to get
some help is really important. Having to send an email and
hoping that you get an answer is a losing proposition.
If you buy a phone
system or phone equipment, make sure you vendor stocks the parts
to fix the system locally - so that they don't
have to go order it - and your phone lines aren't down until the
equipment gets shipped in. Sometimes you need spares just to
determine what's wrong. If the vendor doesn't stock spares
it may be very difficult to diagnose the problem.
Ask before buying something!
When you order VoIP
phone lines yourself, since you didn't purchase the
VoIP phone service from your phone system vendor, and probably
didn't even call them to see if they thought it would work on
your system before you ordered it, they can't help you much when
the old phone lines go down and your new service isn't working.
Just because the
VoIP provider's salesman tells you it will work, I wouldn't
count on it. The salesman is motivated to get you to sign up for
the service by telling you all the good things about it, and how
much money you can save. They don't know and they aren't trained
to tell you the things to watch out for that might not work.
You should seriously
consider talking to your phone system vendor before making any
decision, which is a good way to learn from others' mistakes.
They've probably seen it all by now!
If you order the
stuff yourself, you don't do your homework and you don't contact your
phone system vendor, you're basically a test pilot. Do you want
to put your business at risk, testing stuff to see if it works?
I assure you others have already found out the hard way!
Blaming your old phone
equipment for your new VoIP phone lines not working right is
stupid. You're likely to pay T&M for a lot of troubleshooting,
and in some instances the VoIP stuff is junk so it will never
work no matter what your phone system vendor does. Obviously the
VoIP salesman is never going to tell you it's terrible, even if
it is. At a minimum google for information on that company to
see what others have experienced.
When the third
world country designs VoIP hardware, they don't do much
testing... they're going for the "low hanging fruit" where it
goes in and works at maybe 75% to 90% of the places it's installed
right away. They don't care about the rest since it's not
profitable for them to care about it (but
sandman.com sells stuff that tries to make
up for the deficiencies!).
There's no reason you can't
order the new lines and see if you're happy with them before you
drop the old ones.
If the salesman
tries to force you to sign a long contract,
don't do it! Knowing that there's a
reasonable chance that
the new lines won't work as expected makes it easy to just get
rid of them and try a different vendor. That's just part of the process.
Be realistic in your
expectations, and a switch to VoIP will be a lot less stressful.
NEVER EVER EVER EVER GET A BUSINESS PHONE NUMBER
FROM A VoIP
numbers that most VoIP providers will give you are a special breed of
number. They won't belong to you, and you probably can't keep them if you switch
VoIP providers or go back to the Phone Company for real phone lines. The
numbers don't even belong to the VoIP provider.
VoIP providers needed a
way to get local phone numbers throughout the country quickly so they
could become a "national" phone company. Most actually "rent" these
phone numbers from companies who are in the business
of renting out blocks of phone numbers.
The local phone
number "rental" business started up in the mid 90's with the popularity
of the Internet. The ISPs (Internet Service Providers) that offered
dial-up service needed a local phone
number just about everywhere. Nobody wanted to pay big bucks to
the phone company for a toll call to surf the Web for hours.
Just at the time
broadband was killing the dial-up ISPs ten years ago (few
local phone numbers were needed to dial into the Internet), VoIP
companies came along needing phone numbers in virtually every city in
America. They went ahead and rented blocks of these numbers everywhere,
and became overnight "national" phone companies (even if they were working out
of their bedroom or garage).
surprise you'll get if you publish the VoIP phone number you get and
later decide you could get a better deal somewhere else, or try to go
back to a real Phone Company because of quality issues. You'll never be
able to use that number with another phone company, and if that VoIP
provider goes out of business you may not be able to get that number
from any other VoIP company (they may deal with a different phone
number rental company). If you need a new phone number and you really
want to use VoIP service, get a line installed from the Phone Company,
then get it ported to the
VoIP provider (and then disconnect the Phone Company line). If you have
multiple lines that hunt, you really only need to port over the
main number that you publish.
If the VoIP provider promises you that the
phone number will be yours to keep forever, they're not telling the truth. If
the company they're renting the phone number from gets out of the business or
just goes out of business, and the number can't be ported, you'll lose
the number forever. It's impossible for anybody except the real phone company to
promise you that you'll have the number forever, and even then you could lose
the phone number in rare cases.
Once you port a
number away from the Phone Company, you may no longer be listed
in the White Pages or Information, and you may have a problem getting
into the local Phone Company's Yellow Pages?
If Yellow Pages advertising makes a difference to your
company check that out first!
would never port our incoming local numbers since our company would be
out of business without them. We generally don't use 800 numbers at our company
because it's possible to have the number hijacked by an 800 service
provider. While this doesn't happen often, it's possible that the 800
number you've used for many years could be taken away from you and
given to another company. You don't own an 800 number, and many
of the 800 service providers have been through bankruptcies.
If you get an 800 number from a VoIP provider
there is little chance you'll be able to keep that number if you
change VoIP providers. Get your 800 number from a real 800
number provider (usually a long distance company), and have it
forwarded to the POTS line or regular local VoIP number. If you
change VoIP providers, you just call the 800 number provider and
give them the new local phone number to point it to.
run out of residential subscribers to sign up so they now go
after businesses. Their phone service works OK most of the time.
When it doesn't the likelihood of ever getting it fixed is
pretty low, They just don't have repairmen with experience to
fix their fairly complicated equipment / systems (and they don't
care, but that's no different than the real phone company). Use
it for outbound calling and you can probably save some money
(and get TV and fast Internet in your office). Use it for
your main incoming number for your business and you could have
many very bad days. For a company that depends on incoming
calls to make money it's a pretty big gamble. Here's a business
who lost their main business phone number when they tried to
switch to Comcast in July of 2013:
While a real
Phone Company (a Public Utility) won't disappear into the night, a VoIP
provider, cable company or CLEC could close their doors or stop offering phone
service leaving you high and dry. Let me stress
NEVER EVER EVER EVER GET A BUSINESS PHONE NUMBER
FROM A VoIP
dial tone is coming from some kind of box (instead of a real line from the
Phone Company), and you're using something other than an old fashioned phone to make and receive calls, you may have problems that
you didn't have when you were using POTS lines (Plain Old Telephone
Service) from the Phone Company on the same telephone
VoIP phone lines were originally used to make outgoing
calls cheaply - mainly from home with a regular
single line phone or using a headset attached to a computer. While the
quality wasn't as good as the real Phone Company, the savings,
particularly on International calls, were substantial enough to put up
with the quality issues. The savings on outbound International calls
were even more significant for business.
Because VoIP worked well for outgoing calls, companies started to use
it for incoming calls - which was the start of the problems.
the VoIP phone companies started offering unique features on incoming
calls like inexpensive 800 service, foreign exchange (phone numbers
from multiple cities ringing in to a single VoIP device), program in your own
Caller ID, and external
call transfer. These features make it very attractive to just go ahead
and switch to VoIP, but
just because a VoIP provider says their features work doesn't mean
they'll work in your
application. If you don't do your homework, I'd start buying Tums
at the warehouse club.
start using VoIP lines for incoming calls, and find that it doesn't
work with their particular phones or phone system (but it works OK with
a standard single line telephone).
The reason that
most companies consider switching to VoIP is simply to save money. You can get almost
all of the features that VoIP service offers, but it will cost you a
lot more from a real Phone Company.
that many VoIP phone systems come with licensing fees!
In the past, the
larger legacy phone system manufacturers charged licensing fees
on a per feature basis. It was usually one time fee when the
system / feature was purchased.
With legacy phone systems you
bought a cabinet that was big enough to hold enough the station
and CO line cards needed to run your company when you bought
the system. If you needed more stations or trunks, you bought
more cards, and then maybe an expansion cabinet or migrated to
the next size up system cabinet. You bought as many proprietary
phones as you needed, as you needed them.
VoIP phone systems generally
don't have station or trunk ports. One box that fits in a 19"
rack could run hundreds or thousands of phones and lines. Some
will work with any cheap VoIP phone. If there were no
licensing fees, a guy with 10 phones would spend the same thing
as the guy with 200 phones, for the same phone system with the
same features. The VoIP phone
system manufacturer would never be able to make money because
every system would have to sell for the same thing that a 10
phone system would cost.
I don't know that there's a
better way to handle VoIP phone system pricing than licensing
fees, but if you're a legacy phone system owner who's never had
to pay licensing fees, this might be tough to handle. If you
have multiple offices or just want to allow workers to answer
the phone from home, the benefits of a VoIP phone system can
make the licensing fees seem cheap.
If you will never
need the features that only come on a VoIP phone system (like
off-premise workers), it's stupid to pay the licensing fees.
There are plenty of perfectly good new and used legacy systems
that don't require licensing fees. Some legacy phone system
manufacturers have add-on VoIP features to their legacy
phone systems, which may be the best of both worlds and save
money on licensing fees.
How about a "Hosted PBX?"
You don't "buy" a PBX
with a Hosted PBX. You just buy industry standard VoIP phones
(supported by that Hosted PBX Provider) and "rent" the PBX
that's out on the Internet somewhere. It's a cheap way to get a phone system,
especially when you have workers spread out throughout the local
area, the country, or the world.
The VoIP "phone
system" acting as the Hosted PBX can be connected to the
Internet just about anywhere in this or another country, and it's shared by
as many subscribers as they can get.
Like having a VoIP
phone system in your own office the bandwidth to the Internet of
the Hosted PBX, both up and down, is critical.
In general you want
to get a Hosted PBX provider with servers located fairly close
to most of your users. If you're in LA, it doesn't make sense
for your Hosted PBX to be located in Chicago or NY. That's just
introducing a lot of latency (delay) for the packets to travel
up and back. Many Hosted PBX providers get servers in data
centers around the country to reduce the latency. Ask where your
server is going to be!
As with any VoIP solution
the calls won't all sound wonderful since the voice packets are traveling over the public Internet.
Even on an intercom call from one desk to the next.
The phones won't
be as friendly to use or have as many features as a 25 year old
legacy phone system.
A Hosted PBX can be a reasonable solution if
you make sure there's enough bandwidth for the calls on the
Internet connections (and local network) that have a VoIP phone
working off of that Hosted PBX... Which is the real secret of
making VoIP calls sound good in general.
Keep in mind that all
companies advertising a Hosted PBX aren't alike. Some will be
operating out of a garage or bedroom. Most will be trying to provide good service
and support so they can grow their business.
There will be a difference in quality based on
whether the company has the Hosted PBX server in their office,
or in a rack located at a real data center somewhere - with
batteries, a generator, climate control and a big pipe to the
Internet. You will never get the voice quality or dependability
of having your own phone system, but in some cases you might
never be able to afford to start and run an innovative company
without using a Hosted PBX. At least in the beginning.
Like with any VoIP
solution, try it before you jump in!
Many of today's VoIP phone systems are require
you to reset them
on a frequent basis to resolve strange problems. Most of today's
VoIP phone systems are first or second generation, even if they're sold by a legacy phone system manufacturer, because they're
using third world engineers with no experience (to save
money) when designing new systems.
Every VoIP service is going to go totally down
occasionally since it's just a bunch of PCs (servers) somewhere
providing the talk path. Some that I tested were much
worse than others. The salesman isn't going to tell you!
Some Hosted PBXs
and VoIP providers allow you to program in another
phone number to divert incoming calls to if the service goes
down. You really want to have this
ability with any VoIP service you get for incoming
calls! But even this won't work depending on what's broken
in a particular case.
Caller ID is pretty important!
One thing that surprised me was how callers
depend on Caller ID when they answer a call from us. While they were
used to seeing Mike Sandman in the past with real AT&T phone lines, they were totally
confused when it said something like Illinois Call or
even Out of Area on their Caller ID.
Our customers know
we use screen pops for incoming calls at our office POS (Point
of Sale) system. Using Caller ID information with the screen pop
allows us to get the order and get off the phone - usually in
under four minutes according to our phone system statistics.
Some business grade
VoIP providers let you put in a Caller ID name and number to
display from a control panel for the service. For the outbound
VoIP lines that we use in our office (off a hosted Asterisk
FreePBX), that's been a particularly useful feature.
We don't have the
outbound lines setup to ring on our system so we set the Caller
ID on the outbound VoIP lines to the 4th incoming POTS line.
When someone calls us and we see that line ringing
(if 1, 2 and 3 aren't busy) we know it's someone returning a
call from us. A lot of people these days just push DIAL on their cell phone to
return a call (they don't listen to the number left in the
Don't Just Accept Poor VoIP Quality!
About 10% of the incoming calls we get these days are
horrible quality VoIP. You can tell when the VoIP phone
or equipment isn't setup properly because there's a constant
clicking / ticking / cutting out of words. That's caused by the
Echo Canceller set too high, which is removing both echo and
some of the voice (it's not supposed to do that!).
You can try out a
single line from almost all of the consumer grade VoIP
providers. Some of the business grade VoIP providers will let
you try out a line, phone or small system. If you don't like it,
you're out a little money including signup fees. Spending a few
hundred dollars trying a service before you actually commit to
using it can save you a ton of money and
Maybe you can put up
with the quality issues to save some money on VoIP with a
Copper is Going Away... Eventually
In some areas AT&T, Verizon and other "phone companies" have
stopped installing copper for phone lines. They install fiber to
the premise and use a converter (box) to make "fake" phone
Keep in mind that
the converter box needs power, so it needs a battery backup of
converter box is in a terminal away from the premise, and they
use copper to the premise for the last block or whatever. In new
construction all you're probably going to get is fiber with the
converter box inside somewhere.
In some cases they
even remove the copper after they install the fiber so you
can't go back.
VoIP lines the real phone company is giving you. They're going
to sound better than almost any VoIP line because your digitized
voice is travelling on a dedicated network, not on the public
converters are often junk. They're made without any
regard to standards... even though these are supposedly "phone
companies" giving you the lines. A regular old single line phone
will work with these converters. Anything else may or may not
work in one way or another. All you can do is try it with
Can these converter
boxes or VoIP ATAs / Gateways be made to the same standards as
real phone lines? Sure. But it would cost a little more money
and nobody wants to spend it. Certainly not the real or fake
phone companies. Maybe not even you?
If your local network
is screwed up when you use your computers, your VoIP calls
will sound like garbage if you put them on the same screwed up
A lot of companies
disregard their local network when trying to troubleshoot VoIP
And then a lot of
VoIP providers use the customer's network as the "excuse" for
why their VoIP calls sound bad, even if it's not the reason. The
problem is that it's difficult to tell if the network is causing
the problem. But not impossible.
When you do a google
search or download a photo or movie it's not real-time. If some
of the packets come a little later than others the computer puts
them together in the right order, or stops playing the movie
until the buffer catches up.
On a phone
conversation if some of the words or parts of words come a
second or two after they're supposed to (or are left out), it's
not easy to understand. Especially if you're trying to do
There is no law that
says you have to use the same Ethernet
network for your phones and your computers. It's best to have
them on separate networks from a voice quality standpoint.
Likewise, it's best
to have a separate Internet connection for your PCs and VoIP.
Most VoIP salesmen won't tell you the truth because they don't
want you to think it will cost you more money. But some will
insist that you get a separate Internet connection
from them for VoIP since they don't want to deal with the
service calls and unhappy customers. They're right.
You'll notice that
most VoIP phones have a built-in Ethernet switch
that allows you to plug the phone into the jack on the wall that
you were using for your computer, and then plug the computer
workstation into the switch on the back of the phone. You're
impressed with the savings when the VoIP salesman tells you that
you don't have to do any rewiring to use their new VoIP system.
The phones do
have the built-in switch, but that's not always the best thing
to do. If your network gets congested because you transfer big
files from time to time, or even if the network wiring is
screwed up, you'll be very unhappy with the quality of the voice
calls on that network.
If you end up with
network congestion / configuration problems just run a separate
10/100 network for the phones... and don't
plug your PC into the back of the phone. You don't need a
gigabit (1000Base-T) Ethernet network for phones (unless you've
got zillions of employees?).
If you're serious
about VoIP bite the bullet and do it right before
you get frustrated by quality problems.
Data T1s are pretty
cheap these days compared to even a few years ago, and they're
symmetrical. They have the same
upload and download speeds, which is what VoIP phone calls need.
Getting a separate Data T1 for your VoIP phones (on their own
Ethernet network) or even a separate DSL line can really help if
you have quality problems.
Some cable companies
offer synchronous upload and download speeds like
you get on a Data T1, or close enough for VoIP. Some have huge
pipes like 20G down and 5G up - which is like having 3 full Data
T1s for the cost of a business grade cable Internet connection.
Is it smart to put
all your phone traffic on the cable company's Internet
connection? Probably not.
There may be latency
problems with a cable company Internet connection, especially in
the evenings when you're competing for bandwidth with everybody
in the neighborhood downloading Netflix movies.
Latency, or delay, is the
enemy of VoIP voice quality. You have absolutely no control of
the delay from your ISP or T1 provider to the rest of the
Internet, but you can choose an ISP or Data T1 provider with as
little latency as possible between their connection to the
Internet and your VoIP server or your VoIP lines, and your
premise. This is really critical!
When you get your T1 or DSL/Cable, you
may or may not get the
bandwidth you're paying for. At least not all the time.
If there are a lot
of T1 or DSL subscribers (homes or businesses) working out of a
particular Central Office (T1 or DSL) or in a particular
neighborhood with cable, there probably isn't enough bandwidth
if every user is downloading movies at the full bandwidth they
provider (phone company or cable company) is never going to put
a big enough pipe so that all of the subscribers
can download or upload at full speed all the time.
They figure out what the maximum bandwidth is likely to be based
on experience, and then feed that much bandwidth to the
particular distribution point.
If you're unlucky
enough to be on the same pipe from the Internet where there are
one or more subscribers using a lot more bandwidth than a normal
user, your bandwidth may be limited at times. That may effect
the quality and number of VoIP calls you can make at the same
time. If you have problems and complain they may or may not add
All VoIP phones are not created equal!
There are a lot of
makes and models of VoIP phones out there. Just because the
manufacturer calls it a VoIP phone doesn't mean it will work in
your application, or that it will even work like a phone.
The really cheap
junky VoIP phones initially stand out by not having sidetone on
the handset. That means that you can't hear a little of your own
voice in your ear (and if you blow into the mic you don't hear
Some people don't
mind not having sidetone, but it irritates most people. If there
is no conversation coming from the other end of the call, like
if you're on-hold with no music, you really don't know if you're
Most electronic and
VoIP phones have sidetone which allows you to record both sides
of a conversation from an adapter connected to the handset cord
of the phone (the only place there's always analog audio). If
there's no sidetone you'd only get one side of the conversation.
There are some VoIP
phone systems and fairly expensive gizmos that will let you grab
voice packets off the Ethernet network and create recordings for
Some VoIP phones
don't have many features (or buttons), and what features are
there must be activated with access codes (like *88 or
something). Before buying a lot of a particular make and model
of phone, buy one or two and use it for a week or more to make
sure it will work OK for you. That's pretty cheap and easy
Just because a VoIP provider or CLEC says they have a feature doesn't
it will work the way you expect, work the way it did from the real
or that you'll be able to get any support if it doesn't
because you can buy a VoIP phone or phone system doesn't mean you will be
able to make all of the features they say they have work.
Some of the worst offenders are
the expensive "phone systems" they sell at the Office Biggie store.
They sell four line corded or cordless "systems" with tons of features,
but there's a pretty good chance all of the features won't work right.
Sometimes they'll work OK on a real phone line, but when used with a
VoIP phone line a lot of features don't work (these types of
phones usually communicate on frequencies over the normal voice range,
on Line 1). If you buy this stuff, make sure you save the boxes and can
return it if it doesn't work.
Keep in mind that
most KSUless Phone Systems from the Office Biggie Store don't
have Music or Message on Hold. That can be a real problem when
you have customers hanging up when they're on hold before they
place their order.
A lot of companies thought they could save money by getting
this consumer grade stuff, and then ended up buying a real phone system. They sold the
expensive consumer stuff on ebay (or it's still sitting in a closet in the
phone systems can be a real surprise. Some features, which both users
and the companies selling phone systems take for granted on a regular phone system, are
missing or crippled on some VoIP phone systems. Some features will only work for
a limited number of phones, not all the phones. Try the
features on a demo system first to make sure they work the way
VoIP sets require power to work, either from a power cube at the desk
or using PoE (Power Over Ethernet). With POE the power to run the
phone comes right from the Ethernet Switch, and it's a very neat installation.
Every business should buy Switches
that provide PoE for any VoIP sets they may buy in the
future - even if they don't need it right now.
Some PoE Switches
offer PoE on a limited number of
ports - not on all the ports.
PoE is a
much better idea than having every phone plugged in using a
power cube (if they do use a power cube, hopefully you plug it into a
battery backup at the workstation). Every part of an Ethernet
network should be battery backed, including the switches - both
inside and outside the computer room.
Polycom sets often
have a problem when using their power cube and a headset with
the phone. The hum / noise on the headset goes away when you
switch to a POE switch port, or a
POE power injector.
cordless phones don't work because of the construction of the building,
interference from other stuff using the same frequencies (like wireless
cameras or Wi-Fi), or they're just garbage. The only way to know if it
will work is to try it in your particular location. Make sure you can
return it if it doesn't work in your environment!
Ask your phone
system vendor if they have one you can borrow for a couple of days
before ordering it (you'll probably have to pay for installation).
If you decide to go
with cordless phones be sure to buy a lot of spares! Desk phones
can last forever. Cordless phones get dropped, sat on, thrown
and smashed. There is no way they will last very long in
constant use at a business.
You'll need the
spares so you can send the broken ones out for repair.
If you're crazy
enough to buy consumer cordless phones at the Office Biggie
store for business use, be sure to buy lots of spare systems.
Whatever you bought will be discontinued and replaced with
another model that's not compatible with what you bought, maybe
within weeks or months. Any cordless phone you buy will break
Cordless Phone Tech Bulletin
for more information:
Audio & HD Voice?
Some VoIP equipment
manufacturers are talking up HD or Wideband VoIP, which is basically high
fidelity voice over VoIP (using the g.722 codec) HD VoIP would work fine if
there's enough bandwidth (it doesn't use more bandwidth than a
regular g.711 64K call), but that's a real stretch if you
consider that nobody can make all regular VoIP calls all sound as good
as a real phone call, primarily because of bandwidth constraints.
If your VoIP
provider supports the g.722 wideband codec, and you make
a call to a landline or basically anywhere outside your own PBX, you're back down to the traditional limited bandwidth of
a real phone system - 300 to 3500hz.
You will get better
sounding audio on intercom calls between two wideband VoIP
phones using g.722 (if they are setup properly to use the g.722
codec), but that's about it.
I can't think of any
reason to pay more for wideband audio / HD voice today. Maybe in
the future when everybody has it and there are no more analog
VoIP is easy for an ISP to
purposely screw up
If you're planning to use
VoIP between two locations (like an office and branch office or
home worker) consider using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A
VPN will encrypt the SIP (VoIP) packets that carry the
conversation (and any other data you send like email and
spreadsheets, etc.). That encrypted connection is called a VPN
VPN routers are fairly inexpensive and fairly easy to setup these days. You'll
need one for each end of the connection.
Since a VPN is encrypted it prevents tapping your VoIP
when they leave your building.
It's very unlikely that someone would try to intercept the
network traffic between your locations, and if they did it would
be very hard to do unless they could get right onto your network
or DSL/cable/T1 leaving your building.
The FBI does have a box at
every ISP, including yours, that lets them grab all
the packets from a particular IP address (like yours), which
gives them the ability to monitor and record VoIP conversations
(and everything else you send or receive over the Internet). I
would imagine that they have the ability to break VPN
encryption, but probably not in real time.
The real reason to encrypt your VoIP traffic is to prevent your
ISP from blocking/degrading the quality of VoIP calls by messing
with the SIP packets, which are easy to identify as they go
through their routers. Why would they do that?
Because they probably are or own
a phone company in addition to offering broadband. If your VoIP
sounds terrible, you're more likely to switch to their phone
Some countries, especially China, monitor all of the traffic on
the Internet - and have been known to automatically inject a BYE
packet intermittently, which tells the other end of the call
that the other party has hung-up.
If someone decides to hack the software on the Cisco routers
that are used to route almost all of the packets on the Internet (which
has happened), they could put a little bit of code to send a BYE
in response to every SIP packet, which would bring down
everybody's VoIP that isn't encrypted on a VPN (routers don't
have the ability to break the encryption of a VPN on the fly).
bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of
low price has faded from memory.
Gucci, 1938... And he never used VoIP!
Click HERE for
for a quick list of things to check before jumping into VoIP
Click HERE to
see the July 2014 Tech Blog on making VoIP sound perfect