The widespread availability of high-speed internet connections means users of all kinds are giving consideration to the latest type of telecoms technology, IP telephony
by Simon Slater Thomas
09 February 2007
With the widespread availability of high speed broadband internet connections, business users of all kinds now have the confidence to consider the latest type of telecoms technology - IP telephony.
'IP' - internet protocol - simply refers to the way that the call is carried. The significance is that it offers business a great deal of flexibility in the way that they manage and handle calls, and that it is considerably cheaper than standard telephony.
However, the cost and complexity of putting in an IP system from scratch is often off-putting to small, medium-sized and even some larger businesses.
Many are therefore looking to hosted (or 'managed') services. These are more akin to the telephony systems we are all used to in that someone else provides it, a monthly fee and some call charges are billed, and there's a phone on the desk.
This approach obviates the need for the large, up-front capital investment of a bespoke system with IP telephony systems hosted by a third-party specialist, there is usually only an installation charge in the order of hundreds, rather than thousands of pounds. Equally, a hosted service by its nature avoids the need for management time on the part of the users.
1 The market
As a rule, as long as the quality of the broadband, the handset/phone, and the network are in place, hosted IP telephony can offer a compelling option. However, as with most things, not all suppliers are born equal. More reliable technology brought more companies into the market, all claiming to have overcome all of the original technical and service challenges.
Once an organisation has made the decision to adopt a hosted IP telephony system, determine the questions which you need to ask your supplier.
2 The regulator
It is technically possible for anyone to set up an IP telephony company without conforming to Ofcom conditions. Organisations should check that the supplier they select is reputable, established and conforms to Ofcom licensing conditions (www.ofcom.org.uk). An Ofcom licence provides a basic check that suppliers are legitimate and understand their activity.
3 The checks
It is also important to check with the supplier that it is possible to make emergency (999) calls, as many are unable to provide this fundamental part of the telephony service. A further consideration is a more technical one in nature. Network redundancy, sometimes called 'fail-over', refers to what happens to the call if something happens to part of the network (see box below).
4 The features
Hosted solutions are often rich in features, and will be charged differently to a standard BT-type line and phone. It's very easy for purchasers to be offered a menu of options and find they are charged a seemingly small increment for each element of the service and suddenly find themselves faced with a huge monthly bill and a long-term contract to boot. Companies should identify the features they need, those that would be nice to have, and ensure they know exactly what they will pay for them.
5 The cost
Compare pricing of suppliers identified as reputable, and see how they charge for the various elements on offer. Vitally, ensure the supplier offers a tariff sheet and be certain to understand the pricing before entering into an agreement, and check that the terms and conditions are clear and reasonable.
6 The references
With inexperienced operators able to set up in the market, facilities managers need to ask whether the supplier has a history of delivering to businesses of your size. Speak with existing customers and check that the supplier has been around and supplying quality solutions for a while. If a customers has been with the supplier for a long period of time (in IP telephony terms this may be just be two or three years) then this is another indication of overall quality and reliability.
A simple trick is to ask for the help desk number - and call it to see what level of service is offered. The help desk can be particularly vital in the early days of using a new service and thereafter if any one-off problems occur. Help desks are a little like insurance: we often don't appreciate how important they are until we need to rely on them. Only then will shortfalls in provision come to light.
7 The delivery
The technology industry is particularly good at making promises but the huge cost and flexibility benefits of IP technology can be severely undermined if the service provider delivers it poorly.
It is in the interests of the other, good quality players in this market to ensure that buyers are armed with the right questions to ask of their suppliers in a market that could so easily be sullied by 'cowboys'. Get it right and the benefits will begin to make themselves apparent from day one.
Simon Slater Thomas is CEO of
Can we reroute?
A further consideration is a more technical one in nature. Network redundancy, sometimes called 'failover', refers to what happens to the call if something happens to part of the network - can it be rerouted? This offers a strong indication to the depth of service offered and can provide a good level of confidence that the service is robust enough to stand up to any problems that occur. Suppliers should provide at least two levels of failover.