Hosted and Managed Telephony
Hosted Telephony could be described as a non-premise ‘cloud’ based communications solution for small and medium businesses. Alternatively you could consider thinking of it as ‘outsourced telephony’.
You pay monthly for the total number of staff you have who connect via broadband data links or Ethernet in the first mile (EFM) across a "private" MPLS connection to your chosen hosted telephony service provider. Calls are routed via the communications server at the providers datacentre. Every user would be provided with a SIP handset. You don't have your own phone system anymore. Instead you rely on the provider to host and route your calls.
At first glance
So why wouldn't you?
At first glance the idea of implementing a cloud hosted telephone system with simple per user managed costs seems to make a great deal of sense. There's no hefty capital investment upfront and you only pay for the number of users you need.
Easy and inexpensive
Allows you to get up and running without requiring expertise or capital expenditure.
Choose a pay as you grow model that suits your needs, and that can grow or contract seamlessly.
Allow employees to be integrated into the company's phone system from anywhere that has broadband or 3g access - from home, office or abroad.
But when you look deeper
Things to bear in mind
But when you start to look deeper, there are a great many variables to address before you make the commitment. You are after all, talking about the one thing that is 100% critical to most businesses. The ability to talk to your customers and suppliers as close to 100% of the time as possible. The Americans coined the phrase five 9's, i.e available 99.999% of the time.
Large SIP providers and hosted telephony providers rely on an ever growing volume of subscribers in order to achieve a critical mass. These companies initially grow organically but soon adopt an acquisition strategy as consolidation of the industry requires them to speed up the growth of their customer base and market share. Customer service can often suffer during this consolidation period leading to more stressful calls and the danger of slower resolutions. Either a fully managed service or a premise based system with onsite support and maintenance cover will allow for rapid communication and resolution of issues. It’s in the interest of smaller providers to provide good service. Often their business will depend on it.
Product Enhancements and Upgrades
Handing the ownership of the telephone system to the host can be a negative and not a positive as systems don't get upgraded as often they will with a customer owned and managed system.
Standard broadband or MPLS circuits – It is imperative that you consider the amount of bandwidth required for multiple simultaneous calls to and from your customers. A standard broadband connection is fine when it comes to a home worker or single worker connecting to the telephone system remotely but is seldom sufficient to deliver high quality simultaneous voice calls. Always consider which link would be best for your business. You will probably be deploying hosted telephony or Voice over IP (VoIP) over a high-speed broadband connection, which you will also use for other data and communication needs: downloads, server connectivity, chat, email etc. Voice will finally get only a share of your connection and peak times can leave inadequate bandwidth for it, causing call quality to deteriorate. Since you have multiple users, you won’t know the number of users who will be online at the same time, so it is difficult to provide to adequate bandwidth all the time. It is damaging to have your company’s phone line reduced due to poor connection.
Quality of Service (QoS)
QoS depends on so many factors: your broadband connection, your hardware, the service provided by your provider, the destination of your call etc. Many people are enjoying high quality phone calls using hosted telephony, but still many users still complain of low volume or jittery calls, having to wait before hearing an answer etc. Regular telephone service has provided such good quality that the slightest shortcoming with a hosted ‘voice over IP’ call does not go unnoticed. If your connection quality is not good, you will have a very bad experience and you will finally hate the technology, your hardware and your service provider.
Suppliers of hosted telephony will insist on calls going out across their network at their call rates. This is in their interest as lines and calls have been a profit centre for many businesses for over two decades. Installing your own telephone system onsite allows you to be in the driving seat when it comes to deciding who supplies your calls and billing.
Local Area Network
There are frequently hurdles to overcome when implementing voice across an existing data network. With on-premise systems, these issues are discussed and addressed by onsite IT staff (either employed or contracted) in conjunction with the engineers project managing the implementation of the new voice system. When it comes to hosted telephony, it's one thing for them to be experts on the cloud side, but quite another when it comes to looking into a customer's local area network infrastructure and being able to see which component is causing a problem.
When companies have internal staff who are more than capable of carrying out simple programming changes on a telephone system the supplier/maintainer may allow access to the programming for their customer. On most current systems this is either delivered via a programming application loaded onto an engineer’s PC or via a browser interface. Conversely, with a hosted solution the hosting company sets the rules and rarely gives the customer anything but minimal access for changes. In addition, if any aspect of a hosted providers service is less than optimal such as programming changes, price, second carrier, phones, etc then the entire provider must be changed. This puts you into a virtual lock unless you completely change your entire telecommunications infrastructure. With on premise managed equipment, you are free to change any portion you want.
Applications and Custom Applications
If you wish to drive more benefits from your telephone system such as recording calls, reporting live on inbound calls or adding wallboards to display live information for the current status of your system, then there are several suppliers who work closely with telephone system manufacturers to provide tightly integrated and approved solutions to deliver this functionality.
What we would recommend
We can see the direction that both the data world and voice world are travelling. For example in the data world, Windows has launched Office 2013 with two options. The first is the standard client installation on each PC whilst the second is a hosted solution relying on connectivity to the web. The second option will be charged on a monthly basis and will be cheaper than the locally installed option. Doesn't this sound familiar? We've been involved in telephony and telephone systems for over thirty years now and have adopted the latest technologies both inhouse and for our clients but we've always done it when a technology has become mature and proved itself. We like having sufficient soft programmable keys on each users phone to make their life easier. We thrive on supporting our customers with a personal touch and prompt response. It's our business.
Don't forget that telephone systems have been adding features and functionality for the past three decades. These features have been driven by end users and designed by people who understand what the user needs from their phone.
The next time somebody talks to you about hosted telephony, ask them if it will provide voice paging to the phones to let everyone know that the sandwich van is outside. You may be surprised at the features that are lost when voice just becomes an application managed by people who have grown up in the data world.
Please feel free to give us a call to discuss your voice requirements.
As we said, it's our business.
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