A PERFECT MIX. How a Multi-Solution Approach Can Ease the Transition to Next-Generation Phone Service

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1 A PERFECT MIX How a Multi-Solution Approach Can Ease the Transition to Next-Generation Phone Service

2 Today s enterprises understand that the rules of business have changed and so has the pace. They know that customers armed with mobile devices and ubiquitous connectivity expect the companies they interact with to be more accessible, and more responsive, than ever before. And they know that technology can help them meet that challenge. With cutting-edge solutions, businesses can be more agile, increase their customers satisfaction, and gain a competitive edge. But migrating to the latest technology isn t always as simple as out with the old, in with the new. Indeed, many companies larger enterprises, in particular often have significant investments in existing infrastructure; equipment they plan to replace one day, but not quite today. Complicating matters further, businesses will often have different locations at different points on their technology roadmap. Some sites may be ready for a full embrace of an all-new solution, while others may need a more gradual transition. For these multi-site, multi-requirement enterprises, a one-size-fits-all solution won t work because no one size will, in fact, fit. The question then is: what will? It is a question that businesses are asking a lot these days, especially when it comes to their phone service. This is an area where the future is clear: Voice over IP technology (VoIP) where calls run over the Internet or managed IP networks instead of dedicated voice circuits has transformed telephony, with significant benefits for businesses of all sizes. VoIP phone systems can mean lower capital investments, easy scalability, and simplified management. They also can bring a host of productivityenhancing features that enable anywhere, anytime access to calls and voic empowering the mobile workers and telecommuters whose numbers, and role, are increasing each day. But what is often less clear is the path to that future. Today, it s common for an enterprise to have a site or more than one that runs its own private branch exchange, or PBX. This hardware, which didn t come cheap, switches calls between internal users and provides access to external phone lines. While some of these PBXs are aging, others have plenty of life left in them. Indeed, many companies have recently invested in or are contemplating the purchase of a new generation of IPenabled PBXs. Yet whether a PBX is old or new, having the right connection to a VoIP network is the key to optimizing its capabilities. Other sites, meanwhile, may not have legacy equipment, or have already reached the end of their PBX s service life. That puts them in a good position to take VoIP to the max, by reaping the extensive advantages of hosted, cloudbased phone service. Under this model, it is the provider not the user that owns, operates, and maintains the infrastructure. Finally, many businesses have small offices with just a handful of employees. Or they may need phone lines to support fax machines, security systems, or point-of-sale terminals within any size office. In these cases, a more basic phone solution is appropriate. So these companies need yet another approach to VoIP. Not surprisingly, what many enterprises are discovering is that the road to next-generation voice isn t traveled overnight. Instead, it is a journey one that businesses can start by matching different VoIP solutions to different circumstances. For sites with older PBXs, PRI trunks can provide the link between their PBX and IP-based phone services. For sites with newer IP-PBXs, SIP trunking solutions can do the same. And for those sites without a PBX, fully hosted, cloud-based voice will often be a preferable choice. In this way, every site gets the solution that lets it realize maximum value from VoIP while realizing maximum value from any existing investments. With cutting-edge solutions, businesses can be more agile, increase their customers satisfaction, and gain a competitive edge. Mixed voice solutions aren t a new phenomena for today s enterprises. In a 2014 survey conducted by the market research firm IDC 1, 36 percent of responding large businesses (those with 1,000 to 4,999 employees) said they implemented a hybrid approach to VoIP, using on-premises managed solutions in some locations and off-site, hosted services at others. At the same time, the survey revealed that older telephone solutions are still in place within many enterprises: 34 percent of large businesses said they still used Centrex, a PBX-like service where the switching equipment is located at, and operated by, the phone company s central office. No doubt, then, many enterprises will soon be thinking about how they, too, can best make the transition to VoIP. And for a great number of them, a mixed approach will indeed fit best. So what do businesses need to know about mixed solutions before they can start their journey to nextgeneration phone service? Two things in particular: what their options are and how they fit different circumstances; and how to ensure optimal reliability and support for the full portfolio of solutions they implement. A PERFECT MIX: HOW A MULTI-SOLUTION APPROACH CAN EASE THE TRANSITION TO NEXT-GENERATION PHONE SERVICE 2

3 CHOOSING THE RIGHT PHONE SOLUTION FOR DIFFERENT NEEDS AND CIRCUMSTANCES The good news is that enterprises have a wide range of choices when it comes to advanced, IP-based phone service. So no matter what a business s existing investment in phone hardware, or where it is on the technology roadmap, there is an option that fits. The array of options means that a larger, multi-site enterprise can opt for different pathways for different locations as it migrates to next-generation phone service and all the benefits it brings. Matching the right solution for each environment might seem a formidable task, but it is made easier by understanding where each option works best. In the following section, we look at the three main pathways to next-generation phone service, and for each, examine how it works, what benefits it can bring, and where it makes an optimal fit. Hosted Cloud-Based Phone Service What it is: Perhaps the best way to think of cloudbased phone service is as a virtual PBX. All of the core hardware for placing and receiving calls is located off premises, and operated by the phone service provider, not the business. This means that it is the provider that makes the necessary capital expenditures and handles all of the maintenance and upgrades. Users, then, can focus more on their business and devote fewer internal resources to monitoring and administering their phone system. With cloud-based voice, customers generally pay a monthly fee for phone service, based on the number of users, so costs are somewhat predictable. And as the service lives in the cloud, accessible via any broadband connection, a user s physical location becomes irrelevant. A full suite of phone features can be accessed no matter where the user happens to be. Benefits: Cloud-based phone service brings businesses a long list of advantages. For starters, capital expenditures for telephony are no longer necessary (some providers, like Comcast, even include a certain number of phones with their service). And since phone calls are carried over IP networks instead of dedicated telephone circuits, new users can be added easily, without requiring cumbersome on-site installations. That kind of easy scalability is particularly valuable for fast growing companies, or those subject to seasonal spikes in their business. There s no need to worry since the provider typically keeps the cloud-based system up to date. Perhaps even more compelling are the advanced features that are possible when phone calls exist as data on the network. These will vary from provider to provider (so businesses should be sure to evaluate offers carefully), but can include capabilities like voic delivered as or incoming calls forwarded to secondary numbers and mobile devices. That last feature can be particularly handy and even vital when employees are on the road, or otherwise unable to get to the office (such as in severe weather or other emergencies). Where it fits best: Cloud-based phone service is ideal for any business or business location that is ready to replace its existing PBX, or doesn t have one to begin with. It is a fast and simple way to gain the full benefits of VoIP, without having to make costly up-front investments. Example: Comcast Business VoiceEdge. This cloudbased service gives businesses the cost, scalability, and ease-of-use advantages of a fully managed phone system, but adds an array of innovative features, such a mobile app (for both ios and Android platforms) that brings the in-office phone experience to an out-of-office mobile device. Users can make calls using their VoiceEdge business number, have incoming calls forwarded to their mobile device, manage voic , and have easy access to their company s VoiceEdge phone directory all from within the app. Other key VoiceEdge features include voic sent as , 4-digit dialing across offices, and desktop call management within Microsoft Outlook, Internet Explorer, or Firefox (answering calls or sending them to voic directly from one s PC). Trunking Solutions for a Premises-Based PBX What it is: In a PBX environment, a trunk is a dedicated connection that links the PBX to a phone service provider, who in turn links to the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Not too long ago, that provider was a traditional phone company offering traditional phone service. But now it can be an Internet phone company, offering VoIP service. Not all PBXs can connect to providers networks in the same way, however. For standard (non-ip) PBXs, PRI trunking is employed. For IP-PBXs, either PRI trunking or SIP trunking can be used. A PERFECT MIX: HOW A MULTI-SOLUTION APPROACH CAN EASE THE TRANSITION TO NEXT-GENERATION PHONE SERVICE 3

4 While PRI can be a compelling proposition bringing, for instance, additional features for disaster recovery SIP (which stands for Session Initiation Protocol, the standard used for transmitting voice calls over data networks) can provide even greater flexibility and cost benefits, as outlined below. With either solution, the PBX is still owned and maintained by the enterprise but now that business can place external calls over an IP network, and realize the significant advantages of digital telephony. One important point to note is that PRI and SIP trunks each entail a different kind of technology to link the PBX to the network. PRI trunks are physical connections typically sold in increments of 23 channels. SIP connections are virtual connections, a digital link between the IP-PBX running on your LAN and the Internet service provider out in the cloud. Benefits: A PRI trunk allows a business to leverage its existing investment in a traditional PBX while benefiting from the managed costs, business continuity, and enhanced capabilities that IP-based telephone service can bring. In the event of an emergency such as a power outage or natural disaster calls can be re-routed to alternate networks and back-up numbers. And when service is carried over a private IP network as opposed to the public Internet phone calls can be prioritized over other types of network traffic, ensuring highquality voice communications. SIP trunking offers these same advantages and more, triggering even greater potential savings and efficiencies for enterprises. Since there are no physical wires connecting the PBX to the phone provider s network, businesses can dial the number of lines they have up or down in whatever increment they require. That can be far more cost effective than buying them in bundles, which can result in having more capacity than a customer needs, at more cost than they want. It also means that even large volumes of lines can be added quickly, instead of having to wait for a host of physical trunks to be connected. Finally, with SIP trunking, multiple locations can share a single pool of capacity. Since most users are not on the phone at any given time, this could enable a business to purchase less overall capacity than if they had to allocate different capacities for different locations for lowered costs. According to a September 2014 report 2 by the market research firm Gartner, a migration to SIP trunking will reduce telecom expenses by up to 50% in the U.S. for a typical enterprise. Where it fits best: SIP trunking is ideal for an enterprise that has an existing investment in an IP-PBX. PRI trunking is designed for companies that are still operating with no plans to immediately replace a traditional on site PBX. The number of businesses falling into this second category is significant, for while the IP-PBX market is growing, some 85 percent of PBXs currently in place are not IP-enabled. Examples: Comcast SIP Trunking. This service delivers phone traffic over Comcast s nationwide network, and provides some crucial only via IP features, such as the ability to reroute calls between networks and to back-up numbers in the event of an emergency at the user s site (so customer calls are available even if disaster strikes). Capacity can be added as needed, and a burst mode means that the system can temporarily handle even greaterthan-allocated capacity should call volume suddenly spike. Meanwhile, a remote call forward feature lets a Comcast Business SIP Trunking Voice customer maintain a phone number from a geographic area different than their physical location an invaluable feature for businesses that move to a new location but want to retain their established phone numbers. Comcast PRI Trunking. Unlike some other PRI services, Comcast PRI trunking lets businesses expand service in single channel increments, instead of having to add an entire PRI line consisting of 23 channels. Comcast PRI trunking customers also benefit from service level agreements that define quality of service guarantees. Full-Featured Business Voice What it is: Many enterprises will a need a reliable phone solution for their smaller offices as well as lines for fax machines, security systems, and point-of-sale terminals. In those cases, full-featured business voice can be the ideal approach. Think of it as IP telephony that comes on a smaller scale but still provides big benefits. Benefits: With phone calls now traveling over IP networks, even the smallest business locations can leverage VoIP. Users can enjoy advanced features like voic delivered via and the ability to easily reroute calls to phones outside the office ensuring business continuity in the event of a power outage or emergency. Where it fits best: Business locations or branches (including home offices) that need just 1 to 5 phone lines. Sites that need lines for fax, security, and pointof-sale systems. A PERFECT MIX: HOW A MULTI-SOLUTION APPROACH CAN EASE THE TRANSITION TO NEXT-GENERATION PHONE SERVICE 4

5 Example: Comcast Full-Featured Business Voice. Comcast s full-featured VoIP lines provide users with enhanced clarity and over 20 advanced phone features including the ability to selectively forward calls. Or businesses can opt for a more basic line, without the advanced features a cost effective solution for lines intended for fax, security, and pointof-sale systems. An online portal makes managing phone service simple, letting users check their call history, set forwarding numbers, and access their voic from any Web browser. SUPPORT AND RELIABILITY: CHOOSING A PROVIDER THAT IS ALSO A PARTNER By adopting a mixed approach to phone service, today s enterprises can enjoy the advantages of nextgeneration voice while taking account of the specific needs and technology paths of their different sites. But this approach makes the choice of vendor a key consideration when purchasing any new solution even more critical. An implementation that may look great on paper can prove to be complicated and frustrating, returning less than the expected benefits, if businesses aren t working with the right provider. But finding that ideal vendor and realizing the full potential of next-generation phone service doesn t have to be difficult. Here s what to look for, and questions to ask: Does the provider offer a full suite of nextgeneration phone solutions? While the mixed-solution approach can deliver significant benefits, relying on a mix of vendors for them each providing a different system for a different location can bring challenges. For one thing, it means working with a group of providers instead of a single point of contact. So when trouble arises, a business first needs to figure out which vendor has responsibility for the problem. That makes troubleshooting harder and more timeconsuming, no one vendor has the big picture of the business s full phone implementation and needs. Does the provider manage and control an optimized private network? VoIP calls can sound great, with crystal clear voice and reliable delivery. But since VoIP is transmitted as data over IP networks, calls typically travel alongside other types of data, like video, , and Web pages. Particularly on the public Internet, that can sometimes cause trouble, since the different types of data may be bumping into each other, all competing to get through the pipe. For voice traffic, delays can impact quality, resulting in a less-thanoptimal experience. That s why it is vital to ask the vendor what if anything it does to ensure call quality. Comcast, for example, provides its business customers with a dedicated line for voice traffic guaranteeing that phone traffic never has to compete for bandwidth on the enterprise s WAN. And because Comcast controls the entire connection between the company s site and the public switched telephone network, it is able to continually monitor performance and take action at the slightest hint of trouble before that trouble actually materializes. Indeed, because it owns the VoIP connection in this manner, Comcast can even provide a service level agreement (SLA) for its customers ensuring a minimum level of performance, and no unwelcome surprises. By adopting a mixed approach to phone service, today s enterprises can enjoy the advantages of next-generation voice while taking account of the specific needs and technology paths of their different sites. By using a single provider for all of their phone needs over all of their sites businesses can avoid these problems. Now there is one point of contact, and even though the solutions themselves may be different, they are managed, monitored, and serviced by a single entity, who knows the ins and outs of how the full enterprise-wide system works. That s a far more effective, and efficient, way to operate a phone system. It means businesses can spend less time on managing their technology and more time running their business. A single provider can also help ease the transition to more advanced VoIP solutions when a site is ready for them. A PERFECT MIX: HOW A MULTI-SOLUTION APPROACH CAN EASE THE TRANSITION TO NEXT-GENERATION PHONE SERVICE 5

6 How does the provider handle installation and training? While many vendors sell phone solutions, far fewer provide the resources and guidance to help customers make the most of the system. That extra step is crucial, for winning with technology and reaping all of its benefits requires more than simply using new tools. It means using them as effectively and efficiently as possible. A vendor that can help customers do that from planning to installation to on-going use isn t just a provider, but a partner. It s important, then, that businesses ask potential vendors what they do to support their product and their users. How are installation and training handled? What tools and assistance are provided? At Comcast, the approach is multisided. All Business VoiceEdge, PRI and SIP customers are assigned a dedicated project manager who helps steer their order from design (helping to choose the right solutions for each location) through installation. This person will work with the customer to ensure a proper network configuration and to discuss the timeline for service activation, the porting of any existing telephone numbers, and other pre-installation matters. On a day of installation, a Comcast engineer will ensure that everything is running properly and will cover the basics of using the phone. But that s just a small part of the training piece. Free on-demand videos and online classes (or in-person training for a fee) provide more in-depth training on system features and how to get the most out of them. By delivering great voice quality and a wealth of innovative features, the best next-generation phone solutions can help enterprises stand out and stand apart in an increasingly mobile, competitive business landscape. VoIP can be embraced far more easily, with far greater flexibility, than companies might think: adopted on their own terms, on their own timetable, but letting them get started and start to see the payoff today. 1 IDC s SMB Survey, Gartner, SIP Trunking Slashes U.S. Telecom Expenses by Up to 50%, Sorell Slaymaker, 12 September WHT90074_2.16 A PERFECT MIX: HOW A MULTI-SOLUTION APPROACH CAN EASE THE TRANSITION TO NEXT-GENERATION PHONE SERVICE 6

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