PICKING THE RIGHT PHONE SYSTEM

Whether you’re a small non-profit or a multi-national corporation, you’re probably going to need a phone system.  A phone system provides features such as voice mail, call transfer, paging, conference calling and – depending on the system – much more.  There are lots of options available from enterprise scale Cisco-based systems to small open source Asterisk-based boxes and lots of options in between.  You also need to decide between an on-site solution where a PBX is actually installed at your site or a hosted solution where your phones simply plug into a network connection and you communicate exclusively over VoIP.

Enterprise solutions, such as Cisco, offer robust, scalable, well-known and well-supported systems.  However, these types of systems are often very costly and need to be deployed and maintained by a certified professional.  Smaller systems such as Toshiba and Avaya are great options for small businesses.  They offer great reliability, excellent support and a set-it-and-forget-it type setup.  These systems still need to be installed and configured by a professional, but once the initial programming is finished, you may never need to touch it again.  Their downfall is in scalability; once you need more phones, lines or features, the cost begins to rise sharply.

The best option that we support, offering a blend of scalability, support, features and cost is 3CX.  While they may not have the name recognition of Cisco or Toshiba, they provide an excellent product that is feature-rich out of the box with the scalability to serve small offices with half a dozen phones or large corporations with thousands of phones across multiple sites.  Configuration and installation still requires a professional, but with the right training the system can pretty easily be managed by already existing staff members.  3CX also supports both VoIP and traditional analog lines either separately or side-by-side.

If you’re a small business or organization looking for rock-solid reliability with basic features and analog lines, Toshiba is a great solution.  If you want a system that can easily grow with your business, has tons of features and supports both VoIP and analog, 3CX is an excellent choice.  Kingdom Communications can guide you in your decision-making and deploy the best solution to meet your needs.

WHAT TYPE OF CABLING?

If you’re looking to run new cabling either in a new facility or an existing one, it’s important to know your options.  The first thing you’ll need to decide is whether you want Cat 5e or Cat 6.  Cat 5e has been the standard for many years now and is still commonly run.  Cat 5e can theoretically support 1000Mbps (gigabit) speeds and has good resistance to interference.

Cat 6 cable will eventually supersede Cat 5e as the standard.  It has stricter specifications when it comes to interference, so it’s better shielded and it is theoretically capable of speeds up to 10Gbps (10,000Mbps).  If you’re wiring up a new place, it would be wise to go with Cat 6, but if you do, you’ll need to use Cat 6 jacks and patch panels.  And if you’re looking to get the fastest speeds possible, make sure that your routers and switches are all gigabit capable.

A note on speed: your internal network speed running over your Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable is different than your Internet speed, which you get from your service provider.  If your ISP is only delivering data to your office at 1.5Mbps, your 10,000Mbps data network isn’t going to make much difference in loading web pages.  If you’re transferring files across your internal network, however, the faster speed of Cat 6 could make a big difference.

The other factor to consider is plenum or non-plenum.  Both Cat 5e and Cat 6 cables come in plenum or non-plenum varieties.  Plenum cables are designed to run in the plenum spaces of a building (i.e. those parts of a building that can facilitate air circulation for heating and air conditioning).  Plenum cable is jacketed with a fire-retardant plastic and is typically mandated in hospitals, schools and buildings above three stories.  Plenum cable is more expensive, so it’s best to check with your state and local building codes to determine if you need to spend the extra money.

IS VOIP RELIABLE?

When we talk to a potential client about a new phone system, we want to evaluate whether or not a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) solution would work for them.  It’s not a solution for everybody, but VoIP does have the potential to dramatically increase the flexibility of your communications and reduce your monthly phone cost.

Many people and companies have been lured by the promise of VoIP, Googled providers and signed up online to have preconfigured phones drop-shipped to them.  They plug them in and, often, end up having audio issues, dropped connections, missed calls and other issues.  Especially for businesses, this can be a horrible experience, driving many away from a VoIP solution.

Let’s pause for a moment and examine what VoIP actually is.

When you pick up a VoIP phone and begin talking, your voice is converted into a long string of ones and zeroes, which is then chopped up into tiny bits and sent separately across the public internet by various and separate paths to be reassembled in the correct order on the receiving end and then converted from ones and zeroes back into actual sound we can hear.  Pretty remarkable, isn’t it?

Inherent in any VoIP system is a huge variable called the Internet – it’s open, it’s public and it’s not quality controlled by any one organization.  That’s just the nature of the beast.  VoIP is going to be subject to environment of the Internet no matter what service you use.  However, there are other variables that you can check and potentially have more control over:

1.       Upload speed – this is one of the first things to look at.  Internet service providers (Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, etc.) will provide you with two speeds for your internet connection: an upload speed and a download speed.  Your download speed will almost always be sufficient for VoIP, but upload is where it counts.  Make sure that you have at least a 1Mbps upload speed, but faster is always better.

2.       Ping time – this is a measure of delay in your network (use a site like speedtest.net or pingtest.net).  The more delay there is, the more likely to have audio issues.  If you’re having an issue with your VoIP provider and the sites above tell you that your ping times are great, you can do a specific ping test using the command line to your VoIP provider – the result could be dramatically different.

3.       Jitter – this is a funny word that basically tells how much variation there is in your ping times.  A lot of variation means stutter in your audio stream and inconsistency in your service.

4.       Packet loss – All those little chunks of ones and zeroes travel as packets across the internet.  If you have packet loss, you’re going to drop words or whole sentences.  You can check packet loss from the command line or through pingtest.net

If you do your homework ahead of time, the transition to VoIP can be a lot smoother and your overall experience more reliable.  VoIP can be very reliable, but much of that reliability will depend on your VoIP provider.  Look for ones that are willing to test their service on your network before the install and ask them questions about what they do to ensure reliability and uptime.

10 THINGS YOU NEED TO ASK BEFORE YOU DEPLOY A NEW VOIP PHONE SYSTEM

1. How many phones do you need?

2. How many phone lines?

3. Do you have sufficient internet speed?  ( you can go here to see www.speedtest.net)

4. Do you currently have a POE switch?

5. Is your network CAT5e or CAT6?  If its CAT6 then you need to buy Gigabit phones.

6. Do you have a Static IP address from your internet provider?

7. Are you linking multiple sites?

8. Do you have or need overhead speaker paging?

9. Do you have any analog devices that will need to integrate into your new system?   note* It is not recommended to integrate your fax, alarms, or postage machine into your new phone system.*

10. Are you going to go hosted voip or buy your own voip phone system?