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VoIP Deployment Equipment Essentials

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Today and the next 2 articles, we continue discussing VoIP due to its importance as an important business communication tool. From last week’s article we now know what VoIP is but then what equipment do we need to deploy it. Remember VoIP combined with Least Cost Routing helps reduce telephone calling costs by over 50%.

Typical VoIP networks, no matter how small will have the following elements  an IP-PBX , IP Phones , Analogue Terminal Adapters/ VoIP gateway , GSM Gateway, PSTN gateway , soft phones and of course a network which can be Ethernet or fiber optics or wireless. In this discussion we will explain each of those components where they come in your VoIP/PBX deployment.

IP-PBX

Remember an IP-PBX is right in the center of your VoIP deployment. An IP-PBX is a computer system that handles your incoming and outgoing calls in an intelligent manner. It is a combination of hardware and software, running call switching. You can legally run your own private IP based telephone network for your organization without having to traverse into any GSM, VoIP or land line network. This is very useful in saving costs of making telephone calls. The IP-PBX systems can be used for private internal networks or to connect to external networks via use of gateways.

The size of the IP-PBX you get will be determined by the number of users you plan to have on your network. The all-in-one IP-PBX solutions generally have Registrar, Proxy, Voice Mail, Presence and IM Server.

IP Phones

An IP-Phone uses Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies allowing telephone calls to be made over an IP network, such as the Internet instead of the standard PSTN system. Calls can traverse the Internet, or a private IP network such as that of a company. This means when you get an IP-PBX for your telephony needs, plug in any type of IP phone that supports Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).

IP-Phones have an Ethernet port that simply plugs into your existing network. Standard VoIP calls usually have two ports where you can share you internet connection between the phone and your PC without the need of extra cabling.

Analogue Terminal Adapters and VoIP Gateways

An analog telephony adapters (ATA) and VoIP Gateways are devices used to connect one or more standard analog telephones to a digital telephone system (such as Voice over IP) or an Analogue PABX system. This means that when you are deploying a VoIP system, you can still use analogue telephone handsets with ATAs/VoIP Gateways. You simply plug in your analogue phone into the ATA/VoIP Gateway. The ATA/VoIP Gateway has an Ethernet connection on the other end that connects you to the IP network, be it private or public internet. There are two types of ATA/VoIP Gateway connections, FXS and FXO. What you need to know is that with the FXS you connect regular phones to the device and with the FXS you can connect the device transparently to Tel One, which is the landline provider (PSTN) in Zimbabwe.

GSM Gateways

GSM has emerged as a superior alternative to the fixed-line networks and offer wider coverage, has less incidents of vandalism and call costs relatedly less. Today’s businesses expect the specific benefits from GSM networks without sacrificing existing land line connectivity. A VoIP GSM Gateway enables direct routing between IP, digital, analog and GSM networks. With these GSM devices companies can significantly reduce the money they spend on telephone calls, especially on calls from IP to GSM. The core idea behind cost saving with VoIP and GSM Gateways is Least Cost Routing (LCR).

Through least cost routing, the GSM Gateways select the most cost-effective telephone connection, to any destination worldwide. The IP-PBX check the number which is dialed as well as call rates, which are stored in the IP-PBX routing table. Since SIM cards from different networks are integrated within the VOIP GSM Gateway, it is able to make relatively cheaper GSM to GSM calls.

To archive Least Cost Routing, one invests in a multichannel GSM Gateway, connect it to the IP-PBX and then source SIM cards from the local GSM network operators namely Econet, Net One and Telecel. The result massive telephone call savings, as the IP-PBX chooses the cheapest SIM card to make a call to any destination, local and international.

This article is published by Standard Global Communications. The company has been deploying Telecoms and Electronic Security solutions in Zimbabwe for over 20 years. SGC offers free consultation, designs, deploys and provides after-sales support. Our flexible and scalable solutions help reduce telephone costs, while increasing operational efficiency at an affordable cost.

With the rapid advancement in technology, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), needs to be a serious consideration when investing in office telephony. This technology allows users to reduce telephone costs, usually by over 50%.

In this technologically advanced business era, we can safely assume you have bumped into the term VoIP. You may understand it having something to do with the internet and telephony systems. It can also be associated further with organizational cost control and flexible device capabilities for employees although most potential buyers shun the ‘too’ technical terms. We have seen it fit to simplify VoIP and its capabilities, benefits, coupled with a practical setup illustration.

VoIP is a disruptive technology that has rapidly gained traction against the traditional telephone. VoIP is also known as Internet telephony.

Internet telephony involves sending of voice, fax and SMS using the internet as the transport mechanism. Internet telephony differs from traditional telephony which uses PSTN (landlines) and GSM (cellular). Landlines and cell phones use dedicated amounts of bandwidth to complete calls. TelOne in our instance is the PSTN operator and Econet, Net One and Telecel are 3 licensed GSM operators. Telco, Africom, Powertel and ZOL are some of the licensed VoIP operators in Zimbabwe. This means these companies can offer voice services using the internet.

So why VoIP?

The fact that you can carry voice calls over any IP networks implies drastic ability and capacity to cut calling costs. Computer applications like Skype, amongst others use the same principle. VoIP removes the distance element when making calls. Limited long distance calls are coming to an inevitable end. This is obviously the case as seen when using cell phones that charge you the same amount for calls to any part of Zimbabwe, regardless of where you are calling from. VoIP is already doing that. You can call someone in the UK as if you were in the UK. Even better still, you can make FREE calls to those on the same VoIP network with you anywhere in the world with a decent internet connection. In this context, VoIP is used on private networks which may have a connection to the global telephony network. This is a direct threat to traditional telephone providers and an evitable scenario as the world gets connected via satellite, fiber optics, wireless, copper, making it truly a global village.

Call Handling Management

You will have complete control over how calls go in and out of the system. Route calls to different teams. Provide automated menus. Deal with calls for staff who are busy or unavailable. Forward out of hours calls to voicemail and mobiles. Whatever behavior of call handling your customers need, you will be able to provide it.

Mobility and Portability

Incoming calls can ring at the same time for both employee mobile and desk phone and easier accessibility to emails via any softphone device becomes a breeze for on the move, field employees like sales representatives. Bandwidth assignment capabilities come into play also by ensuring that high quality voice packets are transmitted.

Integration Capabilities

VoIP Gateways can be easily installed to ensure voice calls are transformed to internet protocol packets hence eliminating the need to completely remove already existing PABX infrastructure.

Practical Example

Say you own a manufacturing company called Standard Global Communications based in Harare and you have offices in Bulawayo, Mutare, Masvingo, Victoria Falls and you a warehouse in Beitbridge. Using VoIP, you can interconnect all office locations hence making calls from Head Office in Harare to Bulawayo or any other office, literally free of charge. You can interconnect all these offices to the IP network preferably using fiber optics which will not only bring VoIP but internet and video conferencing. Once deployed, your VoIP system, made up of an IP-PABX, IP Phones, Routers and Switches, can slash the cost of making calls drastically. Your sales agent in Harare simply dials an extension to get hold of a stores clerk at the border in Beitbridge or any of your other branch!!

Conclusion

The good news is that Zimbabwe now has a robust fiber optics infrastructure. The fiber optics carry data at the speed of light. Secondly, fiber has higher carrying capacity than both wireless and copper technologies. This guarantees faster internet speeds and more reliable connectivity. At the center of your VoIP deployment is a PABX which is basically a call routing systems. Migrate to VoIP and save thousands on business calls!!

This article is published by Standard Global Communications. The company has been deploying Telecoms and Electronic Security solutions in Zimbabwe for over 20 years. SGC offers free consultation, designs, deploys and provides after-sales support. Our flexible and scalable solutions help reduce telephone costs, while increasing operational efficiency at an affordable cost.

There are a number of things one must consider before buying a PABX. There are many types of PABXs, with various capacities and an assortment features but most are commonly classified as Analogue PABXs, from yesteryear technology, Internet Protocol PABXs (IP-PABXs) from the recent past and the most modern being Unified Communication Servers (UCS). All work depending on requirements, which is why it’s critical ensure you have the correct specifications from the beginning. Here are top five tips to consider when buying a PABX for your organization.

Size of the PABX
The size of the PABX means number Trunk Lines like Tel One, GSM or VOIP (or a combination of lines) and number of extensions for staff. Some PABX systems will allow for the connection of Telone lines only, while some can connect to technologies listed above. Deciding the number of extensions will depend on number of users in the office who require constant telephone connectivity. For example, the Administration Department would generally require more extensions than the Factory, where one extension can be shared by a number of people. Future growth prospects of the organisation must also be considered meaning, the PABX system must be scalable, in terms of extensions, lines and other features.

Future upgrades
Scalability of the PABX is an important factor to decide what PABX to buy. There are PABX models which can be upgraded to certain number of trunk lines and extensions, Voice Mail, Auto-Attendants, Mobil Extensions, Least Cost Routing, Advert-On-Hold etc. The cost of upgrade vary depending on the upgrade required. So, one should consider up-gradation costs carefully and ask for the costs as options, to get a clear picture. For any organization which is growing, it is advisable to buy a scalable PABX, which can then be installed with expansion cards as the needs of the business grows.

PricePrice is very important factor to decide on what PABX to buy. However if the correct PABX specifications have been accurate, as recommended in our first article, it becomes easy comparing quotations, in fact as easy as comparing oranges and apples!! (You can request for first article from info@standardglobal.co.zw).  

One should never compromise quality of PABX system in order to choose the cheapest with less features than required, as it is the heart of communications for the organisation. There are many auxiliary costs with PABX systems like wiring, power supply back-up, battery, rack etc. In addition one should also consider maintenance costs and after sales service before deciding on purchasing one.

Choice of PABX Company                                                                                                                                      Purchasing a PABX is a long term investment, generally a minimum of 10 years. Get your equipment from a professional, experienced and authorized distributor of a PABX manufacturer, ensuring access to genuine warranty on hardware and software upgrades. To eliminate fly by night, ‘‘ PABX experts’’, ask for the Authorized Dealership Certificate from the PABX manufacturer, VAT Clearance Certificate from Zimra and  PABX Dealer License from Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe and at least 3 customer reference letters.  Remember communication is key to the success of your organization.

Features of PABX

Modern businesses require an integrated communication solution that is easily expandable and can grow with the growing communication needs of the organization. Furthermore features that help in efficient call management and reduction of telephone bills are a must. Some of the features readily available on modern PABXs include:

VoIP: This feature allows the carrying of voice traffic using data networks, especially for organisations that have offices located at different sites. Thus, telephone calls to the other branches are made of free of charge, if internet connectivity is available.

Least Cost Routing: This unique function designed using structured programming, selects the most cost effective trunk from the allotted lines like PSTN, GSM and VoIP, to make the cheapest possible outgoing calls, to any destination local and international, resulting in major call savings.

GSM Connectivity: Allows for instant communication by connection of GSM lines on the PABX using GSM expansion cards, especially were no landlines are available or are prone to vandalism.

Auto-Attendant and Voice Mail System: This feature allows the optional automatic answering of telephone calls and routing them to desired extensions, relieving pressure on the switchboard operator. In addition, external callers can leave messages for your staff and staff can leave messages for each other, ensuring messages are captured accurately.

Telephone Recording: This feature is for recording and achieving of all business telephone conversations for customer service, training and security reasons, as well as reviewing these recordings as and when required.

Use Your Own Device: Forget cordless phones!! Now you can go wireless with your GSM Phone as an office extension, from anywhere in the world, as long as internet access is available.

Telephone Management Software: Helps effectively manage the telephone usage, capturing records of dialed numbers, by what extension, department, when, costs per call etc and generates consolidated reports, holding every user accountable.

Call Budgeting: Allows for allocation of call budget for every extension in order to control usage.

Advert-on-Hold Port: Allows for connection of studio recorded audio marketing messages about the organisation, to callers on-hold, waiting to be connected on the phone.

Hotel and Hospital Features: These are customized comprehensive hotel or hospital features built into the system.

In conclusion we hope you make the right decision when investing in one of the most important business tool, a PABX.

This article is published by Standard Global Communications. The company has been deploying Telecoms and Electronic Security solutions in Zimbabwe for over 20 years. SGC offers free consultation, designs, deploys and provides after-sales support. Our flexible and scalable solutions help reduce telephone costs, while increasing operational efficiency at an affordable cost.

Very often at times, in the business world, when the need for procurement of any new technologies arises, regardless of size, loopholes have become prevalent due to the lack of a strict adherence to due diligence given the fast paced technological changes. Ignorance and conscious “corner cutting” have become the norm, costing many organisations thousands of dollars. It is our hope to adequately enlighten you upon the best practices to be considered when procuring new technological assets, focusing on office telephony.

Expertise Is Key!!

The first key element to ink onto our canvas of success is have the “right person” for the job, overseeing each process stage. A common scenario is when a company needs to acquire new office telephony and someone less endowed in the technical nitty-gritty is assigned, and are asked by a telecoms supplier their requirements, to which they usually just state, the number of people to use the system and the number of lines for each. True to reason, from a surface perspective, this can be said to be what they need. But what happens when technological changes happen and the tides of economic growth shine upon them and newer telecoms equipment is now needed within a year or so, to cater for increased demand volumes? Replacements become a profit crunching waste. Contrary to such, if the assignment had been tasked to the right I.T personnel first, they would have provided better informed analyzed contingent specifications by accounting in, the need for extra lines and extensions, connectivity setups and user features, needed in future.  

The Eminence of Technical Consultancy

A visit to the responsible I.T Department, is paramount so as to ascertain, in the form of a check list, the company’s technical requirements today, those of tomorrow and relevant devices with interconnectivity ability needed. This initial planning becomes advantageous when scaling up by having flawless compatibility across network devices, so as to enjoy cost saving features to include Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP), free Multi-Branch connection, Telephone Management Software (TMS), Least Cost Routing, Voice Logging, Call Centre Set-Up, Advert-On-Hold and Remote Extension Management, (work from anywhere).

These technical cognoscenti can now draw up a tender specification and forward it to Procurement for gathering bids/quotations. The adjudication exercise is not only a matter of the lowest price but lowest price meeting minimum technical specifications as set out and also meeting all statutory and administrative requirements. It is highly recommended that the bid/quotation documents be sent back to IT for them to check on who meets the minimum technical requirements and Procurement can then establish the lowest price, having been satisfied with bidders meeting the minimum statutory and administrative requirements.

Statutory Requirements and Their Essence

The Procurement Department of your organisation has to be ever alert and look up the authenticity and service levels of the shortlisted providers. Issues of whether the providers are a Registered Company, have a valid Zimra Tax Clearance, have an established Bank Account, have a valid license from the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ) and proven track record (request for at least 3 reference letters), cannot be turned a blind eye to, on the checklist.

Having an office telephony supplier licensed by POTRAZ is particularly important, as it is not only a legal requirement at law but POTRAZ also ensures service provision compliance with the supplier, if you get shoddy service. All you have to do is notify POTRAZ. This is particularly necessary as an influx of unregistered “brief case” telephone companies has arisen on the market, posing a potential danger of financial loss to your organisation.

If your organization is a Parastatal or a Government Department, the telephone supplier must be accordingly registered with the Procurement Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (PRAZ), which has many specialized categories, to which your telephone supplier must be duly registered, under Telecommunications.

This exertion helps avoid dubious providers, who of late have flooded the Zimbabwean telecoms market. Your telecoms procurement check list, must be your weapon of choice to protect your organisation against these unscrupulous telecoms vendors. Check-list reports would be drawn per each shortlisted supplier, ensuring you get quality warrantied hardware and software. Award points on each item on your checklist, in order of importance. (You can request for a free PABX specification sample and due diligence check list on info@standardglobal.co.zw).

Conclusion

When a decision to buy office telephony has been made ensure administrative, statutory and technical requirements are drawn up, by responsible staff in each respective department. Come up with a tender document and send the tender document to a minimum of three companies or advertise the tender in a public newspaper. After receiving the bid documents from suppliers and undertake the correct adjudication process. This ensures you get the best supplier at the best possible price, giving you peace of mind, for many years to come.

This article is published by Standard Global Communications (SGC), in the spirit of educating the business community on acquiring and managing their office telephony needs. Our articles include defining what a PABX is, how to specify unique needs of an organisation, PABX features that reduce telephone bill costs, choosing a competent service provider and recommendations on After-Sales Support.

SGC has been deploying Telecoms and Electronic Security solutions for over 20 years. Backed by skilled local and international Technical Team, SGC offers custom made solutions. We consult on your office telephony requirements for FREE, design the solution, deploy and provide after-sales support. Our scalable solutions takes care of your current and future requirements, integration with other network devices, help reduce costs by over 50%, increase operational efficiency and all, at an affordable cost.

In the spirit of educating the business community on acquiring and managing their office communication needs, Standard Global Communications (SGC) will be publishing articles to help demystify the whole process from defining what a Private Automatic Branch Exchange (PABX) is, coming up with specifications unique to needs of a specific organisation, features that reduce costs by up to 50%, choosing a service provider and recommendations on after-sales support. The articles will be running from this week and initially up to May 1. We hope you will find the articles helpful!

A PABX is a privately-owned telephone switching system for handling multiple telephone lines, thus sharing of telephone line resources, internal office calls and transferring of calls.

Normally, a telephone line is connected to the phone company’s local central office through a trunk-like TelOne does with their landlines. The central office is responsible for routing incoming and outgoing calls. A PABX essentially takes the place of the phone company’s central office within the company by acting as the exchange point, routing calls.

With a PABX in place, each phone only needs an extension, not a phone number, and the PABX handles all calls made from desk-to-desk within the company.

When an outside call is required, an access number is dialled first, usually a “0”. The PABX then transfers the call to the phone company’s network which could be TelOne, Econet, Telecel, Telco, NetOne, Liquid, Africom, etc, from which point the call is routed to the intended destination as dialled.

A PABX reduces cost because the company only pays for the number of lines liable to be connected at any given time to the outside.

If a company has 100 telephones, it is unlikely everyone will be making an outside call at once. Perhaps only 10% will require an outside line at any given time. Therefore the company would lease 10 lines from the phone company rather than 100.

IP-PABX: Replacing your old legacy.

This has been made possible by VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). This, in a nutshell, allows you to place calls using your currently existing data network without having to go via a telephone network. Yes, it’s legal. If say your company Global Brands, has a branch in Gweru, Bulawayo and Mutare, you can assign each branch office different extensions which are all hooked to the same IP-PABX over your IP network. So a worker in Bulawayo can call the accounts office in Harare as if he was calling an extension across his office. This is made possible by using your IP (internet protocol) data network to carry voice packets. Naturally, you need to have a reliable internet connection for the quality of the voice to be decent.

Some IP-PABX features.

In addition to these basic functions, PABXs offer many other calling features and capabilities, with different manufacturers providing different features in an effort to differentiate their products. Common capabilities include (manufacturers may have a different name for each capability): auto attendant, voice mail, music-on-hold, night service, automatic call distributor, automated directory services (where callers can be routed to a given employee by keying or speaking the letters of the employee’s name), automatic ring back, call accounting, call blocking, call forwarding on busy or absence, call park, call pick-up, call transfer, call waiting, conference call, custom greetings, do-not-disturb (DND) and find-me-follow-me, also known as find-me. The exchange is configured with a list of numbers for a person. When a call is received for that person, the exchange routes it to each number on the list in turn until either the call is answered or the list is exhausted (at which point the call may be routed to a voice mail system). Interactive voice response and shared message boxes (where a department can have a shared voicemail box).

This is the strength of the modern IP-PABX system because they have been built to be able to interoperate with different systems with no huge amounts being paid as most of these features are software-based and not hardware-based where you have to buy some component from your legacy PABX supplier and no one else.

How much will it cost me?

This depends on basically the size of your organisation determined by the number of extensions you will need, the number of concurrent calls you are budgeting for and the different technologies that you want your PABX to interface with (for example, with PSTN (landlines), GSM (mobile) networks and VoIP, etc).

Keys cost pointers include the PABX system itself and the inter-connection between your branches if you need any via IP, an installation cost and training costs which could be bundled together with the PABX package you are getting your old, rigid, vendor-tied, legacy PABX is to have a site survey. This entails contacting a reputable PABX company who will normally send a telecoms technician to do a site survey and establish what you have. A quotation can then be made based on your actual needs that meet your requirements, with room for future expansion and new feature addition. This article is published by Standard Global Communications (SGC), in the interest of demystifying unified communications and electronic security solutions. SGC has been deploying telecoms and electronic security solutions in Zimbabwe for over 20 years. backed by skilled local and international technical teams, SGC offers custom-made solutions to meet the unique needs of each organisation and we also consult for free. Our flexible and scalable solutions will help reduce costs, while increasing operational efficiency, at an affordable cost. For more information, questions and comments, regarding this article, please call/Whatsapp +263 772 875 577, e-mail: info@standardglobal.co.zw or go to our social media platforms Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or our website. This article can also be downloaded from our new-look website: www.standardglobal.co.zw