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Virtualization, VoIP and the vPBX panacea?

Opinion
Jul 06, 20045 mins
ComputersTelecommunications IndustryVoIP

* Trying to find a VoIP solution to work in a virtualized small company environment

For the past two months, I have been trying to find a VoIP solution that would work in a virtualized small company environment. My goal was to find a way to provide the seamless communications of a PBX and centralized voice mail system while matching or decreasing the cost of the existing POTS, local and long-distance services in place, and do so for an internationally distributed organizational structure.

For the past two months, I have been trying to find a VoIP solution that would work in a virtualized small company environment.  My goal was to find a way to provide the seamless communications of a PBX and centralized voice mail system while matching or decreasing the cost of the existing POTS, local and long-distance services in place, and do so for an internationally distributed organizational structure.

I have three companies, all of which need PBX capabilities and all of which share many of the same personnel.  Each of these companies takes advantage of virtualization by enlisting talented people from all over the country and in the case of certain programming tasks, all over the world.  Since many of these people work out of home offices, the traditional PBX or VRU solution becomes an extremely expensive proposition.  Crossing U.S. state boundaries prohibits the use of Centrex in any meaningful way, and none of the incumbent carriers cover every, state never mind country, that these companies have resources in. 

My only hope has been to leverage a solution that could take advantage of the one consistent form of communication that every location shares – some form of broadband connection.

The proliferation of cable modems, DSL, wireless and even some of the tried and true fixed-access solutions pretty much guarantees that anyone can have at least 144K bit/sec of up- and downstream data connectivity anywhere in the continental U.S.  To me, this screams “VoIP solution” – specifically a SIP VoIP solution that needs only 30K bit/sec for a very high quality phone call, but without having to incur the cost and upkeep of a vendor’s VoIP-enabled PBX, phone lines, phones and all the standard brick and mortar company costs that go along with these solutions. 

I need to find a vendor that can sell me what I need, as a service.  I don’t think I’m alone.

So why go VoIP? Cost, cost and location.  This particular project does not have a traditional solution that keeps costs low.  Between line charges, long-distance costs and interstate boundaries,  the only way I can keep the costs equal to individual services and still provide PBX capabilities is to leverage the bandwidth pinching and and free inter-site calling of VoIP.

I need to have some basic PBX functions within the solution I choose.  I want to use three separate main phone numbers (local calling in Massachusetts, Illinois and Connecticut plus toll-free in each state) that connect to three individual auto-attendant systems that can route calls to any of the locations.  Things like extension dialing and centralized voice mail will have to be possible.  Call forwarding to internal and external extensions is required, as well as a limited form of automated call distribution to ensure calls get answered rather than shunted to an individual’s voice mail box.  Ideally, I want the solution to use standard SIP equipment and provide a level of security for voice traffic, though high security is really not needed in this case and not possible with the current SIP technology. 

The use of standards based equipment and the versatility to use off-the-shelf hardware and connectivity is critical for flexibility and growth within these companies.  For our international users, the use of off-the-shelf local equipment or software-based SIP gear would be ideal.  Each person should only need one VoIP-enabled phone and one voice mailbox.  The VoIP service needs to support 911 and 411 in the U.S., and most important of all, I need a way to have a standard service such as plain old telephone service or cell phones to backup VoIP in case a data line goes down. So the ability to have POTS calls originate and terminate on the IP connection is needed, too.

About a month ago, I thought I had found a solution right for me in the form of ICG Communications VoicePipe product (https://www.icgcomm.com/products/corporate/voicepipe/voicepipe.asp).  Unfortunately, ICG was purchased at the beginning of June by a company that to this day remains nameless. The company stopped selling its VoicePipe service everywhere except California. A VoicePipe rep informed me  that current customers will be supported only until contracts run out. 

I did find other providers that get very close to what I want:

* Vonage (https://www.vonage.com/) can meet all of my requirements, but the pricing they use makes them more expensive than my non-integrated solution today.

* 8×8, Inc.’s Packet8 service (https://www.packet8.net/index.asp) can do most of what I want at the price I want, but they use proprietary equipment.

I’m still looking, but at this point hopes of a true virtualized VoIP solution that can grow and change with my needs are looking pretty dim. Carriers take note.

Got any ideas? Send them my way. We’ll write about potential solutions in future columns.