How do I find a VoIP Provider Reliable Enough for Business Use?

Our top tips for making sure you don’t go with a weird third or fourth tier SIP provider are as follows.

1) Consider going with a SIP service from your carrier. It is usually more expensive but if you are nervous, I would recommend it. Many carriers are bringing in SIP to your premise anyway and then converting their SIP into a PRI for your old phone system’s PRI card – moving to SIP at least takes this conversion equipment out of the picture.

Your carrier having control of the connection helps all the voice packets arrive in order and on time, as demonstrated in the animation below.

2) Read the Terms and Conditions. You want to really focus on what amount of uptime they promise, how strong the remedies are for downtime, and what their Service Level Agreement (SLA) looks like with other factors. A lot of the time if you are bringing your own bandwidth these items may not apply, or be watered down. But if your carrier has no teeth at all when they are completely down, or gives you a few pennies for putting you out of business for a day, then it might be time to consider a different carrier. Is it easy to cancel if the service is terrible? An informal rule I follow is that if the T’s and C’s are immensely long, it might be time to look at other carriers unless you are a patient person with a lot of legal training.

3) Try before you buy. See if you can get SIP test trunks for a week to play with. Reputable SIP carriers can provide test trunks without too much trouble, or can provide a month-to-month contract.

4) It is OK to be a snob. What I mean by this is that if the marketing materials look like they were made in MS Paint, and the images are awful and low resolution, and you always seem to get the exact same person on the line every time you call the 800 number, then you have a pretty good idea already as to the size and sophistication of the operation. I think we should all remember our roots and support local entrepreneurs, but at the same time, I prefer my doctor to have a little gray hair and my phone company to show signs of having some staying power and 24×7 support. Let other people be the guinea pig when it comes to mission-critical services for your business, because there are reputable, reliable SIP carriers out there that truth be told are far more pleasant to work with than the incumbent phone and cable companies.

Top 5 Reasons to get SIP Trunks for your Business

The list of people who are resisting voice over IP (VoIP) shrinks by the day, but is still a significant barrier to adoption of this amazing technology. The old reasons for not getting SIP trunks are evaporating as bandwidth becomes ever faster and of higher quality. Certainly the days when you backed up a PRI with analog lines are over – you should at a minimum maintain a handful of SIP trunks for backup if your telephone system is at all current and can support it.

SIP Trunks are here to stay

My audience is the skeptic that has doubts or the person in a company resisting moving away from circuit-based phone calls. I hope this list proves handy in your internal discussions, and failing that, it should at least help you can impress your family and friends the next time conversation turns tech.

  1. You don’t have a disaster recovery plan if you don’t have SIP trunks. Failing over from a PRI to analog lines is battle tested, but really solves just one problem – a carrier outage on your PRI circuit. If your lines are cut in the street, if the local Central Office has an issue, if there is a local disaster, your backup plan has what is called ‘event correlation’ in statistics – that is to say, it won’t protect you. SIP Trunks allow you to point phone calls to a different internet media (wireless, cable, fiber) to avoid a problem with the neighborhood phone network itself. You can point calls to a cloud based telephone system you use for backup, to a Google Voice mailbox, to a phone system in your house, seamlessly, while you figure out the issues at your office. Simply put, SIP enables geographic redundancy without paying for expensive data links between sites.
  2. Save money right away. Phone lines are not getting any cheaper. SIP Trunks are as cheap as $5 a line and a buck a phone number. For $25 a trunk you can get unlimited US long distance.
  3. More flexible phone numbers. Get numbers from pretty much any US area code, and even from some of the more forward thinking developed countries. You can also get a US number and point it to a foreign system for overseas connectivity without using clunky Skype connections.  Add capacity one call at a time, instead of 23-packs of voice channels with PRI circuits.
  4. More flexible service and scaling. You can add trunks to an existing account in a matter of a day, and you can scale up and down to suit your needs on many contracts. Many carriers offer a web GUI so you can manage your trunks pretty easily, including forwarding and monitoring, something simply not available with traditional phone lines. And unlike PRI circuits, you can reroute SIP trunks practically on the fly to other phone systems or devices.
  5. Get ready for the cloud. Putting a phone system in a data center only to hook up a PRI circuit is like putting a premium stereo system in a horse drawn carriage. I have been to data centers where racks are full of telephone systems running on proprietary hardware, connected to PRI circuits. If that is you, you are doing it wrong. Put that phone system on VMware, chuck the servers, and connect SIP trunks. Now, your virtual phone system can get flung around with ease to other VMware clusters without a second thought, and the trunks can follow suit without any human intervention. If you have plans to migrate your phones to the cloud or even are considering moving to VoIP, start by looking into SIP trunks – you can always add a gateway to use new SIP trunks on your old PBX to try it out. Some carriers even provide test trunks, but having to foot the bill for three $5/mo test trunks hopefully does not break the bank. Most SIP trunks are month-to-month anyway though that varies by carrier.

Acronym Explosion: SIP Trunk FAQ

What is the big deal about SIP trunking? 

I get asked this a lot, especially after I have fallen down the acronym rabbit hole in a meeting with a customer and name-dropped ‘SIP trunks’ ten times in five minutes. I can usually tell that SIP has not become a household name yet by the blank look on everyone’s face.

The big deal is that phone lines will be dead soon. No, really. SIP is the future, and to sweeten the deal, SIP is cheaper than traditional phone lines. If you take away nothing else from this post, know that in the long run, you don’t have a ton of choice in the matter so dry your tears with your savings.

What is SIP?

SIP is Session Initiation Protocol, an open standard for transmitting media over the internet, including voice, but extensible to video, chat, and more. You can think of it as a common language devices from different manufacturers and developers use to get their products to talk to each other. Your phone system has to be new and hip enough to speak SIP to use SIP trunks.

What is a SIP trunk?

Think of it as an internet phone line (and we use “line” very loosely). It is actually termed a ‘call path’ that runs over an internet connection. Each call path supports one telephone call between two parties. Like a phone line, you pay a monthly fee per ‘line’.

So does a SIP trunk work different from a phone line?

Yes. For you geeks out there, its a different Layer 1 connection. For non-geeks, it is a different physical connection. Telephone lines connect to specialized FXO ports on a phone system. SIP Trunks are 1’s and 0’s inside an internet connection.

Phone numbers work different too with SIP. Traditional phone lines all have an individual phone number assigned that gets put in rotary or hunt around your main number. If your main line is busy, the second call goes to line 2, and a third call goes to line 3, and so on. With SIP, you don’t have a physical line that needs a phone number to be identified by ancient telephone company equipment. If you have 5 call paths, you can take 5 calls off the same number. You can also assign as many phone numbers as you can afford to your call paths, and the numbers do not have to match up. So, for example, you can have 10 call paths and 100 phone numbers that ring your office.

If you are used to ‘grabbing the call on line 2’ you will need to adjust how you use the phones a bit with SIP trunks – calls will hold on your extension, or be parked. It is a small change in behavior requiring a minimal amount of training, but old habits can die hard.

Can I keep my phone number if I get SIP trunks?

Yes. Keeping your numbers is the law unless you are renting space on someone else’s phone system and they are paying your phone bill.

What’s the catch?

Three catches. First, if your internet goes down, down goes your phone calls, unless you program in a backup, have a call forward option planned, or, as most business do these days, you have a second internet connection at the office. A backup DSL or cable connection is under $100/mo, and we urge companies to consider it, if only for SIP trunks. You will likely still save money.

Second, if your network is a mess, your calls will sound bad. Make sure you run a diagnostic test before going down this road and get your network certified for VoIP first. If your network has a lot of trouble, I would recommend not putting more strain on your network by moving to end-to-end VoIP. Similarly, if smoke is pouring out your car, don’t take it drag racing.

Third, you need enough bandwidth for phone calls. We recommend 100kbps upload and download per SIP call path. If you have a 5Mb DSL connection with 768kbps upload, do not get SIP trunks. If your internet is up and down all the time, do not get SIP trunks. If you are doing a ton of uploading and downloading and you have no spare bandwidth, consider a dedicated internet connection for your SIP trunks if you can’t throttle your internet traffic back to make room for voice calls.

How much can I save?

I’ve seen SIP trunks as cheap as $5 per line from reputable companies, and $25 per line if you want unlimited calling. Per minute charges are typically in the 1-2c per minute range for domestic calls. Locally in Los Angeles, we see phone lines starting to cost as much as $50 per line. The Public Utility Commission now allows AT&T and Verizon to set their own rates and prices have gone up every year since.

Anything other cool SIP trunk trick?

Glad you asked. Burstable SIP trunks allow you to pay a low fixed monthly in return for the ability to call huge numbers of people in a pinch – to send out ‘bursts’ of calls. This is perfect for seasonal businesses, emergency response systems, and businesses that have cyclical calling patterns with spikes in usage. With phone lines and PRIs, you have to rent circuits at your maximum capacity – with SIP you buy what you need.

Also, SIP carriers can get you numbers from anywhere – even other countries (though not all other countries) – without the onerous charges from traditional phone carriers.

My sales rep said my system supports SIP trunks – which trunks should I get?

Look for SIP validation first – see which carriers have tested their products on your system and can certify they work on your phone system. You should know better than to trust a sales rep – ask for a link or document showing which carriers work with your system. Most manufacturers test SIP carrier connections to make sure they work and require certification to get tech support on those connections.

Wait, wait, wait. Does that mean some carriers don’t work on my system?

The short answer is ‘kinda – buyer beware’ but the better answer is that if your carrier is not validated on your phone system, it can be time consuming to connect the two with no guarantee of success and very little support from the big companies involved. It will most likely be your phone vendor, your IT person and unsympathetic tech support folks hashing out a solution on your dime. Sometimes it takes minutes, and sometimes we are coming back day after day until it works.

Does my phone system support SIP trunks?

Our products from Mitel and Zultys are SIP compatible and validated on a whole slew of carriers.

I would argue that the Zultys SIP connection is bar none the best in the industry. Zultys is SIP at the core and can connect to SIP trunks without even a license. The Zultys premise-based products feature a built-in firewall and dual network connections, one on the scary Wild West of the WAN side and one on the trusted LAN side, so as to be able to connect to internet phone lines without jeopardizing your network’s integrity. So whether you buy the MX250, MXSE or MXvirtual, SIP integration is pretty easy and safe.

Mitel systems rightfully don’t trust the internet either. For SIP trunking, we deploy the Mitel Border Gateway to authenticate and encrypt SIP communications and off-site telephones. This provides the rock solid security that is a hallmark of Mitel engineering. Similar to the Zultys architecture, the Border Gateway will have one WAN and one LAN connection. The Border Gateway allows you to integrate the MiVoice Business and MiVoice Office 250 (the systems formerly known as the Mitel 3300 and Mitel 5000, respectively) with SIP trunks safely.

If you have an older system, we can use a SIP Gateway that converts SIP into an analog (phone line) or digital (T1 and PRI) signal. From an engineering standpoint, it isn’t ideal to introduce complexity and a point of failure, but sometimes the trade-off in savings and flexibility is worth it.

Mitel in Los Angeles

Since it is President’s Day (though you wouldn’t know it by looking around the busy Extenda office), I thought we might take a moment to observe some Mitel Los Angeles history. Makes perfect sense if you don’t think about that at all.

While many know that Mitel is a Canadian company, what is interesting  to Southern Californians is their footprint in our region. Mitel has a rich history of integrating local Southland businesses into their product lineup. I would argue that this makes them at least part Angeleno.

1994 Xenium – Mitel and Ventura-based Xenium had a partnership to market and sell call center software, specifically software providing Call Back in Queue and Automatic Call Distribution (ACD).

2000 Vertex Networks – some of Mitel’s original secret VoIP call quality sauce was undoubtedly developed by Irvine-based Vertex. Vertex designed and manufactured semiconductors that reduced delays when transmitting voice over data networks.

Conexant-Philsar Connection: Mitel was an early adopter and promoter of Bluetooth technologies (and with USB as a standard! This link discusses Mitel breaking new ground with USB telephones in 1996). Philsar and Mitel originally co-developed a module for Bluetooth with Matsushita (better known in the US for its brand Panasonic) that helped speed the adoption of the standard. After Mitel and Philsar announced an alliance in 1999, Irvine-based Conexant stepped in and bought Philsar in 2000 in the middle of the dot-com boom.

Los Angeles-based Telecom Carrier Integration: Both Bandtel and local 800-lb gorilla TelePacific are certified on Mitel’s core business products for a native SIP trunk handoff.

Do’s and Don’t of Telephone System RFP’s

Is your company getting ready to dump ye olde analog or digital telephone system? Many organizations turn to internal champions or outside consultants to then draft that monster most feared by vendors: the dreaded Request for Quote (RFQ) or Request for Proposal (RFP).

I thought I would add my two cents from a vendor perspective about what is and is not helpful for companies.

Do’s

  1. Do figure out if you actually need an RFP or if you can get by calling a handful of reputable local companies and having some fact-finding conversations. Creating, collecting and evaluating RFPs is very time consuming for you and your vendors. If you have not established precisely what features are important to you and what your solution ought to look like (in broad strokes), then you are making an expensive mistake with an RFP. I say expensive not only because of the time it takes but because of the chance you end up with the lowest bidder of the wrong solution, which can be extremely expensive to correct and expensive in terms of missed opportunities for your business to improve.
  2. Do make sure you define what services you want from your vendors. Nowadays, there are a lot of moving, interrelated parts with communications systems. I see RFP after RFP that is vague about the company network and who is doing what – so, because this is a bidding war first and foremost, I as a vendor have to exclude anything from my scope of work (SoW, a.k.a what exactly my engineers will be doing) in order to keep my price low. In a non-RFP situation, I would have a casual talk with your IT staff or service company and wrap up that issue in a 20 minute phone call and get you what you need. Similarly, be very clear about your training expectations. Giving vendors freedom to make their best judgment, in a bidding war, which is what RFP’s are designed to create, means you get the cheapest, shortest training I can provide.
  3. Do make sure you distinguish requirements from preferences. Some things are very important – you need enough phones for everyone, and you probably need voicemail and a unified communications client. And others, such as wanting the telephone display to be a certain size or to have exactly so many buttons on the phone, are probably not deal-breakers. Vendors will read and re-read your RFP ten times like a Talmudic scholar and take things very literally, so please be specific about what is critical and where you are flexible.
  4. Do describe desired outcomes over technical jargon where possible. “We want to be able to Instant Message each other and see on our computer who is available” makes sense to your vendors, and each of them will show you their manufacturer’s solution. “We need a TAPI-compliant unified communications client that supports HTML5 and a NoSQL database” is dangerous to write. Know that vendors will not put 20 hours into your proposal if it is a lost cause, so be confident about the jargon you are using. In this example, TAPI is an older standard specific to Windows applications, there is confusion with “client” and “HTML5” (is this a browser-based solution?), and name-dropping the hip name of your database without explaining what it means in the context of the project just means I might walk away from the opportunity.
  5. Do provide a network diagram and describe your planned carrier services. I have received RFPs with no mention of where the phone system is going or how it will make phone calls. This gives me a hint as to whether I am walking into a field of dandelions or land mines for pricing up my labor. Hiding the fact your network is a black hole or a disaster only sets the stage for a fight down the road, and if your network is in good shape, say it! You’ll save money if I can just budget for a situation where your staff will plug all the phones in.
  6. Do ask about future costs. Have vendors describe maintenance agreement and software assurance costs, future upgrade costs, costs of past but still recent upgrades for similar systems, and get a copy of the maintenance contract.
  7. Do get a network analysis before you quote the RFP. The number one killer of VoIP project budgets: an unprepared network forcing last minute upgrades and rushed implementations. No one wants to be overnighting switches and running cable at time and a half over the weekend because the connectivity in that part of the building is terrible. Reputable companies can run packet captures and speed tests to tell you whether you are ready for VoIP or not, before you start shopping for systems.

And some don’ts

  1. Don’t short yourself on the timeline. Give yourself a couple of weeks to evaluate solutions once the RFPs come back, and give your vendors at least a month to put their RFPs together with an opportunity to ask questions somewhere in the middle of that month.
  2. Don’t promise to buy something in the RFP. You might decide to shelve the whole thing, the price tags might cause your boss to keel over, who knows. Avoid making promises in the language of the RFP that might be construed as a commitment to buy something.
  3. Don’t let your vendor write your RFP (unless the RFP is just some red tape you have to get through in order to buy that system you already decided on buying). Hey, we weren’t born yesterday, we know that a lot of the time, the RFP is just a formality and you already picked your phone system. But believe it or not, I have seen companies bring their IT company in to help with the RFP, only to find that the RFP described <drum roll> the phone system that said IT outfit just happens to sell. If your RFP seems awfully nitpicky about things you don’t actually care about, you might want to be careful about sending the RFP out to bid, unless you planned this masterstroke all along.
  4. Don’t forget your scoring rubric! Let us vendors know what you care about and how you are going to make a decision. If you only care about price, say it! Then I know what to quote. If money is not as important as having a few critical call center features you need for regulatory compliance, say that. I want to know that my solution requires a Sarbannes-Oxley, HIPAA or PCI compliance stamp of approval.
  5. Don’t forget to make the demo part of the process. Don’t take our word for it – bring the finalists in to demonstrate the features you described. If you have an awful gut feeling about one system but, on paper, it looks ok, a demo will give you the chance to both evaluate the system first hand and toss out a solution that you just don’t feel good about.
  6. Don’t forget documentation and final walk through. Require manuals, network diagrams and the like to be handed over before you cut that last check.

Lastly, good luck!

Telephone Allergies, or the Virtue of Voice

If you are interested in business (especially tech) and/or the Los Angeles start-up scene, you absolutely need to follow Mark Suster and sign up for his email newsletter. I am a sucker for anyone loyal to my hometown and looking to build a community here, and I think the efforts of people like Mark are creating a dynamic, exciting ecosystem of companies and talent in Los Angeles.

Stepping off my soapbox, a recent post by Mark really nailed a pressing issue in business, and especially in tech. Younger workers (under 40’s) are loathe to use the telephone to communicate. I obviously have a huge stake in the game – I sell phones to businesses. But I also sell computer network gear, video and text-based communications software, so even if we banned phone numbers tomorrow, I would still run a viable business.

Leaving the disclosures and caveat emptor warnings aside, Mark’s main point is that text-based communications lack the nuance and emotional shading that make phone calls richer and denser in terms of communications. I think Mark’s even higher-level comment that text-based communications, especially anonymous services, dehumanize people, is spot on – go to any comment board on a popular site and you will think there is no hope for humanity after seeing how people talk to each other when hiding behind an avatar.

Mark’s comments are reflected in academic research. Surveys show 89% of respondents have no emotional connection to the brands they interact with, to the detriment of the companies trying to cultivate loyalty and build relationships with customers. There is a field within sociology called Interaction Rituals that studies how people communicate. A  growing body of evidence shows that the more abstract the communications, the less emotional connection and solidarity generated. In fact, across age groups, 51% of adults report having been disappointed to receive significant news via text message. At Extenda, I fight the good fight with employees and, if I am honest, with myself, to make more of an effort to call over other forms of communication, especially if the issue at hand requires some nuance and tact.

Mark goes on to give excellent advice on how to have an effective business call. I highly recommend the read – whether you shun human contact from your place in the shadows, or are an incorrigible chatterbox.

Coca-Cola drops voicemail

No Jitter, one of my favorite telecom blogs, reported that Coca-Cola recently deleted 94% of their corporate voicemail accounts. What is missing from the article is the fact that Coca-Cola is on a Microsoft Lync system, where voicemails are stored on the Exchange Server (making it into a Microsoft case study.) I am certain that Coke’s IT team was thrilled that they didn’t have to deal with tens of thousands of voicemails every day getting stored on their servers.

That quibble doesn’t change the core issue that voicemail is potentially on the outs in the US. Vonage reports year over year declines in voicemails being left even as usage increases – not only do we all hate checking voicemail, we hate leaving voicemail too. Overseas, we do not see the same rate of voicemail implementation as we use here in North America. For example, Chinese cell phones rarely have voicemail included and users prefer texting in any event.

For customers, we can offer a variety of choices. For Mitel MiVoice Office 250 (former Mitel / Inter-Tel 5000) customers, the voicemail is baked right in, so whether you turn the voicemail on or off is just a matter of preference. Same goes for the Zultys MX systems – both it and the MiVoice Office have not just built in voicemail, but built-in Unified Messaging, where voicemail messages are sent to email accounts. Same goes for our cloud offerings, where voicemail is included.

For the Mitel MiVoice Business and our NEC systems, voicemail is entirely optional. Now, keep in mind that with the MiVoice Business, we would still want to add some voicemail capabilities in order to provide automated attendant functionality. In most phone systems (our NEC DSX and NEC SL1100 systems are exceptions) the automated attendant uses the voicemail to store and play messages to callers.

If you do forgo individual voicemail, I would suggest the following tips so that customers know you have not gone out of business.

  1. Forward calls after hours to an automated attendant greeting that states your hours of operation and directs callers to your website or an email address
  2. Use Google Voice and forward calls from your main number to back up cell phones after, say, 4 rings (24 seconds).
  3. Barring using the Mitel voicemail transcription service available for the NuPoint Messenger, consider using Google Voice’s excellent transcription service to copy voicemail to email as text via a company-wide, shared voicemail.
  4. Consider using ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) to play custom messages and hold music to callers instead of ringing when they call a main line. Then, after a preset amount of time, play a custom message directing callers to your website or email. This provides a far more professional image to callers, and can be accomplished pretty inexpensively with all of the systems we sell.

FCC “Drops Net Neutrality Bomb” on Carriers

Netflix being ruined by an un-neutral net

Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is moving to reclassify internet connections as a utility (“telecommunications service”) in a huge victory for Net Neutrality, consumers and businesses. We expect internet costs to keep dropping and for both producers and consumers of internet content to enjoy faster speeds with less interference from the carriers, a problem currently impacting a range of high tech firms and their customers.

Netflix being ruined by an un-neutral net

This is why we need Net Neutrality. We only get a couple hours a day to not work. Don’t ruin this time, Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Charter, TimeWarner, et al.

Telecom carriers and cable companies wanted some convoluted system of tiered internet pricing to, essentially, grab some of the earnings of Netflix, YouTube and other content providers that are eating television’s lunch. They want you to go to their lame home pages when you go to a browser, they want to block or harass third party service providers for telephone service that are crushing their own subpar product offerings right now, and they want to ding you with penalties as a business or consumer for using their product a lot. If you haven’t followed the controversy, this is a good primer.

Bloomberg broke the story yesterday and Wheeler posted an op-ed in Wired. Astute stock watchers will note that Comcast, ATT and Verizon stock is all up this morning, which surprised me as they should all be tanking given that this is a huge loss for the carriers.  The Bloomberg article points out that the quid pro quo to keep the telecom carrier lobbyists from completely losing their minds, and, fairly, to keep internet providers, well, providing internet and investing in their own products, is that the FCC will remove tariffs on internet access and, most important of all, will not force last-mile unbundling, a huge change in policy from current telecom internet access.

Currently, with Ethernet over Copper, T1 and PRI internet and phone service, AT&T or Verizon provide the physical circuit that connects your business to the Internet or Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). Companies like TelePacific and Windstream then rent that circuit wholesale from one of the Bell descendants and resell it to retail customers. The FCC is not going to require this going forward for internet circuits, which includes the geese laying golden eggs for the telecom carriers right now: fiber connections and cable internet.

We will see if in the long run this ends up re-creating a monopoly or duopoly for internet service, which is what happens with utilities in other aspects of our lives. I don’t have any choice in what power company or trash service I use at home. But, if I am getting 1Gbps at Google Fiber prices without getting dinged for using the internet a lot, I won’t care. I mention Google Fiber because it proves that ‘a better city is possible’ and that with the right kind of investment, telecom companies can yield affordable, blazing fast internet.

The end result for our voice over IP customers in Los Angeles, Orange County, Ventura, Riverside, San Diego and San Bernardino is that we ought to see faster service with less content blocking. We are – admittedly anecdotally – seeing suspicious problems with TimeWarner in particular, where VoIP traffic is not performing to spec across different platforms we sell. I can’t help but wonder if VoIP traffic is being slowed on purpose on otherwise fast connections.

For consumers, internet service ought to become cheaper, startups can continue to thrive in Silicon Beaches, Valleys and Alleys building new software and services to use, and I can keep on binging on Netflix and my other favorite digital content.

Zultys, you’re the real MVP

LA Kings captain Dustin Brown hoisting the Stanley Cup

LA Kings captain Dustin Brown hoisting the Stanley Cup

Los Angeles Kings and Zultys: Champions of the Universe

Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Looks like the press loves Zultys’ cloud offerings as much as we do.

tl;dr – Zultys cloud solutions are just as awesome as the award-winning premise version – in fact, it is the same core software and features.

Zultys has a single software stream of solutions – that means whether you install a phone system in your office in a Zultys server, run Zultys on VMware, throw Zultys in your data center, use Extenda’s data center, use Zultys’ data center, or just rent the system from Extenda, Zultys or another vendor, it is the exact same multi-media unified communications system, with the same features and interoperability between locations.

Below is the press release regarding the various 2015 Product of the Year honors won by Zultys.

“Zultys, a leading provider of innovative unified communications solutions that empower businesses to collaborate effectively, has been awarded top honors by TMC, a global, integrated media company. Zultys’ MXvirtual, an integrated unified communication solution and IP phone system in a VMware®-Ready virtual appliance, was named a 2014 Cloud Computing Product of the Year Award winner.  Meanwhile, Zultys Cloud Services—fully-hosted turnkey Software as a Service (SaaS) offering—was recognized as both the 2015 INTERNET TELEPHONY Product of the Year as well as CUSTOMER Magazine Product of the Year Award recipient.

In 2014, Zultys introduced the cloud-based version of their award-winning MX IP-PBX platform; MXvirtual brings all of the advanced functionality of premise-based MX solutions to the cloud. Zultys Cloud Services, which launched towards the end of the year, makes deploying a Zultys Business Phone System easier than ever in a Software as a Service model with Zultys providing their users with a fully hosted highly advance business phone system. Zultys Cloud Services extends the power of Zultys MX enterprise grade IP-PBX into a fully hosted solution, while preserving the exact same experience regardless of the platform. Zultys’ cloud-based and premise-based phone systems share exactly the same user client and administration interfaces, simplifying training and making it easy for users to transition from a premise-based system to the cloud if necessary, as well as allowing businesses to mix and match premise and cloud systems within the same organization. Despite various different deployment options, the premise-based MX phone systems, MXvirtual and Zultys Cloud Services offerings boast exactly the same feature set including: chat, IM, presence, auto attendant with IVR, sophisticated contact center functionality, smart phone integration, outbound dialer application, 3rd party integration and much more.

“Hosted IP phone systems offer businesses unmatched convenience and ease-of-deployment, but often at the price of advanced functionality. Zultys aims to create a universal experience for all of our users regardless of whether they are utilizing a premise-based MX system or are hosting their phone system in the cloud. We are proud to see our efforts recognized by such reputable publications,” said Steven Francis, chief sales and marketing officer at Zultys.

2014 Cloud Computing Product of the Year Award

TMC named MXvirtual as a 2014 Cloud Computing Product of the Year Award winner.

The Cloud Computing Product of the Year Award, presented by Cloud Computing magazine, honors vendors with the most innovative, useful, and beneficial cloud products and services that have been brought to market in the past year.

“Recognizing leaders in the advancement of cloud computing, TMC is proud to announce MXvirtual as a recipient of the Cloud Computing Product of the Year Award,” said Rich Tehrani, CEO, TMC. “Zultys is being honored for their achievement in bringing innovation and excellence to the market, while leveraging the latest technology trends.”

2015 CUSTOMER Magazine Product of the Year Award

Zultys Cloud Services was declared 2015 CUSTOMER  Product of the Year Award winner.

“On behalf of both TMC and CUSTOMER magazine, it is my pleasure to honor Zultys with a 2015 Product of the Year Award,” saidRich Tehrani, CEO, TMC. “Its Cloud Services solution has proven deserving of this elite status and I look forward to continued innovation from Zultys in 2015 and beyond.”

The 17th Annual Product of the Year Award winners will be published in the January/February 2015 issue of CUSTOMER magazine.

2015 INTERNET TELEPHONY Product of the Year Award

Zultys Cloud Services was also a recipient of a 2015 INTERNET TELEPHONY Product of the Year Award.

“It gives me great pleasure to recognize Zultys with a 2015 Product of the Year Award for its commitment to excellence and innovation,” said Rich Tehrani, CEO, TMC. “In the opinion of our distinguished judges, Cloud Services has proven to be among the best communications and technology solutions available on the market. I look forward to continued innovation from Zultys.

The winners of the 2015 INTERNET TELEPHONY Product of the Year are featured in the 2015 January/February issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine and online at www.itmag.com.”

What are the advantages of using a cloud vs. on-site (premise) VoIP solution?

Companies that sell cloud-based (“hosted PBX”) or premise-based VoIP telephone systems (“PBXs”) in Los Angeles typically treat choosing the other competing solution as a sign of mental illness. I see a lot of people spouting talking points and strong convictions, getting pretty fired up over what business communications tools one should use. Of course, us adults know that the answer to most complicated things is, “It depends.” I will hopefully be able to illustrate what that means in a more helpful way below.

Startup telephone system, 1-10 employees

If you are a young company with a couple years of scant credit history and perhaps some cash flow issues, you are going to have to figure out how to avoid paying for phone service. Now, your first step starting out should be Google Voice and then forward that number to your cell phone or cell phones. Plus, Google Hangouts integration allows for amazing collaboration between team members. Services like freeconferencecall.com and uberconference.com are great for hosting telephone conference calls at no charge.

However, as much as I love Google Voice, at some point you might want to transfer calls, provide a professional phone tree (automated attendant), enjoy more sophisticated call routing by department, provide individual voicemails, provide company directories, and get some reporting on your call activity. Your first choice is between buying a phone system and installing it, or signing up for a hosted service.

For companies just starting out, I recommend a hosted service. If you were to use Extenda’s hosted service, you pay say $25 per user per month and pay for the cost of the phones and power supplies you need. Just use your internet connection for telephone service – the per month fee covers unlimited US calling. You get all of the features of a very expensive telephone system and some of the advantages of services like Google Voice, such as forwarding to cell phones. Best of all, just rent the phones you need – not everyone needs a phone when you are starting out, and you certainly can live without conveniences like a break room or lobby phone when you are worried about your burn rate.

This saves you the time and trouble of another bill (phone company lines) and also from a pretty big capital expense (buying the phone system). What companies find is that even a used telephone system will have one expensive component that you won’t want to live without: the voicemail system. This part alone can drive up the cost of your system by a thousand dollars or more.

One advantage of hosted phone systems that I can’t praise enough with startups is that you can put all of your staff on a single phone system, all over the world. Hosted phone systems let you hire from all over the country and sound like you are just down the hallway. This allows for startups to take advantage of non-traditional hiring arrangements and work-from-home perks.

The biggest ‘gotcha’ with startups and hosted phone service is cabling. IP telephones work best with a wired connection to a switch that connects to the internet. If you are in a wireless environment, mentally add in the cost of ethernet cables to all the places you want a phone or devices like the AirPort Express that can provide a wired connection, wirelessly.

Small business telephone system, 11-20 employees

Many small businesses continue to choose hosted systems. They are easier to maintain – you just call your provider for assistance, and typically the warranty covers you so long as you are signed up for the service. Upgrades and new features are rolled out with regularity, and you really don’t have to invest much time in the telephone system. There are few surprises other than the occasional outage due to your internet connection going down or your hosted phone provider having a hiccup, either of which cut off your local phones. The good news is that in an internet outage, your hosted phone system is still up and running, taking calls and messages, and forwarding calls out to cell phones.

Small businesses however typically have better credit and longer credit histories than startups, so can easily lease on-premise equipment. Leasing over five years is often far less expensive than renting, as renting includes the phone service. Copper wire phone service itself known as POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) lines from AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner Cable or Charter in Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange County, Riverside and San Bernardino will run you anywhere from $20 to $50 per line. Now, you only need about one line for every four users unless you have a contact center of some sort, but it adds up to make hosted phone systems just as cost-effective, if not more so, even when the on-premise equipment is leased over five years.

What we recommend is that small businesses instead get a second, backup internet connection versus going with old school POTS lines. For phone service, get what are known as SIP trunks – these can be as cheap as $5 per line, so you can save as much as 90% over traditional phone lines. With two internet connections (ideally one from a phone company, and one from a cable company, so they are on different physical networks in the ground) going into a router or firewall that supports ‘Dual WAN’ connections, your calls and phone system are now pretty bullet proof. Your on-site phone system can send calls through whichever connection is up and running, and you aren’t dipping to much into your internet bandwidth. Just remember that outside calls take 100kbps up- and downstream.

In some isolated pockets of the greater Los Angeles region, internet bandwidth is limited. While this will surely improve over time, if your area has bad internet connectivity, better to overpay for phone lines than make your customers hate you and damage your image with awful sounding voice quality.

Medium sized telephone system, 21-50 users

At this stage in the game, your company can afford a nice phone system without losing too much sleep, and you probably have a pretty decent internet connection or two. Most importantly, you have a couple of people that talk on the phone quite a bit as part of their job. On the other hand, the operational expense of 25 rented cloud telephones can be more than offset by the time saved on not futzing with a complicated telephone system (though many phone systems such as Mitel and Zultys systems are not very complicated at all).

At this stage, a PRI circuit (23-pack of digital phone lines) or 20-odd SIP trunks will be very inexpensive, so the price of hosted is far less compelling, and perhaps much more expensive, even figuring in the cost of leasing equipment. By way of example, a $10,000 system will be about $250 a month leased, and a PRI is $300 a month, while 25 user seats at $25/mo each will cost $625. A PRI may include bundled minutes to be, effectively, toll-free depending on your call volume, just like a good hosted service. At this size, features and functions matter more in deciding to move to a cloud-based phone system anyway.

Real talk: if your 50-person company is making critical communications decisions over $100 a month deltas, consider buying a used phone system, get some $5/mo SIP trunks, and a $1000 SIP-to-Analog gateway to run this as cheap as possible. The $1000 voicemail spread over 50 users is not as painful as when you have 4 users.

Similarly, if your building has terrible cabling and you want phones everywhere, we can convert old Cat3 telephone cables to support IP, because running network cables can be cost prohibitive if you have not budgeted for it.

An important edge case regards contact center equipment and software. Owned contact center software is very expensive. Hosting will often provide amazing features at a fraction of the cost – with Zultys, for $50 per seat instead of $25 you get call recording, real time reporting and automatic call distribution with callback in queue. These features would cost tens of thousands of dollars if you were to buy them from companies like Interactive Intelligence, Avaya, Shoretel, Toshiba, NEC and Cisco.