At the end of 2020 BT stopped supplying Integrated Service Digital Network (ISDN). A permanent switch off is planned in 2025 meaning businesses will need to make the switch from analogue to digital. Going forward all business calls (national and international) will be made through the web on a computer or connected device, known as cloud based telephony. But what is it and what are the benefits of cloud based telephony?
There are lots of cloud-based solutions now widely available. Frequently, they include cloud-based hosted phone systems which provide an alternative to buying a direct replacement that sits in the corner of your office.
However, poorly designed and implemented cloud-based VoIP phone systems can suffer from serious issues. Poor quality and reliability can destroy many of the potential benefits of using this technology.
If your business isn’t already using cloud-based telephony then this is the guide for you. We’re going to be taking you through the benefits of cloud telephony, explaining how it works and what to look out for. We’re here to ensure you get the most out of your investment!
Traditional vs cloud based telephony
Businesses need phone systems that are ‘rock-solid’. They need to be reliable and have features and functions that help them work flexibly, remotely and from any device. Many companies are still relying on traditional Integrated Service Digital Network (ISDN) technology for their business communications. This obsolete technology was first introduced in the 1970’s and is due for final switch-off by 2025. Many of the phone systems supporting ISDN are now beyond economic upgrade and are therefore defunct.
Many businesses are therefore wondering ‘what to do next?’ Do they upgrade their phone system by replacing the box that sits in the corner of their office? Or are there alternatives that can be considered? Cloud based voice over internet protocol (VoIP) telephony is now a stable and mainstream service which offers many benefits that include zero-capital expenditure, highly flexible features and easy set-up. These are features that many business users already enjoy from other cloud-based services, such as Microsoft Office 365 or Google Cloud.
What is ISDN?
Traditional ISDN is heavily reliant on physical copper wiring. Because it uses its own set of physical equipment adding and removing connections is time consuming, costly and often troublesome. When issues arise it’s virtually impossible to fix quickly and dedicated ISDN backup is expensive. In a world where consumers expect businesses to be reachable, responsive and flexible these out-dated systems are less than ideal.
What is Cloud Based Telephony?
Cloud-based telephony or hosted VoIP uses the Internet to connect the users handset device to the hosted switch or PBX (private branch exchange). This connects the business to other VoIP users or the PSTN (public services telephone network), using the same equipment and technology as your computer network.
How does Cloud Based Telephony Work?
Using IP (internet protocol) VoIP handsets and devices automatically connect from any location with an active Internet connection. Simply plug-in the phone via your standard ethernet cable and you’re away! Behind the scenes, the phone handset connects to the voice server or PBX. The system is programmed to know which handset is assigned to which user. Calls are routed from the PSTN via the cloud-based phone system to the appropriate user.
Users can also log in and out of the system, analogous to hotdesking on your PC network, allowing any user to login and receive their calls anywhere. Cloud-hosted systems are feature-rich and provide almost unlimited potential, such as incorporating the desk phone features into your mobile device or software that shows comprehensive calls statistics about who is picking up your calls or how many are going unanswered.
Being able to connect with any Internet connected device means making and receiving call wherever you are. Since the global pandemic, businesses are reliant on this, now more than ever!
Benefits of Cloud Based Telephony
The main benefits for switching to a cloud based telephone system are:
1. It’s Cheaper
Because cloud-based VoIP telephony uses the internet and the same technologies of your computer network, it’s easier and cheaper to set up.
Many commercial packages now include ‘call plans’ that include bundles of call minutes, that can be shared across the whole group. This means that most companies have zero call charges and their cloud-phone solution becomes a fixed recurring monthly charge
2. Easier to Support
Supporting cloud based systems is also much more efficient. Gone are the days when an engineer has to be deployed to the site. Instead everything is done quickly and remotely, which is also a lot cheaper. Modern solutions, like VOIP, now come with in-built resilience features, such as the immediate redirection of calls in the event of failure.
3. Provide greater flexibility
Businesses that operate through the cloud can stay connected wherever, whenever they are needed. Additionally, cloud technology provides a consistent business presence which is vital when employees are required to work from home or off-site.
Cloud-telephony allows users to have the same phone number regardless of where they are in the world. This number flexibility means no issues when relocating your office, even if you are moving to a different geographic location.
4. Greater control
As with any digital application cloud telephony allows you to monitor, track and analyse calls. Plus, with cloud-based telephone systems businesses can access great features like Virtual Assistant, Auto Attendant, Never Miss a Call or Call Center solutions.
Cloud based telephone systems allow you to add or remove additional lines more easily. As your business grows, systems can more easily handle higher call volumes and extensions without compromising on quality. Cloud-telephony is the perfect communications solution for growth, enabling the addition of new users, remote workers and new office locations via a simple process.
6. Enhance customer service
Advanced features like Call Assist or Virtual Receptionist (VR), are readily available with cloud telephone systems. This allows businesses to set up call waiting or virtual waiting rooms, and play automated messages. This is especially handy during holiday closures or high call volume periods.
7. News services and features
Digital systems are regularly being updated. When new features are released it’s really simple to bolt them on to your existing package. Being able to adapt increases business efficiency and customer satisfaction.
8. Did we mention it’s cheaper?
How the service is costed and financed is also a critical factor for many businesses. The ability to avoid large CapX (capital expenditure) and move toward on-going monthly rental or OpX (operating expenditure) is key to many businesses. Improving cashflows is vital to so many SMB (small & medium business). Cloud-based also means systems are centrally managed and updated, hosted on the best platforms in the most reliable data centres. This means they are more reliable, have higher up-time / availability and are better protected against cyber-security than systems directly hosted and managed by a business. This also means that cloud-based VoIP telephony provides features that are way beyond the budget of most small and medium sized businesses. i.e. Paying to use a part of a much larger system, rather than buying a specific piece of hardware.
Choosing a cloud based telephone system
Although we rave about cloud-based telephone we have seen a lot of systems that have been set up badly. Poor systems result in poor call quality and can lead to poor customer satisfaction. Here are our top tips for choosing a cloud based telephone system.
The Right Set Up and Equipment
A VoIP call using the best quality takes around 120Kb/s. That’s a very small amount of data, compared to the routinely available speeds of 100,000Kb/s or 1000,000Kb/s found in most LANs (local area networks). However, the problem isn’t speed, but delay. With computer data, the IP packets can be re-transmitted and jumbled up with no issue, as the receiving computer simply reorders the packets or asks for new ones to be resent. However, the human ear can’t do this. Delays or drops outs means that t*e c*nver*ation becom*s ra*her d*fficult t* foll*w!
To combat this several things can be done. You may want to consider separating the traffic in the LAN by having different voice and data networks. However, this doesn’t mean doubling up on equipment and losing some of the benefits of commonality mentioned above! If the right switching and LAN equipment is selected, then VLANs (virtual local area networks) can easily be implemented that provide this traffic separation and help keep things running smoothly.
Handling VoIP traffic
Perhaps more importantly, is how the VoIP traffic is handled in the WAN (wide area network), where companies routinely use connections (like broadband), where the speed of connection is much lower than in the LAN. Because speeds are lower, the ‘pipe’ into which this data is being ‘squeezed’ is smaller and therefore the flow becomes ‘congested’.
We commonly see this in many installations using home or low-quality broadband services. To overcome this problem, look for solutions that offer QOS (quality of service), which enables the bandwidth to be reserved for critical applications like VoIP and stops this congestion issue.
Our broadband solutions are specifically designed for businesses and products like Converged FTTC or Assured broadband allow both voice & data to operate without issue.
Automatic call redirect
Even the best solutions can go wrong and when they do it’s important to have the ability to redirect calls quickly. Look for systems that offer automatic call redirect when the destination site goes down. I.e. when the broadband fails, calls are automatically rerouted to your mobile and / or other users or sites. But what happens if the hosted platform fails? This may be a rare event, but we recommend using a different ICS (inbound call solution) to that of your hosted telephony platform. This ensures calls always go somewhere and calls are not lost.
Also, consider the support you have for your lines, broadband or leased line services. Make sure you can report faults 24*7 if needed and that you understand the target fix time in the event of failure. Often you can pay an enhanced fee on your telecoms line or internet service rental to improve these response times. Alternatively look to set-up dual connections, whereby services failover from one to the other if a connection drops.
Choose the right Software
The voice server or PBX software used is also critical and we suggest going for a mainstream product that is well supported. One such product is Cisco Broadsoft, which ranks highly on review sites like Gartner, so do your research. The choice of software is critical and will be a main factor determining the features, functions and stability of the system you select. Broadsoft for example, is the market leader and specifically designed to be run as a cloud-service. It has been widely adopted and developed.
Choose the right partner
Finally, look for a partner who has the skills and badges to prove they can design, implement and support any solution you choose. For example, Charlton Networks are a Gamma Accredited Partner and have been deploying VoIP and Telecoms solutions for many years.
Cloud-based telephony: Handsets, Devices & Software
Handset instruments come in all shapes & sizes, with corded and cordless devices, mobile phone applications and support for Windows, Android and Apple devices. Whatever computer device you have, there is almost certainly a software client that can run a softphone. This turns it into a phone enabling you to receive calls anywhere and work more flexibly. The choice of handsets are huge and range from non-display, simple to full colour, touch screen and cordless.
Wired handsets often include an extra port to plug in your laptop or desktop computer, meaning you only need 1-cable to your desk. This can be handy if you are short on cabling or moving into a new office where you need to cable. But phones can also run on wireless too, support Bluetooth for headset connectivity (avoiding messy tangled cables) and can be ‘twinned’ with your mobile phone, so you always pickup your call whether at your desk or whilst out and about.
Cloud-base telephony: Voicemail, Messaging and Status
Getting your voicemail messages is critical to serving your customers and remaining productive in our ever-changing daily business lives. The flexibility of cloud-based VoIP systems again comes to the fore. With voice message alerting, listening and responding you’ll be able access your messages wherever you are and on any device.
Menu items like this make it easy to navigate and select the functions you need, such as collecting your messages, searching for a number in a company or private directory or placing yourself in Do Not Disturb (DND).
The expansion of telephony on to mobile devices & computers has also led to advances in how systems are managed and controlled. VoIP cloud-hosted systems are web-based and controlled via you Internet Browser. More sophisticated applications have arisen from this and now routinely include Instant Messaging. Users can exchange text messaging. It’s quick and can be done while they are on the phone to someone else. Features such as ‘presence’ allow others to see where you are and if you can take calls. This is preferred to taking messages and keeping a client waiting.
In general, such features are converging the computer, phone, email, messaging and status. Some vendors are creating their own applications. For example, Horizon Collaborate offer to integrate into other common applications, such as Microsoft Teams or Microsoft Outlook.
Here is the Horizon Collaborate application, showing contacts, with their photo, their current status information on the right-hand side and giving the user the ability to send and IM, phone call, video call or conference in that user.
This application also provides a virtual room, where information, documents, notes can be shared and any number of participants can collaborate on a project.
The uses of applications like this opens up a whole new way of working together, managing customers, improving customer services and working in the most flexible way.
Numbers & Porting
With cloud-based telephone systems your telephone number becomes much more transparent and flexible compared with traditional phone systems. Unlike a traditional phone line or ISDN (where the numbers are directly linked to the physical line), cloud-based telephony ‘de-couples’ this link. This gives you the complete freedom to associate almost any phone number to an individual user or group of users.
For example, you might choose to have a geographic number (01242), which can be used for local customers. The number can be allocated to sales reps who also cover that specific area. However, they could be working from any location. Additionally, you could also build any number of other geographic numbers to cover other sales areas.
Number flexibility can also be very helpful if moving premises, say from Gloucester (01452) to Cheltenham (01242) and want to preserve old numbers and also have a new number for the new office location. Providers like ourselves, can take-over your legacy lines and ‘port’ required numbers into a cloud-based phone system. This resolves the issue of potentially losing or changing numbers when you physically move buildings.
With the expansion of Voice-over-IP (VoIP) and cloud-based phone systems, the cost of trunks calls has been steadily decreasing. This is because a significant part of these calls does not go over the Public Services Telephone Networks (PSTN). Therefore, it’s essentially free!
These cost reductions have allowed the industry to routinely offer call bundles, that generally include local, national and UK mobile calls. Look for call bundles that are ‘aggregated’ across all your users. For example you get 4000-minutes of calls / user and with 10-users you receive 40,000-minutes of free calls per month. This means that you don’t pay for virtually all your calls if you are a business dealing primarily with UK customers.
If you do undertake lots of calls overseas, these are often cheaper, but you should enquire about rates. Based upon the volume of calls, you may be able to obtain discounts or free calls to these destinations too.
Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is a key communications language behind cloud-based telephony and is used to connect your phone handsets and soft clients to the hosted PBX system. It all works seamlessly and as a user you don’t normally need to know about it. However, SIP can also work on traditional phone systems and may be worth knowing about in case you can’t move to a cloud solution immediately.
Like all business investments, you will want to get the maximum return on any capital expenditure. If your phone system is less than 2 or 3-years old, SIP may be a useful ‘stepping stone’. In these cases, SIP can be used to replace legacy iSDN services which are now going end-of-life and allows you to keep the phone system, but upgrade the lines. You will need a reliable Internet connection, typically a ‘leased line’ to connect the SIP channels, but its worth remembering.
Get your cloud-based telephone system
ISDN phone lines are being phased out by BT, so businesses will need to adopt a cloud based phone system. Thankfully, cloud-based telephony is now mainstream with thousands of UK businesses adopting this technology. It has allowed businesses to easily grow, remain agile and save money.
Now that you know the benefits use this guide to determine what sort of system you require. Pay close attention to the features you may need and how to select a provider.
At Charlton Networks we provide a complete set of Business IT services. We think of ourselves as the ‘one-stop-shop’ for all IT needs making business more efficient and effective. Our services include Cloud-Telephony and Hosted-PBX solutions that replace traditional iSDN-based phone systems. We provision and manage the best cloud-based phone systems and offer these as fully managed service solutions. These solutions are easy to use and manage. Remove capital expenditure and help cashflow, whilst providing unprecedented levels of flexibility in operating and running your business. Contact us today to discuss your new system.