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Conference Phones for Cloud Phone Systems

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Sep 12, 2017 11:16:34 AM

Bell Labs introduced the first conference phones in 1964. The Picturephone was demonstrated at the 1964 worlds fair and must have been mind boggling. In all my years in telecom, I have never seen a Picturephone. It was not a commercial success.

 

1964 Picturephone

Today, Facetime and similar smart phone apps make video conferencing common and nearly cost free. Yet, you rarely see business people using Facetime when conducting business meetings. Most business conference calls involve groups of people in disparate locations. Facetime is limited to two parties.

True multi location video conference calling still requires specialized equipment and fairly sophisticated design. We recently designed a conference system for a client with seven locations that needed to accommodate their board room, two large training rooms, and several smaller conference rooms. The system had dozens of microphones and speakers as well as sophisticated mixing and sound management software...not exactly plug and play, and not inexpensive.

For most businesses, live video is not necessary. Screen sharing programs allow multiple people to work on a document or share a presentation. They just need to be able to talk to each other and be clearly understood.

Most legacy conference phones work on an analog line or analog PBX extension. This presents a challenge when deploying cloud phone services. In order to connect a typical Polygon Soundstation to cloud phone services, you will also need to install an adapter to convert the SIP VoIP of the cloud system to analog. These ATA's, while not expensive, degrade the voice quality and prevent the user from taking advantage of the HD voice inherent in cloud phone services. 

Several manufacturers have introduced SIP conference systems. These are conference phones that connect directly to cloud phone services and leverage the HD voice and call processing capabilities of the cloud services. They provide exceptional call quality and are easy to use. These systems employ digital signal processing and advanced noise canceling software to allow large groups in a room to all be heard clearly.

SIP Conference systems come in many configurations to accommodate different size rooms, and varied applications. Many include wireless remote microphones, Bluetooth connectivity, and remote speakers. 

 SIP Conference Phone-1.jpgConference calling is an indespensible business tool. With the proper equipment, you can equip your cloud phone system with amazingly clear and easy to use conferece capabilities. 

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Gregg Haughton has been helping businesses increase productivity, enhance customer service, and lower costs for over 20 years.  

Business Phone Systems

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Topics: Business Phone System Conference Phones, Cloud Phone System

Cloud phone system use 101. The hard way and the easy way.

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Aug 7, 2017 3:46:58 PM

One of the favorite parts of my job is training our new customers on the use of their phone system. Maybe it's the frustrated teacher in me, but I get great satisfaction seeing our newest cutomers learn how the system works, and the many ways their communication investment will make their life easier.  

Although todays systems are highly complex buisness tools, the user interface is (well, should be) quite simple. There are really only four things you do with a phone call: answer, transfer, park, or put the caller into someones voice mailbox. Maybe if your feeling crazy, you'll conference someone else on the call. 

Both our installed business phone systems and Granite Cloud Phone systems are easy to use. We adhere to the KISS model of telephone system design. 

This does not seem to be the mantra of at least one of our competitors. 

I recently watched an on-line user instruction video from a large hosted phone system provider. This company has been advertising heavily promoting their system and "easy to use". The video shows the following steps to park a call:

1) While on the phone call, presss the Hold key.

2) Press the "New Call" button.

3) Dial *68

4) Wait for the voice prompt. (perhaps recorded laughter that you have made it this far...) 

5) Dial the extension number where you'd like to park the call, then press #

6) Press the "End" button. 

By my count, that is 10 indvidual keystrokes just to park a call. I would not want to be in front of a room full of people telling them this is the new way to move calls about the office. Maybe this is why this particular provider only offers on line training. 

This is how you park a call using Granite Cloud Phone System:

1) Press an open Park button. 

2) There is no step two.

By my count, that is one keystroke. 

 Simple Telephone.jpg

Throughout their video, the procedures for what should be simple tasks required feature codes and multiple steps.

If you are evaluating cloud, VoIP or digital phone systems, don't just take the vendors word that the system is "easy to use". Ask them how to park a call. If they say more that a few words, you probably don't need to hear much more. 

Gregg Haughton has been helping businesses streamline communications, improve productivity and lower costs for over 20 years. 

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Topics: Business Phone System, Cloud Phone System

Summertime is Lightning Time

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Aug 4, 2017 3:00:15 PM

We are in the heart of summer which means...thunder storms. There are two things business telephone systems can't tolerate: water and power spikes. My techs all know when there are lightning storms they will be busy. Sometimes, simply cycling the power on your system will bring it back to life. Othertimes, like the Priest on Caddyshack, the system is toast. 

Lightning Bolt.pngThe best protection for your digital or VoIP phone system is to have a UPS system between the power coming from the outlet, and your systems. An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) combines surge protection and a battery backup system to protect your electronic systems from power surges, brown outs, and provide time to shut the systems down properly if there is loss of power. Basic systems start at $75 and they go up from there. Many UPS manufactureres provide a warranty against equipment damage for systems running off the UPS. Several manufacturers are ABC, Tripp Lite, and Minuteman Power Technologies. 

The systems must be sized to match the power consumption of the supported equipment. There are many options relating to runtime, form factor and monitoring. The most advaced systems will alert you of problems with power, battery condition, and runtime based on load. 

UPS systems are heavy due to the batteries inside them. So, if you order one on line, check the shipping costs. It may be better to go to a local office supply store. 

So, next time the thunder rumbles, make sure you have the peace of mind knowing your precious electronic equipment is protected. 

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Gregg Haughton has been supporting businesses for over 20 years helping them be more competitive and productive. 

 

 

Cloud Phone Systems and Public Address Systems

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Jun 16, 2017 11:38:42 AM

Recently, I have been called in to "fix" broken public address systems after one on my beloved competitors has installed a cloud phone system. The customer was told that Cloud phones and paging do not work together.

Most premise phone systems have a page port that connects to the audio input on the page adapter (or amplifier). Since by definition a cloud system does not have equipment on site, how can you connect a cloud phone system to a legacy paging system?

There are two easy and inexpensive tricks which work well.

1) If you are interfacing with an amplifier - Install an inexpensive VoIP speakerphone near the amplifier. Set up the phone in a page group that includes the phone. Open the phone and cut the speaker wires of the internal speaker. Connect the wires to the audio input of the page adapter or amplifier. That will give you the analog audio input that the amplifier requires. 

2) If you are interfacing with a page system where the interface requires a loop start trunk or analog extension: Algo Communications  makes a very tricky IP gateway. If you put the Algo box on a cloud SIP station, the Algo has several output options including analog trunk (FXO) analog station(FXS) or page port. The device will also support multi cast paging with Polycom, Yealink and many other IP phones. As an added benefit, you can schedule time based tones. It's the Swiss Army knife of page gateways. 

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There are many legacy telephone devices that may need to interface with your cloud phone system. In our experience, with a bit of creativity and one of the gateway products available, you can make most of them work quite well. 

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Gregg Haughton has been selling business phone systems that enable companies to improve productivity, enhance customer service, and lower costs since 1986.  

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Topics: Hosted Phone System

How Much Does a Business Phone System Cost, Revised 2017

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Jun 2, 2017 3:42:50 PM

Of all my blog posts, the one that has been viewed and shared the most is my September 2011 post titled "How Much Does a Business Phone System Cost". To date, the post has been viewed over 22,000 times. 

In that 2011 blog, I broke down the components of a new system into the following categories: Wiring, Network Services, Telephone Stations, Control Unit or PBX Server, and Installation and Training. If you'd like to read the post, here is the link: Blog, how much does a business phone system cost

Well, apparently six years is a long time in telecom, because a lot has changed. Notably absent in my post is any discussion of cloud or hosted phone systems. In 2011, there were several companies selling hosted systems, but they were rare. Could services were just beginning to gain traction. 

The Forrester Research forecast below shows the explosive adoption of cloud services from 2011 to 2020. 

Why is this trend accelerating?

There are several factors in play. One, internet speeds are faster. According to a recent report by the FCC, internet speeds have tripled over the last three years. This has been driven by high bandwidth applications like video. While internet speeds had raced ahead, the costs have dropped. Two, the quality and reliability of internet service is improving because businesses depend on the internet for vital business systems. If your customer records are safely stored in the cloud, but you can't get to them; that's a problem. Three, businesses don't want the expense and headache of running complex hardware systems (like a business PBX system).

So, How much does a cloud phone system cost?

For a cloud system, you will still have costs associated with wiring, network services, switching, telephones and installation and training. So let's break that down:

1) Wiring - Cloud phone systems use IP phones that run over your local area network. You can either share one network connection with your desktop computer, or have the IP phone on it's own network connection. The cost to run a data cable is $190 in a typical office environment. If you are cabling an entire office, the per cable cost will be less. For the most part, the cost of cabling for a cloud system is comparable to the cost for an installed system.

2) Network Services - For an installed phone system you need phone lines in your office. For a cloud phone system, you only need internet. This is one place where cloud can save money. For a small business, you can get internet for about $100 per month. Larger firms may want to invest in fiber internet, and these costs start at $500 per month and grow with speed. Phone lines can cost $50 per line for analog lines and $500 plus for higher capacity digital services. 

3) Switching - That box in the computer closet that all your computers connect to is a data switch. A cloud phone system IP phone needs to connect to a switch as well. IP Phones also require power to operate, so most companies deploy power over Ethernet (PoE) switches for IP phones. PoE switches come in many sizes (number of ports). A basic 24 port PoE switch is $400 and could support 20 phones. However, your IT folks may turn their collective noses up at a $400 switch. Since your IT folks are going to have to support the data switch you use, it's a good idea to get their buy-in. 

4) Telephones - Cloud systems use industry standard IP phones that can be used across many platforms. This is another area where cloud phone systems can save money. There is no need to buy proprietary hardware that only works on a specific system. Phones for cloud services start at $75 for a basic six line display speakerphone and can go as high as $300 for a color touch screen large display phone.

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5) Cloud Phone Services - Unlike the capital outlay of an installed PBX, you pay for access to the cloud system on a monthly subscription basis. Typically, there is a charge per user. Frequently, there are several options for user profiles depending on what capabilities a specific users demands. User Charges start at $10 per seat and can go up from there. A full blown user with Unified Communications, Call Recording and Call Distribution capability may be $75 per month. There are also charges for phone numbers, e911 location services as well as usage and regulatory fees. Unlike traditional phone services, there are no "local calls" with a Cloud Phone System. Most providers either bundle minutes with each user, or sell "blocks of time" separately. Expect to pay somewhere around 3 cents per minute for outbound calling.

So, How Much Does a Complete Cloud Phone System Cost?

I recently prepared a proposal for a Real Estate Management Company with 30 telephones spread over 7 locations. The firm made 7500 minutes of outbound calls each month. The monthly recurring charges (exclusive of taxes) was $590 and the one time costs were $5000. One time costs included buying 30 fairly high end IP phones as well as installation and training. As a comparison, an installed PBX of the same size would be around $25K. The phone line costs for the installed PBX would be approx $350 per month, so the break even point is at almost 7 years. This ignores the maintenance costs associated with an installed PBX which is not a factor with a cloud phone system.  

So, which do I choose? 

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 The answer depends on your application, budget, goals, world view, IT team, and a hundred other factors. My advice is to speak with a good telecom sales person and design the system which best suits your companies needs. Or, you can flip a coin. 

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 Gregg Haughton is a Partner at Granite Communicaitons Inc. and has been working with customers in Southern New England to improve their communications systems since 1986. 

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Topics: Business Phone System

Not all cloud phone systems are equal

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Oct 15, 2015 4:59:36 PM

A friend owns a cabinetry business down the road from Granite. We put a Panasonic system in his office with a PC based voice mail system in 2001. Monday, the PC hard drive came to a screeching halt. 

I drove over and we discussed his options. Replacing the voice mail on a 14 year old phone system is not a good choice. He did not have a new system in his budget, as this was unexpected, so we looked at Granite's Cloud System.

For about what he was spending on his phone lines, we are able to provide the service, so he decided to go with Granite Cloud system.

In the mean time, since the service will take 10 days to deploy (as per DPUC porting rules), I suggested he turn on the voice mail feature on his Comcast Phone  service. When I followed up Tuesday, he said that his office manager had been on the phone with Comcast all morning - 6 separate calls, and they still did not have voice mail turned on.

Back in the office today (and the reason I am writing this blog), I receive in the mail a full color direct mail advertisement from Comcast for their "Business VoiceEdge" hosted phone system. I read it, and find this:

Am I unfairly picking on Comcast? They are a 152 billion dollar (market cap) company, so they must be doing something right. Right?

Well, according to a 2015 poll by 24/7 Wall Street and Zogby Analytics, Comcast beat AT&T in a race to the bottom to score dead last and win the title of worst-ranked communications company for customer service. 

The question is, do you think they, or any other large corporation, are the best company to support a Small business in North Haven CT with 7 phones? 

 

Granite's Cloud Phone System has Wheels!

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Jul 15, 2015 4:35:00 PM

Twenty, in fact.

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The difference between Granite Cloud Phone Systems and those of most other providers is that Granite's is supported by a fleet of five field service vehicles piloted by some of the best phone guys in the business.

Most Cloud Phone System providers try to do everything from the comfort of their offices. They ship phones, routers, and instruction books to your facility and give you get a support number. You call and they try to walk you through the installation and setup of your system.  Training? It's on-line. Questions? Post them on their support forum.

When Granite installs your Cloud Phone System, we jump into our service vehicles, load the equipment, and drive to your facility. Then, we install the phones, program the system, and teach everyone how to use it. The following day, we drive out again to make sure everyone knows how to use the system and that we didn't miss anything.

So if you are talking with phone companies about Cloud Phone Systems, ask them if their systems have wheels? If not, then call Granite. We'd be happy to drive out and discuss your business and see if we can find a way to improve customer service, enhance productivity, and lower costs. 203-234-4900 or [email protected]

 

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Making your Smart Phone Smarter

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Oct 8, 2013 8:34:00 AM

I use my smart phone as a level, flashlight, music player, GPS, contact manager, calender, calculator, game console and, oh yea, a phone. I get my office e-mail and office voice mail and sync with my office contacts with my phone. There seems to be no end to the tricks and tools this little chunk of technology can perform. Every month we hear about new "killer aps".

Here's one that really is impressive. By loading a free ap on my smart phone, and licensing my office phone system for mobility, I can morph my smart phone into my office phone. Mobility allows me to make and receive calls from my smart phone using my office phone extension. Even more impressive, I can transfer calls, record conversations, send calls to my office voice mail, set up conference calls, and access my office phonebook.Mobility Ap

Calls from the Mobility Ap show my office phone number, not my cell, and incoming calls show the caller ID of the incoming call. No one needs to know you are actually at a ball game or fishing. Best of all, you can log in and out so you decide when you want to take calls on your cell. Lastly, if you don't answer, the message in stored in your office voice mailbox so you can treat it like all the other business messages.

If you'd like to call me and talk about my new ap, dial my office number - 203-234-4901. Of course, I may be doing hot yoga, and you'll never know.

Hot Yoga

Topics: VoIP Phone System, Smart Phone, Office Phone, Business Telephone Systems

Using your smart phone as a business phone system

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Mar 19, 2013 3:07:00 PM

I recently came across an blog post that I thought was timely. I asked Aundraya Ruse, Editorial Coordinator of Software Advice if I could include Kelly Lindner's article in my blog and she agreed. I addresses a question that I am frequently asked: Can't I just run my business on my Smartphone? I would argue that using Ring Central or  Google Voice as a cloud based PBX is risky, but we have many customers using our phone systems to suppport "mobility clients" (Smart phones as extensions off the system).

Kelly Lindner:

What to Consider if You Want to Run Your Business on a Smartphone

 If you’re among the 45 percent of Americans with a smartphone, chances are that you use it for everything from checking work emails to looking up movie times. And with smartphones adding functionality to them all the time, many are replacing other devices (e.g. iPods) with their smartphones. But could you run an entire company directly from your smartphone? The answer: It depends.

 In any case, there’s a lot to consider before you consolidate your business phone systems into a smartphone. For instance, what if you want more than one employee to be responsible for responding to your company number? Or, how exactly do you handle call recording, phone routing and other services traditionally associated with a landline?

 A recent article by Kelly Lindner, contributor to Software Advice -- a research firm that evaluates software systems -- breaks down a few of the key considerations for those contemplating using smartphones to run their company. Here are a few takeaways.

 Decide if You Should Run on a PBX

If you’re a startup in the early stages (say, one to three employees) your smartphone network is likely sufficient to run operations. However, if you’re bigger than three employees, you can quickly max out the capacity of your network. In this case, it’s better to get a virtual private branch exchange (PBX)--a call routing and management service that can direct calls straight to employee smartphones. If you go with this approach, one employee’s number is would be the main line, and other employees would provide their numbers to customers as needed.

 Or, companies can use a service like RingCentral or Google Voice to provide a main line, that routes callers to individual smartphones using employee extensions. As an added bonus, when an employee calls from their mobile phone, these PBX systems will show the main line on recipient's caller ID. Some Cloud-based services also offer call recording, voice transcription and other business-focused services.

 The Benefits of Running on a Smartphone

One of the primary benefits of using your smartphone for business is customer access. If employees can respond to customers regardless of their location, customers are less likely to wait on hold or wait for a message to be returned.

 “Having a landline tied us to a specific location and was presenting a barrier to connecting with clients. … Now we don't have to run back to the office to check messages,” said Stuart Randell, a virtual PBX user and head of business strategy at Code & Company Inc.

 Of course, there are also benefits to employees. They get to use the they’re most familiar and comfortable with. Beyond that, there are often cost savings compared with traditional VoIP systems.

 The Costs of Running on a Smartphone

But these benefits carry some costs as well. One of the biggest downsides of a mobile workforce that relies on smartphones is the limited battery life of they carry. We’ve all forgotten to charge our phones before a big trip and found ourselves out of the loop. Employees are no different and it’s possible that a simple slip of the mind could result in their phone being dead when an important call comes in.

 Beyond that, cell networks are not always reliable and voice quality (in any condition) can be fickle. This connectivity issue can turn into an even bigger obstacle in the unlikely event of a natural disaster. While these issues are unlikely to surface, and difficult to plan for, they’re important to consider if you have a business that relies heavily on phone communications.

What advantages and disadvantages do you see with using PBX-enabled smartphones? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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Gregg Haughton

Granite Communications, Inc.

203-234-4901

Topics: PBX, Smart Phones, Mobility

VoIP Phone Service and Cloud Phone System Evaluation Checklist

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Jan 4, 2013 1:32:00 PM

We salesfolks get a pretty good idea what trends are evolving from our meetings with business and technology leaders every day. Today, most people I meet are evaluating VoIP or cloud phone service. Cloud phone service certainly offers many benefits, and can be good way to lower costs, and increase flexibility, but it does not come without pitfalls. The following checklist can help guide your evaluation:

1) Is there a real cost savings? On paper, the switch to VoIP phone sevice may look attractive. The actual cost may be vastly understated. Make sure the money evaluation includes the all the components such as:
  • IT - You may need to upgrade your data infastructure to support voice traffic. Do you have the appropriate switches and routers? Most IP Phones require power over Ethernet (PoE). How much will it cost to add PoE to your network?
  • Cabling - Are there data cables where they are needed? Is the IT closet any where near the phone equipment closet?
  • Bandwidth - Many VoIP providers assume your bandwidth is adequate for the increased traffic. Some providers require that you have a dedicated internet service for their service. What is the cost of adding bandwidth? If the carrier does not test your internet service before recommending VoIP, you should be concerned.
  • Paging - Most installed business phone systems support paging thru the phones. Many Cloud Phone Systems do not. Will you have to install an overhead paging system if you install a cloud phone system. 
  • Faxing - Most VoIP carriers don't have a good way to handle fax traffic. Make sure the cost of a dedicated fax line is considered if the carrier can't handle fax.

2) What is your tolerance for downtime and dropped calls? Unlike dedicated services like analog phone lines or digital T1's, VoIP that has been delivered over your internet circuit is subject to all the variances of internet services. Events such as denial of service attacks, viruses, or regional disturbances can take your service down. Most internet service is delivered by "best effort" level of service without specific service level agreements. If the outage is regional, you will be returned to service when they can get to you. You should consider the risk of potentially less reliable services vs. the savings.

3) Am I under a contract? Most carriers have you sign a contract for the sevices you use. Most also have fairly steep termination liabilities. Does the cost savings outweigh the termination liability?

4) Is the cutover disruption worth the saving? It often seems that nothing in telecom is ever smooth or easy. Although number portability is the law of the land, there are still many circumstances where keeping your numbers is difficult if not impossible. I have witnessed cutovers that take 5 minutes, and some that take 5 days. Once initiated, it's almost impossible to turn back. You should have a plan for the conversion, and a stand by plan of it goes poorly. Will the saving and increased flexibility outweigh the hassle of converting systems? 

Cloud Phone Service is here to stay and can be a valuable busienss tool and great way to lower costs. However, the decision to adopt VoIP should include doing the same due dilligence that any other critical business decision requires. If you'd like to chat about VoIP or have any questions, please:

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Cable Requirements for a Cloud Phone System

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Topics: VoIP Phones, IP Phones, VoIP Phone Service, VoIP Telephone Service, IP Phone Service

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