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Granite Cloud Improves Caller ID Lookup

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Apr 11, 2018 1:59:41 PM

Granite Cloud Phone System is pleased to announced a partnership with Telo for enhanced Caller Name lookup capabilities that yield an industry-leading accuracy rate of over 93%.

The ability to see a caller’s name as part of the Caller ID when you receive a phone call is a service provided by your phone company that is often taken for granted and, just as often, misunderstood. This service requires that your phone company query a caller name database to associate a name with the caller’s phone number every time that you receive a call. Errors in caller name are frequent. The problem stems from the fact that there is no single database that contains the caller name information for all U.S. callers. Because phone companies all publish and query caller name information from disparate aggregators, inconsistencies often arise. This means that the caller name you see when you answer a call can be different from the caller name that is seen by someone else. The confusion is compounded by the fact that cell phone carriers have traditionally not published caller name information at all, resulting in generic names such as 'wireless caller' being shown as part of the Caller ID.

The inconsistency in caller name results has been a pain point for Granite Cloud Phone system customers. So we decided to try to make things better. After extensive research we found a shared desire with Telo, creator of the well-known OpenCNAM data service.

Granite Cloud Phone system is among a small group of specifically selected carriers to work with Telo to implement improvements to OpenCNAM. By virtue of this product development relationship, OpenCNAM Plus has been able to achieve an increase of its already industry-leading caller name match-rate from 87% to over 93% domestically.

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Topics: Cloud Phone System, Caller ID

What are Granite Cloud SIP trunks?

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Mar 29, 2018 12:09:35 PM

According to Wikipedia, SIP trunking is a voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology and streaming media service based on the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) by which Internet telephony service providers deliver telephone services to customers...

Here's my definition - A SIP trunk is a pipe that connects you and your office staff to the public telephone network and allows telephone calls to be made and received to and from anywhere in the world. "SIP" is a set of standards to which equipment makers and services providers must comply. 

I asked my very talented tech, Ryan, to create a diagram for SIP, and this is what he produced:

SIP Trunks ExplainedSo, now that we know what SIP trunks are (thanks Ryan) why would a company want SIP Trunk Service?

The benefits of SIP trunks can be broken down into three categories: survivability, flexibility, and cost savings.

1) Survivability: Granite Cloud SIP phone service runs over the Internet. As long as you have an Internet connection, your phone service will work. Many companies are so dependent on the Internet for business services that they set up a backup to their primary Internet with an alternative provider. If one goes down, the other takes over. All services, including your SIP phone service, fail over. Granite frequently installs a cellular internet backup service so that if for some reason your wired connection fails (a tree falls on the lines) you still have phone and Internet service. Cellular backup is surprisingly affordable. 

2) Flexibility: Granite Cloud SIP service supports all of the business functions on high end carrier services that may not be available with traditional telephone service. In addition to caller ID, the service supports direct lines (DID) and auto fail over (DTO). Granite Cloud Telephone service has a customer web portal where you can look at call history detail and usage stats as well as search for phone calls. We can provide phone numbers from anywhere in the US and you can take these numbers with you if you move. We can combine SIP service with Cloud Extensions to support remote workers even if your legacy phone system will not support remote IP phones. 

3) Cost Savings: In many cases SIP trunks provide hard dollar savings over traditional phone service. According to a study by tech.co, the average savings SMB companies realize by switching to SIP is 40%. With standard phone lines costing anywhere from $30 to $50 per line per month, and digital services such as  PRI running $500+ per month, Granite Cloud Phone Services can provide substantial cost savings. SIP trunking leverages your existing Internet service and reduces or eliminates traditional telephone services.

Gartner Research Group predicts that by next year, 50% of all business lines will be SIP. 

If you would like to see if Granite Cloud Phone Service might be a good fit for your business, give us call at 203-234-4900 or... 

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Topics: SIP Trunk, managed services plans, VoIP Phone Service

Weather closes your office - Is your business phone system ready

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Mar 22, 2018 10:38:00 AM

 

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As the 4th Snow Storm hit New England this March, Granite's support staff spent much of the day helping our customers set up their business phone systems for another unscheduled business closing. Some of our customers have systems that are quite old, so making changes are not as straightforward as with newer systems. 

With a little planning, even legacy business phone systems can be configured so that an unexpected closing is simple and allows your customers to reach you if they really need to.

Simply follow this three step process:

1) Determine what level of support your customers require - For many businesses, simply letting their customers know that your  office is closed is sufficient. Some companies, such as IT support firms, medical practices, and sales organizations, will need their customers to be able to reach a live person. Other firms choose to have their customers leave a message in a mailbox and then call back the clients who need assistance.

2) Determine what options are available with the specific telephone system and network services installed in your office - Contact your phone system provider and discuss what level of support you wish to provide your customers when you are forced to close your office. Don't assume that you are limited by the functions of your phone system. There are creative solutions that combine capabilities of your network services, tricks that all good phone system techs know, and third party apps or software. Apply the KISS principal so that your staff can activate the inclement weather procedure easily and your customer can understand your options. 

3)  Set up the solution and document the procedure - Work with your providers to set up the programming, record the appropriate greetings, and activate any network services / applications that are required for the solution. A little pre-planning goes a long way and will make closing the office a simple process which and keep your customers happy. Lastly, document the procedure and share with anyone who may be tasked with closing the office. 

If you are evaluating new business phone systems, include the above factors in your search. Granite Cloud Phone service supports excellent options for closed and after hours call routing and messaging. Since Granite Cloud Phone System supports remote phones, soft-phones and mobile apps, as well as SMS messaging, you can create a virtual office that allows your employees to be connected to your customers from anywhere at anytime. 

If you'd like to discuss options for closing your office or see if there are services that would benefit your firm, contact me. 

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Gregg Haughton has been helping clients improve productivity, enhance customer service and lower costs since 1996. He has been shoveling snow in New England for even longer.

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Topics: Business Phone System, Customer Service, How to choose a business phone system, Cloud Phone System

Can Robocalls be stopped?

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Mar 6, 2018 10:47:19 AM

In 2003 the federal government set up a list where Americans could register their phone numbers, and telemarketers could no longer call them. This was the National Do Not Call Registry, and it was fantastic. It really worked. Then sometime around 2011, it didn't.

Yesterday, I got a call from Rachel at card services, someone claiming to be from Microsoft telling me my computer was in jeopardy, and a person telling me that due to my recent travel, I had earned Hilton points. The most frustrating part of this is that the caller ID on my cell phone showed a local numbers with the same exchange as mine.

Last year The Federal Trade Commission received 3 million complaints about telemarketers. The FTC estimates that customers lose $350 million annually by falling for these rip-offs. 

Why is this happening? You can blame the same voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology that eliminated the long-distance surcharge. This technology revolutionized telemarketing. Companies can set up shop outside the US - outside of regulatory reach - where they blast consumers with pre-recorded auto dialed calls. They use spoofing technology to disguise the caller ID so the number looks like a legitimate call.

Are we powerless?

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission gave telco carriers explicit authority to deploy solutions to combat robocalls. There are several bills in legislation that are aimed at preventing abusive telemarketing, including the "Repeated Objectionable Bothering of Consumers on Phones Act - the RoboCop Act. The future of these bills is uncertain, as the current legislative mood is more towards deregulation and the telemarketing lobby is strong.

There are Apps like Nomorobo that you can purchase to block robocalls. Nomorobo was developed by Aaron Foss in an bid to win a $50,000 prize from the FTC in 2013. It is now offered by many carriers as an add on service or can be purchased. 

Most cloud phone systems have the ability to block specific calling numbers, but this can feel like a game of whack-a-mole as the telemarketing companies use spoofing technology to change the caller ID. 

Of course, you can just not ever answer the phone. Most robocallers will not leave a message in your voice mail. 

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What are the advantages of a Cloud Phone System?

Posted by Gregg Haughton on Feb 15, 2018 4:29:58 PM

Top 10 Benefits of a Cloud-Based Phone System

 

1. Fully-Integrated Communications System

Integrating a company’s communications with other business applications for business processes and workflows helps increase efficiency. Business tools that operate in the cloud are easy to deploy, enabling employees to stay connected whether they are in the office or on the go. In this way, the cloud provides a consistent business presence and helps to increase productivity with seamless access to CRM tools, email, instant messaging, voice and videoconferencing.

2. Control Over Modes of Communication

Cloud solutions give employees anytime, anywhere access via a smartphone, desk phone or softphone to all their calling features.

3. High End Business Features

A cloud-based phone system provides small businesses access to the types of network applications that one would typically find at larger corporations. These include features such as a Virtual Assistant, Call Center, Call Recording, and Advanced Reporting. HD Voice IP Phones have superior sound quality.

4. Mobility and Ease of Use

Today’s workplace is increasingly mobile, and small businesses especially need to be able to operate from multiple locations. With a cloud-based system, employees have access to features that allow them to be connected from anywhere so that they can be reached while on the go, giving customer-facing and revenue-producing employees greater control over their productivity.

5. Time Management and Efficiency

Web-based customer portals enable staff to manage their system more efficiently. Full access to a customer’s system and account allows them to spend fewer resources on project management and focus more on work that adds to the bottom line. Cloud solutions can easily integrate with other cloud-based applications, providing mobile employees access to all the features and functionality they need to work just as efficiently as if they were in the office.

6. Flexibility to Scale Up (and Down)

With a cloud-based phone system, businesses can add as many extensions as they need to accommodate heightened call volume, or, if necessary, simply call in to deactivate these extra extensions. Unlike traditional systems, businesses only pay for the services they need for as long as they need them.

7. Business Continuity

A cloud-based communications system is likely to be unaffected by outside factors such as severe weather or other issues that may keep employees from getting to the office. With a cloud-based system, businesses can maintain a consistent presence — and access the tools needed — to keep things running smoothly.

8. Improved Customer Service

With the Virtual Receptionist or Auto Attendant feature, businesses can easily direct calls to various departments and even create greetings unique to a given department. Call Center functionality provides even workload distribution and metrics for monitoring your customers experience.

9. Open Standards IP Phones

Businesses can choose from a wide range of telephone terminals to match the requirements of the user or location. These phones will work on many provider backbones so you can migrate to other service providers without having to buy new equipment. Open standard telephones cost much less that proprietary phone system hardware.

10. Cost Savings

Moving telecommunications off of expensive PBX platforms and to the cloud can be less expensive relative to monthly service rates versus that of a traditional system, helping to reduce costs and, ultimately, increase profitability. Maintenance and repair costs are eliminated.

Granite Communications is New England's premier Cloud Phone Service Provider. If you would like to schedule a consultation to see if cloud phone service would benefit your business, please contact us.

Topics: How to choose a business phone system, Business Telephone Systems, small business phone system, Hosted Phone System, Cloud Phone System

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.

 

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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. 

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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

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