What are my options when ISDN ends?

With the end of ISDN services in sight, you may be worried that you have to junk your Digital PBX – and all the extension phones that go with it – and buy a whole new VoIP telephone system.  While there may be good reasons for doing so, that’s not your only option …

Our partner – Yeastar – have produced a range of ISDN gateways designed to interface basic and primary rate ISDN services into their S-Series IP-PBX appliances. This usually allows us to connect ISDN lines along-side VoIP SIP Trunk services (e.g. where the broadband is not reliable). However, the reverse is also true … These gateways can ‘flipped over’ so that the ISDN port[s] on a Digital PBX can be connected to the gateway, and then the gateway can be connected to Cloud-based SIP Trunk services through Broadband, provided by an Internet Telephony Service Provider (ITSP).

We have four Gateways available:

For larger companies, the TE100 will interface a single ‘Primary rate’ ISDN30e [E1] service allowing provision of up to 30 channels to carry external calls to and from the PBX. The TE200 terminates two E1 services from the PBX, allowing up to 60 channels for external calls.

For smaller businesses, a TB200 gateway will interface two ‘Basic rate’ ISDN2e [BRI] services allowing provision of up to four channels to carry calls, while its big-brother, the TB400 will interface four ISDN2e services, allowing connection of up to eight active SIP Trunk line channels.

What are the advantages?:

First of all, this requires no changes to your existing Digital PBX or the extension phones supported by it. The gateways aren’t cheap, but don’t incur monthly rental, and are nowhere near the combined costs of a new system, new handsets and associated user training.

Literally hundreds of SIP Trunk channels can be delivered through a low-cost FTTC/VDSL broadband service, or on a small portion of your existing leased line DSL. It’s therefore possible to reduce the number of lines and overall costs for voice and data connections to the outside world.

The costs associated with rental of SIP Trunk services are orders of magnitude lower than for ISDN. A recent costing exercise showed us a 25% reduction in set-up / hardware costs over ISDN30e, and an ongoing monthly reduction of 80% in ‘line’ rental charges over the ISDN30e. Your existing DDI number range can be ported to an ITSP’s SIP Trunk service (the process includes the ‘cease’ of the ISDN lines), and after that your monthly costs are only for SIP Trunk channels and outbound call minutes. There are no additional charges for caller ID and DDI numbers – but these are active, included and provided as standard SIP services. A typical SIP Trunk channel rental is just £3 per month – while a typical monthly rental for an ISDN30e channel, is £28 (plus CLI and DDI services). Connection charges for SIP Trunk channels are £zero! – in comparison, ISDN30e connection charges are around £105 per channelThis means that ROI time for the gateway purchase is quite short when compared to your monthly ISDN service charges!

With some modern digital PBX systems, it is possible to terminate Internet and SIP Trunk services directly at the PBX itself … However, when doing so, be aware that some system manufacturers (e.g. Avaya), require you to purchase licenses to interface and support calls on SIP Trunk channels. Installation of a Yeastar gateway makes no change to the ISDN line termination on the Digital PBX and therefore you have no redundant line interface cards, no inbound and outbound route re-configuration, and no SIP license fees to pay.

Get in touch with us at Foxhall Solutions, to talk about how you would like to move on from ISDN, and reduce your operation costs … 01787 228402

Nice Feature – Yeastar S-Series modules

The Yeastar S-Series VoIP PBX range includes four  appliances capable of providing a wide range of features when connected to SIP Trunk services through broadband Internet.

Each of the Yeastar S-Series Appliances can terminate between 20 and 100 SIP Trunk service providers with no change to system hardware or software. However, these Appliances are also able to take Yeastar’s range of plug-in modules so that you can use legacy line types in conjunction with (or even instead of), SIP Trunks. This might be useful when you have unreliable broadband and want a back-up service in case of broadband failure. Or you may need a new phone system, but the broadband in your area is just not good enough for VoIP [yet!].  It’s also useful if you have numbers on analogue or ISDN lines that can’t be ported to VoIP. These modules make it easy to create a ‘hybrid’ PBX to make communications flexible and ultra-reliable.

Each of the S-Series Appliances use the same on-board modules:

S2 Module: two FXS ‘extension’ ports allowing connection of one or two analogue telephone devices such as; desk phones, DECT cordless phones, fax’ machines and credit-card terminals – to other system extensions and trunk line services.

O2 Module: two FXO ‘central office’ ports terminating one or two analogue telephone trunk lines from the local PSTN Exchange (e.g. BT).

SO Module: one FXS ‘extension’, and one FXO ‘central office’ port to connect an analogue telephone device, and an analogue line.

B2 Module: two basic rate ISDN2e ports to support connections to one or two NTE boxes, providing two or four ISDN channels (2 or 4 trunk lines), with support of Caller ID and Direct Dial Number services.

GSM Module: one SIM card can be slotted into this module and an antenna fitted to the Yeastar IP-PBX to support calls to and from the GSM mobile phone network. Call routing plans can be configured in the management of the PBX to use this module as the primary connection route when calls are placed to mobile numbers (to take advantage of provider’s call plans), and to use it as a fall-back trunk in case of broadband failure.

3G Module: as for the GSM module, but for the 3G mobile phone network.

4G LTE Module: this module will support 3G/4G mobile calls and data. It will support end-to-end VoIP from a mobile device (e.g. a smart-phone running Linkus VoIP app’), through mobile data network to VoIP extension phones on the company LAN.

EX30 Expansion Board: can be installed in the S100 or S300 Appliances – to provide an RJ45 interface to a 30 channel Primary Rate ISDN30e, with support of Caller ID and Direct Dial Numbers.

EX08 Expansion Board: is installed into S100 or S300 Appliances to mount up to four on-board modules on each EX08.

D30 Module: When a D30 module is added to a Yeastar S100 PBX, its max. capacity is raised from 100 extensions to 200 extensions, and the number of concurrent calls raised from 30 to 60. When a D30 is added to an S300 PBX, its capacity is raised from 300 extensions to 400 extensions, and the number of concurrent calls raised from 60 to 90. A second D30 may also be added to the Yeastar S300 to push this up to 500 extensions and 120 concurrent calls.

This modular approach across Yeastar’s S-Series IP-PBX range allows you to be confident that any type of connection can be set up to enable you to take advantage of current and future services available in your area, expansion of your business, and competitive call-plan tariffs available to your business.

Contact Foxhall Solutions – 01787 228402 – to talk about your next phone system …

What happens to my VoIP if Broadband fails?

 

While we expect our phone line to work close to 100% of the time, most of us have experienced broadband outages cutting us off from the Internet. So, if we are using broadband to carry our phone calls, what happens if our broadband fails?

This is a question we get asked all the time. As Internet services improve, and we move toward a general acceptance of VoIP, reliability is so much better than it used to be, but it’s a concern that still needs to be addressed.

Analogue and ISDN lines can have their problems! If you have a line fail, then you’ll probably hear that “we haven’t been getting calls this morning”. You’ll then test-call your number from your mobile and confirm that the call doesn’t get to your office. Although it’s a good idea to have the help-desk number for your telecom’s service provider in your mobile phone – not many of us do! [So – go on, do it now!] We then spend a lot of time tracking down that contact information to register a fault. The telecom’s provider then schedules an Engineering visit. How soon, depends on the level of ‘care’ you pay for with your line subscription – and if requested, the provider will set up a divert on your main number off to a mobile or alternate land-line. After your problem is fixed, you may get a test call to let you know all’s well, and then you’ll need to call the help-desk again and ask them to remove the divert on your number. A drawn-out process needing a lot of time and effort from you …

Strong Foundations

How a broadband fault impacts on your VoIP phone system depends entirely on the choices you make when purchasing your new system. This is where some carriers and some VoIP systems are better than others. There are several things that can be done when you purchase and set-up your new phone system that will ensure that a broadband fault has minimal effect;

  • Choose your Broadband supplier wisely. If your phone system is business critical, then don’t choose a home-grade ISP! Not all broadband is created equal, and business grade broadband services cost more for a reason! This choice alone will dramatically improve service up-time and ensure that your speed and bandwidth to/from Internet will remain constant 24×7.
  • Wherever possible, make sure that the line and the broadband service on it, are being billed and supported by the same carrier. This prevents issues where the line provider plays ‘support ping-pong’ with the broadband provider when you are trying to get a fault resolved.
  • Broadband services are provided on analogue lines (i). Make sure that the line is on a ‘business’ rather than ‘residential’ rental package, so that if there are faults, they are escalated and dealt with quickly.
  • Broadband services are provided on analogue lines (ii). That means we have at least one analogue line available to our VoIP system to connect through an IP-PBX Gateway or module, so that these can be used as alternate trunk line[s] in the case of SIP Trunk channel failure due to broadband loss. This ‘fail-over’ to the analogue line happens automatically and will stay in place until the broadband service is restored – then it will simply revert [again – automatically] to the SIP Trunk services through the Internet connection.
  • VoIP relies on a call set-up protocol called ‘SIP’. SIP relies on two-way data conversation and therefore, if the carrier’s Servers cannot talk to your phone system, the servers can be configured to route the call to alternate fail-over numbers. These fail-over destinations can be mobiles, analogue lines or business answering services.

If you have made the right choices, then a loss of broadband will become a minor problem. After 21CN upgrades to the UK’s broadband delivery platforms, Internet connection has become faster and much more reliable. If you do get a broadband fail from your ‘Enterprise-level’ ISP, then your carrier’s, and your own VoIP systems, will immediately route the calls via the alternate lines and numbers. The big differences being that you won’t have missed calls, you’ve not had to call a help desk, and you don’t have to revert settings when the problems are solved.

So – while the perception may be that legacy analogue and ISDN lines are more reliable than VoIP, the flexibility that VoIP has, to automatically use preconfigured alternate routes in the case of problems, shows that its ability to deal with a connection issue is way superior to analogue and ISDN lines.

Contact Foxhall Solutions 01787 228402 – to talk about your next phone system …

Securing your VoIP telephone system

Secure-VoIPIs your VoIP phone system secure? Due to recent attacks on prominent IT systems, we are aware that we should protect our; Servers, computers, laptops, smart-phones and tablets. However, if not protected, VoIP phone systems may also be vulnerable to on-line attack that could allow them to be ‘hacked’ and used by somebody else, at your expense!

Hackers use automated tools (bot’s) that cruise the Internet ‘phishing’ for VoIP phone systems that react to queries on SIP communications port 5060. When they find an Internet address that responds, they will bombard that address with other tools designed to look like the registration of a VoIP extension. If an extension or SIP Trunk registration can be hacked, then it can be used to create a call route using the trunk-lines of that phone system to connect calls to anywhere in the world. If your system gets hacked, it’s you that gets the phone bill!

This is how we secure your 3CX and Yeastar phone systems:

Firewalls

Foxhall Solutions install Draytek routers to connect 3CX systems to SIP Trunk services provided by different ‘Telephony Internet Service Providers’ [TISP’s]. We create a Firewall filter rule that blocks port 5060 enquiries from any Internet address other than our TISP partners (and from valid extensions at remote home or branch offices). This helps make your phone system ‘invisible’ to those phishing bot’s and puts an effective barrier in place to stop most attacks. Without filtering, the hackers are still bashing at the door and trying to pick the lock, with the filtering in place, they just can’t find the door!

Passwords

3CX & Yeastar extensions are created with registration passwords and voicemail PIN numbers that are by default, randomly generated alphanumeric characters. Both can be manually replaced by longer and more complex passwords if necessary. This means any hacking tool must make a lot of registration attempts to get anywhere near a valid registration password – making it easy to block after e.g. 5 failed attempts.

International call-block

Part of a 3CX install, is to determine which International countries you need to call. Those ISD country codes can be white-listed and allowed, while calls to any non-selected countries will be blocked.

Network address

We also determine what local and public network IP addresses that calls will come from, and white-list those. For this reason, we recommend that remote extensions are on broadband services with static Public IP addresses (or connect in via Virtual Private Networks). 3CX will automatically black-list and prevent access from Public Internet IP addresses that meet the criteria set up in the Security module.

Anti-hacking

Anti-hacking timeouts are configured; We specify the number of failed Authentication attempts allowed, before the offending Internet address is locked out (and specify how long that lock-out is maintained). This module also includes protection against Denial of Service type attacks (excessive packets of data per second), and has timers to ensure lockout after a minimal amount of fraudulent traffic is detected.

It’s also notable that our carrier partners do some basic traffic ‘quantity’ and ‘routing’ monitoring to detect unusual usage. It’s possible to have SIP Trunk channels blocked for outbound calls, based on detection of excessive or unusual usage.

It’s also important to have a comprehensive error message library that can push e-mail alerts out to system administration and support. These messages will provide information if hacking attempts are made, and if calls to unauthorised numbers or countries are attempted from an extension.

In the past, we have seen ‘phantom calls’ arriving on remote extensions due to the phones themselves reacting to ‘fishing’ on port 5060 ‘. Our phone-set partners – Yealink  & Fanvil have removed this problem with a feature to allow us to instruct the phone to react to SIP protocol from your phone server only. And, if you are really worried about calls to remote extensions (e.g. in another country), being intercepted and monitored, we can apply Secure SIP (TLS encryption), to and from those extensions.

As a final layer of protection, even though it is not exposed to web-browsing and e-mail, we also install an anti-malware product (e.g. Avast!) on your 3CX server.

Due to their nature, VoIP phone systems must be open to the Internet. However, there are a lot of security facilities that can be built into these systems by responsible software developers. When choosing a new phone system, or, if you’re already using VoIP – you shouldn’t hesitate to ask your system supplier how your phone system is being protected so that you won’t experience outage  – or even ‘outrage!’ due to hackers attacking it and creating an eye-watering call bill! With 3CX & Yeastar, we have you covered …

 

Contact Foxhall Solutions – 01787 228 402 – to find out more about securing your telephone systems.

Hosted VoIP v’s SIP Trunking … debunking some common myths

With phase-out of UK ISDN services by 2025 now a reality, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), is way past being considered a ‘fringe technology’ with Hosted VoIP and SIP Trunks being the practical and proven successors to that aged, expensive and inflexible telecom’s service.

When you look for a new VoIP telephone system, you’ll see two types of ‘supplier’ proposals;

Hosted VoIP

Hosted VoIP provides phone-sets at your office, with the ‘intelligence’ behind the call-connection and routing in a Media Server out on the Internet. Your on-site phones will use your computer network and broadband to get to that Internet Server, and it’s the hosting company who is responsible for routing calls onward to local, national, mobile and International destinations.

On-Premise IP-PBX

The alternative is to have your own VoIP Server (IP-PBX) – as part of your computer network at your office (e.g. 3CX or Yeastar). This server can support local phone-sets, as well as analogue, ISDN and SIP Trunk [VoIP line] channels in an Internet connection. SIP Trunks are virtual lines carrying phone calls within a broadband Internet connection. The SIP trunks are hosted on an Internet based Media Server, but in this case, the Server simply routes calls to and from your IP-PBX which carries out all of the internal & external call routing.

“When I was a lad …”

You may remember ‘Centrex’ and BT’s ‘Featureline’ services. The idea behind these was to have a phone on each company desk, with a line connecting it back to a centralised exchange that provided the kind of features you’d expect to see from a private ‘switchboard’ e.g. extension to extension calling and call transfers. We used to sell a lot of PBX systems against this, simply because the typical business scenario (and it’s still the case), is that the number of simultaneous calls you need to connect, is a lot less than the number of extension phones you have on company desks! It’s only in Call Centres that you’ll see a need for a similar number of trunk lines as extensions! For that reason, Centrex systems were expensive to run because customers were renting a lot more lines than they needed to support their calling needs.

So – Here’s some reasons why Hosted VoIP may not be the ‘cheap’ option its presented as:

Hosted VoIP is presented as cheap to set-up, due to the capital cost of phones and network hardware being wrapped-up in the monthly per-extension (“per-seat”) rental. This may appear to be the case; But, in most installs we see that Capital Expenditure over the first 12 months for a Hosted VoIP system is much the same – if not more – as a project quote for outright purchase of an on-site IP-PBX solution. The big difference between the systems being that in subsequent years, the running costs of the IP-PBX will be orders of magnitude lower due to the low rental cost of SIP Trunk channels, and extremely competitive call tariffs – while with a hosted solution, you just keep on ‘buying’ that system year after year.

Some Hosted VoIP system suppliers will not take your existing computer network into account, and will simply provide phones to plug into existing network switches and use your router to get to the Internet. This is ‘cheap’ because it removes any need to purchase networking hardware … But, when voice and data need to co-exist on a network, there does need to be some basic engineering done to accommodate that! If your network has not been engineered to support VoIP, then you risk poor call quality and loss of customers. This is an important consideration for both Hosted and on-premises VoIP systems. Other hosted VoIP suppliers may set up a second ‘separate’ network supporting your phones, and their Internet access. While this removes voice and data network issues, it also removes a lot of the cost benefits of being able to use a single large-bandwidth broadband service for Internet and telecom’s access, and takes away ‘computer integration’ [CTI] features allowing your phones to work with Company contacts databases and CRM systems.

Hosted VoIP solutions lack the ability to provide Hybrid line systems. Where broadband is not available as a high-speed fibre service, it may be more reliable to have an on-premises system using SIP Trunk services that are backed up by analogue or ISDN lines. If you discover that your broadband is not as reliable as you thought, an IP-PBX may be fitted with ‘Gateways’ for alternative legacy analogue/ISDN line services, but hosted VoIP systems cannot provide this. They also make it expensive to have ‘specialist’ extensions like door-entry units, Reception area extensions and Conference phones that provide a useful service but carry a lot fewer calls per month than e.g. the sales department extensions.

Hosted VoIP platforms provide onward connection to local, national, mobile and International services through carrier partners under service and tariff agreements with the hosting company. Therefore, the call tariffs are set by the hosting company, and you – the end user – will have no ability to choose an alternate carrier to give you better rates to frequently called destinations. IP-PBX servers can terminate multiple SIP Trunk service providers, and the IP-PBX can be configured to ‘Least-Cost-Route’ calls through those SIP Trunk groups based on the number dialled e.g. if you want services from a VoIP Carrier giving a better tariff to UK mobile numbers, then a SIP Trunk group can be added and calls commencing ’07’ can be dialled out that route. Recently, I was able to order and add a multi-channel SIP Trunk group & DDI numbers to an IP-PBX platform for one of my customers, providing them with a very large reduction in monthly call charges to mobile numbers – in less than an hour!

Hosted VoIP service providers must have longer-term contracts to ensure that they cover their investment in the central equipment and to cover the phones and network equipment they ‘gave’ you at the start of your contract. For this reason, you’ll see contract periods for Hosted VoIP that are three to five years, while SIP Trunk service prices are still very attractive with 12 month contracts. Despite all the hype about ‘hosted’ being the cheaper option, this means that in real terms, your Hosted VoIP solution could cost you four to five times as much as an on-premises IP-PBX at the end of that five year contract!

Some popular myths busted! …

On-premises IP-PBX systems WILL support remote office and home office extensions just as well as Hosted VoIP. Having an IP-PBX server doesn’t prevent or complicate remote working.

On-premises IP-PBX systems do NOT require on site networking and software management expertise to run. Modern systems run on platforms requiring minimal hardware maintenance with full remote support facilities included – so that when needed, the system vendor can make the changes that the customer requires from anywhere that allows him or her, Internet access. Hosted VoIP support is exactly the same … After all, your supplier doesn’t ‘live’ in the data centre do they! …

Just like hosted systems, it is quite straight-forward to carry out automated back-up of on-premises IP-PBX equipment, and to provide alternate hardware if there is an IP-PBX system failure. In the case of 3CX, we could even use a Windows 10 laptop while server hardware is repaired or replaced.

IP-PBX systems are typically much better integrated with your Local Area [computer] Network, and therefore, deployment of utilities to integrate PC desk-top directory and CRM app’s is much easier. While this feature is low on the list for purchase of a new VoIP system, we often see this as something that users enthusiastically adopt as they get used to the facilities provided by their new phones.

Pre-paid calling plans are VERY rarely of advantage to the customer. Low call-tariffs with billing by the second usually provide the most cost-effective call billing for your outbound calls – Unless you are an out-bound call centre!

IP-PBX systems are just as scalable as hosted VoIP systems, allowing massive amounts of growth in lines and users without needing to replace central equipment.

And IP-PBX systems are just as secure as Hosted VoIP … In fact, a server supporting hundreds of telephone systems is more of a prize for a hacker to crack, than a single system.

 

Contact Foxhall Solutions at 01787 228 402 to discuss your best options for a cost-effective upgrade from ISDN services …

BT announces the end of ISDN

BT Group CEO Gavin Patterson has set a date of 2025 to switch off the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) networks.

It might seem a long way off – but with millions of subscribers to migrate and little further investment in the existing ISDN likely to take place, switching to more sophisticated SIP technology should be a priority for businesses. Session Initiated Protocol (SIP) is a data communications protocol ‘standard’ designed to support the features required to set-up, handle and clear-down Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls on Local and Wide Area TCP/IP data networks.

While it sounds like a job for the telecoms department, an industry survey* in 2016, revealed that 52% of IT managers also have responsibility for telecoms. The same survey revealed that 67% of IT managers don’t know what SIP is, despite its status as the next big shift in telecoms.

SIP trunking is a very cost-effective, powerful, scalable and highly flexible solution that helps businesses to streamline their communication costs and resources. Its key features are the removal of physical phone lines – replacing them with ‘virtual line channels’ in an Internet connection, and reducing the restrictions around call capacity and location. The fact that it uses ‘virtual’ phone lines rather than physical wire pairs, means SIP is highly scalable and  – depending on the number of ‘lines’ used – we’ve seen monthly call and service charges typically 40% to 80% cheaper than traditional ISDN lines. It also makes it easier to increase, and decrease the number of ‘lines’ for your business needs, with very short lead times (< 24 Hrs) – and very low connection fees!

But it’s not just the cost savings that make SIP such an attractive proposition – it also offers a level of flexibility that traditional ISDN simply can’t compete with. As workforces continue to gravitate towards flexible working, the demand for remote office and mobile solutions are only going to increase in the coming years. SIP enables employees who are working remotely to have internal and external calls made to their desk-phone automatically delivered to their smartphone or PC, without incurring any forwarding charges. The same is true if a line is busy, or if an office is hit with an unforeseen event – e.g. a local network failure, severe weather or fire damage. SIP trunking minimises these problems, allowing a business to adopt a very flexible Disaster Recovery strategy, and keep working through most eventualities.

And let’s not underestimate the importance of that. The industry survey* also found that for 63% of respondents, it would take less than two hours of being unable to make or receive calls before a business suffered reputation or financial damage.

Of course, not everyone likes change – and ISDN has undoubtedly been a robust and reliable technology. However, bear in mind that during this phase-out of ISDN, BT’s investment in the technology will also diminish – making it less reliable over time.

So – with the switch to SIP inevitable, what should organisations consider before making the move? As with most things in life, it’s all about selecting the right partner. Businesses should do their research and try to find a provider that has its network, data centre and connectivity all under one roof. It’s only when something goes wrong and customers realise they have account management with one company, connectivity with another and a data centre on the other side of the country that things become a real headache. Before committing to a contract, they should make sure they know where every aspect of the solution is being housed – and try to pick one that has an end-to-end service.

There are six steps to switching to SIP:

  • Ensuring you have capacity [bandwidth] in your Internet connection
  • Setting up the phones and call routes
  • Putting a Disaster Recovery plan/strategy in place
  • Planning system migration & porting existing numbers
  • Testing the set-up and call routing
  • and securing the system from external attack.

Of course, we at Foxhall Solutions can assist with this process and introduce our Internet and Carrier partners to provide a reliable and easily supported telephone system solution. Contact Us now to talk about how we can reduce your costs and increase your capabilities to work with your customers, suppliers and staff.

*Sourced from Neil Armstrong, director of business services, Timico