BT announces the end of ISDN

ISDN switch-off has been announced. 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

A Phone System in the palm of your hand! …

Recent release of Mini-PC’s has given Foxhall Solutions another interesting and extremely cost-effective way to provide the extensive and fully-featured award-winning 3CX phone system, to small businesses.

3CX on a MINIX mini-PC3CX version 15 now supports deployment to a Mini-PC so that we can create a 3CX PBX Appliance on Microsoft Windows 10 (or now, Linux Operating Systems too). Using a Mini-PC you have a low-cost, reliable appliance that can be used in smaller offices where no server is available, or where server resources are already max’d out. These PC’s have no fans or ventilation requirements, and therefore can run 24×7 with no maintenance.

With the price of the IP-PBX central equipment minimised, you can also take advantage of low-cost SIP Trunk services to replace ISDN and analogue lines, reducing on-going service rentals and call costs by huge amounts! (we have seen reductions of 60% to 80% in monthly telecom’s spend).  If you run a Small Business then this has to be the best way to get the best phone system at the best price. Besides its low cost – and 3CX’s low running costs, using a Mini-PC as a 3CX server, offers you several advantages:

  • It will fit anywhere you can give it mains-power and a network connection.
  • It can be connected by WiFi – if cabling issues make that the only alternative!
  • Power consumption is extremely low (approx. 10 Watts).
  • Without fans, this 3CX Server is silent!
  • It’s cool! – Yes it looks great, but I actually mean – this ‘green’ machine won’t heat your office!
  • The Mini-PC won’t suit every need, but its worth a look if you are wanting up to 20 extensions, handling 4 to 8 simultaneous calls.
  • It will allow you to start small, and migrate your 3CX system to a more powerful Server platform as your business grows.
  • It’s a 3CX – so it will do all the on- and off-site phone system things that have made 3CX a world-leader in PBX systems.

[Warning – tech’ stuff ahead!] The MINIX PC shown here, runs 64-bit Windows 10, has an Intel Atom quad-core X5-Z8300  processor, 4GB of DDR3L RAM, and 32GB eMMC storage. It can run an HDMI monitor or HDTV with Intel HD Graphics drivers, and has USB2.0 & 3.0 ports for mouse, keyboard and memory expansion. In addition, we can connect it to your network via Gigabit Ethernet, or WiFi and can fully remote-support the server and Yealink phones through its Internet connection … and, by the way – the MINIX also makes a great Media-server for your HD TV!

We can also offer you the same ‘compact’ and cost effective solution when you choose the Yeastar S20 IP-PBX. This ‘Asterisk’ appliance measures just 16 x 16 x 3 cm, yet will support up to 20 extensions and 10 simultaneous calls.

 

 

 

 

 

The Yeastar S20 will support  multiple SIP Trunk accounts for low-cost flexible telecom’s – and – it has the ability to accept Yeastar’s range of plug-in modules to interface legacy analogue and IDSN lines, as well as GSM and 3G mobile services. See the Yeastar S-Series datasheet here …

 

When you want to talk about modern, functional & flexible business telecommunications without the old-fashioned prices and contractual ties … Contact Us at Foxhall Solutions.

Are you trapped in a Rollover contract?

roll-over-contractThere is a lot of choice in the UK market at the moment, and it’s a great time for you to look at cutting telecom’s costs. If, like our customers, you are implementing VoIP – then you could cut ongoing monthly bills for lines and calls, by as much as 80% …

However, if doing this entails changing your Telecom’s provider, you may be in for a shock!

You may think that you’ve been with your Telecom’s provider long enough to see the ‘Initial Period’ of your contract long-gone. So – you get your quotes and decide to change your phone system and services – and inform your existing provider that you want to cease your lines and port your numbers. Sounds easy, but then … (queue theatrical thunder/lightning effect!)

Caught in the Storm

… your existing provider tells you that your contract has ‘rolled-over’ into another 12 month period, and if you want to cancel your contract, then you’ll need to pay an ‘Early Termination Charge’ of hundreds or even thousands of pounds! When you question this, you’re told that if you want to cease your contract, you’ll have to do it within a ridiculously tight window around the anniversary date of your contract [which – 9 times out of 10, has only just passed!] …

If you think that this just doesn’t sound fair … you may be right!

ofcom-logoYour service provider should be aware that Ofcom carried out a serious review of rollover (a.k.a. Automatically Renewable) contracts and early termination charges in 2011, as these were seen as restrictive to consumers (i.e. making it difficult to change supplier), and generally harmful to the industry.

Ofcom has prohibited ‘Automatically Renewable Contracts’ (ARC’s), in the provision of fixed voice and broadband to small business and residential sectors of the market in a Statement that was published at the end of 2011.  The sale of ARCs was prohibited after 31st December 2011, and Ofcom required that ARCs be removed from the market (i.e. customers on these contracts be migrated to another contract), by 31st December 2012.

If your business has less than 10 employees, then a service provider is prohibited from selling you an ARC to cover the provision of your lines and/or broadband. This doesn’t stop the service provider imposing a Minimum Contract Period and rolling the contract on at the end of that period, but, Ofcom regulations now insist that your provider must gain your ‘Express Consent’ for this to happen and ‘notice’ periods must be stipulated for both parties in the contract. It might be for example, that your provider can offer you a mutually beneficial deal if you do enter into a rolling 12 month contract – but, regulations have changed the automatic [customer-led] opt-in nature of these contracts, putting the onus on the provider to advise the customer of the roll-over – and putting responsibility with them to gain customer consent to roll the contract forward into another year …

In short, if you want to change your provider of; lines, ISDN, VoIP and/or broadband, and you are told that your contract has ‘rolled-over’ and you will face a penalty charge for cancelling your contract – you need to ask your provider how their restrictions upon you moving your services apply with respect to Ofcom regulations (referencing: The Communications Act 2003 – General Condition 9.3) – and you need to have your service provider give you proof that they have sought, and that you have given ‘express consent’ for the rollover. If you are not given adequate proof of your liability, then avenues are open for you to escalate your complaint to Ofcom. On most occasions, when pressed – you might find that you are within your rights to make the changes you want to, when you want to – and you’ll only need to comply with minimal notice periods.

Just remember, that if it doesn’t seem fair, it probably isn’t!

We are telecom’s experts here at Foxhall, not Lawyers, so if you do find yourself in this situation, give us a call at 01787228402 (or use our Contact Us page), and we can provide some general advice, and then point you in the right direction to get the help you need.

SIP trunks can help your business cut telephone costs

One of the most frustrating aspects of having a telephone system & service is that its on-going costs can cut deeply into your profit margin – But, you can’t sacrifice quality to save money because reliable communication with clients and colleagues is vital!

There is an answer … SIP trunks can help your business cut telephone costs without losing any of the quality or features your legacy telephony provides. Broadly speaking, SIP Trunks are ‘virtual line channels’ in a broadband Internet connection. What follows are a few keys ways SIP trunks save you money:

mac2Reduce long distance charges: Using SIP trunks – which are essentially virtual phone lines on the Internet – lets you bypass the exorbitant rates that major carriers often charge. In some cases, SIP Trunk tariffs for international calls are similar to, or only slightly higher than local rates. This means substantial savings for businesses, especially those that operate in multiple markets and maintain a geographical spread of branch offices.

catblog1Rationalise monthly charges: Working with an Internet Telephony Service Provider, helps you cut costs. With SIP trunks you no longer have to fear the nightmare of opening a phone bill and being hit with unforeseen charges and fees; there are no hidden or arbitrary monthly fees that depend on call plans with SIP trunking.

 

SIP-TrunksMerge voice and data: SIP trunks allow you to merge your voice & data networks, meaning you can pay for one service and its maintenance, instead of two. All communications converge and are delivered through one Internet-connecting ‘pipe’, which streamlines your infrastructure and reduces the amount of IT hardware you need to buy and maintain.

90_messycablesAvoid unused capacity: With SIP trunks you purchase only the capacity you need, rather than bundles of phone lines, many of which go unused when call volume is not at its peak. With SIP trunks you pay only for what you use, as the infrastructure necessary to add or remove capacity on-demand, is already in place.

 

Are you interested in learning more about SIP trunks? Click here to visit our SIP FAQ & Info page – or contact us at 01787 228 402 to talk about how SIP Trunks can really save your business money.

Using Internet to carry phone calls, is no longer ‘Revolutionary’!

SIP-TrunksFirstly, let’s get rid of the technical terms … ‘Session Initiation Protocol’ (SIP) is the common standard providing the signalling protocols to set up & control ‘Voice over Internet Protocol’ (VoIP) phone calls across the Internet. … and … ‘SIP Trunks’ are the VoIP channels used to carry a telephone call, and are the modern equivalent to telephone lines … There, that’s out of the way – now to the interesting stuff.

In the first six months of 2014, we saw the UK SIP market continue to drive forward, with 137,000 new channels being commissioned. The UK market alone, now uses  [that’s at mid. 2014] in excess of 1.3 million SIP Trunk channels in both SME and large Enterprise sectors. Take-up of SIP Trunks is particularly strong where Small to Medium Enterprises need less than nine lines – where ISDN30 is often [expensive and] not appropriate, and multiple ISDN2’s are too costly!     [illume Research – July 2014]

With in excess of a million SIP Trunk channels being used by UK businesses, and with UK businesses needing to be flexible and cost-effective, it would be wise to look upon SIP Trunks as proven technology and if not already noted – to put a chat with your local VoIP expert, very high on your to-do list!

More customers are installing SIP Trunk channels on ‘Ethernet First Mile’ (EFM) and ‘Fibre to the Cabinet’ (FTTC) broadband services. EFM is a cost effective broadband service for top quality and reliable VoIP, but is expensive to install in rural areas. Fortunately the Fibre roll-out continues and hopefully we’ll have at least 50% of business premises within reach of fibre broadband by the end of 2014. As fibre roll-out continues, we’ll see the SIP Trunk market pushing toward its full potential and the majority of businesses able to take big steps toward reducing the ongoing costs of their telecom’s services. If you do it properly, a VoIP telephone system is not cheap! However, it will bring you lasting benefits in its low cost of ownership. One of the major areas where ongoing service costs can be reduced, is by using SIP Trunk channels in a broadband service, rather than ISDN lines.

As an example, a small business might need eight phone lines – so let’s compare the costs (ex. VAT) of four ISDN2e lines, against an 8-channel SIP Trunk solution:

a) ISDN2e

Each ISDN2e line is capable of carrying two simultaneous calls – therefore, to get our 8-call capacity, we’d need a total of four ISDN2e lines installed. BT’s ISDN2 pricing shows us that the connection cost of an ISDN2e line is £353.00 – and if you wish to take a 1 year contract with no inclusive calls, then an ISDN line (2 ch.) is rented at £22.74 per month. To summarise;

  • Install costs for 8 lines (4 x ISDN2e)  … £1,412.00 (one-off)
  • Monthly rental for 8 lines (4 x ISDN2e) … £91.00 per month.

b) SIP Trunks

Each SIP Trunk is capable of carrying one call into or out of your business. Therefore, to get our 8-call capacity, we’d need eight SIP Trunk channels – and we’d also need a broadband Internet service on a standard analogue line to carry those calls to and from our Internet Telephony Service Provider (ITSP). Quoting prices from our ITSP partner – Chicane Internet – the install of 8 lines would require the following;

  • Install cost for one Business analogue line … £105.00 (one-off)
  • Connection cost for VDSL FTTC Biz … £85.00 (one-off)  [Note that this service actually has capacity for up to 80 simultaneous VoIP calls!]
  • Connection cost for 8 SIP Trunk channels … £zero [That’s right! – no connection charge for a SIP Trunk!]
  • Monthly rental for analogue Business Line …  £13.75 per month
  • Monthly rental for VDSL FTTC Biz … £32.00 per month
  • Monthly rental for 8 x SIP Trunk channels @ £2.00 … £16.00 per month

… or to summarise;

  • One-off line & service set up costs … £190.00 +VAT (13% of the set-up of ISDN)
  • Ongoing monthly costs … £61.75 +VAT  per month (68% of the monthly cost of ISDN)

It’s figures like this that show the true & proven benefits of VoIP systems and SIP Trunks – even before you get into flexibility, such as phone numbers that can be ported to anywhere and Direct Dial numbers with any UK area code.

To have a no-obligation chat about how SIP Trunks can benefit your business, call us at Foxhall Solutions on 01787 228 402 – or use our Contact Us page on this website.

Case Study: ICT for Lindacre Land Rover Service Centre

Lindacre Landrover Service

Greg Rashbrook, Managing Director of the Lindacre Land Rover Service Centre, was faced with a challenge that has caused problems for many businesses. He needed to move his entire operation from the Farthing Road Industrial Estate to a new home at 1a Olympus Close, IP1 5LJ. And he was very well aware of the potential difficulties.

‘I’ve had experience with this with previous companies,’ said Greg. ‘You worry most about maintaining contact with customers and ensuring they can get hold of you without changing numbers – so the most important thing is continuity.’

Lindacre’s day-to-day operation is totally reliant on its internet-based management and accounting systems, so it was vital to ensure a smooth transfer between the two premises. ‘We needed immediate broadband access at the new address – and we had to be sure the various different access programs were set up on individual computers.’

Why choose Foxhall?

In Greg’s words: ‘I’ve worked with Graham in the past and built up a good and trusting relationship where his advice has been very helpful. I wanted to make sure that whoever handled this process sat down with me and discussed it in detail, well in advance of the move.’

‘There were two things we had to consider. Obviously we wanted to keep the budget as tight as possible, but we had to be sure we had robust equipment that could do the job, and keep on doing it. Graham understood the business, our level of usage, and the capacity we required – so he put together a package at what we saw as a reasonable and affordable price. It gives us what we need now, but with the capacity to expand both our phone and our IT systems if we want to.’

How were the new systems chosen?

At their old premises Lindacre had kept a number of computers on the Windows XP operating system, mainly because that was necessary for connection to some of their cloud-based systems. Since XP is no longer supported by Microsoft, an upgrade was essential – but there were some challenges to delivering it. ‘Most of the companies we tend to do business with use software that was originally set up on an XP base. That includes; Land Rover, Car Care (who deal with our registered warranties), our Dealer Management System and our Parts system. And most of them have only just caught up with Windows 7!’

Even so, many of the team were using Windows Vista, which Foxhall had set up for them in 2009. On Graham’s advice Greg took the opportunity to upgrade from Windows Vista and Windows XP (which is no longer supported by Microsoft) to Windows 7. The choice was carefully considered, as he felt Windows 8 was not a suitable operating system for his team and there were issues around connecting it to the internet-based dealer management system. ‘We had mainly new hardware, with the exception of one or two people who were using laptops, but we needed to replace a lot of POS terminals and desktop computers so we thought it best to start with everything new.’

What was in the package?

The package agreed with Foxhall included the provision of three phone lines and three broadband services to carry both voice and data to and from Lindacre’s new offices. One broadband service would be reserved and isolated for exclusive use by the workshop. ‘This line isn’t just for normal business use – many vehicles have on-board modules that need software upgrades, which we take directly from Land Rover via broadband. And our diagnostic systems are updated regularly overnight via wireless upgrades, so that broadband line must be exclusive to our system-driven diagnostics.”

Using the remaining two broadband services Foxhall would provide SIP trunk channels, creating virtual telephone lines at a fraction of the cost of ISDN services and allowing Lindacre to have several new contact numbers. The existing telephone numbers would simply be ported across to the new premises, ensuring complete continuity of service for Lindacre’s growing customer base.

Much of the new equipment would be housed in a central cabinet. It was designed to accommodate the ICT cabling, routing and switching equipment providing the hub for Lindacre’s phone and computer systems, with a 4TB data server providing safe storage for Lindacre’s common-access company data. This cabinet would also incorporate an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) which would keep the company’s phones and WiFi systems up and running during short mains power outages.

Before the move

The ‘new’ premises were, in fact, in an 8-year-old building which needed complete re-cabling. However, the offices had been built, so Foxhall were able to come in ahead of time to get everything set up. The cabling runs had already been pulled in by the electrical contractor, so Foxhall were able to terminate some 50 cat.5e cabling runs at the users’ desks and at the cabinet, ready to support computers, printers, wireless access points and telephones.

At the heart of the new system was a Draytek V2820 IPPBX, a multi-role unit that provides a fully featured VoIP telephone system and broadband routing for e-mail and web-browsing services. The IPPBX component supports 15 Yealink T41P desk phones and W52H DECT cordless phones, catering for both fixed and roaming needs on the site.

An important element in preparing for the move was to decide how incoming calls would be routed. As configured, when ‘reception’ phones are busy incoming calls are allowed to ‘overflow’ to secondary groups of extensions. As the business grows it will be possible to set up new direct dial numbers for particular departments and individuals, as required.

In the offices, Foxhall supplied and installed ten new core-i5 PCs running Windows 7 and Office 2013. The PCs were then configured to access existing e-mail accounts. Foxhall transferred all necessary email and company data from the old Windows XP and Vista computers used by each member of staff.

The team also installed WiFi services for the service bays, making sure that a separate WiFi connection was available to staff and visitors in every part of the site.

The plan was to eliminate any interruption to the business – Greg and his team would be able to come in on the Monday morning and simply pick up where they’d left off on the Friday.

What was your experience when the move actually came?

‘Foxhall arranged for the phone numbers to be moved during the weekend – and we needed someone with Graham’s skill set to ensure that everything happened at the right time. The important thing with Foxhall is that they keep you in touch with what’s going on. That’s essential – after all, I had a million other things to worry about. I was quietly confident that they had it all under control, despite knowing from experience how things can go wrong – and my confidence was entirely justified by the outcome.’

‘The wonderful thing was that we finished business on a Friday, moved most of the bits and pieces across over the weekend, we were live on Monday – and everything worked, with no break in customer service. It was all very well planned.’

‘The phone connection is spot on. Our old phone system should have been on Antiques Roadshow – it was hugely limiting in terms of the number of lines we could have available. Now we have the ability to add more lines, and the move has given us more lines, more handsets, more extensions, and greater capacity. And the digital system is so much better!’

‘We prefer dealing with smaller businesses like Foxhall, where you can talk to the people who make the decisions. We’ve been very fortunate that all the people we’ve dealt with during the move have been first class – it’s been a real pleasure to work with them, and they’ve all worked well together. So it went well for us.’

How long did it take your staff to get to grips with the new systems?

‘We didn’t have any issues with this. Most of our people had experience with Windows 7, all the terminals had been set up with their familiar icons, and all the passwords stayed the same. There were one or two small issues where people had to advise a change of IP address, but that was it. In the workshop we had vehicles in from day one, one, and most of them needed minor software upgrades direct from the provider. Foxhall were aware of the importance of that, and ensured the service could meet our very stringent requirements.’

Briefly, how would you describe your experience with Foxhall?

‘Good planning and advice plus good execution led to a trouble-free delivery. We’d happily recommend Foxhall to any other business.’