“MP’s will lose their landlines …”.

“MP’s will lose their landlines as national copper shortage means suppliers can only offer Skype”.

This was a headline article in the Telegraph printed on July 7th (2018) – illustrating just how much is NOT known about modern Voice over IP [VoIP] phone systems. I felt that this article was so inaccurate it deserved comment …

The article tells us that “the traditional copper-wire telephone network is to be phased out of Parliament entirely …” The first thing to note is that VoIP phone systems use [cat.5e and cat.6] copper networking cabling – just like computers do. 305 Metre boxes of cat.5e cable are still readily available and priced similar to what they were 12 months ago [what copper shortage?]. For many years now, businesses have been cabling cat.5e outlets for both computers & telephones and using adaptors where the phone-set has the old-style BT plug on it. So – despite what we are told, the death of copper cabling is not yet on the horizon.

“MP’s and peers will use the Skype internet telephony service …” That’s really interesting! Skype has grown as a peer-to-peer communications platform using PC’s to switch calls between parties across the world wide web. Due to several key service outages, Skype has had to grow up from the original peer-to-peer model (where it used our PC’s to guide calls between users), into the full client-Server system (a big Media Server on the Internet), it ‘so didn’t want to be‘ when it was conceived. How long should we wait for the first news of security breaches when somebody intercepts a Government call at their PC?  The article goes on to tell us that “officials believe the new system will provide ‘equivalent’ levels of protection against eavesdropping …”   There are many ‘secure’ Phone systems available that are capable of encrypting VoIP calls – but that’s not the normal mode for Skype! These ‘proper’ VoIP systems are also designed to provide call flow management so that incoming calls can go to departments rather than trying to find individuals – as well as providing a full suite of audio and video-conferencing as promised by Skype. If there was ever a case for having a secure on-premises phone system solution rather than putting every private ‘internal’ call across the Internet – then you’d think that a Nation’s seat of Government would be it!

“BT is planning to phase out its traditional telephone network across the country by 2025 – replacing the system with VoIP which uses fibre optic cables”. BT’s core switching services may go VoIP by 2025 and be on fibre-optic back-bones, but there will be a lot of copper lines out there delivering broadband services to both homes and businesses. It’s been difficult enough getting to deployment targets for high-speed broadband – so – is getting fibre to every home & business by 2025 a reality?  Your broadband service [on a local copper line] is going to remain a very cost-effective replacement for your ISDN and analogue phone services for a long time past 2025!

“There had been a failed procurement with no bids received for supporting a copper-wire system, showing that there was no longer any alternative to a VOIP system.” This is also interesting – We sell a lot of VoIP phone-sets and currently, a VoIP phone with a fibre-optic interface is pretty rare! [and if you can find one, it will be very expensive!].  The phones we use will typically have two RJ45 data sockets on the back, to allow connection into computer network using ‘copper’ cat.5e or cat.6 patch-cabling. The phones have two connections so that if you only have one network data socket at your desk, you can cable this to the phone, and then from the phone to the PC – and that will provide ‘copper’ network access for both devices.

In summary, VoIP systems do use network cabling based on copper wire pairs. VoIP systems currently use ‘gateways’ to interface analogue and ISDN telephone lines, as well as connecting VoIP SIP Trunk services – so it is possible to use your current lines and numbers along-side additional SIP Trunk capacity to take advantage of lower ‘line/channel’ costs and cheaper call tariffs. Those legacy line interfaces can be phased out between now and 2025 – and replaced with SIP Trunk channels without requiring any phone system or handset replacement. You can also ‘port’ your numbers from the analogue and ISDN lines to SIP Trunk services without disruption. A VoIP phone system is not a radical system change that you are forced into, it’s a natural technological progression integrating with new and existing services, on existing network cabling & hardware.

About the only thing the Telegraph gets right, is that VoIP is now the standard for telephone systems.

Give Foxhall Solutions a call at – 01787 320402 – if you’d like to get the full story about a future phone system for your business.

Case study – 3CX IP-PBX for Jameson Chartered Accountants

Jamesons&phone

Clacton-based Jameson Chartered Accountants could be described as a ‘large small’ firm, with a team almost thirty strong serving a growing customer base including a number of larger clients.

Their phone system had been in place since 1992, and – perhaps surprisingly – their telecom costs had, if anything, been falling relative to other expenses. In part this is because they receive many more calls than they make themselves: the ratio is probably about 7 to 3. For quick response they now find it more effective to use text messaging and email.

The requirement

Jameson’s had been discussing upgrades to their phone system for some years, but the trigger point came in August 2013, when they took over another practice in Colchester. Shortly afterwards, in April 2014, they took over a second practice based in Manningtree.

Clearly it would be expensive to keep a competent secretarial team at each of the three offices, and there was an additional problem, too. Under the new arrangements some staff were moving between offices, so there was a risk that clients might have to make several phone calls before reaching the person dealing with their affairs. It made obvious sense to have a system where all the calls could be answered at the Clacton head office, and then redirected to the right person wherever they were working at the time – even if they were working from home.

So the firm took the decision not to renew their existing service contract (in place since 1992!) and to look for a replacement system from a reputable supplier.

Timing for the new system was important. The work could not be done until the network cabling in the Clacton office had been reconfigured, which meant waiting until February 2015 – and it certainly could not be started before the majority of the firm’s work on annual tax returns had been completed.

Choosing the system

Jameson’s invited three firms to tender. Two were offering cloud-based systems, but Bill Wilson, who was in charge of the deal, was attracted by Foxhall’s server and software-based system. ‘At 62 I’m an IT enthusiast, and phasing down my professional work, but I’m interested in maintaining our IT system. And Graham made a good impression – his system was the least expensive, and I liked the fact that it could be managed from a server in our office. That meant it was under our control and we could do our own minor modifications. The outlay for Foxhall’s system was mostly on phones and an internet upgrade – we’d have needed to do that for any system, so even if we had eventually chosen something different we’d have benefited from the installation anyway.’

A challenging installation

Even when the decision had been made there were some serious challenges to overcome, especially when it came to finding downtime when the upgrades could be done. The Clacton office is also the firm’s main data centre, with many of the staff working on remote desktop machines but still using the in-house servers. With more and more of the firm’s work being internet-based the tolerance for downtime was almost zero – despite careful scheduling to avoid the firm’s busiest period. Even weekends were difficult because colleagues were still working out of hours. ‘But when necessary Graham always worked late into the night to get things done.’ (Graham notes that he wasn’t the only one…!)

Late night working certainly proved necessary when the Foxhall team tried to replace Jameson’s BT Openreach hubs with Draytek routers – only to find that the existing configuration worked only with BT’s own equipment. However, after a (very) long and frustrating weekend Foxhall were able to get everything working as intended.

Similar problems were revealed when it came to installing the new equipment at Manningtree – but once again these were overcome to everyone’s satisfaction, creating a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that precisely met Jameson’s requirements.

Foxhall’s formal quotation was delivered on 13 March. The Clacton office was up and running on 19 April, the Colchester office five days later, and the Manningtree office five days after that – delays made inevitable by the firm’s intensive use of its servers during the working week.

So what was their experience of the installation? In Bill Wilson’s words: ‘Foxhall Solutions delivered the system we were expecting in a thoroughly professional, friendly and enjoyable way –it was very pleasurable working with them.’

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.’