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 phone system :

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 3CX 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!

3CX 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.

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.

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 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 partner – Yealink – has removed this problem with a feature to allow us to instruct the phone to react to SIP protocol from your 3CX 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, we have you covered …

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

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.’

The top five benefits of VoIP:

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1. Convergence:  Convergence is about having one bunch of hardware and wires to carry all of your business; voice, video, media and data. It’s very worthwhile and technically achievable. Your network may need to pass some health-checks and it’s possible that you’ll need to adopt a roll-out that covers network upgrade prior to the full implementation of VoIP – but convergence can halve your services cost-per-desk. Convergence makes it easy and cost-effective to carry out additions and moves & changes – without the need for new cable runs or complex [expensive] configuration changes.

2. It’s all software:  Some traditional PBX vendors try to make it look like its hardware, with product logo’s placed prominently on the boxes – but it’s not! VoIP servers are commonly Windows or Unix/Linux Operating Systems, running on off-the-shelf Server Hardware available from many vendors known to the IT world. This also means that since we are just dealing with a stream of TCP/IP packets, it’s becoming easier to interface the VoIP phone systems to other Management Information Systems, like call data collection, display and recording facilities. It is important to choose the right hardware to put the system together with, but it’s no longer proprietary.

3. Call Routing control:  This can be useful if you find you have geographical areas or call types that you want the best call rates into. Suppose you find a SIP carrier who gives good rates for calls to mobile numbers, but they are not competitive for calls to land-lines … Your VoIP switch can support multiple SIP Gateway accounts and provide a simple but effective way to route your outbound calls through them. For example, you can configure the VoIP switch to detect the 07 dial code prefix used to call mobiles, and have those calls automatically routed through that gateway giving the best tariff. All other calls may be routed through another – or other gateways – where tariffs are better for them. Fall-back strategies cover 2nd and 3rd choice routes in case the gateway is at capacity.

4. Fidelity:  We are often asked if the call quality will be as good as “our old PBX”. In most cases it’s actually better! Not only do VoIP systems offer good audio standards, but they do it dynamically – automatically adjusting the amount of voice compression, to compensate for low bandwidth call paths.

5. Pick & Mix:  As per 3 above, we can change and add Internet Telephony Service Providers (ITSP’s), to get the best tariff rates for the different types of calls you make e.g. for local, national, International, International to particular countries, and for mobile services. You can even use an ITSP that gives good rentals for SIP Trunks and numbers for incoming calls, but you can guide calls out through completely different ITSP’s with more competitive call tariffs. In addition, there are numerous manufacturers of SIP compliant VoIP hardware for both gateways and phone-sets. It is possible to choose the hardware to build your VoIP telephone system from IT resellers with whom you have purchasing power for IT projects – and to use servers, gateways and phones that you are familiar with. However, it’s also possible to enhance systems to meet your specific requirements by using a different type of gateway or phone with unique features, that fit your project.

Hosted VoIP v’s on-premise IP-PBX

Not only do you need to be aware of VoIP – but you need to be aware of the ways that VoIP systems can be provided for your business. You can either have your own system based at your office (on-premise), or you may have just the phones at your desks with everything else out in the Cloud (hosted VoIP).

Head in the clouds, or feet on the ground – we can help you decide which is best for your business …

When comparing a hosted VoIP solution to an on-premise IP-PBX – some thought should be given to the basic differences between the two systems and the advantages of each. Adopting a VoIP business phone system – whether it be a hosted [virtual] solution, or an in-house IP-PBX – is an excellent choice regardless which type of system you go for – But – understanding their differences can be important in making the right decision and ultimately being satisfied that your new phone system is providing you with a full scope of business benefits. With software IP-PBX systems driving down costs for both hosted VoIP providers and many IP-PBX manufacturers, there are significant benefits for users, who get a modern business phone system with more features, at a lower cost, and with lower on-going operational expenses.

What is Hosted VoIP?:

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An Internet Business Phone System (also known as a hosted PBX or hosted VoIP or virtual PBX) is a phone system where the service provider houses most of the call-routing equipment – and handles onward connections to PSTN & mobile – at a data centre, where they maintain most of the technology and resources that the phone system requires to operate.

hosted

The IP phones or desk-sets usually plug into a LAN/router at your office and almost all the signalling, calls and features are handled by the provider’s IP-Media server located far away from their customers. This is a ‘Cloud‘ application with Internet used to link the service provider’s routing equipment, to the phones at your office. The hosted VoIP provider usually charges a “per-seat” (i.e. per extension) monthly service rental, and may include a package of call-minutes and features, or a low per-minute calling cost in that fee.

What is an IP-PBX business phone system?:

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An IP-PBX business phone system (e.g. our 3CX) is like a traditional PBX residing at an on-premise location (e.g. at your office building in the computer equipment room), but, its built from technology that uses network and TCP/IP routing. Signalling takes place between the VoIP phone & the IP-PBX server over your own LAN.

IPPBX

Calls may go in & out through traditional PSTN lines (via analogue or ISDN), or over the Internet (VoIP) using SIP trunking – or even a combination of both! The IP-PBX is purchased from, and usually installed by, a telecom’s equipment company who connects the system to carriers using gateway units or software. These carriers may already handle your calls (e.g. BT), or they may be relatively new ISTP’s (Internet Service Telephone Providers), with aggressive tariffs and service rentals.

Understanding the fundamental differences between hosted VoIP and an IP-PBX will help in understanding the benefits and limitations of each business phone system.

What are you buying?:

Purchasing an IP-PBX on-premise phone system usually consists of buying hardware including phones, a server incorporating VoIP software (e.g. 3CX), network switching, and perhaps interface gateways needed to connect to your chosen analogue, ISDN or GSM telephony service providers. However, it is sometimes a mistake to think that all you need are the phones for hosted VoIP. For good quality calls on both platforms, your LAN and Internet Router should be ‘VoIP aware’, and network switches should also have Quality of Service (QoS) and Power over Ethernet (PoE) to support use of phones and PC’s on the same LAN structure.

Comparing Hosted VoIP with on-premise IP-PBX:

A summary of the positives and negatives for comparing the two approaches are:

Hosted VoIP:

  • Lower initial equipment cost and lower setup cost (but don’t forget your network components!)
  • Maintenance costs are included in monthly service rentals.
  • There’s potentially, a low monthly service provider’s cost for calls and features.
  • High on-going cost per extension – especially when large hosted systems are compared to equivalent IP-PBX systems.
  • Lines & DDI numbers may be added upon request.
  • New features and upgraded software are part of the service.

On-premise IP-PBX

  • Higher initial equipment cost and higher setup cost due to the need for a server & software.
  • Higher long term maintenance costs (w.r.t. the lifetime of the VoIP Server).
  • Much lower on-going monthly service costs after system is paid for.
  • Flexibility due to the capability to add, remove & support analogue, ISDN, GSM and SIP Trunk channels, from multiple carriers.
  • It’s easy to add SIP Trunk lines and DDI numbers.
  • Ability to SIP trunk with [different] VoIP providers to get low cost calls.
  • New features and upgraded software as part of service (with current UI in the case of 3CX).

Initial outlays can be identical for IP phones on both systems e.g. twelve Yealink T26P VoIP phones could be used either for an in-house IP-PBX system or for a hosted VoIP solution, but other equipment such as the VoIP server with PBX software and/or routers can be specific for the service. VoIP aware network switches with Power over Ethernet [PoE] are also [highly!] recommended for both system types, as phones need power, and VoIP needs priority over other data on your LAN. On-going maintenance of the server with hosted VoIP will rest with the provider (but is recovered in extension rentals). However – if purchasing an IP-PBX for an on-premises solution, there is Capex, support, and eventual replacement cost of the server to consider.

Costs of moves and changes:

Adding phones (users) to an IP-PBX can be as simple as installing another IP phone, unless additional licensing is required to expand call capacity (in the case of 3CX), but with hosted VoIP you will need to add both the cost of the hardware (IP phone) and add to your service plan, which will increase your monthly costs depending on the hosted VoIP provider’s per-seat service rental. Both can be easy to do. A 3CX IP-PBX has an administrator’s GUI interface where you can create more extensions quickly and easily at no cost – apart from the phone hardware of course.

It is notable that in the hosted VoIP model, every seat increases your service rental costs! However, the addition of an extension to an IP-PBX does not necessarily need another line! This means that on an IP-PBX platform, monthly service costs are not usually affected by the addition of an extension, because usually, the number of extensions far exceeds the number of lines needed by the business. Putting a phone in your reception area can be an expensive addition to a Hosted VoIP plan attracting an ongoing monthly fee, while it’s just a one-off cost on an IP-PBX.

It is also notable, that the hosted VoIP model will show lowest cost of ownership only when compared to an IP-PBX running gateways to ‘traditional’ analogue and ISDN lines. In this configuration, the IP-PBX needs additional hardware & configuration which further boosts the install costs for the IP-PBX system. If the IP-PBX is terminating SIP Trunks via a DSL service, then its on-going service rental costs will typically be much lower than for hosted VoIP! Keep this in mind when comparing proposals – as a hosted VoIP bid may be made to look attractive, simply because it’s being compared with a ‘hybrid’ IP-PBX running expensive legacy analogue or ISDN trunk lines. Remember that you need the same good quality DSL service for either hosted VoIP extensions, or for SIP Trunks into an IP-PBX, so if you can’t get good DSL, you probably shouldn’t consider VoIP outside your own LAN anyway!

Let’s look at other important considerations:

With any system, whether it be a hosted VoIP service or an on-premise IP-PBX the feature set is critical for your business. If it won’t do what you need it to do, then look at another system. Given that, there are other important considerations. Here are some general pros and cons:

Hosted VoIP Positives:

  • Lower initial cost and a Finance model based on a [it’s usually monthly] service rental.
  • A provider has many more resources than a customer. So new feature sets are possible. (Although, these might come only for an additional charge or rental, and only if other subscribers want them as well).
  • Implementation of new features will be handled off-site, entirely by the provider (but not without risk of service disruption!).
  • Its quick and easy to add or drop virtual DDI numbers.
  • It’s easy to move your phone system. Plug in the IP phone to a broadband connection and you’re back to internal dialling, & making and receiving external calls.
  • Deploying a new phone for a user needs minimal configuration, with the phone either being automatically provisioned by the Hosted VoIP server when it is plugged in – or sent to you pre-configured.
  • Hosted providers usually have edge border controllers or other NAT software that can better navigate through routers allowing easier implementation of remote users.
  • A loss of Internet or another catastrophic event at a business premise will have almost no effect on the business operations as calls will still either go to voice-mail or to a cell phone. This is because the PBX equipment is sitting in a collocation facility with redundancy, back-up power sources and other special safeguards.

Hosted VoIP Negatives:

  • Long-term costs of the system are high due to 3 to 5 year contract periods and per extension service rentals.
  • Either way, you’ll need a degree of local management to determine call plans and in- and out-of-hours routing. Hosted systems require instructions to be passed off site to a maintenance team who are also supporting other subscribers and therefore change implementation may be delayed.
  • Connections (signalling) and voice quality are directly related to the quality of your Internet connection (but the Internet & ISP’s have got much better in the last two years).
  • The VoIP hosting companies may present the product as just a bunch of phones plugged into your existing LAN & router – however – you’ll need a voice-aware LAN & WAN connection for either hosted VoIP or on-premise IP-PBX.
  • Loss of Internet will result in loss of phone service – including internal calls between extensions (although calls will still go to voice mail or where ever else they are routed to, e.g. a cell phone.)
  • Flexibility and/or customization and new future features may be slow or non existent for some providers. Hosted VoIP providers are unlikely to change or adapt services for single users, although there are some hosted VoIP providers that will customize feature sets for a customer (at a price!).
  • It’s difficult or impossible to integrate the phones with your IT structure (e.g. dial out of databases), to take advantage of Computer Telephony Integration (CTI).
  • The hosting company imposes their preferred carrier[s] and therefore, you get a fixed call tariff plan & no Least Cost Routing choices, apart from any offered by the hosting company.
  • Generation of additional extensions to be used in call routing, may incur additional service rental charges – for a non-existent phone!
  • Contracts can be long-term and difficult to get out of (especially rolling contracts!) …
  • Fee increases can be charged and/or cancellations fees imposed.
  • Your provider’s stability, both operational and financial effects your business continuity.

IP-PBX Positives:

  • Either way, you’ll need a degree of local management to determine call plans and in- and out-of-hours routing. However – IP-PBX systems can allow somebody with minimal training & local expertise to make these changes on the fly and optimise them with minimal delays and with a full [local] understanding of your business needs.
  • Lower on-going service costs – covering; trunk channels, DDI numbers and out-bound calls. Note that significant reductions in service rentals can provide a rapid Return on Investment! On-Premise IP-PBX systems will typically show lower annual costs and RoI in the second year of operation!
  • The number of trunk channels required is usually much lower than the number of extensions, which is another reason why on-going monthly service rental costs for IP-PBX are much lower than for hosted VoIP.
  • Having a IP-PBX gives you complete control allowing you to adjust, create, delete users, extensions, turn feature sets on/off, and set your own music/message on hold.
  • Adding more extensions either for users or just for call routing, will not impact on monthly service rental charges.
  • It’s easy to move your phone system. Plug the VoIP Server into a broadband connection and you’re back to making and receiving calls.
  • Deploying a new phone for a user, requires minimum configuration, with the phone automatically provisioned by the IP-PBX server when it is plugged in.
  • Remote users may be connected back into the IP-PBX system via Internet, for internal and external calls.
  • An IP-PBX gives you flexibility to experiment with and optimise your call routing plans – and you can test & see the results immediately.
  • Possibility of adding new feature sets with minimal license maintenance fees as they are developed and added to the system by the manufacturers.
  • No need to change your current carrier[s].
  • Ease of integrating 3rd party CRM applications and Databases to dial from (e.g. dial from Outlook or ACT! Contacts).
  • Ability to add VoIP SIP trunks [from multiple carriers] for route-based savings on calling and reduced monthly service costs.
  • Fast & easy to add new SIP Trunk channels from existing or new providers, and adding DDI numbers into those groups (often taking less than 24 hours).
  • Ability to choose multiple SIP Trunk and PSTN line providers to get the best call rates for each call type / geographic area (huge flexibility in Least Cost Routing!).
  • Ability to use Analogue, ISDN and mobile GSM gateways for incoming & outgoing fall-back in the case of DSL (SIP Trunk) failure – and to reduce cost of GSM mobile calls.
  • IP-PBX’s (e.g. 3CX) make it easy to access call data records so you can query call data as required.
  • Ownership of the VoIP server reduces costs over a period of time after the system is paid for.

IP-PBX Negatives:

  • Higher initial costs, with the Finance model based on Capex or Commercial Lease, especially if analogue or ISDN lines are used.
  • If you have an IP-PBX, then you should have someone who can manage its users – at least to a day-to-day operational level.
  • Expansions can increase complexity (but may also increase flexibility!).
  • External calls made by remote users are routed into the IP-PBX and back out again, using twice the DSL bandwidth at your ‘primary’ site, to create the call path.
  • A loss or failure of a PBX will route calls coming into a business via fall-back strategies (e.g. analogue, ISDN or mobile), until replacement/repair of the IP-PBX.

Have a look at this article – for a check-list to help you choose the right system for your business.

Contact us at Foxhall Solutions – 01787 228 402 – to discuss which platform suits your business best. We offer a free of charge consultancy to provide our expertise to assist in making your choice … Foxhall Solutions – Putting the Comm’s in Commerce …

Starting business comm’s from scratch with VoIP

As a start-up business, you might think that a feature-rich VoIP telephone system, is something to consider way down the line – after you’ve got your business up and running and staff working with you. But, that’s actually not the case … If you go with VoIP from day-one, in a planned way, you can build a telecom’s structure with a lot of benefits – that help your business, provides most of your IT structure, starts low-cost and simple, and just grows along with you.

Many businesses start with just one person working out of their own home. Typically the first step will be to get a phone line for the business, and of course, that comes with a new number that’s put on business cards and all your marketing literature. But all this unravels when you take the next step and move out to an office and get other people involved in your company – because the line & phone-number you have, can’t be transferred, calls to your employees home-offices will cost, and calls into your business can’t be answered by somebody else working at a different location (without you paying for diverts).T46G_1VoIP can start small … For less than the cost of Setting up a new phone line, you can set up a single VoIP phone on your existing broadband service – with a new phone number and with services such as call diversion, caller ID display & voice-mail. Calls to your number are delivered to your phone through broadband, and this means that no matter where you are, you can plug your phone into a broadband router, and it will receive your calls. As more people come on-board, you can put VoIP phones at their home-offices too, and have all phones ring for incoming calls, have extension & direct dial numbers for each, and make calls between your phones free of charge! A further advantage is  that when it comes time to move out of your home office, that contact number that you have worked so hard to market to your customers, moves with you (no matter where you want to move to!).

Hosted extensions working off phone systems residing in the Internet [the ‘Cloud’] are great for starting off with … However, as your business expands, you’ll find that adding more extensions increases your monthly rental charges. You might also want to have more flexibility with some telephony features, such as assigning marketing messages while callers are on hold, and even creating auto-attendants to guide callers to specific people or departments. When you bring your staff together into your new office, you’ll get big advantages out of installing your own VoIP telephone system – which will use the same telephones you have already been using – with hosted [SIP] trunk lines from the same carrier, and with the same numbers transferred from your hosted extensions. Having your own system, allows you to expand your operation without incurring additional extension rental costs, because the SIP Trunk channels cost much less than an extension rental (and typically, you need a lot less Trunks than extensions!). While there is a set-up cost, the Return on that Investment is fast, because your line and channel costs are reduced. An ideal example of an entry-level phone system, is Draytek’s VigorBX 2000, as it provides you with an Enterprise grade DSL router, along with a decent ‘telephony’ feature-set for up to about 25 phones – all at a reasonable cost!

3CX-logoAs a further leap in sophistication, you can then upgrade a low-end VoIP platform, to incorporate advanced call handling facilities (such as you’d see in e.g. a call centre operation), integration with Customer data for both incoming and outgoing calls, and Unified Messaging. Our 3CX platform can add all the facilities you’ll ever need, by simply installing an IP-PBX server and doing some software configuration. Your phones and IT network remain the same, but what they then can do takes a quantum leap! …

In summary, it is possible to start your business at home, and take that same phone and phone number with you from your kitchen table, out to your corner office on the 21st floor of ‘MyBusiness Towers’, in a structured, planned and cost-effective way – rather than having to dump what you have at each step, build a-new, and re-educate your customer base regarding your contact details.

Contact us at Foxhall Solutions to talk about how this can work for you – & how we can help you by taking some of the difficulties out of starting and moving your business … Call us at 01787 228 402 …

Network design and VoIP call quality …

moonwalk“Where are you talking to me from – the Moon?”

VoIP telephone systems use Local Area Networks (LAN’s), consisting of routers, network switches, loads of cabling, and servers – just like your computers do. But, VoIP is easily upset by network shortfalls that might cause congestion and re-transmission!

That’s because data can be delayed, and bits & bytes can actually be lost and re-sent without effecting the web-page, e-mail, or file that appears at your computer – but when VoIP experiences these problems, you – and the person you are calling – really do hear it!

VoIP transmissions need to be real-time, with minimal data loss – otherwise your ear will easily detect a loss of ‘quality’ in a phone call.

This means that when you consider installing a VoIP telephone system, you need to ensure that it is running on a network with adequate [bandwidth] capacity, and one that will give voice ‘priority’ over other data traffic to ensure a good ‘Quality of Service’ (QoS). In the early days of VoIP, it was the lack of understanding of the importance of QoS, that gave it a bad reputation. VoIP systems were just meshed with existing networks and expected to work – with some very disappointing results!

The basics still apply, in that you do need to consider how much bandwidth you have in your Local Network and Internet connections, to ensure you can carry the phone calls you need to in the first place! Jump to our earlier article about ‘Vibe’ to see how we can get you more bandwidth from even basic broadband services …

QoS is becoming vital in modern network design due to the increase in real-time media that’s being transmitted on both company networks, and the Internet. It’s not only VoIP that’s sensitive, but video streaming and video-conferences are also becoming important. For these applications, we need to ‘tag’ the voice packets that are streaming across LAN components, with code that identifies them as having priority – and of course, we need network components that can recognise these tags and act like traffic lights at an intersection, giving the ‘green-light’ to priority traffic, while queuing everything else until it passes.

In general we ensure that 3CX VoIP PBX systems have two components that ensure good quality speech on the Local Network, and to & from the Internet:

netgear-smart-switch

Network ‘Smart-switches’ are installed to replace existing ‘standard’ Ethernet switches so that using a variety of mechanisms, tagged voice packets moving between; the phones, the VoIP server and the Internet router, are ‘classified’ as important, and allowed free & swift passage, while other traffic is queued to follow it. In real terms, the delay imparted to non-tagged data traffic is hardly noticeable – but without this in place, a service-pack download to a workstation for example, could make a phone call quite difficult! As an added bonus, we also install Power over Ethernet (PoE) versions of these smart-switches, so that phones can be powered through the same cat.5e data cable as is used to connect them to the network & server. This means less plug-packs at your desks, and also makes it easy to back-up mains power with a central UPS to keep the phones going if there’s a power cut.

While smart-switches do the job on the LAN, it’s also important to ensure that VoIP traffic has the ‘fast-lane’ on and off the Internet. This is where we need to be careful in our choice of Router. In small site installs, we use a dual-WAN router that allows configuration of load-balancing rules so that we can take two DSL services onto your network, and use one for voice, and the other for data. A simple set of rules ensures that one DSL broadband service is used just for VoIP – with all other traffic coming to and from your LAN via the other.

In larger installs where a single high-speed DSL service (e.g. a 10Mbps or 100Mbps leased line) may be used to carry both voice and data traffic, the router may be configured to perform a different QoS role, where it ‘recognises’ voice traffic and prioritises a pre-set amount of bandwidth in the DSL service, exclusively for the use of VoIP. This means that downloads etc. from the Internet to your LAN, will not cause Quality problems for your phone calls. Jump to this article to see how much bandwidth is needed to carry a VoIP call …

The last consideration is your choice of Internet Service Provider (ISP). If you connect to the Internet, via a different ISP than the company providing your SIP Trunk channels, then there is going to be a ‘leg’ of your call that transits public Internet, with high risk of loss of call quality. This element of the call carriage can be minimised if your DSL supplier, is the same company that provides your SIP Trunks. VoIP Telephony ISP’s should (if they are reputable) provide direct links from their Internet services to the media [SIP] servers providing onward connection to PSTN and mobile services.

Unless you are considering a completely separate and new network for your phone system (which actually has a lot of disadvantages!), you do need to plan network upgrades as part of the implementation of a VoIP phone system such as 3CX. Please contact us at Foxhall Solutions to talk about what’s needed to bring the flexibility and cost-savings of VoIP technology to your company …