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 …

3CX makes Skype a part of your business

Skype-userWhen we describe our 3CX phone system, we are often asked … “Is it like Skype?”

Yes – 3CX and Skype share some similarities (they are both VoIP), but were designed for different tasks. In general, Skype has been used for point-to-point communications between one PC & another, and uses those PC’s – along with others on the Internet – to connect the parties in the call. 3CX is a business phone system designed to allow a caller to connect with all the members of an organisation, through Internet & public telephone networks, and through calling strategies that include many call handling features, such as – ringing at multiple extensions, and the ability to transfer answered calls.

Skype has become well established, and can fill a valuable role in enabling customers and staff to make zero-cost calls back into your business from remote locations, via the Internet –  even from other countries! It can also enable the use of ‘Skype Buttons’ on websites, so that calls can be made into your business by a potential customer browsing your site & wanting your services.

Skype Connect’ includes subscriptions to Internet SIP trunk lines, which can be connected to 3CX and act like any other trunk line. They can be allocated ‘Skype numbers’ which means that you can publish a number that enables you to be called by any land-line or mobile – and they can be linked with Skype business accounts so that a customer using Skype to call that account name, calls into your business as though they dialed from a land-line or mobile. The big advantage to your customers and staff is that, when they call you this way, no matter where they are in the world, the call is free! The advantage to you is that you don’t have to have Skype loaded on every PC in your company …

An incoming Skype Connect call can be presented to one or many ‘standard’ phone extensions in your company. It can be queued at – for example, a help desk, and once answered transferred on to somebody else to help the caller further. So while your caller is sitting in front of their PC with their headphones, you can be answering the call on your desk phone like any other.

You might want to use different Skype buttons on different web pages, to call in to different people or groups of people in your company. That way your caller is connecting with the person or department who is going to be able to best assist them with the product or service that they are currently looking at on your website.

Foxhall Solutions have assisted companies to set up Skype for different applications, ranging from IT support help-desks, through to enabling Missionaries working in remote parts of Africa to call their headquarters here in the UK. If you sell or advertise your product or service on your website, and you want to make it easy for your customers to contact you – then you really need to take a look at this facility …

3CX can enhance Skype for your business, using its following features;

  • 3CX is a Skype Connect certified platform.
  • 3CX terminates Skype connect as a SIP trunk for call routing & distribution through your business.
  • 3CX can present the incoming Skype caller to particular extensions, or groups of extensions – and transfer the caller to other extensions as required.

skype-connect-certified

Contact us to talk more about how 3CX can open new and innovative ways for you to keep in touch with your staff, partners and customers.

Using Least Cost Routing to cut business costs …

catblog1Are you dreading that next phone bill?

Least Cost Routing [LCR] provides a set of rules for your phone system, to enable it to guide outgoing calls over different lines, so that you can take advantage of the lowest call tariffs offered by different carriers, for your calls to local, national, international and mobile numbers.

Our 3CX phone system excels at this, simply because you can connect almost all line types, from almost all network carriers. 3CX will connect; analogue lines, digital ISDN2, digital ISDN30, GSM mobile channels, Skype accounts and Internet SIP Trunks. Gateway ‘boxes’ are required to terminate analogue, ISDN and mobile lines – but the most cost-effective SIP Trunk channels only require the 3CX to be connected to Internet through a DSL service terminated by a router.

There are no practical limits on the number of SIP Trunk line groups that are configured into a 3CX system. This means that you can choose SIP Trunk suppliers (and if you Google that term, you’ll see ‘about 251,000 results’!), based on their monthly channel rental, and their tariff rates for calls into geographical areas where you do business.

By carrying out some simple analysis of your phone bills, we can look at the types of calls you make, how many, and what those calls are costing you per minute. This allows us to get a fairly accurate return on investment (RoI), figure that enables us and choose Carriers to create trunk groups to carry your different types of calls, at the best rates!

For example, you may have an extremely ‘friendly’ rate for calls to mobiles via the analogue lines you have, but our SIP Trunk lines could reduce your UK and local call rates by half! You may be opening up a business partnership with a company in Indonesia and therefore, a SIP Trunk supplier with low-cost calls to that region would be of advantage. Typically however, carriers work in a way where they provide a low cost for some services, at the expense of others … 3CX can use that to your advantage – choosing just the best tariffs from each carrier! If your phone numbers are registered with a Carrier that does not give a good call rate, you could even configure 3CX to accept calls on their lines, but make outgoing calls on another Carrier’s trunk-lines with a lower tariff.

3CX can terminate the line groups, and you can determine the number of ‘channels’ you might like for each. For example, two analogue lines may be enough to cover your calls to mobiles, eight SIP Trunk channels may be OK to call local & UK numbers, and just two channels are needed for those calls to Indonesia.

Outbound-rule

A table of rules is created to determine which way to route outgoing calls depending on the number dialed. In our example, a call commencing ‘07’ may be routed via your analogue lines which give the best rate for calls to mobiles. A call to a number commencing ‘0062’ would be routed through the SIP Trunk group giving the best rate to Indonesia, and six-digit local calls, or 11-digit national calls commencing ‘0’ – will use the SIP Trunk group giving best UK rates. These rules can also provide fall-backs so that e.g. if you have all of your lines to mobiles in use, the call will not be blocked, but simply take the next-best route to carry the call.

A further advantage is that these trunk-lines are configured in software and are virtual within your DSL connection. Therefore, it is quick and easy to either change carrier, or add another carrier to take advantage of tariff changes.

3CX provides Least Cost Routing benefits, due to its following features:

  • the ability to terminate many different types of physical and virtual line groups
  • the ability to terminate multiple line groups
  • its ability to work with different SIP Trunk Carriers
  • its ability to identify dialed digits and use them to route calls
  • and – its ability to fall-back to 2nd and 3rd choice routes.

Contact Foxhall Solutions at 01787 228 402 – to talk about how Least Cost Routing can reduce your business costs.

Broadband Internet … & getting camels through the eyes of needles!

ViBE-enabled-broadband-internet

We are finally beginning to see the roll-out of ‘Fibre to the Cabinet’ [FTTC] broadband Internet services, with leased-line type bandwidths, but at enterprise-grade ADSL costs. However, looking at the distribution of Fibre enabled BT exchanges around the UK, it looks like you’ll stand a much better chance of getting FTTC at home, long before it gets to your business park! … Perhaps that’s a reflection of the need for certain ISP’s to get return on their investment in on-line media and entertainment, rather than their commitment to the needs of businesses in this difficult economic climate?

So – faced with a long wait for FTTC, and the need to squeeze more capability out of the ADSL services we have in place, Foxhall have joined forces with ISP – Chicane Internet, and software developers – Voipex, to offer ViBE [Voice over IP Broadband Enhancement], to businesses who would like a low cost alternative to ISDN30 lines, but can only get ‘standard’ ADSL or ADSL2+ services to their offices.

Follow the links in this article to read Voipex’s technical descriptions, but in essence, ViBE takes advantage of the fact that VoIP is transmitted in ‘packets’ across local networks and Internet. You can get much deeper into the reasons if you want to, but much of the ‘header’ data in each VoIP RTP packet is either redundant, the same as in the previous packet – and – the same as in the next one! ViBE strips out this ‘redundant’ header data at each end of the DSL link leaving just the VoIP, transmits it, and then puts it back again at the opposite end … This means that a lot less bandwidth is required to carry the same phone calls – or – to put it another way, a lot more calls can be carried in the same bandwidth!

Of course this needs equipment in place at your office, and at the ISP. A ViBE router must be installed at your site, you must use Chicane’s VoIP SIP Trunks, and Chicane will connect your ‘ViBE Enabled’ service to their Head equipment to complete the picture. Once this is in place there are a lot of clever things that we can do to enhance your VoIP connections:

Firstly, there is a straight-forward increase in the number of calls that a ‘ViBE Enabled’ ADSL broadband service can carry. Depending on distance from the exchange, we will typically see a standard ADSL Max business-grade service giving us between 600 and 800 Kbps upstream bandwidth. Note: you’ll get more downstream, but VoIP is a two-way conversation, so the lower ‘upstream’ figure will set the limits on available bandwidth … A 3CX system licensed to support 8 simultaneous calls, would use 4 x G729 codec’s and 4 x G711 codec’s when max’d out at 8 calls in progress (see this article about codec’s & ADSL). Without ViBE, this would require around 600 Kbps of stable bandwidth to and from your 3CX.

Using this same example, a ViBE enabled connection would require only 312 Kbps to support the same 8 simultaneous calls in and out of a 3CX IP-PBX system.

In fact, it gets better the more calls you carry! A ViBE Enabled 3CX configured to support 16 simultaneous calls, would require just 536 Kbps bandwidth. In other words, we are able to double the number of SIP Trunk channels supported in an average ADSL service – giving twice the call capacity of a non-ViBE ADSL. This is where we squeeze that camel through the eye of the needle!

Another clever feature is that a ViBE router will accept and ‘bond‘ two ADSL broadband lines to be used as a single ‘pipe’ to carry voice and data services into a company. In this configuration, dynamic ‘Quality of Service’ [QoS] will actually ensure that voice calls get priority in and out of your system – and ViBE will also ensure that just the right amount of bandwidth is reserved for each phone-call in progress. In the past we have had to pre-assign and reserve a ‘worst-case’ amount of VoIP-only bandwidth at the router – but ViBE does this dynamically – ensuring high quality calls in all conditions and leaving plenty of room for data traffic when there are just a few phone calls taking place.

And of course – you could elect to use a bonded service to just carry voice, meaning that two low-cost ADSL lines can provide the equivalent voice channels as a full-blown & very expensive ISDN30!

In the bonded configuration, the ViBE router is also able to offer a ‘resilient’ [“rain”] mode, so that loss of one line and/or broadband service would not effect your ability to make or receive calls on the other. Its also possible to sit a standard ADSL alongside a high-capacity leased line / FTTC / EFM , to act as a low-cost but high-capacity fall-back in the case of a failure on the primary DSL service.

So – due to the low-cost lines and broadband, we can implement highly featured SIP Trunk solutions for companies who are big enough to consider using ISDN30 lines, but not quite into using leased-line or EFM DSL access. Rental charges for a fully equipped ISDN30 (30 channels), would be in the region of £500 per month. Two ViBE enabled ADSL Max services, with 30 SIP Trunks, would be charged at approx. £190 per month. Spot the difference! [and … 16 ch. ISDN = £250/mth V’s 16ch ViBE SIP = £95 /mth].

In summary, a ViBE Enabled 3CX system can;

  • Put more voice calls in your available DSL bandwidth.
  • Can guarantee QoS by prioritizing VoIP on a shared DSL connection.
  • Can dynamically allocate bandwidth so as not to penalize data on a shared DSL connection.
  • Can provide active or passive fall-back in case of primary DSL failure.
  • and – can dramatically reduce costs compared to ISDN!

Voipex are an established Suffolk based Company, with International presence and a proven track-record in deployment of ViBE. See their case studies here …

What’s all this cost? Surprisingly, we can ‘ViBE Enable’ a Chicane SIP Trunk group for less than £300 set-up costs, and for a small [+£2] monthly rental applied to each active SIP Trunk channel. Use our ‘Contact Us‘ page to drop us an inquiry, or call us now at +44 1787 228402 – We can explain what’s involved – and how you can enhance your business telecom’s, and remove ISDN as a major ongoing business cost!

Using ‘Call Groups’ to route customer calls

3cx-call-groupsA potential supplier is called, and the phone rings and rings – and the call isn’t answered! Do they ring again? – or do they try a different company? If you are that supplier, you know how important it is to keep your customer relationships, reduce that ring-time and to answer every call that comes to you …

The ‘traditional’ switchboard or PBX system had an Operator or Receptionist acting as the ‘gate-keeper’, answering all calls, and passing them on to the appropriate person or department – or in some cases, screening & blocking the call completely! However, businesses today are changing the role of the Receptionist, and using technology to ensure that calls still get through to the right person or department, even when the Receptionist is already handling a call, having a break, or greeting visitors. This is good news for the Receptionist as they are no longer ‘chained to their chair’, and can take a wider role and responsibility in your business.

You might think that we’d tell you that you need an Auto-Attendant to front-end your phone system (press button 1 for Sales, button 2 for Accounts etc.), but in most cases, this is not necessary. A much simpler mechanism is to have incoming calls sent to a ‘ring group’ consisting of several extensions where the call is presented to members of the group either sequentially (prioritised hunt), or simultaneously (ring all) so that whoever is free to take the call can do so. Where a Receptionist is employed, a common strategy is to have the incoming call ring for a short period at their desk, then forward on into a ring group where it can still be answered within a reasonable time.

Hunt groups are ideal if you have a hierarchy of knowledge, skills or expertise e.g. if you can’t get to Mary, then go on to Fred, then on to Linda. However, hunt-groups do introduce a delay in answering because the call has to ring & time-out at each extension before moving on to the next.

Ring-all groups are ideal where it is important that the call is answered quickly, and where anybody in that team has the knowledge and skills to handle the caller.

Ring groups are ‘fed’ by calls coming into your business on specific numbers and therefore, it is possible to have different types of ring-groups set up to match the needs of your callers. For example, somebody calling the accounts department may appreciate being connected with the FD first, or then their deputy as a fall-back. But, people calling your Sales department would appreciate being answered quickly by any of the sales staff able to take their order.

Foxhall’s 3CX & Yeastar phone systems provide the following to help your customers contact you:

  • Prioritised Hunt‘ groups to pass calls through a group of extensions one-by-one.
  • All Call‘ groups to simultaneously present a call to a group of extensions.
  • Flexibility in deployment and use of Direct Dial Inward (DDI) numbers so that key people and departments can be dialed directly.
  • Different call routing plans for in and out of hours service mean that the calls can be handled differently when the office is closed.
  • Call routing can include mixtures of individuals and groups so that callers are answered through all kinds of ‘what-if’ scenarios.
  • Call groups can be edited quickly and easily to put people in, or take people out – so that you can match your staff to your customers – even if staff changes are frequent.
  • Call groups can present information to the phone displays, so that users know what departments or services have been dialed by the caller.

So, call groups are a very simple mechanism that can make it easy to ensure that your customers can get through to you quickly, in almost any circumstance, and talk to the people who are going to help them most efficiently. Contact us at Foxhall Solutions to talk about how Call Groups can help your business.

What Superfast Broadband can do for your business

Laying down fibre

We’re hearing a great deal about superfast broadband these days, but what we’re hearing doesn’t always sound very relevant to business. Yes, your children may well enjoy the chance to download music quickly and easily, and to watch high-definition movies and TV replays on anything that happens to be connected to the internet, but neither of those is exactly a business priority!

However, it will be good for faster email, faster web searches, and better, more efficient connection with ‘cloud-based’ internet services. And that’s why BT is investing £2.5 bn in a programme to upgrade its exchanges all across the UK in the course of this year.

Even so, you’ll have to wait: it will take time to install fibre optic connections to the street cabinets on each upgraded exchange, leaving just a short length of conventional telephone line connecting your home or your business to a superfast service.

‘Fibre to the cabinet’, or FTTC, promises download speeds of 40 or 80 Megabits per second – right now you’ll be lucky to achieve 8 Megabits per second even on ADSL broadband.

To get more you currently need a leased line, giving speeds around 10 Mbit/s for an installation cost of more than £1,000, and a monthly rental over £800. But a typical 40 Mbit/s FTTC service will cost just £99 to connect, with a monthly rental of around £35!

Better yet, a single high-speed broadband line could carry up to 100 simultaneous phone calls – so if you used FTTC broadband and a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone system instead of an ISDN line you could cut costs by up to 80%.

A smaller company could use a single line for both voice and data – and effectively eliminate telecom line costs entirely!

Use this Superfast Broadband checker site to get some idea of when high-speed broadband is coming to your [UK] area.

Exchange and cabinet upgrades are already starting, so contact us at Foxhall Solutions to discuss the implications for your business…