Voice over IP is a real-time application that runs over data networks. VoIP has emerged as the communications technology of choice for many organizations. The features and cost savings are compelling and audio quality is typically indistinguishable from traditional, legacy phone systems. VoIP also eliminates the hassle and expense of maintaining separate voice and data circuits. With everything VoIP has going for it, a successful implementation is not guaranteed. The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” really holds true here. So here are the keys to success with VoIP…
- Choose your vendor carefully. We’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. VoIP is not “just another application on your data network”. Most VoIP communicate between phones (also called “endpoints” in industry jargon) via a standardized language called Session Initiation Protocol, or SIP for short. While SIP does in fact traverse your data network, it takes special understanding of the hows and whys that make it work and more important, the problems you can have. Your potential vendor should ask questions about your existing data network and be willing to work with your preferred data network support team or company. In fact, the potential vendor should be willing to engage in a dialog with your data network support provider prior to your entering any agreement.
- Know your network. Or at least, ensure your new VoIP provider does. Many times when we visit a prospective client’s offices we find a number of those little mini data switches – the 4 and 5 port ones you can buy from Amazon for $25.00 – sitting under a table or desk that the system administrator didn’t even know they had. At times these devices can create havoc for everyone connected to them.
Do you have separate voice and data cabling? Frequently the answer to this question is No. That’s not the end of the world since most phones have a built-in data switch in the phone. This means you’ll be able to plug the phone into the wall and your PC into the back of the phone in a feed-through type of arrangement. But know that in doing this some phones limit the speed that your computer can use. Architects, engineers and other companies who transfer large files from desk to server need to be especially attentive to this. The best plan here is to put in phones that have gigabit, also known as 10/100/1000, data switches built in them. This way you future-proof your network and save a lot of frustration for your fellow employees.
If you’re not sure if your network is ready to handle VoIP, your VoIP vendor should should assess your network and provide recommendations.
- Install a backup Internet connection. If your Internet connection fails, and you’re using SIP trunks or a cloud hosted VoIP service voice calls won’t get through. What is your tolerance for that? Can you continue to do business if calls go to a cell phone? Or get a voicemail message? If that won’t work, then a backup Internet connection is for you. But your router must know what to do to make that changeover happen without your intervention. Most routers, including those with dual WAN Internet connections, won’t handle this properly, so here you need a specialized device called a Session Border Controller or Application Layer Gateway that will handle the failover for you. Some of these devices will even allow you to make a connection to LTE cellular data networks.
- Implement Quality of Service. Essentially, Quality of Service (QoS) is a functional service on your data network that examines all the traffic and assigns a priority to each packet of data based on the type. That means if it sees a voice packet it will give it a higher priority than someone streaming cat videos – which never happens on your network. Higher priority means that traffic goes wherever it wants first, videos can wait.
This is an important feature since voice traffic is the canary in the coal mine on your data network. Your ear is more sensitive than you may think. You can hear as little as a quarter of a second delay in voice. So if your data network holds onto voice packets for a quarter second or more, your callers will become frustrated with the call. But it’s not likely you’ll notice a quarter second delay when a web page is loading. As you would expect, we can help you with this.
- Implement SIP best practices. Best practices seems to be a bit of a nebulous term. It includes the items we discussed above and more. Not the least of which is securing your network from SIP hackers. Yes, they try to hack anything that’s on your data network.
Not too long ago, hackers were really pretty smart people who wanted to challenge your network security measures. Today, it’s pretty easy for almost anyone to get their hands on programs designed to find vulnerabilities. One of the more common hacks we’ve seen is when a hacker tries to gain access to your phone network and make calls that get charged back to you.
So lock your network down to allow only SIP connections from authorized and authenticated sources such as your SIP service provider. How to do this depends on the type of router or Session Border Controller you are using. Routers tend to offer fewer settings here, but in many cases can be reasonably secured. Session Border Controllers are a specialized device that investigates your SIP voice traffic deeply and, among other things, protects your internal network from attacks and ensures high call quality, and a couple of behind the scenes work to keep your calls moving along properly.
- Plan your migration. The changeover from your current service and system should be well planned to minimize or eliminate business interruption. With a bit of good planning your users may never even notice the change, other than the new phones just start ringing with calls. Generally, we like to have the new phones on your desks while your current system is still operating, so when the changeover happens we remove the old phones and you’re up and running. This can be a bit more of a challenge if you are already using VoIP phones and your data cabling is in use. In those cases we frequently recommend a phased-in or rolling approach, changing a portion of the phones to the new service, activating it and then roll the remaining phones into the new services.
In some cases we have had to re-use a client’s existing phones and connect them to our services. One particular client had VoIP phones in their Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Atlanta offices. The goal was to reprogram the phones onto the new VoIP service without experiencing any downtime since they rely on the telephones for sales orders. We achieved this by setting up a second phone for the receptionist, and then activating about half of the sales department on the new service. Once they were active we converted their telephone numbers to our service and brought the other half of the phones on line.
Does all of the above sound like a lot of work? Well, it usually is. But we can help you put together a plan that works for your business. Contact us today at 412-489-1100 or email Mike@3GenUSA.com.