Revisiting the pros and cons of VoIP
Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business
March 2 - 8, 2010 issue #1062
High Tech Office column
Last fall in issue 1038 (September 15-21, 2009), this column looked at
MacStation and Vision Critical, two Vancouver businesses that had moved
to phone systems based on voice over Internet protocol (VoIP)
technology with hardware and software from network giant Cisco.
Apple retailer MacStation was on its second generation of VoIP, having
started out – way back in the VoIP Dark Ages of 2001 – with open-source
While MacStation considered Cisco’s Unified Communications Network to
be a better fit for its needs, the Arts Club Theatre came to the
opposite conclusion when it went shopping for a way to meet the
telephone needs of users in its six buildings.
As the Arts Club is a non-profit organization, IT manager Allan Kong
looked for an inexpensive system that would be reliable and expandable.
Like MacStation and Vision Critical, which were both using Cisco, Kong
was attracted to an Internet-based phone system because it can provide
users with telephone numbers that travel with them as they move between
locations and because it allows him to increase the number of users
without having to wait for a phone company installer.
The Arts Club manages ticket sales with its own call centre; the large
number of lines involved would have been prohibitively expensive,
according to Kong, using traditional telephone technology.
The Arts Club worked with Voxter Communications, a local business-only
VoIP provider. Voxter provided it with a customized open-source Asterix
software-based system – allowing Voxter to modify it for the Arts
Club’s needs, giving Kong, for example, a call centre monitoring panel.
Voxter CTO Dayton Turner noted that using open-source software also
means that there are no additional licensing costs as a client like the
Arts Club expands its number of users. There might be costs if
additional hardware – like VoIP telephones – is required, but users
working with software-based soft phones on their laptops can be added
easily without additional charges.
A new web-based interface allows Kong to add users and reconfigure the
Arts Club’s network directly without needing to contact Voxter.
Turner noted, however, that while VoIP use can cut costs, too often
users start out buying inexpensive hardware. That, he warned, can
reduce system reliability and increase costs down the road. Instead, he
suggested that businesses will see longer-term savings by spending more
for higher-quality handsets at the beginning.
For the Arts Club, Voxcom installed an ADSL Internet connection
dedicated to the phone system. It eliminated the potential for
bandwidth conflicts with the existing network and Internet connections.
It provides up to 90 simultaneous calls, while making it easy to add
lines at short notice.
After switching over in 2006, Kong immediately found it better than the
old system. It has improved as extra features have been added or
modified to meet the Arts Club’s requirements.
For instance, the system is now set to buzz users’ mobile phones when
they’re away from their desk. That gives corporate sales reps and
others “location independence” – the ability to be on the road but
still be tied into the office phone system.
Kong appreciates the new system’s increased flexibility; the Arts Club
also appreciates cost savings.
According to Kong, the club’s traditional phone system had 30 lines and
cost between $2,500 and $3,000 a month. Now, with the call centre and
other additions, it has more than 100 lines but has cut monthly costs
to $1,700 or less.