Business-like, isn't he?



Business in Vancouver logo

    Revisiting the pros and cons of VoIP

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver 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 Asterix software.

    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. Favicon

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan
Search WWW Search