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June 24, 2015

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Overcoming the Obstacles of Mobile VoIP and UC over Wi-Fi

Mobile Voice over IP (VoIP) does what the name implies. It brings VoIP services to your mobile device so you can use the company’s wireless network to make and receive calls on your mobile device. Your mobile phone becomes your office extension. And when your mobile VoIP application connects with your unified communications (UC) system, you can access voice, video, instant messaging, text and presence through the same interface on your mobile device.

 

In fact, mobility is finally unlocking all of the benefits of UC. Thanks to mobile and the cloud, organizations are no longer limited by geographic obstacles, and employees are no longer wired to the office. Real-time collaboration occurs anytime, anywhere via cloud-based UC applications accessed on mobile devices, which enable users to take full advantage of the flexibility and productivity that UC has been promising for years.

 

However, significant hurdles remain when extending VoIP and UC applications to mobile devices. VoIP and UC place heavy demands on the wireless network infrastructure, especially bandwidth-hungry applications such as video. Wi-Fi networks often lack the coverage and capacity to support higher user densities and meet VoIP’s heightened demands for connectivity and performance.

 

This is because many wireless networks were originally designed to provide “hotspots” for stationary laptops, not continuous coverage for roaming employees, each accessing multiple mobile devices. As a result, signal strength often drops as a mobile user passes through an access point’s coverage area, causing performance issues and dropped calls that hamper productivity and customer service.

 

Organizations need to meet certain technical requirements for VoIP and UC over Wi-Fi to ensure a successful deployment. The wireless LAN needs to extend coverage from hotspots to any area where a user would need to make a call. In addition to offices, conference rooms and waiting areas, access points would need to be installed in common areas such as hallways, stairwells and even kitchens to ensure pervasive coverage. Pervasive coverage enables seamless roaming that prevents slow handoffs and the ensuing dropped calls and poor wireless service. Handoff delays should be no more than five milliseconds to avoid any noticeable loss in call quality.

 

Users who are checking email, sending a text or visiting a website can tolerate longer delays than users who are on a phone call or videoconference and need guaranteed Wi-Fi connectivity. The wireless infrastructure should be able to distinguish and prioritize traffic and allocate bandwidth accordingly to ensure Quality of Service for voice and video communication. Also, technology that uses older Wi-Fi standards may need to be upgraded to allow for higher user density and meet UC application performance requirements.

 

ICG designs, installs, configures and supports wireless networks that help enable mobile VoIP and fulfill the promise of UC. Let us assess your existing wired and wireless infrastructure and help you determine what upgrades might be necessary to deploy mobile VoIP and UC over Wi-Fi.

October 30, 2014

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A Close Look at ShoreTel Sky

In our last post we discussed the reasons why a cloud-based IP phone system makes sense for many organizations. A cloud-based solution delivers business-class telephony features without the upfront investments associated with an on-premises system. The service provider houses most of the equipment and provides the resources and expertise needed to support the system, relieving customers of the headaches associated with ongoing maintenance and upgrades as well as the risk of equipment obsolescence.

 

Because the service provider monitors the system around the clock, a cloud-based solution also provides a high degree of confidence that performance issues will be resolved quickly. Robust security protects against cyber threats while redundancy and failover capabilities help ensure system availability.

 

While these benefits are well proven, not all cloud-based IP phone systems are created equal. ICG’s engineers evaluated various cloud-based phone systems and found that ShoreTel Sky delivers key features that stand apart from competitive offerings.

 

For example, many service providers utilize core technology licensed from a third party. ShoreTel developed and continues to enhance the Call Conductor software at the heart of the Sky platform. By engineering its own phone system software, ShoreTel is better able to innovate and respond to customer needs without relying on a third party. Because the technology is all from ShoreTel, support teams have intimate knowledge of all components, from the ShoreTel Sky platform to devices and applications. In addition, an all-ShoreTel solution provides investment protection by ensuring smooth upgrades and future support.

 

ShoreTel’s approach to hosted VoIP provides seamless integration with a wide range of cloud and unified communications applications for an enhanced user experience. ShoreTel also provides an API for integration with other packaged solutions or home-grown systems.

 

The Call Conductor software was engineered for reliability. In addition, ShoreTel’s Tier III data centers feature redundant call-handling equipment and carrier network connections for high availability. Customer configuration data is backed up daily and server virtualization is used to quickly restore to new hardware in the event of a failure.

 

Service quality is ensured through the use of private circuits via managed routers. Best-of-breed firewalls and intrusion detection and prevention systems protect against threats, and all customer communications are secured with robust authentication and authorization and encryption.

 

The ShoreTel Sky end-to-end experience includes white-glove implementation with a dedicated account team, custom-designed call configuration, best practice guidance, procurement of phone numbers and private circuits, and end-user and administrator training. This is all delivered on a platform developed, hosted and managed by the ShoreTel customer support organization.

 

At ICG, we are proud to offer ShoreTel Sky to our valued customers. We believe that ShoreTel Sky offers the right mix of features, performance, quality and price backed by ShoreTel’s comprehensive support. Let us show you why ShoreTel Sky is the compelling choice for your cloud-based IP phone system, and design a solution that precisely fits your needs and budget.

October 23, 2014

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Why Your Phone System May Belong in the Cloud

Many small to midsize businesses (SMBs) are using some kind of cloud services, such as storage, disaster recovery and email systems. But there’s another business tool that few SMBs realize can be moved to the cloud — the company phone system. When you break it down, phone system functionality is just an application and voice transmissions are a form of data. As a result, your phone system can be cloud-based just like virtually any other component of your IT infrastructure.

 

Cloud-based IP telephony offers a number of business advantages that are consistent with other cloud services when compared to an on-premises solution:

 

  • Minimal upfront costs. Many SMBs are already using VoIP-compatible phones, and the only other hardware investment may involve some switching and routing upgrades. Capital expenses with cloud-based VoIP are minimal.
  • Lower operational costs. Managing, maintaining, upgrading, supporting and securing your phone system – and all associated costs – become the responsibility of the service provider.
  • Pay as you go. Pay for the seats and services you need now and add more as your company grows and business needs change.
  • Enterprise-class technology. Take advantage of the service provider’s sophisticated telephony technology and features – the kinds of tools few SMBs can afford to purchase themselves.
  • Faster time to value. Changing to cloud-based VoIP telephony is simple, fast and seamless, enabling organizations to quickly deploy the new system and its productivity-boosting features.
  • Improved security. Long a major roadblock to cloud adoption, security is actually more robust with a cloud-based phone system, which uses a private internet connection to secure conversations.

 

One common misconception about cloud-based IP telephony is that the voice quality is inferior to a traditional copper line. Most of these problems were more accurately attributable to connectivity issues. Organizations evaluating cloud-based phone systems should worry less about false misconceptions and focus on cost savings, functionality, simplicity of use, and choosing a provider capable of aligning a system with your business needs.

 

There are several concerns with a cloud-based IP telephony solution that you don’t encounter with an on-premises system. When you move your phone system to the cloud, you’re basically turning over control to a third-party provider, and you must rely on Internet connectivity to keep your phones working. As users and usage grows, so will your monthly costs, and you’ll be tied to the hardware and software used by your provider.

 

With an on-premises system, you have total control of your phone system. A growing business has the flexibility to make changes whenever necessary. If you have well-defined processes, on-premises telephony ensures that your system is aligned with those processes. If you need contact center functionality, cloud-based solutions haven’t quite caught up to their on-premises counterparts.

 

Cloud-based and on-premises IP telephony both have their pros and cons. If you’re looking to reduce capital costs, conserve strained IT resources and add new features to your phone system, you may want to consider a cloud-based solution. Contact ICG to learn more about how your organization can benefit by moving your phone system to the cloud.

 

March 12, 2014

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Calculating Total Cost of Ownership for VoIP/Unified Communications

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It’s human nature to gravitate towards the lowest price, whether we’re shopping for home electronics, a major appliance or a new laptop. The problem with this approach is that the price tag only shows the upfront capital investment for the product, not the total cost of ownership (TCO).

The same applies to IP telephony and unified communications (UC) systems, which are far too complex to choose based upon the lowest vendor price. Failing to evaluate all costs over the course of the product lifecycle, which is about six years, can cause organizations to choose a system with limited system capabilities and performance and make it cost-prohibitive to add new services as business needs evolve. A holistic understanding of TCO enables organizations to accurately evaluate and compare the solutions of multiple vendors and providers.

TCO is a combination of capital costs, implementation costs and operational costs.

  • Capital costs cover new and upgraded equipment, including servers and other data center hardware, software licenses, desk phones and cabling costs.
  • Implementation costs cover the installation, initial configuration and deployment of the system, as well as initial administrator training.
  • Operational costs cover ongoing management, maintenance, training, support, planned downtime for patches and updates, and moves, adds and changes.

Organizations must not only evaluate these three categories, but the individual metrics within the categories.  For example, new phones may cost more with a particular vendor, but the lower management, maintenance and administrator training costs may offset the higher capital investment. Also, capital and implementation costs can vary significantly, depending upon the complexity of the existing infrastructure, its compatibility with a vendor’s IP telephony and UC solutions, and the types of business services and applications being deployed.

There are a number of questions that must be answered when calculating TCO.

How difficult will it be to integrate and manage new technology? Will new hardware need to be purchased and installed? What applications are built in? For organizations with multiple branches, can IT resources be centralized and better utilized? How will mobility be supported, and what will be the cost of mobile communication?

What job functions will be enhanced and how will productivity be improved? How are these improvements and enhancements measured? How will IP telephony and UC change certain business processes? How will these changes affect operations immediately following implementation and for the next five years? Is the solution flexible enough to allow for expansion and respond effectively to changing market conditions, and what will changes cost?

According to the 2013 Nemertes Research benchmarking study of IP telephony TCO, ShoreTel UC solutions offer low first-year costs and low operational costs compared to other vendors. One reason why ShoreTel can keep TCO low is because ShoreTel offers more services and functionality in its core product, unlike many competitors who require additional purchases for critical business features. ShoreTel solutions also have less unplanned downtime than any other vendor, according to a study by Aberdeen Group.

ICG is a ShoreTel partner who specializes in developing and implementing cost-effective IP telephony and UC systems. Let us help you calculate TCO and choose a solution that enhances and improves business processes.