The High Cost Of
or, "When Ma Bell Attacks!" 
Some are convinced that the cellular telephone / smart phone combination has killed the "land line" phone even though current estimates suggest that 60% of households still have a "home phone". For business and professional, and 60% of the general population, "traditional" telephone services remain an important part of daily life.
A part that keeps getting more and more expensive to have. But what can be done?
Cell Phones for Business Customer Contact? Nobody Wants That!
While cellular telephones are "good enough" for personal use - most of the time people find them less than desirable for use in their profession or businesses. Many don't like to have any calls more than a few minutes long on a cell phone. We all know why: Too hot, too heavy, bad sound, etc. Even 60% of residences still have traditional phone service. Why?
I can think of lots of reasons. But they all come down to the same basic idea. We have cell phones as a personal convenience for ourselves, and those people who should be able to reach us at any time of the day or night. We don't carry around these electronic leashes (cell phones) for the benefit of others. Not for our customers, not for our bill collectors, not for our twice-removed relatives.
My dentist, for example, does not prefer to receive patient calls on his personal cell phone - he wants those calls to go to his office. I found this out when I was mistakenly given his phone number to use instead of the office.
When I call the local garden supply store, my calls do not ring in on the employee cell phones - they ring in on their business phones.
When my cat is done being tortured at the groomers, the brave souls who bathe cats for a living pick up a desk phone, not a cell phone, to tell me my little monster is ready to (please) go home.
When I call the trash collection company to find out why they randomly decide to DRIVE PAST my house without picking up the garbage - the phone calls don't go to the garbage truck drivers cell phones (although that might not be a terrible idea for the sake of pestering them).
Regardless of the specific reasons, we as a people don't seem quite ready to give up traditional style phone service. And that's especially true for business related telephone calls.
What Do You Do When Your Telephone Service Suddenly Almost Triples in Cost?
A Common Example - A Typical Situation
Case Study: A Small Wholesaler of Cactus & Succulents
This small company is a wholesale distributor of cactus and succulents, rare and special plants that appeal to a specialized market. Since the early 1970's, they had maintained three phone lines. Sales, accounting & credit card clearing, and a fax machines that receives their wholesale orders. They had no special features, or services. No call roll over, forwarding, fancy ring or anything other than straight, simple, telephone service on three lines/numbers.
The Tale begins to unfold three years or so ago when out of the blue, their land line phone company informed them that unless they agreed to a long term contract, their monthly phone bills terms would be changing. And by changing they mean "going up". Way up. Up from $65 / month to an absolutely staggering $325.00. That’s right - a 400% increase.
Holy COW - Did somebody give control of the phone companies to Martin Shkreli??
As described by the client, the phone company used every high pressure sales technique in the book to convince them the only sane course of action was to sign the long term contract to get the special rate. Now here’s the brazen part. The special three year contract rate would be the amazingly low rate of $249.00 a month. So, with their contract discount they "only" have to pay a 283% increase.
Then client went on to describe the 45 minute phone call, during which she had to negotiate for a better contract rate. After almost an hour of intense negotiation - the client was able to reduce their new contract rate all the way down to $165 / month. Still a painful 154% rate increase - - just to keep the same simple, standard no-frills service they have always had. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up. It's simply too crazy.
They felt they had no choice but to sign on the dotted line. Their business depends upon those three phone lines. For the last three years, they have maintained that contract, and paid those fees. And now, the question we love to answer: Now that the contract is finally expiring, can anything at all be done to help them reduce their fax & telephone communication costs?
It's a question we love to answer - because the answer is a resounding YES! - Read about the results of this Deployment near the end of this article.
Infrastructure changes understandably scare the hell out of business owners and managers,
especially infrastructure used to communicate with customers, or take orders.
Voice Over IP Telephony
For more than 6 years, CSGT has offered voice telephone service to homes, professionals and businesses using a technology called Voice over IP, or VoIP. Instead of reaching your home, office or business via copper wires connected to a traditional telephone company, the service comes through your internet connection. It is said that every cloud has its silver lining; If true, then Voice over IP telephone service is the silver lining in the dark cloud of out-of-control telephone service expenses.
Making or receiving a telephone call using a VoIP phone is no different than when doing so on an analog phone. To place a call, you pick up the handset, and dial the destination phone number. When it 'rings" for incoming calls, pick up the hand set and say "hello". No difference, nothing to learn, you already know how.
Yet, there is a lot of fear surrounding VoIP. The fear of service quality issues, fear of reliability issues, and the biggest fear of all, the fear of change. After all, telephone service hasn’t changed substantially for 3, maybe 4 generations. Our great-grandparents used an analog telephone that brought service in via copper wires, connected to the central phone company equipment. That's essentially the same service the phone company seems to think is worth a 400% cost increase to consumers these days.
It seems that we all share a certain amount of resistance to change in our surroundings, and nobody wants to unnecessarily complicate something as familiar and simple as telephone service. The concept of bringing true telephone service in to the home or office via the internet connection can seem like at least one complication too many.
In Northern America, VoIP was largely popularized and brought to mass residential market by companies like Vonage as long ago as 2004. They, and others, developed a business model that included the use of devices called analog telephone adapters. These little adapter boxes allowed the subscriber to "plug in their old analog phone" and use it as a Voice over IP telephone via the internet.
Every silver lining has its clouds. VoIP has been around long enough for plenty of issues to have come and gone.
To be honest, early adopters faced a variety of challenges. Broadband internet was far less advanced than it is today. The typical broadband connection was early DSL, with speeds just barely fast enough to support VoIP calling and little margin for error. In fact, although internet speed and reliability have improved dramatically since then, both continue to be a potential area of concern for VoIP use.
And there were still other areas that presented opportunities for dissatisfaction. Sometimes, the analog telephone adapters had performance issues both in maintaining call quality, and "staying connected" to the VoIP providers' system. Echo, and odd sound artifacts could occur. In fact, you may be someone who tried to use VoIP this way in the early days, and just weren't satisfied with the quality, or perhaps the reliability. Literally millions of folks explored this form of VoIP.
There is good news. Technology marches on, and boy has it ever. Modern VoIP services rarely use analog phone adapters, and internet service has improved and gotten faster in most locations in the USA. Based on the limitations of analog phone service, compared to the digital nature of VoIP, VoIP calls have a better chance of being high quality than any other type of phone call.
Even as VoIP has matured, the horror stories of VoIP deployments gone wrong continue.
Horror stories that are a lot more fun to tell and re-tell than they are to live through.
Often the discussion of VoIP brings up a failed deployment and how terrible it was; a story of failure and stress and lost productibity. We've heard them ourselves.
Whats behind these failures?
We have had the opportunity to post mortem a few failed VoIP deployments over the last 10 years. The root cause of failure in virtually every case has been one of four things.
1) The VoIP vendor did not set appropriate expectations about features, functions, benefits and limits, and/or the vendor did not adequately explore the clients actual needs before proceeding with the deployment; Thus the clients expectations could not be met by the delivered services.
2) The VoIP vendor did not adequately verify the quality of the client’s internet connection before deployment. Local network or internet related problems were not resolved before the VoIP deployment. This caused critical problems in service delivery, and critical loss in faith in VoIP technology in the new users.
3) The VoIP vendor did not use best practices during the deployment by assuring the users had an immediately available fallback solution to keep them working and communicating while the VoIP wrinkles get ironed out.
Case Failure Example: A Small Beverage Manufacturer
A small beverage manufacturer had taken the step of moving most of its employees into central office space for the first time, and needed to have telephones and an internal network prepared for use throughout the office complex. After assessing a variety of vendors’ recommendations and approaches, they made decisions and proceeded to deploy their solution.
A wireless only network environment was selected for the corporate office. All headquarters computers were wireless, be they desktop, laptop, or tablet. Management decided to require the headquarters employees to use their cell phones for company business. A single copper telephone line was brought in for one fax machine, and burglar alarm use, at a cost of about $65 monthly. VoIP was not selected for use.
Initial Deployment Results: Generally Poor.
The combination of a slow internet connection for the company network and the requirement to use internet based programs for workflow caused slow response speeds, sluggish performance, and dissatisfaction in the users.
The wireless network proved unreliable for reasons the client could not determine, and caused employees frustration and dissatisfaction, as they were often unable to maintain connection to the internet.
The use of personal cell phones for business use proved immediately and totally unworkable. Battery life, and the inconvenience of having to use a cell phone and their own personal numbers proved to be unacceptable. Company management decided to address the cellular phone issue first, and deployed VoIP as a replacement.
They selected one of the myriad VoIP providers online, and signed up. No further upgrades or changes to the headquarters environment were made at that time.
A collections of USB based VoIP telephones were selected and ordered for the 12-14 users. These USB VoIP phones would reach the internet by plugging into the users computer's USB jack, and take advantage of the existing wireless office network connection.
The process of transferring the company toll-free number to the new VoIP provider was initiated, two additional numbers were ordered, and the clock began ticking on the VoIP deployment.
Those choices ultimately spelled disaster for their VoIP deployment.
Second Try Deployment (VoIP) Results: Absolutely Terrible.
As big a failure as the use of cell phones had been, the company’s attempt to use VoIP was even worse. It failed outright - from the moment it was activated.
The VoIP vendor had problems with the transfer of the toll free number from the old provider; It took a week longer than it was expected to. When it did happen, the VoIP vendor had technical issues which prevented the inbound calls from reaching the new VoIP phones for almost 2 days.
Local Network and internet problems prevented inbound calls to the new numbers from ringing on the new phones, and outbound calls randomly failed. There was no way to transfer a call from one telephone to another, ad a call placed on hold on one phone could not be picked-up on another phone - both abilities being vital to the clients workflow.
Perhaps worst of all, voice quality was so universally bad that neither party could understand the other.
Several man-days were spent by company personnel troubleshooting, working with the VoIP vendor, and trying to get the system to work - all to no avail. The project was stopped, and the equipment returned.
It took 3 weeks for the toll free number to be transferred back to the original vendor, during which time calls to the number failed.
Deployment Post Mortem
With regard only to the areas related to telephone use, a lot of the choices made contributed to the failure.
USB based VoIP phones are generally not of the highest build quality, and unlikely to impress anyone with their sound quality. They expect and demand sometimes significant processing
Power from the computer to which they are connected in order to function. If the computer is underpowered for the purpose, voice quality will be further negatively impacted as the codecs will not be able to encode and decode voice data in real time.
Having that computer connected to the internet via an unstable wireless connection also undoubtedly contributed to problems with the phones staying connected to the VoIP provider - which causes the phones to fail to ring when inbound calls come in. Further assessment shows that the wireless spectrum around their headquarters was saturated with other local wireless networks. The consumer grade router used was not handling the competition for radio spectrum at all well. It was simply dropping its connected users when radio competition become too intense.
Using a slow broadband connection (700 Kbps down and 128 Kbps up) can work for VoIP under optimum condition, but each active call requires a certain amount of bandwidth to perform correctly. The exact amount is determined by the codec being used. But a hasty calculation shows that even two simultaneous VoIP calls using the GSM codec would require about 114.5 Kbps of unchallenged bandwidth to be successful. 15 simultaneous calls would require about 858.76 Kbps.
Additionally, the consumer grade router used was unable to prioritize VoIP traffic, so every person checking email, every person accessing a web based company application, was at the same time reducing the effectiveness of the VoIP service. Strike 3 is a complete and total show stopper - this internet speed cannot successfully support the required number of users.
No attempt was made to remove the dependency on the single copper wire phone line still being used for the fax machine and alarm connection. There are definitely fax-by-internet solutions available; CSGT (us) even offer an internet based fax plan that allows you to reliably use your old fax machine as if it were designed for the internet. Modern day alarm systems can be connected to the alarm company in a wide variety of ways from their own cellular connection, to internet based access.
Taking these extra steps could have eliminated $65 month of landline telephone expense for the beleaguered client.
Post Mortem Summary
As you have read, and already determined, this VoIP deployment was doomed from the start. The client contributed to the failure by making decisions that did not support their end goals. For reasons unknown, the VoIP vendor failed to help the client avoid common pitfalls and known issues during deployment.
A more involved VoIP vendor would have made sure that the client understood the combination of a consumer grade router with a too-slow connection to the internet, low quality telephones, and using a connection challenged wireless network would prove to be one hurdle to many for successful VoIP. In short, this should never have been attempted, it could do almost nothing but fail.
A more involved VoIP vendor would have taken the time to explain the options for replacing the fax machine with readily available internet/computer based fax solutions, as well as suggesting the client explore other means than an expensive analog phone line for their burglar alarm's phone-home requirement. Helping the client realize the entire benefit from their move to VoIP in this way could have saved the client an additional $65 / month by making it possible to do away with their land-line service altogether. (CSGT not only offers internet based faxing solutions, but we even have an option to convert your trusty old fax machine into an internet based fax juggernaut that needs no antique copper phone line to work.)
Like any other vendor/client relationship, the client has a reasonable expectation that, driven by their professionalism, the vendor will utilize their product knowledge and information collection skills to determine exactly what is required to fully replace an existing system. The client has a duty to provide accurate information to the vendor, but it’s clearly the vendor’s responsibility to know what information to collect, and to respond appropriately to it. Between the two parties, it's important for all expectations to be known, and managed.
When a new system is deployed, the most often ignored of all "best practices" require that both the old system and the new system be run side by side for a reasonable period to assure the new systems meets all the goals BEFORE the old system is disabled and removed. That holds true for any business system, be it data processing, manufacturing workflow, or telephones.
In this case, this best practice means that the toll free number should not have been transferred to the new vendor before the usability of the new system had been confirmed. Ignoring this best practice caused the company's inbound toll free number to be non-functional; unavailable to their customers, without explanation, for a little more than three weeks!
Running new systems in parallel with the old during a proving period has been recognized as a best practice since the earliest days of data processing, and complex business systems. It's critical to smooth changeovers, and assures that even if the new system fails outright during deployment, the users can fall back to the previous system and not miss a beat in processing their important business calls. Ignore this best practice at your own significant peril.
Sympathy for the Devil
It's not hard to understand why the client, and their employees wouldn't have much good to say about VoIP. They had what, by anyone’s measure, would be a truly terrible, frustrating, and productivity crushing experience, which could easily have lost sales opportunities for the business.
Like the old saying says, The Devil is in the Details. The details of this deployment hold the key to its predicable failure.
But this is clearly not a failure of VoIP. VoIP never even had a chance in this situation.
Engineering a Deployment Success
As stated earlier The beverage manufacturer deployment failure was due to decisions having been made which were inconsistant with the project requirments. Someone with experience, and focused on the appropriate details would not have encounterd these issues; Appropriate diligence would have prevented it.
Now lets finish up by seeing how a successfull VoIP deployment unfolds, and the basics behind a succesfull VoIP deployment. This review is presented to demonstrate a successfull approach for deploying VoIP in a business, professional office, or home. All deployments are different, this study is not intended to be all inclusive, nor step by step guide.
Case Study: A Small Wholesaler of Cactus & Succulents - Deployment Results
As is typical of our deployments, a complete site survey was conducted to gather firsthand information specific to user workflows, and system requirements. Analysis of "typical" prior phone bills provided information on client usage of long distance and local calling minutes. Interviews were conducted with all users to assure complete understanding of workflow requirements for fax and telephone.
With this information, and further client input, CSGT determined the following goals.
Goals for Deployment
- Replace antique land-line telephone service entirely, leaving no copper line service active at the business.
- Replace the main inbound telephone service line with VoIP service.
- Replace the inbound fax line with an internet based fax solution - including full support for using their existing fax machine.
- Cancel the inbound line used for the credit card clearing device, and work with the card clearing company to convert the device to internet based communication.
- Transfer the current voice and fax telephone numbers to the new VoIP Service - with zero down time.
- Add a toll free number to encourage clients to call in to make orders.
- Provide the ability to have different call flow for Business Open, and Business Closed periods.
- Toggle Business open / closed state by pushing a single button on any telephone, with indicator light and voice confirmation of status, and different recorded greetings for each status.
- Provide basic information like business hours to reduce inbound calls whose only purpose is to collect this basic information.
- Replace the current old style answering machine with modern voice mail.
- Coordinate the transfer of all services so as not to disrupt other services with the same vendor.
- Perform necessary diligence to assure that other services like internet being provided by the old land-line carrier are not inadvertently canceled when other services are transferred away.
- Perform necessary diligence to assure that other services like internet being provided by the old land-line carrier are not inadvertently canceled when other services are transferred away.
- Provide for ring group, and other call distribution methods as needed to support employee work flow requirements.
- Provide VoIP telephones to replace all analog desk phones within the company.
CSGT VoIP services inherently include additional features which may be used, or ignored by the clients. The following is a partial list:
- Multiple Simultaneous Inbound & Outbound Calls
The previous analog services were able to handle only one call at a time. Simultaneous inbound callers get a busy signal.
When the line was already in use, no outbound calls could be made.
CSGT Total Voice VoIP service includes the ability to allow simultaneous inbound callers to reach staff members not currently on a call, reducing wait time, and increasing business efficiency.
Outbound calls may always be made regardless of current call load. If there is an open desk phone, there’s always an open line to make outbound calls.
- Definable Ring Groups
With previous analog services, all phones rang together every time an inbound call came in. From the owner’s desk phone to the receptionist, everyone’s phone would ring for each inbound call.
CSGT Total Voice VoIP service allows inbound phone calls to be routed to just the phones responsible for answering inbound calls. Calls answered on one phone may be transferred to any other phone as needed to support necessary call workflows.
Addressing the Goals for a Flawless Deployment
Task 1: Feasability Deligence
Internet/Network Speed: The client workflow and staffing levels indicate that no more than 5 concurrent phone calls need be supported, during their theoretically busiest times. A quick calculation shows that even using the "fattest" codec, a total of 796.26 Kbps unchallenged bandwidth will be required. Testing their network connection using commonly available tools revealed a connection more than three times that fast, with very low latency.
Number Porting Available: Client numbers to be transferred to the new service must be in a telco rate center that supports the LNP (local number port) process. If this process can't be accomplished, the client may have to accept losing their old phone and fax numbers, having to get new ones instead.
Results: Good. All numbers portable
Credit Card Terminal Conversion from Phone to Network: The best solution for eliminating the copper phone line used for credit card clearing (in this situation) is to configure the device to use a network connection instead of a phone line. Working with tech support for the device confirmed this was achievable.
Results: Good. CC Terminal can be configured for network communications instead of analog phone.
Inbound Call Workflow & Business Open/Close control ability verified: Validated that our VoIP service supports one button control of the Open/Closed status, and can support different inbound greetings and call flow based on this status. Verified that ring groups, and other required call flow controls are supported by our service.
Results: Good. All required features are supported
Identify available suitable reasonably priced VoIP Telephones: Verified available inventory of mid-grade feature phones suitable for each work location within the company.
Results: Good. All required inventory available.
Verify availability of specialized fax machine adapter: Verified available inventory of fax machine adapter allowing the existing fax machine dependent workflow to continue unchanged with the new system.
Results: Good. Required inventory available.
With Feasibility Diligence completed, and the goals verified, the work of starting the deployment can be started.
Task 2: Deployment Task Scheulde
Being sensitive to the impact of infrastructure changes on the client is of paramount concern. It is the vendors responsibility to make the correct arrangements, timed in such a way as to assure that no service was offline and unavailable at any time during the conversation process. These arrangements were made, and the time table set into motion.
Using techniques and procedures evolved over the last 6 years, our deployment plans include a one or two week period where both analog and VoIP telephones are in place and completely usable at the clients site. During this period, all inbound calls are directed from the old analog phone service, to the new system, and outbound calls are placed directly using the new phones and service, allowing the users to become familiar and comfortable with the new equipment. The fax machine, vital to order intake for this company, is also run in parallel with the old service - to assure that it works as promised and expected before the service changes become permanent.
Observing this "best practice" of running the old systems in parallel with the new system assures that if problems arise with the new system, the users may simply pick up the old analog phone, and continue business as normal, while any emerging issues are resolved.
The value provided to the client by this practice cannot be overstated.
The last phase of the deployment is preparing the new system for the seamless transfer of the phone numbers, and the assignment of the new toll free number. Experience has helped us evolve procedures that virtually assure that the moment the numbers are released by the previous provider, they are seamlessly and immediate routed to the new phone and fax systems. By carefully orchestrating these preparations, we can achieve zero down time, zero service interruptions, and a seamless changeover that assures inbound callers end employees are not inconvenienced or confused by any aspect of the service changes.
Deployment Results Summary
During the initial introduction and 2 week proving period, CSGT technicians work closely with client end-users to provide user training and coaching for both the standard, and extended features inherent in the new system. Without this basic training, and use mentoring, many users could be left unaware of the presence of, or the ability to use many of the most exciting service enhancements included with CSGT VoIP service. (If the VoIP vendor you are considering doesn't perform these training and coaching functions - you may want to rethink your choice in providers.)
At the end of the two week introduction and parallel operations period, all goals for the deployment had been well met. The client was delighted with the results, and provided final approval and acceptance of the new deployment. All connections to the old-style copper telephone line-line were severed 3 days later, and $165 dollars per month (almost $2,000 per year) in expenses completely disappeared.
Our entire approach to providing VoIP and fax services begins with providing a carefully selected and configured group of services, custom tailored the individual needs of the client. A site survey, and interview with all the potential stakeholders helps ensure that there are no bad surprises, omissions, or missteps during the deployment. We measure our success solely by client satisfaction with our solutions.
In this case, the clients primary goal was "can we save money on our phone service?" without reducing usability. If we failed here, the deployment could still be considered a failure overall. Just how did this deployment do in reaching the goal of saving money?
Previous Service Expenses vs. New Service Expenses
The monthly charges for the new services break down to something like this:
CSGT Total Voice Service
Configured with one standard telephone number, and one toll free number, plus e911 emergency dialing support.
$22.60 per month
CSGT Total Voice Service Communication Minutes
Based on projections derived from previous usage analysis:
$10.00 per month
CSGT Total Fax Service
Configured with one dedicated inbound fax number. Features include standard internet fax services.
Including optional fax machine adapter allowing Standard fax machine use without a traditional phone line.
$6.00 per month
CSGT Total Fax Service Communication Minutes
Based on projections derived from previous fax line usage analysis:
$5.00 per month
Total estimated monthly bill: $43.60 Estimated annual expense: $523.20
Voip Viabililty - A Safe Bet with the Right Provider
But remember, like any new technology being introduced for the first time, it helps to choose a provider who will pay attention to your individual needs, and treats your concerns with the respect they deserve; A provider who has the skills, experience and best practices in place to make sure that your deployment will produce excellent results - just like the one we have discussed for the Cactus and Succulent Nursery, and not like the catastrophic one you read about for the Beverage Manufacturer.
If you'd like to explore more information on the topic of CSGT Internet Based Communications services, and how you can permanently dump your overpriced obsolete analog phone service, we have more information available to you.