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Open and secure alternative to Skype

Imagine a new secure P2P (Skype like) offer that also supported SIP in the client. You could use the client software on it’s own (just like Skype) or attach it to just about any VoIP service or phone system for free.

Does it make sense for consumers?
Does it make sense for business users?
Is there room in the market?
Would you use it?

Martyn Davies chimes in…

I would use it, but as a telecom industry insider, I know that I’m not the average business user or consumer. As to whether there is room in the market, I think that depends a lot on what Microsoft do with Skype now that they own it. From a business point-of-view, their efforts are focused around OCS/Lync (and software licenses), so Skype there is not adding to their central proposition. Skype has a lot of users, but produces very little revenue, since the majority just use the free services. As a Skype competitor you would have the same problems getting to the cash.

Skype was really the first company to take VoIP and make it completely trivial to install and use. To do that, they had to take some liberties and deviate from standards (like SIP), so that they could add the magic that made it work from behind firewalls, add security and self-configuration, and integrate video so seamlessly. Like Facebook, once it is clearly the biggest of its kind of services, it becomes the community that everyone must join. I can’t see that another Skype-alike has a way in, unless Microsoft significantly change the rules now.

What do you think?

Organizational Transformation Calls for a New Communications Infrastructure

Rise of the Virtual Organization

Today, we are witnessing a powerful transformation in the business space. The very nature of the workplace is changing, as more and more people are working in locations that are different from those of their colleagues, managers and direct reports. It’s no longer the case that road warriors—sales people, service personnel and executive management—are the only people who routinely work outside the office. These days, everyone from contact-center agents to HR managers to general knowledge workers are likely to spend at least some of their time working from a remote or home-based location, and as the lines between home life and work life continue to blur, many employee find themselves “on the job” even as they watch their kids’ soccer games or commute on the train to the work.

One key factor driving organizational sprawl is the globalization of business. As businesses tap into new markets looking to expand customer reach and grow revenues, they also acquire local talent and maintain local presence through a growing number of branch offices and remote sites. As a result, functional teams increasingly span multiple, geographically dispersed locations.

But there is also a growing tendency to offer employees a better, more balanced life style. Many businesses today are creating flexible work programs – with flexibility extending to both employee workplace and working hours. Such programs enable businesses to accomplish three key objectives:

  1. Reduce facilities costs (including real estate, utilities, equipment, furniture, etc.),
  2. Reduce employee commuting costs and improve employee satisfaction and retention (and possibly productivity),
  3. Spare the environment by reducing fuel emissions.

Some refer to these benefits as the Triple Bottom Line. There’s no doubt that the virtual workplace offers significant advantages to companies and their employees. Myriad third-party research supports the benefits. For instance, in a 2009 study, the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) reports that 84% of companies believe that flexible work arrangements in their organization boost employee morale. That’s up from 76% over 2008. And 78% of polled companies say flexwork options bolster retention rates, up from 64% the previous year.”[1]

Meanwhile, a 2008 report from Corporate Voices for Working Families[2] notes that in a 2007 survey of senior-level executives at large corporations, respondents reported an overwhelmingly positive experience with flexible work strategies. By a ratio of 9-to-1, respondents reported that flexible work strategies have a positive effect on helping organizations reach business goals.


[1] http://www.i4cp.com/news/2009/08/17/i4cp-study-flexible-work-arrangements-gaining-more-attention-in-the-workplace

[2] http://www.cvworkingfamilies.org/system/files/FlexibleWorkStrategiesExecutiveSummary.pdf

Mobility and Mobile Communications Drive a Paradigm Shift

Mobile communications have brought down the walls of the confined business space and the physical establishment. Individuals can now communicate and do business from their homes, cars, airports and hotel rooms, virtually anywhere.

Today’s employees are much more tech-savvy than they have ever been before. They have access to various high-end communications and collaboration tools as consumers and they demand the same tools and capabilities in the workplace as well. We acknowledge a growing trend of “consumerization” in the enterprise, which manifests itself in the increasing use of consumer devices, applications and tools for business purposes, with or without the official support of the IT department. This trend is most evident in the use of mobile devices – smart phones, tablets, and so on. A 2010 Frost & Sullivan survey of 200 North America-based C-level executives and IT managers revealed that 70% of the respondents used mobile devices for business purposes, and 49% claimed that mobile devices represented the primary communications endpoints used by the majority of users in the organization.

Consumerization is having a significant impact on technology investment decisions in the enterprise. Business IT and telecom managers have been somewhat reluctant to support all these consumer devices and applications, mostly due to cost, interoperability and security concerns. In fact, only 50% of the respondents in our survey reported that their mobile devices were integrated with the corporate communications systems and applications. Yet, 91% of those respondents reported that mobile extensions of corporate communications were either very important (61%) or somewhat important (30%) to their daily operations.

Discussions with CTO and CIO professionals reveal that technology investment decisions now involve a variety of stakeholders. Line-of-business (LOB) managers and even end users are forcing IT to take into account their preferences and needs when deploying new technologies and solutions. In fact, end users are the primary driving force behind the adoption of advanced mobile devices in the workplace. Going forward, as the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, IT will need to support the right set of mobile communications tools to enable employees to communicate and collaborate more effectively.

So What Can you Do? Gain a Competitive Advantage through Advanced Communications Solutions

The changing nature of today’s dispersed and diverse workforce demands employees be able to access a wide array of collaborative communications tools, regardless of the de-vices they’re using, or where they’re using them. Mobile workers, teleworkers, “corridor” warriors and the so-called “digital generation” have varied needs, but they all share several things in common:

  • They require an “in-office” communications experience regardless of where they are based;
  • They use a diverse set of software tools and devices to communicate (ranging from, but not limited to, instant messaging, web and video conferencing, soft and hard phones, social media, Blackberries, Android phones, iPads and iPhones, and even lowly PCs.).
  • Users and business managers wish to be able to present a uniform public identity – a single number and a single mail box where users can be reached by customers, partners and co-workers.

Companies must embrace the virtual workplace, but as they do so, they must deploy technology that supports this new way of working. Communications solutions must conform to the needs of individuals and to specific job functions, not the other way around.

How do you Chose the Right Solution for your Organization?

I was recently on a panel with Jim Davies, Mitel’s CTO, discussing evolving business needs and changing requirements for communications solutions. Jim talked about the founding principles of Mitel’s Freedom Architecture and I found those in line with key market trends. Mitel’s next-generation architecture is based on the following building blocks:

  • Flexible, software-based solutions that allow integration with other vendors’ best-of-breed technologies,
  • Support for a broad range of endpoints, including UC application support on a variety of mobile devices such as Nokia, Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Android and iPhone smartphones,
  • Alternative deployment models including on-premises virtualization, Mitel-hosted cloud (Mitel AnyWare) or carrier-hosted solutions (Multi-instance MCD).

Fred Crespo, VP of Information Technologies at Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, who was also on the panel, affirmed, that the walled-garden approach is no longer acceptable to end users. He also gave examples of employees demanding support for the mobile devices of their choice and the resulting need for proper integration with the rest of the company’s communications infrastructure.

Businesses looking to future-proof their investments need to develop their next-generation architectures taking the above factors into consideration. A business’ communications infrastructure must support a single user identity and integrated access to a variety of communications software and devices for a user without adding cost and complexity. That technology should be open and flexible, software-based, and be able to run on any device and accessed from anywhere.

Asterisk + Skype + SMB = Freetalk Connect

Freetalk Connect

Jazinga and Freetalk have combined efforts and the result is a Skype enabled SMB phone system called Freetalk Connect.

The press release:

FREETALK Partners With Jazinga To Create FREETALK® Connect
Companies Collaborate On Skype-enabled Small Business Communication System
Featuring Set Up In Less Than 15 Minutes

MIAMI, January 20, 2010 — As the result of a new partnership announced today at ITEXPO East 2010, FREETALK and Jazinga have created the FREETALK® Connect, a full-featured unified communications system that is the first to feature Skype for SIP and Skype for Asterisk functionality.

FREETALK and Jazinga collaborated in designing the FREETALK Connect, featuring a do-it-yourself (DIY) technology approach that can be configured in less than 15 minutes, enabling users who are not tech savvy to use it without formal training. This new class of DIY communications system allows anyone with basic knowledge of computers to install and maintain the office phone system.  SIP, Skype and traditional PSTN phones can be plugged into the network, and the FREETALK Connect auto-detects and configures them. An onscreen wizard guides the user through setup. Adding users and administering the system after install is equally simple.

Further distinguishing the FREETALK Connect is its intelligent routing capabilities. Incoming Skype calls, as well as SIP, PSTN and IAX2 calls, can be routed to any local or remote Skype user, SIP, analog or mobile phone. Additionally, the FREETALK Connect enables users to set up “Find Me, Follow Me” features, and provides a unified mail box that consolidates messages from voice mail and email into one mailbox.

Some of the key features from the Jazinga platform found in the FREETALK Connect include:

Callback / Dial-around
Access to Skype Buddy lists
Auto Attendant / IVR
Paging
Call Parking
Remote Extensions
Music on Hold
Conferencing

The FREETALK Connect also has an easily configured and updated:

Managing routes to users, telephone services, and applications
Providing SIP/Skype telephone service management
Router management (networking, port forwarding, DNS, DHCP)

“Jazinga’s products consistently ensure call integrity by integrating quality of service and prioritizing voice traffic on the network into an affordable, simple product,” said In Store Solutions COO Craig Smith. “There was no question that FREETALK wanted to partner with Jazinga to develop the FREETALK Connect, because it continues our goal of working with the best providers to distribute outstanding products around the world.”
“FREETALK Connect is designed for small businesses with between 2 and 49 users, an undersold market that desperately needs UC functionality,” said Randy Busch, CEO of Jazinga Inc. “As a result of our partnership with In Store Solutions, the telecom technology playing field is much more level between larger enterprises and their smaller competitors.”

The the FREETALK Connect is marketed through Skype Shop, which is operated by In Store Solutions. The unit initially will be available to registered U.S. Skype users beginning in March.

For more information about FREETALK Connect PBX or to order a unit, visit

http://freetalkconnect.com.

About FREETALK

FREETALK is a product innovation catalyst – identifying market gaps and working with its global partners to design, manufacture and quickly bring to market products that disrupt traditional categories.  Leveraging untapped market opportunities, FREETALK products are designed to be environmentally friendly, sold online and delivered globally at aggressive price-points. Always at the forefront of innovation, FREETALK is known for creating synergistic products that add unique value to its partners’ branded points-of-sale.

About Jazinga

Jazinga Inc. develops communications products for small businesses and homes. The Jazinga system provides enterprise telephony and data functionality for this market, but at a fraction of the cost and without the setup complexity of an enterprise-class IP PBX. Jazinga Inc. is privately held and headquartered in Toronto, Canada. Additional information is available at http://www.jazinga.com.

Contact:
Sue Huss, for In Store Solutions
sue.huss@comunicano.com
+1 619-379-4396

Jazinga came to market a while back with a Asterisk appliance that is not much different than other you would find in the Asterisk market today. Skype recently announced their Skype SIP Trunking capability which is helping Skype become more open standards compliant, paving the way for deals like this one.

Since I have not tested the system myself I can only speculate that it is not huge departure from other Asterisk systems, which are not trivial to set up. Let’s hope they did their homework and come to market (March) with something that is much less technical and more end-user friendly, like Response Point.. was.

One thing that I find interesting is that it will be sold via the Skype store to US registered Skype users. If you were wondering what the connection is between Freetalk and Skype; the creators of Freetalk are also the curators of the Skype store. Ya, you heard me right. The company that created Freetalk (In Store Solutions) operates the Skype store. Which makes one wonder if there is overlapping ownership between Skype and In Store Solutions.

Something else that I find interesting, and not just because I am one of the founders of  Xten/Counterpath, is how this announcement relates the recent announcement of the Asterisk/Digium softphone from Counterpath. Which may be why In Store Solutions decided not to leverage the Digium or Asterisk brand in this release, maybe they see the new Asterisk Bria softphone as a competitor in this instance?

I expect this will not be the last Asterisk-based phone system to incorporate Skype functionality this year, but it would seem as though they are the first, congrats to fellow Canadians at Jazinga.

Free conference call providers are a dying breed


The days are numbered for all Free Conference Call services, it’s simply a matter of time. The big telcos have been a bit pissy for having to aid their competitors indirectly via the USF. The emotion over this has been coming to boil for years now and recently Free Conference Call provider Foonz fell, just a few days ago.

I am sure glad we decided to pull out of that Free Conference Call game long ago. Our conference call service “Lypp” (formerly Gaboogie) started by offering free conferencing but quickly decide that was a bad idea (duh!). Lypp is now cash flow positive, growing like crazy and not showing any signs of slowing down.

SIP Trunking and Hosted PBX in Canada will speed HD Voice for small business

SIP trunks are simply another way of saying VoIP Provider for your phone system. A SIP trunk is a connection from a PBX (phone system) using SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) to an ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider).

It might sound complicated but it’s really quite simple, SIP trunks take the place of your legacy telephone company. Most phone systems out there today are more than a couple of years old and are likely based on circuit switched technology. Newer IP-PBXs use packet switching technology, which means they leverage the Internet to deliver the same features you have now, and then some. The difference could be minor or major depending on what your PBX is capable of and what your ITSP can deliver in terms of features and functionality.

Since the PSTN (public switch telephone network) is tied to aging circuit switched technology it has limitations in terms of what media it can support. Essentially, it can deliver low quality voice, that’s it.

SIP Trunks replace older PRI and POTS interfaces that we are used to and bring to the table a wide variety of communications options. Depending on your IP-PBX and your ITSP you could potentially look forward to HD (High Defenition) Voice and potentially HD Video.

HD voice (and video) for small business in Canada will happen, it’s only a matter of time. As broadband providers increase upstream bandwidth and dual WAN link-failover devices become common place, SIP trunking will accellerate in growth and on-net (calls made on the ITSP network) HD Voice will become common place.

Unfortunately, HD communication off-net (eg. PSTN) is not going anywhere at any great speed. Jeff Pulver is back as he reboots the communications industry with his new HD Communication Summit. I welcome Jeff back with open arms, if anyone can convince operators to increase speed towards wide-band/HD adoption it would Jeff Pulver.

Today we can see SIP trunking providers and hosted pbx providers supporting wideband codecs and devices on their networks. This will allow user to communicate in high definition with other users that have devices that support it, in brief you could have better calls between you and your colleagues in the office and remote office workers connected to the same PBX, and that is a step in the right direction.

How much bandwidth do I need for Response Point? G.711 vs. G.729

G.711 is the default audio CODEC for most Response Point phones and requires approximately 90Kbps bandwidth upstream (your voice going out) and 90Kbps bandwidth downstream (your caller’s voice coming in).

To calculate peak usage take the peak concurrent callers x 90Kbps. For example: 5 concurrent calls x 90Kbps = 450Kbps is the required bandwidth for each direction. Keep in mind, this does not account for VPN usage for remote users or voice mail to email etc.

As an example, if you have a 1Mbps ADSL connection from your service provider, you might have an upstream bandwidth of approximately 700 Kbps. A conservative approach is to estimate just over half of the upstream bandwidth is available, ISPs generally over-sell their bandwidth. In this case, you could safely support 4 simultaneous G.711 calls if you were not doing anything else (e.g. downloading email, listening to online radio, downloading large files, etc.) on that connection.

The SMB Digital Voice network also supports G.729, which uses approximately 20Kbps bandwidth upstream (your voice going out) and 20Kbps bandwidth downstream (your caller’s voice coming in) for each call. G.729 provides very good call quality while minimizing bandwidth usage. The only noticeable difference would likely arise during on-net calls (calling other users on the SMB Phone network). G.711 offers a higher quality on-net call because G.711 does not compress audio, but as soon as the the call is handed off to the PSTN the call quality between G.711 and G.729 is hardly noticeable.

G.729 offers some real benefits, the most obvious is the 400% decrease in bandwidth capacity requirements. G.729 also handles Jitter more efficiency during times where low bandwidth / high congestion would likely render a similar call using G.711 unintelligible.

You can force your phone to use G.729 on Response Point handsets but some are harder to configure than others. For example, on Aastra 675x phones the global SIP settings are grayed out out via Javascript on page load making it tough to set the codec.

As a general rule of thumb, we like to recommend an independent broadband connection that you can use for Response Point. You may want to acquire a router that has dual WAN link failover, VPN Server (for remote sites) and some QOS traffic shaping functionality.

Response Point VPNs and Remote Workers

I wrote an article over at the SMB Phone blog on Response Point VPNs and remote workers. If you are having some issues with VPNs and Response Point this might help.

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