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VoIP Quality of Service (QOS) for small business, where is it?

Is your VoIP quality the pits?

VoIP and SIP Trunking over best efforts Internet can cause SMBs to jump off the VoIP bandwagon rather quickly.  Most small phone systems today do not have any built-in QOS (Quality of Service) monitoring, and those that do are likely not doing anything more than the typical MOS (Mean Opinion Score) based on historical packets.

MOS results are great when we are trying to see what the results were after the problem was detected and can certainly help with understanding some trends, but it does not do much to help SMBs understand why the QOS they are receiving from their current provider is sub par.

The truth of the matter is, the quality of service the ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider) is delivering can be high but there are factors that degrade that quality between the SMB’s LAN and the ITSP’s switch(s).

What can be done about it? Depending on your budget and technical acumen, something can be done or nothing can be done.

Most ITSPs who provide SIP Trunks or Hosted VoIP for business will not provide much more than a service status. Either the service status is “Active” or “Inactive”. This is not because they are intentionally holding back, they simply do not have the tools to be able to deliver more information to their users without breaking the bank. VoIP network tools are expensive and are generally not all that easily extensible.

There are some QOS monitoring tools that are fairly cheap and easily accessible. Some are even free!

VoIP Spear (free and paid) is a great little service created by Henry Fernandes at Toepoke Software. VoIP Spear uses ICMP packets (ping packets) to monitor remote connections. We have been using the service for a couple of months now and have made good use of the historical MOS data that the service provides. The only downfall is that uses ICMP. Most routers these days have ICMP echo turned off by default, mostly due to security concerns and potential inaccuracies. That being said it’s a great tool for acquiring remote MOS data and Henry tells me they are working on an API.

But what about ongoing call testing? Some say the only real way to determine QOS is to run periodic call tests that can report on call quality, connectivity issues, bandwidth, latency, delay, jitter etc. Again, tools exist but are expensive and are generally made to run at the top level of the network for network engineers, not SMB owners. Some router/switch vendors like Adtran do have some devices that will deliver on some MOS scoring and alerting but they again are not cheap, generally they start at $1200 (US) for the basics, which puts it out of range for many Canadian SMBs.

This begs the question, “SMBs should not have to concern themselves with QOS, their service should just work, right?”

Yes, it should just work, much like the legacy telephone networks have for the last hundred years. Why should the business owner be forced to accept dropped calls, broken conversations, 1-way audio, and the like, just because it’s VoIP.

The truth is, they won’t switch if they think the lines might drop or the quality might be sub par. Which might explain why so few SMBs have made the jump to VoIP-based systems and service in North America.

What can be done to increase adoption of VoIP for SMBs in Canada? The first remedy is fairly straightforward, ISPs need to increase broadband to small businesses and provide some application prioritization without dramatically increasing price. Considering ISPs want to deliver their own digital voice/VoIP offers, this might be a ways off.

What about better tools, integrated into the PBXs?

One could integrate some of the QOS monitoring/testing bits directly into the phone systems that are sold and by using open standards, provide a secure interface so the Internet Telephony Service Providers would be able to show QOS to their users via their user portals and the like. This would obviously require the pbx vendor to integrate the client piece and the ITSP would presumably host the web components.

This will allow VoIP service providers to show QOS data and provide controls around that for their own customers. Call testing details could be provided in real-time without spending tens of thousands to extend their current toolset to their users in a manner they will understand. This proactive self-support approach would also reduce inbound support for the service provider and would presumably help sell more PBXs for the vendor.

My rant for the week.

Response Point Rapid Turn Around

First off let me just say that this team continues to blow me away. They listen and respond, go figure!

Yesterday the RP team addressed some concerns over loosing “barge-in” in the latest Service Pack and added that feature back in for a new build, now available. Yep, you heard right. This is not a patch, it’s a new build. If you know anything about the development of commercial software you would certainly agree that a 2 week turnaround (from SP 2 launch in Miami) on a new build is pretty damn impressive.

In addition, they have seemed to fix a few issues that I missed in my first pass/review of SP2. Since I am a Mac guy, I run all of my Windows software in a VM. Until SP2 there were a few quirky issues (Netbios ?) that made it impossible to do a few things easily or at all. The use of Assistant was simply not there on a VM and Administrator needed the base unit IP to connect. Sending recording prompts to phones (record name, greetings, etc) would belch as well. The RP team seemed to have remedied all of those issues with this release. Administrator and Assistant now work seamlessly, which means they work on a Mac, which makes me happy.

Vancouver Small Business Server User Group – Response Point

Join Erik Lagerway and Trent Johnsen, co-founder/executives of SMB Phone to see how Microsoft Response Point is changing small business communications and what it means for you and your customers.

SMB Phone is a national Response Point distributor and Canada’s newest Microsoft certified Internet Telephony Service Provider (ITSP) and the only provider to be integrated with Response Point in Canada. Along with a working demo/overview of Response Point, SMB Phone will provide an insider’s industry perspective on Microsoft Response Point and the latest software release, Service Pack 2, and how you can improve your customer’s business communications and enjoy significant new business opportunities working with Microsoft Response Point and SMB Phone.

3/12/2009 | 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM

Welcome Time:
3/12/2009 6:00 PM Pacific Time

The BC Liquor Distribution Branch (BC LDB)
3200 East Broadway (Okanagan room)
Vancouver, BC V5M 3T5
Canada

Click here to attend

Response Point Service Pack 2 – Technical Resources

Rex has posted a great list of technical resources for Service Pack 2, this is a must-read if you plan on running SP2 (recommended).

Download Response Point SP 2 here.

SMB Phone Goes to Market with Response Point

For those at IT Expo, this free session is about to begin in Room 109.

4. An Integrated Solution: SMB Phone Goes to Market
with Response Point

3:00 – 4:00 pm

SMB Phone is a unique VAR and ITSP. Come learn how they identified Response Point as a key technical and business component in their nation-wide go to market programs focused on SMBs.

Presented by:
Trent Johnsen, Vice President, Business Development, SMB Phone

IT Expo keynote – John Frederiksen – GM Microsoft Response Point

John just delivered a great keynote to an overpacked room of what looked to be an audience of a few hundred. John talked a bit about Response Point and Service Pack 2 but probably the most compelling component of the speech was a video about Microsoft’s vision of what’s to come. The related video was a bit Orwellian but made me think about mobility more and how traditional SMB communications might work in the near future, more on that later.

Response Point Service Pack 2 (SP 2) is GA

The Response Point team have done it again. Response Point SP 2 is now generally available.

Some new features include:

– 1 way paging

– 2 way intercom

– After hours / time of day rules

– Out of band DTMF

Tom has a great in-depth review of SP2!

SMB Phone Launches SMB Digital Voice for Canadian Small Business

SMB Phone announces Microsoft Marketing Alliance for Response Point and launches SMB Digital Voice™ in 48 markets to provide enhanced choice and services for Canadian small medium businesses

Response Point and SMB Digital Voice enable reliable communications for small businesses in Canada.

February 2, 2009, IT Expo East, Miami, “The World’s Communication Conference”
SMB Phone Inc., a new Canadian telecom carrier created exclusively for Microsoft Response Point services announces, simpler, smarter and easier phone service for Canadian small business, in partnership with Microsoft.

The Microsoft and SMB Phone marketing alliance heralds a new era of affordable, feature rich, easy-to-manage, easy-to-use business communications integrating voice recognition, email, computer and mobile services for small medium business in Canada. Canadian small medium businesses now have affordable, easy, online access to a new generation of business communication features and services with Microsoft Response Point and SMB Phone.

Response Point is the highly innovative, award winning telephone system from Microsoft designed specifically for small medium businesses with up to 50 users. Extremely easy to afford, manage and use, Microsoft Response Point provides small medium business customers unprecedented control over a rich suite of business communications features including voice recognition enabled auto-attendant and user features, integration with the Windows desktop for inbound caller ID, click to call, and call control functions, voicemail to email delivery, extensive call history and call detail reporting, and seamless call integration with mobile devices. SMB Phone President, Erik Lagerway comments:

“A phone system is a strategic investment for businesses today. Response Point enables business owner managers to serve customers more effectively, reduce and control costs and provides employees the means to increased productivity.”

“SMB Phone is demonstrating an innovative, progressive approach as a Canadian market leader and certified Response Point service provider,”

John Frederiksen, general manager, Microsoft Response Point, had this to say,

“The combination of Microsoft Response Point and SMB Phone’s Digital Voice services provide Canadian small and medium sized businesses with outstanding functionality and value including the ability to activate a new business line in minutes within any of SMB Phone’s 48 markets using SMB Phone’s automated Response Point activation process. We look forward to our continued work with SMB Phone as we serve and grow our Canadian Response Point customer base.”

SMB Phone’s Digital Voice service is designed specifically for Response Point users and provides an alternative to “POTS” (Plain old telephone service) lines with enhanced features at lower costs, instant service activation, and is easier to manage than traditional business telephone lines. SMB Digital Voice features include:

– instant activation of new SMB Digital Voice lines directly through Microsoft Response Point Administrator software
– digital line groups provide for multiple simultaneous calls
– Direct Dial numbers for employees, departments, projects etc.
– unlimited North American long distance usage
– Cellular toll bypass to eliminate cellular long distance charges
– “cloud” number administration service for remote call control management
– “virtual presence” numbers provide a local phone number anywhere in Canada

SMB Phone Inc. is making small medium business communications simpler, smarter and easier as the world’s first Internet Telephony Service Provider (ITSP) dedicated to providing certified Microsoft Response Point services. SMB Phone and our network of dealer/partners currently serve 48 local market areas in Canada with Microsoft Response Point phone systems and SMB Digital Voice service for Response Point. For additional information on Microsoft Response Point, SMB Digital Voice and SMB Phone please visit http://smbphone.ca

SMB Phone Inc.
Media Contact: Trent Johnsen | 1.866.473.0516 | trent.johnsen@smbphone.com

The more things change the more they stay the same. New VoIP providers acting like old-school telcos.

Why is it that new phone service providers find it necessary to act like old-school telcos? I thought the new era of IP communications was supposed to bring a wave of new era thinking!?

Your new telephone company?

Here is something that really bugs me.. When a service provider can not deliver service as advertised (let’s say because they can’t provide proper far-end NAT traversal for instance) and then implies this is the customer’s problem to solve. In this situation the providers seem to make it their mission in life to put the customer through absolute hell before admitting to the fact that their service does not work without quite a bit of heavy lifting, on behalf of the customer.

I just spent the better half of a day solving problems for one of our Response Point customers (bought a systems few months back) who took service from a US provider claiming to be able to deliver service in Canada for Response Point. After several hours of waiting on the provider to solve the problems (no inbound calling for starters), the customer requested that I “please do anything to fix this”.

I installed an SMB Digital Voice package and had the original service provider forward the customer’s numbers to the new SMB Digital Voice phone number. The customer’s phone service has been restored. 

Unfortunately, the customer is now being held hostage by the current service provider who is insisting that in order for their service to function, the customer must now;

  1. Make all sorts of changes in their existing firewall. And / Or
  2.  Buy a special Firewall traversal device.

As a service provider, if you advertise your service as being “certified” or “compliant” with Response Point but can’t get your service working with Response Point, don’t make the customer pay for your lack of interoperability testing! 

A note to Response Point customers looking for service for their new small office phone systems, “don’t sign any long term contracts with service providers you have little or no experience with”.

If you are buying or have bought Response Point, and you are looking for a “certified” Response Point service provider, this is the list you should be going by, published directly from Microsoft’s VoIP Service Provider website. If the provider is not on this list, it’s likely a safe bet that they are not certified.

NGT NGT
http://www.ngt.com
Cbeyond Cbeyond
http://www.cbeyond.com
Junction Networks Junction Networks
http://www.junctionnetworks.com
Packet 8 Packet 8
http://business.packet8.net/virtual_trunking/index.html
Bandwidth.com Bandwidth.com
http://www.bandwidth.com

Response Point Wins Another Award

Rex Backman just posted this beauty, “The Response Point team has put another win in the bag with the InfoWorld 2009 Technology of Year Award

Apple and Microsoft topped the list of InfoWorld’s annual product award winners this year, nabbing three and four Technology of the Year Awards, respectively. Announced today, InfoWorld’s 2009 Technology of the Year Awards recognize the best hardware and software products evaluated by InfoWorld reviewers during 2008.

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