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.
I will admit, this is a bit of a silly comparison but the truth is that I have had a few customers (and some analysts) asking for some clarification on the new Google Voice offer and how it may compete with Response Point when coupled with an ITSP. The fact is they really do not compete in any measurable way and they could easily compliment each other.
The obvious major difference is that Response Point is a small business phone system, Google Voice is really a service offering targeted at individuals.
When we combine Response Point with an ITSP (Internet Telephony Service Provider) we start seeing some similarities in the services between the two offers but they are really meant for 2 distinctly different purposes.
Response Point offers an actual premise-based system with a base unit, handsets and features like; auto-receptionist, DID integration, hunt groups, voice mail to email integration etc. All of the things one would expect when purchasing a small business phone system.
Google Voice service is an overlay service on whatever you have today, so if your existing phone system is simply not cutting it, it’s unlikely that Google Voice is going to be able to transform it into the system of your dreams. It’s true that Google Voice will allow you to take advantage of certain features but don’t expect to find a Park, Hold or Transfer or anything fancy like speech recognition.
Google Voice is an inbound-centric service. Most features can only be used with an inbound call, that includes call recording and call joining.
How they play nice together
One could use the Google Voice – simulring feature to call your Response Point phone number and at the same time it could call your mobile.
Google Voice – call recording is a handy feature that is currently not a feature offered in the Response Point system.
Google Voice – voice mail transcriptions is a handy way to receive visual voice mails via email and SMS.
Google Voice – call widgets allow users to put callback widgets on a website. This will allow the visitor to put in their phone number and the system will call them and then it will call your Google Voice number.
Google Voice – SMS is a cool way to compose, accept and manage text messages while maintaining control over the devices associated with that service.
The Google Voice service is only available in the US. Even US subscribers can only forward/simring their Google Voice numbers to other US numbers but that is likely to change to include international countries in the near future.
In theory, the Google Voice call should go wherever the media is sent. Call Routing results may vary depending on the Response Point ITSP you choose.
When calling out, your existing phone number (Caller ID) will be presented to the callee unless you use the dial-out feature, which is (IMHO) a bit of a hassle. This causes some problems as most of us are used to calling people back on the number we last saw from them. Fortunately, many ITSPs (unlike the conventional phone companies) will allow you to change your Caller ID number to match your Google Voice number.
Google Voice does not address LNP (Local Number Portability) at all right now. Which means you can not bring your existing numbers to Google Voice, you have to choose a new number.
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.