Things to Consider When Selecting a Phone System in a Post Nortel World

NORTELS DEAD: What are you going to do now?

It used to be so easy to choose a quality phone system that would last 15+ years with almost no maintenace, but then Nortel went Bankrupt.

In 2006 Nortel (Bell Canada) had 82% of the North American corporate phone market, was huge in Chinese Goverments and popular everywhere else in the world.  By 2011 Nortel had 52% of the North American market for corporate phone systems.  Nortel (soooo sadly) is dead and when Avaya took over they largely killed Nortels land line products.

PRI IS WAINING: What are you going to do now?

Digital lines (PRI’s) for companies that need more than 10 lines have been all the rage for 15+ years and for good reason.  Today however, SIP (Session Initiated Protocol) phones (read, internet phones) are taking over in a big way and only phone systems produced in the last 5 (ish) years support SIP.  SIP treats voice as what it is… data, only data with a higher priority.  If you email takes an extra .5 of a second to arrive, you won’t notice or care but if you voice converstation is breaking up and lags by .5 of a second, it is unsuable.  From 2010 on, almost all systems support SIP in some way and are reliable.  The point to this is, you likely have heard the term SIP, but don’t really trust it or the companies who are selling you SIP phones.

VENDORS ARE CHANGING: What are you going to do now?

New phone systems, mean new phone vendors so your old relationships with your Nortel vendor likely is going to go away.  Many of the Nortel/Avaya vendors are either choosing to die out with the old technology or struggling to migrate to the brave new world.  Either way, you likely want to at least seriously consider a new vendor.

LIST OF CONSIDERATIONS:

Below is a list of things to consider when buying a new Corporate Phone System:

THE BACKEND SERVER:

  1. DISK BASED SERVER: Does the server rely on hard disks?
    1. Hard Disks do three things, Read, Write and Fail. 
    2. Hard Disks are NOT appropriate for long term phone systems (other than logging and perhaps voicemail)
    3. If Hard Disks are needed, make sure you pay the SMALL increase to go with SSD (Solid State Drives)
      1. SSD’s have no moving parts and CAN be RAIDed
  2. HIGH AVAILABILITY: Some small phone vendors use the term HIGH AVAILABILITY to mean mirrored hard disks and reduntant power supplies
    1. that is NOT High Availability. 
    2. HA means you have a SECOND phone system that automatically fails over
  3. REDUNDANT POWER SUPPLY: If you do not have hard drives (or you have SSD’s) then the next likely component to fail is the power supply and you should have two of them in case one packs it in.
  4. VOICE TO TEXT: Does the system convert Voice Message to Text Messages which can be emailed
  5. TEXT TO VOICE: Does the system convert EMAIL to Voice Messages which can be added to your VoiceMail
    1. personally I don’t want this feature but I had a client who did, so it is on this list
  6. PATCHES: Who does the patches and how often do the occur?
    1. Many of the new phone systems use Red Hat Linux base, with an Asterisk PBX, with a TrixBox or FreePBX front end
    2. There are alot of things to patch and a lot of things to go wron
  7. TIE INTO MAIL SERVER: Does the system tie into your Exchange or other Mail server?
    1. if so, how and how tight is the integration?
    2. how likely is a patch on the phone system to take down the email system?
    3. how likely is a patch on the email systems going to take down the phone system
  8. SIP or PRI: Does the backend server work with both and if so are there additional costs to get both?
    1. most phone system resellers will tell you SIP is great but PRI is more slighlyt stable
    2. if you need (say) more than 15 lines, a common arrangement is a half PRI (11 usable lines) + 4 SIP “trunks which can “burst” to additional lines on demand
  9. TIE INTO ACTIVE DIRECTORY: When you create a new user account, does it kick off a process to create new phone account?
  10. FIREWALL: What changes are needed to your existing firewall or do you need a new one that supports QoS (Quality of Service)
  11. NETWORK: Do you need to run the new phones on their own separate network or can you mix with the existing network
    1. Do you need to change cabling to support RJ45 ethernet connectors or does the old cabling for RJ11 phone still suffice

THE USER EXPERIENCE:

  1. HANDSETS: Who’s phones are going to be used?
    1. Can you use other companies handsets WITHOUT additional licencing?
      1. Samsung will let you use Aastra phone but Samsung wants $150 per phone… uh… no thank you.
    2. Do they have large screens which present lots of information?
    3. Do they require an AC Adpator, POE (Power Over Ethernet) or POE+ (double the standard POE power)?
    4. Do you LIKE the handsets weight, feel and look?
  2. DESKTOP SOFTWARE: Can I click an address in Outlook and have the phone dial for me and if so, how much is that software?
    1. Will my screen popup call display information when I receive a call?
    2. Can I record conversations?
  3. HANDSET REPROGRAMMING:  Can standard users move and easily reprogram the handset on the desk they are at to be “their” phone?
    1. This is VERY handy for people who work in the head office and a branch office
  4. FOLLOW ME / ROAMING: Does the software allow you to program four or more devices in order
    1. i.e. call my land line, then forward to my other office land line, then forward to my cell, then forward to my house, then go to voice mail
  5. SOFTPHONES: Can you use a USB headset on your laptop and make calls through software?
    1. if so how much does it cost and which product is it… research that product
  6. HOSTED SERVICES:  Can you contract out your entire backend phone system to a remote services?
    1. This is getting more an more popular but from what I hear, still has too many small issues for me to try it 

THE VENDOR:

  1. DAY TO DAY MANAGEMENT: Who and how are new phone users going to be set up?
    1. You don’t want to have to pay your phone vendor everytime someone joins or leaving the company
    2. Is the management interface a Web Page?  If you have to press * FEATURE 973 and then work through the phone to make changes, it can get ugly.
  2. VENDOR SERVICE CONTRACT: Is one needed or required or can you simply call when a problem occurs
  3. LOCALITY: Is the vendor local or remote.
    1. If the vendor only has service staff in Toronto and you are in Up State New York, that might not be good
  4. SUPPORT HOURS:  What time of the day does the vendor operate and what time zone are those hours

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS:

  1. INTERNET: If you are using SIP, you need a solid internet connection so does the vendor require you to use their internet connection or can you piggy back off your existing internet connection?
  2. RESALE OF EXISTING SYSTEM: While the market for old phone systems is limited, there is a market.
    1. you are almost always better to sell the system on www.kijiji.com and www.ebay.com than to your local vendor
  3. PLUG-INS: Are there any software add-ins available and are they only available from the original software developer?
    1. Samsung has Plug-Ins but only from Samsung
    2. FreePBX on the other hand has many third party developers extending the system
    3. This will also be a problem for patching, so more is not always more
  4. PRESENCE:  You need both a phone (handset) and backend system to make this work
    1. is the person in the office you are calling available
  5. 911: This is a biggie.  If you are using SIP or Roaming and someone dials 911, how are they going to know where the person in distress is?
    1. There are 911 services which will ask, WHERE ARE YOU?
    2. There are some juridictions which REQUIRE special handling of 911 services so what are the rules in your area?

PHONE SYSTEM CHOICES:

While there are many companies making phone systems, for companies with less than 200 seats you should at least consider the following:

  • Asterisk, with FreePBX or TrixBox front end
  • Avaya IP Office
  • Samsung
  • Shoretel
  • Aastra (excellent handset maker)
  • TalkSwitch PBX appliance (up 42 lines)

MORE INFORMATION:

Up & Running at 403-852-1252 imatthews@urtech.ca is always ready to help those Calgary to Chestermere firms who want assistance selecting a phone system.

Questions or Comments?