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5 Questions SMBs Must Ask And Answer Before Implementing UCaaS or Hosted VoIP

Posted by Kevin Gulley

Jun 21, 2016

This article is not about the business case, the benefits or the use cases for a small or medium sized company looking at cloud-based communications, hosted VoIP or UCaaS (you can dig into that here, or even deeper with this whitepaper).  This article is about the questions businesses need to ask themselves to determine whether they are ready to successfully implement and use UCaaS or Hosted VoIP.  Here are five critical questions in no particular order (with 5 more hot on their heels) that every small and medium business should ask and answer before pulling the trigger.

Is Your Local Area Network Ready for UCaaS?

cloud-unified-communication.pngWhen switching to over-the-top communications solutions like UCaaS, issues related to the company’s Local Area Network are likely to present the greatest potential risk to perceived success.  “For many SMB’s, having mission critical voice and video traffic go through the LAN is a new experience,” says Aldo Ramirez, VP of Sales at ANPI and veteran of hundreds of hosted communications deployments, “and it is important to take the time to make sure the LAN is bullet proof prior to making the move as that is where quality issues - like jitter or dropped calls - are most likely to arise.”  Ramirez suggests looking at three areas to start:

Routers: Several things need to be looked into when it comes to routers.  “First is it a VoIP enabled router that allows you to set QoS (Quality of Service) for the voice traffic?  Are you able to adjust the SIP ALG setting?  These are yes or no questions, but for many SMBs this is something they have never had to consider before,” says Ramirez.  As we’ve covered in the past, a lot of smaller businesses have consumer grade routers which have historically been good enough for their needs but may very well require an upgrade to ensure a UCaaS deployment will be successful.

Switches:  Does your company have an enterprise-grade switch that the IT team can get into and manage?  Will you be providing a port for each phone and delivering Power Over Ethernet (POE) to power the phones?  If not, do you have enough power outlets to power the IP phones?  Will you be implementing a dual drop scenario?  As we’ve discussed previously, the hardware setup can make all the difference in providing quality of service and streamlining deployment and management:

[With a dual drop] the data network has its own port on the switch and the phones have their own port.  According to Mann, “If you separate it out this way, you can easily prioritize the voice and conferencing packets and you are in a better position to deliver a quality experience to your team.” Another way to think about the importance of packet prioritization is, would you rather wait a few extra seconds for your email to show up or experience jitter on twenty percent of your phone calls?  Having the right hardware to prioritize communications packets is critical.

Firewall Settings:  Are your firewall settings (i.e. UDP) allowing enough time for VoIP traffic to pass through it?  Are you setting up NAT (Network Address Translations) in your firewall?  Session Border Controllers are part of most UCaaS offerings and provide communications-layer security, but you definitely don’t want your firewall working against you.

Are you Covered When it Comes to Network Bandwidth and Redundancy

When it comes to voice traffic, bandwidth is another area to properly assess.  We’ve talked about the 6 to 1 rule (for every 6 employees, 1 will be on the phone at any given time).  Another good rule of thumb is 100K per call for toll quality service.  “If you have 25 people in your company, the worst case scenario is that you have 25 people on the phone at the same time.  Most companies have 2.5MB of bandwidth coming into their business, and as long as you have enough room for your data traffic on top of that you are all set.”  Video conferencing traffic is another consideration as that eats up significantly more bandwidth.  But as Ramirez points out, “Bandwidth is relatively inexpensive and readily available nowadays.  A more important issue may be having a backup bandwidth provider in case the primary circuit goes down with a storm or an accident.  Having a cable backup for $80 a month that you can roll over to can feel like the best money you’ve ever spent if it keeps your company running during a disaster.”

How is Inside Wiring Set Up and Is it Ready for VoIP / UCaaS?

If your business already has a VoIP phone system, you probably already have Cat5 cable going to each desk for the phones.  If not, you are going to need to do some wiring to deploy UCaaS.  “Don’t plan on running your system over Wifi,” say Ramirez, “the quality of service will suffer and most phones are not Wifi enabled.  To have a successful UCaaS/VoIP solution requires Cat5+ cabling to the desks.”

Premise-based vs Hosted UC Cost of Ownership

Additional considerations would be setting up single or double drops (i.e. will you have one cable for your computer and one for the phone), or are you daisy chaining them together.  If you are planning on deploying the ‘dual drop’ scenario discussed above with a different port on the switch for each network, having double drops is a necessity.  Another issue to be aware of is whether your network is 10/100 MB or GigE.  “Most phones do not support Gigabit ethernet and are designed for 10/100.  This needs to be clearly defined during the design phase, or there will be some seriously unhappy people.”

Do you Have Special Requirements?

Before deploying UCaaS it is also vital to define any special requirements that need to be taken into consideration.  These can include things like a system a business uses for music on hold that they have been using for years and is how they manage company advertisements and messaging.  “A solution like this may be digital or analog, but as far as the company is concerned, it is not going anywhere so it needs to be integrated into the new system.  Getting in front of this and coming up with a solution can make or break a project,” says Ramirez.

The same thing can be said about overhead paging systems or an exterior door release system that is activated via the phones.  A company may have an existing solution, hardwired through the building with multiple zones and is part of how they do business.  Going through a discovery process, determining whether it is SIP, analog or IP and then integrating it into the system and thoroughly testing it becomes a very important part of the project’s critical path.

Do you Have Key System Emulations Requirements

Many people reading this that are older than 35 probably worked in a company with a Key system.  These were the phones that you could see a button for all of the lines in the company, and when you got a call someone yelled out to you (or intercom’d you) and said, “Call for you on line 4”.  “There are still a lot of companies out there that are using these types of phones and that methodology is a big part of how they do business.  If you are one of them, it is important to define what aspects of your process you are willing to modify, what can be emulated with the UCaaS system and what are deal breakers,” says Ramirez.

UCaaS systems are flexible, can be prepared to work in a variety of different ways and can emulate much of a key systems functionality, but they cannot do it all because they are fundamentally different solutions (ie. there are no ‘lines’ with UCaaS).    The good news is, most businesses don’t need to worry about this.

Stay tuned to the UC Buyer for another 5 questions coming soon.

Topics: Voice, cloud, networking, Best Practices, UCaaS, SMB