M5 Networks: Hosted VoIP for the Masses?
When I wrote about my adventures in VoIP telephony back at the end of November, I only discussed the consumer-grade stuff. Well, after I spoke to the New York City-based M5 Networks, I have a new appreciation for what an enterprise-grade system can do (assuming Google doesn’t eat their lunch when they’re not looking). Here’s a little of what partners should know about M5 Networks in particular and VoIP systems in general.
M5, which has been in business of selling hosted managed Internet telephony solutions to SMBs for 10 years, has only seen their market grow, according to Brent Barbara, director of client solutions, M5 Networks. “The phone is their oxygen,” Barbara says.
As for their product, M5Connect, itself, Barbara says there are any number of reasons to choose a VoIP solution over a traditional one. For starters, your phones are all administrated remotely from their secure data center rather than a PBX in a broom closet, as in most SMBs. Of course, this raises the same on-premises versus managed services security debate that we’ve been writing about, but there are other benefits, too.
Their mobility features “make you as accessible as you want to be,” Barbara says. Since your phone extension is managed out in the network, you can have calls forwarded to any phone on demand and have it be completely transparent to the caller, which is ideal for people who only come into the office one or two days a week. M5Connect also offers a software phone to be run on the computer if no handset is available: a sort of enterprise-grade Skype. It also offers integration with services like Salesforce.com, where you click the number you want, your phone rings, and you’re connected.
As far as Google Voice goes, Barbara says M5 “can’t ignore them,” but isn’t overly concerned about competing with a service aimed primarily at the consumer. While there is overlap between their features, Barbara says, M5Connect does things better. For example, he says, Google Voice will ring all your phones at once, but M5Connect offers finer-tuned control over which phones ring in what order. Barbara wrote off Google Voice’s voicemail transcription feature as “okay,” but not as robust as M5Connect’s. From where I’m standing, though, it’s not hard to see how Google’s service could evolve to close a lot of the feature gap.
M5 has a partner program which accounts for about a third of their total business, Barbara says. They’re instrumental, he says, to convincing a client to go over to VoIP. The benefits aren’t always obvious to an established SMB, but often, Barbara says, when VARs revamp a customer’s network and they’re tearing out phone cables anyway, they can seize the opportunity to make the recommendation.