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July 1, 2003
A Partners Primer on Selling VoIP
Services to SMBs
By Ed Higgins and Ron Davis
solutions for routing voice traffic over
a packet data network, such as IP, frame relay or ATM fell far short of their
promise. Users could not count on getting a dial tone 99 percent of the time and
conversations were interrupted by delays, echoes, frequency clipping and missing
words or phrases.
Today, there is a more compelling story to be
told. Service providers and equipment manufacturers have solved two of the
greatest problems plaguing VoIP: availability and performance. Data networks
carrying packetized voice traffic consistently are delivering up to 99.999
percent availability, and service and equipment providers have dramatically
increased performance by minimizing or eliminating packet loss, jitter and
delay. Todays VoIP product and service solutions are greatly improved and
gaining in popularity.
Companies eager to implement VoIP solutions
typically have been large businesses with call centers that generate heavy
volumes of long distance and that require large hardware investments and support
staff. In most cases, these companies can earn a return on investment on an
end-to-end voice over packet solution.
For telecom agents and VARs, the question remains
how to leverage voice-over-packet technology to provide small and medium-sized
business customers similar cost savings or feature benefits over traditional
voice transport and switching. If you can answer this question, you are on your
way to increasing your core service sales, adding new revenue streams to your
business and increasing the value you provide to your customers. If not, then
you need a quick primer on positioning convergence and a few targeted entry
points that will help identify your customers business need for voice over
packet and allow you to sell more products and services.
How do you position convergence and VoIP to your
customer? Here is your sales mantra: I can save customers money by reducing
their cost and overhead of two separate networks, and make them money by
increasing their productivity through new communication capabilities.
The term convergence refers specifically to
the integration of voice and video solutions onto a single data network
often performed using IP, thus voice over IP solutions are formed. Given the
complexity and possible unreliability of a data network, why would anyone want
to move their reliable business-critical phone service to it? The answer is in
the promise lower long-distance costs, lower equipment costs and related
maintenance and administration and new productivity-enhancing applications.
Delivering on this value proposition does not
require replacing a customers PBX investment with a full-blown VoIP solution.
There are migratory VoIP solutions that provide tangible benefits to SMBs
without requiring a complete network overhaul.
The first, and most common area of examination in
order to justify a move to VoIP, is in lowering long-distance costs. Even with
todays low cost national long distance, VoIP solutions may offer a reduction
in costs for SMBs. Many businesses incur long-distance costs for international
calls and inter-company site-to-site calls. A number of businesses also have
satellite offices with disparate PBXs and remote users with their own
long-distance services. These present excellent opportunities for justifying
VoIP solutions that dont require large investments in new PBXs and IP phones.
Value Proposition No. 1. Here
is a question you should ask an SMB with a single site or with a small number of
remote offices that may not be utilizing VoIP: Would you be interested in
exploring how to lower your long-distance spending by leveraging your existing
Internet access? This should get the customers attention, but now you have to
deliver. Heres how: VoIP can be implemented in a single-site scenario to
lower long-distance costs by utilizing existing Internet access for primary
outbound longdistance services (see diagram ).
A VoIP solution can be provided by connecting the
customers existing PBX (via T1 or PRI connection) to a router capable of
packetizing the voice traffic and implementing quality of service (QoS)
parameters. This packetized long-distance traffic would then traverse the
Internet instead of the telephone network for the majority of its round trip.
Carrier-provided gateways between the Internet and the PSTN will allow calls to
be routed back into the PSTN and reach anywhere in the world. In this scenario,
only the customers primary outbound long distance is routed over the
Some level of backup long-distance connectivity
is normally maintained, but at a much lower cost. This solution does not require
IPenabling the PBX and supports customers with multiple locations, allowing them
to use the Internet for site-to-site calling at all VoIP enabled locations. This
is a great win-back strategy to allow you to sell your local voice and Internet
access services combined with VoIP to unseat an incumbent carrier.
Value Proposition No. 2. Here
is a question you should ask an SMB with a data network connecting
geographically disbursed locations and a single centrally located PBX: Would you
be interested in looking at VoX (voice over X where X equals IP, ATM,
frame relay, etc.) solutions that can reduce your interoffice calling and IT
costs? VoX solutions can deliver inexpensive interoffice calling by extending
the features of a single PBX to remote offices and users (see diagram).
This functionality is achieved by adding
off-premise extensions (OPXs) capability to the data network. Private line
automatic ring down (PLAR) is a technology that will allow a customer to supply
small remote offices and users connectivity to a centrally located PBX via
existing data circuits. The PBX supplies dial tone for the remote locations and
interoffice calling occurs as if the remote sites were colocated with users
directly connected to the PBX. This provides a customer an inexpensive way to
achieve low-cost interoffice and centralized long-distance calling without
incurring PBX equipment, maintenance and administration costs at each location.
Value Proposition No. 3. Another
application of VoIP is to achieve toll bypass utilizing an existing private
network infrastructure to transport high call volumes between geographically
dispersed inter-company locations. Toll bypass eliminates the private line
charges traditionally incurred through the use of dedicated voice circuits
between PBXs. For example, users at a site in Los Angeles would access their
local PBX, then dial a set of digits that would enable them to access the
corporate PBX in New York via a private circuit. A local call could then be
placed to a destination in New York from the corporate PBX even though the
caller is in Los Angeles. VoX allows a company to utilize their data network to
provide the same type of connectivity either between PBXs or even from remote
phones to PBXs (see PLAR above).
Some service providers now offer services that
allow a companys home office user to benefit from toll bypass. For instance,
private DSL services utilizing the appropriate routing and telephone equipment
can allow a home user to access their internal voice network for long-distance
and intra-office calling. This technology can be used by businesses as small as
the one-site corporation with home users to very large corporations.
Value Proposition No. 4. Here
is a question for multisite customers with existing legacy PBX equipment that do
not want to make an investment in new hardware but are interested in VoX: What
if a VoX solution could extend the ROI of your existing PBX and reduce costs of
dedicated voice lines?
This solution involves IP-enabling or upgrading
the legacy PBX to support IP. It is difficult to observe the marketplace today
and find a new PBX without some form of IP capability (or the ability to upgrade
to IP); however, certain legacy PBX models did not ship with this functionality.
There are many cases though where an IP upgrade is available and can extend the
life of a customers legacy PBX. Implementing IP on an existing PBX will allow
a customer to gain the benefits of converging voice and data lines onto an
existing data network with minimal investment.
Some basic connectivity from the PBX to the PSTN
can be maintained or the customer can utilize VoIP gateways to interface with
the PSTN. Certain PBX models even will verify the integrity of the IP network
prior to routing a call. If the integrity is not sufficient, the call can be
routed over the traditional voice network.
IP enabling a PBX normally requires a software
upgrade and the appropriate hardware interface to the data network. One
advantage of this solution over an end-to-end VoIP solution is bypassing the
need to replace existing telephones with IP phones. Additional advantages for
the customer include not having to train the end-users to use the new phones and
features nor the IT staff on how to support these new features. This option can
allow the customer to implement VoIP at a pace that fits their level of comfort.
PROFITING FROM VOIP
Aside from short-term cost savings, the second
area of VoIP justification could be through long-term cost savings and
increasing productivity. In the long term, moving to a single IPbased network
makes sense. A business can consolidate expenditures and support resources for
both voice and data networks onto single IP-based network with fully integrated
VoIP usage. IP phones use legacy LAN cabling to make calls and reduce the need
for additional analog or digital phone line drops in new facilities. IP phones
also reduce the administration overhead by allowing a user to take their phone
and extension with them as they move within an office or to new locations. New
IP soft phones allow for computer-based calling and may possibly eliminate the
need to purchase separate phone equipment altogether. Soft phones also hold much
promise for the mobile or remote user allowing them to take their extension with
them and send all their calling through
high-speed connections from anywhere in the world.
VARs selling VoIP solutions generally provide
some of the network integration services that are critical to ensuring proper
functionality of VoIP. They ease the pain felt during the migration process and
perhaps even support the technology once it is implemented. If you are an agent
that provides these services, then it may be in your best interest to try and
sell end-to-end VoIP solutions at every opportunity and then work your way back
into one of the above scenarios.
Before you recommend a customer move to
full-blown VoIP solutions with IP PBX equipment, you need to get them to make
the same mission-critical commitments to the IP network infrastructure that they
would to the former phone system. With proper planning for redundancy, power
backup, performance (e.g., QoS and throughput), an IP PBX can achieve the same
level of reliability and availability as the traditional PBX.
Customers also will be looking to savvy VARs and
agents to help them assess their long-distance usage, network infrastructure and
VoIP solutions to determine compatibility and capacity requirements. Agents with
strong voice backgrounds will excel here but may need to increase their
proficiencies when it comes to the IP network. Most IP networks are best-effort
configurations, and agents with strong data skills can be an invaluable resource
to help them increase reliability and eliminate bottlenecks. This poses a great
opportunity for the agent to offer professional consulting services, router
upgrades and other ancillary equipment, and provide the customer training
services on the new technology.
Those agents not offering support and migration
services and related staff should look at offering managed VoIP solutions
provided by many leading service providers. Managed solutions provide the staff
and support to implement, migrate and manage VoX solutions down to the desktop.
Also, remember that VoIP is susceptible to the
same security threats as the data network. Customers will be looking to you to
provide the security required to ensure that worms, viruses, denial of service
attacks, and hackers looking to make free phone calls dont lower the
availability or reliability of the system.
Offering security services either directly or
through a partner will help you gain a larger share of wallet otherwise this is
another reason to recommend managed VoIP solutions from your service provider.
No matter the size of the customer, migrating to
a VoIP solution delivers short- and longterm cost savings and improved
productivity. Agents and VARs gain the ability to sell a solution that
encompasses hardware, software, access, transport and even professional services
in a single solution sale. At the very least, you VoIP provides a great reason
to assess a customers voice, data and infrastructure and gain vital insight
into their true business needs. Once a customer takes the step into converged
networking you have the opportunity to help them implement new applications that
can dramatically lower their IT costs and increase productivity.
Ed Higgins is senior network engineer and Ron
Davis is director of marketing for Spohn Training Inc. To learn more about this
topic, attend the TAG Certification Training Session conducted by Spohn Training
on Sept. 8, in concert with the Channel Partners Conference & Expo, Sept.
8-10 in South Beach, Fla. Spohn also is offering continuing education classes
prior to the event. For more details, visit www.phoneplusmag.com/channelpartners/miami2003/
Read more about:Agents
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