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Start Page: Voices from the cloud

Kim Brand
November 6, 2013
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Kim BrandAmerica enjoyed over a century of plain old telephone service (POTS). The reliability of POTS was envied by the rest of the world and taken for granted by most Americans. But we grew used to the sound quality of cell phones and Internet services were cheap to deploy. VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) was born.

By now you have probably used a VOIP service. Skype is commonly used to make free international calls. Skype was a private company until they were bought by Microsoft for $8.5 billion. It’s amazing how much a business that gives stuff away is worth these days. Most VOIP providers charge for their service, however.

VOIP offers many attractive features. Among them, “cloud based” access to your office phone system. Conferencing, voice mail-to-email, call attendant services, cheap long distance, find me/follow me, etc., are the new normal. Some providers completely outsource your telephone equipment to the cloud where multiple servers create backups, improve uptime and expand features while reducing costs. But beware the dark side.

Quality of service

The great lie of VOIP is that you can trust the “commodity” Internet to deliver voice quality on par with the POTS service it replaces. If your sound quality expectation is a cell phone in the middle of a mile-long tunnel – maybe. VOIP can be better than POTS, but you need to pay attention to quality of service (QOS.) This scheme to guarantee the timing and delivery of “packets” of voice snippets is a critical element of a successful VOIP deployment.

Quality begins with the phone, extends to the wires and network infrastructure in your office and then to the connection of your Internet service at the ISP. If there is an interruption anywhere along that circuitous path you’ll experience skips, echoes and drops. Your experience may be intermittent; if you decide to download a large file or start an offsite backup, your connection quality may suffer. If your Internet is already slow, forget about adding VOIP.

We recommend a dedicated Internet circuit for VOIP – or one that implements some QOS standards. These circuits cost more. You may not be worried about waiting a few extra milliseconds for a Web page to download. But the same delay interrupting a conversation can be frustrating – and it can lead to misunderstanding.

If you rely on the Internet for your phone service, you are doubly exposed if an outage occurs. Back in the day you could rely on your phones to remain working through an Internet hiccup. Now it may be all or nothing.

Finally, we’ve had mixed luck sending faxes over phone lines that “create” dial tone from Internet connections. Inbound faxing is not such a problem since most offices prefer fax-to-email services that deliver PDFs to your inbox. But if you regularly send faxes, you’d be wise to install a separate POTS line for that. You’ll also need a POTS line for most security/fire alarm systems and elevator emergency phones.

VOIP billing changes

Most older phone service plans charged a service fee for the number of “lines” you needed. Basically this was the number of simultaneous conversations you could conduct. You might have had six lines but 12 phones. Your private branch exchange (PBX) made the connections; it probably cost thousands of dollars and was purchased upfront or on a lease with a term of several years.

VOIP services now charge for “call paths” routed directly to your phone and eliminate the PBX. If you have 12 phones you pay a monthly fee for 12 paths with little or no up-front expense other than the cost of the phones themselves (each which may cost $200 or less). If you are happy with the speaker and microphone built into your PC, or use a headset, you can get a “soft” phone for free. Most plug into the same network jack that your computer uses. Some allow you to plug your phone into any Internet connection and start making/receiving calls from anywhere. Wireless phones that use your office WiFi are available, too.

One local tech company, Fathom Voice, leverages Amazon’s cloud infrastructure to deploy their VOIP service. The system scales, replicates and upgrades itself automatically when you need it. Even better: The days when telecom service providers would need to ‘roll a truck’ to repair/configure phones are over. Most administration is done online.

Technology is rapidly making old-fashioned telephones obsolete. They had a great run and set a high bar for reliability and sound quality. But sometime soon, you will start hearing voices from the cloud.•

__________

Kim Brand is president of Computer Experts, Inc. and an adjunct professor of legal informatics at IUPUI. Contact Kim at info@ComputerExpertsIndy.com or call 317-833-3000. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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