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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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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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