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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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