Things to consider before choosing a VOIP supplier

More and more companies are considering changing to a cloud based or VOIP telephone system. This is shown by the fact that in 2014 sales of PBXs were down significantly whilst VOIP sales were up 10%. There are almost 100 suppliers in the UK. We have evaluated many of them over the last 6 years in order to decide which ones we would include on our brokerage panel.

To help you make your decision here are some key questions to ask and some advice on how to evaluate the answers.

What is the system built on?

In our experience the more successful suppliers have generally built their service on larger carrier grade platforms such as Broadsoft, Nortel CS2K (aka Genband), or Mitel. At the enterprise end there is also Cisco HCS. We have seen Asterix based-platforms struggle to scale and, as each system is developed differently, there can be difficulties if you wish to change suppliers

Is the Supplier part of the Telecoms Ombudsman scheme?

If they are, it shows they are sufficiently confident in their services to accept independent binding arbitration should customer disputes arise in companies of less than 10 employees. If not they may say they are part of ITSPA*. This does not offer the same protection, as it is more of a trade body. A list can be found at http://www.ombudsman-services.org/memberlists/communications/

Does any of the call traffic go over the public or private Internet?

If it goes over the public Internet it can affect call quality at peak usage times, so private is better.

Do you issue your own new numbers?

Does the company issue their own numbers or do they have to source them from another operator? This can impact porting in the future, particularly if numbers are bought in from multiple suppliers. It may mean that should you want more numbers in future these will be out of sequence. If the company is based in London, do they have access to new 0207 and 0208 numbers or do they just have 0203 numbers?

How many users do they have?

As a guide, the larger suppliers in the UK have at least 15,000 – 20,000 users. Whilst new entrants obviously will not have that amount it is a guide to levels of success.

Are they the supplier or are they reselling someone else’s solution?

Our experience is that it is always better to have a direct contract with the supplier as there are fewer steps in the support process should problems arise or should you need support.

What phones will be supplied?

It is interesting to note from our conversations with larger suppliers that they have largely standardised around Cisco, Polycom and Mitel. They have tried to work with other handsets but been unhappy with call quality or reliability. Also check that suppliers are using current phones; we have seen examples of companies supplying end of life phones, which could impact replacement if they break.

What are the call rates?

As a guide, UK landlines should be less than 1p per minute, UK mobiles should be less than 7p per minute. Anything higher and they are making excessive profits. There should be no minimum charges and no call set up fees. All calls should be billed per second.

What is the length of the contract?

Generally we don’t advise signing for more than 12 months unless there is a significant financial advantage in doing so. Some companies offer to rent or lease handsets if you take out a three-year deal. If you go for this option see if you can change suppliers before that date and reuse handsets with another supplier. On longer term deals check the flexibility and impact on costs of adding and removing users.

We would also recommend asking for a demo of their portal. This way you get to manage the solution. You can then judge how easy it is to use. Our free guide to VOIP can be downloaded from https://www.equinox.uat.3mil.co.ukbrochures/

Alternatively contact us for our free, independent advice. We have helped almost 200 organisations find the right solution for them.

 

*Internet Telephony Services Providers Association.

 

What Will the Telecoms Market Look Like in 2015

So we are just over one month into 2015 and it is already looking like it will be an interesting year in the telecoms market. Apple have managed to start two more law cases so no change there. They have also announced record profits. The CEO of Blackberry has demanded developers should be made to produce apps for his devices. Bit of a Stalinist approach to the market – you will build them even if no one wants them. This from a company that would never let anyone near their software – chickens coming home to roost.

Then it looks like all change in the UK mobile market with BT buying EE and O2 merging / being bought by 3. So what will this mean to consumers and businesses over the rest of the forthcoming year. It does always assume that Ofcom will allow there to be only three mobile operators in the UK when they have publicly stated they want four. An interesting challenge for the new head to find in her already bulging in-tray. I think she will allow it given the number of MVNOs that now exist who will be classed as quasi operators. After all you can pick up a mobile contract with your weekly shop in Tesco’s who often offer very cheap sim free phones with clubcard points thrown in.

It was all started by BT wanting to join the quad players (phone, broadband, mobile and TV) in the residential market. Following the launch of BT Sport they were just missing the mobile element having got rid of O2 many years ago. Having decided they didn’t want them back and EE were a better bet, they would be in a position to compete with Virgin. Sky have quickly responded with an announcement that it will launch a mobile service next – surprise surprise in conjunction with O2.

That leaves a few companies sitting on the edges of the dance floor looking at who’s left to partner up with before the evening is over. Most notably TalkTalk and Vodafone is that the next marriage made in heaven or would it be out of necessity?

That potentially would create four companies targeting the quad play domestic market in what is a price sensitive market and probably in a race to the bottom. The domestic broadband market is evidence of that where prices and one could argue service/product quality has fallen dramatically.

With all this focus on the domestic market both in terms of time and resources will the business consumer suffer. For the suppliers which will be the most lucrative to focus on – that will determine their priorities. For some businesses the potential of a single supplier may be attractive whilst others on principle do not like all their eggs in one basket. It should be noted that integration will take some time and businesses anticipating a single contact point for faults will be disappointed. BT do not offer it yet so expecting them to merge EE’s support into their existing centres quickly is being a tad optimistic.

Also of interest will be how the cultures and approaches of the combined companies in the various merging will work out. For example 3 have been ahead of the market in extending the mobile packages to overseas countries without charge. I am sure some companies with large roaming bills would welcome this change as the business providers continue to make large portions of their profits in this area.

Certainly I think businesses should be wary of making long term commitments until the dust has settled and they know what and more importantly who they are signing up with. The company they sign with may look very different by the end of the year.

Why do Telecoms Suppliers always compare their Prices with BT?

 

It is interesting to notice that in many industries everyone compares themselves to the market leader.  Whilst the telecoms industry is like many others in this respect, it also takes the opportunity to make some great marketing claims, which often do not stand up to reality.

For example on their website Unicom show a 57% saving for BT customers.  There is however a small asterisk that reveals the following when you click on the footnote tab: –

*Percentage saving based on a typical customer spending £500 with BT on their standard business rates, correct as published on 1 March 2013

It is important to note that BT’s standard business rates are effectively their price list and bear no comparison to what is offered in their normal deals.  We recently moved a client away from Unicom to another supplier saving them about 70%.  While I think we are good, I would never claim to get savings of 87% over BT.  In that instance Unicom also tried to claim penalty charges even though the contract had expired.  We soon put them right on that point. It is interesting to note that Ofcom are now investigating

A second favourite marketing ploy is that which compares on just one element, such as the line rental or UK calls.  For example XLN advertise 77% savings on landline rentals.  This example was taken from the XLN website on 10/9/2013.

xln

 You will note that their comparison with BT is based on BT data that is 10 months old and does not reflect the current BT offer.  They also show the comparison on the 1st year rental only, despite the fact that it is a two-year contract.  In the detail it highlights the fact that this price is for 6 months only.  The saving then drops to 25%, which is still not bad, but still only on a par with most other business providers.

Another supplier, Chess Telecom, has a similar table. This example is taken on the same day as the XLN table.

chess 

On the XLN table the prices shown for each supplier are different from those on the Chess table.   Also it is not clear that Chess have set-up charges for calls.  This enables them to make a price promise on the actual call rates and yet they often end up more expensive than ours as none of the contracts we negotiate ever have a call set-up fee.  We recently analysed a bill from Chess to a client.  With the set-up fee, the effective cost per minute of a local UK call was 2.64p not the 1p they claimed.  We placed the client on a contract with a genuine rate of 0.85p per minute with no call setup – almost 2/3rds of Chess’s rate.

So, as with most marketing, there is an element of truth but it is not always the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  If you would like to understand what you are really paying and a get genuine set of comparison tables to see what you could be paying, contact us on 020 9012 0845.