Business VoIP Featured Article

Think Beyond Cost When Shopping for a Business VoIP Provider

May 04, 2011

By Patrick Barnard, Group Managing Editor, Business VoIP

Are you a small business owner thinking about making the switch to hosted VoIP?

While most companies base the decision on cost savings (after all, you can save anywhere from 50 to 80 percent on your phone bill by switching from traditional to hosted VoIP service), Quality of Service (QoS) and customer support are also equally important decisions. It’s great to save money on you communications – but what good is it if the sound quality is poor and the technical support is lacking?

On the Quality of Service front, it can be very difficult to determine is how much investment a hosted VoIP provider has made in its technology and in its network. Some providers own their own network infrastructure while others depend almost entirely on the public Internet to deliver their service to their customers. In many cases that means they are relying on the major carriers and other network operators to deliver the service – but unfortunately that often means the service is delivered to customers on a “best efforts” basis.

In other words, if the VoIP provider doesn’t have any contract, or service level agreement, in place with the network operator, that means the network operator isn’t under any obligation to ensure service quality. Even though they’re not really supposed to, carriers often engage in practices that degrade the quality of others’ VoIP service, simply because they want to ensure that their own services aren’t negatively impacted (you’ve no doubt read reports about network operators degrading or even completely blocking certain VoIP services in the past – we can assure that the practice is still out there).

Even in cases where the network operator isn’t engaging in such practices, there is still no guarantee that voice packets won’t be lost as they skip across the various networks that comprise the public Internet. As a user, the sound quality might seem okay, at first, but if you’re new to VoIP you might not have any frame of reference as to how good it can sound. It could be that some network operator, somewhere “out in the cloud,” is giving your VoIP service a very low priority. And that’s not what you want – because it could mean that your service quality is only going to get worse over time, as network congestion increases.

By the same token, a VoIP service provider could claim to have its own network, but you might not have any idea how big its network is, in terms of geographic footprint. It could be that the service provider operates its own network in western Illinois, but outside of that region the service is delivered on a best efforts basis across the public Internet. So customers in western Illinois get great, crystal clear service while customers on the East Coast get … whatever they get.

So, it’s a good thing to ask a prospective hosted VoIP provider about its network and about its technology and factor that into your decision. Network infrastructure is a crucial differentiator in terms of quality of service.

Hosted business VoIP provider Nextiva has earned a reputation for delivering high quality service. That’s because the company owns and operates its own nationwide network. That means if there is ever an Internet outage in a particular region, Nextiva retains control over its service and can still deliver a dial tone to its customers.

Nextiva operates on its own AS number -- and all of its services run on fully portable IP address blocks assigned by ARIN directly to the company. In addition its entire core network is powered by top-notch gear, including Cisco routers. All services requiring non-blocking throughput are connected directly to the routers through Gigabit connections. Nextiva also runs BGP with its Internet peers (network operators) to ensure that its voice data always takes the best possible route to each customer.

Of course all of this would mean nothing if Nextiva didn’t host its service in highly secure and reliable data centers. Nextiva’s primary datacenters are located in Phoenix, Arizona -- increasingly the location of choice for Fortune 500 companies to locate mission-critical infrastructure, as Arizona is less prone to hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and other natural disasters. One of these happens to be one of Arizona’s largest datacenters at 315,000 square feet.

With a very strong background in datacenter operations (one of the company’s founders also started one of the most successful Web hosting companies in the early 2000s), Nextiva is familiar with what it takes to keep a carrier-grade datacenter operational. It facilities sport cooled/raised flooring, redundant power, diverse network connectivity and top-of-the-line monitoring, among other key features. Its datacenters are monitored 24/7/365 -- and access is only permitted to a limited number of authorized people. The company also has redundant datacenter facilities in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York.

In addition, Nextiva uses only carrier-grade Session Border Controllers for interconnecting customers and carriers. Each SBC node is actively mirrored by a hot standby, so that in the event any one node goes down, its hot standby immediately takes over all activity. The sophisticated signaling intelligence of the Session Border Controllers adapts session signaling at the network edge to facilitate ongoing protect against a myriad of threats, including flood attacks, DOS attacks and SIP signaling attacks.

Nextiva’s application servers are fully clustered nodes that focus on delivering function-specific applications. The company is a pioneer in standardizing on fully RFC-compliant SIP call control standards, making interoperability issues a thing of the past. In addition all backend devices -- voicemail, call handling, conferencing and more -- “talk” to each other in the same next generation standards.

In addition to deploying best-of-breed hardware, Nextiva undertakes round-the-clock monitoring of all system and network points -- including each and every connection point -- and escalates monitoring states to its Network Operations Center even at the slightest hint of service failure.

Nextiva also gets high marks for its customer service – which it calls “Amazing Support.” The company knows that it very often takes a leap of faith for a business owner to migrate to VoIP – and as such, it extends a helping hand and offers a “consultative approach” to help business owners make a smooth transition over to VoIP technology. The company has established a special welcome department that makes sure that each and every customer is up and running properly following deployment. The company’s “Amazing Support” ensures that customers have their phone systems set up quickly and properly, and that any problems are addressed quickly.

Patrick Barnard is Group Managing Editor, virtual-pbx. In addition to leading the online editorial department, he focuses on call and contact center technologies. He also covers IP communications, networking and a variety of other topics. To read more of Patrick's articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Patrick Barnard



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