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Reality Check
June 2002

Robert Vahid Hashemian Click, Ring, Talk, Its All In The Packet


By the time you read this article, the Communications Solutions Conference and Expo and Planet PDA shows in Boston will be history. Normally, the most fun aspect of a show is the event itself. Sure it can be exhausting to walk up and down the aisles, but one gets to meet so many people from various companies offering new and exciting products. For me the fun often begins a few weeks prior to the show. One of this years show sponsors was interested in showcasing their VoIP gateway product on our Web site. It was time for us to practice what we preach and VoIP enable our site. (Not to mention that we were getting the gateway for free, which was an added incentive for us.) Frankly, I was at first skeptical about this project. With other projects piling up in the queue, I wasnt in the mood to tackle a complicated assignment. To my surprise this one ended up being painless and fun.

We have had PC-to-PC chatting on our site in the past, but that required for our people to be ready by their multimedia-capable PCs to handle the voice chat. The problem was that most people who found out about our company did so by reaching our Web site, but telephones are still the preferred equipment to make business deals. So what we wanted was an easy to install and manage gateway that could interface with our PBX.

Enter the companys proposal to do just that. First they sent me a starter two-port PCI card and a CDROM containing the driver and other associated software. The hunt was on to find a spare PC to use as the gateway. Thankfully, this product didnt need a lot of horsepower, so I ended up using an old Pentium II 233 MHz with 64 MB RAM running Windows 2000. Upon installing the card, I faced some minor problems with the driver, but the techies at the company soon had me up and running. My next problem was finding two free analog ports on our PBX. Those of you who support your companys PBX on a part time basis would understand that finding two free analog ports in a maze of badly punched-down wires is not an easy task. But there was no choice. Installing the gateway forced me to trace and identify every analog port coming out of the PBX. To my surprise, and contrary to my belief that we had no free analog ports, I was able to find and tag four free ones. After programming two of them for the gateway and plugging them in, I installed and ran the software that operated the board and handled the connections. Next I connected the gateway to our internal network, opening a pathway on our firewall for the gateway to have http access to and from the Internet. The final step was installing the required client-side software on our Web server and an image for the caller to click on and initiate the call. Configuring the product was as easy as editing an XML file to connect Web callers to our desired extensions on the PBX.

With everything in place I fired up my Web browser and attempted to make a call through the gateway. No go! After some fiddling with the various parts of the gateway, it was determined that the firewall was the culprit. Well, actually I was the culprit for not configuring the firewall correctly. At that point, I decided to move the gateway in front of the firewall. Not only would I have saved myself the hassle of firewall configuration, but the gateway would have been off our internal network. In our case, if it were hacked, no precious data would have been lost. Of course this was a temporary solution. If the system were in some way compromised, it would have meant downtime for a critical customer interface. This time, the gateway worked but the sound quality wasnt so great, until I moved the gateway to a less congested T1 circuit. At the compression rate of 12kbps, the sound quality was good and delay, jitter, and echo were relatively under control. I tried calling into the gateway from home where my dial-up speed barely breaks 28.8 kbps. I was happy to experience decent sound quality from there as well. So far we have received several outside calls through the gateway and they all have gone smoothly.

The product that we used, Click2Ring (www.click2ring.com), has a starting retail price of $1,495 for a two analog port board, although the company has other boards with higher capacities. The company also supports other modes such as accounting, and remote office connections but I was happy enough to have easily interfaced our PBX to the Internet.

With Internet telephony reaching new levels of maturity and quality, integrating it into the telecommunications infrastructure is becoming more and more inevitable. Our experiment proved that interfacing Internet telephony with traditional telecom equipment is not as complicated as some may believe. Let us know how your experiments in Internet telephony turn out.

Robert Vahid Hashemian provides us with a healthy dose of reality every other month in his Reality Check column. Robert is Webmaster for TMCnet.com your online resource for CTI, Internet telephony, and call center solutions. He is also the author of the recently published Financial Markets For The Rest Of Us. He can be reached at rhashemian@tmcnet.com.

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