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May 2007
Volume 10 / Number 5
Feature Articles
Richard "Zippy" Grigonis

Hosted IP Telephony Solutions

By Richard “Zippy” Grigonis, Feature Articles

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), particularly 100 users and below, have for the past several years dramatically streamlined their operations to remain competitive. For businesses running on paper-thin margins, there are few new projects that their small IT groups can possibly take on, such as VoIP. Such organizations are turning more and more to hosted IP Communications solutions. The benefits of outsourcing VoIP (or even a full-blown unified communications package) can be greater than simply saving some money.

Many of these services are critical to organizations. We all know of enterprises with email systems that go down on the last few days of a quarter, which usually portends that the email system will be outsourced by the end of the next quarter, since email has become too important to place in jeopardy.

For companies of just about any size, an SLA [Service Level Agreement] from a service provider will always be better than whatever uptime a company can create for itself, unless they spend money lavishly. Even the smallest service provider has multiple redundant systems with automatic failover, and on top of that it’s probably using the latest and greatest hardware, which the small business can’t or won’t have available. Moreover, service providers generally do joint tests with most of the partners they deal with to deliver their applications to customers. Microsoft, for example, has defined a fairly rigid test for hosted Exchange. VoIP vendors such as BroadSoft have similar tests as well.

Hosted services will over time turn into commodities. (After all, anything you can sell on a line-by-line basis is destined for mass-marketing.) Look at web hosting today, or email. They are all commoditized and are provided at very low cost. However, what makes things such as hosted VoIP or hosted Exchange interesting is that you can build an ecosystem of value-added tools around them. This gives the enterprise additional productivity-enhancing features and it allows the service provider to maintain a much longer product lifecycle and it can therefore sell the service( s) at a premium for a longer time.

Product vendors have taken stock of the ripe hosted services market and have altered their product lines to facilitate connections between service providers, SMBs and “vertical” organizations. For example, early in 2007 ZyXEL Communications (news - alert) (, the world’s fourth biggest DSLAM vendor, announced a new SMB VoIP Integrated Access Device and SMB VoIP router that can bridge the move to VoIP for growing businesses. Both products enable multi-line VoIP service through one of two options: by hosted VoIP services or by integrating with an existing analog PBX system. Both of these devices are designed to ease deployments by service providers.

ZyXEL’s VOP1248G a 48-port POTS/VoIP line card has a media gateway that converts analog voice to VoIP, thus eliminating the need to install special VoIP phones or an analog telephone adapter (ATA) on customer premises. This new POTS/VoIP line card works in conjunction with ZyXEL’s IES 5000 and IES 5005 chassis-based Multiple Service Access Platforms (MSAP) and is targeted to telcos looking for a easier way to offer a VoIP architecture to customers. ZyXEL’s IES 5000 and IES 5005 MSAPs provide support for ADSL 2+, G.SHDSL.BIS and VDSL 2 line cards and are designed for telcos wanting to offer multiple services over the same box.



A Firm Foundation

Determining just how inexpensive, feature-laden and easy-to-use an IP service is depends primarily on the quality and scope of the platform used by the service provider. One of the first widely deployed and well-known delivery platforms in this area is Ensim Unify by Ensim (news - alert) (

Co-developed with Microsoft, it enables service providers to centrally create, control, and deliver hosted IP and application services. The latest version of Unify includes support for Microsoft Hosted Messaging and Collaboration (HMC) and Windowsbased Hosting (WBH) Technology, support for the Microsoft Connected Services Framework (CSF) 3.0 , a New Resource Selection Policy Feature, and it provisions many services such as BroadSoft and Blackberry that are not available as part of the HMC solution. There’s also the built-in ability to add custom services via an SDK.

Francois Depayras, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Ensim, says, “Ensim is a software developer that provides software solutions for service providers. We really focus on the provisioning and automation of services. For example, if you want to deploy a Voiceover- IP line, there are literally 100 steps for a manager at a service provider to deploy such a line. Our technology completely automates that process through templates so that the service provider can create silver, gold, and platinum packages for different types of VoIP lines, and then enable those completely automatically. That can happen straight from the storefront to the end customer, or at least if it’s a large enterprise, it can be done with an agent over the phone, and with one click of a button you know that a service has been provisioned from A through Z without any mistakes. If any errors somehow occur, there’s an automatic rollback and accompanying notification to the administrator.”

“So, in a sense, we offer something of a service delivery platform. Granted, not to the full extent of a large service delivery platform, but we really do focus on the automation of services provisioning,” says Depayras.

“The heart of our platform takes care of the monitoring, metering, the service resource management, and so forth, to ensure that the application will be run as service by the service provider,” says Depayras. “We also offer a pre-built control panel or self-care management tool at delegated levels, so the service provider can now have access to a portal that offers them a wide range of choices where they can do such things as create different types of mailboxes, VoIP lines and so forth, and really manage all of their next generation services. The reseller also can also access the same control panel, but based on their role, they have different capabilities available to them. Our control panel can be shared with the enterprise administrator and the end user. So the goal really is to make sure that the users should not have to call the service provider everything time something strange happens, they should be able to self-manage fairly efficiently, and that’s done through providing a graphical user interface [GUI] that’s very user-friendly, rather than a command line interface, for example, which can be very complex.”

“Ensim’s on-demand platform offers pre-built connectors for about 15 applications today,” says Depayras. “We have connectors to BroadSoft, Siemens OpenScape, Microsoft Exchange, IBM SharePoint. We create much more than VoIP service - we can create a unified communications package. One Ensim Unify is set up at a service provider, it’s very easy for the provider to add a connector or remove a connector, thus making it very easy to test the market with new services at minimal expense. The same interface and provisioning system can be used.”

“As for where this industry is going,” says Depayras, “I firmly believe that many companies decide to outsource solutions as important to everyday business as VoIP or email, since there’s no sense in keeping some of it in-house, unless it’s necessary for there to be some kind of tight integration to an HR form system, for example. Outsourcing everything at this point makes a lot of sense.”

“Why a provider should deliver hosted VoIP is fairly obvious in terms of where the market is going,” says Depayras. “More and more, enterprises of 250 employees and below really don’t have the IT resources inhouse to accomplish VoIP on their own. Thus, there’s a wave of outsourcing to the largest telecom providers as well as regional service providers, that essentially transforms them into an IT resource for small enterprises. They ensure that the SMBs have strong SLAs, strong archival systems, and so forth. For a service provider, then, the market certainly exists. But service providers have the bad habit of building a platform for each service they deliver, which is extremely inefficient at the end of the day, and which in turn forces them to spend a tremendous amount of time on R&D to develop functionality that’s already available off the shelf through companies such as Ensim.”

“Hence, the goals for a service provider today is four-fold,” says Depayras. “The four most important things a service provider should look at when going to market with a hosted VoIP solution, or even any kind of nextgeneration hosted service is, first and foremost, the time-to-market. It’s easy to say you want to get a VoIP solution out quickly, but it’s more than that. It’s being first to market or as quick to market as possible, for the application or service that the provider wants to launch. But it’s also about being the first-to-revenue and getting to generate revenue as quickly as possible. The system needs to be up and running targeting small-to-medium sized enterprises, which requires resellers because modern enterprises are geographically dispersed and very fragmented. Some enterprises are vertical, others are geographical in nature. It’s important to have as wide a range of salespeople and resellers to be able to go after them.”

“Fortunately, a provider can be firstto- market with our Ensim platform and it can be used to plug in any additional services, using the same functionality that’s built in, utilizing the same back-end and control panel or self-care management tool,” says Depayras. “Thus, there is very little training of support or operations, and there’s no explanation that needs to be given to existing customers because we’re basically just adding functionality over time. So, it’s hosted VoIP the first day, and then delivering additional services on the VoIP line such as E911, and then three months later you can add collaboration capabilities through SharePoint, for example.”

“Second, there’s the ability to have a channel-enabled strategy,” says Depayras. “The SMB market to me is really the El Dorado of markets. We know that it’s a $12 billion market today, and everybody knows there’s a pot of gold lurking there, but it’s extremely difficult to reach it, simply because the fragmentation of the industry and that SMBs are really geographically dispersed and each vertical has specific needs and requirements. It’s very important for the service provider to affiliate itself with resellers that can cater to existing customers.”

“Third, decreasing the cost of the operation is absolutely crucial,” says Depayras. “It’s fair to say that automation of provisioning and self-care of end users adds a dramatic aspect to all of this. Our approach usually decreases the cost of operations by at least 50 percent. Many of our existing customers are now able to place their IT or operations people on other, more important projects since everything doesn’t have to be managed manually - it’s all now automated. For example, 50 or 60 percent of support calls are people saying ’I’ve forgotten my password’. For anybody who has a support organization in the U.S. or Europe, that phone call is going to cost between 10 and 20 dollars or Euros. That’s a huge support cost just for something as trivial as a password.”

“When a service provider looks to launch something such as hosted VoIP or messaging or collaboration, the platform is obviously crucial but it’s also just as important to have an ecosystem of tools around the solution that are really created to enable and empower the end user to do things on their own, such as to self-configure their VoIP phone or self-configure their mobile device with Exchange,” says Depayras. “All of these little tools involve a little click on a self-care management section of a web page, rather than calling the administrator or service provider.”

“The fourth aspect focuses on extensibility,” says Depayras. “Looking at hosted services today, some are extremely successful, some not that much. Some are perhaps ahead of their time, the marketing message may be the wrong one, some people still don’t really get why they should outsource. It’s always an expensive gamble for a service provider to create a platform to provide hosted services. For example, the appropriate infrastructure needs to be built. The provider may decide to build its own provisioning or control panel and management center, and so forth. We’ve generally seen service providers launch next-gen services on their own over a 12 to 18-month period. That’s a long time. But using tools such as our Ensim Unify software, customers have been launched in as little as ten days, and the average is about a month-and-a-half. We can quickly and inexpensively provide everything in that last mile between the service provider and the end user: the control panel, management tool, automation and provisioning.”

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.


5 Tips for Selecting a Hosted VoIP Provider
by Joel Maloff, VP of Products, GlobalTouch Telecom (

Selecting a hosted VoIP applications provider is not as simple as it appears. Understanding how your prospective providers compare will help you make an informed and hopefully successful decision. Here are five suggestions. . .

  1. Feature Suite - If you are seeking to offer VoIP services from a hosted applications provider, you have already realized that building such systems yourself or purchasing the systems from others is an expensive proposition. What features and services are important to you? Are you interested in providing consumer VoIP services? Pre-paid and post-paid? IP PBX services? IP Trunking? Do you need assistance in handling Direct Inward Dialing (DID) numbers, E911 and CALEA? Some vendors offer hundreds or even thousands of features. Which ones do you really need and which are you and your customers willing to purchase? Before you start comparing hosted PBX vendors, know what features and services you want. Prepare a list of required and “nice to have” features.
  2. Underlying Technology - Not all VoIP systems are the same. Some offer better voice quality but require greater bandwidth. Others are deigned to offer superior voice quality but consume less bandwidth and therefore are available at lower cost. Some will support video calls whereas others may not. Some may be more secure than others. Ask questions and demand answers from your prospective vendors.
  3. Support Services - What support services can you expect from your provider? Are you expected to provide Tier 1 support with the vendor offering Tier 2 and 3 support? What response times can you expect? What reports will be available to you? These are critical areas in managing and growing your business.
  4. Scalability - Can your vendor continue to grow with your needs, both in terms of capacity as well as new features as they emerge? This may be a direct result of the underlying equipment used by the vendor. If it is an open architecture and designed to support emerging standards, you may be better off than a closed proprietary system that may not be interoperable with future developments.
  5. The Real Cost - Make sure you consider not only the set-up and monthly recurring costs but also any additional costs that might arise. These include bandwidth fees, custom development charges, updates or new features, support service “overtime,” and additional personnel that you will need on your staff to coordinate with your vendor. Creating a “pro forma” that looks at all anticipated costs, the timing of these costs, and how they relate to your expected pricing and revenue generation models will help you stay ahead of the challenges.

Using a Hosted VoIP Applications Provider can be an excellent and timely choice. Clearly articulating the details in advance can make the experience all the more rewarding!

GlobalTouch Telecom, Inc. offers a vertically integrated VoIP platform. The company designed and developed every aspect of its technology from the ground up creating a one-stop single vendor VoIP solution. The product thus comprises an all-inclusive, private label (white label) offering for carriers, MSOs, Resellers, PTTs, ILECs, ISPs, CLECs and marketing companies. The platform can be completely customized and rolled out in 60 days or less.


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