CounterPoint – Hosted IP PBX: R U KDNG?

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October 01, 2011
CounterPoint
Dan Phillips

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Alexander Graham Bell (or was it Marconi?) invented the telephone system. And you know what; it has been providing phone calls over almost every kind of wire imaginable for decades now.  I know of hotels that have copper wire so old that it snaps at the touch of your finger, and calls work just fine.  There are guestrooms with carpet tacks perforating the cable to that second phone line across the room and the wake-up calls still ring in.  There are hotels with phone systems sitting in a puddle of water after every rainstorm still delivering those complaint calls to the general manager.  And people are telling me to remove that working just fine, bought-and-paid-for system and put their telephony in the cloud in the hands of some data nerds!  Everyone knows voice guys and data guys don’t mix, why should the systems do any better?


At the core of our industry, it is still a hotelier’s primary responsibility to put heads in beds.  And in the vast majority of hotels across the world, the respective hotel staff does just that very well.  What they may not do well is run or manage the technology.  Traditional phone systems started going into hotels around 1984.  Since that time, nothing has really changed.  A hotel typically contracts with a local interconnect to install and maintain the system, showing up within four hours if the general manager’s or a guest’s phone stops working.  The hotel contracts with the local phone company for phone lines and has a long distance contract too.  Not much science involved really.

Now, if you want to put in a hosted, cloud based, IP PBX system, you are going to have to develop a sound strategy of deployment.  Even though its cloud based, believe it or not, you will still want some POTS lines, but how many?  And, if you have faxes and such, you can’t run them through the new phone system either.  Have you thought about E911?  Then, you are going to run your voice traffic over your data circuit.  Is it big enough?  Will you get guest complaints on slow Internet access?  What happens if that circuit goes down?  Do you lose both voice and data?  What is your failover plan, or your redundancy plan?  Redundancy has more syllables in it than any word you had to use with that old phone system!

The science continues!  What type of circuit, or circuits, do you need to provide adequate bandwidth for both data and voice?   

A boon for HSIA, DSL is not a friend to IP voice.  Cable modems, which provide probably the most bandwidth for the least amount of money, are sometimes too flakey for voice.  So, do you install a T1 and dedicate it to voice?  Isn’t this against what the proponents say about a converged solution?

A majority of the hotels have older phone systems.  And, with the state of the economy, probably most of them stopped their full maintenance contract and went on a time and materials contract.  This means that they are no longer paying for the phone system or the ongoing maintenance of it.  And, guests rarely use the phone, so long distance bills are minimal.  So, the monthly recurring costs to operate a phone system today are quite low.  With a hosted solution, and SIP trunks, this is not the story.  A hosted solution comes with a monthly recurring charge for the licenses and maintenance of the system.  SIP trunks, with long distance included, are often more expensive than traditional phone lines, or talk paths.  A smaller hotel, and one with little long distance traffic, may have quite the sticker shock the first months after installation of a hosted solution.

Existing hotels will also need to examine both their internal and external networks, specifically the cabling.  IP phones require CAT5 cable.  Hotels installing a hosted solution, many times with IP phones for admin stations, may need to re-cable parts, or all, of the hotel.  Voice quality, internally, is far more dependent on cable quality than with a traditional phone system.  The same goes for the connections from the hotel to the circuit provider.  The hotel will want to ensure high quality of connections to providers which will most likely entail service level agreements (SLAs) which will drive up the cost of the circuits.

Finally, hosted IP solutions might be better geared for smaller, less amenity-laden hotels.  For example, many smaller hotels may still have need of a call distributor (ACD) for the reservations department. And, most hosted solutions can accommodate that.  However, larger hotels may need an ACD for hotel reservations, restaurant reservations, golf tee times and all with agent routing profiles and call center metrics required.  Larger hotels place a heavier burden on the feature sets incumbent in traditional phone systems, feature sets that hosted solutions just don’t have.

A hosted IP PBX solution requires more planning, can cost more, and perhaps delivers less.
 

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