Big VoIP systems are great. A lot of big companies have deployed such facilities with great success. But while they are a boon to the bottom lineand make available lots of application featuresthey can be quite costly to install and complicated to maintain. To put it another way, enterprises give back a lot of their VoIP savings in equipment costs and change-outs.
Smaller companies with limited IT staff have decidedly more restricted choices. But Brookfield, Connecticut-based NetFabric Corp. offers one that should be attractive to SMEs: The FUS1ON Intelligent Call Director series of call controllers lets an organization add VoIP capability to a legacy PBX or key system, at a small fraction ("one-tenth to one-twentieth," according to NetFabric president and CEO, Jeff Robinson) of the per-station cost of a large IP-only voice system. And they bring considerable customizable application prowess into the bargain.
The FUS1ON 4:4 terminates up to four analog or VoIP trunks, at up to four lines each. Its higher-capacity sibling, the FUS1ON 12:8, handles up to 12 trunks at up to eight lines each. ("Typical usage would be three to fiveor an average of fourstations per trunk, or about 32 stations for the eight-trunk box," says Robinson.)
Installation is simple, and can be carried out by telecom VARs. The box essentially just plugs in on the trunk side of the PBX.
Typical configuration would have local calls routed to the PSTN with long-distance going to the VoIP gateway. Calls to 911 automatically go to the PSTN (eliminating that deficiency of many VoIP systems). All FUS1ON call directors continuously monitor network conditions and switch all calls over to the PSTN for the duration of any QoS problems.
Part of what you'll need to run a FUS1ON system is a PC with an Ethernet port. This is for system configuration and applications programming. Jeff Robinson offered a look at some of the kinds of software functionality available with the product:
"An interesting example would be a remote do-not-call checking system," Robinson said. "The equipment captures the outgoing call information, then instantly checks published online don't-call databases. If it gets a hit, the caller is alerted," said Robinson. This is a useful feature in a world where disturbing a phone subscriber with do-not-call protection can cost you $15,000 a pop.
Other big-system features Robinson mentioned include capture of incoming call data (to Outlook, for example), name/number screen pop-ups, and 900-number (and similar) call blocking, in addition to more standard logging functions.
Strategy: Learning from experience
Jeff Robinson has been making smart VoIP equipment for a long time. Back in the late 90s, he headed a company, IQ NetSolutions, that made self-configuring VoIP phones not unlike those recently announced by Aastra Technologies.
"IQ was a technical success, but a business failure," Robinson told us. "Essentially, we hit a brick wall with distribution; the VARs were hostile to the idea." NetFabric's business strategy was developed to avoid this difficulty. The company has built its distribution around deals with large, regional wholesalers, such as Williams Telecommunications, ABP International, andCoMatrix, who, in turn, sell to the VAR community.
Deployment and migration
"The VARs have a clean, easy install; no complications," Robinson said. Essentially, you just plug the FUS1ON box into the trunk side of your PBX or key system. A router + switch connected between the box and the VoIP trunks allows appropriately equipped computers on the network to become VoIP phones.
With VoIP now functioning, "We can add a softswitch that lets you install IP phones and go on calling," says Robinson. The down-side? Not all the company's phones will have the same features, probably a minor issue for most.
The third step in the migration is replacing analog phones with IP phones and getting rid of the PBX altogether. Connectivity to the PSTN is retained and managed by the FUS1ON unit.
Robinson quotes the figure of $150 to $200 per port for the FUS1ON products. Indeed, the purchase price of the eight-trunk unit is $1,299; typical installation cost is between $100 and $200, depending on the customer's network configuration. At an average of four lines per trunk, the FUS1ON 12:8 supports at least 32 stations. The cost of an equivalent IP PBX would run roughly $16,000, according to Robinsonnot including the applications platform or installation.