Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you undoubtedly have heard of the cloud. In fact, even in the instance you have been under said rock, you almost certainly have been using cloud apps in your daily routines.
As it relates to telecom, there is an abundance of providers capitalizing on the cloud trend. A quick Google (News - Alert) search returned close to half-a-billion results for the term cloud phone. Further analyzing search trends in Google, you can quickly see why companies are trying to take advantage of these trends. Since the end of 2008, according to Google Trends, worldwide interest in the search term cloud phone has increased by more than 1600 percent. As with most trends, terms tend to get overused and mutated, ultimately creating confusion among users. Let’s try to find some clarity.
In the most fundamental terms, cloud represents storing and accessing data and services over the Internet instead of on a local machine. The cloud is really just another term for the Internet. For the cost-conscious business, it’s an opportunity to replace expensive infrastructure by purchasing lower cost services from providers that allow access via Internet connections. In some cases, companies are replacing servers and software applications, while in others, they are able to replace telecom infrastructure and gain access to more advanced systems and services without the costly infrastructure. Hence, the popularity of the term cloud phone.
So then, why is there so much confusion about cloud phone services? For starters, because few providers are willing to give up prospective customers, and confusion often creeps in when discussing business needs – which also lends itself to a discussion of terms like virtual and hosted, both of which are often used interchangeably, though they shouldn’t be.
“This is where the confusion starts and where providers do a bad job of simplifying offerings,” says Ron Kinkade, director of marketing for Voxox. “There are really two kinds of services that are available in the market. To simplify these, I’ll refer to them as vPBX (virtual pbx) and hPBX (hosted pbx).”
According to Kinkade, the difference is really in use case. A virtual PBX (News - Alert) is ideal for very small businesses with fewer than 10 employees, and is particularly useful in home or mobile office scenarios. It isn’t designed to replace existing phone services, but to provide additional phone numbers with enhanced features that are unavailable – or very costly – with traditional telephony.
“Imagine an event planner with a couple of assistants working from home offices,” explains Kinkade. “With a virtual service, the business can add a business phone number, have callers greeted professionally, and have calls routed to a landline or smartphone based on time of day or other rules, with the ability to integrate voicemail, transcription, extensions, fax, and other features.”
On the other hand, hosted PBX services are meant to replace existing phone service, allowing businesses to move to VoIP, reducing costs and integrating advanced routing and other features. Hosted solutions are available to meet the needs of nearly any size business from small businesses to enterprises, and often offer a variety of IP endpoint options. Services can also include collaboration, video, SMS, business continuity, and other virtual apps – and, of course, SIP trunking, which allows businesses that have recently invested in on-premises PBXs but want to enjoy the cost savings associated with VoIP by replacing their analog trunks or PRI T1s with SIP trunks.
For businesses that have recently invested in their own solutions – especially many of the low-cost open source solutions available – most of the SIP-based phones that work with those systems are also compatible with the majority of hosted providers, including phones from Polycom, Cisco (News - Alert), Grandstream, Yealink, Panasonic, and Aastra.
All in all, the benefits of a cloud solution are fairly easy to recognize:
- Lower Cost – The price of standard analog phone systems or the PSTN can be very expensive, especially when factoring in long-distance charges. Hardware can be expensive and requires knowledge to maintain or expensive long-term contracts. Cloud-based systems provide much lower costs and the maintenance/updating of equipment falls on the provider.
- Expertise Cost – With in-house systems also come the personnel cost to maintain equipment. With your system in the cloud, this expense is handled by your provider. There is likely some level of support cost built into the service, or as an add-on, but it typically is substantially less than the cost of dedicated IT staff.
- Enterprise Features – Because providers are serving a wide range of clients, high-end features that previously were either unavailable or very costly are often accessible at lower cost, or even included in many feature packages in cloud-based solutions.
- Voice Quality – While at one time quality was spotty, current VoIP services are at least as good as traditional telephony and, when you factor in the G.722 codec, the wider spectrum creates a much crisper and cleaner conversation that can’t be imitated by TDM telephony.
- Service/Support – Cloud-based systems come with simplified user interfaces and better access to support. Top providers in the space make servicing clients a priority. The UIs allow simple tasks, such as moves, add, changes, to be made quickly and easily, while more technical tasks are left to the provider.
Naturally, there are variations and long-term cost benefits can vary based on the level of support services, enhanced unified communications features, and other add-on options – and this, of course, is where hosted vendors and managed service providers make their money. But, while overall cost benefits can vary dramatically, the support and service means internal teams don’t have to manage or maintain the infrastructure or software, and system and feature upgrades are implemented seamlessly by the provider. It is one of the oft-forgotten TCO benefits of a hosted solution. In fact, Kinkade says that support, along with cost reduction and efficiency improvements, are the three main drivers of hosted migration.
“When pricing the service out, we need to verify bandwidth availability in the building, features desired, traffic patterns, IT staff and infrastructure, as well as other items,” says Kinkade.” In general, hosted systems are less expensive both to set up and in terms of monthly cost but, sometimes, a premises-based solution can be less expensive or more effective for a certain situation.”
Indeed, with any technology, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution and, while simplicity has long been a key to success of new technologies, many businesses are still hesitant to move from their in-house solutions to new hosted VoIP solutions. There is plenty of support for making the sale internally based on TCO and business efficiency benefits, but the fear of complexity of migrating to a new solution still lingers.
This is where Voxox has sought to make its mark. Feature sets are more or less the same from one provider to the next, but support services and ease of implementation and use can be significant differentiators. Kinkade also says there is a sizable market gap left by carriers not fully embracing cloud solutions and many OTT providers focusing on consumer markets, leaving businesses, integrators, and resellers without a complete cloud-based solution for all these needs.
With Cloud Phone (News - Alert), Voxox (www.voxox.com) has sought to achieve three main goals:
- to create simple products and offer incredible value;
- simplify virtual and hosted product offerings for both consumers and businesses; and
- provide complete solutions for dealers, agents, and wholesale partners.
With Cloud Phone – its virtual solution targeting businesses with fewer than 10 users – and Cloud Phone Pro – its newly rebranded hosted offering – Voxox has been able to bring to market a combination of solutions that allow businesses of all sizes to achieve their communications needs.
With Cloud Phone (www.cloudphone.com), Voxox has taken a complex hardware/software combination and streamlined it into a package that anyone can understand. For instance, Fitocracy CEO Brian Wang, a Cloud Phone user, explained his motivation for moving to the service: “I wanted something really simple.”
With the simplicity, however, Wang isn’t giving up features, as Cloud Phone offers all the features any small business user needs at a price point that isn’t going to break the budget. Rates start as low as $10 per month for two extensions and 1,000 monthly minutes.
Cloud Phone Pro, on the other hand, is a full-featured hosted PBX, including authorized service and support partners that are tasked with providing customized solutions for each customer – including wholesale offerings for partners and carriers, and a variety of add-on features available for clients, including SIP trunking, business continuity solutions, SMS, call recording, conference bridges, fax, and more.
Voxox has made a splash quickly with its focus on simplicity without sacrificing quality, inking a deal with Lenovo (News - Alert) that will see its platform pre-installed on the vendor’s laptops, and being ranked No. 224 in Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 list.
Edited by Maurice Nagle