Saturday, 24 October 2015

When Does My BYOD VoIP Provider Become A DIY Cloud IP-PBX?

When I first started practicing BYOD DIY VoIP, some of the SIP based (Session Initiation Protocol) ITSP's (Internet Telephony Service Providers) that I used had fairly basic service offerings.  That is:
  • Outbound calling - also known as "Termination" service.  
  • Receiving inbound calls via a DID or phone number (Direct Inbound Dialing).  Inbound VoIP service is also known as "Origination" service.
Slowly but surely, some ITSP's started adding more and more extra features one by one in order to gain  a competitive advantage over the competition.

Basic Plans Often Include Two Voice Channels, Call Forwarding, Voice Mail, Etc.

Many ITSP's will typically enable your basic service plan with two concurrent voice channels.  This means that they are essentially enabling your VoIP connection to accept and/or make up to two simultaneous calls.

For example, in the case of "call-waiting", you have the ability to alternately toggle between two inbound callers while putting one of those callers on hold.  This uses two voice channels.

In the case of 3-way conferencing, you start out with a single call using one voice channel, then put that call on hold, dial a 2nd number to establish a 2nd call (which opens up a 2nd call channel), and then bridge the two separate calls together using your phone's hook-flash button.  You now have two concurrent calls bridging over two voice channels - i.e. a 3-way conference call.

And, with the voice mail feature, if you don't pick-up a call, or your two voice channels are occupied because of call waiting, or you're in a 3-way voice conference, the call will then "fail-over" to your voice mail account, which in this case is hosted by your VoIP provider on their servers.

These days, Caller-ID is pretty much a given at no extra cost (except for some Telco's who want to charge you for every bit and byte that passes through your account).

Basic vs. Premium Features

Over time, quite a few VoIP providers are now offering a big mixed bag full of features at little or no extra cost (depending on who you use and how DIY their service is).

The list below is a compilation of  most of the features promoted by three BYOD DIY VoIP providers that I frequently use.
  • 3-Way Calling
  • 4-Way Calling
  • Anonymous Call Rejection
  • Call Forwarding
  • Call Hunting
  • Call Recordings
  • Call Return
  • Call Transfer
  • Caller ID Blocking
  • Caller ID With Name
  • Caller-ID Filtering
  • Calling Queues
  • Custom Caller ID
  • DND - Do Not Disturb
  • Fax Reception
  • Intercom
  • International Call Block
  • IVR - Auto-Attendant
  • Paging
  • Phone Book
  • Recorded Messages
  • Ring Groups
  • Simultaneous Calls
  • SIP Trunking
  • Speed Dialing
  • Sub-Accounts (Extensions)
  • Telemarketer Block
  • Time Conditions
  • Unlimited In-Network Calling
  • Voice Mail
    What is important for me to point out about this list is that All of these features are provided by my primary and my secondary ITSP's.... at no additional cost!

    Now, the fact that these features are provided at no additional cost may not be any surprise to some people who may say:  "So what, my provider offers those same features, too."

    Then the questions become:  
    1. Yes, I'm sure they do, but at what cost?
    2. Are there contractual term obligations?
    3. Are they BYOD and DIY?
    I address these questions as follows:

    1. Cost is the primary reason for using BYOD DIY VoIP vs PSTN.  Plain old telephone service (POTS) can't begin to compete with the ITSP VoIP services on a cost basis.  With POTS, the incumbents want to charge an extra fee for every single extra feature that otherwise comes free with my BYOD DIY VoIP providers.

      That said, there are also plenty of VoIP service providers who charge somewhere in the middle tier of price comparisons.  They will offer all the bells and whistles at a good discount over the incumbent Telcos and Cable provider telecom services.  There is nothing wrong with that - after all, they are in business to make money, too.
    2. Even if the PSTN Telco incumbents are willing to give any kind of price break on service with all the bells and whistles, they will advertise the price reductions in big bold letters and then somewhere (not always obvious), they state in small print that you must agree to at least a 1-year, 2-year, or even 3-year contractual term obligation in order to receive those meager price reductions.

      Most BYOD DIY VoIP services do not require term contracts, and yet they can save you as much as 50% to 80% (or more, depending on who you pick) over the costs of a PSTN or Cable incumbent service.
    3. Incumbent PSTN POTS and Cable telecom services rarely, if ever, allow you to BYOD and DIY your own ATA's.  If they do offer VoIP service, or digital broadband telephone service, they provide the devices for you, pre-configured for their service, and it works with their service only (service-locked devices).

      Now, there are many VoIP services that are not BYOD or DIY.  And, these are the VoIP services that tend to be more in the middle and upper tier of the price scheme.  Some of these middle/upper tier services may also require contract terms for their service packages.  Some of these middle tier services may also provide you with a VoIP device (ATA or IP Phone) that is pre-configured and locked to only work with their service.
    For me, there has only been one way to go when it comes to VoIP.  And that is: BYOD and DIY.

    And by BYOD and DIY I mean VoIP services that only do one thing - and that is to provide a service that only provides telecom interconnection between me, the Internet, and the PSTN network.  They could care less whose SIP VoIP equipment I use.  Therefore, with BYOD and DIY VoIP services, it is up to me, the customer, to source, buy, and configure my own VoIP devices.  The service provider has no concern about where I buy it, how much it cost, or who configures it.  It is not their responsibility, or concern.

    By offloading all the customer hardware issues onto the customer, the VoIP provider can concentrate on what they do best - provide telecom interconnection at the lowest possible prices.  And that's the way I like it - uhuh!

    Just How Low Is Low-Cost In The BYOD DIY VoIP World?

    For me, currently my primary ITSP is able to offer termination service (outbound calling) for 1.0 cent/minute for each outbound call to the USA, and 0.9 cent/minute throughout Canada.  And, that is for premium tier-1 call routing. In terms of Origination service (inbound calls to my DID phone number) costs me 1.5 cent/min for each inbound call and my DID phone number costs me $1.95/month. And, these rates include all the bells and whistles extras that I outlined in bullet form earlier in this article.  No contracts - No extra fees.

    I might also mention that many of these kinds of BYOD DIY VoIP services primarily offer "pay-per-minute" service.  In other words, I only pay for the actual time I spend talking on my phone.  And with a DID phone number for under $2/month, we are talking very, very, low monthly service costs.

    I'm currently testing a new high quality ITSP who offers even lower termination and origination rates than what I just outlined about my current primary VoIP provider.  The catch here is that they don't provide all the extra bells and whistles my current provider(s) offer.  But, for now, they are a backup service that I'm testing.   So if all goes well, I may eventually use them in my future transition into running my own personalized IP-PBX.  But that's a story for another day.

    I'm a little off-point talking about low-cost VoIP services vs. PSTN incumbent services, etc.  So, let's get back on point and talk about:

    When Does My BYOD VoIP Provider Become A DIY Cloud IP-PBX?

    Let's backtrack to the beginning section of this article where I outlined all the features that my BYOD DIY VoIP providers offer at no additional costs at rock-bottom prices.

    If you take a closer look at that list again, you may observe that many of those features are common features found in PBX and IP-PBX systems.  Especially features like:
    I have extensively used the features of sub-accounts (extension), ring groups, time conditions, and caller-id filtering with my primary VoIP provider.  On occasion, I have even used the IVR features for some novel purposes.  Phone books and speed dialing are other features in the list I make some use of.

    Aren't These All Features Found In An IP-PBX? 

    Yes, they are.  Especially if you consider the features of SIP Trunking, Sub-accounts (extensions), ring groups, simultaneous calls, IVR's, phone books, and voice mail, etc.

    Well again, my BYOD DIY ITSP(s) offers all these features... for free... at rock-bottom prices.  I think I've said that before, haven't I.  I may even say it again, but I'll try to hold back next time I'm tempted to.

    When Is An ITSP Providing Home Phone Service Vs. A Business Service?

    My interpretation is - it's all about the marketing.  Or, in cases like me, it all just comes down to how I want to implement and use it.

    On the marketing side, I probably see more VoIP services marketing their service as a business solution... "in the cloud".  In other words, they promote their service as a business service with IP-PBX features over the Internet where all the IP-PBX servers and services are off-premises "in the cloud" and you only worry about the IP-Phones and ATA's at your business end.

    They tweak the user web interface to be more user friendly and a bit easier to configure the features you want in order to implement your cloud IP-PBX service.  In the end, this can be a very cost effective way for small businesses to implement IP-PBX services and not have to worry about the maintenance of the IP-PBX system - just the user side extension IP Phones.

    When an ITSP promotes their IP-PBX capabilities towards businesses, they can certainly charge a lot more money than if they target home phone service users.  Traditionally, business telecom services are much more costly than home phone service - especially when an incumbent PSTN service is providing it.  So an ITSP can provide similar services with IP-PBX in the cloud at a much lower cost than the PSTN providers do.

    Admittedly, the IP-PBX-like features offered through my BYOD DIY service providers are not quite as honed, user friendly, or as easy to setup as some of the services marketed directly to businesses.  But, it is possible and manageable for those of  us who are so inclined, and can recognize the higher priced marketing of services that specifically target the business community.

    In the end, it's really just all about - the money.

    While I use my VoIP service primarily as a home phone service, I do enjoy having the options to play around with some of the big guys' toys that can emulate a true IP-PBX.