Open Source Voip
Last week, I described the basic architecture of a PBX system. But these systems have evolved into Unified Communication systems that handle more than voice – they handle messaging, texting, chat, video and others. This is where most business phone systems are today.
But how did they evolve so quickly? The basic architecture stays the same, so if you have a good architecture upon which to build, features can be added quickly. When doing an instant message for example, there still needs to be a database of users and rules that go with it, there needs to a message broker between the two people involved, and there needs to be trunks and an end user device. The basic architecture is there – just the type of media involved changes. The UC system simply had to handle different media beyond voice. The convergence of voice with IT (VoIP) proved to be monumental since voice became just a type of media- just another type of data to be moved. And once that happened, other media could be moved with the same constructs as voice. Hence, UC implementations became de rigeur.
Messaging via chat, or playback of a voice or video mail on your email are everyday examples of such communications in the office beyond a simple voice call. Different devices could be enabled for different kinds of interaction beyond voice, adding text, chat, and video for example.
The advances in the networks and the ability for applications to utilize these advances in network technology also played a huge role in enabling the PBX to evolve to truly become “Unified Communications”. Once such network was the emergence of 3G and 4G, which ushered in the world of mobile enterprise applications. Your office becomes mobile, because you have office apps such as your office phone, your instant messaging system, etc. on your smartphone or your laptop or tablet. Effectively, your offices move to wherever you are. And many of us reading this blog have experienced that.
But what is next? Next week I’ll explore some ideas.
The post The Evolution of the Business Phone System into a UC Platform appeared first on Sangoma.
Organizations use conference calling as a means to communicate with remote employees, partners, vendors and customers. It can also help cut down on travel expenses and even enable you to connect multiple office locations.
As helpful as conference calling can be for a business, some people would describe the experience as boring and unproductive. Often the experience isn’t as good as it could be because people aren’t properly prepared. Here are some steps to take to ensure you have a productive conference call for everyone involved:Properly Prepare
Unpreparedness is the main reason conference calling take longer than they need to. To avoid this, create an agenda for the meeting. The agenda should contain the following information:
- Date & time of conference call, as well as dial-in number and access code (which should also be in the meeting invite)
- Topic of discussion & goals of the conversation
- Participants, job titles, and their role in the project or topic being discussed
- Detailed list of items to be discussed
- Attachments or links to documents relating to the discussion
Note: Make sure the items on the agenda can be discussed in the amount of time allotted. Employees are busy and have other responsibilities throughout their day. Running overtime while conference calling can throw a kink in the entire work day.Know the Conference Calling Technology
Nothing is more embarrassing than thinking you’re are on mute and saying things no one was intended to hear. Understanding the platform and technology you are using is an important step in conducting or participating in a conference call. Make sure your employees are trained on the conference calling platform your business uses, and prior to conducting your first conference call, run a test call and play around with all of the available features. It’s always helpful to have an employee who is technical and can help if an issue with the platform arises during the call. If you don’t have a tech-savy employee on the call, have a backup option for the meeting, or reschedule. (Even if you are familiar with the technology, make sure you pay attention to whether or not phones are muted, for example, to avoid awkward situations.)
Note: For remote and mobile employees, make sure they can easily access the conference call-in number and access code from their smartphone. Some platforms are not mobile-friendly and these numbers are not easily accessible from the emails the platform sends out, so including the dial-in number and access code in the agenda is key.Keep it Productive
Follow the agenda you created ahead of time, and steer the conversation back on track if it derails. Of course, if discussions of the weather or other topical issues come up, go ahead and share as a quick ice-breaker, but then get back on track and stay focused on your agenda. It’s helpful to have someone on your team keep track of action items discussed during the call, including who is responsible for specific action items, and when those items are due. It’s also helpful to use a call recording feature so that anything missed during the conversation can be referred back to or shared with those team members who were unable to join. Finally, it’s good practice to check to see if anyone has any questions about a line item before moving onto the next.Follow-Up
Following the conference call, you or someone on your team should send out an email to all participants recapping the conversation and action items discussed. Employee to-do’s should be very clear and include due dates if possible. If you have the capability, send the recorded conference call to participants for reference.
Conducting a productive conference call depends on how thoroughly you prepare ahead of time. A detailed agenda will not only keep your team on schedule but will also help achieve the goals of the conversation.
Sangoma Meet is an advanced video conferencing platform that seamlessly operates from a Firefox or Chrome browser. And right now, you can have access to this powerful tool capable of providing private, secure video calls for up to 50 participants – completely free.
The business phone system has evolved. If you didn’t know that before work from home, you know it now. If you have been on a Unified Communication system, you have been able to communicate in a variety of ways. And you found out while voice is an important element of the business phone system, voice is simply one of the ways you communicate with other people in a business environment today, and that is all supported within a UC business phone system. Voice is essential, but no longer unique. We communicate with other employees or customers via instant and group messaging, email, social media and the like.
When viewing the architecture diagram of a basic PBX office phone system, one can see four important elements. There are interfaces that connect to the “outside world” networks via “trunks” that come into the building. In “the old days”, which is only a few years ago really, this was simply a PSTN trunk to the wired and wireless PSTN, internet or wireless networks. Today this also includes SIP trunks connected to these same networks.
There are also interfaces that connect to whatever device one talks on. Again, in “the old days” that was simply a phone on your desk, or maybe a paging system, conference phone or intercom to the front door. Today, there are all kinds of softphones, or clients connected to your various mobile devices, including your watch.
The business phone system also has a database of users (phone numbers, etc.) and rules on how to route calls. Finally, there is a message broker which manages the interaction between internal and external devices and follows the rules set out by the system itself and the administrator of the business phone system.
Next week we’ll take a look at how the architecture has evolved to easily add Unified Communication features.
While there is a time and a place for the desk phone (and they aren’t going away any time soon), more and more companies are jumping on the softphone bandwagon. For those of you who aren’t familiar, a softphone is essentially a software version of a telephone that can be deployed on desktop computers or mobile devices. Calls are made via the Internet, using bandwidth (you may known this as Voice over IP, or VoIP), and many have similar functionality as their desk phone counterparts.
Here are four reasons businesses of all sizes are adopting softphones into their tech stack:Brand Consistency
Presenting a consistent brand message is central to maintaining professionalism and gaining customer trust. A softphone makes it possible for employees to provide their customers one phone number to reach them wherever they are located- in the office, at home, or on the road. From your customer’s perspective, they will feel like they’re calling your corporate office regardless of where you are located or which device you are using.Convenience & Privacy
With softphones, every employee extension is tied to the company’s phone system, so customers don’t have (or need) access to their personal cell numbers; only the business’s caller ID information is shown. This is ideal for two specific situations. First, when an employee leaves a company, this privacy layer eliminates the possibility of the employee poaching customers and taking their business along with them. Second, it is for the safety of the employees that customers don’t have their personal mobile numbers, as after-hours calling abuse (especially from an angry customer) is not uncommon. Also, softphones provide additional features that are useful when customer interactions go south, such as call recording and voicemail to email. Call logs are also useful to show the time each employee spends on the phone with customers. If Steve spent 3 hours talking to a customer at 3AM, that may be worth having a conversation about.Visual Voicemail / Voicemail to Email
Let’s face it- no one likes checking their voicemail. In fact, conglomerates Coca-Cola and JPMorgan both completely eliminated corporate voicemail due to lack of use by employees. While saving money obviously wasn’t a main motivator for Coca-Cola, the company estimated it would save about $100,000 a year by cutting the service.
While some companies have no need for voicemail, others rely on it. Either way, companies should make it easier for employees to access and handle voicemails if they want the service they pay for to be utilized. Some softphone apps, like those offered by Sangoma, include a visual voicemail feature, which is very similar to the iPhone’s voicemail layout. If a customer details an issue they are having in the voicemail and the employee needs a manager to hear it, it can easily forward the voicemail as a .wav or mp3 file via email. If a generic voicemail is left on a receptionist voicemail, he or she can forward the voicemail by email to the appropriate department or person to handle. Important voicemails concerning personal information, issues, or anything else worth keeping, can be filed in a customer’s CRM profile for future reference.Cost
As an extension to VoIP, softphones take advantage of its low-cost nature and eliminate the need to invest in desk phone hardware for every employee. Companies can save hundreds to thousands on communication expenses by offering their mobile employees a softphone pre-loaded with the same functionality their in-office coworkers have access to.
I was asked to contribute an article in FastMode about how we are responding, and helping our customers respond, to the pandemic. If you want to read the complete article, click here.
My thesis has been that the companies that utilize Unified Communications systems as their basic phone system, with its ability to offer softphones with the same business number, conferencing, collaboration, presence, and mobile phones that also utilize your business phone number, are at the forefront for enabling this new remote work and work from home environment we’re all experiencing right now. They were prepared.
And businesses will either want to continue to be prepared for the next ‘work from home’ emergency, or they will see that this WFH thing wasn’t so bad, and they’ll be OK with enabling this in some form full time going forward. It’s just good business.
This is why I see this whole pandemic as a tipping point for businesses and the use of Unified Communication systems. While UC systems were ‘nice’ before, they are now essential. And they’ll continue to be.
But the part of UC that has really exploded has been video. Video helps enable a sense of community, camaraderie, and really just necessary human interaction that comes with chit-chat, just like at a water cooler, coffee station, or lunch room. I’m seeing our employees get on Sangoma Meet video calls a little early so they can just talk for 5 minutes. The need to be connected is more significant than ever now.
Given what is going on out there around the world, we’ve decided to make our Sangoma Meet™ video conferencing and collaboration service available for free. We’re simply asking for feedback during this time via filling out a form when the call is over.
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It’s been a little over two months since .e4 joined the Sangoma team. In that time, we’ve had an opportunity to adjust to multiple new realities, and we are finding our stride despite the ongoing craziness of the world. It has been an enjoyable onboarding experience. Having worked closely with the Sangoma and Digium teams for years, the .e4 crew has had fun getting up to speed on our latest innovations and sharing in the “I can’t believe we’re all on the same team” conversations.
The talent pool is deep here at Sangoma, and I’m excited to report that our Open Source projects (Asterisk and FreePBX) are flourishing. Having known some of the more visible players from community events like AstriCon, folks like Jared Smith and Matt Fredrickson- my team felt right at home, but still, I wasn’t sure what to expect knowing that some previous members of the FreePBX team had left.
Having said that, I’m pleased to report that, while separated by great distances, our development teams continue to collaborate closely and produce effective work. Both the Asterisk and FreePBX teams have redoubled their efforts to be actively engaged in our online forums and mailing lists. Both teams are focusing both upon improving innovation and improving process. For example, they are improving their respective test suites so that more bugs are caught during the development process. These efforts keep both projects relevant to our customers, to our resellers, and to those in the ecosystem that use and contribute back to our open source communities.
While two months isn’t much time, and I am reminded daily that there’s much to learn when working at a bigger company like Sangoma. One thing is crystal clear: we have thriving FreePBX and Asterisk teams. Long live Open Source!
First of all, the question is really why would anyone need a cellular router? They could be useful as a backup mechanism in case your landline internet goes down.
That’s why I first thought of this blog. Everyone on the street was WFH, kids were “going to school” on the internet, and, poof, the internet goes down. Sheer panic, right? What does everyone do? I heard screaming for sure. And more. But soon everyone goes outside to see if anyone else is having the same problem, and soon, the whole street was outside (6 feet away from each other, of course)! Yes, we felt good it wasn’t just us, but it was good the internet came back on soon enough. Some people, though, just used their 4G/LTE phone as a hotspot and kept going…
But there could be another use for a 5G router – there is WiFi, and the data needs to go out on a cellular network. This could be because some IoT data needs to be transmitted, or because it’s more secure going on a cellular network. There are numerous use cases where a cellular to Wi-Fi router/gateway could be useful.
5G is coming, and just like Wi-Fi 6 (which I wrote about a month and a half ago), you’ll need devices and networks that support 5G to take advantage of it. So if you have 5G service in your area, it could be an option on how to get internet to your house. It could be the primary method, or maybe it’s a good backup method if you tend to have spotty landline service. And like I said above, it could work the other way around to get local Wi-Fi information back out.
In this case, a 5G to Wi-Fi router might make sense as a last mile option.
The importance of considering network security in VoIP/UC deployments cannot be understated. Unsecured VoIP networks are vulnerable to the same threats as regular data networks as well as many more, including toll fraud. But to protect a VoIP network requires more than simply locking it down from unsolicited outside data traffic as this would disable the primary function of a VoIP network: making and receiving calls. This is because, in making or receiving calls, the person called or calling from outside the network is technically sending unsolicited packets of data. Fortunately, there are several key tools network administrators can use to ensure their VoIP network remains safe from malicious activity. Here are some that are useful in securing VoIP networks with remote users.Using VoIP Firewalls
A remote phone deployment in branch offices or for work-at-home employees is completely different than SIP trunking. Remote phones are dynamic in location and require significantly more calling features. Remote phones cannot be considered as peers as phones register for services and change IP addresses often, across multiple devices and locations. Remote phones require automatic provisioning with file servers and possibly require web access and REST API access to the IP PBX. The interconnectivity between remote phones and an IP PBX is complicated with many communication requirements.
The application of security solutions involves providing a firewall solution that is used to define the remote phone to IP PBX relationship between various networks using VoIP application layers, file provisioning, and other services, while ensuring signaling and media are secure. Meanwhile, remote phones most often are located behind other firewalls, presenting additional communication issues.
In this example, the IP PBX resides behind a typical network firewall. The firewall is the border element between the Internet (or untrusted network zones) and Local Area Networks (or trusted zones). The remote phone is located on a remote network across the Internet. The firewall is monitoring network traffic and decides whether to allow or block specific traffic based on a defined set of security rules.
Firewall Features & Setup
The firewall controls the traffic by redirecting SIP signaling and audio media streams to the defined destinations. In this solution, the firewall is controlling communications for allowing SIP VoIP traffic from remote phones to be directed to the IP PBX.Using VPNs
Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which relies on the Internet Protocol Security suite (IPsec), is a completely different way to provide a secure VoIP solution. Using already well-established encryption tunnel technologies, a secure tunnel is created between the remote phone and the IP PBX.
In this example, the IP PBX resides behind a typical network firewall. The firewall is the border element between the Internet and LAN. The remote phone is located on a remote network across the Internet and the remote phone is establishing a VPN tunnel to the IP PBX. VPN uses the IPsec network protocol suite that authenticates and encrypts the packets of data sent over the network. The firewall is relaying the VPN tunnel from the remote phone to the IP PBX.
In this example, the IP PBX resides behind a firewall, the firewall is the border element between Internet (or untrusted network zones) and Local Area Networks (or trusted zones). The firewall is a network security device and will forward the VPN traffic from the remote phone to the IP PBX.Using SBCs
As stated before, the interconnectivity between a remote phone and an IP PBX is complicated with many communication requirements.
The advanced application of security solutions involves providing a Session Border Controller (SBC) solution that is used to define the remote phone to the IP PBX relationship between various networks using VoIP application layers, file provisioning, and other services while ensuring signaling and media are secure. This method highlights the strength of the SBC to protect the IP PBX while providing access for remote phones located behind other firewalls.
In this example, the IP PBX resides behind an SBC. The SBC is the border element between Internet (or untrusted network zones) and Local Area Networks (or trusted zones). The SBC is a network security device as well as a VoIP security device that monitors incoming and outgoing network and voice traffic and decides whether to allow or block specific traffic based on a defined set of network and voice security rules. As far as networks go, nothing can ensure the security of a VoIP network as well as an SBC solution.Next Steps
Ready to secure an already existing Unified Communications (UC) or simple VoIP deployment? Check out our award-winning line of Session Border Controllers here.
Or perhaps you are still researching your next business phone system? In that case, download our free guide to determining your network’s readiness for Unified Communications! It explains the basics of VoIP networks including how fast your internet speeds should be and how to ensure safe and reliable voice service.
Even before the ‘new normal’ of WFH, the office environment was changing. Collaboration was starting to take hold, and the open office concept replete with cool wood tables, huddle rooms, latte machines, wide screen TVs, and even play and congregation areas was becoming de rigueur.
And when we all go back to work, this concept could be up for debate. Will it be even more important as people crave the basic interaction they couldn’t get when they were home? We could likely see an acceleration of these trends at some point. In with these open tables, lockers for your “stuff”, no set desk or work phone, working anywhere anytime, and out with stuffy cubicles and closed offices and set office hours.
However, at some point, are the key words. When will this occur? Even when we get the go ahead to go back to work, will it be the same right away? It’s doubtful. Some companies may choose to split up when people come in, so social distancing can still be observed. In the picture above the “old” picture may make a comeback, maybe even with plexiglass dividers or dare I say some kind of office. Every company will handle it differently, but the point is precautions will be in order.
No matter what shape the new offices takes, this type of environment would not be possible without the advances in the business communication system behind all of it – the Unified Communication system. In other words, the once lowly PBX has evolved to become essentially the hub of communications for this new business environment, because the mobile office, instant messaging, and other forms of unified messaging are core to the new enhanced person-to-person communication methods.
And video conferencing and collaboration, what we have with Sangoma Meet, will not just disappear. There will always be remote workers, whether it’s a single person or whether there will be teams split upon coming back to the office. And we’ve all gotten used to the benefits of sharing documents and seeing our remote colleagues. So that is here to stay. Conferencing calls likely become now video conference and collaboration calls.
We will likely continue to see change in the work environment, supported by your Unified Communications system. Sangoma will be there with you.
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