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Looking to purchase a new phone system for 3-office, 150 person firm.  Need some quick advice...

Posted on 2004-09-15
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Last Modified: 2010-04-12
Thanks in advance to those of you with relevant expertise and experience for taking the time to respond to my post.

We are a financial services firm in California.  We have three offices connected by P2P T1 and we currently split voice and data on those T1s.  We have a Toshiba DK series system that we want to replace with a more modern, easily supported and feature-rich system.

We are definitely interested in VoIP, so long as it will prove reliable and survivable.

Our network is pretty basic, with Cisco routers and Dell switches.  Our cable plant varies at each location from Cat5E to some old Cat5 that predates the modern standards for Cat5 installations (thus, out of compliance).

We recently renewed our lease and are entering into a large tenant improvement project in our main office.  This is where all the old Cat5 lives.  We need to make a decision this week as to whether or not, and to what extent, we will need to re-cable our main office.  The price to do a complete re-cable job is a very hefty sum, and based on our current requirements, the only thing that would drive such a step is the need to meet spec for a VoIP system.

So I'm looking for some advice from the pros as to whether or not pursuing VoIP is really worth it considering our cable situation, some general tips on how to go about selecting a new phone system these days, and what to watch out for along the way.

Thanks again.

Matt
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Question by:bpmllp
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AndrewGW earned 168 total points
ID: 12127636
I just got off the phone with Artisoft - within 1/2 hour of sending an info request from their website they called me here in Panama - I am looking for a system that I can expand and connect offices throughout Central America and they seemed very postive they could provide what I need.

They have a software based IP-PBX which might be of interest to you.  It seemed like it was extremely feature rich with voice mail, auto-attendent, VoIP gateway, call control and the flexibility to connect remote sites as if they were all locals off the main pbx...

Worth talking to them.

www.artisoft.com

I'm not related to the company in anyway, it just so happens they provided excellent customer service to me today...

Cheers,
Andrew
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by:sergold
sergold earned 166 total points
ID: 12133793
Matt,

I will give you a quick run down of our VoIP implementation and our reasoning.  Hopefully this will help some for your situation.  

Basic overview:
Cat5 and Cat5e with all Cisco switches and routers. Fiber between main building, WLAN between smaller buildings.  Network and VoIP traffic seperate by individual VLAN's
We have 2 locations connected with a full data T-1 (with overhead 80k per concurrent call needed for calls between locations on the data T-1)
Windows 2000 network and AS/400 ERP
We have about 110 phones between the two locations and two seperate operator stations.

What we chose:
Mitel VoIP system based on 3300 series
The decision was based on cost and features, we evaluated 4 systems.
The only system I liked better was the Cisco VoIP as their 2nd generation phones were just coming out, but due to cost (almost twice as much) we chose the Mitel system.

Why we went VoIP:
Cost savings, our old PBX was costing us almost monthly on repairs of equipment no longer made.  The new VoIP allows us to internally make changes/fixes/adds.
Cost savings on calls between sites, as all voice traffic now goes across the data T-1 between locations.
Cost savings on long distance charges with some call routing.
The ability to just move a phone anywhere and have the extension move also, even using the phone at home across the internet and just being an extension away off the main system at any time.

Our experience:
ACD (Automatic call distrubition) for our sales department had a few glitches at first, we ironed out the problems after about 3 software upgrades on the Mitel system.  We have been running for over 2 years now almost glitch free (our glitches have come from outside sources of late, like cable cuts).  From where we were to where we are, I wouldn't go back.  On the other hand we tried to add some wireless Symbol phones to the system connected to Cisco 1100 AP's, and that didn't work.  We do have regular Mitel IP phones connected on the far side of multple WLAN segments and that does work well.  I did find a solution that did work for the wireless handsets, but just a heads up if you think about Mitel, avoid the Symbol wireless handsets.

I'm not going to try and sell you on any one system, just tell you our experience.  I think there are several good players in the VoIP market and I'd do a comparison for yourself to see what features/costs are associated.  However, if I was in your shoes, I'd do the upgrade of your wiring, I'm not sure what your phone traffic is, or your potential gains, I did an ROI on our system and it came out to just over a 2 year ROI (27 months).   I might suggest trying to lay out an ROI and see if it justifies the upgrade.

Hope that helps,
Darren
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by:Joel_Sisko
Joel_Sisko earned 166 total points
ID: 12355817
Matt,

First, I have been installing PBX since 1993, have installed quite a few systems (1000+). From 25,000 users to 1, traditional and VoIP based. First the new Toshiba CTX is fully IP enabled, but you get to use your exsisting phones and do need to change your cables. One of the previous comments talked about Artisoft, they have a decent product, but one issue, few resellers that know how to install a phone system.

The Mitel system is also a very good system, top 3 in the VoIP market today. Only issue with Mitel is the lack of certified dealers this is for various reasons which would take a page to explain.

I have been installing the Cisco product before Cisco purchased it. Works well, but the price point for 150 users is steep and I could not justify the cost.

3COM NBX has a good product, would work on a CAT5 cable plant running 10MB switched. Not keen though on the multi-site features.

Altigen, stay away, used them 1997 and sent syetm back, they still have many issues today and have the second worst rating for availabilty (system is down for at least 35 hours each year.

Avaya IP office, you think, hey its AT&T, they invented the phone right? Late in the game and have the worst rating for availability out of everyone.

Nortel BCM, great system, great multi-site features, lacks all the other bells and whistles some other syetems have, but do you really need a feature called Zoomerang?

Vertical Networks all around great system, but made for the sateleltie office connecting to a traditional PBX at HQ.

ConvergenceCenter, SIP based system with fully intergrated CRM, Business Management software, Knowledge base, IM, and email. Main issue with them is they are a newer company. But so was Ford at one point.

My recommendation would be not to base your choice because of cable issues. VoIP is here to stay and is rapidly growing, the questio is how could yor business grow from using this technology? VoIP allows you to intergrate into your network. The PBX now is just a extenstion of the network. You take the most used business tool (computer) and combine it with the most critical business tool (phone). VoIP allows communication of not only voice but data in a seemless enviroment, applications can be intergrated with voice and vice versa.

Being a financial company, do you have requirements for recording client conversations in regards to investmets, stock purchases and the such? VoIP allows far easier recording capabilites than traditional phone systems. Do your clients need to check porfolio/account information? A custom IVR application is very easy to set up using VoIP based system.

I hope this helps aiding you in picking a system.

Kindest regards
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Expert Comment

by:Joel_Sisko
ID: 12526422
Matt,

Have you been able to gain enough information for a viable solution for your needs?

Let me know if I can help out any further.

Kindest regards
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