VoIP provider for UK

We are still stuck in "startup mode" with respect to our phone systems. We have 2x BT lines (linked at the exchange by Featureline), and 4-6 PCs running Xlite freeware softphone, each with a standalone VoIP account via Telappliant/Voiptalk.org, connected to internet over Eclipse broadband (8M down, 1M? up ?).

1) No integration between analogue (BT) and VoIP lines - can't transfer calls between the two worlds or even between VoIP softphones
2) Reliability / Quality of VoIP service

moviing to a hybrid IP / orthodox PBX should solve problem 1)
Our business model allows us to define 2x levels of call quality -
top level i.e. to level one customers - all calls go out over ISDN voice lines
second level, i.e to level two customers - can afford to go over VoIP (but still would prefer better quality than currently available)

what about problem 2) ?

I guess its a function of a) using broadband with no QoS b) could be that the Telappliant is poor too (but can't tell as broadband is probably causing the most of the unreliability)

I know the ideal would be to get a fixed data line in (e.g. Clear IP from BT) which would suit the realtime nature of VoIP traffic, but this will cost too much ? (any ideas anyone how much?)

So I'm looking for something cheaper - I've heard of good resilient broadband providers out there with good contention ratios etc. that while can't guarantee QoS, will at least be better than what we have. Tiscali has been mentioned, but I saw no sign of such "business quality" broadband package on their site. Also, for whatever product, will upload speed be an issue - after all no good if we can hear our customers perfectly (8M line) but all they get is a robotic jittery mess (1M line).

Also someone said if we pick a VoIP trunking provider who are also an ISP, best to use their service, as their is a synergy here, as if we use one provider for both, it cuts down the number of hops our VoIP packets need to travel between leaving our router and hitting the PSTN / POTS network. Others have said this is a red herring - any opinions ?

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zorba111Author Commented:

Tiscali is offering quality of service (QoS) guarantees for it's ADSL broadband for VoIP which were announced back in February.

Lance Spencer, product director for business services at Tiscali, said that traditional leased lines were far too expensive for most companies to use them to connect to remote offices and home workers, but Tiscali's QoDSL service provides an alternative for "low-cost, cost-effective, low-volume data applications".

Through the introduction of  Cisco MPLS technology and Tiscali's own traffic management tools applications such as VoIP, teleworking, extranet connections,  and voice conferencing, can be given priority over other less urgent business applications such as web browsing and e-mail.

Spencer said that if  performance falls below an agreed quality level then the price of that month's service would be refunded. "It is effectively a money-back guarantee, but we do not expect to have to pay out," he suggested.

QOS is only important where there is bandwidth contention. If you dedicate an internet connection for VoIP only and get a connection with low contention ratio then QOS will not really be an issue. Try having a look at SDSL services as you get symetrical upload/download speeds and often have the choice of different contention ratios. Easynets SDSL has a ratio of 5:1 by default I believe but in order to get this you have to loose voice service on the line.

For your phone system you would be best off installing Asterisk/Trixbox/FreePBX on a machine and using that as the PBX. You can fit a quad port analogue phone interface to link to your BT lines.
I would suggest you get a hardware phone to try rather than using xlite as I have found going through a computer and headsets does degrade the quality. Using a hardware phone will give you a true comparison between voip and analogue.
Asterisk/Trixbox/FreePBX can be programmed to use a different prefix to select between a voip or analogue outgoing call.
You can also program Asterisk to have a database of number and if these are dialed then the call goes over analogue and all others over voip and this will automate the process of level one customers going over analogue. For this to work you really need to program the dialplan yourself which means using Trixbox/FreePBX would not be the best option as you cannot easily customise their asterisk configuration.
zorba111Author Commented:
grblades: Thanks for your comments - I am not very techhie (business owner who used to be a programmer), and what I've read about free PBX like Asterisk scares me a bit - I just don;t have time to learn it all. Happy enough to shell out for a reasonably priced hardware IP-enabled PBX, if it means I get the their techhies to do all the hard stuff.

Also, SDSL is a bit costly. The thing is, if the VoIP costs start approaching the cost of more ISDN lines + ISDN voice calls, then there is no point doing the VoIP trunking (we'll still do it internally though, to save having to have data AND voice cabling - our office has NO trunking whatsoever !)...

This QoDSL thing looks like the trick - burned the midnight oil last night and found lots of white papers on the net, but no pricing structures. Tiscali website and sales number drew a blank.

Tried Aastra this morning as had seen on internet how they were resellers for TISCALI QoDSL - they said it was all agreed but then Tiscali canned it 18mths ago. Relaunched it in the last few mths, but not signed anything with Aastra this time round.

Aastra resell Voiceflex (voiceflex.co.uk) - product called VxDSL, very similar/same concept as Tiscali's QoDSL, apparently.

from £35/mth for an  uncontended line, and they put a manageed router (one-off installation of £245) into the network that does the QoS and prioritises the VoIP. This will host 5x VoIP channels (i.e. simultaneous calls). Probably 8M/1M.

SIP calls are £6 per SIP trunk, and then call charges on top.

This COULD be what I'm after - needs more research - anyone got any opinions / experience with voiceflex ?

Aastra also do PBX's - do they have a reseller in NI ? Yes, he'll put him on to me - gave details...
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zorba111Author Commented:
Frontier Systems seem to do the same VxDSL service, but with £50 installation
I dont know the voiceflex package but I do know Aastra phones. They are a bit more expensive than the budget ones like Grandstream but they work very well and have stable software and lots of features. I use the 480i phone myself.

If you use the lowest compression (highest quality) voip codec you will consume approx 80kbps of bandwidth per call so 5 channels will require 400kbps of bandwidth which should be fine for your line.

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zorba111Author Commented:
grblades: I talked to a sales guy from Aastra and he quoted me some pretty impressive figures about number of PBX they've sold worldwide (half a mill. approx.) with a fith of those in UK, so seem like a well established stable outfit.. However PBX's don't seem as sexy or feature rich as Nortel's or Splicecom's.

I'm not that bothered by phones, still gonna try and do the softphone thing (to save space and money), can always add the hardphones later if the quality is still lacking.

Voice Flex seems to be what I'm after - but keen to hear from anyone who has experience of it or similar products that I could check out, if only to act as a comparison.

Thanks for the metrics on how much bandwidth a call will take - will be useful for me !
zorba111Author Commented:
thanks for your help
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