Choosing the right phone system

Hello Gurus,

Here is my current situation: I have a pretty good grasp on networking but I'm a complete newbie when it comes to phone systems other than the many hours of YouTube/PSP websites I've been scouring.

I've got a customer with around 40-50 employees between the two departments. The two departments are in the same building. We are going to be putting in new, separate LANs (new cabling, patch panels, racks, switches, firewalls, the works) in each department. Why not VLANs you ask?


They don't want to split their bandwidth between the two departments (they each currently have their own LAN/gateway/servers.) I know this could be probably be accomplished by correct configuration in the SonicWall, however, read below.


Both bosses have agreed that they don't want the networks physically connected.
At this same time the customer has expressed they would like to upgrade their old outdated phone systems. These phone systems are what looks to me to be an older analog system with possibly either a T1 (or multiple) feeding into it or some other type of technology I'm ignorant about. I'm going to be getting a copy of the customer's bill soon to better determine exactly what they were paying for and what they require.

The problem at this site is that the only high speed internet currently offered in the area is 15/2 DSL and a 15/2 cable. We've already figured that we're going to, in all probability, keep the LAN separate from the phone system as 15/2 definitely wouldn't be enough bandwidth to distribute between all of the phones and the LAN. We will probably be brinigng in two different patch panels, one for LAN and one for phones. Each patch panel will get it's own gateway and switch. The questions I currently have are these:


Is 15/2 enough to support SIP trunking with approximately 25-30 concurrent users?


If we DID have the bandwidth to keep the phone system and the LAN together, what would be the advantage of having everything under a single gateway as opposed to multiple (other than eliminating the cost of another uplink)One answer to this question could be that without having the IP PBX (if we choose to go on-site PBX as opposed to cloud) integrated into the LAN then you wouldn't be able to use softphones on the LAN to communicate with the PBX. Someone may need to verify or debunk that statement.


Considering 15/2 as an up/down and the amount of users, would you be looking towards an on-site PBX or cloud-hosted PBX?


Having little experience with IP phone systems but having proficient technical knowledge of networking, would you suggest an outsourced platform such as RingCentral/8x8/ShoreTel or do you think 3CX or any other equivalent would be manageable?


Would I be doing myself a favor to get proprietary gateways/hardware from someone like 3CX/ShoreTel that already comes configured for their phone systems? My concern is that I'm not really sure how the technology works. Do you just need something like a ShoreTel voice switch combined with an uplink and then a PoE switch for the phones?


Should we also be considering keeping the phone systems separate as well due to bandwidth? This would create an environment where you would have around 25 in one department and around 15 in the other, with around 10 concurrent calls on one side and possibly 8-10 on the other.
Sorry for the extensive read, but I would super appreciate any kind of feedback (however much.)
Brent ArnoldTechnicianAsked:
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Bryant SchaperCommented:
Let me answer the questions, and we will just ignore the not using vlans portion, which is neither here nor there.

1.  bandwidth will not be able to support 30 simultaneous calls, you could change the codec, but I still feel it will probably not produce good results.  Look into fiber from the carrier.

2.  We talking a SIP gateway, assuming bandwidth, you will want redundant paths so if your circuit goes does you don't lose phones.  Please clarify.

3.  On-site not enough bandwidth, plus you are using the internet with no QoS/CoS support.  IE poor call quality

4.  You can outsource to provider, Shoretel or Cisco, again you will have an in house PBX.  How important are the phones?

5.  You will need a voice system, Shoretel has an appliance so does Cisco, Call Manager.  Smaller versions run on the router.  Others require servers, ours runs on 2 UCS servers for redundancy with 250 phones.  Then yes, POE switches or an AC adapter for the phone.

6.  Your voice network should be a separate VLAN from the data.  Internal calls will not a concern, I assume you have a gig network internally.  You are doing yourself a disservice by not using VLANS for the two networks, as the separation is very close to physical from the end user standpoint, and access can be completely restricted and firewalled if they do need to communicate.

Lastly I saw the question about a softphone as well.  You can use a softphone internally as well.  We have the Cisco IP Communicator and Jabber which act as our phones.  I have a desk phone and softphone that has the same number, so when I am at one of our remote sites and not at corporate I use the softphone and still reached at the same extension.

Hope that helps or let me know if you have questions.

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Brent ArnoldTechnicianAuthor Commented:
Okay, thanks for the good information. That let's me narrow it down a few different ways. Another question:

Is it possible to take the already existing uplink (T1, possibly even analog?) and just hook it into a PBX and go digital from there with PoE?
Bryant SchaperCommented:
Yes, absolutely.  T1 (PRI) are still very common and provide 23 simultaneous calls.  The phone system will take in the T1 and then you can do SIP or digital to phones.  Most businesses use digital your typical Panasonic or similar older style phone.  Digital is how you get the all the features the phone offers.  SIP/IP phones are just the next generation and being a small computer offers a ton of new options you never with digital.

When I was with a hotel we brought in 6 PRIs for 650 rooms, Digital to the handsets, but we had a VoIP option, just pricey at the time.  We did however have SIP to a remote office that had a small remote digital phone system.
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Bryant SchaperCommented:
a small note.

Digital and PoE are not the same.  POE is for SIP IP phones, Digital phones get power from the PBX line an analog line to your house is powered from the telco
Brent ArnoldTechnicianAuthor Commented:
What a breakthrough in my thinking you've just caused. I was thinking all along that 'digital' was synonymous with 'VoIP.' I see now that digital, analog, and VoIP are three different beasts. How silly of me.

Based on your advice, we should probably keep two T1 lines coming in but move them over to something such as this ShoreTel Voice Switch. Then all we would need is the switch/patch panel and the IP phones. Am I correct?

Also, what kind of call quality does T1 provide? Is the T1 going to be the theoretical bottleneck in my entire equation concerning call quality even though we're using IP phones now?

Also, do digital and VoIP both use ethernet for communications?
If you don't mind me asking, what type of business is this?  i.e. what will be the normal bandwidth requirements internally?  

To keep things simple, I would not recommend two separate networks for voice and data, instead use VLAN's.  Placing your data on VLAN 1 and voice on vlan 10 for example would be optimal not to mention save money by not having to pull double the wire and double the switching hardware.    You would also want to  configure QoS on the network switches to prioritize your voice traffic.

Being the same company, I also would not physically separate the networks between departments within the same building.  Instead I would logically segregate them with vlans and/or ACL's.    

At a minimum, I would keep the telephone system all on the same physical network with either one or multiple trunks to the outside.   Have you determined the average and peak inbound and outbound concurrent calls?  If not, you should definitely perform the analysis before blindly throwing one or two PRI's or SIP trunks at the phone system.  

In regards to the phone system, I am partial to ShoreTel as that is what we installed in January 2009.  We currently have 9 locations/sites configured with about 400 extensions as well as a SIP tie trunk over to an Avaya IP Office system in Europe.   If you are looking for a system that is quite easy to manage in-house, I would definitely give ShoreTel a hard look.
Brent ArnoldTechnicianAuthor Commented:

Sorry for the extended wait on the reply.

This is a local government organization, the two departments being a city hall and a police department. Concerning the VLAN's, this probably won't be viable due to the fact that the police department doesn't want their computer system to be physically attached  at the firewall to the city hall and vice versa. However, they DO want to share the phone system, so it looks to me like what I'll have is two separate LANs (CH and PD) and then just put the phone system in either of the two racks. When the ethernet gets put in we'll just run it in accordingly (three different wiring structures, CH LAN, PD LAN, and CH/PD Phones.)

I'm definitely looking at the ShoreTel system. HOWEVER, after talking with one of the available ISPs in the area, it's very possible that within a year we could be going from 15/2 internet to 150/50, which would change the ball game entirely. As it currently stands, I'm going to suggest the customer wait until we get upgraded internet as they are currently paying 1500$/mo. for their current archaic phone system (a Nortel Norstar.) This does include their internet, but the internet sucks at 15/2.

Let me know what you think.
Gotcha.  With VLAN's and ACL's you can still logically separate these two networks such that they still have their own firewalls/gateways but allow only phone system traffic to traverse between the two departments.   In ShoreTel you would want 2 site licenses as this will then allow each site to have it's own inbound and outbound trunk.    This will still allow phones to be plugged into the same wall port as a computer although the computers have no access to the other department while the phones do.     One way to think of this is multitenant data centers in the cloud that many companies utilize.   The networks are only separated logically and not physically using vlans and ACL's.

How many concurrent calls do you anticipate incoming and outgoing at peak times?  I recommend to contact local vendors for pricing on both SIP trunks as well as a PRI.   I would imagine your PRI will come in between $350 and $600 plus cost per call.  A PRI is generally considered a more stable solution and if you expect to receive faxes over these lines then I would recommend a PRI over SIP.     Keep in mind that it would also be best to have a secondary trunk of a few analog  lines for redundancy purposes in the event that the primary line for either site is out.  

I also wouldn't necessarily wait for a faster internet connection.  if I had a nickel for every time an ISP promised increased bandwidth would be available in X months and they finally delivered in X+ 18 months , I would be rich.   If you do want to wait though, then contact a ShoreTel partner and at least get the ball rolling. Ask about their leasing terms with $1 buyout.   Do a complete cost analysis of the current phone system vs new.  Be sure to include soft cost benefits such as additional features not available on the existing system.
Bryant SchaperCommented:
I do have another question, being that one site is a PD, do they have requirements against using SIP, I am thinking E911 service, which may be handled differently.

To your additional questions:

Yes, you can terminate a T1 to a shoretel voice gateway, then use SIP phones with it.  Normal configuration, again I strongly caution running SIP service over the internet, you may be able to get SIP service over the internet from the Telco, in which case they will setup QoS.  How many phones and computers in total we talking about?

T1 quality is very good, and what I would consider preferred.  It is better than Analog, but SIP can be crystal clear, which in my experience can be a bit strange, as you lose any background audio so when nobody speaks it sounds like dead air.  kind of awkward.

 Digital does not use Ethernet, is uses the same cable, cat5 is fine, but pinned different.  VoIP runs over the ethernet, and the phone typically is a switch as well, so it can connect to a computer.

If your dead set on going voip, you will have to either have dual networks or bridge them somehow.  I suggest a firewall to the voice system, that could actually sit on it's own network so you have three networks, City Hall, PD, and Voice, with both the CH and PD accessing the phone system through their firewalls, basically like you were hosting on internet.

Also check out Cisco.  I evaluated Shoretel, and it was a nice product, but internally we had all Cisco switching and routing and Shoretel just added extra devices that could not be cost justified, be we have 16 offices and each needed a local voice gateway, this is not your case.

We choose Cisco, overall we felt that it had much better vendor and community support than shoretel, and I don't want to start a war between.  I would just suggest sticking with a GOOD vendor.  We looked at Mitel, Shoretel, Nortel and Cisco.  We came off a product called Vertical Wave from Vertical communications, piece of crap and the company promised features that they said their system could do, but by the time we wanted to implement, the features were still not available, and they had no eta of when.  Plus it was like a 1 year warranty on the hardware.  we junked them
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