AT&T and Verizon Alternatives

When the Bell System monopoly on telephone communication run by AT&T was broken into “Baby Bells,” also called Regional Bell Operating Companies (RBOCs) in 1982, the monopoly on phone service seemed to be at its end.

The original anti-trust action by the Department of Justice was initiated in 1972, but legal wrangling stalled the final breakup until 1982. Thirty plus years later, I often wonder whether the quality of service has improved.  A quick online scan shows throngs of unhappy customers’ voices have echoing across forums and consumer advocacy sites.

Freedom From Telecom Bullies

Verizon is the other major player in the space, selling its phone service under the FIOS brand.  They also bundle internet access and TV service and deliver it over a fiber network. Verizon was initially known as Bell Atlantic, one of the aforementioned RBOCs. In 2000 it merged with GTE and re-branded itself with the name we know today. Now, with millions of customers across the country, Verizon too has been inundated by hordes of unhappy customers who complain about phone service and virtually every other service Verizon offers.

Fortunately, the telecom landscape has evolved in recent years and now provides businesses many alternatives to those two incumbent phone companies. The VoIP revolution has transformed the industry, so I’d like to suggest a few companies that we feel comfortable recommending to business clientele looking for a change.

Here are our top picks:

ShoreTel

ShoreTel targets mid-sized and larger companies, generally those that need 25 or more phones. The ShoreTel Connect product is a VoIP system that can be run as a managed service from the cloud, or as a system with its own hardware and servers that you manage at your place of business. Or, if you have multiple locations, you can install Connect as a hybrid deployment where certain locations are managed in the cloud while others are managed on site. The product supports IM, VoIP, conferencing, web sharing and video. Its allows users to move from an IM to a phone call, to an online meeting then to a desktop share that can include video, all with a single click.

Ooma

Ooma began as a VoIP provider for residential customers, then expanded into business services with a clear customer demographic: small businesses that need 25 or fewer phones. Ooma works with any traditional phone (of the curly cord variety), eliminating the need to buy IP phones. You can easily set the system up to ring remote extensions off premises, including employee cell phones which is useful for sales, service and other workers who spend time outside the office. This short video leads you through the basic setup process.

Broadview Networks

Broadview Networks, discussed elsewhere on this blog, serves more than 200,000 users every day with its OfficeSuite cloud phone system. It provides not only excellent quality VoIP phone service; Broadview also lets you communicate with hi def video, web and audio conferencing, and toll-free service.

As network speeds increase and technology becomes more refined, the marketplace for VoIP continues to grow and become more relevant. Contact us with any additional questions you might have relating to finding a suitable alternative to the incumbent phone companies.

Product Review: Low Cost VoIP Phones for Remote Call Center Employees

The number of employees working from home continues to rise as the world becomes more and more interconnected.  Businesses are having a hard time ignoring the obvious cost savings and people working in call centers are among those who can enjoy some real benefit by transitioning from an office environment to their home. They no longer have to commute. They spend fewer dollars on gas and auto maintenance. They’ve got more free time after work. Most of all, people who work remotely tend to enjoy their work more than those corralled in an office.Scaling Call Center With Low Cost VOIP Solution

For instance, it can reduce office lease expense over the long term, and other expenses (utilities, office supplies, etc.) associated with people working from the office. It can let a company attract the talent it needs from any geographic location. It can increase productivity, save money and help retain that great talent.

But the question of how to connect those remote workers with day-to-day business needs some serious thought. If you’re using VoIP to connect with customers and employees, you’re already ahead of the curve. But how much do you need to spend to outfit your remote workers with a connection to your VoIP system?

Let’s take a look at two popular phones that work well on VoIP, but without the high cost of phones like the Cisco IP Phone that sets you back more than $1600 per employee.

Grandstream GXP2130 Enterprise IP Telephone

Grandstream GXP2130

If your remote workers need more than a single line, this desktop phone from Grandstream handles up to three lines. It can conference call with up to four parties and has a color LCD display and speakerphone. Its dual gigabit network ports, integrated Power over Ethernet (PoE) and nearly automatic provisioning make it a strong choice where multiple lines are needed. Grandstream has published a YouTube video here that discusses the GXP2130 and its sister products in the GXP lineup. A variety of headsets are available as accessories. Another plus is that this phone normally retails under $100.

Plantronics CT14

Plantronics CT14

The CT14 is a single-line cordless phone using DECT6.0 that lets your employee stand up and move around, up to 300 feet away from the base unit. The headset is comfortable: It can be worn over the ear or over the head. The dial pad gives the user volume control, a mute button and access to voicemail with one touch. The unit clips onto a belt or clothing, includes a dial pad and can be linked to an iOS or Android device.



The company claims the unit delivers up to 10 hours talk time, while the headset uses a noise canceling mic. The street price for this phone is under $100 and gives your team everything they need to manage calls.

Why Not Use a Soft Phone?

A soft phone is a piece of software that runs on a PC or IOS device. They tend to be much harder to use than a real phone. Here is a YouTube review  of one particular soft phone I’ve chosen at random that will give you a sense of why I say they tend to be less user friendly than a physical phone, especially in a high volume situation like a call center.

Learn More

Click here to learn about the options for low cost, cloud based phone solutions for small offices.  Also, we’ve worked with numerous VoIP phones and I’m glad to share my thoughts and recommendations, so feel free to reach out.

Product Review: Verizon’s “Premium Technical Support” Service Solves IT Problems For Remote Workers

Remote Tech Support Is A No BrainerWith the recent, tectonic shift toward remote working, businesses have had an unforeseen challenge arise: providing IT support for those users.  With the astronomical cost of headcount, training and infrastructure for in-house help desk centers, small and medium sized businesses often find that the smartest move is leveraging a turn key, third party solution.

Verizon, with its outstanding FIOS service, has taken steps to fulfill that need.  Its Premium Technical Support plan gives any FIOS business (or residential) customer 24/7/365 tech support that includes:

• Configuration troubleshooting for your computer or device (including tablets) to address issues like slow performance, browser configuration, networking connections, data backup and more
• Evaluation of and attempts to correct software, operating systems and networking issues
• Virus, malware and spyware support
• Software and peripherals support for network, video and sound cards, memory, hard drives, CD and DVD readers and writers, printers, scanners and networking equipment

The company says it premium service “…is intended to address networking and other technical support issues outside the supported scope of Verizon’s standard technical support.”  You can find the entire agreement here. Your employee must be a Verizon customer for HSI or FiOS, TV or Voice to purchase Premium Technical Support. It’s currently priced at $14.99 per month, cancelable at any time.



I tested the service when I spent time in New York and found the technicians friendly and competent. They’re all based here in the U.S., and they provide service for Apple, Android and Windows OS.

Once your employee signs up he or she will get a password to Verizon’s expert site at expert.verizon.com. Take note, though. This service is for residential customers. Don’t try to sign up your entire remote workforce under your company’s name because the program doesn’t extend to businesses. Each employee needs to enroll individually.

Is Outsourcing the Help Desk Your Best Choice?

For small and mid-sized businesses, Verizon’s $17.99 per month plan offers a lot of value.

Happy Remote WorkerHowever, if you have concerns about confidential or proprietary information stored on your employee’s device, take time to review the agreement to understand how the Verizon technician treats such material.

Also note that it’s sometimes necessary to change settings on the computer, some of which could cause custom software made for your business to stop working. If there are specific settings that must not be changed, you’ll need to make your remote employees aware of them. A short document spelling out any such issues would help your employee communicate those matters to Verizon before the technician begins making adjustments.

Too, when settings are changed, you may want to get a report on what was changed. Registry changes, for example, can fix problems as well as introduce new ones.

I hope you find this helpful. I feel it’s important to share information on IT issues; it’s part of what we do.

Finally, I am not suggesting that Verizon is the very best solution. You can find dozens of other “managed service providers” (MSP’s) that offer similar services via a simple web search. Many of them also handle break/fix problems with hardware. However, if you want to look further into details of the Verizon plan, you can reach their team at 866-785-8145, or on the online form here.

Addition Resources

Terms of Service

Product Review: An Overview of Broadview Networks’ “BYOB” Hosted VoIP Solution

Over the last few years I couldn’t help but notice how the proliferation of “BYO-something” has invaded the world of telephony and IT.

First it was Bring Your Own Device, and that wave of people (students at universities, mobile employees and others) forced organizations everywhere to beef up their wireless networks to accommodate the tsunami of users who demanded permission to use their own devices. Then, a few years ago the Gartner Group talked about BYOT, Bring Your Own Technology, which caused IT managers to redefine their role as managers of the network rather than managers of users who are “consumerizing” tech. Now comes another known as BYOB, but it’s not a bottle I’m talking about. It’s Bring Your Own Broadband.

BYOB JokeUsers, whether they’re small business owners or employees, are accustomed to having a broadband connection at home and at the office. Why not use that existing business service for VoIP phone traffic? After all, business service from companies like AT&T, Verizon and other alternative providers routinely offer speeds of 40 Mbps and greater.

So why not use the Internet for VoIP? Strangely, the answer to that question immediately reveals the problem, and the problem is the Internet. It’s a public network with no quality of service (QoS) other than what your router might give you. But once your VoIP packets leave your router, QoS disappears. Your router only affects packets within your local network.

Where to Turn?

Hosted VoIP companies like Broadview Networks recognize that BYOB isn’t the answer.

The company was established in 1996 as a regional telecom operation. Today it’s a national provider of cloud-based telephony and related services. It owns and operates its own redundant backbone fiber optic network and can therefore guarantee quality. Tens of thousands of SMB’s use Broadview, and I think they’re well worth your time to investigate.



They’ve developed a solution known as OfficeSuite that manages QoS from point to point and gives you clear, landline grade telephony your business needs if you expect customers and vendors to take you seriously. Here’s a summary from their FAQ page:

“When OfficeSuite service is delivered via On-Net Broadview access, Broadview will use Quality of Service (QoS) policy statements in the Broadview-provided router/Internet access device, to mark signaling and media packets with IP precedence. This will classify those packets across the Broadview Networks’ IP access network, by priority, available across the access link and the network core.”

If you’d like to learn more, here’s another video from Sanjay Patel, VP of Technology at Broadview. He explains that the company uses MPLS to manage QoS.

Now, after making a case against BYOB, I need to explain that Broadview does also give you the choice of using your existing broadband connection. Yes, you can BYOB with Broadview. When you sign up with them they’ll conduct a site survey to assure you have adequate bandwidth available.

So whether you choose to take the rough ride over the Internet, or the MPLS-managed highway that guarantees voice quality, Broadview offers a pretty complete solution.