The cost of implementing and operating a VoIP network can be overwhelming. Most IP-enabled phone systems run in the tens of thousands of dollars - a hefty price tag for any size company. And then there's the technical know-how required to oversee a VoIP system's equipment, software and ever-evolving network infrastructure. Such skills are in high demand, making recruiting and retaining qualified candidates a time-consuming and costly endeavor.
Enter managed-VoIP services. With these services, a third-party provider offers all the equipment, software, operations facilities and technical expertise needed for a company to reap the benefits of an IP-enabled phone system without the costs, risks and headaches of an on-premise VoIP solution.
A managed-VoIP service package typically includes the design, integration and deployment of IP-telephony equipment and software, along with management and maintenance of existing telephony solutions and the new VoIP network. Network-management and maintenance offerings usually consist of remote fault monitoring with network surveillance; customer-defined service-level agreements for response and resolution; moves and changes; comprehensive customer reporting; and service management guaranteeing a certain percentage of network uptime. Pricing may range from usage-based to a fixed flat rate, depending on a company's needs and preferences. In most cases, companies can monitor their cost of operation through regular reports.
The specific benefits of a managed-VoIP service include:
- Experienced Staff: Users have around the clock access to a team of highly experienced and well-trained technicians, helping to deploy and manage a VoIP network in accordance with a company's unique business needs.
- Faster Time-to-Market: Get up and running or complete a VoIP migration at a rapid pace in order to take advantage of market opportunities.
- Greater Innovation: A third-party provider typically boasts an aggressive product-development cycle, ensuring that a company enjoys access to the latest technology available and that equipment doesn't become out-of-date.
- Low Up-Front Capital Expenditures: This features helps companies avoid the cost of acquiring expensive equipment and software while still deploying a scalable solution. Plus, a managed service lets clients leverage existing technologies alongside a new system.
- Predictable Operating Expense: Figuring out the ongoing costs of a VoIP solution can be a bit of a guessing game. Managed services, on the other hand, usually are contracted based on monthly charges or fixed, flat-rate billing, making it easier for companies to make budgetary accommodations.
- Enhanced Security: Because managed-VoIP services feature a service-level agreement, companies can rest assured that a managed-VoIP system will perform at peak levels in the face of security threats and disaster recovery.
- Flexibility: A managed-VoIP service provider can easily scale a solution to accommodate a company's fast growth, anticipated seasonal peaks and unexpected economic downturns.
- Special features: Many managed-VoIP services include value-add capabilities through the availability of mobility, communications and productivity applications.
In order to ensure that you choose the best managed-VoIP service provider available, be sure to consider these important factors:
- Willingness to integrate your existing technologies with a new VoIP system
- A proven track record for helping companies migrate from traditional telephony hardware and software to a VoIP system
- A history of financial stability and a long-term commitment to the VoIP industry
- A service-level agreement that promises a high degree of uptime and establishes a maximum threshold for downtime
- Security precautions such as built-in system redundancy
- Round the clock availability of highly experienced and knowledgeable IT professionals
Review the below descriptions of some of the well-known managed-VoIP service providers to help you find a vendor that best fits your company.
IPtimize Inc. : IPtimize's Voice Pilot is a hosted VoIP PBX service that delivers integrated local, long-distance and advanced communications features while leveraging an existing broadband connection. Designed for SMBs (small to medium-sized businesses), a software-driven "switch" hosted on the IPtimize service platform offers local and long-distance calling, four-digit group calling and a host of additional calling features.
Verizon Business : Verizon Business's Managed IP PBX service relies on Nortel Network's IP-telephony platform to manage and monitor company PBX systems. Service can be used to implement advanced voice applications such as find me/follow me , which sends communications to email, voice mail or wireless phones based on individuals' different schedules and availabilities. Verizon also offers 100 percent platform availability service-level agreements and call-completion guarantees.
Avaya Inc. : The Avaya Remote Managed Services for IP Telephony service ensures that a company's IP-telephony applications, platforms and the underlying data network are working together for optimal reliability, stability and availability. Companies can choose the amount of operational responsibility they want from Avaya.
According to a study from AMI (Access Markets International Partners Inc.), the SMB VoIP-hosted services market will reach $416 million this year, far surpassing the $165 million the category generated in 2005. The cumulative growth rate, reported the study, will be 56.9 percent between 2005 and 2010, with companies with fewer than 100 employees enjoying a growth rate of 69 percent during that period. What's more, AMI's study found that spending by SMBs on hosted services will increase from $164.9 million in 2005 to $1.56 billion by 2010. The report also claimed that SMB seats served by hosted VoIP will rise from 393,967 to about 3 million by 2010, which represents an increase of over 5 percent of the market.
The growing popularity of hosted- and managed-VoIP services among SMBs should come as no surprise given that on-premise solutions can cost upwards of 15 percent more than their managed counterparts. Here are just a handful of managed-VoIP vendors servicing the SMB market:
M5 Networks Inc. : M5's MTS (Managed Telecom Service) is a bundled telecommunications solution including local, long distance and Internet services as well as high-end phone-system features for SMBs based in New York. MTS provides businesses with a cost-efficient way to manage all of their telecommunications by connecting them to M5's high-end phone system through a private, high-speed network using VoIP technology. M5's MTS eliminates a company's need to purchase a costly PBX system and ensures that companies always have state-of-the-art phone features, such as conference calling ; high-end voice mail ; multiple location and home-office connections; and full business-disaster recovery services.
Whaleback Systems : The CrystalBlue Voice Service from Whaleback Systems is a fully managed service that combines the call quality and features of an enterprise-class PBX with the simplicity and cost-savings of a hosted service. Unlike M5's MTS, Whaleback Systems's solution is a premises-based, software-driven, all-inclusive managed service with unlimited use and flat-rate pricing.
Smoothstone IP Communications : Smoothstone's SmoothstoneCOMPLETE is fully managed and completely outsourced. It includes Smoothstone IP phones, Smoothstone Softphone, an all-inclusive voice plan, E911 compliance and customized IVR (integrated voice response), among other features.
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