Hosted PBX for Telemessaging Call Centers

By Allen David Niven

Digital communications market research provider In-Stat reported that the hosted PBX market is expected to reach $1.3 billion by 2009. Additionally, ads on TV are offering $25 per month unlimited phone calls, and one can go to Wal-Mart to buy a telephone with Skype built in for free phone calls. Yet many, if not most, telemessaging call center owners have no clue what hosted PBX is all about.

In a nutshell, you buy an IP (Internet Protocol) phone, plug it in to your DSL, cable, fixed wireless, or data T, and voila, you have phone service, both incoming and outgoing. The going rate for IP domestic calls in the U.S. is about a half a cent per minute, and since the providers are banking on the fact that people rarely call more than 1,000 minutes per month, the provider profits are $20 per month: $25 – (1000 x 0.005) = $20.

Although some providers that target the consumer market generate voice quality complaints, companies that gear their service to the enterprise market have gotten rave reviews. Although not hosted, Bank of America has 250,000 VoIP phones deployed, Boeing has 50,000, and Ford 60,000. Why do some experience good quality and others don’t?

The answer is that one cannot just slap an IP phone on a DSL. The DSL provider must be able to offer a DSL service that supports QOS (Quality of Service) and COS (Class of Service). Almost every current DSL router has a QOS menu, and almost every VoIP phone supports QOS and COS settings, but these capabilities do not help if they are not enabled or set correctly. One should allocate fifteen to twenty minutes to properly configure them. The result is a phone quality that is indistinguishable from legacy phone connections.

Calls from one VoIP phone to another VoIP phone exceed the quality of legacy phone service. This is because all legacy phone connections go through a phone company central office switch where they are squeezed down to an 8 kHz signal. In contrast, a connection that goes from VoIP phone to VoIP phone goes directly at 64 kbps, even if it is halfway around the world. Considering that MP3 recordings are usually 128 kbps, VoIP phone to VoIP phone sounds great.

For telemessaging call centers to venture into the hosted PBX marketplace, it’s important to first find out how many existing clients would be interested in such a service. Those that are will be more tightly bound to the call center because they will then be receiving both voice and answering services. In addition, clients will appreciate being able to forward their calls to the call center from anywhere (such as a cell phone) and not just from the phone itself. Likewise, clients may be grateful to have such desirable features as “find me/follow me” in addition to telemessaging service.

Typically, the equipment required to provide hosted PBX sits in parallel with the call center’s telemessaging equipment – it does not intersect with it at all. In short, hosted voice may be a great adjunct to offering telemessaging service.

[From Connection Magazine May 2008]