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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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Time For A New Phone System For Foundry Group

Comments (42)

We’ve decided to implement a new phone system in our office. When I posted about our search for our video conferencing system, we got a ton a great feedback so I’m once again looking for your help.

We’ve been using an older version of Cisco’s Call Manager (VoIP based) that we’ve had for the past decade. While it has worked flawlessly and has a ton of bells and whistles, we simply do not use them. Occasionally someone will transfer a call and that’s about it. Call Manager is currently fed by two T1′s that flex between voice and data. We have a total about about 20 phones in the office.

Our goal is to rip all of this out (including the T1s) and replace it with something much simpler that has low to no incremental cost beyond whatever hardware we buy up front. We’re currently considering two different possibilites, one were we have no phones at all and everyone uses cell phones and a second where we continue to have a physical phone (or just a headset) and use cell phones as a backup.

Scenario #2 is where we’re looking for input.  We are looking for a system that would involve no hardware at the office (save for possibly having phones/headsets on the desks) and that would not require dedicated T1′s as we want to use our existing Comcast line for this.

We’ve so far spent time exploring Google Voice but have had too many complaints of unacceptable voice quality for it to be a viable solution today.  While Skype is another possible solution we have existing numbers that would need to be ported (or at least forwarded in some way) so Skype doesn’t feel like a great option either.

Thoughts or suggestions?

 

  • http://sisyph.us/ ErikSchwartz

    I have had good luck with Junction Networks. http://www.junctionnetworks.com/

    There are also a lot of hosted Asterisk providers out there.

  • Harris G

    Check out Ooma.com . The small piece of hardware and no monthly charge ($3/mnth for tax) has been great. The device was about $150 from woot.com and its been awesome. The voice clarity is great and it has a lot of bells and whistles including an online web portal for call management and voicemail. Only issue is it can be tricky if you have a fax machine but, … no one uses a fax anymore.

    • http://www.andrewice.tumblr.com/ Andrew Ice

      Brad, I’ve also had very good luck with the Ooma Telo (http://amzn.to/hq6icD) – up front cost of the hardware plus about $12/yr in taxes is all you pay. You can connect any type of phone/headset etc to the device. Voice quality for us has been excellent.

  • http://www.informous.com Len Ostroff

    Brad,
    We’ve been using Vocalocity for the past year and it’s performed flawlessly. You buy the hardware (Cisco IP phones) and plug them in to your network. They’re a SaaS PBX solution. Their list price is $40/mth/line for unlimited calls, but they will negotiate (contact me directly if you want more info). They also provide a voice to text transcription service for $5/mth. The results can be pretty humorous, but you get the drift of a voicemail when the text is sent as email. They have reports by extension that can also be useful when looking at historical calls – of course all of this data is exportable. It’s super easy to use and super easy to administer. You can also take your phone with you and plug it in to any ethernet connection and it works just like your office line. We’ve been very happy with them. We looked at other VOIP providers but found Vocalocity to be the best value and quality.

  • http://www.joshuamaher.com Joshua Maher

    Have you looked at MSFT Lync?

  • http://one.valeski.org Jud Valeski

    This is really simple as it turns out.

    You can’t just do cell phones because latency is so horrible 100% of the time and call quality suffers 75% of the time (carrier independent… simple physics).

    You can’t do VoIP as a service for effectively the same reasons.

    Having tried every config under the sun over the past 10 years, at the end of the day, you will wind up with 1-2 dedicated T1s on-prem, and the hardware to deal w/ them. Anything less and you, and the person on the other end, will suffer greatly. You’ll talk yourself into the quality issues not being “that big a deal” up front, but if you do anything less than a dedicated on-prem VoIP solution, I will bet you $100 that you’ll be ripping it out within 3 months.

    The bummer is that dedicated VoIP soln providers have indeed loaded a ton of bells/whistles into the offering, and none of them get used. The only value they provide is the bullet proof call quality; and that value is worth paying _a lot_ for. There’s nothing more annoying that working w/ someone on the other end who’s using a non-dedicated hard-line phone for a call, or who’s on a half-duplex speakerphone.

    Lots of startups on shoestrings have convinced themselves that cell phones are fine. They’re not, and doing business w/ those guys is always really hard when phones are involved.

    Real hard-line phone calls matter. Don’t believe the hype.

    • http://profiles.google.com/nelsonbostrom Nelson Bostrom

      What about having a micro/femto cell on site? Do you have any thoughts on this increasing voice quality?

      • http://one.valeski.org Jud Valeski

        yup. I have one at home (kinda helps), and had one at a previous office of
        mine (actually made things worse).

    • Peter

      Disagree. We run an office of 35 people on Line2 and it works fine. We use softphones/headsets on PCs connected to the LAN, and we use Line2 on smartphones over WiFi. We have only one hard line in the entire office – in the conference room so that we can use a polycom speakerphone. VoIP quality is improving as the software improves and as network quality improves. TV was pretty bad when it first started too. VoIP has improved dramatically since you started playing with it ten years ago.

  • Eroach

    Brad,

    Glad you asked the question because we are in the same quandry, as I’m sure a ton of others are. Please do let us know which direction you take and how it works out.

  • http://patrickfoley.com/about Patrick Foley

    I really like our Lync: http://www.lync.com. I have a phone number that rings any number I want or that I can answer from my PC or ethernet desk phone that I can plug in anywhere (mine’s plugged into my home office currently – I could move to the company office, and all I need is an ethernet port). The call quality is great. It also includes IM, presence, and conferencing. I think you’re more of a google guy, but Lync integrates with Exchange/Outlook perfectly.

    Soon you’ll be able to get it hosted by Microsoft at http://www.office365.com. However, that won’t include the PSTN (actual phone number) capability out of the gate, so realistically, you’ll want to go with a partner who can set you up. If you are interested, I can introduce you to one.

    Good luck,

    P

  • RV

    Here in Boulder, I give out my Google Voice number and have it ring my Skype phone, cell phone and landline all at the same time. I have the option of choosing the most appropriate phone for me and my callers only need to have one number to reach me.

    Another great benefit of GV is by pressing * during a call one can transfer the call to other linked phones. So, for example, answer a call on cell phone, arrive at your office, press * and pick up on my office land line.

    I have only occasionally used GV’s VOIP service and have not had any major issues on a Comcast 12 mbps connection. For cell phone service, I have a Verizon Network Extender so my service is excellent with no recognizable latency.

  • http://patrickfoley.com/about Patrick Foley

    I really like our Lync: http://www.lync.com. I have a phone number that rings any number I want or that I can answer from my PC or ethernet desk phone that I can plug in anywhere (mine’s plugged into my home office currently – I could move to the company office, and all I need is an ethernet port). The call quality is great. It also includes IM, presence, and conferencing. I think you’re more of a google guy, but Lync integrates with Exchange/Outlook perfectly.

    Soon you’ll be able to get it hosted by Microsoft at http://www.office365.com. However, that won’t include the PSTN (actual phone number) capability out of the gate, so realistically, you’ll want to go with a partner who can set you up. If you are interested, I can introduce you to one.

    Good luck,

    P

  • C Hoffman

    I’ve gone through a similar exercise, and although we haven’t made the change yet, we really liked the concept of http://www.counterpath.com/. Although not perfect fit for your description in that you still need the VOIP service for the provision of the actual phone, it removes hardware as it is a softphone on your computer. Further, I know there’s an app for iphone (haven’t checked android yet) so you can seamlessly tie it together with mobile phones.

  • http://www.startupboyo.com/ RichardF

    Fred had some good suggestions in the comments of this post http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2010/03/my-ideal-phone-system.html

  • http://profiles.google.com/bill.burnham Bill Burnham

    Brad check out Packet8 http://www.8×8.com. Cloud based SMB PBX VOIP with integrated web/video conferencing and mobile clients. It’s a perfect zero footprint solution for a 20 extension office.

  • http://www.facebook.com/betabob Bob Lee

    We just converted to 8×8 and it was relatively painless. Number porting was pretty straightforward, and we were even able to to reuse our existing Polycom IP Phones.

  • http://twitter.com/chipgriffin Chip Griffin

    Check out RingCentral. I have used that with several of my companies over the years. One phone number reaches me everywhere. Can be set up with direct dials plus extensions. Works with cell phones, land lines, and VoIP. I have not had call quality issues with it, as I did regularly with Google Voice.

  • Inmantc

    I’d recommend a hosted VoIP provider. A couple we’ve looked that seemed decent are as follows: Vocalocity (Atlanta, http://www.vocalocity.com), Jive Comm’s (Utah, http://www.getjive.com), Megapath Networks (formerly Speakeasy), etc. You’ll likely need at least 1 T-1 line to support the VoIP calls, but if there’s a local metro ethernet provider that could work also.

  • Joe Scharf

    We have a simple Asterisk install on one of our Softlayer servers that has proven to be rock solid and SIP trunking at Voicepulse which gives us 12 simultaneous channels (calls at once) plus DIDs (direct numbers) for all employees.

    We use Polycom IP 335 phones with HD voice and Polycom IP 6000 conference phones. Counterpath X-lite / Eyebeam softphones for employee laptops. Everything is VoIP and works equally well inside the office or remote. It’s my philosophy that all startups/companies should set their employees up to be able to work independent of location and reap the many advantages therein.

    It’s a really inexpensive setup and call quality is great. Not overloaded with features – we mainly use call transfer and dynamic conference bridging. We currently have ~30 people on this system in two US locations and international. IMO, preferring POTS over VoIP is the equivalent of saying you prefer snail-mail over email. VoIP has come a long way from the early days.

  • John

    When I was looking for a phone system for us a few years ago I came across Talkswitch. The make great small business systems and 20 phones is an ideal size for them. I liked it so much we became a reseller.

    I found features in the system that rival larges expensive PBXs. Check it out: http://talkswitch.com/us/en/

  • http://www.hubbr.net Benoit Houle

    Toktumi & line2 has been amazing for us.

  • Mattfargo

    We went through a similar search lately and tried a number of alternatives(Google Voice, Skype, Cell Phones, etc.) After realizing that we need to had consistent, high quality phone connections we ended up signing up with Fonality voip. Great onscreen interface, great call quality and lots of features that we could, but don’t, use(voicemail and forwarding are about all we need).

  • http://www.app-x.com Kevin Kelly

    Agree w Jud V’s comments, solid reliable dial tone is waaaay underrated. We use a hosted Cisco Call Manager service from Appia, all of the bells and whistles of on premise Call Manager but no hassles of upgrades etc. Pricing is not cheap but not over the top (works out to about $30/mo/user)

    Many hosted offerings are running on top of a soft switch like Broadsoft, I personally think Call Manager is better. You’d be able to re-use your Cisco phones with something like Appia and very possibly with another hosted provider like the ones mentioned here.

    We run on top of Comcast business 20MB Cable connection, has been reliable about 99% of the time. No latency issues at all but the circuit has gone down a few times. Adding a redundant DSL connection and a little more sophisticated networking to enable load balancing across two Internet connections would get us to 99.999%

  • http://www.line2.com Peter Sisson

    All add a second vote for Line2. I’m biased because I’m the founder but hear me out. Our service is targeted for the environment you describe. Highly mobile people using smartphones. Line2 lets you add your business lines to your existing smartphones, gives you cloud-based office phone system functionality (e.g. conferencing, auto-attendant for your main number – “press 1 for…”, etc), provides live customer support, offers softphones for your macs or PCs, etc.

    You can port over existing numbers for free. Line2 is $14.95 per month for the main line and $9.95 for each additional line, assuming you get the Line2 Pro (aka Toktumi Unlimited) plan. All lines get unlimited calling and texting, and Line2 to Line2 voip calls are free worldwide and use HD audio.

    Line2 targets professionals, has won several awards, is one off David Pogue/NYTimes 10 favorite apps, and even offers live phone support from US-based agents!

    Ever waited for an important call without call waiting? No company on this thread has call-waiting on their mobile app except Line2.

    Line2 is also the only app that works over cellular voice, cellular data, or wifi for calling. Use it over wifi in the office, over cellular when driving – with a headset, of course! ;)

    How it beats each of the other services on this thread:

    RingCentral: RC does the hosted PBX stuff well but is just getting started with the mobile stuff. Line2 far surpasses their smartphone and softphone offerings. Its also expensive.

    8×8: Expensive, more focused for wired environment with IP Phones, like the system you are migrating away from.

    Google Voice: No voip on smartphones (uses cell minutes), doesnt have office phone features like auto-attendant, not intended for multi-line office environments, no customer support, etc.

    Skype: No ability to port numbers, no business features (call waiting, conferencing etc) on their mobile app, etc., limited caller ID, no customer support, etc.

    Comcast business: way too expensive

    Setting up your own Asterisk box: way to difficult and risky as everything is on that box. Power outage or pipe breaks and your are offline, possibly with loss of all your data.

    Thats my 2c, or $200 given how much time you had to spend reading such a long post. Hope it helps. I’m peter [at] toktumi [dot] com if you (or anyone on this thread) wants to reach out to me directly.

  • http://www.zaplee.com mpkothari

    Hi Brad – not entirely in agreement with your premise regarding Skype & GoogleVoice. I run http://www.zaplee.com which specifically sets up hosted phone systems for Skype (and soon to be released GoogleVoice). Porting numbers is also possible, would be happy to take you through it step-by-step. Please reach out on skype – mpkothari or email – mkothari@zaplee.com

  • James Mitchell

    My suggestion is that you are acting foolishly. You seem to be on this “let’s not act like a company, let’s act like we are all working out of our house” kick. Things like Google Docs and what you are talking about might make sense for a guy working out of his house, they make no sense for a real company with 20 employees. Why do you want to go backward?

    • http://www.zaplee.com mpkothari

      Hi James – I think you might not be aware of how the use of technology has changed work habits. For example, here is an article from 2004 on how JetBlue (“a real company”) manages their “work from home” call center. Remember, this is from 2004…

      http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/82/jetblue_agents.html

      With the multiple facets of VOIP, every company can now do this. Hope this helps clarify your thinking.

  • Ramese_l

    Toktumi has worked great my company of 14 employees and I. Their price and service, at least in my opinion, can not be touched by any other voip company on the market right now. The fact that we are able to speak to live people is a huge plus as well. Just my .02

  • Marz Sand

    I switched from RIngCentral and could not be happier with my choice. I have been using it with my medium-sized company and it works great. I Love this company!!!

  • DaveJ

    One thing to consider is that the “phone system” and the “phones” are separate. We’re using Twilio through OpenVBX on Standing Cloud for our phone system – the IVR, call routing, etc. Because of the way Twilio works, this meets Jud’s “hard line” criterion – it’s not VOIP, calls are actually routed through the hardline network. Using that as the basic phone system, you can then use whatever you want – flexibly – as the endpoints. Just get some hardline numbers and you can use those for conferences, or use cellphone when traveling or when it’s more convenient.

    Although we only have one hardline, I mostly agree with Jud. I have found increasingly that I have no idea what the person on the other end of the phone is saying. This is partly my “speech hearing” in decline, but I don’t think that’s all. It’s also the quality of the channel and the quality of their manners.

    I’ve decided not to pretend that I can understand any more. If there is background noise, or the person is mumbling or chewing or rustling papers, or if they are speaking fast with a heavy accent, or if they’re on Google Voice or Skype and there is packet loss, or if their cellphone is cutting out – I just say “I didn’t understand anything you just said.” I will say this repeatedly until they realize that they are not communicating, they’re just talking.

    • James Mitchell

      Dave, bravo! In addition to the the items you mention, one thing I have noticed: A lot of very smart people speak very fast. It’s because their brain operates at warp speed and they cannot talk fast enough to keep up with their thoughts. In person this is usually not a problem, but on a telephone line with poor quality it becomes impossible to understand them.

      Another pet peeve of mine — A lot of people don’t know how to leave phone messages. They only leave their phone number once and when they say their phone number, they speed up, presumably because they already know it and they are sick of saying it so many times. When I leave my phone number, I speak very slowly and pause between each segment. And I say it twice.

    • James Mitchell

      For phones, I like the Polycom 560 color phones. I get the extra modules, so I can see all of the lines. And I use a handset so I can type while I am talking. It’s very liberating. For important calls, I will make it a point to be in my office, as opposed to having a call on my iPhone.

  • Kyle Krall

    EC2 + Asterisk + SIP Trunk + Polycom 335 + Polycom 5000 + Xlite or Telphone.app

  • Rod Weir

    As I’m one of our hornblowers, take a look a our system, Jazinga.com. Inexpensive ($1495 MSRP), hybrid line support including POTS lines and/or SIP trunks from Skype Connect, Bandwidth.com, Megapath, Paetec, (and a number of others), an under 20 minute wizard install experience, auto-provisioned support for a broad range of SIP phones (Polycom, Cisco Small Business Pro, Aastra, Snom) as well as any standard hard or soft SIP phone (with a minor bit of provisioning), support for mobile devices, email/vmail synchronization, nested auto-attendants, and remote/home office support all mean a full feature set. Furthermore, additional market validation by our inclusion and availability, through an OEM deal, in the online Skype consumer and business stores under the Freetalk brand. Rod{at}jazinga{dot}com for more info.

  • http://spinnakr.com mmayernick

    Have you looked into Ringio (http://www.ringio.com)? Fully smartphone-based, virtual pbx + light crm. I know the founders well and I’m sure they’d be happy to set you up.

  • http://twitter.com/calebbarlow Caleb Barlow

    Hi Brad: This is a great discussion and one that I think provides a look into where things are headed with communications in general. A few things to think about as you make your decision:

    - Consider the concept of unifying your communications and providing a single number for everything from the cell phone to the office phone to a soft phone on your laptop. The idea is you have one number and whatever device you happen to be using becomes active based on your presence, geographic location, preference or even who is calling. Ie: Your business partner might be able to ring your phone but that pesky telemarketer automatically gets routed straight to voicemail.

    - Voice, video, instant messaging and web conferencing are really the same thing moving forward. They all represent an attempt to find, reach and collaborate with people and you really want the ability to “escalate” a conversation up or down the stack without having to place another call. You might start with an IM, decide you want to talk live and then maybe you want to share a document. Why change applications or re-establish a call to do this. It should all just work.

    - Social, social, social, social – what’s the difference between a tweet, a post to someone’s wall or a phone call? Whatever tools you use should be focused on providing you an integrated approach for all of your communications needs and include social.

    - With a good headset you don’t need a desktop phone. In fact a high band headset with a soft phone should provide a noticeable improvement over a traditional desktop phone. I no longer have a desktop phone and use my laptop or cell for everything. If I need to call someone I don’t dial, I just click. If I need to go from my home (analog), to cell to drive to work, to office (soft phone) the system just routes the call without anyone even knowing I’ve moved or driven to work during the call.

    If you are interested I would be happy to line you up with an IBM Business partner that could provide you want you need either on-premises or hosted. I’m sure I could also convince one of our partners to give you a sample high band headset to try and “hear” the difference. I can be reached by direct message on twitter.com/calebbarlow

  • http://twitter.com/ifbyphone ifbyphone.com

    Scenario #2 Suggestion: If you are looking for a higher end version of Google Voice, consider ifbyphone.com. Ifbyphone provides virtual phone numbers, schedule-based routing, call screening, conference calling (where everyone on the call is called rather than needing to call in), voice mail transcription, a whole suite of other tools and API capabilities if you really want to have fun.

  • Chris

    Contact me if you are interested in huge savings without sacrificing all of the current capabilities. My company breeze IT has a hybrid voip system that ensures quality without the investment and exposure to obsolete hardware. Lifetime warranty on the phones,etc.

    Chris@breezeit.com

    Look forward to hearing from you.

  • Gareth

    I would go for 3CX , very easy to administer & powerful.

  • Tim Whittaker

    Well?………What did you do Brad? I’m in a similar situation.

    • http://www.feld.com bfeld

      We haven’t finalized things yet but I’ll post when we do.

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