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How to choose a hosted telephony provider

Dave Reynolds, UK Managing Director of hosted telephony provider Xelion, discusses what to consider when partnering with a cloud telephony service

Dave Reynolds
Dave Reynolds

The most disruptive change now taking place in IT is the shift from on-premise solutions to the cloud. Data storage, applications and services are all moving to the cloud, as fast and reliable gigabit fibre connectivity becomes widely available at cost-effective prices for SMEs.

This is also true for voice telephony. The traditional phone system PBX housed in a cupboard is rapidly becoming a thing of the past, replaced by hosted telephony as a service in the cloud. So how can enterprising technology resellers enter this market and capture a valuable incremental revenue stream for little effort?

Hosted telephony has a number of USPs against conventional phone systems. The ongoing service costs are a tax deductible business expense, whereas capital expenditure for an on-premise phone system is only partially allowable. For SME start-ups, using hosted telephony avoids a large initial capital outlay at a critical time and provides flexibility as a business grows and moves premises. Moving a hosted service is as simple as plugging in the router at the new location, whereas moving a phone system requires expensive engineering costs and can require new cabling.

Hosted telephony also uses SIP trunks, which are sometimes bundled with the subscription and are considerably cheaper than ISDN connections but just as reliable. As BT Wholesale will accept no further orders for ISDN from 2020 and Openreach has a stated goal of ending ISDN connections by 2025, all business customers must move to VoIP SIP trunks anyway. It’s therefore important to choose a hosted telephony service that can work with SIP trunks from a variety of ISPs and isn’t tied to just one VoIP provider.

In control
When choosing to partner with a hosted telephony provider, there are several other factors to consider. As a reseller, you will want to add value to any sale to maximise revenue. For example, your customer is likely to want to integrate the hosted telephony platform with other back-office solutions such as CRM systems, MS Exchange and Office 365.

First generation UK hosted voice services provide a very closed environment where they, and not the reseller, have all the control and dictate the end product. The only customisation the majority allow is to put a logo in the corner of a portal. Ideally, your choice of hosted telephony platform should provide open APIs allowing you to integrate your customer’s applications easily.

Hosted telephony
Hosted telephony

Licensing terms
Another crucial factor is licensing. If the licence cost is by device and not by user, it can make the service prohibitively expensive for customers that have to pay to license a desktop client, mobile app and physical phone for each member of staff. With the huge boom in mobile working, licensing multiple devices is a real cost consideration for customers.

Find out what’s included in the licence cost. Are all features and functions, such as call recording, available as standard, or will there be additional licensing costs? A long shopping list of bolt-on charges can be a deal-breaker for your customers.

The increase in mobile working also has implications for the user interface. Often, a hosted platform will have been developed to work on a PC, with little thought given to how it will display on an Android mobile or tablet. Some mobile apps are a clunky afterthought, with a different look and feel. Check that there is a standardised user interface across all platforms.

Will the service work with VoIP handsets from a range of suppliers and legacy equipment, or is it tied to proprietary hardware? Proprietary kit is likely to be more expensive than generic hardware and may also be limited in functionality.

Cloud deployment
You should also find out from providers what cloud deployment options are available. Do you want to host your customers’ telephony service or have the provider host it for you? You may have customers that, for a variety of reasons, such as security or to avoid licensing costs, want to host the service themselves; is this possible?

Reliability is a critical issue for hosted telephony – customers get very upset if they pick up the phone and don’t get a dial tone immediately – so Xelion offers the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform as an alternative option for partners that want a managed hosted solution. The majority of our UK partners now operate over the AWS infrastructure, which operates to the highest of standards and provides even greater flexibility when deploying a solution. Partners can launch a platform within a very short period of time on any of the 15 global AWS pops to suit local customer requirements.

Finally, what kind of support and backup will your hosted telephony provider offer? And do they sell direct, as well as through the channel, in which case you may have to compete with them for orders? One thing is certain, your customers will be migrating to hosted telephony, and if you are not offering it someone else will be!

For more information on the Xelion hosted telephony platform please visit:

www.xelion.com/en

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2018