Supreme Court Sets the Stage for Changes to VoIP Taxation

The U.S. Supreme Court has set the stage for VoIP service providers to challenge regulatory oversight by states.  It happened on October 21, 2019, when the Court decided not to hear the case  of Charter Advanced Services (MN), LLC, and Charter Advanced Services VIII (MN), LLC, v. Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (MPUC).

The case was an appeal of a District Court decision which found that Charter’s VoIP service is an information service that cannot be regulated/taxed by the states.    The situation stems from a decades-old FCC rule mandating that if VoIP is a telecommunications service, it gets taxed and regulated in the same way as “traditional” telecommunication services by both the federal and state authorities, but if it is an information service, it may not be subject to state regulation at all.

The dispute has been brewing for years because the FCC has steadfastly refused to say  whether VoIP is an information service or a telecommunications service, leaving it up to the courts to decide on an individual case basis (as a side note, in 2005 the FCC ruled that ‘computer-to-computer’ VoIP is an information service, and therefore not taxable, as a result of the efforts of Vectors keynote speaker Jeff Pulver).

By my count, 33 states currently impose taxes and other regulatory charges on VoIP services by relying on the “telecommunications” classification.  By choosing not to entertain Minnesota’s appeal of the lower court decision that VoIP is not a telecommunications service, the Supreme Court endorsed the idea that VoIP is an information service.  This is sure to have repercussions throughout the other 32 states.

On the other hand, this decision could be the impetus for Congress to step in and pass a law that subjects VoIP to more regulation – an outcome that might not be surprising in a political climate that looks favorably on oversight of cloud services.

E911 to Be A Featured Breakout Session At SkySwitch’s Vectors 2019

“E911 in 2020” will be a breakout topic at this year’s SkySwitch User Group Conference, Vectors 2019, scheduled for October 27th – 30th at the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort in Orlando, FL. The panel will feature Fulton County Georgia’s Director of Emergency Services, Joe Barasoain, and the City of Baltimore’s Director of 911 Services, Captain Scott L. Brillman.

Moderated by SkySwitch’s Vice President of Business Development, Harlan Hamlin, the three will explore the changes ahead that resellers, and their customers, need to be aware of in the next 12 months.

“Kari’s Law came into effect late in 2018 and is just one example of what resellers need to be apprised of, so their customers avoid unnecessary risks, and the liability associated with those, when it comes to dialing 911,” said SkySwitch President Eric Hernaez. “At many conferences this year, a lot of the attention was focused on robocalling and STIR/Shaken, so while we’re covering that topic as well, we felt that as annoying as those calls can be, that we’d shed light on something that can save lives, stop crimes, or help those in need with just a phone call.”

Resellers will hear first-hand accounts from Brillman and Barasoain during the Tuesday morning, 8 a.m. post-breakfast session. “When I moved from Virginia to Fulton County, I saw first hand what happens when someone hasn’t updated their E911 information,” said Joe Barasoain, Fulton County Georgia’s Director of Emergency Services. “Now with VoIP deployments having moved to the mainstream within businesses, educational institutions and in the hospitality sectors, those selling telecom need to know the risks and what they have to do in order to not only comply with Kari’s law but to ensure that the phone systems they sell meet the new status quo next year.”

For many, 911 is a once in a lifetime experience, but for others, like retail businesses, restaurants, doctors’ offices and hotels, 911 can happen rather often. “Having properly configured telephone systems and making sure address information is up to date are just two of the crucial components of a sound 911 response policy for businesses today,” added Scott L. Brillman, Director of the City of Baltimore’s 911 Services. “You’d be amazed at the number of dispatches that go out each day nationwide to the wrong address, or to a multi-tenant building where police, fire or ambulance lose valuable time locating the calling party due to dated, incomplete or inaccurate information, or sometimes none at all.”

About Joseph A. Barasoain
Joseph A. Barasoain became the Director of Emergency Services in September of 2014. His 26 years of experience spans three states and includes roles as police captain, chief of operations, emergency manager and law enforcement training instructor. Joe is a graduate of the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute Executive Leadership Program as well as the University of Richmond’s Professional Executive Leadership School. In addition, Joe holds a Master’s Degree in Management from St. Thomas University and is an APCO Registered Public Safety Leader.

About Scott L. Brillman
Captain Scott L. Brillman is a public safety leader with expertise in emergency management and organizational change, serving in the Baltimore City Fire Department since 2003. Captain Brillman currently directs Baltimore’s 911 communication center, which under his tenure won the International 911 center “Team of the Year Award” from the International Association of Public Safety Communications Officials for the 911 center’s excellence in professionalism and performance in 2016. Captain Brillman proudly leads a workforce who handle more than 1.5 million emergency calls per year; the busiest in Maryland. He is currently tasked with transforming the organization into a “next generation ready” communications center, and with planning and implementing future innovations for the City’s 911 public safety system.

About Vectors 2019
Vectors 2019 is SkySwitch’s annual user group conference developed to provide SkySwitch’s customers with valuable training and content. Attendees can take advantage of networking opportunities with SkySwitch partners, resellers and industry experts while sharpening their skills and learning about the latest tech advancements in the UCaaS industry.

About SkySwitch
SkySwitch is the US-based, next-generation communications platform provider offering white-labeled Unified Communications-as-a-Service (UCaaS) solutions to telecommunication and business technology resellers across North America. Customers include MSPs, agents, interconnects, ISPs, WISPs and VARs. SkySwitch provides resellers with the competitive advantages required to succeed in today’s overcrowded marketplace by combining best-in-class customer support, with an advanced cloud-based UCaaS platform, delivering feature-rich voice, video, text and fax communications.

SkySwitch Brings E911 Experts to Vectors 2019

With the passage of Kari’s Law, 2020 will bring changes to the E911 requirements for VoIP service providers.  The changes have special impact on providers that serve customers located in multi-tenant environments such as the retail, health care, and hospitality fields.  To help SkySwitch resellers learn more about the changing environment, SkySwitch is featuring an expert panel on E911 at Vectors 2019.   The panel will feature Fulton County Georgia’s Director of Emergency Services, Joe Barasoain, and the City of Baltimore’s Director of 911 Services, Captain Scott L. Brillman.

Joseph A. Barasoain became the Director of Emergency Services in September of 2014. His 26 years of experience spans three states and includes roles as police captain, chief of operations, emergency manager and law enforcement training instructor. Joe is a graduate of the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute Executive Leadership Program as well as the University of Richmond’s Professional Executive Leadership School. In addition, Joe holds a Master’s Degree in Management from St. Thomas University and is an APCO Registered Public Safety Leader.

Captain Scott L. Brillman is a public safety leader with expertise in emergency management and organizational change, serving in the Baltimore City Fire Department since 2003. Captain Brillman currently directs Baltimore’s 911 communication center, which under his tenure won the International 911 center “Team of the Year Award” from the International Association of Public Safety Communications Officials for the 911 center’s excellence in professionalism and performance in 2016. Captain Brillman proudly leads a workforce who handle more than 1.5 million emergency calls per year; the busiest in Maryland. He is currently tasked with transforming the organization into a “next generation ready” communications center, and with planning and implementing future innovations for the City’s 911 public safety system.

Vectors 2019 is SkySwitch’s annual user group conference developed to provide SkySwitch’s customers with valuable training and content. Attendees can take advantage of networking opportunities with SkySwitch partners, resellers and industry experts while sharpening their skills and learning about the latest tech advancements in the UCaaS industry.

Don’t miss your opportunity to get first-hand knowledge from experts in the field.  Register to attend Vectors 2019.

In UCaaS, Small is Big

A new report and podcast from Amy Lind, Research Manager with IDC’s Communications Services practice, has everyone talking about the “hidden” opportunity in UCaaS – SMBs.

Just today, Rich Tehrani from TMC observed how selling to SMBs creates more value for white label resellers:

As we’ve told you before, white-label in UCaaS and cloud phone systems can double the margins for resellers – perhaps from 20% to 40% and also increase the valuation of the reseller. The reason for the valuation bump has to do with the fact the reseller owns the relationship in this scenario so this revenue is more valuable to an acquirer.

And Peter Radizeski tweeted:

Of course, this is not news to the 350 SkySwitch resellers that are killing it in the market every day.  But it’s nice to see the rest of the world catching on.

Listen to Amy’s podcast here:

 

 

Selling UCaaS Has Never Been Easier, or Harder

 

Telecom industry expert and analyst Jon Arnold published a thoughtful article about selling UCaaS in which he observes that while interest from SMBs in buying cloud voice services is hot as ever, meeting that interest with a value proposition that resonates is not equally within reach for all providers.  Many providers have the technology, but struggle to put together the right sales and messaging.  Put another way, Jon’s research echoes what I say every day:  winning UCaaS business is cake if you have the right formula.

Not surprisingly, except for a select few, the providers that are seeing the most success are those that are part of a well executed channel strategy.  These providers can take advantage of scale to deliver a winning combination of technology and market positioning.

Jon calls out SkySwitch, Voyant and Intermedia as three examples of good channel execution.  

 

Savvy cloud providers have taken this to heart and recognized that the best way to support channels is to shore up those weaknesses. From my research, Voyant, SkySwitch, and Intermedia are good examples of this.

While I am pleased to be included in a grouping with much larger companies like Voyant and Intermedia, I would point out that SkySwitch is the only channel exclusive provider among the group.   As a white label solution provider, we never sell direct and we never compete with our channel.  As a result, we can be super focused on building strategies that let our reseller partners win deals against the bigger guys every day.  And our numbers bear this out, with SkySwitch resellers growing significantly faster than the industry average 18% CAGR.  Indeed it is difficult to find an engaged SkySwitch reseller that is not growing at high double or even triple digit rates annually.

And so, to paraphrase Jon’s conclusion: if you are looking to find a winning formula to sell UCaaS, do it the easy way and talk to SkySwitch first.

 

UCaaS Redundancy: Active-Active vs. Active-Spare

Last week we published a video to the SkySwitch YouTube Channel that explained the architecture of our geo-redundant network.  Soon afterwards, someone asked me how our redundant architecture is different from other white label UCaaS providers.   So, I made this short video to explain what distinguishes the SkySwitch network from our competitors.

 

 

The difference boils down to scalability and elasticity – two hallmarks of a true multi-tenanted cloud solution – made possible by our active-active architecture.  As network traffic grows, SkySwitch adds capacity by deploying additional active nodes. New nodes are added to an n-Share mesh and automatically become available to share call processing tasks across all nodes dynamically and with zero downtime.  This means that we can expand to accommodate growth with zero impact on the availability of services to end users.  With Skyswitch, endpoints can access identical service across multiple geographically diverse servers (geo-nodes) in real-time.

SkySwitch white label resellers have access to utilize any of our geo-nodes at any time because all the nodes are part of a mesh that distributes call events, and other information needed to support calling features, in real time.   With seamless and transparent failover between nodes, service disruptions are avoided because customer connections can be automatically transferred to any other nodes available.  This means that when a problem occurs, failover can be almost immediate.  Often, customers don’t even realize that a glitch occurred because the failover happens so quickly.

In contrast, other providers use an older method of redundancy called active-spare (or sometimes referred to as n+1).  With an active-spare network, only one server can be active at any time.  In the event of a problem all calling logic must be transferred to the spare server.  In a large network with hundreds of servers, failover requires a high degree of orchestration that can take precious time.   Providers that use active-spare technology require significantly more time to activate a spare server when a problem occurs.  This process can take hours and sometimes even days!

To learn more about the SkySwitch active-active geo-redundant network, view the original video here.

 

 

 

Finally, a White Label VoIP Network Assessment Tool

The SkySwitch team has been working hard to create a white label tool that can be used by UCaaS resellers for VoIP readiness testing, and to pre-qualify client sites before installation. Well, it’s finally ready and it’s called NPAT (short for Network Performance & Assessment Tool).

NPAT is a web-based application that can be run from a client’s network on any Windows or Mac computer.  After downloading a small plugin, the user can run three network assessment tests: Route, Speed and VoIP.  The VoIP test will simulate VoIP calls from the client’s network, and it lets you choose the number of concurrent calls and codec to use. It’s a great way to determine if a client’s Internet connection can handle the phone system you are proposing. It can also be used as a real-time troubleshooting tool when clients raise quality of service issues as it can be configured to send test results to an  email address that you specify.  Best of all, it can be branded to use your own logo and domain with just a few clicks, from the SkySwitch Reseller Dashboard.   To check out the unbranded version, browse on over to http://npat.skyswitch.com.

I am so excited about this web-based wonder that I made a short video to introduce it. Enjoy!

 

SkySwitch Meetings Now Support Video Conferencing Appliance

What happens when you combine the best in affordable video hardware with the best in cloud videoconferencing?   You get a fantastic new revenue opportunity for SkySwitch white label UCaaS Resellers.   That’s right, SkySwitch now offers a video conferencing solution for huddle rooms and meeting rooms that’s integrated with the Meeting Manager web and video conferencing application and other SkySwitch UCaaS applications.

The new solution, available for sale now from the SkySwitch store,  utilizes low-cost video hardware and an existing conference phone to add an exciting new dimension to the Meeting Manager web and video conferencing service.

It allows you to convert any meeting room into a high-definition video conferencing center.   When combined with a LCD displays, a SIP conference phone, USB webcam and bluetooth wireless keyboard/mouse, a high-quality video conferencing solution for small meeting and huddle rooms is readily available to any UCaaS customer.   With MSRP pricing below $2,000 (depending on the type of conference phone chosen) the solution outperforms systems costing more than twice as much.

Starting and managing a video conference is extremely easy.   And the system supports several meeting modes, including:

  • High-definition video conferences with up to 30 feeds across two LCD screens
  • Video webcasts for up to 100 viewing participants
  • Desktop sharing with annotation and file sharing

Participants outside of the conference room can join a web meeting or video conference from many different types of endpoints.  These include:  another huddle room equipped with the video conferencing appliance, a device with Meeting Manager client software (available on Windows, Mac, Apple iOS or Android); or even a Yealink T58 video phone.  In addition, a video meeting can be viewed from any web browser.  This makes it incredibly easy to bring colleagues together whether they are in a remote office, working from home, or on the road. 

Other features include the capability for any participant to record conference sessions directly to their device (the video room host can record sessions onto a USB drive), high definition video at 20 frames per second, the ability for any participant to be the presenter, and the ability for any on-net PBX extension to join as an audio-only participant.

With more features than systems costing significantly more, selling video conferencing for huddle rooms and has never been easier.

For more information, contact your account rep or the SkySwitch Control Tower.

ReachUC Chrome Extension Now Supports SkySwitch SMS and Fax

The ReachUC Chrome extension has been updated and now contains several useful new features.

Until today, the ReachUC Chrome extension provided a convenient way to make Click-to-Dial calls and schedule Meeting Manager meetings from within the Google Chrome browser.  With today’s update however, the extension now has a dialpad that can be used to make calls to any number (not just Click-to-Dial), send a fax, or send an SMS using your SMS-enabled DID.  The extension also now supports Click-to-Message for any phone number on a web page.

Accessing the dialpad is easy.  Just select it from the menu that’s shown when you click the ReachUC icon in the Chrome browser bar.

 

Once selected, you will be presented with a dialpad that allows you to enter a destination and then choose any of the three available actions:  Call, Send Fax , or Send SMS.

 

 

To use the Click-to-Message feature, simply choose the Message option that is available when hovering the mouse over any phone number in a web page.

 

To take advantage of these features, the relevant option must be enabled in the ReachUC Settings for a domain or user (see image below).   Also, in order to send SMS messages, an SMS-enabled DID must be assigned to the account user.

 

 

To download the ReachUC Chrome browser extension or for more information, visit the ReachUC website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SkySwitch Now Supports RTCP Extended Reports for Troubleshooting UCaaS

 

When troubleshooting UCaaS quality of service, getting access to a packet capture (or PCAP) for a problem call is always the first step.   Examining a packet capture with an analyzer such as Wireshark, is generally the only way to see what’s on the wire and verify that things are behaving as designed.

With voice quality issues, where you get the capture from is critical.  Just like traffic on a highway, congestion in a VoIP network can happen at any point along a route, and your vantage point when looking at it is critical to understanding what is going on.

A key benefit that SkySwitch offers to white label resellers is access to RTP-Sight, a network monitoring tool that provides packet captures and analytics for every call, and dramatically improves the troubleshooting process.   A limitation of RTP-Sight has been that packet captures are taken from the switch perspective, and can only tell half the story.   Packets sent from the switch to a SIP endpoint may be delayed en route, and this would not be visible in the switch-side packet capture.  In order to see what is truly going on, it is often necessary to get a packet capture from the end-customer site and then compare the two.  Often, this is the only way to see trouble introduced downstream from the switch (such in the last mile or on the customer’s local network).

However, getting a packet capture from the end-customer’s site is sometimes not a viable option because the UCaaS provider lacks access to the end-customer’s network, or does not have equipment with packet capturing capability.  And even if packet captures are available, encrypted RTP streams will preclude analysis.

SkySwitch now offers white label resellers another way to see what happened on the remote side of a call with the availability of RTCP and RTCP-XR statistics in RTP-Sight.  RTCP is a protocol that allows supported SIP phones to provide feedback on the quality of service from the perspective of the remote endpoint.  This is accomplished by configuring supported SIP endpoints to stream RTCP statistics to the RTP-Sight collector.  These statistics include information such as transmitted packet counts, packet loss, packet delay variation, round-trip delay time and MOS.  Access to such performance data for each IP phone makes it easier to diagnose problems remotely.  And because RTCP is sent in a separate stream from RTP, encrypting RTP packets does not obscure this data.

The chart below shows a sample RTCP report displaying aggregate RTCP statistics over a 24-hour period.

Per call RTCP reports are also available as part of each Call Detail Record. The table below shows the RTCP statistics received from a SIP phone with IP address xx.xx.60.19, telling us the jitter and loss experienced by that endpoint on the RTP stream received from 75.98,50.46.

 

SkySwitch currently collects RTCP and RTCP-XR reports from Yealink, Vtech and Polycom SIP endpoints.