Polycom: Don’t Say Goodbye to Your Desk Phone

There has been much opinionating (yeah, I know that’s not really a word) in the Cloud PBX industry about the day when mobile applications running on smartphones will replace the standard PBX desk phone. In this vision of the future, the desk phone will be obsolete.  Employees will bring their personal devices to work (commonly called BYOD) and business communications will be conducted over an app running on said devices.  These apps will register to the company PBX (or UCC server) and all business communications (voice, video and chat) will be conducted over a private, secure channel.

Yes, I think that the day will come when mobile devices will reign supreme in business communications… eventually.  But I also agree with this white paper from Polycom positing that desk phones are not going away in the foreseeable feature.

Among the reasons that Polycom sets forth are:

  • Wireless isn’t made for two-way conferencing  – Most BYOD’s can only connect via a wireless network. Unfortunately, beyond narrowband phone calls, wireless networks are not built for the mass deployment of two-way media like video and audio calling. They’re optimized for transferring data files and downloading movies. Live media is more demanding of data integrity and latency control, which often results in unpredictable dropouts and freezes over wireless connections.
  • A smartphone has to be small and cheap – A deskphone is assigned a reasonable amount of space, but the handheld’s priority is size. Every component is shrunk to the minimum in an industry largely defined by “my smartphone is thinner than yours.” Speakers are weak, sound pickup undirected, cameras are shaky, and batteries run down before the work is done.
  • Soft clients crash – Soft clients share cores, memory, I/O, and screen space with everything else that is running, so performance and reliability become uncertain. One laptop reboot in the middle of a conference can kill the meeting. A real phone instead puts communicating “on top;” It doesn’t get lost, it doesn’t crash, and it always works.
  • A BYOD is uncomfortable – There is a big difference between the short calls that are made on a smartphone and the hour-long discussions in a business. Users get fatigued; It’s hard to consistently perform at your best when you aren’t sure whether they can hear you or if the call is still running.
  • Where is the camera pointed?  – Even a brief glimpse of sales figures on a whiteboard, a
    personal wall decoration, or an unannounced guest can be catastrophic to a business situation. A good Business Media Phone avoids this with an assigned place on the desktop for a stable field of view, and often adds a mechanical camera shutter to bring absolute confidence. The BYOD has neither.
  • A BYOD is built to minimize power use – This ekes out battery life, but also means it sleeps frequently,dims the display, and operates all functions at the minimum usable level.
  • On a soft client, the controls keep moving – A real phone provides a dedicated display and dedicated controls so that, for example, there’s no embarrassed scrambling to find the “Mute” button when someone walks in. With a real phone, phone functions don’t get buried under spreadsheets, messages, and all the other screentop activity that sprouts up during a busy meeting.
  • BYOD is fragile – Let’s face it, they look cool, but the typical smartphone encloses all those smart entrails within a thin glass screen and a slippery shell. It’s not just the glass; any number of internal functions can fracture if dropped even once, because there is not much space for protection inside that slender package.

Most of these shortcomings will be solved when device makers can improve battery performance.  Although the situation has improved markedly since I first blogged on this topic six years ago, I believe that the limited battery life mobile of devices still prevents users from using them for full desk phone replacement duty.  Once the battery life problem is solved, it will be possible to solve the ergonomic issues with bluetooth (or other) attached devices and accessories.  In the meantime, however, don’t sell your Polycom stock.

 

 

 

How to Lookup a SIP Server’s DNS SRV Records

Many service providers rely on DNS SRV records for failover and resiliency purposes.

Using DNS SRV records, compatible equipment (such as SIP phones and SIP PBX servers) can map several SIP servers to a single SIP domain. Each SIP server can be assigned a priority, and if the server with the highest priority cannot be reached, the SIP phone or proxy trying to reach the user within the domain will attempt to reach the next host defined within the SRV record.

For example, the SIP domain outboundproxy.com uses DNS SRV records to point to geographically diverse SIP servers located in New York and Dallas.  If the New York servers is unavailable, then compatible equipment will automatically failover to the Dallas server.   More information about DNS SRV records is available at voip-info.org.

As an end user, it may not be obvious that a SIP domain is using SRV records.

At one time, performing a DNS SRV lookup required knowledge of the Unix command dig, a tool used to interrogate DNS name servers,  performs DNS lookups, and display the answers that are returned from the name server(s) that were queried.   A typical dig query might appear as follows:

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 12.27.43 AM

Because dig is a Linux tool, performing a DNS SRV lookup was not easy for Windows users and users unfamiliar with Unix commands.   However, it has become  easier to perform a DNS SRV lookup using any of several available online portals.   Although there are many online DNS lookup tools, there are not many that will allow you to search for DNS SRV records.  Two of the portals that I rely on for this purpose are  http://centralops.net/co/nslookup.aspx  and http://www.digwebinterface.com.

Using a DNS lookup tool  allows you to enter a SIP domain name into the web search form, and see all of the SIP servers that are configured.  The results are often quite interesting (if you are curious about that sort of thing).

This is a two-step process.  First you must lookup the DNS pointer (PTR) record for the domain.  The result of this lookup will tell you if the domain is advertising any SIP services.  Then you must lookup the service domain that was contained in the pointer record.

For example, looking up all the DNS services for sip.outboundproxy.com will yeild a name pointer (PTR) record showing that there is an SRV record available.  The result shown below (taken from http://centralops.net/co/nslookup.aspx)  tells us that a SIP service record exists.

sip.outboundproxy.com NsLookup results

 

Not all SIP service providers bother to publish a pointer (PTR) record since it is  just as easy to search for the service (SRV) record straight away.  To search for a SIP SRV record, just use the prefix ‘_sip._udp.’  or ‘_sip._tcp.’ (depending on whether you are interested in using UDP or TCP for the SIP connection) before the domain name.

For ample, to search for the SRV records of sip.outboundproxy.com, you would need to enter _sip._udp.sip.outboundproxy.com.   The results from three different DNS online lookup tools are shown in the images below.

_sip._udp.sip.outboundproxy.com NsLookup results

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 12.39.19 AM

DNS SRV lookup using http://dnsrlookup.onlinetoolkit.org/

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 1.00.41 AM

DNS SRV lookup using http://www.digwebinterface.com

 

 

Evolution of the Area Code

The recent announcement that Connecticut will be introducing the new 959 area code this summer has gotten me thinking about area codes.

I work with area code issues virtually day as a integral aspect of DID Management.  The SkySwitch DID platform, allows resellers to order, provision and manage DIDs based on  NPA-NXX (that is shorthand for the codes set forth in the North American Numbering Plan, also known as NANP). However, I never really gave much thought to the societal repercussions associated with the many changes that are affecting our phone numbers.

If you have ever wondered about the history of the area code, the February 2014 edition of The Atlantic contains a good read entitled Our Numbered Days: The Evolution of the Area Code.

The article discusses the cultural and social aspects of area codes and gives a history of the North American Numbering Plan (NANP), including a description of the Neustar team that currently mans the helm:

 

So who has control over the numbering system today? That honor belongs, officially, to a 12-person team working out of an office in Sterling, Virginia: the current administrators of the North American Numbering Plan. For a brief period in the 1990s, it was Lockheed Martin that oversaw that administration; after Lockheed got involved with telecom concerns, however, the FCC decided that it needed a neutral and non-governmental body to administer the nation’s numbers. Lockheed’s numbering division divested itself and became Neustar, which remains under contract with the FCC.

 

Requiem for 7773456

 

moviefoneWhen I started working in the VoIP industry way back in 1999, I was living in Manhattan and used to call the local Moviefone DID (2127773456) on a regular basis to find the movie show times.

Because it was so easy to remember, it became my ‘go-to’ number for making test calls.  Especially since there were local DIDs in most major metropolitan areas.  If I had to make multiple successive test calls, I could dial 212777345, 4157773456 and 2137773456 and easily determine which call was which in the resulting call traces.  Over the years, I would be surprised if I haven’t called Moviefone more than 5,000 times (I sometimes wondered if somebody at Moviefone ever noticed).

And so it was with genuine nostalgia when I heard last week that the number was being taken out of service, and as reported by the New York Times.  I suppose I knew it had to happen eventually, what with this  mobile Internet thing becoming so popular.   An yet, after 25 years it still seems too soon.  So please take a moment with me now to commemorate the passing of an era while I search for a new object d’test.

 

SkySwitch Introduces PBX Fone for Android and iOS

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 1.45.21 AM

 

SkySwitch is happy to announce the availability of PBX Fone, a mobile client that runs on Google Android and Apple iOS devices.  PBX Fone is a SIP softphone that is tightly integrated with the SkySwitch Web Centrex white label hosted PBX  solution.   It is currently available as a free download from the Google Play store and from Apple’s iTunes.

What sets PBX Fone apart from other mobile clients such as the popular Bria softphone from Counterpath or the Zoiper softphone, is that PBX Fone extends the most popular PBX features directly to the mobile device.

 

These features include:

  • Ability dial internal (extension) and external (PSTN) destinations.
  • Ability to view call history from PBX.
  • Ability to set find-me/follow-me rules on the PBX
  • Ability to store, fetch and dial PBX contacts as well as device phone book contacts.
  • Displays the presence status of contacts.
  • Captures  logs to be sent to support (in case of issues such as application crash).
  • Record any call to the PBX with a single touch.
  • Visual voicemail streams voicemail messages stored on the PBX for easy playback, and manages messages left on the server; eg. delete and forward them to other user’s email.
  • While a call is in progress, user can transfer it to any contact or phonebook entry.
  • Single button option to transfer to “My Extension”, which allows caller to transfer to any of his own extensions.
  • Single button option to transfer to “My Cell Phone”, which allows caller to transfer a call to the cellular channel of the mobile device in case of data channel degradation.
  • One-touch access the the PBX end user web portal.
  • After any call session is ended, User can make notes about the call.  Notes will be saved to PBX call history.
  • Support for multiple themes/designs which are controlled from a central configuration server.

With these features, business users have all the conveniences of mobility because the most important and commonly used features can now be accessed from anywhere.

To learn more, contact your SkySwitch representative or request a callback here.

 

 

Funnycall Gets Serious About SIP Session Control

 

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 11.11.00 PM

Funnycall is an Apple iPhone app that allows users to make “funny” phone calls by playing sounds and changing the caller’s voice using any of nine effects such as Echo, Alien Cyborg and Chipmunk.

When the developers of Funnycall wanted to get serious about their VoIP and webservices infrastructure, they called SkySwitch.

Although the app has been on the market since 2010, amassing more than 10 million downloads along the way, the creators struggled to find a platform that would facilitate their continued  growth.  In particular, they were searching for a scalable on-demand SIP platform with a flexible customer-management and real-time charging API.

The SkySwitch SIP Session Control platform filled their needs perfectly.   With the SkySwitch “always-active” network both call traffic and API transactions can be load-balanced across multiple physical servers in the Company’s geographically diverse data centers  (SkySwitch is collocated at InterNAP facilities in New York and Dallas).    And  future growth can be easily accommodated because new capacity can be brought online seamlessly and without any impact to existing traffic.

The SkySwitch team has been working with mobile app developers for years and knows what it takes to make a success.  If you have a mobile app (or an idea for a mobile app) and need  rock-solid infrastructure, email solutions@skyswitch.com or click here for a callback.

SkySwitch SIP Instant Fax Now in Beta


printer_and_fax
It’s no secret that most VoIP geeks think of fax machines with disdain.   In an age when you can snap a picture on your smartphone and tweet it to anyone in the world, the idea of a fax machine  seems antiquated to many. And yet, in many industries – especially the healthcare related fields – faxes are an integral part of doing business that will not go away anytime soon.

And so, with those customers in mind, SkySwitch is pleased to introduce  fax-to-email support to all the SkySwitch DID Management solutions.   The fax mail module is available with all our software-as-a-service (SaaS) DID platforms, so that any customer of the SkySwitch ENUM, DID Provisioning, and SIP Virtual Trunking solutions  can fax enable any SIP DID from any underlying provider.  That’s right… SkySwitch will let you fax enable any SIP DID from any provider.

In addition,  as a NetSapiens  Certified Cloud Partner, the SkySwitch fax mail solution is  available to any Service Provider using the NetSapiens multi-tenant hosted PBX.   In particular, the SkySwitch fax mail solution adds value to the NetSapiens ecosystem by integrating with the NetSapiens User Portal to support a unified inbox for end users.

For customers of the SkySwitch Web Centrex hosted PBX solution, this means that you can easily purchase a SkySwitch DID that will convert inbound faxes into an email and/or place the fax image into an end-users voicemail inbox.   It’s pretty simple to use:   just enable it as an enhanced service in the DID portal and enter an email address   (other enhanced services include CNAM Delivery and E911 provisioning).  Any faxes sent to the number will be converted into a PDF formatted file, and emailed to the listed email address.

Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 2.53.25 AM

 

As shown in the image above, DIDs with fax mail enabled will display a fax icon in the DID inventory page.  All fax calls will be displayed in your wholesale DID CDRs and treated just like any other DID.

The service is currently in beta mode and available to all Web Centrex clients.  To learn more, please contact your account rep or request a callback here.

Troubleshooting VoIP, the SkySwitch Way

For most VoIP Providers, troubleshooting a customer complaint goes something like this:

  • Ask the customer for the approximate time of the problem
  • Identify the correct server and grep the log files until you find one that might contain the error condition
  • If nothing obvious comes up, turn on packet capture and attempt to replicate the problem by asking the customer to try again, being careful all the while not to overburden the server with the resulting load
  • Copy the results, usually a very large pcap file, to your local machine and try to extract the relevant packets using Wireshark filters
  • Analyze the call and, more often than not, repeat the process

In general, this process sucks because:

  • It is tedious and takes a lot of time, consuming resources that could be better spent elsewhere
  • It requires a level of expertise that is typically beyond the average support technician
  • It often requires that pcap files be emailed between multiple parties, where you lose control over security
  • The fact that you must ask the customer to assist you portrays your company’s image in an unflattering light. 

As a SkySwitch Reseller, you can significantly improve your customer experience by leveraging tools that make your support team more efficient.  With SkySwitch, the troubleshooting process goes something like this:

1.  Find the CDR for the call in question using simple and intuitive filters

call filters

2.  Generate a SIP ladder graph with a single click

 

sip trace

 

3.  Check the SIP ladder graph for obvious issues

switch logic

 

4.  If necessary, dive down into the switch logic

 

switch logic 2

5.  If the problem involves the RTP stream,  view MoS, packet loss an other RTP statistics

rtp statistics

 6.   Share a link with other people so they can see exactly what you are.

share-cdr-with-pcap

 

The result is groundbreaking because:

  • It provides insights into past and current call flows by combining all aspects of the call into a single visual representation.
  • All call scenarios are linked directly from the customer interface, so you don’t have to search voluminous log files for calls belonging to a specific customer.
  • Because the switch logic is interspersed chronologically with the SIP ladder graph you can view each SIP message in the context of what happened in the switch, greatly increasing your insight into the issue.
  • You don’t have to bother your customer during the troubleshooting process.

We have been in the VoIP business long enough to know that good service depends on being able to find the root cause of a problem quickly and with minimal overhead.  As a result, we have distilled the troubleshooting process into a task that can be accomplished by an average support person in less than 5 minutes.

This is just one of the many ways that SkySwitch works hard to ensure your success.

UC vs. UCC: What the Heck is the Difference?

According to a recent Frost & Sullivan end-user survey on enterprise communications, a large percentage (42%) of end-users are confused about the terms UC and UCC.  Frankly, that seems low to me because it’s pretty darn confusing.

According to Garner’s IT Glossary,  Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) is a term that is used to describe a “combination of communications and collaboration technologies.”   On the other hand, Unified Communications (UC)  refers to the merging of voice, messaging and presence.  Or, as Dave Michel at Unified Communications Strategies puts it, “UC is more about the technologies and collaboration is more about the outcome.”  Say what?!?

If you ask me, there is no meaningful difference between the two terms.  UCC is simply a way to distinguish the recent enhancements (whatever they may be) that are being  added by many UC vendors to existing solutions.  In most cases, the distinctions are arbitrary.

To understand why, it helps to recall that the term UC originated from “Unified Messaging,” a term coined in the 1990’s to describe the unification of your inbox (that is, the combination of voicemail, email, SMS and fax).  As technologies evolved, Unified Messaging morphed into Unified Communications to include interactive communications such as video, IM and presence.  But, with the recent evolution of  technology to encompass more collaborative applications such as web conferencing,  web sharing, desktop sharing, application sharing, document sharing and beyond, vendors are eager to differentiate the new stuff from the old stuff.  And thus, a new segment is born.

Anyway you slice it, the term UC is yesterday’s news.  And, anyone that purports to know anything about the topic has moved on to current vogue nomenclature – UCC.   So the next time you find yourself at a cocktail party discussing collaboration, don’t get caught unawares.   Just remember where you heard it first.

 

 

 

 

Pin It on Pinterest