Speech Technology Magazine


Cloud-Based PBX and Fixed-Mobile Convergence

A cloud-based PBX should have all the capabilities of the fixed-line version.
By Milan Tomic - Posted Dec 12, 2012
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A company that decides to outsource technology and services into the cloud does this for one purpose: cost savings. Many features and services, like complete desktops and datacenters, can be outsourced, but the same can also be said for contact center and private branch exchange (PBX) technologies.

This makes huge, premises-based PBXs obsolete, together with the costs for acquisition, maintenance, and integration. Usually, there are small, specialized cloud-companies that offer virtual PBX with Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking as the underlying technology.

There are quite a few companies offering cloud-based PBX, yet carriers and service providers are the best suppliers for virtual PBX. It is PBX-as-a-service, similar to software-as-a-service.

Carriers and specialized suppliers of value-added services can improve customer retention and  reduce customers' costs while they increase their margins. Operators have the greatest experience when it comes to dealing with complex voice and telephony services. They have highly evolved networks, and in most developed economies, they have very high network coverage.

Mobile operators in particular can offer true fixed mobile convergence at a good price with such a service because they have their own networks and do not act as middlemen. Hence they are the best partner for companies that want to replace their legacy PBX systems or for start-ups that cannot afford expensive, premises-based equipment. To serve customers with various demands and different sizes, carriers need a virtual PBX platform that is flexible enough to handle the various scenarios of the most different customers.

The underlying technology is based on NGIN (Next Generation Intelligent Network), which can be easily integrated in the carrier's network. 

Fixed-Mobile Convergence for Customer Retention 

With such a solution, business customers get everything from one provider: Numbers for fixed-line and mobile, an internal numbering plan, which enables employees to call each other just by using the extension, as well as  all of the other functionalities of a PBX-system. Users can, for example, define how long one phone rings until the call automatically goes to another phone within the group, or the order in which the phones ring. Small telephone conferences should also be possible.

If carriers offer mobile connections together with fixed-line services, both can be combined in one virtual PBX. Here, each employee needs only one device, typically a mobile phone, for fixed and mobile. But it is also possible to use separate devices for fixed-line and mobile telephony, which are both part of the virtual PBX.  

Companies that want to work without physical devices can use softphone clients on PCs. At the same time it has to be possible to integrate SIP and ISDN phones into the same virtual PBX. That is another reason that carriers offering such a solution need to be able to represent all their customers' scenarios on one platform, regardless of how many devices they want to use. This is the only way such a platform can be profitable for an operator. 

The most practical solution for a company that has opted for a virtual PBX is to use fixed-mobile convergence and to use all numbers with one mobile device. This company will end up having one invoice for fixed-line, mobile, and the PBX. Because acquisition and maintenance costs are obsolete, there is no equipment  to be depreciated over the years. Costs for a virtual PBX usually classify as telephone costs. Apart from these unique costs, a virtual PBX reduces the running costs because there is no need for mobile subscriptions with monthly fees for each employee. Additionally, phone calls between employees are free. This is another way to connect subsidiaries of one company in a cost-efficient way. In addition, employees that work on customers' premises or are on a business trip are easier to reach at no additional cost.

Combining virtual PBX with fixed-mobile convergence has other advantages for operators: They can strengthen their customer retention in the hard-fought business customer segment by offering their corporate customers a full-service telephony solution with only one invoice for everything.

Companies using this convergent solution gain flexibility, especially when they have an internal numbering plan that enables colleagues to call each other just by dialing extension numbers. That way companies can connect their various subsidiaries cost-efficiently. 

Also, when a company has acquired another company both can be connected easily with a virtual PBX. If the purchased enterprise has been using a premises-based PBX, the virtual solution should be so open that the on-premises PBX can easily be integrated with all the numbers. At the same time, there should be no change in the numbering plan when the old solution is replaced by the cloud-based PBX.

For communicating with customers and business partners, the combination of cloud-based PBX and fixed-mobile convergence is also beneficial. A customer who calls can always dial the fixed-line number and reach the person, even if he is not in the office. 

Independence Thanks to Self-Management

To make life easier for themselves and their customers, carriers have to make sure that companies can create and administer users by themselves. A Web portal is the best way to assign new numbers, to delete users, and to grant certain rights like opening phone conferences. 

With such a portal, users can administer their own settings and availability. Here users can set rules for when they are not available and what should happen to incoming calls during those times. That way, users can determine which calls are directed to voicemail, which calls go to a colleague, or get a busy sign. With a Web-portal, users are independent from the company administrator because they can adjust their availability anytime. To follow-up on the convergent approach, an app for the Web-portal makes sense.

Inter-Company Connectivity with Fixed-Mobile Convergence 

A typical scenario with PBX is forwarding and redirecting calls, like when a manager redirects all incoming calls to an assistant. The Web-portal allows him to set which calls are not redirected but connected directly. Over a thin-client on the PC the assistant can see who is calling and whether the person for whom the call is intended is busy. The assistant doesn't even have to be in the office to take calls and forward them. Home-workers can greatly benefit from this.

The company switchboard would work in a similar way. Attendants can see whether a colleague is currently on the phone or away from his desk. That way several subsidiaries of one company can share a central switchboard. Several companies can also share a switchboard and the attendant can work location-independent.

Speech telephony is the classical domain of network operators, and the business segment brings the highest revenue. Every company with a handful of employees needs a PBX or a similar service. Carriers can make attractive offers out of the cloud. The underlying technology has to be scalable and flexible so they can meet customer demands, regardless of industry and size. Additionally, a cloud-based PBX should support fixed-mobile convergence so companies can use fixed-line and mobile telephony from one provider over one single PBX. Customers save a lot of money because they do not have to invest in costly premises-based PBXs, including installation and maintenance. For a company that expands or wants to connect several offices, a virtual PBX helps. With cloud-based PBX operators can leverage their networks' potential and use their core business to market profitable services with state-of-the art technology.

Milan Tomic is director of product management and presales at European Computer Telecoms (ECT), a provider of virtual PBX technology.

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