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Advice required: VoIP for small company

Discussion in 'General Tech & Gadget Forums' started by hb1966, Oct 24, 2005.

  1. hb1966

    hb1966
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    :hiya:

    I’d be grateful for a bit of help on (all matters) VoIP! First off, sorry for the commercial content of this post, I hope it doesn’t transgress any rules. I just drew the short straw and got tasked with finding the information!

    Our (small) company allow their employees to work from home or the office. We also have a small office in Australia, a sub contractor in Ireland, one in the far east and customers around the country.

    In an effort to save costs on phone calls (especially to Australia and Ireland) we would like to utilise VoIP as most of us have broadband access. I’ve been having a look at Skype and the facilities provided using a Draytek 2600VG router.

    My questions are:

    Would a user with Skype be able to make a direct connection to the VoIP port on the Draytek router and vice-versa?

    If I run Skype on my laptop, will it all work, whether my laptop is at home or in the office?

    What is the maximum number of calls that can be held on an ADSL line with 2Meg download and 256k upload? This is my concern as unless we have only one handset in the office, I’m worried it might all grind to a halt if we have numerous handsets on the go.

    One of my Australian customers uses a VoIP system from a company called Integra. What are the chances of this being compatible with Skype? I’m guessing Nill?

    What is the perceived best route forward? A system like Skype or the SIP system that the Draytek router provides?

    Thanks for reading so far! I hope you can shed some light on the above.


    :lease:
     
  2. Gullanian

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    1) You can run Skype from any PC plugged in anywhere, as long as you remember your username and password

    2) 1 Skype call uses less than 50k, that's what I've heard anyway. Works fine on 56k modem apparently.

    3) If you get Skype In, for about £20 a year, they can use Integra to call Skype at national rate. However, free calls between services is non existent.

    I highly advise you post in the Skype forum for these questions as well for better quantative data.
     
  3. Monty Burns

    Monty Burns
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    Just some extra info on Skype (not that this is definetly the way to go! There are lots of providers, look around):

    I use Skype in the following situation

    I used to live in London, I have now moved to Germany for a year and wil then be moving to China. With this in mind I opened a free Skype account and added Skype-In. This allows people in the UK to dial my 0207 number (London landline) at the normal landline cost, so if they get free landline calls, they can call it free. When they dial this number, assuming I am logged in to Skype, my Skype phone will ring - no matter where I am logged in around the world.

    How much does Skype-In cost me? 30Euro or 22/23 GBP a year.
    How much does it cost "The caller"? A "normal" landline call price.

    There are no other charges for using Skype-In. Call quality in my experience has also been excellent but, I have seen it eat as much as 10k/s bandwidth. I guess but cannot be sure, that it will scale the voice quality with the amount of bandwidth thats available - hence why it works with modems. The average data use of a call? Not sure where 50k came from as every call will be diferent depending on how long its in use.

    Skype to Skype calls on the net are free, they cost nothing.


    This is just one example of a service. There are many other VoIP suppliers out there so I would suggest you shop around.

    If I were in your shoes? I would get a Voip to Voip setup between here and one of your other offices using one of the free suppliers (maybe a prospective future VoIP buisness supplier) and just for the purposes of the test, use two pc's to act as the phone terminals rather than expensive routers. At least prove in concept that its good for you. So for example, you could just download a copy of Skype at each end, plug in microphone and headphones at each and chat away! Best to use Headphones as they reduce echo and feedback, once you get experienced you can use speakers but you will need to play around with noise reduction etc. Whilst the call is in use, run something like coolmon to have a live feed of exactly how much bandwidth that pc is using, with this figure you can gestimate your required bandwidth for all personel (you will need to estimate how many concurrent calls you will be running).

    *edit: you can also get cheap usb phone lookie-likey's that work with VoIP. You might want to use these for your tests instead of headphones/mics

    Best of luck!
     
  4. Cable Monkey

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    It may be worth mentioning that Skype is a voice protocol that works over the internet but is not VOIP strictly speaking. There are other true VOIP alternatives so don't focus on Skype as the only option.
     
  5. adamswifty

    adamswifty
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    Hi hb1966,

    Take a look at www.vonage.co.uk, they provide voip without the need for a pc.
    They charge £18.99 per month but that includes unlimited UK and national calls to any number (not just users of vonage/VOIP). You get to pick a phone number when registering (this can be any number available e.g. you could live in Wales and pick a London number). You just plug the supplied router in to your net connection and plug in any standard phone and you dial out/receive calls just like a normal phone.
    You can also plug the router in to any net connection if you travel.

    Worth a look, I’ve tested and it works well its a little slicker than Skype.
    Also have competitive rate when calling abroad http://www.vonage.co.uk/intrates.php


    Regards
    Adam
     
  6. Monty Burns

    Monty Burns
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    Honest question: What is VoIP then if its not encoding sound into bits n bytes, transmiting them over IP and then turning them back into sound? :)

    (this is what Skype does although I suspect it does use its own encoding that wont work with other suppliers)
     
  7. fortean

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    Skype doesn't use a standard VoIP protocol like H323 which is why it isn't really VoIP. Skype is really data over IP; it's just that the data contains encoded sound. This means that the Skype data can not be prioritised over the network because it can't be identified. True VoIP can be prioritised and thus reduce the number of packets lost or arriving late. The reason Skype chose this method was to allow them to traverse firewalls and NAT. For the same reason it is very difficult to block Skype use on a network. The Skype application will also use up to 70Kbs of bandwidth if it's available which usually means that only three simultaneous calls can be made on an ADSL line.
     
  8. hb1966

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    Thanks for all the great replies.

    Having digged a little deeper, I think we are going to run a Skype trial and limit the office to one or two phones max. It transpires that one of our UK customers and our Far East contractor already have Skype. Plus, it is far easier to ask those other companies that we have regular contact with to invest in a Skype phone to allow us both to make savings. Hell, we might even give them the phone to get them going!

    I discounted Vonage, as we need our off shore contacts (Australia, Far East) to make calls to us and experience call savings.

    We can run the Skype system for a few weeks and see how we get on with it. The cost of the handsets will be paid for in that time, so if we dont get on with it, we can 'chuck' the handsets and still be in pocket.
     
  9. Monty Burns

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    Nope Sorry ... still dont get it.


    Question: This H323 is still encoding voice into data and then being turned back into voice at the other end ... ergo its voice over IP (internet protocol). Which is exactly what Skype does, does it not? Surley these still get chucked down to the IP layer of ISO encapsulated into IP packets? I suggest that H323 is a standard of how to layout these bits n bytes which Skype does not follow which, would be the reason people suggest Skype is not part of the common understanding of VoIP (coz it don't follow H323 standards) - although it still is VoIP. This is just a guess though without looking anything up! :D Of course, this would mean systems that follow H323 could probably talk together, the advantage Skype would not have?



    Also, I didn't *think* anything could be QoS'd properly unless you were using IPv6. My friends router that says it prioritises actually cheats and asks you to specify a PC and so does not truley prioritise VoIP, more the system/ports. Of course though, routers that have VoIP built into them can also cheat and prioritise that by default and give remaning bandwidth to the lan.


    I have to disagree with the 70k/s! I can happily have my skype running in under 8k/s and get fine soundquality, i know this coz I have a system monitor running as a service on the desktop (Coolmon) which keeps me informed of certain system data, examples of which are network card IO in K per second. Oh and this can be whilst downloading movies at 120k/s from newsgroups (I limit this with the download manager). This is all over a 1meg line.

    :confused:

    *edit: Actually very easy to block access to skype, via ports or access to the skype database (servers IP address/dns name) :)
     
  10. fortean

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    VoIP can be proritised by correctly configured routers if it can be identified as VoIP and the router is designed to do it. This sort of prioritisation will usually only be found on your ISP's routers and those on the backbone.
    The Skype application will use up to 70Kbs if it's available. It will connect at much lower speeds too. If you are on a 56K Modem then it will use a maximum of 33.6Kbs depending on model. Other factors that will also effect Skype performance from a single ADSL line are the nodes/super nodes that are being used to route your call and whether your PC is being used as a node or not. You will be lucky to get more than 3 Skype calls down an ADSL line.
    Blocking access to the log on servers is the only guaranteed way to block Skype. These servers do change though. Blocking ports will not work if you want HTTP access because Skype will use port 80 (HTTP) and port 443 (HTTPS) amongst others.
     
  11. Monty Burns

    Monty Burns
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    HB1966: I would purchase enough to run four concurrent phone calls and check out what Fortean says. If its true, it maybe something you won't notice until its too late! I *think* you can get USB phones for around 10quid or not much more. I use a much more expensive Du@lphone so I can roam the house whilst using Skype.

    I think there seems to be some confusion though as I can happily start a conversation on skype and it will use (as example) 8k/s with fine, clear call quality - no other downloads/uploads happening. I find it hard to believe the maximum bandwidth available between myself (T-Com.de) and Skypes UK Skype-Out or my mates 10meg Telewest is limited to 8k/s (64k line) backbone (nodes or supernodes) at any point in the middle. Well, actually as we can ftp stuff to each other a lot faster, I know its not the only free bandwidth there ;) This means there is a lot more bandwidth that Skype *could* use but it is not. But HB, you need to confirm this bandwidth usage before you decide to live or you could end up being hated by everyone :D


    Having done a little look-see, H323 is actually a standard and as such is no diferent to Skype. They are both VoIP, just Skype uses its own standard and cannot be prioritised as Fortean says but, as most home routers do not support IPv6 this is not really that much of an issue for most of us, unless we stop all other outbound/inbound traffic at the same time :rotfl: Maybe your company has IPv6 Support? Either way, they both take "sounds" code it down, push it through the ISO layers to get encapsulated into IP, reach the destination and then go up through ISO to get put back into sound. However, in theory I would of thought that H323 would be compatible with other suppliers of H323 standards, as so, it may well be worth you looking at other suppliers as well. Remember, there is nothing to say you must have only one VoIP supplier!

    Fortean: Cheers for the pointers on H323, turned out to be an interesting read on a boring day at work ... just don't tell the boss :smashin:
     
  12. fortean

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    I won't say a word; whoever he is :)

    HB1966 I would also be interested if you can get more than 3 Skype calls going at the same time. We could never manage it where I work over ADSL and now we have a 2Mb leased line so there's no oportunity to try again.
     
  13. shagracing

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    Id buy a Vigor 2600vg router for each hub. Not only will it give you free calls via VOiP you'll also be able to set up VPN's to transfer secure data between the hub and the office.
     
  14. adamswifty

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    70Kbs = 8.75KBs are you both not quoting similar figures just using different units of measure?

    Based on 8.75KBs being the average bandwidth required, you would have a limit of around 3 simultaneous conversations using an ADSL line (256kbs upload) 70*3 = 210kbs or 8.75*3 = 26.25 KBs *8 (bits back to bytes)=210kbs, almost all your bandwidth.


    Adam
     
  15. hb1966

    hb1966
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    We only have 2 staff who needs regular contact with the off-shore companies. I think if we get 2 handsets (to play with) then we can cover our needs and not worry about overloading the network.

    The other bonus is that it allows staff to work from home and keep in contact with the office at no cost - we all have broadband.

    I dont think we would ever need to run 3 or 4 phones, so am not too bothered about runing a test based on those numbers.

    I'll buy a desktop and a handset and have a play. Even if we only keep the desktop in the office, the it will easily pay for itself in allowing calls to Australia OR Ireland OR Far East.

    I was looking for a desktop phone that has a speaker phone so we can all join in! However, a cordless phone with similar properties would be a bonus. Would anybody care to recommend suitable phones?
     
  16. Monty Burns

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    hmmm.... I said 8k/s out of a possible 128k/s (1meg line, 256 upload).... so

    assuming 256 upload divided by 8 = 32k/s max upload

    divide that by 8 k/s = 4 concurrent phone calls but, thats giving Skype all it wants. As Fortean pointed out, it will run on slower but I guess the sound quality starts suffering badly. In otherwords, it should still work with more than 4. And I would of thought your not uploading all the time to Skype, only when you actually say something i.e. there is noise to go to the other end. :confused:
     
  17. Monty Burns

    Monty Burns
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    :D then you really are bang out of luck with Skype!

    The only cordless phone at the moment for Skype that I know of is the one I have and it don't do speaker phone im afraid. Other than that, not sure whats on the horizon.

    check here


    If you really want a cordless speaker phone then I think you really are going to have to go with another supplier - at the moment ;)

    :edit: Dah! Stupid me. If you want to do speakerphone then why not just speakers and a mic? You will need to place the mic behind the speakers so as not to get feedback but, it will work fine.
     
  18. Cable Monkey

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    I was going to make the point that there seems some confusion between Kilobits and Kilobytes but have been beaten to it. Regarding the status of Skype as true VOIP or not, for a business critical application you would want to ensure your packets are not the ones dumped or delayed in favour of others. Choosing a protocol that conforms would be a prudent choice if it is important.
     
  19. hb1966

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    I think Skype is the way for us to go. The main people we need to keep in contact with are not technically minded and i think Skype offers them the best/easiest solution.

    Thanks for all the advice, im going to get two cheap handsets and have a play locally and then try and get our man in Australia up and running.

    If it all goes pair shapped, we can pick up the (proper) phone!
     
  20. Cable Monkey

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    Glad we (they!) could be of help. :)
     
  21. fortean

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    Thanks Adam. I can't believe I missed that. I'm just glad nobody from the office looks here :suicide:
    On the subject of speakerphone, there are some products out there that allow you to connect an ordinary phone via USB so that you can use it for both Skype and PSTN. With one of these you could have a DECT speakerphone if you wanted. The company I work for manufactures one such product and there are others available. I think Maplin sell a couple of USB phone adaptors.

    Thanks again Adam for pointing that out to me. The reason for the 3 call limit is that with ADSL overheads there isn't sufficient bandwidth left for a fourth call.
     
  22. spinalize

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    Hi folks lots of talk of bandwidth and what is VoIP. Firstly the big misconception about VoIP is bandwidth and QoS. QoS is queueing theory, it does nothing for bandwidth. What it controls is how packets are placed on the network.... and this affects the round rip delay (gob to ear and back) and something called Jitter which is packets containing voice arriving at irregular intervals. That and packet loss are the killers.

    Bandwidth?? Of course you need it but its not the real deal.

    As for VoIP anything that digitizes (optionally compresses) voice and places it into an IP frame is VoIP. H.323, SIP, Skype they are all VoIP.

    Spine
     
  23. Cable Monkey

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    Is that not like saying anything with 4 wheels and a steering wheel is a car when it could be a tractor? It demonstrates that similar methods of implementation serve different proposes, and while we recognise the fact that VOIP is loosely any voice into an ip frame, the network needs to recognise that fact to minimise the packet loss and jitter you mention. To my mind that means you have to highlight the difference because that factors into the decision the customer has to make. That is how I would approach it professionally anyway.
     
  24. mucca_D

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    Just to take it from a slightly dif angle.

    If I make core routers and I want to give better qos to VOIP I am going to make my routers aware of the global reconised VOIP protocols, H323 sip etc.

    So if one company decided to make there own service based on a propiertry protocol (ie skype) then routers can not differentiate against a skype call or a plain web page access.

    Something else that has not been said is the clever marketing tech of SKYPE and its the oldest trick in the book (microsoft anyone) is to get everyone using and taking about FREE calls and more make sure you really goto town on getting people to talk about it and how big you are. ANd then and this is the big one MAKE SURE YOUR STUFF DOES NOT WORK WITH ANY ONE ELSE.

    Then make a huge proofit selling your stuff to EBAY

    You only have to see that from the fact that although skype is clearly not the best choice for hb1966 they are still going to try it and then give others skype handsets to get them to use it. INSANE :suicide:

    OK OK skype does a job, but does not MSN have voice and video but we dont call that voip and why are we not all running around trying to get all to use it??????? I will leave that your replies :rolleyes:

    Ok so what would I recommend.

    There are hundreds of choices and bujets, but I am going to try and go the best but simplest choice.

    It has been said already but to expand a little. get a router that supports VPN terminations (at all branches) so you can set up VPNs between your sites this will allow secure traffic and you can implement local LAN services as If you where all in the same office.

    This would allow you to either have one central point for you calls or at least have a better control over internet use (ie outside traffic only through proxy at main office)

    The benefit of a central phone exchange is then all calls between your office are internal only (zero cost) and are the added benefit of transversing the internet over a VPN ir private link.

    The next benefit is that your users do not need to use their computers to make calls and to make or receive calls it PBX will do the least cost routing for you so will make the choice of using VOIP or PSTN.

    Anyone that is using VOIP will be able to ring you using there VOIP service as VOIP to VOIP is FREE (SKYPe to vonange is not free)

    If you use someone like SIPGATE, they can give you either a non geographically number or the opposite. what for you say, well if you move office with normaly pstn lines and you code was 020 the it would change but with you have in your own number then you could afectvally move your complete office to the south of France and still have your 020 number.

    Plus if your sites are across time zones the pbx could forward calls based on time of day or week.

    Any how even if you did not whish to go for a PBX then I urge you to gat a router that support QOS (one 2mb download have way through a sales call will kill the call and thats a bit silly) and do not use a propritry VOIP service like SKYPE for a business. remember that yore number costs and who nows what ebay are planing to do!

    Standardized VOIP will be supported more and more for better QOS on the Internet, and it is very unlikely that service that use multiple ports ( 80 for VOIP HELLLLLLOOO :mad: ) will not be supported.

    rant over
     
  25. Monty Burns

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    WOW! Thats a lot of opinion :) And pretty much spot on :)


    MSN though, guess we never thought of that! :smashin:

    Seriously though, not as bad an idea as you think. I know of two companies that use public instant messenging for trivial tasks - not important and secret info. One uses MSN and the other uses ICQ. Works well for them.

    The OP wanted to keep things cheap as possible (he's even having to justify a couple of handsets at a tenner a pop!) so installing a router n stuff is not an option. I think all he wanted to do at the moment was a proof of concept.

    Whilst we all agreed that Skype was not the ideal choice for him, I believe if you look back he did say he had customers using it and ... well, as its proprietry he had no choice but to use it if he wanted to talk to them. Doh!


    Oh and MSN or ICQ voice IS VoIP just not h323 compliant. Hell, Teamspeak is even VoIP :D
     
  26. mucca_D

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  27. hb1966

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    As Monty Burns said, i have one contractor and one customer already Skype enabled. The three other people we would like to be able to talk to using 'whatever' system are not technically (computer hware or sware) capable, they just use computers as part of their job.

    Based on the above, Skype appears to be the initial way forward as a trial. I might be able to convince customers without any equipment to purchase Skype handsets etc, but it would be wrong to ask existing Skype users to buy/use an alternative system. (I actually favour a SIP based system.) Afterall they picked Skype for a reason!
     
  28. Leander

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    This post is very interesting to me as I have a similar problem. The company I work for is leaving its site and will become home based with around 10 people.

    The original plan was to have a server at my house and to connect us all through VPN and VoIP.

    Having now belatedely realised that;

    a) The VPN will work quite slowly as it will be limited, if using ADSL, by the server's upload speed. Client download speed is therefore irrelevant.

    b) The number of concurrent VoIP calls will be limited for the same reason.

    It's clear that we have a problem.

    We would (grudgingly) pay the extortionate costs of SDSL but it's not available at my postcode and is unlikely to be before my kids retire!!

    We need VoIP mainly to continue the impression of an office based company so that customers can be instantly connected to a colleague just as with a PBX system

    Reduced cost external calls would be nice but it isn't the driver. In fact I had originally assumed that the server would link externally via PSTN.

    Any help gratefully received.

    Cheers,

    leander
     
  29. dejongj

    dejongj
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    Leander...the http://www.voipfone.co.uk service with virtual PBX and individual extensions sounds perfect for you....

    I've been using the conference-call facilities a lot, not really a personal need for the extensions....But I think you will like it...
     
  30. Leander

    Leander
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    Jean,

    thanks for the information, I will have a close look at the site. Like I said in my post, it's the possibility of handling concurrent calls on an ADSL line that bothers me.

    Leander
     

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