Users mull over hosted VoIP option

Subscription-based services launched

Avaya has announced a set of subscription-based IP telephony, call centre and voice-mail services for businesses — an unusual move for a networking equipment vendor, since hosted voice over IP is primarily the domain of telecommunications carriers.

But, some IT managers at the Interop Las Vegas 2006 conference say they have found fault with the services offered by network operators, prompting them to install VoIP systems internally or look for hosting alternatives.

For example, XM Satellite Radio has been using the new hosted versions of Avaya’s call centre applications for the past month, after having difficulties in the past with such offerings from conventional telecommunications services providers.

“My name is Tanya, and I am a victim of the service providers,” says Tanya Callaway, director of technical operations at Washington-based XM. Callaway says she has worked with several telecommunications vendors that offer hosted call centre services, but “They don’t know the call centre business, and they can’t move fast enough for me.”

She says XM prefers using hosted systems to support its call centre, which for ten months of the year employs about 1,600 customer service agents — a number that mushrooms to 3,000 in November and December. That requires the firm to quickly grow systems capacity in the fall, said Callaway, who added the network operators XM has used haven’t been agile enough.

Although Avaya will have to prove itself next fall, its Contact Centre On- Demand hosted service seems to be working well thus far, she says.

The service costs US$50 to US$150 per agent each month, says George Humphrey, director of the On-Demand programme at Avaya. He says that monthly pricing starts at US$25 per user, for Avaya’s IP telephony service, while the voice-mail service starts at US$5 per user.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research, in Boston, says that, overall, telecommunications carriers “haven’t done a good job” in setting up hosted VoIP services for corporate users.

But some Interop attendees said it’s hard to know whether an equipment vendor like Avaya would be able to handle services any better on hosted systems than the carriers have.

Tim Ryan, network manager at the City College of San Francisco, says he installed a VoIP system, based on equipment from Alcatel, as part of a wider US$2 million communications upgrade two years ago. Ryan said he is getting an annual savings of US$400,000 from the VoIP technology, compared with the cost of an earlier Centrex phone system.

The college considered hiring a hosted VoIP provider, but found that the cost of a hosting service would have negated the savings it was forecasting.

“It would have been a safer route but didn’t give the benefits,” Ryan says.

Martin Webb, manager of data network operations for the provincial government of British Columbia, in Canada, says he considered signing up for a hosted VoIP service four years ago. But, he instead decided to take an inhouse approach, with equipment from Nortel Networks and management tools from Apparent Networks in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The government wanted to keep its existing system and thought, with a hosted service, it might not be able to do so.

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