Tag Archives: Technology Articles

On-line Messaging Services: An Introduction to Internet Unified Messaging Services

By Frank D’Ascenzo

It’s likely the Internet may have a greater effect on the live-answer, message center industry than answering machines, voicemail, alpha paging, and wireless telephones combined. The operative factor is something called Unified Messaging, a messaging concept in development over the past several years for application incorporate environments. Unified Messaging is coming of age on the Internet.

A handful of Internet-based companies are already offering Internet Unified Messaging services, and more are in the planning stage. These new messaging services are making their products available to each and every Internet-aware individual and business, nationwide and internationally. These services link telephone, voicemail, email, and fax, and make all of these message types accessible through the subscriber’s Web browser, email system, personal computer, personal digital assistant, or telephone.

What Is Internet Unified Messaging Service? Here is how Onebox.Com explains their Internet Unified Messaging services on their respective websites:

“It’s a complete solution for managing your communications, anywhere in the world. Internet Unified Messaging brings all of your voice messages, faxes and email to a single place, your e mail in-box. Once there, you can manage them by computer OR by telephone. Log on-line to check your voice, fax or email. Or call a toll-free number to receive and reply to your emails and voice mails, and to hear about the faxes waiting for you.”

“Internet Unified Messaging voice mail gives you capabilities you can’t get from today’s voice mail systems. You can share voice mails and faxes with anyone on the Internet. You can save important voicemails like you save emails. You get convenient access to voice mail messages anywhere in the world from any phone or Internet browser. You can check voice mail over the Internet and avoid long distance charges when you are out of town.”

The Subscription Process: When you sign up for service, the Internet Unified Message provider assigns you a personal phone number in the city of your choice. You distribute this number to friends and business contacts as your fax and voice mail number. When a fax or voice message arrives, it is converted into an email message and immediately sent to your email in-box. If you’re at your computer, you simply click to view your faxes or listen to your voice mail messages. If you’re away from your computer, you dial a toll-free number to check your voice, fax and email.

When Might This Trend Affect Your Business? If one of your clients has called and asked if you could deliver messages to their email address; it already has! What that client was looking for was a convenient way to pick up all their messages, by placing one call to their Internet Service Provider. It is a way to view all their messages in one place, in a common format, for easy sorting, discarding, and filing.

It’s too early to tell how Internet Unified Messaging will affect the live-answer messaging industry. While the long-term affect might be negative, it could also represent new live-answer service opportunities. Whatever the case, it’s important to do some home work right now. Learn all you can about Internet Unified Messaging. All the information you need is readily available on the Internet. Plan your business response to this budding competition.

Be prepared to react to a customer (or prospect) request for unified-type messaging services. Perhaps you’ll be able to partner with an Internet Unified Message Service provider. Or, steer the client to a “free” on-line service that will satisfy his requirement, without losing his live-answer business. Subscribe to one or more of the services to learn their strong and weak points. While they are, to some extent, your competition, they will be happy to have you as a customer.

Want to offer your customers email message delivery, Right Now!, without spending a dime on equipment or software? Find out how by faxing your name and return fax number to us at: 508-462-8921 (our free e-Fax service number). We’ll fax you the answer.

[From Connection Magazine – September 1999]

The Effect of the Internet on Voicemail and Teleservices Providers

By Darren Wesemann

This article will attempt to define future affects the Internet boom will have on the Voicemail and Telephone Answering service industries. Where is this industry being lead in light of the interesting evolution the Internet and its users are experiencing? When should we look for these changes? When should we prepare, and how?

What’s the Internet Anyway?: The Internet is many things to many people and is the next logical step in the evolution of computers and telephony. The Internet is the leading edge of a trend in which computers and computer networks around the world are linking together, resulting in one massive global and public network.

The market for Internet products and services, only three years old, is already approaching maturity. One particular segment of the Internet industry should be of grave interest to the typical Voicemail and Telephone Answering Service Company. This segment is known as the ISP, or Internet Service Provider.

ISPs are the companies that resell Internet access to others. Internet access comes in many flavors and offers other value-added services such as email, domain name services (DNS), security, and Web page hosting, to name a few.

Internet access is booming, but the market is fiercely competitive, dunking many Internet service providers in a sea of red ink. One result is consolidation, as some ISPs acquire a bigger market presence and more control of their operations, while other ISPs and networking companies are snapped up by cash-rich telecom companies offering voice and data services in one convenient package.

Meanwhile, other providers hope to survive by focusing on niches, many of them centered on corporate customers. More ISPs are trying to distinguish themselves by offering features such as Internet faxing and telephony, voicemail, and by hosting critical intranet applications.

These trends are good news for many corporate users looking for one-stop shopping. Not so good news for the typical voicemail service bureau.

All told, the number of ISPs in the United States, which had been rising in response to soaring demand, will drop from 4,500 today to about 500 in five years, according to Gartner Group Inc. Garner further predicts the U.S. ISP market will climb from $3.1 billion in 1996 to $13.3 billion by the year 2001.

For the Internet industry, the wild ride of the fast paced startup frenzy is over. Gone are the days when any hot new Internet business idea pulled in a pile of venture capital and resulted in an initial public offering whose price soared on the first day of trading. Now, barely two years after Netscape Communications’ vaunted IPO ignited the rise of Internet stocks into the stratosphere, the business world has cut through much of the Internet hype, and the industry is starting to more closely resemble an actual software business.

What does this mean to you?: The fact that the Internet industry is maturing is good news and bad news for the voicemail and telephone answering service providers. Internet services that can be used by our industry are more than likely to come to us already battle-tested by previous sales and installations. These are exciting new features that can be added to your portfolio of services, such as unifying all message types: voicemail, fax-mail and email, and connecting with other providers for regional or national coverage. However, the Internet industry itself provides special challenges to the typical voicemail and telephone answering service provider.

Challenge Number One: ISPs are becoming Internet Telephony Service Providers (ITSPs). This danger is that matured and aggressive Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are enhancing their standard services, (i.e. Internet access, email, news feeds, etc.), to include those of our industry, including voicemail, fax-mail, and answering services.

In order to compete with this development, we must be able to combine all messaging services into one complete unified setting. This process is known as Unified Messaging.

In addition, some ISPs are combining resources in different geographical or territorial markets in order to provide regional or national services.

Challenge Number Two: The Internet Evolution is the process whereby mature industries evolve into almost completely different businesses as a result of the explosive popularity of the Internet.

Take the Search and Retrieval software industry, for instance. Search and retrieval is the process allowing very large amounts of data to be searched and retrieved, accurately, and easily. It is an industry that is more than 20 years old. Yet, since the commercial Internet industry has proved its acceptance a mere three years ago, search and retrieval software companies have almost reinvented themselves to accommodate the change in information tide.

Herein is a lesson for our industry. Watch carefully how the Internet affects voicemail, fax-mail and telephone answering services. How will the ever-increasing acceptance and use of the Internet change these services? How can we take advantage of the Internet to better serve our marketplaces?

Unified Messaging: Business practices are changing. More companies are enabling a mobile work force than ever before. Years ago, many companies began implemented virtual office programs where certain employees accomplished their work from home. This increase in mobilization has created the need for unifying message types, namely email, voicemail and fax-mail. People, more than ever before, require access to any message type from anywhere and at any time.

Unified messaging involves integrating the various message types mentioned above into a single mailbox. This mailbox could be accessed in various ways. For example, the customer should be able to use an ordinary telephone to listen to email, voicemail and to obtain basic information regarding how many faxes have been received, and the sender’s phone number or identification number. Additionally, the customer should be able to reply to these messages using any other form of message type.

In short, unified messaging essentially converts various media types, and provides universal access to all messages, no matter where the user is or what type of device is available. The demand for this kind of service is expected to see a phenomenal increase.

Standard Messaging, VPIM: One of the most important benefits the Internet has to offer nearly any company is inexpensive transport. Many companies and institutions have been able to benefit from the Internet as a transport medium because there have been standards developed. Communication standards which allow disparate systems to communicate, enabling the transmission of information from one place to another. Up until now, the standards used on the Internet have been adjusted to fit the needs of text and graphical data, such as email, databases, and Web pages.

Development of a new communications protocol is underway. This new standard promises to allow users to integrate multi-vendor voice and fax mail systems using inexpensive, existing transport mechanisms.

Formally initiated last year from the Electronic Messaging Association (EMA), Voice Profile for Internet Mail (VPIM) represents the convergence of two important trends: the increasing acceptance of Internet-related protocols for messaging and user demand for the integration of various messaging media, such as voice, fax and text. The ultimate objective of VPIM is to let users take these various existing messaging systems and migrate them into a single, integrated network.

A VPIM message is comprised of one or more of these encoded parts. For example, a message might have a spoken subject, a spoken message and a fax. All of these would be encoded as separate parts.

As a public Internet standard, one of the most significant benefits of VPIM is that it allows voice messaging between dissimilar systems. This is not possible with proprietary protocols. With VPIM, the reach of voice messaging is extended further, bringing the capabilities of creating, replying and forwarding voice mail to a much larger audience.

Since multiple companies will use the standard, a broad range of messaging systems and users will be brought together. Vendors of voice and fax services will be able to combine their efforts to cover a larger geographical market, or simply to exchange messages for any other purpose. Deployment of VPIM is likely to be gradual, starting with upgrades to specific internal systems and voice mail networks, possibly via gateways.

An open directory service, such as the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), would allow a voice message system to access the VPIM address of a person based on their telephone number.

End-user trials for this fall are now being prepared. Some of the trials will include intercompany deployments in which VPIM is used to tie disparate voice mail systems together.

For example, Octel systems in one division and Nortel or Lucent voice mail systems in another division. Other end-user trials will involve messaging between different companies. Some end users may try integrating desktop unified messaging systems with phone-oriented voice and f ax mail systems.

It is clear VPIM will increase the utility of messaging. Because VPIM systems can be added incrementally and interconnected over existing or separate networks, it is scalable and can be selectively deployed. Requests for proposals for Voice Messaging systems should ask for native VPIM support.

How do I prepare?: Of vital importance to preparing for the inevitable future changes is choosing products that will allow you to be dynamic in your proactive or reactive business endeavors. Choose carefully products that provide solid platforms for a growing and changing environment. Make absolute sure your vendors support, or pledge to support critical standards such as VPIM and LDAP. Determine, before you buy, if your vendor supplies a product dynamic enough to meet the ever-changing needs of your customers as well as future market places

Remember the words of Intel’s president, Andy Grove. His motto is “Only the paranoid survive,” and he ought to know what he’s talking about. Do you hear the footsteps of something running behind you, trying to catch up? It’s Internet ISPs, and others we can’t possibly predict at this time. But, they are coming.

Darren Wesemann is currently the vice president of Technology for International Voice Messaging Systems, Inc. and has a B.S. in Computer Science with numerous technical certifications.

[From Connection Magazine – July 1998]

T-1 101 for the TAS: Answers to Common Questions

By Allen Kalik

The mere buzz word “T-1” brings tremors of the unknown to many TAS owners and managers. The following information will help to answer most of the commonly asked questions about this technology and its applications in your TAS.

What is T-1 service?: T-1 is a type of telephone service capable of transporting the equivalent of 24 conventional telephone lines, using only 2 pairs of wires.

Who uses T-1?: The telephone companies have used T-1 for decades to economize on runs between central offices. In the last ten years, T-1 has become commercially available for high volume telephone service users.

What is a T-1 circuit?: T-1 is a high speed 4-wire data circuit with 2 wires used for transmitting and 2 wires used for receiving. The T-1 is capable of transmitting and receiving data at the rate of about 1.5 million bits per second. For comparison, the rate of data transmission in a T-1 is over 100 times faster than a PC modem operating at 14,400 bits per second.

How can one data circuit turn into 24 telephone lines?: At one end of the T-1 (the central office, for example), each of the 24 phone lines is encoded to a digital format much like a CD recording. Then the packets of data from each line are transmitted in sequence order into a single data stream. A device called a channel bank is responsible for this process.

At the other end of the T-1 (for example, the TAS), another channel bank reverses the process by separating the data stream into the original 24 distinct data packets representing each phone line. The data is then decoded from digits back into the 24 telephone (voice) lines.

What are the main advantages of T-1 to the TAS?: Cost savings over the equivalent service on regular analog lines. Another advantage is that T-1 is a digital transmission and is less prone to loss and interference than regular phone lines.

What are the main disadvantages of T-1?: The main disadvantage is that it requires a channel bank, a multiplexer, or a digital switch to convert the signal to telephone lines. While T-1 is very reliable, another disadvantage is that an outage could take out all 24 lines at once.

What are the main applications of T-1 in TAS?: There are three main applications:

  1. Replacement of Local DID trunks: Your local DID trunks can easily be replaced by T-1 service from your local telephone company. In most areas a 24 line T-1 is about the same cost as 12 DID trunks. (Rates can vary greatly on both DID trunks and T-1 costs, so first check with your local telephone company or T-1 vendor).
    All of your existing DID numbers can be moved to the T-1, where they are called DNIS digits. (Pronounced “Dee-niss;” stands for Dialed Number Identification Service).
  2. Long Distance Carrier Dedicated Service: T-1 service can be purchased from AT&T, MCI, Sprint, or other long distance carriers as a dedicated connection for taking 800/888 calls and making outbound long distance calls. The main advantage of this service is that the long distance company provides highly discounted rates on T-1 dedicated service.
    The decision t o use this service should be based on your projected savings versus your monthly T-1 charges and added equipment cost. If your long distance usage is over 20,000 minutes per month, it is probably worth investigating a long distance T-1 connection. Unfortunately, long distance T-1 service cannot be used to carry local DID. Also, the long distance T-1 can only handle traffic from the specific carrier (i.e., MCI) that provides the T-1.
  3. Point-to-point connection between offices: T-1 can also be used to connect the lines between two locations. For example, a T-1 circuit can be used to provide 24 off premise extensions of lines ringing at a remote location. Because T-1 is only one circuit, the mileage fees are significantly less than the mileage fees on 24 individual lines.

T-1 solutions such as this allow an operation to close down are mote TAS office by transporting the lines to an alternate location. Depending on the location of the terminating locations, this type of T-1 service may be provided by the local telephone company, a long distance company, or an alternative carrier.

Can T-1 be used to link two office networks together?: T-1 is capable of transporting data about 100 times faster than most PC modems. As such, it can be used to create a wide area network between two offices. Keep in mind, however, that T-1 is only one-sixth as fast as most standard office computer networks.

Can T-1 be used for both telephone (voice) and data communication?: With a piece of equipment called a multiplexer (similar to a channel bank), the T-1 can be distributed into data circuits and voice channels. For example, a T-1 could be used to carry 12 telephone lines, plus 2 data circuits at 386K baud.

What equipment do I need to utilize T-1 telephone service?: If you have a digital switch or TAS equipment with digital capability, you only need to purchase a T-1 card for your system.

T- 1 cards usually have a 24-line capacity and can be directly connected to the T-1 circuit. If you do not have digital telephone equipment, you need to rent or purchase channel bank equipment.

What is a channel bank?: A channel bank is a small digital telephone system with an input for T-1 and 24 outputs, one for each telephone line. The trunk cards in a channel bank must be compatible with the type of lines being used.

For example, if all the lines were coming in as DID, the cards must be compatible with this type of service. As a rule, channel banks are incredibly sturdy pieces of equipment with virtually a zero failure rate. There are no moving parts to break, no keyboard controls to mistype on, and no disk drives to fail.

If the channel bank has a critical role in your operation, spares or even a spare channel bank would be advisable to be safe. Channel banks can be purchased new in the $5,000 to $7,000 range, and in the used market for about half that price.

What is a CSU?: Another piece of equipment, called a CSU or customer service unit, is sometimes required by the telephone company. The CSU is a protective device similar to a modem that is wired between the T-1 connection and the channel bank. The CSU typically has diagnostic and status lights to help identify any problems with the T-1 circuit. A CSU can be purchased new for about $500.

Are you T-1 equipment-phobic?: If purchasing and maintaining T-1 equipment is an intimidating thought, consider renting from the long distance carrier or the telephone company. They will provide, install and maintain both CSU and channel banks at your location, delivering to you the familiar 24 lines. The cost of renting equipment is usually a few hundred dollars per month as opposed to the thousands required to purchase the same equipment.

Conclusion: To T-1 or not to T-1?: T-1 is a reliable, manageable technology for most TAS bureaus offering the possibility of greater services at a cost savings while expanding their coverage territory. The final decision should depend on the economics of the situation.

[From Connection Magazine, November 1997]

ISDN: An Update

By Jim Reyes

I enjoyed the article in the October issue by Joy Rossin, who uses ISDN for her Answering Service. I also decided to use ISDN in my company. I purchased ISDN stand alone phones with data ports, software from AT&T and am using my existing computer system.

All you need is one ISDN phone number for all of your customers to forward to. This is because with ISDN you get two talk paths which means you can use two phones to answer incoming calls. Also, with ISDN, you can have multiple call appearances, e.g., 2, 4, 6, 8, 10,12, 14, 16, so it can handle a lot of customers if needed.

Patching is very simple: you answer a call, press the transfer button, receive dial tone, and dial the phone number you are transferring your caller to. Then, when you hear the other phone number ringing, press the transfer button again. The parties are connected and your call appearances are free to receive more calls. By using the phone company switching, there is no loss of audio on your patches or conference calls. You can also conference up to six parties on one call. Using my existing computer system, along with Mastar Telemessaging Software, I was in full ISDN operation.

I, like many before me, used DID for my Answering Service and in the beginning, found it adequate. It did not take me long to find out the shortcomings of DID. The first thing was that one trunk line cost $100 per month for each line. If you did any patching, you would tie up two of your trunk lines and there by limit the number of calls you could answer. Also, you could not use your DID trunk line to make outgoing calls. If you had customers outside your local area, you would have to get an 800/888 number for each customer.

After only four months in business with my DID system, it was hit by lightning. I had to pull the equipment and ship it back to the manufacturer for repairs and had some rather unhappy customers. That’s when I decided to find another method for my Answering Service.

The best thing I can say about ISDN is that now all my switching is handled by my local telephone company. In the past two years, I have never had any problems with their switch and have never been out of service. The only thing I have to worry about are my telephones and computer system. If I get hit by lightning, I just plug in a spare phone and I am up and running a lot simpler to deal with than most Answering Services equipment.

For my long distance customers, I supply one 800 number that they all use to call into my system. With the ISDN, I still identify each customer with their name. I also get the phone number of the person who is calling. This has eliminated giving my customers wrong phone numbers. If a digital mobile call comes in, I can read their phone number, which helps since some of my people do not remember their own mobile number.

After almost a year of pestering Rod Minarick, the founder of Mastar Telemessaging Software, they can now support ISDN. What we have accomplished is a program which will identify the customers, provide the phone number of the person calling (if provided by the phone company), and display their answer phrase. We are also working on being able to have voice mail for our customers who do not want live operators.

With ISDN you can have multiple work stations if your customer base demands it, or you can have a single user station. Everything is expandable for growth and I would recommend any new start-up to weigh the benefits of ISDN versus going DID.

This information was provided by an ISDN user and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this magazine. Mr. Reyes can be reached at ABC Answering Service, 3222 Blair Dr., Palatka, FL 32177, 904-328-1205.

[From Connection Magazine, November 1997]

ISDN: Its Successful Application for TAS Businesses

By Christine Michaels & Joy Rossin

Joy Rossin, President and General Manager of Tele-Sec Communications, Inc., is successfully utilizing ISDN in place of DID trunks for her answering service business in Florence, Alabama. Ms. Rossin was part of a panel presentation at the ATSI Convention last June in New Orleans and spoke about ISDN. Due to the subject matter and the response to Ms. Rossin’s presentation, we decided to interview her in more depth: (DID = Direct Inward Dialing. ISDN =Integrated Services Digital Network)

1) Why did you decide to use ISDN versus DID and what were the benefits of ISDN?

I decided to use ISDN because the manufacturer I was with developed an ISDN system. I felt that DID had reached its peak and that there were many more options with ISDN. I personally felt that we had done everything we could with DID so I chose to use ISDN. Some of the benefits of ISDN versus DID were features such as Caller ID,2-way calls on the same line, two operators per line, and having all your answering service clients call forward to the same phone number. Plus, ISDN was a faster and more efficient way to service my customers.

The ISDN technology had been available for 8 to 10 years and the more people get ISDN, the more applications will develop. New ideas will develop and things will probably develop that we had never dreamed of. I think ISDN will be an important part of our future as an answering service industry and I think that DID will eventually go the way of the switchboards.

2) How are you using ISDN in your answering service business?

ISDN is a different way of servicing your customers, thus you need a different way of thinking when you are first using it. My first re-education was in ordering phone lines. I no longer have to pay for hundreds of Call Forwarding Numbers and dozens of DID Trunks. I have approximately 300 accounts and I am only using 5 telephone lines. Thus, the price is less with the phone company. I have no switch in my office. I am utilizing the phone company’s switch! The equipment I am using is designed for ISDN. DID equipment will NOT work.

3) Can you describe how ISDN works?

There are two types of ISDN available – Basic Rate and Primary Rate. What makes the type of ISDN different are the number of “B” channels (voice channels ) available per line. The Primary Rate has 23″B” channels whereas the Basic Rate has 2 “B” channels. Our business is using the Basic Rate line. Each line costs approximately$85.00/month.

In each Basic Rate line, there are two “B” channels and one “D” channel or data channel. Thus I can have two operators answer calls on one line. I have 5 lines, thus I have 10 operator positions. An operator can only talk to one person at a time. The B channels do not limit the number of calls that can come in, the B channel only limits the number of conversations at one time. The D channel or data channel is telling you who is ringing, thus giving you information about the caller. When a call comes in, we call this “call appearance.” Our ISDN equipment provides for up to 64 call appearances; all my customers call forward to the same number.

When I set up a new customer, I program the customer’s information into my system. By the way, with my ISDN equipment, I can provide personalized Auto Answer for each customer. This is a terrific feature. So, when a call comes in for my client, the information I receive comes from the phone company’s Central Office (CO). Thus, over the D (data) channel of our ISDN line, we receive the client’s phone number and the number of the person who is calling for our client. We also receive the purpose of the call, i.e., the call was forwarded to our office because there was no answer at our customer’s location, or the customer’s line was busy or, the customer’s line is always forwarded to our service. With this information, we are better able to personalize our handling of the call. We are also able to pick and choose from the phone company, what information we want sent over the trunks, i.e., name of caller, etcetera.

Call appearances programming is a terrific feature of ISDN. Call appearances can be limited or extended depending on your call traffic. Thus, I can request 10 call appearances be sent through the line and give a busy signal to the 11th call appearance. If this doesn’t work, I can call the phone company and increase the call appearances to 15. It will be done OVERNIGHT (no more waiting 4 weeks for increased DID trunks from your phone company). Or, I can call and delete the number of call appearances in the same amount of time. Thus it is much easier to control the call volume traffic.

If I have high volume accounts, I can request a different set of call appearance numbers from the phone company. I can limit the call appearances to 4 or 6 or any number which would control the number of calls coming in on a busy night and not overwhelm the other callers while providing good service for my other customers. Thus, I am not limited by one DID number.

4) What equipment is needed from a manufacturer and the phone company to provide ISDN?

You must have ISDN equipment as DID equipment will not work. I am currently using Morgan Comtec, Inc. equipment and have been utilizing the ISDN since September of 1996. I paid less for my ISDN system in September then I did for my DID system 13 years ago because this system has less hardwire/ trunks and does not have a switch. The equipment is more software-based rather than hardware-based. I think manufacturers have a lot of catching up to do with ISDN.

What is important is knowing what equipment your phone company has. You are limited by the switch at your CO and its capabilities. Some well-known switches are AT&T, Siemens, and Northern Telecom. It’s important to find out what equipment your phone company has.

The ISDN application is limited only by our imaginations. Each business that uses ISDN will come up with new ideas on how to use it. The beauty of ISDN is that it’s mostly software, thus programmers can do what you want without the expensive costs of a hardware change. One can combine a lot of things with software, but with hardware you can’t.

5) What are some drawbacks with ISDN?

From my Central Office there is no Music On Hold. When my CO gets Music On Hold, I will get it. Prior to signing up a customer, you must find out if their CO has SS-7 signaling to be able to offer ISDN service. There are also some cell phone calls that cannot be accepted. If that is the case, I will assign them a remote call-forwarding number.

6) How reliable is ISDN?

ISDN is as reliable as your Central Office. If the CO is down, then everyone is down. They are extremely reliable lines. This is one of their main benefits.

7) In your opinion, how can ISDN benefit the answering service industry?

Answering services as an industry should find out what technology is currently available. It is not the phone company’s responsibility to educate the answering service industry. Phone companies do not want to reinvent DID, which is why they were slow in making 2-way DID lines. That function already exists with ISDN. Besides, the answering service industry is a small portion of the phone company’s revenue and it’s not worth it for them to change the DID line. Why bother when the technology already exists! The more businesses that utilize ISDN, the more applications will be developed. I am certainly not sorry that I made the move to ISDN.

I think that in the next few years, even more features will be offered on ISDN. Plus, the simple fact is that your customers want good service that is fast and efficient. The more technical everything is becoming, the more the demand will exist for personalized service. ISDN is that and more.

[From Connection Magazine, September 1997]

Answering Service and Paging T1 Applications

By Bill Ranney

In my last article I have discussed how T1 works. This article will illustrate how different businesses have utilized T1 to lower their costs, increase their profit margins and provide better and expanded services to their customers.

TWR Communications (Two Way Radio Service, Inc.), with Jeff Hutter as president, is located in western Maryland. They are an innovator in utilizing new technologies to keep their operating costs low and to provide unmatched service and reliability to their clients. As a paging and mobile telephone company, TWR Communications has equipment housed on remote hill-tops throughout the western part of the state. These unmanned remote equipment sites are the transmission centers through which TWR sends its paging and other broadcasts. Client radios are also housed in these remote site s. In turn, these remote transmitter sites are all linked via radio to a central remote transmitter site, located on a small, in accessible mountain top called Dan’s Rock. TWR’s main office and switch gear is located in Cumberland, about 12 miles from Dan’s Rock.

TWR has two T1 circuits coming into its Cumberland office. One T1 goes to the telco central office and carries all the incoming paging and mobile telephone calls. This digital service gives them crisp digital transmission between their equipment and the central office switch. A new, second T1 goes from the Cumberland office to the top of Dan’s Rock, and carries all of the broadcast traffic. The paging radio, located in Cumberland, can communicate directly with the Dan’s Rock transmitter via a channel bank and this T1 circuit. The T1 also carries data for real time usage, traffic history and configuration. Furthermore, an audio channel piped back from Dan’s Rock via the T1 allows the monitoring of all the transmitter sites throughout the state. No longer does a tech have to run up to Dan’s Rock every time a client gets nervous about their radio transmission; TWR can simply listen to the transmissions at the Cumberland office via the T1 signal to be sure all is well.

And speaking of technicians, TWR has two crack technical people who keep the entire system, along with the computer operations, up and running: Kenny Allman and Toby Preston. Although problems with the T1 and associated equipment are rare, these two are always trying to improve the company’s network, continuing to make it more efficient and more and more reliable.

Kenny and Toby have even designed a back-up UHF link, used to replace the T1 in the event of any transmission circuit failure or when maintenance needs to be performed and they are investigating other wireless networking ideas.

Another application involves an answering service in Houma, Louisiana; Oil Field Communications Services, owned and operated by Harold Carbo. Harold is continually trying to expand the reach of his business while improving service to his clients. He recently expanded his service to a distant city in Louisiana by using a channel bank and a T1 circuit.

Harold had Bell South put 9 DID trunks and 8 loop start trunks (for call out circuits) directly onto an intraLATA T1 at the central office in the remote city he wished to serve. The T1 then transports calls on these 17 channels back to his main office in Houma.

In Houma, Harold uses a channel bank to change the calls from digital T1 format back to an analog format his Axon switch can use. He answers his client calls as if the operators were in the remote city, and the clients can perceive no difference in quality of service. In fact, Harold stated that the quality of the connections has improved on the T1.

Harold doesn’t have the headaches of managing operators in the remote city or the expense of the payroll, either. He also saves on toll charges when he calls the remote city. The loop start trunks allow him to get dial tone directly from the remote central office through the T1, avoiding all long distance toll charges to this area.

He can also use the call-out lines to increase his revenues without increasing his long distance expense The T1 has enough capacity to expand his service to the remote city to any combination of 24 DID or call out channels.

A third application involves an answering service in Michigan. Community Answering Service, owned by Tom Wingo, is founded on top quality service to the client. While his home base is in Michigan, Tom also has built a good client base in the Chicago area, about 120 miles away. He can avoid having operators staffed there by transporting all the incoming DID traffic originating in Chicago to his Michigan office, where the calls are answered. High quality, seamless service is made possible by digital T1 connections.

Tom has a Startel switch in Michigan and uses a point-to-point InterLATA T1 circuit and a channel bank on each end to transport the calls back from Chicago. As compared to the above example of an intraLATA T1, Tom effectively acts as his own telephone company. He has a small office location in Chicago where he uses a channel bank to digitize the incoming DID trunks and puts them on his T1 circuit. At his Michigan office, he has another channel bank to return the calls to an analog format his Startel can use.

He can also make toll free call-outs and marketing calls back to the Chicago area via the T1 circuit. Thus, Tom saves in numerous ways. By not having to pay and manage operators in a far away location, he has better quality control over him.

Another significant advantage arises from having an equipment location in the remote city. Tom’s T1 is reaching full capacity of 24 channels. Instead of getting another T-span, he can compress the voice traffic to give him 48 voice channels on a single T1. By using ADPCM 2:1 voice compression, Tom can achieve double the capacity of his T1 circuit at virtually no degradation in the quality of the voice transmission. Of course he will have to add an additional channel bank at each end, along with the voice compression equipment, but he avoids the monthly re-occurring cost of an additional T1, giving him a relatively quick payback on the compression equipment.

Remember, T1 span pricing is based on mileage, and there are three components to each T1 circuit: 1) a local loop on your HQ end, 2) the long distance or IXC span and 3) the local loop on the far end.

If you want to expand by acquiring an answering service in a distant city and transport the calls back to your main site via T1, draw a circle on a map of the United States that is approximately 500 miles at its furthest point from your office. Generally speaking, IXC T1-spans longer than 500 miles are too expensive for the acquisition to make sense.

This circle gives you an area of more than 750,000 square miles in which to search for an acquisition. The larger the service you want to acquire, the farther away it can be and still support the T1 charge. Smaller services should be closer to your home site.

Once you have acquired that remote service with a remote equipment site, you can draw another 500 mile circle with the center at the new site and piggy back that additional traffic onto your first T1. This leap-frogging method can economically extend your reach around the country.

Local loop charges also can vary greatly. The local loop charge is the cost that your local phone company will charge you to bring the T1 span from your office to the long distance carrier. If you are looking at a service that is quite far from a serving wire center (commonly known as a POP, which is the place where the long distance carrier will pick up the circuit for the long distance span), or if your home service is far from the POP, these local T1 loops can be expensive. Again, they are mileage based and you are usually stuck with the local Bell company to provide this T1.

Carriers are constantly changing their tariffs, also. For an intraLATA T1, depending on the cost, you might want the carrier to put your DID trunks directly onto a T1, or you may prefer a remote equipment site and do it yourself. For an InterLATA (long distance) T1, the local carrier usually will not terminate trunks directly onto a T1 provided by an IXC carrier, but there are exceptions. To my knowledge, no carrier offers compression services, so you must do that yourself. Finally, before renewing a point-to-point T1 contract, shop around with other carriers to be sure you are getting a fair rate.

Bill Ranney is president of Transnet Engineering, Inc. He can be reached in Boulder, CO at 303-413-0665.

[From Connection Magazine, September 1996]

How to Use the Advantages of the Internet

By Scott Hastings

By now, you’ve heard of the Internet, and you’ve probably figured out that its not a fad. It was originally designed as a way for military institutions to communicate, even in the event of a nuclear attack. It “languished” for many years as a haven for academics and scientists at government agencies, educational, and large corporate institutions. But, in the last three years, it has blossomed. It is growing (doubling in size every year), showing no sign of slowing, and has become a part of the business landscape. Just as pagers, cellular telephones, and fax machines, the Internet has become a pervasive business communication tool. Having an Internet connection will become as common (and as necessary) as a fax machine.

The Internet already has relevance for a telemessaging company, and there are several ways you can take advantage of the Internet today.

Probably the easiest and quickest way for a telemessaging firm to jump on the Internet train is simply getting an electronic mail (email) address. An email account will allow you to access a great deal of information on the ‘net (you can even browse Web pages by email). But, what is more important, an email address is the primary way for your prospects and clients to reach you on the Internet. Like a fax machine, an email address allows prospects to respond to your advertisements, and clients to send you “on-call” information, or any other kind of information

Another way to create a presence on the Internet is to create a “page” or “site” on the much-hyped World Wide Web. A Web “page” is like an electronic bill board, where you can post information about your company, including text and pictures. People with an Internet connection and Web browser software can look at your page. By creating “hyperlinks,” or pointers to other Web pages, you can create a set of Web pages all linked together as a Web “site.” A well-designed website will allow visitors to move freely around your site, viewing information relevant to their interests.

There are millions of Internet users, and you can send them “junk” email for pennies. Don’t. It is considered poor Internet etiquette (“netiquette”) to send unsolicited marketing material (website or email address) across the Internet. That means you have to include your email address and/or your website location in your current marketing materials. Put it on your business cards, brochures, T-shirts. Put your email address in your Web page, and your Web location in email you send. Make it easy for anyone to respond to you, or to get information from you.

Delivering messages to your clients via the Internet is probably the most logical extension of your service. If you currently deliver messages via fax or alpha pagers, for instance, you could deliver the same message as an email message. Your client would pick up the message when they checked their email “box.” While most TAS equipment vendors don’t yet support Internet email message delivery, I expect them to offer this feature by this time next year.

If you allow your clients to pick up messages by dialing up your computer (a bulletin board system, or BBS), you may have another option: You may be able to use something called “File Transfer Protocol,” or “FTP.” Some BBS’s that integrate with your TAS equipment for message delivery can also provide FTP service on the Internet. It allows your clients to pick up their messages at their convenience through the Internet.

If you’re savvy, though, and have the technical expertise, you might consider providing Internet services to others, by becoming an Internet Service Provider. If you already have a Web page, an email address, and FTP site, becoming an Internet Service Provider, or ISP, may not seem like that big of a step. But it is an entirely new and different business from answering service. Once you become an ISP, you become something like a publisher, a telephone company (including directory assistance), and the yellow pages, plus a technical and marketing consultant, all rolled into one. You will have different competitors, and will most likely fall under government scrutiny. In other words, its not for the faint of heart. But it is for those who think of themselves as full-service messaging companies.

The Internet may be considered the fastest growing messaging technology today. It’s easy to become a part of what is already an integral part of the communications landscape. If you’ve never “surfed the net,” call a local ISP or an on-line service provider. They can get you on the Internet for about $10-$30 per month (depending on the provider), with an email address, FTP, Web access, and a number of other services. Explore for yourself, and then decide how much farther you want to take your business into the Internet.

Scott Hastings in one of the owners of Hastings Communication Services in Austin, Texas, which has been serving the public since 1948. Mr. Hastings can be reached at 512-472-1122 or send email to Scott at scott@hastings.com.

[From Connection Magazine, March 1996]

How T1 Can Benefit Your Business

By Bill Ranney

You’ve just read Steve Michael’s ad for a great business in sunny Florida that you’d love to acquire, but you don’t want to manage agents who are 600 miles away. Then you open this month’s phone bill and your local and long distance calling charges have sky rocketed. If these costs could only be reduced! While these two scenarios are worlds apart, cost saving solutions to them employ one common thread: T1.

What is T1? There are two types of transmission circuits in use today, analog and digital. An analog connection is typically the one you have to your carrier’s central office, a single twisted pair of copper wires carrying a single telephone conversation. For each simultaneous call you wish to make, you need an additional pair of wires. For each pair of wires you have, you are charged another monthly line fee.

If you could physically see an analog transmission, it would appear as a jumble of irregular waves moving down the wire. A digital circuit, however, is simply the transmission of regularly shaped pulses – a bit stream consisting of ones and zeros. A one is represented by a pulse; a zero is represented by no pulse.

To use a digital transmission system for voice conversations, the voice signal must first be changed from an analog signal to the digital pulses. This is accomplished by some very interesting electronic equipment, such as a card in your telecommunications switch or by telecommunications equipment known as a channel bank.

To cut through the mystique, T1 is simply a designation for one particular digital transmission service offered by most telecommunications carriers. To be specific, T1 is a digital transmission link that can carry 1.544 Mega bits (1,544,000 pulses) of information per second. These bits can represent either voice, data, video, images or all of them combined. For voice transmission, the T1 circuit is channelized so it can carry 24 separate voice conversations simultaneously. Think of the T1 span as a pipe with 24 separate slots, with each voice call occupying one slot. For data, video, and imaging, the channels can be combined or segmented to create larger or smaller pipes within the T1 pipe. Thus, one could have 15 voice conversations, a video program, and a host of remote operator stations all communicating across a T1 span at the same time.

Physically, T1 is two twisted pairs of copper wires, one which carries the signal into your premise and one which transmits the signal out. Where one needs to have 24 distinct circuits to carry 24 analog conversations, T1 reduces this number to two twisted pairs when the conversations are converted to digital T1 format. This can lead to significant cost savings in your telephone bill.

How can T1 help me save? There are many ways T1 can be used to reduce telecommunications costs. Two of these ways to save are cost reduction and cost avoidance.

Local Loop Cost Reduction: For a business with six or more telephone lines connected to the central office, it can make economic sense to replace these with a T1 circuit. Let’s use an example of a business with 20 trunks and just suppose these trunks are each costing you $50 per month, for a total of $1,000 per month. Your local telephone company quotes you a monthly T1 charge of $200 plus a switching fee (usually called a DACS charge) of $10 per line, plus an installation charge of $500. You will have to add some equipment to your site to allow access to the digital T1 (such as a channel bank or a T1 card). Suppose you can lease this T1 equipment for $180 per month. Your total monthly charge has just been reduced to $580 per month (T1 cost plus DACS charge plus channel bank lease) saving you $420 per month or over $5,000 per year!

This T1 can carry inbound DID traffic as well as inbound and outbound calls. Since the actual number of lines to break even is different in each location around the country, the key is to be sure that you understand all the charges associated with the T1 so you can make a rational economic decision. Be aware that in some areas of the country it is not (yet) economically feasible to run T1 to the central office for local calls. With the advent of competition in the local loops, this may change.

Cost Avoidance on Long Distance Calls: Did you know that Access Fees make up to 45% of the cost of each long distance telephone call? Access fees are the charges that the long distance carriers must pay the local carriers for the privilege of using the local network for delivering the long distance telephone call. Dedicated T1 access to your long distance carrier can greatly reduce your long distance per minute charges. Most carriers will reduce your per minute charge by approximately 30% for having a T1 connection directly into their POP (point-of-presence, which is where you connect to their network). In theory, this T1 by passes the local carrier so they cannot charge the access fee to the long distance company. The long distance company then passes some or all of these savings on to you. T1 to a long distance carrier is also a good way to connect inbound 800 calls, by passing the local carrier and avoiding the access fees.

These dedicated T1 spans can carry up to 24 voice conversations at once. Unless you have a T1 digital phone system, T1 conversion equipment, such as a channel bank, is still required. You will also pay a monthly T1 circuit fee for the T 1 connection. This monthly circuit fee can usually be offset by reducing the number of lines to the local carrier, which were formerly used for long distance traffic. Voilà, your monthly phone bill is magically reduced.

Dedicated point-to-point T1:. Recall that Florida TAS? The economics and managerial problems associated with that acquisition improve greatly if you could answer all the calls at your existing location. Upon further study, telecommunications traffic theory indicates that you will not have to add as many operators at your existing location as there were previously at the newly acquired location. Depending on your size, you might be able to replace ten operators with just two. By reducing your labor cost, the economics of the acquisition look even better. The problem you now face is how to answer the calls at your existing business location. A dedicated point-to-point T1 provides the perfect solution. This dedicated point-to-point T1 can carry up to 24 channels of traffic (or 48 with compression) at a fixed monthly fee. You pay no per minute costs and have no restrictions on the traffic the T1 transports.

Thus, the T1 allows you to transfer all the inbound DID traffic from the acquired business to be answered at your home office. Further more, your home office can draw dial tone for call-out lines directly from the remote location central office, saving you even more on toll charge calls to your newly acquired customers. You can also save on office space. You only need to have an “equipment closet” in the new city to house a channel bank. You will also need to add some channel bank equipment at your home office.

This call transport is completely invisible to your new clients. With the exceptional quality and high speed of the T1 transmission system, your new clients will not realize their calls are now being answered hundreds or even thousands of miles away. T1 provides you with a quicker return on the purchase of the Florida TAS and avoids the necessity of managing a new group of operators. Your only trips to Florida will be for fishing or sitting on the beach.

By the way, for any long distance point-to-point T1, it really pays to shop all the long distance carriers and also any CAPS (competitive access providers, such as MFS or Teleport) which may service your area. T1 charges can be $500 per month from one carrier and $2500 per month from another, depending on the location of each carrier’s POP. Don’t assume that because one carrier is high they all are going to be.

In today’s competitive world, reducing operating costs and shortening payback time on investments is paramount. Implementing digital T1 can help you do both.

Bill Ranney is president of Transnet Engineering, Inc. which supplies telecommunications and data network interface equipment such as T1 channel banks, CSU/DSUs, voice and data multiplexers, routers and bridges to telephone answering services, executive suites, voice mail services, interconnects and many other types of businesses. Mr. Ranney can be reached at 303-413-0665.

[From Connection Magazine, March 1996]

ISDN: Integrated Services Digital Network

By Rose Anne Hurd

Integrated Services Digital Network are some of those “buzz” words used in out industry for years. An unsuccessful search for ISDN information as it relates to the telemessaging industry has prompted this interpretation of the telephone company’s jargon into a layman’s primer.

ISDN Defined: Southern Bell defines ISDN as “a revolutionary communications architecture that integrates voice, data and video transmission into a single access line. It enables a single telephone line to carry voice, data and video information simultaneously.”

Those of us at the elementary level of digital communications may relate to Gary Kessler’s explanation from his book, ISDN, Second Edition: “ISDN is merely an enhancement to the telephone local loop that will allow both voice and data to be carried over the same twisted pair. It is a fully digital network, where all devices and applications present themselves in a digital form. That is, information from the telephone, personal computer, stereo, television, PBX, main frame and ISDN coffee pot are all seen as bit streams by the network switch. “1

Analog Defined: It might be helpful to review analog (sometimes referred to as broadband) voice transmission and digital transmission (also called base band.) An excellent description of analog is found in an article, “The ABC’s of ISDN” written by Lea Meadows, a staff manager for Bell South Telecommunications: “In the beginning, there was analog. Alexander Graham Bell created a means for transmitting voice signals between separate locations. The three parts of transmitting this voice signal were the transmitter, which converts sound waves to a continuous electrical signal: a transmission path, consisting of a pair of wires (or cable pair) to carry the signal to its destination; and a receiver that turned the electrical signal back into sound. A pair of wires for every telephone and a telephone for every pair of wires.”2

Digital Transmission: To carry human voice in a digital form, the analog wave is transmitted into an equivalent digital mode. PCM measures the amplitude of each voice sample as an 8 bit-byte. If each 8 bit-byte requires 8000 samples per second, then it takes 64,000 bits per second to digitize the human voice. When the digital code reaches its destination, a reverse process produces analog voice sound.

Your PC talks in “bits” and to communicate with another PC, the use of a modem is required for the conversion to an analog signal. ISDN will bring the digital signal to your (digital) equipment including your PC, eliminating the need for a modem.

Telephone central offices have utilized digital switching (both voice and signaling information is transmitted in digital form) between central offices for 25 years and yet the signal between the customer and the C/O has remained analog – until recently. The major motivating factor for the telephone company’s accelerated use of digital transmission is economy but equally important is customer’s demand for higher data a transmission speeds. With ISDN, data is transmitted at 64 kilobits per second, while today’s modems transmit data at much slower speed.

ISDN Deployment: End users might wonder why it has taken so long for this digital technology to be available. Divestiture of the “Bells” and the lack of national and international standards are the major reasons. The Consultative Committee of the International Telephone & Telegraph (CCITT) was developed in 1984 to formulate the standards for ISDN for all telephone providers. Then CPE (Customer Premise Equipment) vendors wanted the telcos to commit to wider deployment and the telcos wanted to see more ISDN products before commitment. TRIP 92 (Transcontinental ISDN Project) launched national ISDN and brought about commitments for ISDN products from big name computer companies. The wide spread usage of PC’s has been a major catalyst for the RBOCs current “push” for ISDN implementation. Tariffs have been filed with the Public Utilities Commission to offer “ISDN anywhere”. This would be achieved in a metro area used FX (foreign exchange) from an ISDN-capable C/O switch to the C/O without ISDN capabilities.

ISDN’S Potential: Mr. Ed Klingman, president of ISDN* tek, was quoted in a “Technology Update” story in Communications Week May 16, 1994: “The public policy push for development of the ‘Information Superhighway’ includes ISDN as an-and in many cases as the – access mechanism. Groups as diverse as AT&T, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Consumers Federation of America have all endorsed ISDN as the appropriate technology to provide end-user connectivity to the Superhighway.” 3

In a recent article in America’s Network, Dianne Hammer sited Microsoft and IBM as major factors in the re-newed push for digital services. Microsoft will use ISDN lines for 2000 employees to access their corporate network from remote work-at-home offices. IBM has developed a digital modem with 64 kbps speed.

ISDN was utilized for telecommuting after a major earth quake in California. The RBOC was permitted by the PUC, to install “free” ISDN and to lend terminal adapters and phones to people in the area. Employees who were unable to reach work by the normal highway were able to work via a superhighway.

ISDN Interfaces: There are two ISDN access interfaces to the network: Basic and primary rate. Basic Rate ISDN (BRI), uses a single telephone line, comprises of 2 B-channels with transmission speeds of 64 kbps and D-channel at 16 kbps. Primary rate ISDN (PRI) is generally 23B-channels and a single D-channel with all 24 channels operating at 64 kbps.

The “B” (bearer) channels are used to transmit voice or data and the “D” (delta) channel sends signaling information to control the B channels.

Each ISDN BRI line required a Network Termination Type 1 (NT-1),” ISDN device responsible for the termination of the ISDN transmission facility at the customer’s premise.” 4 NT-1’s can be purchased from vendors or your telephone company for $300-$400.

ISDN vs. DID’s: ISDN can replace DID trunks and numbers! A limited number of hardwire accounts can also be supported using a directory number for dedicated assignment of the customer’s line. In average-sized bureaus, each work station would require one B-channel (primary purpose is for voice and data transmission) with the D-channel (the network and user’s equipment exchange signaling messages necessary to request services on the B-channel) for typical messaging tasks. The second B-channel can be added when needed.

ISDN BRI replaces DID trunks, numbers and in some cases, business or patching lines. ISDN eliminates DID and Hardwire hardware: digital switches, DID trunks and business line cards. Unlike DID incoming-only trunks, ISDN lines are used for incoming calls and out dialing, making ISDN more cost effective than DID services. Conferencing or call transfer (patching) is connected at the central office.

In an ISDN telemessaging system, clients would all forward their line to a main directory number (DN) of the telemessaging service bureau. Then when the client’s phone number (DN) was dialed, the call would forward to the Service’s main DN. Additional information delivered with the call, would be cross-referenced to that client’s account file. This client’s DN identification is called the “redirecting number”. Other call management capabilities, currently available only in the central office, will be brought under the user’s control. The reason for call redirection is a feature of interest to messaging services. At present, there are five possible reasons that can be provided for handling the call: call forward busy, no reply, Data Terminal Equipment (DTE) out of order, call forward unconditional and call forward by the called DTE.

In the Southeast, a comparison of the installation charges for ISDN and DID surprisingly confirms that ISDN costs less to install than DID trunks and numbers! Is this our telephone company’s strategy for steering users away from old technology to the new? Monthly costs are competitive (old technology versus new services and features are not easily compared) and the cost of NT-1’s is expected to decline with the upsurge of new ISDN products.

Future of ISDN: Although the US viewed ISDN with skepticism initially, it has taken a leading role in developing standards, applications, products and services. Many in the telecommunications industry predict that more applications and services will be developed for the use of the ISDN. Will our industry play a role in these predictions? I think so!

Rose Anne Hurd and husband, Clint have been co-owners of a telemessaging service and RCC paging company for 13 years. The Hurd’s are involved with Morgan Comtec in the manufacturing of ISDN telemessaging equipment.

[From Connection Magazine, July 1994]