Frequently Asked Questions

Communications Technology

Cable and FiOS are considered “Broadband” which is a shared service that usually offers higher download speeds than upload speeds.  Both services offer a “best effort” speed of service, but FiOS, due to the fact that it runs over fiber, rather than copper, will usually be more reliably fast than cable.  Speeds on both cable and FiOS will suffer in more congested areas or during periods of high usage.  Businesses can also buy data connections using Ethernet over Copper (EoC) or Fiber (EoF) and Fiber Ethernet is also available from cable providers.  These services tend to be more expensive, but since the speeds are offered with a Service Level Agreement, these connections will be more reliable and more reliably fast, than Broadband.

A copper line is the old style analog connection to the phone company, literally a pair of wires running from your location back to the Central Office.  Also called a POTS line (for Plain Old Telephone Service), a copper line is a very reliable means of connecting to the phone network which is why security firms like to rely on them for monitoring services.  Besides being a direct copper connection to the phone network, a POTS line also provides its own power and the phone company provides backup battery and generated power so that a POTS line will work even under the most adverse conditions possible. The downside of this reliability is that a POTS line is very expensive to maintain relative to newer digital services.  Also, many providers are phasing out all copper because it's so difficult and expensive to maintain. Almost all security companies will now accept lines over broadband (i.e. lines over cable or FiOS) in place of a true copper line.

The acronym PRI stands for “Primary Rate Interface” which is pretty meaningless in terms of knowing what it does. A PRI is actually a digital circuit capable of handing 23 simultaneous phone conversations. The big advantage is that a PRI costs far less than 23 individual copper phone lines, so for high-volume businesses, it is a very cost-effective way to connect your phone system to the phone network. A PRI also carries a digital signalling channel (the 24th channel) that allows it to do more interesting things. For instance, a PRI can have a large number of phone numbers assigned, called DIDs. In fact, a PRI circuit can carry a lot of DID’s, more than just 23 because the numbers are really “virtual”, just assigned to the PRI circuit. If you have 50 people in your company, you can assign each person their own DID if you want, and since they are usually not all on the phone at the same time, you would need only one PRI instead of 50 copper lines.

The process of digitizing voice has been around for decades. For nearly 50 years, most of the world’s long haul long distance communication has relied on digital voice. Once a voice signal is digitized, it can be combined with other voice signals and transmitted very cheaply over data networks. In fact, digital voice technology was key to utilizing fiber and satellite communications technologies. However, most of these transmission technologies relied on proprietary telephone company protocols for the coding and decoding the voice at the sending and receiving ends of the conversation.  What makes VoIP different is that it relies on the Internet Protocol for these tasks rather than the proprietary phone company protocols.

VoIP is just another kind of packet being sent over your data network, so your network can be busy doing lots of other things and the VoIP conversation just uses the bandwidth that it needs when it needs it. It’s a little more technically complicated in that Voice traffic generally gets a higher priority than other packets, but that doesn’t preclude you data network from handling lots of other things even while a voice conversation is using some of the bandwidth. Therefore VoIP is generally cheaper because you are only using the facilities you need when you need them and using the network for other traffic when you don’t. You can squeeze a lot more out of a single connection.  For more on VoIP or other telecom issue, head over to our YouTube channel for more complete information.

SIP trunking is the application of Voice over IP (VoIP) technology to provide connectivity to your phone system. You can buy SIP trunks individually, in packs, or even in “as much as you need” quantities.  Since these trunks are based on the VoIP technology, they offer the same benefits as other products giving you voice connectivity over the Internet.  For example, SIP trunks can offer lower cost of operation than traditional phone services because they can ride on the installed data network (see the previous FAQ on VoIP).  SIP trunks can also offer some of the advantages of more advanced telecommunications company services, such as the ability to have multiple phone numbers over a single trunk line and the ability to have a single connection handle multiple simultaneous calls.  In addition, SIP trunks can offer features that were never previously available.  For instance, you can have phone numbers from California ring on lines in New York (or anywhere for that matter).  In this manner, you can have long distance calls operate like local calls, and at a very inexpensive rate.  SIP trunks usually come with advanced features like CallerID, Call Waiting, Call Return, Voice Mail to Email, Efax, etc. that can be managed via a simple web interface.

One of the more revolutionary developments in the phone system industry is the hosted phone system, or Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS).  The hosted system uses IP telephony to communicate with the phone sets.  In this scenario, the phone system exists at the service provider’s location in a data center, not at the customer’s.  All of the phone sets are IP sets and the connection services, the trunks, are provided by the service provider.  The management of the system is usually accomplished through a web based interface.

In the hosted system, the customer pays for each individual phone set as a "seat", often including a calling plan.  The advantage of a hosted system is that it provides sophisticated features to organizations that would normally not be able to afford it.  The features are available on each seat and the customer pays only for the seats and features they need.  Compared to the telecom service costs and maintenance, a hosted system generally costs much less than a premise system so they are generally very cost effective. A hosted system is actually much more reliable than a premise system because the calls are actually being answered in a backed-up and redundant system in a data center. If power goes out, or your location loses internet connectivity, your phones are still being answered, and calls can be sent to a PC or a mobile phone, so business is not interrupted.

Some time ago, recognizing the need in the marketplace, the carriers began to offer value-added services to customers with multiple locations called Managed Networks. These are installations where the provider offers the entire wide area network (the network between locations) as a single product and manages the network on behalf of the customer. Generally, the customer pays for the connection at each building according to the speed that is required and pays an extra fee for network management. The carrier provides all of the necessary equipment, including the router, which is leased as part of the management fee. Some managed networks can be Ethernet-only, but a lot of providers are offering a protocol called MPLS, for Multi-Protocol Label Switching. MPLS is a VPN technology that can deliver traffic in any protocol – it basically sticks the communication into an MPLS-envelope and delivers it to the destination MPLS router without peeking at the contents. This allows the customer to use the managed network for lots of different traffic like Ethernet, Frame Relay, or voice traffic without having to employ different connections and different routers.

The main advantage of the MPLS network over other types of managed networks, like VPNs, is that in an MPLS network, the packets never leave the carrier’s network – they don’t touch the Public Internet.  This is important not just for security, but also for the fact  that the carrier can now guarantee the Quality of Service for voice and video packets.  If the traffic is sent over the public internet, there is no guarantee that the priority of packets will be honored by each participating network.  What this means is that voice calling or video over the public internet can get choppy or start and stop, whereas traffic sent over an MPLS can be guaranteed to be better quality and more reliable.

Unfortunately, the advantage of being on a single carrier's network is also a disadvantage, especially for businesses that are widely disbursed or that have many rural locations. In "off-net" locations, a business has very few options to connect the site to the carrier's network such as slow and expensive T1 connections. Either that, or they can use Broadband (Cable or FiOS), but must connect back into the MPLS network through a VPN connection, sending encrypted traffic over the public internet. In addition, setting up an MPLS network can take a long time and they tend to be less flexible. For this and other reasons, many MPLS networks are being converted to SD-WAN networks (see the next FAQ for details).

SD-WAN is a technology that enables companies to use “commodity” internet connections, such as cable or broadband, to create secure, reliable and high-performance networks.  It does this primarily by combining multiple internet connections and managing them as one optimized connection.  An SD-WAN simplifies the management and operation of a WAN by decoupling (separating) the networking hardware from its control mechanism.   It is especially useful for networks that carry voice, video and cloud-application traffic because an SD-WAN will always use the most reliable connection for all traffic and it can prioritize traffic on congested networks.

Research firm Gartner has defined an SD-WAN as having four required characteristics:

    • The ability to support multiple connection types, such as internet, MPLS, frame relay and higher speed LTE wireless communications
    • The ability to do dynamic path selection, for load balancing and failover
    • A simple interface that is easy to configure and manage
    • The ability to support VPNs, and third party services such as WAN optimization controllers, firewalls and web gateways

A Contact Center is a group of attendants who provide the primary means by which your customers interact with your company. Contact Center software can provide an "omnichannel" experience for your customers so that they are talking to the right people whether they interact with you via the phone, a chat window on your website, through email,or through text. Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) is software provided through the cloud, over the internet, that can give you this functionality integrated with your phone system, or in place of it. Rather than having to buy expensive hardware, CCaaS is purchased as-you-need-it.

CCaaS can interface with your CRM system so that customers’ information and contact history is readily available to the staff handling their call. CCaaS can route the customer’s call or text or email to the staff member who has the most experience with their particular issue. CCaaS can also present scripts to the staff member so that she remembers to ask the right questions when she has the customer on the phone. And in many cases, Interactive Voice Response (bots) can deal with the customer’s issue without even having to speak with a live person, only escalating to a live person in exceptional cases.

Although both technologies can tie multiple locations together into a single Wide Area Network, there are some significant differences in their implementation.

MPLS is the older of the two technologies and it grew out of a need to tie multiple types of networks (Metro-E, T1, ATM, Frame Relay, etc) into a single managed network. The traffic on an MPLS network is all delivered to the vendor's backbone, which has an upside and a downside. The upside is that the network is very secure and much of the site to site traffic never touches the public internet. The downside is that all sites must be serviced by the same carrier which can lead to tricky situations for off-network sites, which have to choose between old and expensive technologies like T1, or go through a VPN. Another upside is that since the traffic doesn't touch the public internet, the vendor can use labeling to provide QoS routing for voice and video traffic.

SD-WAN technology, in comparison, is completely agnostic to the vendor. It's main purpose is to tie broadband connections together and provide traffic management so that traffic is routed intelligently over all types of networks (even MPLS). SD-WAN is cheap to set up and move because it can operate over quick and easy broadband connections, but it is highly reliable because it can tie multiple connections together and route traffic over the best connection. It can even maintain voice connections when one or two connections fail. If the SD-WAN uses cloud gateways, then SD-WAN can also provide QoS between the gateway clusters and the edge devices on the customer's premise. SD-WAN uses VPNs to tie together multiple sites.

Managed Security

In a general sense, the term “Cloud” applied to computing power is very similar to the term “Grid” for electrical power, an analogy introduced in 2007 by Nicholas Carr in his influential book, “The Big Switch.”  It’s not a perfect analogy, of course, but the central concept is that computing power is moving from the desktop (PCs) to the Internet (data centers) in the same way that electrical power generation moved from small local generators to giant power plants interconnected by the electrical grid.  Using this analogy, the devices we use for performing computing tasks are becoming appliances that we plug into the Internet just like the appliances we plug into the wall to do work. The Internet appliances we are using are becoming less powerful on their own and are using software, data and applications that are running in large data centers delivering results via the Internet.  The other key concept is that software is moving to a pay-as-you-go model where you pay for only the resources you use, just like the electrical grid where you pay for the power that is measured by the meter.

The transition to cloud computing first gained a lot of traction in the IT organizations of large corporations, but it moving swiftly into smaller organizations and the consumer market because of the financial advantage of the pay-as-you-go billing arrangement.  Before Cloud computing came along, IT organizations spent an enormous amount of money on software and software maintenance, as well as the machines to run that software.  They spent this money whether or not anyone in the organization was actually using the software or the machines.  IT groups also spent a lot of money trying to make sure that all versions of software were up to date and licensed copies. Cloud computing solves a lot of the problems because employees log in to use Software as a Service (SaaS) and the organization pays only for what they use.  Also, when the software is supported by a cloud vendor, the users can also be getting the latest version without having to upgrade.

Mobility/Internet of Things

Mobility is a term we use to encompass all of the services provider over the cellular network as well as the services available to help you manage your mobile workforce. These services include Wireless WAN (WWAN) a service to connect your local network to the internet over the cellular network, WWAN Backup which uses WWAN internet connections to back up your land-based internet, Private Wireless Networks, and Mobility Management. All of these services are described on our Mobility page.

Private mobile networking helps you manage your mobile workforce and also to keep those devices secure. A private network assigns all of your mobile devices a private IP address and funnels all traffic through a private cloud before it allows that traffic through to the carriers. Did you know that fully one third of all mobile traffic is YouTube and Facebook? A private network allows you to filter out or set thresholds on non-work related traffic to prevent data overages on your mobile network. In addition, private mobile networks are inherently secure in that the private IP addresses assigned to devices are not visible to the internet, so criminals can’t even see the devices. Plus, the private network acts as a firewall to screen out malware. Finally, if someone does attempt an attack, the private network filters out that traffic before it reaches the carrier networks, so that you’re not paying data usage charges for attackers.

Mobile Management services can give you a way to get a handle on costs as well as allowing you to outsource the hassle of day-to-day management of your mobile network. Mobile management usually starts with an audit and carrier optimization, so that you aren’t paying for data that you aren’t using. Mobile Management services also provide help desk services so that your staff doesn’t have to spend their time answering questions and fixing or replacing mobile devices. Additional special project services are also available, like creating kits for special accessories and managing device roll-outs.

Wireless WAN (WWAN) backup is a service provided by many of our vendors that allows you to fail over to a Wireless (usually 4G LTE) connection if your main internet connection goes down. All WWAN backup solutions provide a Wireless LTE modem that connects to an LTE provider's network and provides a wired Ethernet handoff so that you can provide internet access to your local network. The failover can be handled in one of three ways.

    1. If your Firewall/Router can sense when a connection is down and handle the failover, you can simply plug the Wireless router into your firewall and instruct the device to use that WWAN if the main connection fails.
    2. If you have an SD-WAN device, the WWAN modem can provide the secondary or tertiary (or even further) connection. Note that you will need an SD-WAN that can be instructed to use the WWAN ONLY if all other connections fail, otherwise your usage of the WWAN could add up to something very costly.
    3. WWAN backup services can be purchased out-of-the-box with an included router that can handle the failover duties.

Because you are using the WWAN only for backup, you can usually choose a lower usage plan because you won't be using the device for everyday purposes. Also, if you have multiple sites, many WWAN backup devices can be purchased with pooled plans so that all sites can share a pool of usage, which is effective since multiple sites are usually down at the same time. Many of these plans are remarkably cost-effective.

Simply put, it is connecting different types of things, such as people, assets or controls, to the internet in order to enable them to exchange data. IoT is really about being able to easily collect and analyze data that’s important to your operations.  Think of it as if you had the Nest thermostat in your home, or a Ring Doorbell or Phillips Hue lights.  These are all “IoT” devices/things that simplify and automate your day to day tasks in your home.  On the commercial side, IoT offers similar solutions, but for much larger problems. Problems like school security, food safety, and compliance regulation can all be monitored and automated using sensors that connect your devices to the internet.

You can also check out our page on the Internet of Things.

Asset Management

As today’s organizations become more sophisticated, and assets become more expensive, the importance of properly maintaining equipment becomes increasingly critical. Although OEMs offer warranties for the first year or two of operation, the useful life of your critical assets will exceed the most generous warranty by years or even decades. To manage the post-warranty risk of equipment maintenance and repair, many organizations purchase individual service and maintenance contracts. While these service contracts extend the life of your original investments, they don’t have to be purchased from the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM).

An Equipment Maintenance Program takes a comprehensive approach to managing the post-warranty risk of all eligible equipment, regardless of Manufacturer. Our program uses an actuarial approach to this risk by predicting the expected maintenance and failure rate of each asset and assigning a total risk to the entire inventory. In fact, by wrapping all of your assets into a single underwritten program, you can spread the risk of costly repairs across the organization and save money overall. The program also saves money by ensuring that proper maintenance is scheduled and equipment is kept in a productive state at all times, reducing costly downtime.

Our Process

You’ve read the page about our services and you’re wondering about how much this will cost your organization.  The short answer is that, in most cases, it doesn’t cost anything at all!  We don’t charge for our analysis process and when we bring our recommendations to you, if you choose one of the (150+) providers we represent, the provider pays us a commission – you don’t.  If you choose to stick with your current provider, and if our recommendations include any savings, we split the savings with you for one year. 

That depends on the engagement. Unlike other consultants, we don’t make any promises about how much we might save you without doing an a thorough analysis of your current services.  On average, in a like-for-like situation, we have saved our clients around 30% on their phone bills. However, if you are adding new services or changing technologies, your savings could vary by a lot.

Sure they can, and many providers employ telemarketers to call clients and offer an analysis of their current services to save money.  However, we represent more than 150 different providers with a range of technologies, so we can bring a lot more competition to the table.  We do talk to your current provider, but we also look for services that you aren’t using, numbers with no usage, or billing mistakes, so the chances are pretty good that we will find more savings than they will.  In addition, with 150+ providers to choose from, we can find providers who are offering promotions and we can get some competition between vendors.

At Opticom, we have been working with clients for more than 15 years, and our telecom experience is much broader than that.  With all of that experience, we have seen many of the problems that can occur when switching providers and we work to make the transition as smooth as possible by avoiding some common mistakes. We don’t leave you hanging when mistakes do happen.  We always stick around to troubleshoot any issues with an implementation.  Our goal is to have you as a happy customer for a long time. 

Not always, but we do see that many of the older phone systems do not support IP, or Internet, communication.  We can work with your phone system vendor to see if upgrading is possible and how much it will cost, or we can talk about a Hosted Voice option with all of the new features and reliability available with  modern phone systems.  If the new features are not a necessity and your old phone is working fine, then there’s no reason to upgrade.