This article first appeared on Best in UC.
Not too many years ago, the term “convergence” applied to voice and data traveling over the same network. In today’s business world, convergence is taking on an entirely new meaning as video becomes a standard – and even preferred – method of communicating. More companies of all sizes desire – and expect – video to become an integral part of their unified communications (UC) strategy.
Demand is also increasing thanks to strategies from Google and Microsoft, which have incorporated video and voice into their business-to-consumer product solutions. Consumers wish to use all of the features of free services such as Google Mail and Skype. To get the most out of these applications, they buy video cameras and microphones for their home laptops and mobile phones. Then, when these same technology users go to the office, they expect similar functionality on the job.
Currently, most businesses that integrate video into their daily operations rely on a point-to-point room system, where several people gather around conference tables in two locations for one-to-one video conferencing. But increasingly, businesses are looking for desktop video systems that allow individual users to be conferenced in from their locations around the world.
ShoreTel is one of the few business-to-business UC suppliers that currently offers video integration into its desktop UC solution. Using ShoreTel, users within an enterprise can conduct video meetings from desktop to desktop, whether scheduled or ad hoc.
ShoreTel is currently working to take its video solution even further. The company is partnering with manufacturers of room-based video systems to integrate its desktop video capabilities, allowing enterprises to bring key resources into their point-to-point video meetings. For example, a company might hold a videoc onference in two large rooms on opposite coasts. If an outside expert from the heartland was needed on the call, the ShoreTel system would allow this consultant to participate via their own desktop computer.
Eventually, room systems and desktop UC solutions will become compatible. UC users will be able to meet via voice or video with the click of a mouse and incorporate the appropriate expert resources. Documents will be shared across both types of solutions as well. Plus, more users will be able to participate without requiring a large investment on a videoconferencing room at every location. This will make meetings more effective, reduce travel, and facilitate faster and better business decisions.
The ShoreTel Mobility Router automatically selects the best network, whether Wi-Fi or cellular, for each call made on a user’s smartphone. It allows your company to create policies that determine how calls should be routed, or it can be set to choose the least-costly option. Typically, that results in calls moving to an existing Wi-Fi network, which dramatically reduces the number of cellular minutes purchased from your wireless carrier.
The benefits to this technology don’t stop at cost savings, though. With ShoreTel Mobility, the workforce is more mobile, productive and accessible. After all, work is an activity – not a location. The solution allows users to be reached anywhere, on any device. There are numerous examples of enhanced productivity and a better working life:
- One of our clients worked from home frequently, but he could never get a 3G signal from his mobile carrier inside of his house. Now, thanks to the ShoreTel Mobility solution, his phone operates off of his home’s Wi-Fi connection, resulting in much better call quality and reliability. This is true for many mobile workers, who aren’t always able to get a strong signal in their home offices.
- Users are never tethered to a specific device. In the office, a user might start a conversation on a ShoreTel phone. With the push of a button, the call instantly pushes to a mobile phone leveraging the office Wi-Fi connection. Then, when the user walks outside while still carrying on the conversation, the call automatically hands off to a cellular network. Throughout the entire process, costs are minimized even as quality is maximized and battery life preserved.
- From anywhere in the world, users can dial their coworkers using the office’s three- or four-digit extensions. So calls to the home office can be made simply, rather than with the long sequence required for international calls.
- Team members and partners can see users’ presence information. This is similar to an online chat program, where users are shown as available for communication, on the phone, away from their desks, etc. This status information makes it easier for team members to get in touch instantly and avoid phone tag.
From serious savings to better productivity, ShoreTel Mobility pays for itself while improving the quality of your team members’ work life.
This blog first appeared on Best in UC.
Earthquakes. Tornados. Floods.
When natural disasters make headlines, we’re all reminded of the inherent weaknesses that are part of our everyday technology infrastructure.
No system is ever disaster-proof. That’s why every organization should have a disaster management plan that includes specific steps to support its phone system, data system and facilities. Key among these are unified communication solutions. Without communications between employees and offices, a difficult situation can become impossible and frightening or even life-threatening. That’s why disaster recovery for your phone system should be a priority.
If the power is out for long enough, most phone systems go down. But there are steps you can take to ensure your business’ unified communications solution remains operational, even under challenging circumstances:
- Redundancy. Most phone systems claim some kind of redundancy, but not all redundancy is equal. For example, ShoreTel’s architecture provides redundancy at a much lower cost than typical UC solutions. Most phone systems require a server at each physical location. In contrast, ShoreTel needs only a switch at each location. A single extra switch (known as N+1) can serve as a backup to any switch that fails across the entire network.
- Server backup. Although ShoreTel phones don’t require a server to be operational for users to get a dial tone, they do rely upon a “headquarters” server for system management and advanced features. Like any other server, it should be backed up and virtualized. ShoreTel offers several options to provide this redundancy, including WMware VSphere.
- Off-site support. Some organizations need a backup server in a different location, with a WAN connection to the primary server. For ShoreTel customers, Double-Take supports both physical and virtual servers.
For years, the unified communications (UC) industry has struggled to create a complex handoff that can save users thousands on their phone bills. Now, ShoreTel has successfully implemented this technology in its new ShoreTel Mobility solution.
The technical execution may be complex, but the concept is simple. Smartphones can operate in two modes: Wi-Fi and cellular. In cellular mode, the phone relies on your carrier’s network to place and receive calls. In Wi-Fi mode, the phone can leverage a wireless data network for those calls. By switching to Wi-Fi, callers can lower the number of expensive cellular minutes used. Even better, then can enjoy better call quality and improved battery life.
ShoreTel Mobility solution relies on a gateway called the ShoreTel Mobility Router. This piece of hardware automatically selects the best network, whether Wi-Fi or cellular, for each call. It allows you to create policies to determine how calls should be routed, or it can be set to choose the least-costly option. A vast majority of the time, that results in calls moving to the existing Wi-Fi network, which dramatically reduced the number of cellular minutes purchased from your wireless carrier.
But the savings don’t stop there. When users are traveling away from the office, the Mobility Router still helps control costs. With the industry’s first TLS/SSL-based connection, it allows users to jump on any public Wi-Fi connection or a private connection for which they have a WEP key. That means leveraging VoIP for Wi-Fi calling from home, hotels, offices and hotspots. International roaming charges are slashed.
The handoff between cellular and Wi-Fi networks is not noticeable to users. When a salesman leaves the office for his commute home while talking on the phone, his call will automatically switch from Wi-Fi to cellular network. If he’s still on the phone when he arrives home, the call will again switch automatically, this time onto his home Wi-Fi connection.
With a one-time investment in the ShoreTel Mobility Router, companies can create 80 percent cellular call savings, plus give their workforce better call quality, reliability and battery life. But the benefits don’t stop there. In an upcoming blog, we’ll explain how the ShoreTel Mobility Solution improves productivity for team member as well.
It’s easy to compare the up-front prices of unified communications (UC) solutions. But the true costs are much more complex – and have more variation than you might think. An educated choice should include an analysis of the total cost of ownership for various options.
The up-front cost of a phone system only represents 25 percent of the total cost of owning the system over eight to 12 years. As a result, a phone system that costs a bit more on the front end might actually create significant long-term savings for an entire decade.
ShoreTel provides the optimum example of a UC solution with low total cost of ownership. Several strategies have come together to create this advantage. First, ShoreTel does not rely on servers. This means that every three to five years, ShoreTel clients don’t have to go through the typical server refresh at a cost of thousands. A ShoreTel system with up to 220 phones uses a single switch, which takes up one rack of space in a server room. The switches run at under 30 watts, making them very low-power. This means less stress on IT hardware cooling systems, as well as a lower impact on battery backups.
Ongoing support and upgrades can also have a large effect on total cost of ownership. Unlike other UC solutions, ShoreTel’s support plan includes free major upgrades. Every client is offered new features at no additional cost, which can mean a savings of thousands over the years.
Reliability also contributes to the total cost of ownership. In the case of ShoreTel, the system’s architecture provides a level of redundancy and reliability that’s simply not possible on a server-based system. For just $3,000, a customer can purchase a backup switch that provides a fail-safe for any switch across the organization’s entire network. In other words, a piece of backup equipment is not needed at each physical site.
Deployment and ongoing changes to the system create another cost of ownership. At any company with a phone system, multiple staff members need to know how to add extensions, delete extensions, and perform other changes. For complex phone systems, this may require a day or more of paid training. In contrast, the ShoreTel system offers a level of simplicity unmatched by other products. No formal training is required, which means lower bills for the organization. Plus, when the system is initially installed, the customer can immediately begin making changes – without the services of a vendor and the extra expenses that entails.
When you go shopping for a UC solution, take these factors into consideration. Don’t let a short-term price tag overshadow the thousands of dollars you can save over the next decade.
At home, many families have already embraced HD technology. Whether they like watching movies or sports, consumers seem to agree that HD television and movies are simply better quality. So when it’s time to buy a new television, purchase cable service or subscribe to satellite, it’s not uncommon to make the leap into HD service, even if it carries a higher price tag.
The same hasn’t been true in the workplace. Companies have made two assumptions. First, they believe that HD technology is far too expensive for a small or mid-sized business to afford. And secondly, they think that the quality difference can’t possibly be worth the upcharge.
HD technology, however, has dramatically changed over the last several years. As a result, it’s more affordable than ever for small organizations. Plus, the quality difference can absolutely transform a company’s sales strategy, client meetings and more, creating strong return on investment.
A few years ago, LifeSize introduced a range of HD video conferencing solutions. Since that time, quality has continued to improve, even as prices fall. Many customers assume that an HD system will cost $40,000 or more. That’s no longer true. A complete solution can be purchased for as little as $15,000. Plus, the price premium for HD over a standard-definition video conferencing system is as low as $1,000.
In addition, the quality of most companies’ Internet connections has dramatically improved over the last five to six years. For the same price, organizations can purchase 10 times the bandwidth as they could a few years ago, making HD video an affordable reality.
Whether a company chooses standard- or high-definition, the benefits of video conferencing are clear:
- No more renting video rooms
- Face-to-face meetings, without the travel costs
- More presence with far-flung offices and customers
- Ease of sharing critical content
When businesses upgrade to HD technology, the benefits become even more pronounced:
- Annoying tics present in SD video conferencing disappear, such as a disconnect between the timing of audio and video, distorted colors and images
- Multi-media content such as PowerPoint slides become more impactful and memorable
- Less eye strain and fatigue result from higher quality
Most importantly, HD video conferencing offers a level of collaboration not possible with a standard-definition system. Because images and colors are true, decisions can be made during meetings and participants can trust their eyes:
- Telemedicine becomes a reality, with x-rays and other diagnostic images that are clear and easy to read.
- A textile business can see the material created at an overseas plant and know whether the color was reproduced correctly.
- A company that designs showcases for retail outlets can have a virtual demo room, where customers see exactly what new prototypes look like.
Finally, the investment in HD-quality equipment prepares companies to take advantage of technology advances in the near future. It’s one more way to leverage the power of the Internet to improve the bottom line – today.
This blog first appeared on Best in UC.
ShoreTel once again proved its leadership in the unified communications (UC) space, winning a 2010 Product of the Year award from Internet Telephony magazine, which covers the IP communications industry.
The awards, in their 13th year, recognize the industry’s most innovative new products, as well as companies that demonstrate vision, leadership and thoroughness.
ShoreTel was recognized for its ShoreTel Mobility Router, an innovative and highly scalable network appliance that fuses enterprise wireless LANs, carrier cellular networks, IP telephony and location technology to extend voice and UC to mobile devices.
The router lets users make and receive calls from both the enterprise and personal mobile phone numbers by automatically selecting the best network (Wi-Fi or cellular) with fast and automatic network handover, to optimize cost, call quality and battery life.
“The editors of Internet Telephony have verified that ShoreTel displays quality and innovation, plus provides real needs in the marketplace,” said Rich Tehrani, chief executive officer for TMC, the parent company of Internet Telephony magazine. “I would like to congratulate ShoreTel for its commitment to advancing IP communication technologies.”
As a partner of ShoreTel since 2003, Eastern Datacomm can attest to the superior design and functionality of ShoreTel products. ShoreTel helps keep our clients’ UC strategy simple, with a streamlined design that offers sophisticated features without complexity.
In the case of the ShoreTel Mobility Router, companies can lower their costs while making it easier to manage and understand cellular usage. For example, the router uses policy-based, least-cost routing to reduce the costs of mobile calls. The router leverages a company’s network when callers are in the building, further reducing the price of mobile usage. Coverage can even be extended to home and public Wi-Fi through a secure TLS/SSL-based connection.
Finally, the router provides great visibility and data about cellular usage, as well as the status and availability of mobile users. If information is power, this provides the tools for companies to gain unprecedented control of their UC budgets, while still providing superior functionality and services.
Congratulations to ShoreTel. We look forward to more innovative products in the near future.