May 2014 Archives

Telephony Service Provider Musings

Application scenario for Voice over IP (VoIP) ...

Application scenario for Voice over IP (VoIP) with ENUM. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It probably would be good idea to add a couple more blog entries on my experiences with Internet Telephony Service Providers (ITSP) and the various expectations one should have when doing business them.

Firstly, it is important to note that my experience has been limited to just four companies.
  • Broadvoice
  • Nufone (now defunct)
  • VoicePulse
  • Flowroute.

Additionally, the comparison will not be exhaustive, but instead simply an observation from a first time telephony experience.  Broadvoice came recommended as a first look effort.
When I say first-look, I am suggesting that they were my first foray into the VoIP and ITSP offerings in general. When I began using Trixbox as my home PBX box in 2006, Broadvoice (BV) was the company that provided me with my first "pay for use" SIP trunk. Note that ekiga.net also provides a SIP trunk which I use quite often, but it has always been provided at no cost. So, I have a free SIP URI compliments of ekiga. I digress.

Since I was experimenting with asterisk, I considered BV to be a low risk investment. They advertised 24-7 tech support and a low cost service plan. They actually were great for the first couple of years that I used them.  For whatever reason they would change their DNS records more often than seemed logical. This alone was not problematic, however, what did become quite irritating was the fact that these changes were never shared with their paying customers. I stress paying customers because if BV _were_ offering a free service, I would have no expectations of uptime or any other quality of service metric. Of course if I am paying, I would want a company to communicate using any possible means,  email, RSS feeds,etc. BV really did not have the staff to make a sincere effort to inform their customer base. Actually, whenever I would call tech support, it would appear that the team was comprised of volunteers or college students.  Often the phone would ring for long stretches of time before anyone answered.  In truth the availability of help desk improved but I still did not like the unexplained outages.

NuFone had a better skilled engineer (I think it was a one-man operation for awhile), but they had scaling problems. Though they were far more knowledgeable than the people at BV, I believe there were several external factors that led them to cease operations. Eventually, Jeremy (Nufone founder) had to move onto other endeavors.

Voicepulse is a more polished company than BV, but I have not been very pleased with their passion for solving problems. They are great at porting DIDs to their trunks, but aside from these types of requests, I have not been overwhelmed by their technical ability.  When you are working with VoIP installations and you are especially with entrenched with SIP, inevitably you will have to deal with RTP and the dreaded 1-way audio. This is particularly true if you have endpoints that are NATd or not physically located on the same subnet as your PBX box.  So it is not uncommon for me to run SIP and RTP traces with ngrep or tcpdump. Admittedly the problems are generally on my side of the switch and not the fault of the ITSP, but I do expect them to be able to provide a comprehensive explanation from the SIP or RTP traces that I provide to them. There have been a couple instances where I have provided the traces from output of say " tcpdump -s 3000 -w my.pcap -i eth0 port 5060 or portrange 10000-30000" .  On one instance I received a fairly comprehensive report from Voicepulse, but with no resolution or direction on how to fix my error.  On another occasion, I got no feedback at all. I have since resolved the issue myself, but it sure would be great if their engineering team would provide a bit of support when requested. A simple response telling me that my trace sucks would be extremely helpful for at least I would know that I needed to dig deeper for resolution. As I become a better network engineer, it is obvious that I will need much less help from the ITSP. Nonetheless, I would venture to guess that most of their customers are not geeks, and do not care to provide SIP traces at all. This would probably explain why their technical support is rather hit or miss.

On the contrary, Flowroute has been hands down the best ITSP to date. Their rates are excellent. Their CEO seems to be connected to the VoIP community-at-large and the company appears to be really passionate about the technology. They really love solving complex and even the not so complex problems. Commitment to customer service is more than a notion, so when a company appears to relish problem solving I really take notice.
Flowroute also advertises and informs its customer base of new product offerings and potential problems.

Well, these are my experiences. Of course your mileage may vary.  I would be curious to learn about what others have witnessed with their ITSP.

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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