And why is this a good thing? Because you can take your IP phone or the soft phone running on your laptop, plug it in to any broadband tap, and have an extension to a shared, Centrex-style or dedicated enterprise phone system. The server/softswitch registers your new IP address and can take calls from you or send them to you, just the way an IM server sends IM messages wherever you log in.
And why is this a good thing for businesses? Because their remote workers can work wherever they like, as long as theres broadband and a VOIP-accommodating firewall.
And why is this an especially good thing this week for Infinity Consulting Group, an IT services firm with an office on West 31st Street in Manhattan? Because Infinity Consultings New York office is across the street from Madison Square Garden, where this week the Republican National Convention—and its attendant battalions of security forces, not to mention protestors—will make navigating everyday New York congestion look like a luge run.
Infinitys 25 midtown Manhattan employees, subscribers to M5 Networks VOIP Centrex service, are going to take their Cisco 7960 IP phones and get out of town, just like the New Yorkers whove been hoarding their vacation days all summer for the chance to be someplace else.
But Infinitys employees are not running for the mountains or the shore: Theyre decamping to temporary office space and home offices in the outer boroughs and New Jersey. "Im not even sure my super is coming in to let us in the building," says Lou Forino, CEO at Infinity.
With his business applications remotely accessible through Windows Terminal Services, his e-mail through Outlook Web Access and his phone service uninterrupted, Forino is counting on callers to not notice the difference. M5s VocalData softswitch will get those calls from the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) and route them to employees as before, dispersed though they might be.
Some of Forinos employees will take their desktop phones and plug them into home DSL or cable lines; basic 3COM routers have been provided to those whove never had to split their broadband connection before. Some employees, bunking in the New Jersey office, will merely log themselves in to spare Cisco phones and will have their phones personality (speed dials, directory, etc.) downloaded to the phone.
Infinitys receptionist, with a phone in her Brooklyn home, will answer the main number as before (if shes too busy, the auto attendant will do it, as usual) and use the drag-and-drop interface on the M5s Web-accessible GUI to transfer calls. "The only difference is, she wont be able to look over and see if someone is actually in his office," Forino says. On-hold music should play on.
Since its running off M5s centralized platform, so should auto attendant, voice mail and dial-by-name. Incoming calls to tech support, recruiters and other hunt groups should continue to ring all phones assigned to that group simultaneously. Voice-mail message lights should light.
Its this indifference to physical location that attracted Forino to New York-based M5, and to VOIP in the first place. He wanted to unify offices in different Manhattan and New Jersey locations. He switched from an on-premises Norstar phone system and RBOC (regional Bell operating company) service about eight months ago, he says. And hes trialing a few IP phones in the companys Laurel, Md., and Chicago offices, too.
Forino says he saves $500 to $1,000 a month in calling costs, and having purchased the phones outright from M5, he gets the service started for far less than the $20,000 it would have cost him to buy an adequate voice-mail system. M5 also supplies the New York office with a T-1 and a backup DSL line.
Other offices connect via "business-class" SDSL, through other providers. M5 is also Infinitys ISP. "Because theres so much room in these lines, its very effective to add Internet service as a bundle," says Dan Hoffman, president of M5.