Explained: Phone Systems

The two main phone system categories in 2018 are:

  1. Traditional: A phone system that physically hangs on your wall and routes calls to your desk (usually over traditional copper wires.)
  2. Hosted: A system hosted online that routes calls to your desk over your internet connection. (Also referred to as HPBX or VoIP.)

 


 

Traditional

  • Benefits: Owning the system means lower monthly cost, and many basic features perform with rock-solid simplicity.
  • Challenges: Higher upfront cost and user count is limited by your hardware. Expertise is needed to manage moves, adds, changes, security and troubleshooting. Also, telephone lines add monthly expense (exception below.)
  • Conclusion: Ideal for businesses that need a lot of handsets, but not a lot of concurrent phone calls.

 


 

Hosted

  • Benefits: Lower initial investment and user count can grow and shrink fluidly. Running over the Internet simplifies your office network and lets you travel with your phone. Also, central administration (password resets, call forwarding) is easier.
  • Challenges: If you don’t segment your network, heavy Internet usage will impact call quality. Also, as your phone’s software evolves some features need to be re-learned.
  • Conclusion: Ideal for businesses that want to avoid hardware obsolescence, need a low entry cost, and need to remain flexible in both headcount and user location.

 


 

Hybrid

Hybrid systems allow a combination of handsets (some compatible with traditional systems and some compatible with hosted systems), usually via a locally-mounted phone system with added modules to allow for VoIP functionality. This is ideal for businesses that already own traditional handsets and want to modernize their system at the lowest cost possible.

 


 

Cost

While it would seem traditional systems cost more up front while hosted systems carry a higher monthly expense, there are two elements that complicate this:
  1. Hosted systems offer monthly savings in that they can piggyback on the same Internet connection your computers use. (However now traditional systems with SIP trunking have this same capability.)
  2. While owning your system usually shows savings after five years, they also require active support contracts unless you have an in-house expert.

 


 

Providers

Phone systems and service are offered in two tiers:
  1. Consumer: A homogenized, often drop-shipped solution that works adequately for certain small businesses. (think Vonage)
  2. Business: A combination of hardware and service designed to perform with your specific network, at the highest call quality available.

 

Consumer

  • Benefits: Lowest cost. Impressive control over system and user settings.
  • Challenges: Lacks support when issues arise around customer’s unique circumstances.
  • Conclusion: Great for small businesses with tolerance for call quality and system reliability issues.

 


 

Business

  • Benefits: Improved voice clarity via bandwidth customization, a backup plan in the event of an outage, and depending on the provider vastly improved tech support.
  • Challenges: Providers need to be vetted as not all deliver more than DIY quality.
  • Conclusion: Ideal for businesses that need reliable HD call quality without paying for superfluous bandwidth.

 


 

How to Choose

In 2018 most people are opting for hosted for its ease of management and future-proofed foundation. Unless complete ownership of your system is required we recommend hosted.

There are many players in the hosted field, and almost all offer the same array of features in both unlimited and limited calling tiers. When comparing providers:

  1. Make sure they are focused not just on your phone system, but on how it harmonizes with your specific network.
  2. Get client references both general performance and for emergency support.
  3. Ask about backup plans. If city construction knocks out your service, what will they put in place to keep you connected?

 


 

Other Questions?

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

Our Favorite Productivity Tools

Messaging

Email is everywhere and therefore a necessity, but for internal communications we highly recommend Slack for its:
  • Organization – Trades the single inbox for a clean menu of topic-based channels and one-on-one conversations.
  • Search – A copy of Outlook or the local index it searches can be impacted by other factors on your desktop. Slack keeps everything online and gives faster and more accurate search results.
  • App Integration – Slack offers better integration with countless Apps for file sharing, to-do lists, video calling, etc. (Outlook has a ‘safe mode’ for a reason: Its plugins can break it.)
  • Mobile Experience – Slack’s organizational structure makes for a far cleaner experience on mobile than almost every email client.

Note: SLAM Sidebar lets you embed Slack within your Outlook Inbox.

 


 

File Sharing

Unlike One Drive which feels like a little bonus from Microsoft, Dropbox specializes exclusively in file sharing. Beyond its idiot-proof simplicity, its latest feature lets you browse through everything on your account from your desktop without taking up any hard drive space. The files only save locally once you open them.

 


 

Video Calls

For one-on-one calls Slack and Skype are great within users of the same platform. Hosting a larger meeting and don’t want anyone to have to create an account? Zoom is hands-down the easiest to use.

 


 

Remoting

Windows and Mac come with remote desktop connection built-in (your firewall still needs to allow it.) We also find AnyDesk to be an incredibly easy and reliable solution for the technically challenged.

 


 

System Admin

AutoMate can report on memory & hard drive usage, anti-virus & warranty status, programs installed… On every computer in the office. You can also batch schedule tasks like software installations to happen overnight.

 


 

Password Management

1Password and LastPass are both big time savers if you’re juggling too many passwords. Both save you time logging in, let you share groups of accounts with coworkers, and provide alerts when a website you frequent has experienced a data breach.

 


 

Notes

We like Evernote for its cleanliness across devices, as well as its browser plugin for quickly pulling content into your notes.

 


 

Ad Blocking

Ghostery is a plugin available on all web browsers that prevents businesses from tracking your information. It also blocks ads from loading making many website load faster (try loading NY Times with Ghostery on and with it off.)

 


 

Triggers

Ever wish you could get your information from one channel into another automatically? Odds are with IFTTT you can. Get your Echo’s to-do items synced to your iPhone’s reminders, or get your weather forecast delivered as a text message.

 


 

Texting

Smart phone alerts distracting you from your work? Stay focused with Pushbullet, which displays these alerts on your desktop, and more importantly lets you respond to them from the same keyboard you’re working on.

 


 

Converting

By dragging and dropping a file onto the CloudConvert homepage you can select the type of file you want to convert it to then and there. The result is downloadable moments later.

 


 

Endurance

Working late? F.lux is a must for reducing eye strain. It tints the color temperature of your monitor based on time of day. Turn it on at night and feel the difference immediately.

 


 

Focus

Noisli lets you drown out the office chatter with your own custom combination of nature sounds and white noise.

 


 

Other Questions?

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

Explained: Cables

Category Cable

The standard for data, every new version gets better at transmitting more of it with less interference. Manufacturers must abide by these standards so that everything works together.
  • Cat5e: The standard of the early 2000s, and the current cheapest way to get up to 1 Gbps of bandwidth (less after 55 meters.)
  • Cat6: 10x faster at 10 Gbps, but dwindles after only 37 meters.
  • Cat6a: Extends that 10 Gbps to a reliable 100 meters.
  • Cat7: 10x faster again at 100 Gbps, but bandwidth drops off after 15 meters and it has one glaring flaw: There is still no industry standard for it. Manufacturers aren’t using Cat7 and another standard might come along before they adopt.
Category cables are backward compatible and use the lowest common denominator of the devices they connect. Speed is limited by the weakest component in your system.

 


 

Fiber

The future of data uses pulses of light instead of waves. Benefits over category cable include immunity to electromagnetic interference, improved security, and the ability to travel much longer distances.

Downsides include price and its inability to carry power (category cable can run power along with data to minimize clutter around many of your devices.)

While fiber is the best choice for future proofing, it’s also the best for 4K video over 100 feet. Anything shy of fiber will compress the color sampling to a noticeable degree.

 


 

HDMI

The current standard for carrying video, audio and basic control short distances across a single wire. It’s not reliable beyond 15 feet (you can find 50 feet high end options with varying levels of reliability), which is why we find it in home theater setups where all components are right next to the TV.

A work-around here is to use a balun or network extender, which converts the HDMI signal to a category cable which you run at a longer distance. Then you convert it back to HDMI at the other end.

 


 

Coaxial (RG6 / RCA)

Mostly found between your wall and the cable box, RG6 connections are problematic but exist because your cable company needs to encrypt the content they deliver for copyright protection.

RG6 is not relevant for TV connections anymore unless you want to use the built-in over air antenna, but we still use RG6 for extending digital audio connections (S/PDIF) and sending line level analog audio to devices like subwoofers and powered speakers.

RCA cables are also technically coaxial cables, and still the standard for unbalanced analog audio sources, like turntables.

 


 

Optical / TOSLINK

TOSLINK is a specific type of fiber cable for audio only. Most songs are delivered digitally yet amplifiers are inherently analog, so the signal has to get converted somewhere. Unfortunately most devices do not convert it well. To keep your signal digital until it reaches a digital audio converter (usually called DAC for short) that knows what it’s doing, optical is a smart interconnect.

 


 

Speaker Cables

The connections between amp and speakers, their effect on sound has been the subject of great debate. We do know that thicker gauge cable will move power better over longer distances (we avoid going over 150 feet in general.) We also know that you need to have high quality components for the speaker cable to have any audible impact at all.

We use 14/4 speaker cable as a standard for all in-wall and in-ceiling speaker runs. 14 stands for the gauge and 4 is the amount of conductors.

 


 

Lighting & Shading

These systems require proprietary cables that run two conductors for power, as well as two conductors for communication. Explore more about Lighting & Shading, or get in touch with us with questions.

 


 

Other Questions?

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

New Hire: Michael Dye

This month we’re thrilled to announce the addition of Michael Dye to our team as our new Architect Specialist. Michael has racked up over a decade of experience with Magnolia as a Project Manager, System Designer and Consultation Agent for end users and trade professionals.

Our Architect Specialist role demands a tricky combination of technical prowess and relationship management; A resource who can add real tangible value to the Architects and Designers we interface with on our projects. After meeting Michael it was clear that his passion for the industry, sharpness and absence of ego made him a fit for our culture. However it was his mock AIA Presentation that affirmed Architect Specialist as the ideal role in which to apply his talents.

Michael is well-versed and formally trained in many of our key brand partners (Lutron, McIntosh Labs, Bowers & Wilkins, Control4.) More importantly, he shares Cloud9’s philosophy on technology: Excitement over it’s potential, balanced with a healthy dose of practicality; A bridge between the bleeding edge and everyday life.

Also, we can nerd out with him on speakers and control interfaces. He’ll fit right in.

Conference Call Etiquette

Find a Quiet Place

Be kind to fellow attendees and choose a location with minimal background noise and minimal echo. If you must take a conference call on the go, be prepared for the call to drop out.

Use a Computer if Possible

Phones compress data heavily and clip the top and low end of your voice. For a clearer connection use a computer, ideally hard-wired to the Internet.

Avoid the Lap

If using a laptop try not to set it on your lap. Place it on a table or steady surface to avoid wobbling. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but it can look like an earthquake to the other attendees.

No Backlighting

To be seen clearly, pay attention to the main light source in the room. If it’s behind you you’ll end up a silhouette to the other attendees.

Wear a Headset

If using a telephone or computer, your built-in speakers won’t have noise cancellation the same way a conference room solution would. A headset will prevent a feedback loop from taking over the call.

Don’t Interrupt

Noise cancellation blocks the voice of the speaker from being picked back up by the mic. By talking over the speaker, you confuse the technology and one person will get completely cut off.

Joke with Caution

Want to be witty? Comedy is all about timing and reading the room… Both of which are thrown off by the nature of conference calls.

 


 

* The Moderator *

 


 

Plan Ahead

Send an invitation including instructions and a link to any software that needs to be downloaded. Include a request to wear a headset or headphones to prevent feedback, plus any other tips you find relevant.

Arrive Early

Settle in with enough time to familiarize yourself with the mute button and the chat/comments interface. If possible, place a test call.

Interrupt when Necessary

Don’t be afraid to pause the meeting to address noisy participants. Everyone else will thank you.

 

 


 

* Software *

 


 

Zoom

Zoom is our pick for easy video conferencing based on three categories:
  1. Ease of set up – No need to create an account or log in to use it.
  2. Professionalism – The interface is the most polished and least “cute.”
  3. Workflow – Layout is the most intuitive for screen sharing and annotations.

Hangouts

Google Hangouts is also easy to set up, but managing multiple Google accounts can be tricky and workflow intuition is spotty (it’s easy to add a sombrero on your head, but less so to launch screen sharing.)

Skype

Skype is a household name because it was first to market, but in 2018 we consider it to be the least intuitive to use in a commercial environment.

 


 

Other Questions?

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.

Our Office Relocation Checklist

60 – 90 Days Out

 

Project Manager

Assign an internal PM to oversee the entire move. They will need to devote a lot of time and energy to this demanding project. Your PM should schedule a weekly meeting with all parties involved for status updates.

Rules and Limitations

Find out what your new building’s rules and limitations are! For example is union labor required, how late can vendors work, and how late is the freight elevator open? Your building may have rules that affect your move and it’s a good idea to anticipate every scenario before they happen.

Current Voice and Data

Find out who your fax line and phone line carriers are and what your terms of service are and if you own or lease your phone system. Will you keep your phone numbers when you move? Obtain a CSR (Customer Service Record) from your carrier with your account details.

Service in Your New Building

The building’s management can tell you what providers offer service for voice, internet and television. Ask if there are any historical problems with service in the building. Do your research before ordering your circuits, one provider may be better than another.

Construction

If construction is involved schedule a kickoff meeting with vendors, architects, general contractors, technology and furniture vendors. Open communication between all parties will help with a smooth transition.

Plans and Layout

In order to run cables and terminate jacks the floor plans and furniture layout will both be needed. Workstations will also need to be planned out.

Connecting Your Circuits

Who is responsible for connecting the building’s main telecommunications closet to the IT/server closet in your office, the carrier or your cabling vendor?

 


 

45 Days Out

New Server Room / IT Closet

Determine where the server room and IT closet will be located. Be sure to confirm electrical, cooling and security requirements are met. Be sure the location is centralized enough to avoid cabling distance problems.

HVAC System

What happens to the building cooling systems at night and on the weekends? You may require supplementary cooling for your IT closet.

Cabling Needs

When determining your cabling needs think of how you will grow in the foreseeable future. Consider voice, data, security, AV, and access. Added cabling in the initial project will save you money and time on future projects.

Identify Delays

Determine items that may cause delays due to long lead times. For example carpet, furniture, and lights often need to be installed before any work can be done.

Certificate of Insurance (COI)

Obtain a sample COI from your new building. You will need to have it on hand when vendors request a copy. The building manager should have copies.

 


 

30 Days Out

 

Moving Vendor

Select a moving company, find out if they will move your IT equipment. All IT equipment should be last on and first off the truck. Find out if they bill for time and materials or for a flat fee and decide which best fits your needs.

Port Phone Numbers

Schedule, with your current carrier, your phone numbers to be moved to your new carrier.

Backup Plan

Create a backup plan for the first few weeks in your new space. This is in case your circuits don’t arrive on time. See if employees can work from home and if phone numbers can be forwarded. There are also options for temporary internet services, like Clear.

DNS Records

Ensure you have access to your DNS records, these are needed to point your email to your new location. DNS records are always password protected, and it’s likely the IT person that set up your email last time has them.

Cleaning Day

Determine who is responsible for cleaning the new suite before move-in day.

 


 

15 Days Out

 

Delegate

Assign and schedule individuals to manage different aspects of the move-in day. Tasks should include directing the movers, setting up PCs, garbage removal, answering calls, and a “go to” individual.

Test Connections

Be sure to place test calls and check the internet connection with a laptop before your move-in date.

Coordinate Schedules

Staggering employee arrivals can help to ensure workspaces are ready when they arrive. Having everyone show up at 9 am can often lead to a lot of waiting around.

Mail

Forward your mail, this can be done at your local post office or online at USPS.com.

Address Update

Change your address on your email signatures, business cards, website, promotional material, and letter header.

 


 

Other Questions?

Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.