Skype is probably the company which has popularised VoIP for the masses, but it is a technology that has been around far longer than this mega start-up. Furthermore, full blown VoIP office installations are becoming both practical and financially beneficial routes for businesses to follow, so earlier this week I took some time to meet sector newbie Band Telecom to see how far things have progressed.
Within minutes of shaking hands and nibbling a few biccies the clear answer was ‘a lot’. Essentially what Band Telecom has managed to do is integrate a VoIP phone service and CRM solution (above - based on Sugar CRM) into a single tidy package primarily aimed at home workers and SMEs.
In one go this combines features such as conference calls, call waiting, one click dialling and SIP calls with fully hosted email, contacts and calendar software. “We’re not saying we can provide a platform to work alongside your existing phone line and Outlook software,” said Stuart Brown, Band Telecom's Senior Product Development Director, “we’re saying we can replace them.”
The solution makes a convincing argument too since not only are assigned telephone numbers geographically free (i.e. multiple offices’ or home workers’ dialling codes and extensions can be unified with the same area prefix and number regardless of location), but inter-company calls are free and there’s dial in call forwarding. This latter feature is particularly handy because it will allow a worker out in the field to call into his company number then dial out internationally from here using the VoIP software to save himself international call rates. That said, devices like the Actiontec VoSKY Call Center can do this so we’ll need some more.
More there certainly is, however, since all incoming or outgoing calls can be recorded to WAV for archiving, cut into Podcasts, or even uploaded into any individual contact’s details in the hosted CRM software. Did John X just agree to a deal? Then save his vocal confirmation and attach it to his profile. You not likely to run out of storage space either since Band Telecom provides 8GB per user. Also, unlike mass market VoIP products like Skype, companies can assign their own domain names as telephone numbers. This means no need to put email@example.com on your business card instead there can be a rather more professional firstname.lastname@example.org instead.
As for hardware, two handsets are on offer – a cordless phone and a fixed line – the latter of which, the Grandstream GXP-2000, a wise choice since it recently won our VoIP hardware group test. Initial set up costs are low too, priced at £149 per extension and that includes first year line, service and maintenance charges. The second year is just £49 per extension since the hardware purchase is no longer a factor.
In addition, third party software is available to sync Band Telecom’s CRM software with Outlook should users wish to continue using both programmes, but given that the hosted software offers all the same functionality as Outlook (including shared calendars and schedules and it can be accessed by any computer with an Internet connection therefore removing the need for a Microsoft Exchange account) I don’t really see the need.
Leaving the meeting I came away convinced this is a market area which will explode in the next 18 months and while many competitors will spring up during this time Band Telecom certainly made a lasting impression.