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Conference Calling Services – What Are The Conferencing Options?

Conference Calling Services can be broken down into a few types of conferencing services, access methods, and pricing models.   Conference Calls are either self-service (aka Reservationless Conference Calling ) or have operator assistance (aka Operator Assisted Conference Calling).  The costs vary widely between these two types of conference calling services, with reservationless conferencing having the best conference call rates.  How you access the audio conference call can be done several ways.  Dialing an 800 conference call number (aka Toll Free Conference Call), regular phone number (aka Dial In Conference Call), or dial out from the conference call bridge (aka Dial Out Conference Call).

Operator Assisted Conferencing

This type of service is for larger audio conference calls (typically 300+ participants), which require a level of control and professional services not offered with a reservationless conference call.  Typically the operator assists in making introductions of presenters or major participants, controls audio noise, handles Q&A, as well as time management.  Operator Assisted Conference Calls are scheduled ahead of time and are not available as a reservationless conferencing service.  Most users are large businesses, financial institutions, investor calls, and government agencies.  Since this is the highest level of audio conference call quality and support, operator assisted conferencing pricing is the most expensive as well.

Reservationless Conferencing

The majority of audio conferencing services are reservationless due to the flexibility and lower costs associated with them.  Reservationless Conference Calling services are available without the need to schedule the conference ahead of time, but are typically limited to less than 300 participants.  The reservationless conference call is managed by the chairperson.  All the functions of the conference calling service are accessed and managed online or through your telephone keypad.   Reservationless Conferencing offers many of the same robust features as operator assisted conferencing calling services.  Most services include greetings, muting, polling, recording, reporting, roll call, with outlook and mobile integration.  Also, some conferencing providers offer the ability to access operator assistance if needed.

Conference Calling Costs

Conference Call Pricing is done as either per minute and per participant or flat rate conferencing, with a fixed monthly cost per conference chairperson or per participant.  For larger conferences (100+ participants), the options for unlimited or flat rate conferencing are usually very limited or not available.  For smaller conference calls there are typically tiered pricing levels based on the size of conference bridge needed.  For larger conference calls, pricing is usually per minute and per participant options only.   In general, the larger the conference call, the better the conference call pricing, with either per minute or flat rate conferencing.  Also, the access type is another factor in conference call pricing, with toll free conference call access more expensive than a regular dial in number.  There is another type of conference call service available which always catches people’s attention – free conference calling services.   This type of audio conferencing is usually not meant as a business conferencing service.   In most cases, there are requirements for participants to listen to advertising prior to calls, user info that is sold to marketers, or restrictions on use and quality (VOIP access).   When reviewing conference calling services, choose a larger and reputable conference call provider that fits your needs as well as usage.  Then see if they will offer a trial account, if they are confident in the quality of their conference calling service they will be more than willing to let your try it out for free.

Metro Ethernet Service or T3 Line? Best Solution for Data

High speed data networks typically come down to the choice of these two services for most applications.   A T3 Line is a 45Mbps connection for private data networks (Private Line, Point to Point Circuit, MPLS VPN) or access to the Internet (T3 Internet).    Fractional T3 is available as well for MPLS Networks or Internet access, usually in 3Mbps increments from 6Mbps to 45Mbps.  Metro Ethernet Service is available for private data networks and Internet access, with bandwidth speeds typically from 5Mbps to 1Gbps.

Metro Ethernet Network Advantages

Metro Ethernet Networks are delivered as a fiber connection to end user locations in most cases (or Ethernet over Copper, Fixed Wireless).  This offers greater bandwidth capacity, with the simplicity and flexibility of Ethernet networks.  Metro Ethernet access is not constrained by traditional telecom data capacity limits such as T3 (45Mbps), OC3 (155Mbps), or OC12 (622Mbps).   This allows you to upgrade bandwidth speeds without having to install a new type of circuit or replace your CPE.   With fiber access it ensures a future proof bandwidth capacity as well.   Also, since the WAN handoff is Fast Ethernet or Gigabit Ethernet, there isn’t a need for a special router or WIC card, which lowers CPE costs.  T3 lines are delivered as either fiber or coax connections to end user sites, with a maximum data capacity of 45Mbps.   The WAN handoff is T3 (aka DS3) which requires a more robust router with a T3/DS3 WIC card installed, this increases the CPE cost and management.

Metro Ethernet Availability

Metro Ethernet Services dominate data networks with bandwidth speeds of 100Mbps to 1Gbps.  A big factor is the installation location and the market it resides in.  Rural locations typically have no Metro Ethernet providers or very limited Metro Ethernet availability, so T3 service is the only option available.   Inside major metro areas and larger markets, the availability of Metro Ethernet Service becomes greater and Metro Ethernet pricing decreases as well (with more competition).   This makes Metro E a better choice vs T3 lines in most metro areas.   The ideal situation is when the location is a Fiber Lit Building, with multiple Local Loop providers, which is typically the highest percentage of total Metro Ethernet cost.    With competition comes decreased fiber access costs, which lowers the total  Metro Ethernet pricing you pay.     Bottom line, check out Metro Ethernet Service availability when locations are in metro areas, and T3 Lines when it is rural or a smaller market.

AT&T PRI, Verizon PRI – Need Better Options?

AT&T PRI and Verizon PRI T1 pricing is some of the highest in the country, but there are better options.   Since they are the dominant Incumbent Local Phone Company in most markets, businesses tend to assume they are the only PRI T1 option available for phone service.   In most cases, there are other ISDN PRI T1 providers available for the same PRI service at 30-50% less per month, without sacrificing reliability, quality, or support.

Why is PRI T1 Pricing Different?

ATT PRI and Verizon PRI pricing is higher than competitors because of a number of factors.   This includes higher labor costs, large operational overhead, legacy product costs, regulated pricing (Tariffs), limited promotions and price flexibility, as well as complex billing systems.   There is also the notion that their network and service is somehow superior to competitors, thus justifying a higher PRI price per month.   In actuality, the major competitors have the better PRI services with lower monthly costs.  This is due to recent mergers and acquisitions (larger competitors now), newer products and networks (national and global), less overhead, and unregulated pricing structure (excluding T1 Local Loop).   Also, competitors typically offer numerous PRI promotions and special pricing, simpler billing, as well as more streamlined customer support.

ISDN PRI Configurations

ISDN PRI T1 service is a standardized telecom service with the same available PRI configurations regardless of provider (AT&T, Verizon, Competitors).  Verizon and ATT are not providing anything different than what major competitors are offering, such as 23B+D, NI2, B8ZS, ESF,  ANI.   The PRI T1 local loop is regulated and provided by the Local Phone Company (Verizon, AT&T, Other), so service reliability is basically the same regardless of provider (99.999% uptime).    Also, since the T1 local loop is provided by AT&T or Verizon, they fall under the same regulated guidelines for escalations and repair as any business customer of Verizon T1 or ATT T1 service.

Comparing Service Options

With another PRI service, the biggest difference you will see is that the bill with not be AT&T or Verizon branded and simpler to understand.   Customer support is also easier to work with and they typically don’t outsource support to foreign call centers.   This also holds true with other types of AT&T T1 and Verizon T1 service offered by competitors including Internet, MPLS, and Point to Point Data.     See how competitors compare to Verizon PRI and AT&T PRI pricing or any other type of AT&T T1 or Verizon T1 line.

T1 Lines – How Much Does a T1 Line Cost?

The cost of T1 service really depends on location, location, location.  The reason the location is so important is due to the availability of T1 service providers for a given area.  The more T1 providers available, the lower the T1 line cost.  The onramps to the Internet (POP) are all located in cities and metro areas.  The closer you are to a major metro area, the more T1 providers are available, and lower the cost for T1 lines.    As you get into more urban areas, there will also be Fiber Lit Buildings for multiple providers.  This also helps reduce T1 line cost by not having to use the local phone company (ILEC) for the T1 Local Loop access to the site.  Major cities (NFL markets) have the most T1 service providers available, and pricing is the most competitive as well.  Outside these areas T1 costs tend to increase the further you are away from the metro.  Rural areas have fewer providers and higher T1 costs, services to these areas have to originate further away.   Here are some factors to help estimate T1 Line pricing.

Rural Areas

T1 costs in rural areas can vary, but most of the time the cost of a T1 will be between $350-450 a month.  Rural areas are considered any location more than 50 miles from a mid-sized city.   Typically, only a few T1 providers are able to service the area (at a competitive price).

Small Cities

T1 costs in a small city will probably be between $300-400 a month.  A small city would have a few competitive T1 service providers and would have limited telecommunications facilities.

Mid Sized Cities

T1 line cost in these area will probably be between $250-300 a month.  These areas would have a numerous competitive T1 providers and Internet POPs.

Major City or Lit Building

T1 cost here will be the lowest and probably be between $200-250 a month.   These locations will have the most competitive T1 providers and Internet POP’s.

With or Without Router

T1 line cost can increase depending on whether you have your own T1 router you can use or not.   Some providers will discount T1 service if you provide your own T1 router.

T1 vs Cable for Business Internet Service

There are a number of pros and cons for each type of business Internet service.   Cable vs T1 lines have a number of factors which can affect speed, up-time, latency, packet loss, and repair time-frames.   Once you are aware of these issues you can determine the best business Cable or T1 Internet service for your needs and budget.   Here are the biggest factors with T1 vs Cable for business Internet.

Cable Internet Cost and Performance

Business Class Cable Internet service is a low cost, high bandwidth connection, via a coax cable network (Local Cable Provider).    Business Cable speed varies based on the cable provider in your area and network capabilities.  Typically they are a minimum of 10Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speed.   Cable Internet for business is a “Best Effort” service, meaning they do not offer any guarantees on service performance (aka Service Level Agreement).  Also, the network is shared among many users in your area like a  LAN.  So when you buy a package speed (ie; 10Mbps x 1Mbps), during peak usage times you will only get a fraction of those Cable speeds due to network congestion.   Another issue you encounter with business Cable Internet is higher latency.   This means data takes longer to get from point A to Z, which can lead to delays in connecting and issues with VOIP call quality.   Packet loss is typically higher as well, meaning Cable Internet data packets get dropped and don’t make it to the destination, leading to timeouts and dropped VOIP calls.

Cable Internet Reliability

Reliability and repair time-frames are probably the biggest issues for business Cable Internet subscribers.   It is not uncommon for outages to occur 2-3 times a month.  This is because when business Cable Internet providers do maintenance on the network in your area, like a LAN, it affects others users on the network.   Repair timeframes are typically longer to get a tech onsite for an issue, this again is why it is called a “Best Effort” service.    Cable for business Internet service is a low cost solution for higher bandwidth needs, but there are many risks and performance issues to consider.   In most cases, business Cable Internet is not recommended for a larger business without a back-up connection and a separate voice network connection (VOIP, PRI T1).

T1 Internet Cost and Performance

T1 Internet service is a higher cost, but a dedicated connection over traditional telecom networks (local phone company,  CLEC’s, ISP’s, backbone networks).  T1 speeds are fixed and do not vary based on location or provider, they are always 1.54Mbps download and 1.54Mbps upload.     A T1 line is not a shared network connection, but is dedicated, meaning the T1 line goes from your site to the Internet directly (via Point to Point T1).    T1 lines come with a Service Level Agreement which guarantees all metrics of service and performance, as well as provide compensation if those metrics are not met.   T1 speed and performance are the highest available with low latency, packet loss, and downtime.

T1 Reliability

Outages and service issues are rare.   Telecom networks are built with a high level of redundancy in place (99.999% up-time), and repairs to other parts of the network do not affect other users.   T1 Internet service is suitable for all types of applications requiring QoS, including VOIP, Video, VPN, and remote applications.    T1 service is a higher cost, but a very reliable Internet service for all types or businesses.   If a speed higher than T1 is needed there are other options available including Bonded T1, Ethernet Internet, or DS3 Line.

T1 vs Cable Advantages

When looking at T1 vs Cable, you need to review each of the services pros and cons, as well as applications used with service.  Cost alone should not be the determining factor when deciding on T1 vs Cable for Business Internet Services.

DS3 Pricing – T3 Internet Bandwidth Costs

DS3 Pricing for Internet bandwidth varies based on a number of factors.   DS3 Internet is also known as T3 Internet service with a maximum bandwidth speed of 45Mbps.   DS3 service is delivered either by the local phone provider (ILEC), competitive local phone provider (CLEC), or by a fiber provider.    A T3 line is either a fiber Internet connection or a coax wired connection.  Unlike T1 service, regular copper pairs are not used in the installation of DS3 lines.

Costs to Deliver DS3 Service

DS3 pricing is higher because of the costs involved in delivering the connection to a location (fiber or coax) and provider DS3 hardware costs.  DS3 price also depends on the distance from the service location to the providers POP (aka the Local Loop), the longer the distance, the higher the cost.  DS3 costs can vary based on the number of providers available for a building or service area (ILEC, CLEC, fiber providers).   The more DS3 providers available, the lower the T3 cost, especially in larger markets.    Outside of the local loop cost, there is the Internet port cost.   That part is typically much less than the local loop, does not vary based on location, but depends on the speed needed (3 to 45Mbps).

In rural markets, T3 costs are the highest because of all the factors outlined above, including limited T3 providers (usually just ILEC), longer distances between site and T3 provider POP, and less demand for T3 service.   DS3 pricing in rural areas can be anywhere between $3,000-$5000+ a month.  In small-mid sized markets costs are usually $1500-3000, and large metro areas can be as low as $1000-2000 per month.

New Ethernet Services Available

An emerging technology that is becoming available in more markets and locations is Ethernet Internet Service.   Ethernet Internet connections are delivered as Ethernet over Fiber or Ethernet over Copper, both providing a lower cost per Mbps vs DS3 costs.   When considering Internet bandwidth options you should consider pricing both DS3 and Ethernet Services.

Bandwidth vs Latency – Internet Speed Defined

Bandwidth vs Latency are the two biggest factors in determining the true Internet speed of a connection.  It is also probably the most misunderstood aspect of data networks when deciding to optimize or upgrade bandwidth speeds.   When looking at Latency vs Bandwidth, you have to take into account both metrics together when comparing different types of data network connections and speeds.

Capacity of Data Circuit

Bandwidth is a measurement of the size of a data connection (measured in Kbps, Mbps, or Gbps), this is the physical capacity, similar to a road (one lane, two lane, four lane, etc).   Latency is the measurement of speed that data travels across a network (measured in milliseconds – ms), similar to how fast a car travels on the road.  Lower latency equals a faster speed,  so a large bandwidth connection along with a low latency network is ideal when looking at Bandwidth vs Latency.

Speed of Network

Internet latency varies based on the type of network connection you have.   T1 latency is the lowest, DSL latency falls in the middle, and Cable Internet has the highest bandwidth latency.   The reason why one type of connection has higher Internet latency vs another comes down to two main factors.   One is how the network is designed, is it a shared network or a dedicated network connection?    The second is how many hops or legs does that network have, for data to travel from your location to the destination (and back)?

Shared vs Dedicated Connection

Both Cable and DSL Internet are shared network connections, meaning you are sharing network capacity in your area with numerous subscribers.  This is the reason why there are fluctuations in the bandwidth speeds and Internet latency depending on the time of day, even though you bought a service that was supposed to have higher Internet speeds.   With DSL and Cable connections, there are no guarantees on your service for up-time, latency, packet loss, or repair (aka Service Level Agreement – SLA), it is called a “best effort” guarantee.    With a T1 Line (or Ethernet, DS3, Fiber Internet), the connection is dedicated and the bandwidth is not shared, you are the only one using that bandwidth.   Internet speeds are always the same not matter the time of day, and service comes with a Service Level Agreement for guaranteed network performance.  This is the first factor in Bandwidth vs Latency issue.

Hops are basically stop lights on the information superhighway which allow traffic management (done by routers and switches).  DSL and Cable networks, because they are shared and typically congested, have many hops before they even get to the Internet.  Each of these hops creates milliseconds in delay which add up to slower data speeds (higher latency) and reductions in bandwidth based on network congestion.  A T1 network is a dedicated point to point circuit between your location and the Internet, with a minimal amount of hops or delays (lower latency), a dedicated Internet connection will always be faster than a shared data connection.   This is why dedicated Internet (Ethernet Internet, Fiber, DS3, T1) is used by businesses and shared Internet (DSL, Cable) is mostly used by residential and small offices.  This is the second issue in Bandwidth vs Latency.

Bottom Line Speed

So when looking at both metrics, you need to take into account the issues described herein.  If you only look at part of the Latency vs Bandwidth equation you will not be effectively evaluating the reasons why your Internet connection is slow.   Here are some useful network tools to help evaluate Bandwidth vs Latency issue.



Ethernet Broadband

Ethernet over Copper

Ethernet Broadband Internet is an emerging technology which offers high speed Internet access at a fraction of the cost of T1, DS3, or OC3 lines.  Broadband Ethernet service is delivered to a location in a number of ways, depending on the available telecom facilities and speeds in the area.    The most widely available service is Ethernet over Copper (aka EoC), which is basically Ethernet over phone lines.   The benefit of this Ethernet Broadband service is that almost every building has copper phone lines.   The cost for those lines are minimal, which means lower Ethernet over Copper pricing.   Broadband Ethernet over Copper speeds depend on distance from a phone company central office (CO).  Internet speeds available are 2Mbps to 20Mbps, with  some providers now offering up to 100Mbps and 200Mbps Ethernet over Copper.  Installation time frames for Ethernet over Copper are usually 15-45 days.

Ethernet over T1

Another Ethernet Broadband service is Ethernet over T1 (aka EoT1 or EoDS1), which is similar to Ethernet over Copper Internet access.   Like Ethernet over Copper, it uses the existing copper facilities in a location to build T1 circuits.  These lines are then used to deliver the Ethernet over T1 service.   Unlike Ethernet over Copper, there are no distance limitations, other than having the right Ethernet Broadband equipment in the local phone company central office that services your area.   Some Broadband Ethernet providers even offer Ethernet over DS3 Internet to provide higher bandwidth speeds (over 10Mbps).  Generally service is available for speeds of 10Mbps to 100Mbps Internet, with Ethernet over T1 pricing a little higher than EoC.   Installation timeframes are typically 30-45 days.

Ethernet over Fiber

The last Broadband Ethernet access is Ethernet over Fiber (aka Metro Ethernet Service).   This type of Ethernet connection uses fiber optic lines to deliver Ethernet Broadband speeds from 10Mbps to 1Gbps+.   This Ethernet Broadband service is typically available only in metro areas.  Ethernet over Fiber connections are delivered to buildings that are already fiber lit, either by the local phone company or competitive telecom providers.   If the location is not fiber lit, but there are fiber networks in the area, they will usually build a fiber connection to the building.   The construction costs to build an Ethernet over Fiber line can be substantial, but in most cases the provider will absorb those costs with a longer contract term.    The benefit of Ethernet over Fiber is that the speeds are the highest currently available, with the ability to upgrade and change bandwidth without much effort.  Installation time frames can be long, with average installs running 30-120 days, depending on the amount of contruction involved to deliver service.   On the bright side, fiber optic Ethernet technology is future proof, and will be the cutting edge service delivery method for many years to come.  Ethernet over Fiber pricing is also very competitive for higher bandwidth speeds.

Business Hosted VOIP – The New Phone System

What is Hosted VOIP?

Business Hosted VOIP is fast becoming the phone service of choice for both small and large businesses. Hosted VOIP, is also known as Hosted PBX, Hosted Phone System, Hosted IP PBX, Hosted VOIP Systems, or Cloud VOIP.  Basically Hosted Business VOIP is phone service using VOIP (aka SIP Trunking) to deliver Local, Long Distance, Toll-Free, and International calling.   The difference is the typical on-site phone system features are done virtually (in “the Cloud”) at the Business Hosted VOIP providers data center.  This eliminates the need to have an on-site physical phone system to handle calling features and routing of calls.

Onsite Phone System vs Hosted PBX

The benefit of not having an on-site phone system vs Hosted IP PBX are many.  First would be the maintenance costs and upkeep needed on an on-site phone system, which also includes costs for adding as well as changing users and phones. These costs are typically included in the monthly cost of a Business Hosted VOIP service and are not extra. Another reason is the flexibility provided by a Hosted Phone System vs on-site, you can make adds and changes online to users, features, routing and not have to wait for the phone company or a tech to show up.  All the phone system features are virtual, including Hunting, Call Forwarding, Call Transfer, 3 Way Calling, Direct Inward Dialing (DID), Call Routing, Auto Attendant, Voicemail, and more. Also, since Hosted Business VOIP is virtual, the reliability and redundancy are already built into the service.  The likelihood of an outage or failure of phone service is minimal, since the provider data centers are extremely redundant.  With a traditional on-site phone system you have to worry about system failures due to power outages, lightning strikes, card failures, and software glitches, all of which can mean hours if not days of downtime.

Comparing Costs

As far as Business Hosted VOIP costs go, it is very much in line with traditional phone services such as ISDN PRI T1, SIP Trunking, Voice T1, Integrated T1, and Phone Lines.  The difference really is in the upfront costs, with a traditional on-site PBX phone system the costs are $2,000 and up, and that doesn’t even include the handsets – phones (additional costs).    With Hosted PBX solutions your upfront costs are minimal since the only pieces of equipment needed are the phones and a gateway or router.   Many of the Hosted VOIP providers will also waive the upfront equipment costs with a longer contract term.    Sound interesting?   See Hosted IP PBX options.

T1 Residential Internet Service – Is T1 Different?

Home Internet Uses

T1 Residential Internet Services are typically used by people who work from home or run a business at a residential location requiring high speed T1 Bandwidth.   DSL or Cable Internet are not available so people look to T1 Residential Internet Service as an option.  Most Residential T1 Internet customers are located in rural areas and options are limited for higher bandwidth speeds.   A Residential T1 service is no different than a business T1 service, other than it is delivered to a home.

How T1 Service is Delivered

Like with business T1 lines, a Residential T1 line is delivered using copper pairs (aka Phone Lines) that are present in almost every building and home.   The local telephone company in your area will deliver the T1 circuit to your home in the same way they would with a business customer.   They build the T1 Line using existing copper pairs and provide a handoff of either an RJ-45 or RJ-48 phone jack connected to your T1 router or inside wiring (need Cat 5 cabling).

Residential Availability

Contrary to popular belief, a T1 line is available in just about any location, as long as you have regular phone service available.   There are no special restrictions on Residential T1 Availability other than that.   Also, a service is no different than a business T1 service in regards to speed, SLA’s, uptime, or features.   Home T1 costs are also the same as business T1 lines, check out options.  But since most T1 Residential lines are used in rural areas, the costs tend to be higher since the distance from a city or metro area are key factors in pricing a T1 circuit.    Overall a Residential T1 is the best solution for home users if DSL or Cable Internet is not available, as long as you are willing to pay the typically higher Residential T1 cost.