Category Archives: Blog

Webinars Made Easy

WebinarAdvancements in technology often come with a price, including a long learning curve in user adoption. Such is not the case with InfoConnect – a new web conferencing platform designed for quick set-up and ease of use, and it’s loaded with the most advanced features!

Smart mobile phones with full browsers and built-in cameras, social networks, IPTV, video compression, webcam innovation, and high speed Internet networks have all contributed to a new world of visual web communication, serving both business and consumer interests. It’s no surprise then that visual web applications continue to outperform traditional modes of communication, like voice and print, especially for collaborative, group purposes.

Web conferencing is part of this trend. The audio conference bridge of yesteryear is being outpaced by webinar technology which, not many years ago, required an IT employee to operate. But things have changed. With the latest webinar platform advancements, like those of InfoConnect, just about anyone can easily set-up and conduct a webinar like a pro! And with the economies of scale created in hosted webinar solutions, prices have remained very affordable.

Whether you need to address your sales team in weekly meetings or launch a new product with your customers, InfoConnect web conferencing can handle both your basic and sophisticated requirements. Below is the InfoConnect toolkit that will make your webinars a success:

  • Video – launch up to 12 webcams instantly
  • Adobe Flash platform – no downloads required to operate
  • Record live meetings
  • Conduct PowerPoint presentations with annotation tools
  • Desktop screen sharing with remote control
  • Share files between users
  • Whiteboard presentations
  • Play streaming video or audio clips
  • Chat and other feedback tools
  • Personalize meeting with images, logos and contact information

For pricing information on InfoConnect, call us now at 800-419-4804. 

High Definition (HD) Voice

While iPhone app’s are stealing telecom headlines, another revolution is stirring in an ancient phenomenon – human voice. With the new VoIP codecs, significant telephony improvements in audio are being made, and hearing is believing!

With the rapid transition of traditional phone service to VoIP, enabled by the tremendous flexibility of IP technology, new applications are emerging to create a richer user experience. IDC research shows that “the end user experience in current implementations of VoIP can be improved in a manner that is simple yet clearly demonstrates the value and superiority of IP-based communications.” (IDC: “Can You Hear What I Mean? Polycom Delivers HD Voice”, Stofa, 2006). With most of the hype surrounding mobile data applications, texting and social networking, voice is still regarded as the most important communications vehicle for conducting mission critical business, as well as the first choice in addressing the most important personal matters.

Decades ago, FM radio trumped the clarity, depth and range of sound transmitted by AM radio. Its “higher fidelity” was the result, in part, of its greater bandwidth component. A similar evolution in voice quality is being made in VoIP communications. Phone line quality, standardized by the old Bell Telephone system, which was measured in Hertz (Hz), was designed for voice in a low frequency band at around 3,000 Hz or 3 KHz. This “narrow band” frequency remained the standard for more than half a century. While voice quality saw some improvements in the 80’s and 90’s with digital switching and the deployment of fiber optics in carrier networks, the difference in quality was slight, and it was mainly in voice amplification and ambient noise reduction.

Today, a “wide band” IP technology is emerging, which is known as high definition (HD) voice. With HD voice, a carrier network device called a codec samples the sound stream 8,000 times per second and more than doubles the width of the sound spectrum reproduced – up to 7KHz, which adds significant depth and range to the audio – a much broader difference over standard phone line voice than just loudness, like FM is to AM. Phone line audio becomes as clear as face-to-face conversation.

You can hear the difference through a simulation on our HD voice web page and separately clicking on both buttons for “Standard Voice” and “Polycom HD Voice.” In order for you to achieve this level of quality in your office phone communications, you must have VoIP service with an HD voice application built into the carrier network, like our InfoTalk Pro product (most VoIP providers still don’t offer HD voice). In addition, you will need HD-enabled IP phones, like the Polycom SoundPoint series. These phones, we believe, are the best in business VoIP technology and are affordably priced. And the best news is HD voice is available through InfoStructure at no extra cost.

Virtual Office

Virtual OfficeFor the sake of convenience, cutting costs, or accomplishing out-of-office tasks, many employees today work from remote locations, including their homes, airports, coffee shops, other offices or just about anywhere their work takes them where they can stay connected. The challenge of these “virtual offices” is having a level of communication that is as accessible, flexible and productive as that of an office environment with in-house systems optimized for business communications. An answer to this challenge has been emerging for a decade and is just beginning to reach critical mass – hosted VoIP.

Hosted VoIP has many names, like hosted PBX, IP telephony, managed VoIP, and others that all point to the same thing – unified voice and data applications that are accessible through the Internet. Because these applications are “hosted” (I.e. they reside on a carrier’s servers), and not maintained at a particular business office, they can be accessed from anywhere on the planet…sort of like mobile phone ap’s but without all the downloading and with greater business efficiency than a mobile phone. These applications range from advanced PBX features to local and long distance calling, web conferencing, speech-to-text messaging, video, point-and-click calling, Internet faxing and much more.

The versatility of hosted VoIP platforms enables carriers to integrate new ap’s without you having to purchase additional systems, hardware or software. And because the platforms are scalable, you can add, delete and modify phone extensions or calling features on the fly. Your office phone number follows you around, whether you use an IP phone or soft client (a phone function manipulated from your PC screen, along with a headset). In other words, all of your outbound calls carry your name and/or office number, providing continuity in identification, and your inbound calls are received on the same number. And through a web interface, you have the ability to manage all of your communications. In fact, you have all of the exact same communication features that you would enjoy from your office on the same platform; nothing is sacrificed in your virtual office. You just can’t accomplish these things with a typical phone system… a virtual phone system is a must!

Above all, hosted VoIP is an economical alternative. When you consider the huge capital cost, maintenance costs, and peripheral equipment expenses required with in-office phone systems, along with monthly phone line and long distance costs, hosted VoIP will usually save your business a bundle. Most providers offer hosted VoIP as a managed service billed monthly.

For more information on hosted VoIP, visit our web page on InfoTalk Pro – an innovative hosted VoIP solution from InfoStructure.

When Disaster Strikes

Disater RecoveryIt’s unlikely but possible that your business may experience a disaster that disables all of your communications for more than just a couple of hours. Cable cuts, power outages, building fires, flooding, tornadoes and earthquakes are realities of life that can and will take place. Is your business prepared for any of these?

A 2009 study by Business Research Institute revealed that of all the recovery points necessary in the event of a disaster (data loss, employee management, notifications, etc.), 65% of the businesses surveyed said telecommunications was the weakest link. The fact is that an outage in telephone communications lasting several hours, or even days, can cost a communications-intensive business substantially in lost revenue, good will, and credibility with its customers. An extreme example of this was the 911 event in NYC, which disabled communications in hundreds of businesses for several days, resulting in extensive financial damages. Fortunately, terrorist events don’t happen frequently in the US, but what about a simple cable cut that takes eight hours to be located and repaired or a power outage that requires a failed transformer to be completely replaced or a building fire that damages or destroys your phone system, which are much more common occurrences?

While most businesses recognize the exposure in not having a disaster recovery plan, they also realize that there’s a cost in having one, and it’s not usually low-budget. Implementing redundant, fail-over phone functionality with traditional TDM phone system, as well as maintaining alternate transport facilities, can be an expensive proposition. Many believe that not spending dollars on implementing a plan is worth the risk…until a disaster strikes. It’s like going without health insurance to save on expenses, which works for as long you are not seriously sick or injured.

However, with the the latest IP technology, an excellent solution for disaster recovery now exists without your having to invest in redundant systems or diverse network facilities. Business class “hosted” VoIP, by which phone functions are housed on a carrier’s servers, is a viable solution by the very fact that your phone functions are maintained remotely – not at your office location. This means that in the event of a disaster at your office building, at the minimum, your inbound calls will roll over to voice mail and not be lost as they otherwise would be on a traditional phone system; you can leave your office and with Internet access make outbound calls on an IP phone with the exact same features that you enjoy from your office and receive your office calls at the same number as well; and you can still access and reconfigure your call management functions through the web. Because these disaster recovery features are inherent with a hosted service, which will also reduce your standard phone expenses, they are well worth considering.

InfoStructure has recently introduced a new hosted VoIP solution for business – InfoTalk Pro, an effective alternative for disaster recovery. InfoTalk Pro is a powerful PBX replacement alternative with a rich array of PBX features, a unique browser interface for quick and easy call management, and desktop integration of PC and IP phone, making it scalable, user friendly, economical and manageable. For more information, please visit our InfoTalk Pro web page.

Voice in the Cloud

What do you have when you integrate business class IP phones, a PC interface with advanced PBX management functions plus a wide array of user features, high definition voice, as well as local and long distance service, all provided from the cloud on a unified platform?…InfoTalk Pro.

InfoTalk Pro, the latest product of InfoStructure, represents a new era of IP cloud communications, where voice and data are uniquely unified on the desktop to provide a powerful communications application. With extensive telephony functions accessible through your browser interface, you can now simply point-and-click your way to making new calls, accessing your call history, dialing an employee’s extension, managing your user features, originating a conference call, administering new phone numbers, receiving calls, and much more. All of the functionality is “hosted” in the InfoStructure network, relieving you of the standard PBX maintenance responsibility and associated costs. And because InfoTalk Pro is provided as a managed service, not a phone system, you don’t incur the huge capital cost in purchasing a traditional PBX system!

In addition to cost savings, InfoTalk Pro translates into many other benefits:

 Flexibility – real time moves, ads & changes
 Productivity – ease and speed of use
 Scalability – grows with your business
 Mobility – usable via the Internet anywhere on the planet
 Reliability – maintained by InfoStructure 7 X 24 for you
 Controllability – user and management system controls

To receive a quote for your business on InfoTalk Pro, give us a call at 541-842-8214 or visit our website section on Unified Communications.

Big Change in USF

The FCC is pondering a decision that could affect millions of consumers and businesses in rural America. That decision could be positive or negative, depending upon what your priorities are – the phone or the Internet.

A backward glance in time reveals that the telephone, in its earliest stage, was considered to be a novelty. Years later, it became a luxury for those who could afford it and had access to phone lines strung in more populated areas of the US. When the telephone’s value and subsequent need became recognized, Uncle Sam intervened to make sure that phones and phone lines were accessible to American citizens.

However, the problem for decades in providing phone service in low population areas has been the cost of expanding the phone networks to reach everyone, with profitability simply unattainable for the rural phone companies. To solve this problem, in 1996 the FCC created the Universal Service Fund (USF), which mandated that all US phone companies contribute to USF in order to subsidize those rural areas without phone service. This also helped to level the playing field among phone companies competing for the new nationwide telecom opportunities. Since then, hundreds of rural phone companies, along with their consumer and business customers, have benefited. Last year alone, over $8 billion in USF was spent on rural phone projects.

Internet broadband has experienced a similar progression, evolving from novelty to luxury to necessity. While Internet broadband is available today to the vast majority of Americans in populated areas, it’s still nonexistent in thousands of small towns. ISP’s have encountered the same financial hurdles in building their broadband networks as the phone companies experienced, where return on investment is elusive due to the limited subscriber opportunity. Consequently, an estimated 20 million Americans are still without access to Internet broadband.

So Uncle Sam, once again, is on the verge of taking a giant step to support rural areas. The FCC is now considering passing landmark legislation that will redirect those same USF funds to support the construction of data networks in rural areas. The assumption is that the need for rural phone line subsidies has been fulfilled, and now resources need to be directed to providing high speed Internet access.

In addition, the new legislation, if passed, would have more stringent regulation going forward, because the USF, from day one, has been loosely managed and, in many cases, abused, with virtually no boundaries on project costs. One widely publicized example is in the state of Washington where the phone lines of less than two dozen residents in one rural community have been subsidized to the tune of $20,000 per year from the USF.

However, this potentially huge shift in policy (and money) has many rural areas very concerned, as the very phone funds which have supported them for years may now be redirected. According to the New York Times, “The reallocation of money — and the promise it will be spent more carefully — unsettles many small and medium-size firms in rural areas that rely on the flow of subsidies. The proposed rules would also change the interconnection fees paid to companies, another concern to the rural telecommunications companies that count on the fees for a big chunk of revenue.” (NYT, “New Rules for Technology,” Feb. 23, 2011).

This proposed legislation in USF seems to be needed and therefore justifiable. Also, it’s supported by some of the largest telecom carriers in the US. But it will need to be scrutinized and both sides of the coin weighed accordingly. We don’t want it to rob Peter to pay Paul.

The Weak Link

Sophisticated IP cloud app’s work only as good as the network supporting them. The greater the reliability on cloud services, the more attention your network connection should receive.

Hosted VoIP is an excellent example. By hosted VoIP, we’re referring to an IP-cloud phone service where PBX functionality resides on an application server maintained by your service provider and is usually sold on a per-user-seat basis. Typically, with hosted phone applications, your provider also bundles the network call paths over which VoIP is carried. With the refinement of VoIP core-network technology over the past decade by the likes of Cisco, Argent, BroadSoft and Sonus,  the quality of VoIP has increased substantially. For that matter, the core of major IP networks, wherein transport, signaling and hosted functions  are provided, now operates at  levels of performance  comparable to traditional TDM networks. So why is VoIP still perceived to be inferior to traditional TDM services?

One major issue with hosted VoIP is often in the local network transport   – the Internet broadband connection –  and it’s usually the easiest part of the problem to solve. The problem may be as simple as insufficient bandwidth on your connection. With voice and data converged over the same facility, it stands to reason that your bandwidth, once used just for Internet data transport, must be increased to accommodate your hosted voice traffic. Yet, even if the bandwidth is sized correctly, there will be occasion when prioritizing voice packets will be necessary when they compete with your data packets for the same broadband pipe. A split second delay in a data download is usually more tolerable (and less noticed) than a disconnected phone call, which could occur with hosted VoIP with the exact same packet delay. Packet prioritization is usually accomplished by your LAN router.

In addition to pipe size and packet priority, the type of Internet broadband that you use will also affect your hosted VoIP quality. DSL, for example, is the most popular type of high speed Internet used by small businesses. DSL, however, is supported by a contention-based network. That means your packets, prioritized and sent successfully from you LAN over your DSL connection, still have to “contend” for transport onto the Internet once they reach the other side of the local DSL facility. If the DSL aggregation point (DSLAM) is experiencing a high load of your provider’s traffic, your packets will be delayed, and your hosted VoIP call degraded. It’s often that simple.

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Your network connection may be it!

Top 10 Predictions for 2011

2011 will be an exciting year for the telecom industry, which will make strides in innovation and productivity, driven mainly by IP cloud-based services and wireless network enhancements. However, not all will be peaches and cream, as the industry will continue to experience change. Below are our top ten predictions:

1.      Thanks to the iPhone, its growing app’s, and, above all, the deployment of 4G networks, mobile will grab most of the industry headlines.

2.      In the wake of Craig McCaw stepping down as its chairman of Clearwire, the company’s performance will disappoint its investors throughout the year.

3.      Different variations of what we know as Unified Communications (UC) will achieve mass market adoption, along with other new IP based services. Increased productivity resulting lower costs and greater efficiencies will continue to drive the success of UC.

4.      Free VoIP offered by Skype and Google will gain greater consumer market share while value-added, business VoIP will be sold at a premium with excellent ROI.

5.      Broadsoft’s stock will decline by 50% from its 52 week high before it will climb again to new highs.

6.      Competitive pressures will force customer service standards to improve across all telecom sectors; people are fed up with inadequate automated solutions, broken processes, and unintelligible foreign accents.

7.      The FCC will obsess about net neutrality as its main focus and anything else will be a distant second.

8.      The Qwest and CenturyLink merger will encounter network integration issues resulting in service delivery problems to its business customers.

9.      In IPTV adoption, China will surpass Europe as world market leader.

10.    InfoStructure will experience its greatest growth year in its 17 year history.

Happy New Year!

An Attitude of Gratitude

During this magical time of year, most of us will have a moment to reflect upon what’s really important to us, what’s most meaningful and endearing to us in the grand scheme of things. In our reflection, we might find it within us to openly express our appreciation to those who have touched our lives in some special way, perhaps especially to those whom we have, for whatever reasons, expressed our appreciation the least. In so doing, we cultivate an “attitude of gratitude,” and we open ourselves to all that is good and to the possibilities of enriching our lives further.

We, the InfoStructure Team, would like to share our gratitude for our customers, many of whom have been with us for over a decade; the excitement of being part of an organization that continues to succeed and grow despite a slow economy; and to all of you who take the time to visit our new website.

We wish all of you a very Merry Christmas!

Spam Scam

You wake up to that first cup of coffee, and at some point shortly before or after your shower, you pop your emails. At first glance, there are many, but in a couple of seconds you realize that several are from unwanted sources that have managed to evade your spam filters. After mumbling a few expletives, you start deleting in bulk…but wait!. One catches your attention and you open it. And in that fleeting moment, the burgeoning spam industry notches another victory.

Conceptually, spam (unwanted email) is not too different than legitimate forms of opt-in email marketing: it’s a competition first for your eye balls and then your money. It’s success is measured in standard marketing metrics – rates of delivery, conversion, ROI, etc. The biggest difference, perhaps, lies in who’s footing the bill. In the case of email spam, it’s…well, you and me.

According to Ferris Research, in 2009 worldwide spam costs hit a staggering $130 billion of which $42 billion was in the US alone.  This represents a 30% increase from two years prior.  Cost components for spam are measured in three major ways:

1)      Productivity loss from inspecting and deleting spam that gets missed by spam control products

2)      Productivity loss from searching for legitimate email deleted in error by spam control products

3)      Operations and helpdesk running costs

The fact is, of all the emails sent daily, 75% are spam messages!

And on the M86 Security Labs’ list of countries with greatest spam origination, India leads the charge. Russia and Viet Nam follow closely behind. The US ranks sixth in order.  Of all the industries in the spam world, the pharmaceuticals dominate at a whopping 55% of the total (Viva Viagra!), followed by replicas at 32%. Then it drops to 5% for diplomas, 3% for gambling, and 2% for dating.

The reality is that spammers are winning overall, and their unscrupulous activities aren’t disappearing any time soon. User spam filters are more sophisticated than ever, but so are the spammers! More regulation might alleviate some of the problem but not all of it. As long as spam recipients click and buy, the spam industry will endure. You don’t need a high conversion rate to thrive in a business with no direct costs.

Of all of us who bear the brunt of spam costs, internet service providers pay their fare share in the form of excess server capacity, human resources, backbone capacity and anti-spam software. We, at InfoStructure, have partnered with a network service provider that has developed a powerful Bit Scrubber spam-detection software. We also have devised a rules-based system by which commercial marketers may be “gray listed” for noncompliance of email marketing standards. While we have an “open network” over which customer traffic is never monitored, we do engage these anti-spam protocols to minimize spam among our business and residential customers.