Thinking of switching your business phones into the cloud? You’re not alone. With Cloud Telephony and Unified Communications on the rise, more businesses are considering VoIP and Hosted PBX systems as a means to drive down their communication costs.
However, with so many companies offering services and packages that look so similar, it’s hard to distinguish one cloud telecoms company (and their products) from another.
The nature of the cloud communication market, particularly the large investment needed to set up and maintain the network infrastructure, means it’s made up of a small number of Network Owners and a significantly larger number of Resellers.
First, let’s explain the distinction between these two important players within the cloud communication field.
The Network Owner (aka Network Operator)
They own and manage the infrastructure their network is built on. A “cloud communication platform” is built on network infrastructure which requires a variety of servers, programmes and software to operate. Owning and operating the network means you have greater control over its reliability and stability and can react to any potential issues quicker. You can also plan further in advance if things need to be upgraded or improved.
Take us, Numbergroup, as an example. We own all the physical equipment, along with the servers, that’s used to build our cloud network. We don’t use anyone else’s equipment. We’ve built a variety of services on this infrastructure, such as PBX, SIP trunking and Number Translation Service (NTS). We refer to it as our ‘cloud communication platform’ as the services aren’t hosted in one physical location, but spread out across a range of virtual servers which can be accessed via an internet connection.
Cloud Communication Reseller
A reseller is a company or individual (merchant) that purchases cloud telecom products from a Network operator with the intention of selling them on, under their own label or brand, for profit or commission. An important distinction is that the reseller does not own, operate or manage the infrastructure. However the reseller enters into a supply agreement with the customer, not the network operator, and is therefore responsible for billing and support.
So what’s the problem?
The reality is, around 90% of all cloud telephony retailers are just resellers who simply package up and resell products supplied by other companies. There’s nothing new or controversial about this type of marketplace, but it highlights a major issue in the telecom industry.
The great cloud telecoms myth
Most companies that sell cloud phone services are basically marketers who build businesses around brands and service bundles. They don’t own the hardware or intellectual property, and they certainly don’t invest in network infrastructure or the tools to deliver the best call performance. They leave these to the network provider whose products and services they resell on to you, the end customer.
Very few sellers in the cloud telecom industry actually own the network that calls are routed through. These are the firms that have invested heavily in network architecture to deliver better connection speed, call stability and voice quality.
This lack of network ownership has huge implications for business customers. Everything from price, support, reliability, call quality and product improvement will be affected. So it’s critical that you understand the implications of buying from one cloud telecom provide over another.
The benefits of buying direct from a Network Owner
What do you need to consider when weighing up potential cloud telecom providers? And what exactly are the benefits of buying direct from a network operatore as opposed to a reseller?
As with most products or services, buying direct from the cloud telecom supplier has many benefits:
- Lower price by cutting out the middleman
- Quicker & better technical support (from the ones who know the network inside out)
- Get only the features you need (stop for stuff you won’t use)
- Fast-tracking of new features & product improvements
Cut out the middleman
As we’ve explained, most telecom companies are just resellers. They lease network lines and buy call minutes at wholesale rates. Then they add their own mark-up before selling on to the customer.
Taking the “middleman” out of the equation means one less company looking for a share of the pie.
If a network provider has the systems and processes in place to deal directly with the customer, you should in theory pay a lower price. This is because the seller can react quicker to market forces and adjust their prices accordingly to win new business.
A reseller doesn’t have this flexibility. They’re at the mercy of the network provider who may may only agree to adjust wholesale prices for their largest resellers who have the most leverage.
As with most products and services, buying straight from the supplier means you should be able to negotiate a more competitive rate than you’ll get elsewhere.
Get technical support (from the ones who know the network inside out)
When you buy cloud phone services from a reseller, typically they have no control over the network infrastructure, or its stability & reliability. This is managed by the network owner. But if there’s fault with your business calls, your point of contact is the reseller, not the network owner. The reseller is just the filter through which support tickets are passed on to the supplier. And your ticket may be only one of hundreds or thousands the network owner is trying to deal with at any one time.
The speed with which your ticket gets looked at is dictated by a number of factors. If you feel your fault isn’t getting fixed quickly enough, you’re probably wasting your time complaining to the reseller. In the end, they ultimately have no control over how quickly your fault will be fixed. That’s up to the network owner, who you have no direct access to. So save your breath and wait your turn. All the while this is happening, your customers can’t get through to you and you’re left to count the cost.
On the other hand, if you buy direct from the network owner (by the way, did I mention we own our network?), you have direct access into their technical support team. And because you are a valued customer, you will be given priority status.
Just as importantly, the support team looking at your fault will have in depth knowledge of the network and any issues that might arise. This typically means faults get fixed a lot quicker than they would otherwise. After all, these are the guys that built the network, so they know here its weaknesses are and have direct access to the tools needed to patch things up.
Invariably this means less network outages, and less time spent by you chasing up support tickets.
Get only the features you need (stop for stuff you won’t use)
Buying from a reseller means having to adopt whatever platform and features the network owner supplies. Often, the platform you end up with is designed to handle complex multi-extension PBX and SIP configurations. If you just need to configure a basic PBX for your small or medium sized business, you may end up having to reach out to technical support on many occasions, or trawl through complicated set-up manuals.
But what if you buy direct from the network provider? I can’t answer on behalf of all network owners, but I don’t think it’s fair for customers to have to configure their own SIP phones or PBX systems. We do all this for you. First, we spend time finding out exactly how your phone system will support your business. Then we take all this information and pre-configure your phones and your PBX platform just the way you need it. All you have to do is plug in your phones, and right from the outset your calls work just as you expected. No messing about with codecs or tweaking endlessly with SIP settings. Our phone systems work straight out of the box.
Fast-tracking of new features & product improvements
Once you get familiar with your new cloud phone system, you might find eventually that you need extra features you hadn’t thought of initially.
Some of these features might not seem difficult or unreasonable to implement. The reality is, if you bought from a reseller, the chances of you getting them to persuade the network owners to make bespoke changes just for little old you are, to put it mildly, slim.
Unless some of their biggest customers are also crying out for the same extra features, they just won’t see commercial sense in putting in the development time.
Everyone appreciates that building new feature-sets has to be driven somewhat by commercial needs. But for some cloud communication providers (like us), it’s not the only determination of how to improve our products.
Take our product development roadmap for example. Most of the product improvements we’ve made over the last 5 years have emanated from requests made by our customers. We conduct regular customer reviews to try and identify ways in which we can improve the tools and services we provide. This typically leads to collaboration between us and the customer to find a solution that can be built into into the customer’s own platform. The new feature will then be rolled out to any other customers who request it, before being built into the core platform if enough interest is shown.
So when it’s time to review your cloud communication provider, don’t get distracted by packages that offer low prices for an introductory period. They usually end up costing you more in the long run, and you could get tied into a lengthy contract. Price should only be one factor in your decision-making. What’s the point in paying out less if your calls drop frequently, or you can’t get hold of customer support when you need them?
As with most products and services, buying directly from the supplier (or cloud network owner in this case), will invariably get you a better deal overall and access to better, more reliable products. After all, you should be managing your business, not struggling to fix a phone system that keeps letting you down.