Thursday 7 February 2013

Life without Internet

I’m writing this because I’ve run out of jobs to do that don’t require the internet, which right now is down due to an exchange fault. It's been almost an hour and already the staff are plotting who to eat first. I think I'm safe as I'm lean and gristly but Lee is looking distinctly worried. 

It’s at times like this that you start thinking about the cost of service interruptions. When our broadband works it’s fantastic, but even though we rate the technical support we get from Be quite highly, the impact upon our business when it does fail is pretty severe.

Apart from being reduced to the two phone lines that come with ISDN because we lose the outbound VOIP call routes, our credit card terminal is also on broadband so we can’t take card payments. Email is of course a non-starter, and we lose our remote support facilities. We rely increasingly on cloud services, but the more reliance we place on these the more important it is to assure continuity of broadband service. While you can install industrial strength data connections, these are quite pricey compared to simple ADSL, however it doesn’t take much down time before these start to seem attractive as well as economical.

When we first set up our business we had a single phone line, but pretty soon it became clear that we would need more than one line. When we moved into our first Service Centre on Munster Road I did a lot of research before deciding to use a software PBX using the excellent 3CX system.

3CX does lots of clever things including using VOIP for outgoing calls, and a mobile gateway that uses two SIMs for ‘free’ outgoing calls to mobile phones as we get bundled minutes on the SIMS. At the time SIP trunks were still bleeding edge so I opted for ISDN2e from BT for incoming calls – this gives us two incoming lines, but as the PBX call routing rules mean that these aren’t used for outgoing calls that was enough. Mindful of the fact that I would be using SIP trunks in the future I signed a three year contract which was the minimum available.

The migration was anything but smooth. The BT engineer turned up and installed the new ISDN trunk in about ten minutes as promised and left, but when we tried plugging in our carefully configured PBX nothing worked. After an hour of fiddling with settings I decided to re-route our 0800 number to a secondary line that we use for our broadband. The very first call was from a local takeaway saying that they were getting inundated with calls for us. BT were quick to respond and the engineer returned, but it still several hours before we had a working PBX interfacing with the ISDN line, and the experience cost us a great deal in time and lost business.

Now that we are opening our second service centre we’ve decided to look at new technologies that will allow us to move away from ISDN, and we are working closely with Spitfire with whom we have successfully partnered on a number of projects. Today’s experiences have made up my mind about using Spitfire to provide our data connections as well – the advantages of a single end-to-end technical point of contact for both PBX and data services are pretty obvious, particularly to a man sitting at a computer without internet.

Just when things were starting to take shape a new problem arose – BT are convinced that we are on a five year contract with them. I was adamant that I would never have agreed to this, but BT were insistent. Fortunately I managed to find the original paperwork supporting my claim, but even then I simply couldn’t get BT to address the problem, and the familiar pillar to post routine began. I really don’t have time for this bollocks so I simply sent in a cancellation notice to BT with a copy of the contract and this seems to have done the trick. And it also served to remind me why I’m happy to move on.

Now if I can only figure a way of posting this which doesn't require an internet connection... 

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