Hosted VoIP services or hosted PBX services are terms used to describe a cloud-based IP-PBX phone solution that is managed by a service provider. Business can also host their own cloud PBX and internally manage the cloud based PBX. With a cloud PBX approach, there will still be SIP trunks provided by a SIP service provider that communicates with your cloud PBX. In both the hosted PBX and cloud PBX options, a business branch office can plug IP phones into their local LAN and if the VoIP phones that connect to the IP-PBX over the WAN network of the business. Both options enable a business office to have a professional phone system up and running very quickly. Since the VoIP SIP trunk service is hosted, it also provides cost savings and operational advantages.
Perhaps you’re not yet sold on a hosted PBX solution and yet do not prefer any PBX equipment in your office. Then the self managed cloud PBX is the way to go. Here are a few things to consider in your decision process between self-hosted cloud PBX, hosted PBX and on premises PBX solutions:
Network Architecture Considerations
In terms of the architecture, the VoIP phones on the office LAN can be manually and statically configured, but the more common method is for them to get IP addresses from a DHCP server automatically. Your office gateway will be entered as the “VoIP Gateway” for the phones, so that they know to connect via that gateway IP address when communicating with the outside world, including the mothership PBX.
Your hosted VoIP provider heavily relies on clean and stable WAN connectivity from your office to the cloud PBX they are using. But before we get to that, one very important aspect is your local network. It is advised to have solid LAN wiring and quality LAN switches to support VoIP applications. To be frank, LAN is the easy part of the equation, but nonetheless is sometimes overlooked.
In most cases, you can either procure the IP phones from the hosted VoIP provider, or you may procure them separately – provided they support standard VoIP protocol. We recommend you buy the VoIP phones from your hosted VoIP provider to avoid any configuration related issues. If you are going the cloud PBX self hosted route, you may want to stick with IP phones that are from recognized brands.
For self-hosting your PBX in the cloud, there are quite a few options as the cloud provider as well as options for the cloud PBX. Most cloud PBX options will be a variation of the base asterisk core. The cloud PBX providers will differentiate themselves based on which additional unique features they have added or activated as well as how seamless do they make your installation and maintenance process. As an example, FreePBX can be purchased as an AWS EC2 image with a monthly subscription where you are provided with admin access. As a final piece, you will need to add SIP trunks to your cloud PBX. There are variety of price and quality options for SIP trunks that are also quite cost effective.
If you are going with the hosted PBX, choosing your hosted VoIP provider is also important. Not all service providers are created equal. A good checklist should include the ping times from your location, the fail-over strategies they have on their hosting of the PBXs, and their promised SLAs. Needless to say their pricing structure (per extension, per minute, monthly, annually, etc.) is and should be an important factor. Take into account your growth projections and how your cost will be affected. A good question to ask is if you can transfer your phone numbers when/if you leave that service provider for another hosted VoIP provider. You certainly don’t want to be locked in to a particular provider because your inbound phone numbers are locked down by that provider.
There are many (hundreds of) hosted VoIP providers, but according to PCMag: The Best Business VoIP Providers for 2021 (listed alphabetically) are:
Perhaps one of the most important pillars of your VoIP strategy should be your WAN (Wide Area Network). For WAN connectivity, the traditional approach for professional VoIP service has been heavy investment in an MPLS infrastructure. MPLS is a layer2 network that is usually provided by a single carrier and uses layer2 labels instead of layer3 routing. This provides for extremely fast switching/routing within the MPLS network.
There are several significant downsides of MPLS:
Sample Cloud VoIP/PBX Architecture with SD-WAN
As a real-world example, our company uses an Amazon-hosted FreePBX flavor of the Asterisk solution as the IP-PBX of choice that we host ourselves in AWS, but can be replaced by other flavors of IP-PBX if desired. There may be some confusion about the difference between FreePBX and Asterisk, particularly since they are both free, open source, downloadable communications software. The two leading ones in the world in fact, according to Sangoma Technologies, sponsors and developers of FreePBX. Sangoma describes the differences as follows:
“Asterisk is, in fact, a communications toolkit. Not a ready-to-go PBX. It has a lot of functionality that someone needs to craft into something. That something most often happens to be a PBX, but it doesn’t have to be a PBX. It can be contact center software, an automated call distributor, a voicemail system, a video mail system, an IP-PBX, or so much more. Someone could even add their own IoT hooks to it to turn it into some other kind of communication system
FreePBX, as per the definition from FreePBX.org, is “a web-based open source GUI (graphical user interface) that controls and manages Asterisk.” So it’s a GUI built on top of Asterisk that makes it easier to deploy a PBX from that Asterisk core. It’s a complete IP-PBX.”
And now back to your office/business WAN. We mentioned earlier that your PBX heavily relies on clean and stable WAN connectivity from your location to the cloud PBX they are using. In fact, by far the leading cause of poor VoIP performance, from lag time to dropouts to completely dropped calls, is the WAN connection (particularly uplink) from your office to the cloud PBX.
For mission-critical VoIP services, we recommend a multi-WAN strategy where the dependency on ISPs is spread over at least 2, and preferably more providers. A cost-effective SD-WAN capable of broadband bonding VoIP traffic can be used as a gateway for the VoIP/SIP traffic to add high reliability and low latency.
Two of the major factors that increase VoIP reliability are broadband bonding/aggregation (joining multiple Internet lines together for increased bandwidth and reliability), and IP tunneling (creating a dedicated connection between two widely separated points).
In our implementation, all offices (onsite and remote from home) connect to our Broadband Bonding Cloud Relay server using secure broadband bonding IP tunnels for their VoIP traffic. The tunnels that VoIP/SIP traffic goes through are specialized and optimized for VoIP/SIP traffic. The Broadband Bonding Cloud Relay then relays that traffic to/from the IP PBX. Our IP PBX is a cloud-based, Asterisk-based PBX that runs on Amazon EC2. This type of configuration can be used as a high level template for any type of business phone system. All Cloud PBXs use SIP trunks and we are doing the same.
With a VoIP-Aware SD-WAN Solution, Your Cloud IP-PBX Shines
Cloud VoIP/PBX solutions are becoming more and more viable for handling business-critical phone systems. However, the call quality will remain highly dependent on the WAN connections you use to shuffle data back and forth between your offices and your provider.
If you are leveraging modern broadband bonding methods to solidify your Internet connectivity to the cloud, your cloud IP-PBX and VoIP should provide the most robust and highest quality calls, even as individual WAN lines suffer performance fluctuations and outages.
Rob Stone, Mushroom Networks, Inc.
Mushroom Networks is the provider of Broadband Bonding appliances that put your networks on auto-pilot. Application flows are intelligently routed around network problems such as latency, jitter and packet loss. Network problems are solved even before you can notice.
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