How to Realize Huge Cost Savings for Enterprise Telecom

This case study shares the steps taken by Avaya to reduce a sizeable telecom bill by 50%. The methods are trending tactics used by a wide range of organizations, and in combination have proven to produce especially favorable results. Keeping in mind that most IT operation budgets are flat, cost savings of this size can give your organization a greater opportunity to invest in innovation.

When every penny counts, internal telecommunication expenses must be closely accounted for. It’s a large expense and pain point for many organizations, and adopting change in this area is often associated with fear and uncertainty.

In reality, these fears disappear with a pinch of planning and excellent execution. Prioritizing telecom costs as a business initiative, establishing expectations, and determining a reasonable timeframe are some of the leading difficulties in taking on a project of this magnitude. These steps can have a great impact on the overall success of the project.

  1. Hire an expert to properly analyze your costs.

    There are many nuances in telecom, so if your organization does not have an expert internally, then it would be worthwhile to hire a third-party consultant to analyze the cost. They can provide better financial estimates of the cost and savings to ensure adequate ROI.

  2. Centralize trunking.

    To make it simple, paying for fewer circuits reduces cost. At Avaya, we reduced our total internal global telecom costs by 50% and got a 40% overall reduction of IT operational spending by doing so. Pay close attention to the amount of money paid in relation to the locations and compare centralized trunking cost to your current expenses. There are also considerations based on regional laws—for example, telecom laws in India may prevent this practice altogether.

  3. Reduce local trunking.

    Gartner estimates that “network architects and procurement managers can leverage SIP trunking services to slash enterprise telecom expenses by up to 50%.” As we all know, telecom does not come cheap, so these are results that cannot be ignored. Since IT operating budgets are often flat, this method can be a valuable way to extract savings from existing expense.

Gartner further suggests that, “enterprises should leverage the competitive SIP trunking market as U.S. service providers are reducing rates to win new business and retire their legacy TDM networks.” Needless to say, if you have yet to board the SIP train, you should strongly consider doing so now.

Previously at Avaya, all locations had their own local trunking and now we are saving cost by routing calls through a central location. In fact, SIP trunk consolidation provided an average savings of ~40% per month over PSTN trunks. We did it by implementing Avaya Aura to connect sites between a WAN used for both voice and data.

The Benefits Speak for Themselves

Consider what your company could do with these savings. We chose to reinvest 20% of our savings towards innovation and new capabilities. Gaining support from your colleagues should be a bit easier with these proof points in your back pocket and a strategic plan of action.

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Understanding Avaya Aura SIP Registration

“Let’s start at the very beginning/a very good place to start/when you read you begin with A B C/when you sing you begin with Do Re Mi.”

I have always loved musicals, and Rogers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music” is high on my list of favorites. Sure, it’s corny and far from historically accurate, but that doesn’t bother me in the least. I’m always willing to set aside any sense of reality for good singing, romance and adventure, and “The Sound of Music” has them all.

So … what does this have to do with unified communications? REGISTER, of course. Like Do Re Mi, you begin SIP with REGISTER.

This article is a continuation of the concepts I presented in A Close Look at Avaya Aura IMS Call Processing and An Even Closer Look at Avaya Aura IMS Call Processing, and I’d suggest you take a look at those before tackling this one.

Can you get SIP devices to communicate without REGISTER? Absolutely. In fact, when I teach my SIP class, the students put their SIP clients into point-to-point mode, which does not require REGISTER. This means that clients send SIP requests and responses directly to the other clients, not through a proxy. The clients can do everything all by themselves.

However, point-to-point without REGISTER has a serious downfall. The clients are required to know the IP addresses of all the other clients they wish to communicate with. While this is fine in a limited classroom environment, it becomes unwieldy after you grow beyond a handful of endpoints.

As an analogy, imagine having to know the IP address of everyone you wanted to send an email to. That’s the same problem you have if you don’t use REGISTER. It’s simply not practical.

The Tie that Binds

REGISTER associates a user’s identification, or Address of Record (AOR), with one or more locations. Note that I said locations. You are not limited to registering an AOR to a single device. Personally, I routinely register my AOR to a physical desk phone and multiple SIP soft-clients. Avaya Aura supports up to ten such registrations per user. That’s enough to make even the most device-crazy nerd happy.

You bind an AOR to an IP address with a Contact header.  For example, one of my soft clients might tell a SIP registrar that aprokop can be reached at 192.168.0.14 with this Contact header.

Contact: Andrew Prokop <SIP:aprokop@192.168.0.14>

Registrations are time-based and will eventually expire. This requires the client to periodically refresh a REGISTER with a new REGISTER. Actually, new isn’t the correct word to use for this. Subsequent REGISTER messages must contain the same Contact, To, From, call-ID and From Tag as the original registration. This allows the SIP registrar to know that it’s simply a refresh and not a new registration for the same AOR.

Note that CSeq will increment with each REGISTER sent.

Keeping Things Secure

I might tell my communications system that I am Andrew Prokop, but it would be foolish to trust me at face value. That’s why SIP allows a REGISTER to be challenged.

Before I go through a REGISTER challenge, allow me to define something known as a nonce.

Nonce stands for Number Once and is an arbitrary number used only once in a cryptographic communication. The recipient of a nonce will use it to encrypt his or her credentials. Number Once refers to the fact that encryption with this nonce can only be done one time. If someone were to sniff the LAN and obtain someone’s encrypted password, it won’t do them any good because it can only be used in a single transaction. It becomes stale and useless immediately after its first use.

A REGISTER flow is fairly simple and follows these steps:

  1. A user sends a REGISTER to the SIP registrar. For Avaya Aura, this is a Session Manager. The To and From headers contain the user’s AOR. The user specifies the number of seconds the registration should be valid in the Expires header. This value can be later raised or lowered by the registrar.
  2. The registrar returns a 401 Unauthorized response with a WWW-Authenticate header.  This header contains data that must be used to encrypt the user’s communications password. Specifically, it contains a nonce along with the name of the encryption algorithm that the client must use.
  3. The user sends a second REGISTER to the SIP registrar. This REGISTER contains an Authorization header. Within Authorization is the user’s encrypted password.
  4. If the correct password is received by the registrar, a 200 Ok response is sent to signify a successful registration. An Expires header may be present with a different value than what the user requested. This is the time the registration will be valid as determined by the registrar’s policies.

A registration is removed by sending a REGISTER with an Expires header value of 0 (zero).

In a picture, we have this.

Reg1Using the traceSM tool on an Avaya Aura Session Manager, I captured the following trace that shows a REGISTER, the challenge and a REGISTER with encrypted credentials.  Take a look at the headers, and you’ll see that they’re doing exactly what I said they would do.

Reg2 Reg3 Reg4

 

In the case of my daily work life, my various SIP devices will each send a REGISTER, be challenged and resend the REGISTER with the encrypted credentials. They periodically refresh their registrations to ensure that I am able to make and receive calls on all my devices until I am finished for the day.

Speaking of finished for the day, that’s about all I have to say about REGISTER. It’s not that complicated once you understand the basics. Just keep in mind that while registration isn’t absolutely mandatory, it enables a secure, scalable and easy to manage SIP solution.

… And these are a few of my favorite things!

Andrew Prokop is the Director of Vertical Industries at Arrow Systems Integration. Andrew is an active blogger and his widely-read blog, SIP Adventures, discusses every imaginable topic in the world of unified communications. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ajprokop, and read his blog, SIP Adventures.

An Even Closer Look at Avaya Aura IMS Call Processing

Last week, I walked you through how Avaya implements IMS processing between Session Manager and Communication Manager.  Even though it may have looked fairly complicated and slightly convoluted, I actually did you a favor by greatly simplifying the call flow. The complete call flow is even more involved.

I also did myself a favor by presenting an abbreviated call flow. There were parts that baffled even me. So, I took it as a personal challenge to figure out the confusing parts as best as I could and put them into writing.

If you missed my previous article, it can be found at A Close Look at Avaya Aura Call Processing.

Allow me to begin by saying that nothing I wrote in my first article is incorrect. All that jazz about imsorig, origdone, imsterm and termdone is accurate. However, in terms of an outbound call from a SIP telephone, I started in the middle of the flow. There are quite a few messages that fly around the system before the actual IMS processing begins.

In the Beginning

Everything begins when an Avaya telephone informs Communication Manager that it has gone off-hook. In Avaya documentation, they refer to this as “Line Reservation.” Everything that Communication Manager does at the time of Line Reservation is a mystery to me, but it essentially sets aside resources required for call processing.

The telephone uses an INVITE message to kick everything off. However, this isn’t a typical INVITE. The To and From headers both refer to the caller. This is understandable because the user hasn’t started entering any dialing information. This is simply making Communication Manager aware that the telephone has been taken off-hook.

There also isn’t any SDP in the INVITE. That’s because dial tone will be generated locally by the phone. No media stream is required.

Lastly, the telephone tells Communication Manager that this is an off-hook event by putting the following in the To header.

avaya-cm-fnu=off-hook

I captured one of these INVITE messages with traceSM.

off2Upon receiving an off-hook INVITE, Communication Manager responds with a 183 Session In Progress. Now, I am used to 183 being used to deliver some form of early media, but there is no SDP in this response message. I can only assume that it is used to tell the telephone that the INVITE was received, and it’s safe to start playing dial tone.

off3

Next, Communication Manager tells Session Manager that the phone is off-hook. This, of course, is done with a PUBLISH message. Since the telephone subscribed to Dialog events during its boot cycle, Session Manager will then send a NOTIFY message to the phone.  I am going to take a guess and say that the NOTIFY causes the phone to indicate an active line appearance.

off4

There are no more SIP messages until the user has finished entering the complete dial string. Since the telephone is aware of the configured dial pattern (through Personal Profile Manager), it will wait until all digits have been entered before sending a new INVITE.

I have to admit to something. Since the dawn of time, I have always thought that an UPDATE was sent prior to a session being established and a re-INVITE was sent after the session was established. However, this new INVITE from the telephone is clearly a re-INVITE even though the off-hook session has not been established. I say this because the call-ID and From tag are identical between the two INVITE messages. This screams re-INVITE.

There are differences between the two INVITE messages, though. The To header now contains the dialed digits and the message body contains SDP. This INVITE looks like the kind of INVITE you would have expected in the first place. This INVITE can actually be used to make a call.

off6

From here on out, the call flow will look like the one I described in my previous blog article. There is still something that needs to occur, though. The off-hook INVITE is out there and needs to be attended to.

To close out the first session, Communication Manager will send a 484 Address Incomplete response. This will cause the telephone to respond with an ACK.

off7

Here now is the entire call flow. Note that I did not discuss the 407 Proxy Authentication Required response messages. For now you can ignore them, but rest assured that I will return to that subject in the very near future.

As you look at the flow, there is one more thing I want you to notice.  Session Manager sends both INVITE messages to Communication Manager as part of the imsorig processing, but only the re-INVITE will go through the origdone phase.  That makes sense, though, because the first INVITE received a 484 response. There is no point in sending it back to Session Manager for further processing.

off11

Mischief Managed

Well, there you have — an even more complicated Avaya call flow than the last time around. I hope this helps you understand what I was saying in my previous article about the differences between SIP as a protocol and SIP as a solution.  Clearly, what Avaya is doing with SIP is far more involved than what you will find in a generic text book. Of course, a full blown PBX requires a little more than your run-of-the-mill call flows.

 Andrew Prokop is the Director of Vertical Industries at Arrow Systems Integration. Andrew is an active blogger and his widely-read blog, SIP Adventures, discusses every imaginable topic in the world of unified communications. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ajprokop, and read his blog, SIP Adventures.

 

Toll-Free Text: Let Your Customers’ Thumbs do the Talking

Technology is a lot like the music business. You can be on top of the charts one day and completely irrelevant the next. The public is very fickle, and you must either change with the times or risk falling into the dustbin with yesterday’s news.

How many of you have children between the ages of 14 and 30? If you do, you know that you don’t call them on their cell phones − you text them. In fact, I would venture to guess that voice is the least-used feature on a 20-something’s iPhone or Android device. And don’t get me started on voicemail. I can’t recall the last time any of my three boys ever bothered to listen to the messages I left for them. The best I will get is a text that reads, “Why did you call?” If I am lucky, one of them might put a smiley face at the end, but it doesn’t get any better than that.

You can’t blame them, though. Young people today grew up in a world where the onscreen keyboard was more prominent than the dial pad. They are so good at typing with their thumbs that many don’t even need to look at the screen while they text their 100 or so BFFs (Best Friends Forever) – all at the same time.

It’s more than simply chatting with their friends and family. They expect to take this propensity to type to all aspects of communication. In other words, they don’t want to call businesses with questions or customer support issues. They want to text them, and they will often make buying decisions based on who is willing to text them back.

A Black Eye

Unfortunately, some businesses have given text a bad name. Are you aware of “cramming”? Cramming was the very questionable business practice of charging exorbitantly high text rates that billed consumers millions of dollars for services they didn’t buy. Charges of up to $9.99 would mysteriously show up on monthly statements with no clear explanation as to why they were there.

Thankfully, the FCC stepped in and since January 2014, these premium text services have been prohibited by law. No longer can large telecommunications companies foist these charges on unsuspecting consumers.

Toll-Free Text

Direct-dial 800 numbers have been around since the mid-1960s and consumers have come to expect free calls day and night. This winning strategy essentially gives a company an “Open for Business” sign that extends across the country.

What do you do with this new generation of consumers who are ready, willing and able to spend money on products and services, but have no desire to call someone to buy them? You could, of course, ignore them, but that’s not much of a business strategy. Instead, you wholeheartedly embrace their communication choice and wrap that “Open for Business” sign around SMS texting.

This is where toll-free text comes in. Like those direct-dial 800 numbers, toll-free texting takes cost out of the connection equation and puts voice and text on an equal footing. Customers no longer have to worry about unknown or hidden fees and can choose how they want to transact their business.

Now, some of you might be sitting back and thinking to yourself, “I already get unlimited text. Why should I care?”

That’s true. Many of us are on plans that allow us to text until our thumbs turn blue, but I will venture to say that despite its name, toll-free isn’t the most exciting part about toll-free text. Rather, it’s the same reason why cost is less of an issue with toll-free 800 numbers than it once was.

It’s really all about branding. It’s about having an instantly identifiable way to communicate that differentiates a company from its competition. In other words, toll-free text is a marketing tool that extends a company’s brand all the way down to the chat window, by leveraging the investment they’ve made in their existing 800 numbers. Companies advertise one number, and consumers can use it how they wish. I like to think of it as one-stop shopping for the millennial generation.

From an interaction standpoint, toll-free text opens up a world of opportunities. While some text messages might end up on the PCs of live agents, a significant number can be processed programmatically, and simple questions such as “What are your hours on Sunday?” can be automatically handled by computers. Toll-free text also gives companies the ability to convert incoming text messages to outgoing email responses or even (shudder) telephone calls.

For Example

Of course, toll-free text without a delivery mechanism isn’t very useful. Thankfully, a number of carriers and communications companies are stepping up to the plate and providing a variety of attractive solutions. One such company is ATL Communications and their Textify offering. With Textify, text messages can be processed manually with customer service representatives or through automatic processing. Customers receive the level of service they require, and organizations are able to use SMS text messages as another branding tool.

ATL isn’t alone in providing toll-free text. IP carriers such as Twilio and Flowroute both offer exciting and flexible solutions, and I expect that many others will soon be delivering their own products.

Avaya Can Help

Having your customers send toll-free text messages doesn’t do you a lot of good unless you have ways to receive and process them. Thankfully, both Avaya Aura Contact Center and Avaya Aura Elite Multichannel equip contact center agents with the tools to do just that. Not only does this extend the reach of an enterprise’s customer service arm, but these solutions turn voice-only agents into multichannel, multimedia powerhouses.

Just Do It

History is littered with the remains of companies that have failed to adapt to the ever-changing needs and expectations of their customers. Toll-free text is simply another tool that recognizes that the old ways are not always the best ways. Relevance extends to products, and a company’s image.

Will toll-free text completely eliminate the need to speak to a real human being? Absolutely not. But when a large part of the population chooses a different way to “talk” to you, you listen … or risk having them “talk” to someone else.

Andrew Prokop is the Director of Vertical Industries at Arrow Systems Integration. Andrew is an active blogger and his widely-read blog, SIP Adventures, discusses every imaginable topic in the world of unified communications. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ajprokop, and read his blog, SIP Adventures.