In order to save costs, many companies are considering switching their traditional circuit-switch telephone service for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), calls routed over the Internet, sometimes for free. Founded in 1999, BullsEye Telecom, of Oak Park, Mich., is an integrated provider of local and long-distance telephone service, VoIP and high-speed data services. The company was No. 82 on the 2005 Inc. 500. BullsEye Telecom’s CEO Bill Oberlin talks about how small and mid-size businesses can determine the right time to adopt the new telecom services.
Inc. Technology: What are the practical differences between VoIP and traditional telephony for an business owner who isn’t familiar with the technology?
Bill Oberlin: In the old days with old voice service, you have a pair of wires entering a home or office and you have one pair of wires that takes your call, provides a dial tone, and takes calls inbound or outbound. And you have one telephone number. Today, two pairs of wires are capable of providing high-speed Internet at T1 speed, and as many voice lines on that same line as you possibly could offer before there’s any kind of congestion. It’s a different type of telecom. It’s getting better all the time because all the equipment that we use, as well as others, are finding all of their glitches that they might have had a year ago that they’ve removed. So today we have an awful lot of customers who get it installed quickly after they order, never have a problem, get all the features that we provide — many [more] features than you could ever get on a traditional voice line — and they get the T1 to boot. And they pay a lot less.
Inc. Technology: Why might a small business owner want to stick with traditional telephony?
Oberlin: Afraid of change. In some cases, it might be cheaper, especially if you don’t want a high-speed connection like T1. And they’re not telecom experts. They’re experts in their field … and it’s hard for the ordinary businessman to know what’s risky. They say, you know, “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I’ll continue doing it until somebody tells me VoIP is foolproof.”
Inc. Technology: What concerns do you hear when people express hesitance about switching to VoIP, and which concerns are still warranted?
Oberlin: One of them is, “Well, I know people can spy on my data or my voice if I use the Internet.” Security concerns. Frankly, there’s no more concern than there is with what they do in their office every day with their data. If they’re a terrorist talking to somebody about blowing up the World Trade Center, I guess they ought to be worried. But outside of that, I don’t think VoIP has any more or less security concerns than traditional voice would, or than your cell phone. I think the second thing they worry about is when they have a fax machine on a separate line, a high-speed Internet connection on a separate line, and voice on separate lines — let’s say five lines. Now I put them all together on one line and if I lose the one line, I lose everything. We provide a disaster recovery plan for them, which has to do with how we arrange the technology. We can also keep one line or multiple lines separate from the T1.
Inc. Technology: If you’re a business that is satisfied with traditional telephony, is there any reason to switch to VoIP or is it better to wait for a catalyst such as rapid growth?
Oberlin: There are two kinds of VoIP. The first kind is where their telephone system really is too large or too small. It can’t be integrated well with new technology. They’re up to a point where they’re going to make a decision, so they make a decision to go with an IP telephony system. They’re well equipped for the future. The second is where people are perfectly comfortable, nothing is wrong. They’re not growing out of their system, they’re not shrinking where they could probably get rid of their system, and they like their system. One of the ways we do business is they don’t have to change their system at all. We make them VOIP and we can tie in all those other things by providing equipment that sits in between their LAN, their telephone system, and us. This box allows them to have more lines, to not disrupt their telephone system. They don’t have to make a capital investment, and they save money and get higher speed data.
Inc. Technology: What are some of the features available with VoIP that aren’t available with traditional telephony?
Oberlin: Somebody with 10 branches can cut out all of their long-distance calling to those branches just by calling four digits as an on-network call. The biggest thing, I think, is what’s called simultaneous ringing. So it’s a small business and Joe Jones has office number 1000, and Joe is often times at home working or on the road. He can have anybody that calls that number either call his cell or his home, and whichever phone he answers first, that’s where he gets the call.