[kwlug-disc] Unlimitel/ATA pricing

unsolicited unsolicited at swiz.ca
Wed Mar 11 19:56:37 EDT 2009

Paul Nijjar wrote, On 03/11/2009 4:53 PM:
> I guess Lori worked his magic: after watching his presentation (and
> having a chat with Bill R) I'm starting to get tempted at the idea of
> using VoIP lines. For now, Asterisk itself is not on the menu yet -- we
> have all this ridiculously-expensive Nortel equipment, and not enough
> energy to figure out how to get Asterisk working -- but as a start
> we're thinking of getting some lines from Unlimitel. (Maybe I should
> be looking for other providers?)
> If I am not mistaken, Lori was talking about this "a-la carte" plan: 

He was. Also, remember, he was substantially talking about home users. 
This is a crucial thing to keep in mind. I don't have all the answers, 
but I have some. This won't clear the cloud of confusion much, but it 
may clear a bit, and foster discussion.

> http://www.unlimitel.ca/temp/services/voip_services/voip_ala_carte.html
> I am not sure I understand the pricing structure, though. I know I pay
> $2.50 a month for a telephone number. I guess that is my DID? So why
> is there a separate "VoIP telephone number rate table" and a "DID rate
> table"? My understanding is that I pay $2.50/month + minutes. Are
> there any other charges to worry about?

Good question. But I agree with your point, until someone answers the 
question, that it's $2.50/month and minutes.

> During his demo Lori used a doohickey to connect an analog phone to
> the wireless router. My sketchy notes say that the doohickey was an
> ATA adaptor called the Linksys SPA2102. There's other Linksys stuff as
> well, and Unlimitel wants to sell me a Mediatrix 2102 box for $150 or
> so. 

"The Mediatrix 2102 is a high-quality and cost efficient VoIP gateway 
connecting SOHOs to an IP network, while preserving investment in 
analog telephones." <- this is key, ANALOG TELEPHONES.

	Also known as ATA's or analogue telephone adapters. I, and others, 
have a 3102, which gives me a POTS connector and an analogue phone 

	A not unreasonable device for providing flexibility through your 
migration. vs. buying a dedicated pots, or dedicated ATA, device. For 
example, suppose you buy the equivalent 2 ATA port device - you will 
have to wire two current phones into this one device - what do you do, 
put it in the wall between two offices? [Or, get a 4-port ATA and put 
it in the middle of 4 desks.]

Picture it this way ... these devices would be used wherever in your 
office you could currently take a phone from home and plug it in.

I expect you don't have many. Perhaps a few (e.g. fax lines, hot 
phones). The rest will be DIGITAL sets. Probably Nortel digital sets - 
the nortel is set up to understand their phones, and vice versa. You, 
usually, could not take another manufacturer's phones and plug them in 
to your nortel and have it all just work.

> What kind of doohickey do I want? What features/buzzwords will be
> important to me? For now, I want to get some VoIP lines (maybe 1 or 2
> to start) and plug them into a Norstar CICS phone box. There will also
> be old-school lines from Bell plugged into the CICS. 

You don't want any at the moment. I can not stress this enough - you 
MUST have a whole system replacement strategy in mind before you pay 
your first $, or inevitably you will spend $ on the wrong things. 
Doesn't mean this strategy isn't a gradual migration strategy, just 
that you must know where you are, and where you want to get.

	It's different in a home where you can create cut over and migratory 
strategies that don't affect too many at once - and cell is usually a 

I HIGHLY recommend you contact a consultant and work out a plan first. 
Telephony is COMPLICATED. Be it analogue vs. digital sets vs fax lines 
vs ground / loop start, centrex lines, and so on and so forth.

not by much, but you must know where you are and where you're going. 
In essence, not infrequently, you end up with two completely 
different, if not physically separate, networks. One for internet 
(data), one for phones (voice). Typically they use different network 
ips. It will not hurt you, and you probably should, start with your 
internet gateway and work backwards, making sure you have QoS capable 
equipment in place - gateway, routers, switches, and so on.

- an example of the complexity - are you prepared to re-wire every 
room in your enterprise for a second network jack for the phone? 
Probably not. Nor should you need to, practically. e.g. VoIP phones 
not infrequently have two network jacks - one to the wall, one to the 
computer. The computer now gets to the network via the network switch 
in the phone.

This is non-trivial and bet your business (communications) stuff. Get 
help. Considerable cost savings, yes, but a botched installation will 
kill any chances of getting off of Bell. (User acceptance wise.)

The consultant should also be able to help you put together a master 
plan, the cost savings resulting, and the timetable.

> Ideally the performance should be good enough that regular phone users

At the moment it's a non-issue - they won't be using their regular phones.

> don't realize they are on VoIP (modulo Internet outages). If we get
> good performance then it will be easier to convince the Powers That Be
> that we should drop some of our expensive phone lines we are getting
> from Bell. The tension is that if the fancy doohickeys are too
> expensive then the Powers That Be will be reluctant to try the
> experiment.

In the meantime, it's not all or nothing. Others will have additional 
ideas ...

In the long term, voip phones will cost you less than buying an ATA 
and using analog phones you don't have. (You may always need some Bell 
lines, for faxing for example. This area is in flux, others will know 
better. The last time I looked, the agreement you sign with Unlimitel 
says you will not use it for faxing.)

- this biggest resistor to VoIP is REPLACING ALL YOUR CURRENT PHONES!

To that part of the end, start looking at replacing your faxing. e.g. 
Multifunction devices can automatically route / e-mail at least one 
destination / e-mail for all incoming faxes. This is the beginning of 
migrating analogue fax to digital - when done you won't need faxing, 
and thus you won't need the Bell line. IIRC Unlimitel offers a service 
for faxing - redirect your fax number to them, kill your fax machine 
and phone line in the process. You will incur that service charge, AND 
the DID fee.

In the end, you are replacing the Nortel, perhaps gradually with a 
parallel system. Perhaps, by parallel, more cost, but also more 
certainty and assurance for those that control the budget.

- consider the case - what happens when the internet goes down. What 
is your fallback strategy? One lone analogue phone line and phone? A 
publicized cell number?

There is no reason you cannot use soft phones with your DIDs in the 
meantime. Note that this TIES THE NUMBER TO A PHYSICAL 'OFFICE'. This 
route, initially, will provide proof of concept for provider 
(Unlimitel), your network, your computer (soft phone location), call 
quality, and general concepts. [You may even decide to use softphones 
only - if video calls become that sexy. Do all computers currently 
have webcams?]

A next step might be for some VoIP phones and or ATA's for analogue 
phones you already have. This would allow you to move from the 
softphones to hard phones. Cordless, for example, would gain you some 
limited mobility. (Get 20' from physical office instead of having to 
be in the office.) For that matter, so would a soft phone and 
bluetooth headset. Or, get wi-fi VoIP phones instead - but you'll have 
to implement a wi-fi infrastructure.

BEAR IN MIND - you won't be able to transfer calls, and use all the 
other nifty features your current phones offer. (Because they allow 
you to re-route calls WITHIN the nortel PBX. And because at that 
moment you are on a soft phone that has no knowledge of the Nortel PBX.)

You can use call forwarding, but you will have to think through its 
use carefully. e.g. to forward current extensions to soft phones, or 
vice versa.

You can also use the opposite of ATA's (I don't know what they're 
called), to convert an incoming VoIP line into a line the nortel 
understands. You can then remove the bell line, and replace with the 
line from this device. Note that, however, ultimately, this equipment 
becomes a lost cost when you move to a full asterisk system. ATA's 
have FXS ports, S = Station, and take analogue phones. ALA's (?) have 
FXO ports, O = Office, and take analogue LINES. From Bell's 
perspective, your location is an office. From your office's 
perspective, the phone at your desk is a station.

	Bear in mind, you probably have Centrex lines - which are not 
analogue incoming lines. Moreover, you're probably getting a discount 
for having multiple lines. As you migrate, you'll lose the discount. 
You'll need to take this into account in you cost strategy.

You can also have a full-fledged asterisk system with hardware cards 
that take in the Bell lines.

There are a lot of options, and telephony is complex. If not 
technically, then in practical use. A not dissimilar way to think 
about it, probably, is to think - what would it take to remove the 
Bell lines and give everyone cell phones instead. No doubt you can 
imagine the difficulties, both technically and user resistance wise.

For a small office with no key system or PBX, this is all much simpler 
because they do far less complex things with their phones. As soon as 
you have digital sets or a key / pbx system things rapidly get ... 

Others will have better / more specific information than I. Hopefully 
they will comment and, particularly, give you some local names that 
can help you plan and navigate through this maze.

People stay with Bell because it's familiar, just works, and they have 
other things to worry about. Not because it's cheap, or cheaper. The 
costs are known and relatively small per month, versus a significant 
chunk of change to just switch. Any any migration strategy will cost 
the sum of both, plus some temporary equipment. Down the road you will 
end up spending less per month, but it will be a multi-year payback 

Get yourself sent on a course. Perhaps free / low cost training from a 
vendor, such as Cisco.

Nothing I've said here is absolute. e.g. fax migration strategies. The 
issues are known and vendors are always looking for better ways.

A consultant has value in that they can worry about the technical 
complexity while you worry about user acceptance, and they know the 
current market conditions - in the sense of the analogue and VoIP line 
provider marketplace and conditions, area usual phone system use and 
context, and current (VoIP) equipment availability and sources. They 
will also help you cost justify things - by, for example, accounting 
for the sale price of your old equipment, and bringing in the other 
added value that implementing a wi-fi architecture may bring beyond 
just phones. Such as reduced future wiring costs. Which may tie in 
with PoE (Power Over Ethernet).

If you have a spare machine or a vm, it may well be worthwhile to just 
jump into Asterisk with your DIDs and sofphones. There is a large 
learning curve, regardless - you may want to skip the 'direct to soft 
phone' aspects. Which is what I have / will do. I purchased a 3102 
some time ago, then decided against the soft phone route, but haven't 
yet implemented asterisk. [Recent loss of TV guide over analogue cable 
is pushing me to make linuxmce, and therefore asterisk, a higher 
priority, again.]

Put another way ... you are changing basic, bet your business, 
infrastructure here. How complex would it be to move everyone to PGP 
in your organization? Or encrypt all your computer traffic internally.

More information about the kwlug-disc mailing list