Tuesday, November 3, 2009

XO IP Flex - True Shared Voice & Data - SIP for the Masses

Alright, I know the title makes me look like an XO salesperson or an advertiser, but I really just wanted to write an informative piece about the service. I am just a customer and overall I am pretty satisfied with the service. I will include the positives and the negatives of the service.

For those unfamiliar with the XO IP Flex product, it is a shared data/voice offering that uses SIP trunking between an XO-owned, on-premise router and the XO VOIP switch (BroadSoft). The on-premise router then provides an analog or TDM hand-off to the customer.

So, here is how it works. You can order the service in four different configurations 1 T1 (1.54 Mb/Up to 16 voice channels), 2 T1s (~3 Mb/Up to 32 voice channels), 3 T1s (~4.5 Mb/Up to 48 voice channels), & 10Mb/Up to 72 voice channels (Not sure how many T1s here, but we have a 10 Mb ethernet circuit and the number depends on the distance from CO). When you order, you choose how many voice channels you want provisioned (can change amount later up to max), and then you choose if you want them to hand off as a PRI, digital trunk, analog lines, or some combination.

Now, this isn't like traditional shared T1 service where some channels are dedicated to voice and the remainder are data. The service here is basically a Cisco router that provides QoS for voice traffic. Which means that if you are not using any voice, you are not losing any data bandwidth.

Here is what is great about this setup. You can use any existing TDM phone system that supports PRI, digital trunks, and/or analog lines, or you can use regular analog phones (XO can provide the PBX functionality). At the same time, you can still take advantage of the cost benefits of VOIP. Your phone system won't even know you are using VOIP. You also get free QoS for voice traffic between the router and the XO VOIP switch. No need to buy expensive equipment to provide quality voice.

Some of the other benefits include:

- Free calling between any of your XO IP Flex locations (Why not? It is never leaving the XO network. See full data sheet linked to below for more info and restrictions.)
- Buckets of minutes and even Enterprise buckets (shared among locations)
- Cheap rates if you exceed bucket
- Free 800 number
- Lots of DIDs (telephone numbers) included
- If you choose to just use analog phones, or if your PBX is not very functional, you can administer the XO PBX from the business portal to provide PBX services. You can even purchase add-on services for enterprise-class PBX features.
- Full list of features here.

Alright, now for the negatives. First, XO IPFlex cannot provide a SIP hand-off to the customer. Direct SIP trunking requires you to order a different product from XO. Second, it is pretty darn close, but I don't think it is 100% as reliable as traditional TDM or analog voice service. The final negative I am aware of is that, at least with Avaya Communication Manager, you cannot send caller ID that is not a DID assigned to your XO account.

The main problem with not being able to pass any caller ID is with call forwarding or extension to cellular type calling (UPDATE: Avaya has fixed this issue. See here). Usually phone systems will pass the originating callers information on so you know who is calling, however, the calls are dropped in this scenario. Now, they could fix this issue at any time (UPDATE: Avaya has fixed this issue. See here), and you may not want caller ID so you can have XO hardcode your BTN for all calls. Also, it may not be a problem with other PBX systems, and you can always add some translations in your PBX to pass a DID assigned to your system like the primary business telephone number (BTN). So, I guess what I am trying to say is that you should do some research if this is the only thing holding you back.

One last thing, if you are using the XO portal as the PBX, I believe they offer forwarding and extension to cellular type services (may cost extra) that would most likely not experience the caller ID issues.

OK, so now for my conclusion. The IP Flex service is not for everyone, but if you own a non-VOIP or hybrid PBX or if you don't own a PBX, you may want to check it out. You may save some money and who doesn't like that.

I know there are other carriers that have similar services. Feel free to comment if you have a particular service you have used and are happy (or unhappy) with. Also, if you have any positives or negatives to add, let me know.

4 comments:

  1. Ack.I wish I'd known about this before I went with att's IPflex service. It's a nightmare.
    My review if you're interested:
    http://ipflexreview.blogspot.com/

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  2. So - many years later - are you still happy with XO? And the sole commenter - has AT&T stepped up and made everything alright?

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  3. Short answer - yes. Longer answer, after a year or so using the IPFlex product, we switched to traditional media at two of our three sites because we started offering call center services to our clients and that business line took off. Once we grew past a certain point, traditional media made the most sense financially. However, for a standard office phone system and the features we needed at the time, IPFlex was great. XO is not perfect and I can't say we didn't have any issues using their services. However, I have yet to meet a 100% reliable telecommunications company.

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