Setting Up Phone Service With 8x8 (Packet 8) VOIP

I recently moved offices and decided it was time to have a real phone system. At first, I looked at expandable phone systems such as the Panasonic KX-TS4200B but the reviews weren't too favorable, and it would require some new wiring to be run. Next, I considered the XBlue X16, which sounded great. However, there was not a lot of information about the company so I decided to chose a vendor that would stick around and deliver customer service in the future. I considered running my own Asterisk VOIP PBX server, but that was just too involved and unreliable. Finally, I decided upon VOIP phone service with 8x8 (formerly known as Packet 8). VOIP is short for Voice Over IP, or phone calls over the Internet. I'm pretty comfortable with the technology, but many users may prefer to stick with regular copper phone lines for better reliability.

I considered phone service with Verizon. However, my primary concern was to have all outgoing calls from any office extension to show up as the main office number on my client's Caller ID. It provides a better user experience if customers always knew to expect calls from me at the same number. Verizon couldn't do this for me. All they could do was to block the outgoing Caller ID, which wouldn't work because an "Unknown" phone call might get rejected. Therefore, I went ahead with VOIP.

I previously had VOIP phone service with Nextiva, but I didn't like it because it was unreliable, and the phone quality left much to be desired. I decided upon 8x8 because it is publicly-traded and therefore suitably large (in my mind) to stick around for a while. The company also maintains redundant servers in New York (where I'm located), Washington, D.C., and Southern California. They were down recently but it apparently was due to the internet service providers of their customers misdirecting requests to 8x8's servers. (Dorky: the ISP's DNS servers, which resolve "8x8.com" to the appropriate IP address, went wacky and sent the requests into a blackhole.) That's another argument for Internet neutrality, and something that is truly out of Packet 8's hands. My bugaboo is that 8x8 should make all their downtime available so you can really judge for yourself how reliable they are.

Packet 8 only supports phones that they sell. You cannot bring your own device to the service. However, the phones are not sold at extortionate prices. In fact, they are sold at a huge discount to retail pricing. I bought the Polycom SoundPoint IP for $125 before a $50 rebate for exchanging old phones. The next cheapest online price was $200. I think Packet 8 only wants to limit the devices they have to service to make their lives easier, not to soak their customers.

The Polycom SoundPoint IP is a great phone. However, you need a router that supports Quality of Service (QoS), which makes sure that traffic to and from the phones are given higher priority and bandwidth than other traffic. Packet 8 sells preconfigured routers. I used my Asus RT-N16 that I had flashed TomatoUSB firmware onto with strong QoS capabilities. Remember to delete all the preexisting VOIP-related port forwarding and QoS settings before setting up the SoundPoint, however, or your phone calls will sound like crap and not go through. Interestingly, the SoundPoint doesn't require port forwarding. Certain ports had to be given higher priority via QoS, but that's it.

Set up was a pain. Activating the phones with 8x8 took repeated attempts. The service wouldn't accept the password until they were typed in over a dozen times. I wanted to configure all outgoing phone calls to have a Caller ID of the main line. That took a weekend because technical support had to fix some magic settings on their end. However, porting a wireless number in only took three business days, so that was impressive. The entire process could have been better, but now I have a system where incoming calls are routed to the first extension, then the second, and then to voicemail. All outgoing phone calls will show up as my main number. Each extension also has a direct dial number but all calls out will show the main number.

The call quality is great. Polycom and 8x8 make a huge deal out of supporting "HD Voice," or in technical terms, the G.722 wide band codec, which is supposed to give better phone quality than regular phone lines. Packet 8 is one of the phone VOIP providers that offer this feature, which really gives much better phone quality. However, the improved quality only shows up when you call another number that supports this function. Still, calls between extensions are really clear compared to outside calls that don't have HD Voice. Hopefully, this gets widely used so all calls will sound great.

Once I deleted the preexisting VOIP settings from my routers and put in the correct ones, 8x8 call quality was amazing. There were no echos, no stutters, and no delay even on a cable line with only 512 kbps upload bandwidth. This is pretty impressive, and I'm not sure if that's due to 8x8's service, the geographic distance between me and their servers, or because the SoundPoint is a great phone. I'm not complaining, however.

Pricing is fair. Do not use their online page to order. Call in for better rates. Each unlimited line costs $20 a month, and a virtual number (which is the "main office number") costs an extra $5. With fees, two lines and the virtual number cost $70. That's ridiculous, I know, but taxes, line fees, and E911 fees are pretty outrageous for every phone service provider. The activation fees were waived as well.

Comments

  1. Hi William, great post. I own a small business and shopping around for a VOIP provider. At this point, I've narrowed my list down to 8x8, Verizon and Nextiva. Are you happy with 8x8? Have you experienced any major outages? Thanks for your help.

    -jobin

    ReplyDelete
  2. You should try Wiretap Telecom. com

    ReplyDelete

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