How to Set Up a Virtual Office and Local Geographical Presence
Posted : Tue, 21 Jul 2009
What is a Virtual Office?
Anyone who works from a remote location with a computer, telephone, email, or any other electronic means to perform their job and to communicate with their place of employment, is working in a virtual office. An employee may use a company telephone extension and email to communicate with customers and business associates, but they are not physically located in the company building. This ability to be away from ones company desk but continue to work in the usual manner gave rise to the terms 'telecommuting' and 'virtual office'.
The development of low cost telephone services and VoIP have extended this concept to include establishing a local telephone presence in countries around the world. This has become known as establishing a 'virtual presence'. With the trend towards globalisation the need for businesses to establish a telephone contact point in countries around the world has increased. Today businesses need to be easily contactable by telephone wherever their customers are located.
A virtual office now can be a telephone service that receives and routes telephone calls on behalf of a business - perhaps to another virtual office located in another country. The virtual presence is a means of receiving and passing on calls to a remote location while providing the customer with a local contact telephone number. The prime objective is to assure that customer contact is captured and followed up by whomever the call is relevant or important to. The business that has the virtual presence may not have fixed office premises or employ any staff in the same country as their customers.
In the past virtual telephone services were provided by a business center which would offer an answering and messaging service. Now, with Direct Inward Dialing (DID) telephone numbers which are peered to VoIP, any business can establish a local presence and open their own virtual offices around the world.
How to Set Up a Virtual Presence
In order to establish your virtual presence you will need a Direct Inward Dialing (DID) telephone number for the desired country. DID for VoIP use are still not available for every country, and all area codes, in the world although the coverage is increasing every day. DID numbers for most of the major business cities of the world are available, and an internet search will soon through up a list of providers.
The incoming telephone calls can either be forwarded to another number, messaging system, or VoIP telephone device. The PBX (private branch exchange) which routes the calls may be provided by a VoIP carrier, some other web based service, or could be software running on the end users own computer.
Things to Consider when Setting Up a Virtual Presence
DID and VoIP technologies work very well together when everything is configured correctly. As most DID/VoIP calls rely on more than one server or carrier working together discrepancies in configurations can result in unstable communication. Common problems include, one way audio, loss of DTMF tones, echo distortion, and dropped calls. These problems generally arise from incompatible codec translations, or other restrictions affecting one or more of the services being used.
If you are planning to use a VoIP carrier it is important to check that an incoming call from your DID is going to be received. You may need to determine the originating IP address for your incoming DID calls and check that calls from this IP are accepted by your carrier. If you are using an Asterisk server, or some other pbx, you may need to add this IP address to the configuration (as an IP authenticated peer).
Check that your DID provider is supplying free, or very low cost, incoming call minutes. A DID with unlimited free incoming minutes, or at least 5000 minutes per month, would be considered reasonable in todays market. Do your research and check the per minute charges if you do exceed the monthly limit.
Check that your DID, VoIP carrier, and PBX are using compatible codecs.
The G711 codec is the most basic, and widely used, telecommunication audio codec. The G711 codec commonly ensures the most reliable transmission of DTMF tones (required for 'ring tones' IVR answering systems), but does not use audio compression (causing distortion where internet bandwidth is restricted).
The G729 codec is also very widely used and produces excellent results for both DTMF and audio quality. However, with the G729 codec a licence is required by the PBX administrator if any transcoding is required.
It has been known for service providers to have an inadequate licence for the G729, restricted to a fixed number of simultaneous transcoded calls. In the circumstance users could experience loss of audio at times of high server usage. If all parties involved in the call route have G729 available then no transcoding is required and the calls will pass straight through.
The use of codecs will be negotiated between the servers involved in relaying your incoming call. The exact codec used will be determined by the codecs available on each server, and the preferred codec order list. Sometimes it may be necessary to experiment with calls to find the optimum configuration.
An Example Configuration & Quck Start Guide
Mr Bloggs is based in Colchester, a medium sized town in the United Kingdom. He runs a small, but growing, company that recruits specialist staff for the avaitaion industry.
While Mr Bloggs has been able to establish the company based on his previous years of experience in the aviation industry, the Colchester telephone number on his headed paper and website is now a restriction. Mr Bloggs feels that some of the bigger players in London don't bother to call his out-of-town telephone number, and the French contacts he met a last years trade show only call occasionaly for a few minutes.
Mr Bloggs decides the answer is to take his company international, opening virtual offices in both London and Paris. While he's at it he decides to open an American office in New York. This huge international expansion is estimated to require a capital investment of around 50 Euro (yes - 50 euro, or roughly $US 75).
As Mr Bloggs wants to answer his calls personaly when at his desk, he decides to use a hardware VoIP telephone. He had thought of using a softphone on his computer, but the loss of audio quality and connection delay persuaded him to invest in a simple hardware device. Mr Bloggs bought a Lynksys ATA telephone adaptor from ebay - it cost him 30 Euro and took 5 days to arrive. With this small adaptor plugged into his broadband modem, Mr Bloggs is able to use any old PSTN telephone to make and receive VoIP calls. There are many many VoIP telephones and adaptors. Mr Bloggs decides that the Lynksys ATA is simple to set up, cheap, and reliable, which is good enough for him.
In order to purchase his DID numbers Mr Bloggs checked out several providers, comparing their coverage, charges, and the number of incoming minutes available with each DID. He settles for the retail service at www.mydivert.com which meets his requirements. After opening an account Mr Bloggs is able to login to purchase his DID.
He purchases a London telephone number, and a New York number for €2.95 each. The French telephone number for Paris cannot be bought instantly because he has to email a scan of his photo-ID.
While this is a slight annoyance, Mr Bloggs appreciates that mydivert.com comply with the requirements of telecom regulators in each individual country, so sends a scan of his passport. He is okay with this because the Mydivert.com office do not retain a copy of his scanned photo ID. They submit it with the application for the virtual number and then delete it from their own records. The French number is allocated to his account within 4 hours.
The total account credit spent at mydivet.com is now €8.85.
Mr Bloggs follows the simple setup guide for his Lynksys adaptor, using the information he has for his sip account at mydivert.com, and is receiving calls on his London, Paris, and New York telephone numbers within minutes.
The bigger players in London see the new London telephone number at the top of Mr Bloggs website and don't hesitate to call when they are looking to recruit avaitaion staff.
The French contacts asked Mr Bloggs about his fancy Paris telephone number, and where the office was located. Mr Bloggs explained to them about the virtual presence, and how he was keen to open up the potential for his business in France. Impressed with his commitment and forward thinking approach, they and some of their contacts have started calling on a regular basis to discuss taking their businesses forward together. They even offered to provide some French language lessons - but even Mr Bloggs has his limit (for the time being!).
Mr Bloggs is off to a trade show in Florida next month and already has his business cards with his New York number printed.
If you, or anyone you know, is interested in finding out more about VoIP and DID telephone numbers, please feel free to contact the author at josh[at]mydivert.com
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