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Author Topic: Newbie needs help deciding on products/services for 1 man insurance agency  (Read 9224 times)
JeffDB
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Posts: 33


« on: April 19, 2018, 02:51:41 pm »

Hello, thanks in advance for reading &/or any advice, recommendations etc.

I own a small independent insurance agency, currently working out of my home, but may rent a little office nearby. I may also need to temporarily move into my Father-in-law's home if he needs help when he finishes rehab after breaking a hip.

I currently have 2 regular phone numbers & 1 dedicated fax line. I use a Magic Jack for the fax line, which is prepaid for at least a few more years @ a little less than $2/mo. I use Vonage for a "landline" # which had been used for years at a location in another county. When I moved to my home AT&T would have hammered me for keeping that number so I switched it to Vonage & purchased a local # in my new county. It was still absurdly expensive, or seemed so to me, and I ported it to a Google Voice # & have it ring my Vonage # landline phone and my cell phone semi-simultaneously. I also have the Vonage # "simulring" my cellphone as well.

When someone calls either # I can answer on either the landline or the cell phone, though sometimes the cell phone doesn't ring right away & occasionally it goes to voicemail too quickly for some reason. I'm not sure if it is a glitch in Google Voice, or perhaps it starts to ring my cell phone from google voice & then the vonage # forwards it there as well & figures its busy & goes to voice mail.

In any event, I would like to port the Vonage # to Google Voice & use and Obi device to have two different landlines which would also simulring my cell phone & allow me to call from the cell phone such that it would show my business # on the receiver's caller ID.

Ideally I would also like to be able to record both incoming & outgoing phone calls either selectively, or possibly all incoming/outgoing calls. Google Voice allows selectively recording incoming calls, but has no provision for outgoing calls.

Q#1: Is an IP phone a substitute for something like an OBi202 2-Port VoIP Phone Adapter?

I was thinking of getting something like the VoIP adapter & for now just connecting 2 lines to my old 4 line Panasonic phone. ... or maybe getting a 2 line cordless phone so I could add a few extensions elsewhere, such as upstairs, in the basement, in the kitchen etc.

If a VoIP adapter isn't needed if one has an IP phone, maybe I could just get an IP phone instead, maybe with a bluetooth headset, especially if it could pair with both the IP phone & my cell phone... and both google voice numbers could also ring my cell phone.

If I opened a separate office, but kept my home office, I would probably need to get a 2nd VoIP phone adapter or IP phone, of course, if I didn't want to have to keep carrying them back & forth.

Q#2: Is Google Voice good enough for business use & in cases where one has 2 phone lines? I don't think one can sign up for 2 google voice numbers using the same cell phone, but I could use my wife's cell phone or one of my kids' phones to set a 2nd one up... but could they both be set to ring my 1 cell phone?

Or would a commercial type VoIP be required for reliability, sound quality etc.?

Q#3: Would there be any advantage for me to use something like FreePBX vs just routing calls from a VoIP adapter to a standard phone... or an IP phone?

Q#4:  Some years ago I bought a couple of Obi adapters but screwed up by having too many Amazon tabs open and accidentally bought ones that would not work with Google Voice. They have never been used. One is still in the box. If I moved in with my Father-in-law temporarily, would it be reasonable to use one of them & set up one at his home using one of those free incoming call #s, even if it isn't a local one, and have the Google Voice numbers simulring that number as well? If so, that would save me having to buy other equipment, or taking the equipment from my home office to his home.

If Google Voice would not be up to snuff maybe I could still use them with a commercial VoIP company on a bring your own basis. If not, I probably need to try and sell them on e-bay rather than leave them just sitting here collecting dust.

Thanks again for any feedback, recommendations, warnings etc.
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SteveInWA
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« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2018, 04:09:23 pm »

Thinking of the "big picture":  instead of trying to keep your kludge of different telephone services, the better way to think of this is to forget about all that history, and instead, consider what you need for business, starting fresh.  The goal is to set up "business-suitable", consistent and reliable phone service.

I've been supporting Google Voice users on their forum for about a decade.  Based on hundreds of thousands of discussions, we strongly recommend not using GV for business at this time.  It's great for consumer use, but when you think like a businessperson, knowing the dollar impact to your business could be seriously impacted if your clients can't reach you, whatever savings you might get with GV are not worth it.

I gather that you want a telephone with two telephone numbers, and a fax line.  So:  do that.

Buy an OBi 2182 IP phone:  https://smile.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/B076JKV5CL/ref=dp_olp_new_mbc?ie=UTF8&condition=new

Sign up for SIP VoIP telephone service with the provider of your choice.  I use and recommend Callcentric, but you can put together a similar solution with voip.ms or Phonepower, for example.

Get (or port over) two telephone numbers (known in the industry as DIDs) for your calling needs.  If using Callcentric, you can get a third number and dedicate it to your fax machine.  Outbound faxes could go out on that number, while inbound faxes could be received to Callcentric's fax server, and then emailed to you.

I looked at your posting history, and I'm kind of baffled as to why you keep bringing up the two OBi 300-series devices you bought.  Why didn't you just return them?  In any case, I would not even think about trying to re-use any of your current devices at the moment; just focus on creating a clean, pure-IP phone office solution.
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JeffDB
Jr. Member
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Posts: 33


« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2018, 08:25:37 pm »

Thinking of the "big picture":  instead of trying to keep your kludge of different telephone services, the better way to think of this is to forget about all that history, and instead, consider what you need for business, starting fresh.  The goal is to set up "business-suitable", consistent and reliable phone service.

Thanks for the reply Steve. That makes sense, of course.

I've been supporting Google Voice users on their forum for about a decade.  Based on hundreds of thousands of discussions, we strongly recommend not using GV for business at this time.  It's great for consumer use, but when you think like a businessperson, knowing the dollar impact to your business could be seriously impacted if your clients can't reach you, whatever savings you might get with GV are not worth it.

Thanks for that info too. I have had occasional glitches with Google Voice, but was thinking that it seemed ok most of the time. What are the typical types of problems that it has?

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I gather that you want a telephone with two telephone numbers, and a fax line.  So:  do that.

I think I would be ok with the Magic Jack for the fax machine. I don't use it often & generally haven't seemed to have any problems sending or receiving the occasional faxes here and there. It did go dead on me one time, but I unplugged it, plugged it back in, it re-synched and hasn't had any problems since then. @ ~ $22/year it seems pretty hard to beat.

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Before you posted that I had looked at a few IP phones on Amazon. That one gives very little information about its features, advantages, etc. & I did see a cheaper one, such as the OBi1062, which touts itself as a gigabit IP phone with "Up to 24 Lines - Built-In WiFi and Bluetooth". Are there some other advantages to the OBi 2182 that would make it quite a bit better for me?

I was even wondering whether just an ATA adapter like the Obi 202 would be sufficient for my needs, if paired with a decent phone. I'm on a fairly tight budget & my needs are fairly simple. I need a phone with decent sound quality & I like to use a headset so I can write or type etc. while on a call. I might occasionally need to conference in another person on a call, or put someone on hold, or mute it, but other than that I don't need much. I would like to be able to record calls, though. I had a little unit that I could hook in to my computer & to the phone, but it wouldn't work with Windows 10 when I upgraded. It's not absolutely critical, I haven't had it for a couple of years now, but it was nice to have.

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Sign up for SIP VoIP telephone service with the provider of your choice.  I use and recommend Callcentric, but you can put together a similar solution with voip.ms or Phonepower, for example.

Yeah, maybe I'll need to suck it up & get a regular VoIP provider. What is your opinion of Vonage? My only complaint with them is that the rates keep going up. But we had a lightning hit that knocked out some electronics, including their ATA & they sent me another one free of charge.

I did a google search on Callcentric. Some of the reviews did sound kind of scary. Some were several years old, & perhaps they were skewed via the squeaky wheel syndrome, but a number of them were complaining of horrific customer service, lost numbers that had been ported over (which would be catastrophic for me) and so on.

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I looked at your posting history, and I'm kind of baffled as to why you keep bringing up the two OBi 300-series devices you bought.  Why didn't you just return them?  In any case, I would not even think about trying to re-use any of your current devices at the moment; just focus on creating a clean, pure-IP phone office solution.

Yeah, I probably should have done so. I don't remember why I didn't, but if I recall there was a 10% 0r 15% penalty for doing so, plus shipping charges. I was wondering if a time like this might come up & I might be able to use them with some BYOD company like Callcenteric.
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SteveInWA
Hero Member & Beta Tester
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Posts: 6403



« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2018, 08:56:32 pm »

I had a particular reason in framing my response, to get you thinking like a businessperson, not as a home-based DIY person.  Your business is insurance, not fiddling with phone gadgets, and many small business that fail, do so because the owner is either not competent at their core business (I'm not implying that's the case with you), and/or they spend too much time on non-revenue-generating activities.  This forum is mostly about consumer/hobbyist/DIY use, as opposed to business use.  There has been a major shift in business telephony over the past decade, away from analog telephone tech, and away from local PBX hardware, to more reliable and flexible, cloud-based solutions that are easy to manage.

The beauty of using a cloud-based Internet Telephone Service Provider, or ITSP, like Callcentric is that there is no VoIP PBX skill needed, there is no contract, and you can add, change, upgrade/downgrade or cancel service at any time.

Just because you have sunk cost in your existing OBi and magicJack stuff, doesn't necessarily make it something on which to base your decisions.

Google Voice is generally reliable, however, there is no direct technical support at all, and problems do arise, that sometimes take weeks or even months to resolve.  It is just not worth the business risk to save a few dollars on phone costs.

RE:  fax:  go look at the prices.  You can have a dedicated fax DID for $1.95/month, and you can be charged only when the line is being used, per minute, at very low rates.  You don't have to decide on this now; you could keep your current solution and change it later.

RE:  OBi IP phones:  the 1000-series are 1st generation products, and they will be supported for a few more years, but I believe they will probably go away after current stock is depleted.  The current product is the 2182, and it is not going away as a result of the Polycom/Obihai merger.  Obihai is now part of Polycom, and they're in the process of merging their IP phone product lines.  I checked with them this afternoon, and these comments are based on their latest plans.

RE:  using your OBi 300 units:  yes, you can do that with a SIP VoIP ITSP, but you would need to use both of them, one for each physical phone line.  You could also dedicate one of those to a fax line.

RE:  Callcentric:  I wouldn't put any stock in random crap on the internet about VoIP (or random crap reviews of anything, for that matter... cough-Yelp-cough).  There is always some person complaining bitterly about anything, like the restaurant review where the person was outraged that the waitress brought their water with ice in it. Anyone else here on this forum can vouch for their service quality and reliability, as is also the case with voip.ms.  They are far cheaper than Vonage, which seems to start out with a phony loss-leader price and then doubles it with fees and taxes.  The ITSPs I mentioned don't do that.
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JeffDB
Jr. Member
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Posts: 33


« Reply #4 on: April 20, 2018, 11:00:05 am »

I had a particular reason in framing my response, to get you thinking like a businessperson, not as a home-based DIY person.  Your business is insurance, not fiddling with phone gadgets, and many small business that fail, do so because the owner is either not competent at their core business (I'm not implying that's the case with you), and/or they spend too much time on non-revenue-generating activities.  This forum is mostly about consumer/hobbyist/DIY use, as opposed to business use.  There has been a major shift in business telephony over the past decade, away from analog telephone tech, and away from local PBX hardware, to more reliable and flexible, cloud-based solutions that are easy to manage.

Thanks, what you say makes a lot of sense. I do think that tendency to try and do and learn everything is a fault of mine. My father made the same point with regards to repairing his vehicles. He said he could make more money focusing on the insurance sales vs what he would save by buying all of the necessary tools and learning how to fix everything that came up with the family vehicles.

On the other hand, I have a brother-in-law who is an electrical engineer & a high level manager who does an unbelievable job of repairing his own vehicles and ours as well. Pretty amazing to me, but he does spend a lot of time on it all, we both have quite a few vehicles. He says it is like a hobby to him, though. He said others play golf, or watch TV etc. while he makes and repairs things. His point of view seems to have some validity too, though I think he takes it to an extreme & gives up sleep too often, which may have an adverse impact on his health over time.

It seems like the trick is to find a good balance. I do think you are right in pointing out that I have a tendency to reach too far & miss that healthy balance at times.

Quote
The beauty of using a cloud-based Internet Telephone Service Provider, or ITSP, like Callcentric is that there is no VoIP PBX skill needed, there is no contract, and you can add, change, upgrade/downgrade or cancel service at any time.

Yes, those do seem to be strong reasons for having a cloud solution. On the downside, a couple of the reviewers complained about their Callcentric phone system going down for a couple of weeks or so when a hurricane hit Florida & their electricity/internet went down, even though the consumers were nowhere near the catastrophe.

That may be a pretty tiny risk, but potentially a very big one. It does roughly double the odds of an outage when there are two separate sites in two very different parts of the country that could shut the system down.

On the other hand, a dedicated site is probably more likely to have redundant systems & up-to-date equipment, software and maintenance than if I tried to do it on my own premises.

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Just because you have sunk cost in your existing OBi and magicJack stuff, doesn't necessarily make it something on which to base your decisions.

Another good point. I do think it's good to at least take assets on hand into account. Can't let it cloud my judgement though. It's probably akin to the gambler's warning against trying to recoup losses and making bad decisions in the process.

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Google Voice is generally reliable, however, there is no direct technical support at all, and problems do arise, that sometimes take weeks or even months to resolve.  It is just not worth the business risk to save a few dollars on phone costs.

That definitely makes sense. It was a draw to me as a way to justify buying new equipment to my wife. If it would save more than it cost in a relatively short time it would be a no-brainer, even for her. But if it's not a smart move, it's better to be aware of that up front.

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RE:  fax:  go look at the prices.  You can have a dedicated fax DID for $1.95/month, and you can be charged only when the line is being used, per minute, at very low rates.  You don't have to decide on this now; you could keep your current solution and change it later.

Yeah, I hadn't checked the prices there. What you say makes sense, & maybe I could port that number & use the Magic Jack for a fallback home landline for the time left on it.

Quote
RE:  OBi IP phones:  the 1000-series are 1st generation products, and they will be supported for a few more years, but I believe they will probably go away after current stock is depleted.  The current product is the 2182, and it is not going away as a result of the Polycom/Obihai merger.  Obihai is now part of Polycom, and they're in the process of merging their IP phone product lines.  I checked with them this afternoon, and these comments are based on their latest plans.

Thanks for that info. I wasn't aware of the Polycom/Obihai merger, nor of the product end of life details. It does seem odd to me, though, that the 2182 has so few product details listed on the Amazon website.

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RE:  using your OBi 300 units:  yes, you can do that with a SIP VoIP ITSP, but you would need to use both of them, one for each physical phone line.  You could also dedicate one of those to a fax line.

I believe they are Obi 302s with two phone ports on each. I'm thinking that would be enough for both phone lines & the fax, or alternatively, both phone lines for my home office & perhaps another 2 phone lines at my Father-in-law's or another off site office.

Could the Callcentric or other services work well for ringing phones at 2 separate locations? Could it "simulring" a landline & my cell phone? I also occasionally use the Google Voice option of switching from the landline to the cell phone or vice versa mid-call, which is handy if I'm leaving the office, or returning. I'm not sure if that is a common feature, or if it is unique to Google Voice.

Quote
RE:  Callcentric:  I wouldn't put any stock in random crap on the internet about VoIP (or random crap reviews of anything, for that matter... cough-Yelp-cough).  There is always some person complaining bitterly about anything, like the restaurant review where the person was outraged that the waitress brought their water with ice in it. Anyone else here on this forum can vouch for their service quality and reliability, as is also the case with voip.ms.  They are far cheaper than Vonage, which seems to start out with a phony loss-leader price and then doubles it with fees and taxes.  The ITSPs I mentioned don't do that.

Yeah, I guess I should take the reviews with a grain of salt. That's a good point about the "bait & switch" by Vonage. I think they have done that to me in the past.

re: IP phones:

What are the main advantages of an IP hone vs an ATA with an analog phone (or 2) for a 1 man office?
eg. Callcentric lists 3 channels for an incoming #. Does that mean a multi line IP phone could have 3 simultaneous calls to the same # coming in?

Is an ATA needed if one has an IP phone?
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SteveInWA
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Posts: 6403



« Reply #5 on: April 20, 2018, 02:03:14 pm »

The complaints about the Callcentric outage were a one-off:  "superstorm Sandy" flooded buildings in NYC, where they are located, and knocked out power (including generators).  That's not likely to happen again in my lifetime.  There have been no outages I am aware of since then (years ago).

You can set up simulring or hunt groups on the Callcentric dashboard, and you can forward calls to your cell phone.

You can use analog phones with the OBi 302s, including two-line phones.

IP phones don't need an Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA), because, they're pure digital, up to the audio amplifier.  The sound quality is superior, and it will get even better over time, as more support for wideband audio CODECs spreads.  The IP phones support wideband, or "HD Voice" whereas the ATAs do not.
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JeffDB
Jr. Member
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Posts: 33


« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2018, 02:52:27 pm »

Great info, thanks.

I wasn't aware of the HD sound quality being better on IP phones vs analog, for instance.
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FranciscoVillalba
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Posts: 1

Computers and Routers must live in the same world


« Reply #7 on: April 26, 2021, 05:29:07 pm »

This thread help me to choice a IP phone instead of analog alternative.

Thank you!
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