My client needed a new phone system to replace their Nortel BCM50 that was coming to the end of its life. They have about 18 members of staff but rarely more than 4 on the phone at the same time. Initially BT tried to sell the Avaya IP Office but I advised them that this was outdated and suggested the company should go with a Hosted PBX and VoIP phones with all the obvious benefits.

Perhaps for convenience more than anything the client decided to purchase BT Cloud Voice. There were a lot of options to choose from but in the end I think the office manager was bamboozled into ordering a line for each staff member, expensive colour touch screen phones, a second FTTC broadband and a very expensive 24 port PoE Switch. At first BT sent out a 100Mbps switch but I had already told them with six graphics designers dealing with very large files we would need something faster.

The new phones were posted out and BT sent an engineer to unbox the switch and screw it into our cabinet. Another engineer installed the new phone line and then a HUB-5 dropped through the post. The rest was up to us!

By now the client had a signed agreement which included this encouraging statement from BT:

“Our commitment to you as a valued customer is to get you up and running and furthermore help you get the most out of your new service. From the point you sign your order with us our dedicated UK based BT Cloud Voice Team will manage it through every step of the way.”

It turned out that the new HUB-5 was a ‘replacement’ version so it had no DSL cable or microfilter included. We rummaged around and found some cables but still had a red broadband light. We had put the proper credentials in the HUB-5 but it turned out the line wasn’t yet active, so another engineer came out and after delaying us another week, finally we had the broadband working. And the connection was a healthy 60/20Mbps!

Ready?

Now to see if we could make make a phone work – but no, of course it didn’t work and the supplied password for the Cloud Voice login wasn’t working either. A call to BT support revealed that the HUB-5 can only be connected to one specific port (#24) on the new switch. No other port will work. Uh?… I now discover that our new BT supplied and managed Ethernet Gigabit Switch has been pre-configured by BT and their ongoing support depends on us having no access to it.  Anyway, having connected the hub as instructed, our gorgeous new phones finally have a dial tone and we can make calls.

Set…

So although somewhat alarmed by the realisation that our company will have its network running on a black box managed by BT – I’m thinking all we have to do at this stage is re-jig the office wiring so the phones are all connected to the new PoE switch and each computer is daisy chained through it. I planned to also connect the existing broadband HUB (DHCP disabled) and change the gateway address for heavy internet users so that we don’t have too much data traffic on the broadband dedicated to VoIP .

Go!

I thought I had better test this whole thing before trying to implement it around the office and start pulling out the old Nortel gear. Tests today showed that the switch is configured to limit the upstream data on the broadband to 0.5Mbps! Why would they do that? I could barely send an email from my laptop when daisy chained to one of the phones. By using a separate PoE injector and plugging the phone directly into the HUB-5 I could upload an 8MB file to Dropbox in 12 seconds. Connecting via the Gigbit switch the same upload failed after 5 minutes. With my laptop connected directly to the Gigabit switch, I couldn’t connect to Apple’s Facetime to even try it out, SpeedTest.net reported 60Mbps down and 0.5Mbps upstream.

Worse still, the second broadband will not work on any port other than #24 and in fact no other ethernet switch will uplink to it.

Ah! the best laid plans of mice and men…

BT’s answer to our woes is that we should install separate network ports around the office just for the phones. It was hard enough to install the existing 24 ports when the offices were empty, the disruption and cost of doing another 20 or so ports would be awful. And in any case our new phones are designed to work on a shared port – why else make them Gigabit and include a passthrough port?

I asked BT if I they would mind me changing the HUB-5’s IP address to something less common than 192.168.1.254 – which makes it impossible for homeworkers to connect via VPN, they say I can but if there are any issues they will ask us to reset to defaults. That’s not very helpful.

For me the whole point of Hosted PBX and VoIP is that it leverages a normal broadband connection and standard infrastructure to create a phone system that is disaster proof and allows a company to change offices with minimum disruption. BT engineering are trying to manage Cloud Voice just as they did with Plain Old Telephone Systems – all their concerns shall end at the perimeter of their equipment. In other words, if it works when disconnected from everything else – they’re done! But BT need to buck up their ideas for VoIP because by necessity it has to run on existing infrastructure and integrate with existing networks.

Red Light on HUB-5