DID Decisions: Not So Simple After All
Implementing and operating DIDs is a continuous effort, not a one-time deal.
You may be talking on a DID connection right now (a Direct Inward Dial phone number). Implementing a DID number may appear easy, but there are many considerations beyond assigning a phone number. You need to evaluate who offers the DID number and under what terms and features. You may think the DID providers are all the same. They are not. There are differences in geographic coverage, cost and billing, feature sets including SMS and 911, and control.
DID is a service offered by communications providers to subscribers who operate a PBX or subscribe to a cloud or hosted communications service. A DID provides services for multiple telephone numbers over one or more trunks to the PBX/cloud and signals the dialed telephone number to the PBX/cloud for internal call routing. The last 4 or 5 digits of the phone number are the DID number.
I recently spoke with Jason Tapolci, President of VoIP Innovations about the who, what, and how of DIDs. VoIP Innovations provides wholesale VoIP origination and termination services, as well as thousands of DIDs and E911 connections. Its success is based on their use of technology to provide choice, automation, and control for its customers.DID Service Coverage
DID coverage can vary. You can obtain DID numbers that cover the 48 or 50 states, Canada, and internationally. Available DID numbers are related to rate centers. A rate center is a geographical area used by a Local Exchange Carrier (LEC) to delineate the boundaries for local calling, billing, and assigning phone numbers. The more rate centers supported by a carrier, the more freedom there is in obtaining DID numbers.Who is the Underlying Carrier?
You can acquire DID numbers from Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC)or from a carrier. Carriers may have numbers they have acquired from other carriers, referred to as Underlying Carriers (ULC). It is important to know if the DIDs are offered directly or if they are actually from another carrier. This leads into the question, "Can you select the underlying carrier directly?" Sometimes you may not be allowed to select the underlying carrier, even if you do not want to use them for the DID numbers.
As in any business, there are metrics for evaluating providers. Is there performance data available on the ULC? Will the performance data be available before selecting the ULC? If you cannot access the metrics, you probably do not want to do business with them.Features You May Need
The DID phone line can be used just for normal calls or you may want some extra features. Some features may be included or offered at an extra cost. The following features should be available:
- Caller ID (Inbound/outbound Caller Name ID)
- SMS (Short Message Service)
- Fax (T.38)
- Call forward
- Failover service
There are three forms of charges you will encounter:
- Non-recurring charges (NRC) -- NRCs can include activation or return fees, number porting fees, and usage surcharge fees
- Monthly recurring charges (MRC) -- MRCs are usually related to features such as E911, 411, Caller ID, SMS, Fax, etc.
- Usage charges -- The usage charges can be billed by the minute or they can be billed by the channel/line or concurrent call sessions
The way you are billed can be an option. You should opt for electronic billing, which makes it easier to audit and analyze bills because they can be integrated into your payment system. Paper bills require more attention and increase your payment processing labor.
If you are a new customer, you may have to pay in advance rather than post pay. You may have an option to pay either way. If you are an existing customer, a post-pay option should be available. The billing automation should also include a financial dashboard, account alerts, financial reports, and an online billing dispute mechanism.Number Porting
You may want to port numbers from one provider to another. You'll need to know the answers to questions like:
- Can local or toll free number be ported?
- Is there a choice of the ULC?
- Is a discount available if you port the numbers in groups of 50 or more?
- Does the provider port the number in 15 to 30 days? (Some take a lot longer.)
- Is it a paper or electronic process?
- What is the porting team like, experts or just administrators?
Once you have made your decisions, you need to evaluate the support team. Is the staff available 24/7? Since many of the processes can be automated, what kinds of tools are provided for troubleshooting problems? Does the DID provider offer educational information in the form of Wikis, blogs, videos, and whitepapers? Look for a support manageability system that includes a ticketing function, dashboards, email alerts, and reports.Who's in Control?
You don't walk away once the DIDs have been implemented. You want control over the operations and expenses. How much control does the provider BackOffice offer?
- Email alerts (usage, billing, support, porting)
- Dashboards (usage, billing, DIDs, DID features)
- Reporting (accounting, support, service)
What is the customer control? Is there the ability to group like services like DIDs, E911, and Endpoints? If you are a reseller, is there a service-brandable end user portal that allows reseller customers to do the day-to-day heavy lifting?
Creating a DID calling environment will take time to implement and operate. Selecting the best provider requires answering the questions posed. Implementing and operating DIDs is a continuous effort, not a one-time deal.