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VoIP SLAs: Can You Measure How Your Carrier Is Doing?

VoIP is a common method for carrying calls today, and enterprise IT communications managers have many tools they can use to measure voice quality. But these tools don’t always locate voice quality impairments.
Startup PhoneSentry is tackling complex voice monitoring and alerting problems without requiring monitoring appliances or software installation. To learn more, I reached out to Nate Reynolds, company founder and CEO.
1. What was your inspiration for PhoneSentry? The inspiration came when our CTO and I were troubleshooting a midsized VoIP deployment for an international client. The company’s new CEO had been complaining about the call quality on all-hands calls, which meant that we had to troubleshoot the entire enterprise (more than 200 sites). Despite having spent the last three years deploying this system in phases, we found that our client, through routine maintenance, contributed to configuration drift.
We looked for automated tools to test the voice quality at the client’s major sites, but found nothing short of spending time manually troubleshooting routers, session border controllers, and call-processor components. The client spent more than $80,000 in consulting services, only for us to ultimately find that the culprit was its SIP/PSTN calling provider. Specifically, the provider hadn’t provisioned enough concurrent call paths with quality of service (QoS), so after a number of simultaneous calls had been reached, all calls on the circuit started experiencing call-quality issues.
We started designing PhoneSentry for end-to-end testing of voice quality. When we identify an issue, it’s much easier to troubleshoot than by traditional methods. We already know the components in the call chain, and can focus efforts there.
2. How big a problem is poor VoIP performance? Digital PBX services were traditionally very reliable, but expensive to maintain and scale. VoIP itself is much more cost-effective, but the QoS on a shared data network is a real issue. Configuration drift, carrier performance, and capacity limitations can all affect the call quality that an end user experiences. Without being able to monitor that, many end users simply hang up frustrated, only to notify IT at a later time.
Many of the UCaaS and cloud-based PBX systems have high service level agreements (SLAs). These are typically self-reported SLAs. I’ve used these services, and they do fail. PhoneSentry logs call quality and connectivity at frequent intervals, which facilitates reporting on and documenting an outage for the provider. We also flag the call error reason, so a company could literally pay for PhoneSentry with service credits.
3. How much time or money can PhoneSentry save? PhoneSentry can save a ton of time tracking down the “ghosts” of a call-quality issue. We have a clear call chain for each site that we monitor, so we can help narrow down the problem with the voice network ASAP. We also help customers document service credits for UCaaS and cloud-based PBX services, so there’s cost savings there too.
The biggest cost savings comes from getting the voice network working right in the event of an outage. That means there’s minimal downtime for call center agents or other employees for whom voice is a mission-critical service.
4. What makes PhoneSentry different from other monitoring products and services? We’re a SaaS-based product with zero installation requirements, no setup fee, and no professional services required. There are other monitoring products on the market. They install in your data center. They require hardware. They take weeks or months to set up, and they cost five to six figures. We cost a few hundred dollars per site, and we monitor the voice quality, carrier connection, and your session border gateway without being intrusive. We have patents pending for our unique design and our platform. Our biggest differentiator is that with our patent-pending technology we can monitor your SIP carrier for outages and call quality while other network monitoring systems may think everything is healthy because on your network, everything is fine.
5. What types of businesses need PhoneSentry? Any company that has voice systems deployed to a user base and doesn't want the first failure notification to come from an end user, line manager, or inbound call to the helpdesk could benefit from PhoneSentry. In addition, companies looking to monitor their carriers’ SLAs should find it useful. We’re vendor-agnostic, compatible with on-premises and cloud PBXs -- even in cases of public Internet bring-your-own-bandwidth or over-the-top services, which can’t honor QoS markings.
6. What do businesses that don’t use PhoneSentry do today? They do three things:
  1. They have voice problems, but don’t know about them. End users complain, but mostly to each other. IT gets a bad rap, and isn’t even aware it has a problem that needs fixing.
  2. They have infrequent outages, but don’t know about them until someone calls the helpdesk on a cellphone or puts in a trouble ticket (which likely sits in a queue for minutes before somebody picks it up). Their service might be out for a few hours before someone notices.
  3. They have an on-premises network monitoring system but they likely don’t have a proactive way of monitoring the SIP carrier for outages.


7. What are the biggest benefits your customers are realizing? They benefit from knowing that their critical voice systems are working, all the time. We function like a combination troubleshooting tool, insurance policy, and record of availability.