In the past two days we’ve had 3 different clients ask for help troubleshooting the call forwarding feature. At first I thought this was a freak coincidence, but no – as my coworker Stephen Denny pointed out to me – everyone’s trying to figure out how to work remotely.
Those of us working in the telecoms industry can feel very relieved right now that the coronavirus hasn’t hurt our livelihoods – in fact people are using communication services more than ever. But the speed of the transition – in the space of a few days almost the entire country has started working remotely – is creating a lot of urgent support work.
So how can a local telco support its business customers as they create an instantaneous remote workforce?
Don’t just forward your PBX line?
If a business is using a traditional, on-premise PBX, their first thought will be for every worker to use the PBX-based call forwarding feature to forward all their lines to their cell phones / home phones.
But… that might not be such a great idea.
Let’s think for a minute about call volume on the trunk (SIP trunk or PRI) to the PBX – before and after COVID-19 caused everyone to work remotely.
Working at work:
- Any calls within the business stayed on the PBX – no circuits used
- Any calls inbound to the PBX used one circuit.
- Any calls out from the PBX used one circuit.
- If a business user calls another member of the business on their business line, the call goes into the PBX, and is then forwarded back out again – using two circuits.
- Any calls inbound to the PBX use one circuit in, and then another to be forwarded back out – i.e. two circuits.
- Any outbound calls are originated from the workers cell phone / home phone, so don’t use any circuits, but expose that workers personal caller ID to their business contact.
Obviously the exact impact of all this depends on the usage pattern, but if the call volume is evenly split between internal calls, inbound calls, and outbound calls, we’d see circuit usage double as a result of remote working.
Can we solve the PBX call volume issue?
There are several approaches that can potentially address this issue, depending on the details of your scenario. If you have a PBX user who is short on capacity (or may soon be), then take a look at these options and see what would work best for you.
- For ISDN PRI connections, you probably can’t add capacity easily, but you may be able to configure your voice switch and the PBX to do something called 2 B-channel transfer – which is basically where the PBX signals over ISDN that two of the active calls are actually just the same call (hairpinned back) and so the voice switch can drop those legs of the call and save bandwidth.
- For SIP connections, there’s equivalent functionality using the SIP REFER message – but it will depend on the PBX whether it supports that function.
- Alternatively, for SIP trunks it may be easy to add more capacity to the connection – provided there’s enough bandwidth in place. In all likelihood bandwidth should be plentiful since there won’t be as much data usage from the office if no-one’s working there.
- Finally, you could offer to set up call forwarding for all the business lines in your switch, rather than having the users control it in the PBX. If you’re using a Metaswitch the users can even set up call forwarding for individual DIDs using the CommPortal account associated with the PBX. If you do this the calls won’t even be routed to the PBX, so there’ll be no capacity issues to worry about.
In my next article I’ll address the same question for those businesses using a hosted PBX service – but for now hopefully this gives you some ideas for how to help your business customers as they make the switch to remote working in this time of crisis.