Toktumi: hosted IP PBX

Affordable small-business phone service with all the essentials.

By Gerry Blackwell | Posted Feb 9, 2009
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Toktumi may not do everything under the Web-communications sun, but what it does—hosted, over-the-Net virtual PBX with a dedicated business number, sophisticated call processing, and audio conferencing—it does well.

The pricing is simple and seems fair—$14.95 per month per phone number for unlimited calling to PSTN numbers in North America, and reasonable overseas rates (two cents a minute to landlines in most western and some Pac Rim countries, including China).

Best of all, over-the-Net VoIP call quality was consistently above average in our testing.

The service is simple to set up and use. It works as a soft phone with the downloadable PC software. You can also use it remotely from a designated mobile phone to check voicemail, change settings, and make calls through Toktumi to avoid exorbitant overseas cell phone rates.

If you want to stick with a conventional phone set instead of using Toktumi with a headset, you can buy a USB adapter from the company’s Web store (or at Staples) for $20. It works with virtually any phone. Plug the adapter into to your PC and then plug a phone into it. You can also plug a landline jack into the adapter and use the phone to take both PSTN and Toktumi calls.

Toktumi doesn’t offer Web conferencing, chat, video, or file sharing, as do a number of Web-based communications services we’ve looked at. CEO Peter Sisson says chat and video are both on "the roadmap," but Toktumi’s strategy is to keep the product simple and make sure what it does offer works well. He’s also not convinced business users actually want video.

In the meantime, if your primary requirement is voice and you want the professional-sounding presence of a PBX without the expense, Toktumi may be just the ticket.

The PBX features—auto attendant, call routing, limited find-me-follow-me capabilities, voicemail as e-mail—are central to the value proposition. If you don’t need these features, there is no point in considering Toktumi over, say, Skype with a SkypeIn number.

Call handling
Toktumi's call processing features will be all that most small-business users need. You can very easily set up an auto attendant at the Toktumi Web portal, with custom outgoing messages that you record either over a phone or on your PC and then upload.

As part of this setup process, you can create as many "extensions" as you need that will forward incoming calls to designated numbers—in which case "Press one to reach Customer Service, Press two to reach Sales," etc. becomes part of your main greeting

For each auto attendant menu option, you can choose to transfer the call to another number (PSTN, mobile, or Toktumi), send it directly to voicemail or play a custom recorded message. It does not support nested menus, however—you cannot have a top-level menu option deliver the caller to a second-level menu with additional options.

If you don’t need an auto attendant, you can route calls to your Toktumi number directly to voicemail, directly to a forwarding number—or to a forwarding number where Toktumi will announce the caller.

With this last option, Toktumi answers the call with a very professional-sounding recorded message and asks the person to say their name. Then it rings your forwarding number. When you answer, it plays the recording of the caller saying their name and gives you the option to take the call or send it to voicemail.

Toktumi can also process calls differently according to whether the calling line number matches a business or personal contact in your Toktumi contact list, and announce callers without asking them to say their names.

Another standard Toktumi feature is that you can elect to record calls—or not. Simply go to the portal and click a box to turn recording on or off. The recording format is WAV, and recordings are deposited in a folder of your choice.

Contacts
In order for this to work, you have to manually enter all your contacts at the Toktumi portal site or, if you’re an Outlook user, upload your contact list as a comma-separated flat database file. Then you have to designate contacts as personal or business—if you haven’t already done this in Outlook.

The uploading process is a little cumbersome and if you want the contact list at Toktumi to be up to date, you’ll have to repeat the process every time you add a new contact in Outlook—or, of course, manually update both lists. Some users may have security concerns, although Toktumi insists it never uses your data for any other purpose than processing calls and that its servers are secure.

Even without uploading your Outlook contacts, Toktumi can dial by name using your Outlook data. If you enter a name instead of a number in the soft phone client, it will search your Outlook contacts and return a list. By right clicking on the number you want, you can copy it into the Toktumi dialing field, which automatically places the call.

It’s not the most elegant integration, and the name search takes several seconds to generate a list—or at least it does with my bloated Outlook file.

Incidentally, Toktumi will also perform local Google searches on any search term you enter, such as "restaurant" or "hardware store."

Call quality
The PBX features are impressive—especially given the price—and important. But Toktumi’s value ultimately hinges on call quality over the public Internet. In our testing, it was more than good enough.

Toktumi supports wideband audio, as Skype does, so on a good connection between two Toktumi subscribers using soft phones, audio quality should be markedly better than on PSTN calls. This was the case. Sound was fuller and richer than on PSTN or cell calls. Even in Tok-to-Tok calls with one party using the adapter and a standard phone—which is narrowband—and the other using the soft phone, the signal coming from the analog phone sounded better than on PSTN-to-PSTN or Toktumi-to-PSTN calls. Audio quality is at least partly independent of call quality, of course. There can still be jitter and latency, even when sound quality is generally superior.

On most Toktumi calls, in fact, it appears to take a few seconds before an optimum connection is established, with jitter and latency more pronounced during that settle-in period. Latency, especially, was more noticeable in the first few seconds of some calls to PSTN numbers.

But on the whole, both Tok-to-Tok and Tok-to-PSTN connection quality was more than adequate in our tests of one-to-one calling.

Audio conferencing
One of the service’s most attractive features is its simple-to-use teleconferencing. Any call can be turned into a multi-party conference.

If you’re already on a Toktumi call, for example, and another comes in, you can put the original party on hold, answer the new call, then conference all three parties together—and easily add more, up to 20, according to the company.

To set up a teleconference from scratch, start by calling the first party. Once that connection is established, click the Conference soft key in the Toktumi client interface. The cursor appears in the number field, and you type the name or number of the next participant.

When the new call is placed, the original party is automatically put on hold. After you’ve established a connection with the second party, click the Conference soft key again to join all the parties. Repeat the process for each participant.

It’s probably easier to arrange a conference using a bridge that participants call. And some services let you select participants from a list, then automatically dial the numbers simultaneously to set up a conference.

Still, Toktumi’s conferencing works well enough, especially for more ad hoc or impromptu meetings, and the set-up procedures are very intuitive.

In our testing, conference call quality was also surprisingly good. In one conference involving two Toktumi subscribers, one overseas, and two participants on PSTN lines, all voices were clear and volume levels similar, with only occasional jitter and barely noticeable latency once the conference was established.

In a test in which all participants spoke at the same time, although there was certainly some jitter, all voices were clearly audible, which is not the case with similar tests on other over-the-Net VoIP services.

Toktumi is not perfect. On one of the call-outs to add a new conference participant, it generated an error message, saying the call could not be completed. A second attempt a few seconds later was successful.

And an earlier attempt to test conferencing features was aborted because the Toktumi service was experiencing technical difficulties. The company explained that one of its conferencing servers had gone down and while it should have failed over to a backup server, this did not happen.

Bottom line: Toktumi’s PBX features are simple to use and flexible enough to satisfy most small business users. VoIP call quality over the public Internet, based on necessarily limited testing, was consistently more than adequate. And the price is fair.

If you’re in the market for a hosted PBX service, give Toktumi a whirl. You can sign up for a free 30-day trial and try out all the features without spending a dime.

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