Unity Business Networks: A phone solution for distributed, mid-size companies.

Part 20 of Phone for Rent: Understanding Hosted PBX Services — Unity's integrated solution uses an architecture specially crafted for quality and reliability.

By Mark A. Miller | Posted Jul 28, 2009
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Unity Business Networks, headquartered in Denver, Colorado, is a provider of integrated IP communications services, currently serving markets in Denver and Colorado Springs in Colorado, Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon; and available anywhere west of the Mississippi.

UBN focuses on mid-size customers, especially companies with multiple remote locations, requiring 50 to 150 seats per site, and needing a coordinated communications system.

The firm was founded in 2003, with a management team that hails from companies that include AT&T, Avaya, Level 3 Communications, MCI, Quest, and Siemens Business Communications—as well as business partners such as Broadsoft, Carrier Access, Cisco Systems, Edgewater Networks, Polycom, Qwest Communications, XO Communications, ViaWest, and 360Networks.

Unity handles an average of 2 million voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls per month from its clients that total more than 10,000 license-seats. Perhaps most impressive, even during the current down economy, Unity recently announced record sales of $1.39 million during the first quarter of 2009, compared with $1.2 million in the same quarter last year.

Sometimes the best way to design a network is to look at the competition, and do what they don’t do. Unity studied some typical reseller networks, and found that many of these do not own their own gateway, are content to run voice over the Internet (instead of over a private, managed network), and require multiple signal handoffs. These architectures can produce poor quality voice, security issues, and resulting finger pointing, should any technical issues arise.

Unity claims that the architecture it developed after completing these studies is far superior, as it is built using the most up-to-date equipment, which remains under Unity’s care, in Unity’s space, and on Unity’s books.

This architecture includes two key components: an Integrated Access Device (IAD), which is installed at the customer’s premises, and a gateway that resides at the Unity network operations center. A dedicated IP-based T1 line connects these two elements. The IAD enables IP-based voice and data services at the customer’s facility, and works with either analog or SIP phones. The gateway provides access to local phone (PSTN), dedicated long distance, and Internet services. The resulting network gives Unity customers greater VoIP quality because the data packets that comprise the voice signal remain together throughout the transmission. The voice signal receives priority use of the bandwidth within Unity’s network, with the prioritization function occurring on a dynamic basis, in which Unity makes real-time adjustments based on the customer’s current needs.


The UPhone user interface
The UPhone user interface

The company’s hosted PBX service is called UPhone. It provides traditional PBX features such as call transfer, conferencing, and so on; plus Direct Inward Dial service for find me/follow me capabilities. The UPhone user interface, called the Dashboard, integrates with multiple CRM tools including Microsoft Outlook and SalesForce.com (see Figure, right). This interface allows extension dialing and one-click dialing, and includes all of the user’s contact information. It is particularly useful for remote users and mobile workers. With an Internet connection, a user can call up the Dashboard on his or her laptop and connect to the company’s telephone system from anywhere in the world.

The cost for the UPhone hosted PBX service runs between $10.00 and 30.00 per seat, depending on the features and capabilities that are made available to the station in questno. Pricing is configured on a per-user, per-month basis, which allows customers to add or delete stations or services as needed, adding to the flexibility and expansion capabilities of a customer’s network.

Unity also has a portfolio of enhanced services:

  • ULine: is designed for businesses that are satisfied with their existing phone system, or are already committed to a long-term maintenance agreement, and includes managed local lines, bundled long distance service, plus high speed Internet access.
  • UFax: is e-mail- and web-based, and customers do not have to be hosted on the UBN system. The client can use an existing e-mail account on the Internet to send and receive faxes, eliminating the cost and maintenance of fax machines. It also allows the client to free up a telephone line that would otherwise have been dedicated to the fax. The service costs about $17.00 per month per user.
  • UConference: gives the client the ability to initiate audio conference calls anytime, anywhere. Each user on the client’s account gets his or her own UConference account, allowing them to set up their own conference calls with large parties.
  • UShare: like the UConference service, UShare allows individual users to set up their own conferences, but now they can also set up the conferences on the Internet. This Web-based system allows clients to share slides, documents, photos, graphics—anything residing on their desktops.

Further information on the Unity Business Networks solutions can be found at http://www.unitybn.com/. Our next tutorial will continue our review of various service providers hosted voice solutions.

Copyright Acknowledgement: © 2009 DigiNet Corporation®, All Rights Reserved


Author's Biography
Mark A. Miller, P.E. is President of DigiNet Corporation®, a Denver-based consulting engineering firm. He is the author of many books on networking technologies, including Voice over IP Technologies, and Internet Technologies Handbook, both published by John Wiley & Sons.

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