Aptela: Reliable, Affordable SMB Phone Service since 2001

Given the foundation that we have built regarding the concepts of hosted voice services, the pros and cons of hosted voice services, and the players in the hosting business, we will now embark on individual articles that review one service provider’s offerings per week.

We begin with industry veteran Aptela.

Aptela, Inc., headquartered in Herndon, Va., is a privately held company that launched its initial PBX software service back in 2001, adding comprehensive VoIP functionality in 2004. By any measure, Aptela would have to be considered a long-term player in the hosted voice marketplace.

The company was named a Rising Star on Deloitte’s 2008 Technology Fast 500, a program which ranks the country’s 10 fastest growing technology, media, telecommunications, and life sciences companies based on their three-year revenue growth (2005 to 2007).

Aptela focuses on the SMB market and typically attracts organizations with 1 to 100 employees that have one or more remote employees and/or offices and are looking to take advantage of a powerful phone service without the up-front capital expense or long-term commitment.

Aptela also prides itself in focusing on how companies do business today—not how things were a decade or so ago. For example, current business operations demand flexible solutions to accommodate owners and employees who are on the go and “always on.”

To support such users, Aptela has included some sophisticated mobility features, such as Find Me/Follow Me, Remote Office, and Virtual Transfer capability—a feature the company claims is exclusive to its system—that replicates all call controls to a user’s mobile device.

For example, suppose that you are out of the office and you have set up your Find Me list to ring your mobile phone. You receive a call and realize that the individual really needs to talk to someone in billing. With a simple “##” you can redirect the call to the proper department (or individual), turn on call recording, send the call to voicemail, or invoke other features, using the same call controls you would have if you were sitting at your desk.

The Find Me list is configured with an easy-to-use GUI (see Figure 1).

Aptela sells and supports a range of business IP phones manufactured by Polycom, and provides ongoing support, including warranty returns for phones purchased through Aptela.

The company believes strongly in open standards and maximizing choice, and has therefore designed its technology to work with the widest possible range of other telephones, including those from Aastra, Cisco, Grandstream, and Linksys—plus a number of softphones. They have published guides to aid in configuring these alternatives, accessible from their on-line Knowledge Base. Aptela will also provide configuration support upon request at a cost of $50.00 per handset.

Aptela offers a fax solution with all of its service plans at no additional charge. The system supports soft faxing as well as the use of a traditional fax machine with a Linksys Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA), which enables analog telephony through an Internet connection. ATA soft faxes are received in .pdf, .doc and .ppt formats and can be automatically sent to an e-mail inbox. Users can also log into the Aptela Web interface to retrieve and send faxes.

The typical implementation time-frame for Aptela basic service is on the order of a few days, plus any additional time required for the installation of higher bandwidth connections, telephone acquisition and configuration, the customization of call trees, or specialized call greetings.

Aptela provides its customers with tools to intuitively manage and control the communications system through an easy-to-use, Web-based portal. Through the portal, users can view their complete call history, change their settings, access call features for live calls, and so on (see Figure 2) .

Account Operators have control over their account to add/delete users, add/delete services, review usage, modify call trees, change greetings, and mange individual user settings (see Figure 3).

E911 Emergency calls are supported through the Enhanced 911 service. Aptela registers customers’ phone numbers, so any call made from a registered number is routed to the appropriate 911 center. Since Aptela supports multiple locations, users can be assigned to different locations and calls will be routed properly.

Aptela’s network operations center provides standard customer support Monday to Friday, from 8 am to 8 pm EST, plus after-hours emergency support. Data connections and signaling within the network operations center are secured with authentication, authorization, Transport Layer Security, and Media Encryption. That center also provides multi-level physical security including biometric security, bullet resistant exterior walls, concrete bollards, and perimeter boundaries. The center is staffed with 24-hour security officers with CCTV video surveillance to augment the physical security features, providing financial-grade protection of the hosted networking resources.

Aptela offers a variety of plans to allow each organization to mix and match services to meet their unique needs, with no long-term contract requirements.

Pricing starts at $14.99 per seat per month for the Metered Calling Plan, with nationwide local and long distance calls priced at $0.025/minute.

The Business Calling Plan is priced at $19.99/user/month, and includes 250 minutes/user, with additional calls priced at $0.025/minute.

The Unlimited Calling Plan ranges from $24.99/user/month to $59.99/user/month, with pricing tiered based upon the number of users. For example, monthly service for a 5- to 10-person company can average between $199.99 and $349.90,which includes unlimited local and long distance calling plans for each employee.

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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