iTeleCenter, a service of COA Network, Inc, headquartered in Piscataway, New Jersey, was founded in 1992, and since that time, claims to have processed over 260 million calls with an uptime rate of 99.9 percent. COA also claims to have been one of the first independent voicemail service providers to have developed its own communications software, which has given the company the ability to adjust its service offerings as the needs of the business community have evoloved.
The company also prides itself in having its own internal staff of IT professionals, software developers, and customer service representatives, in an era that is seeing more and more out-sourcing of these critical network operations.
The iTeleCenter system includes over 30 features, all of which are included in the service packages, so that customers do not have to deal with a la carte or optional feature pricing challenges.
At the top of the feature list is a personal toll-free number, for which the user may choose an 866, 877, or 888 prefix. Vanity or personalized toll free numbers are also available, as are local numbers (DIDs) in other calling areas.
A customizable main greeting, along with an auto attendant and multiple extensions allow callers to be directed to the appropriate person or department. Call processing features include call screening and announcement that identifies callers before connecting the call; no busy signals, which allows the toll-free number to take calls from multiple callers simultaneously; live call transfer, which allows the call recipient to transfer the caller to another extension or phone number; and call blocking, which allows recipients several methods of restricting who can dial their toll free number.
Another interesting feature, called Ad Tracker, allows the system to assign an advertising code for each promotional campaign, tracking the callers, and thus determining which advertising and promotional investments are paying off.
Network management capabilities come through an online management interface called My iTeleCenter, which allows the user to create and manage extensions, upload greetings, manage call forwarding and message alert settings, access voicemail messages and faxes, and access detailed call reports.
COA’s network infrastructure demonstrates the company’s goal of offering communication services to small business customers that rival those available to only much larger organizations, with a network design that emphasizes high reliability, scalability, security, quality of service, system backups, and ongoing system upgrades.
The company’s network is built upon two fiber optic connections, operating at the OC-3 rate (155 Mbps), and provided by two separate carriers for redundancy and load balancing. Inbound calls are handled by a telephony server farm, which is designed in such a way that service interruptions are limited to only the calls that were being processed by the server at the time of any server failure. Database redundancy is handled by a SQL Active/Passive cluster which automatically redirects traffic to the passive server should the active server fail.
Scalability is engineered into the network platform, and usage is currently at only 25 percent of capacity, according to the company. When usage reaches 40 percent of capacity, COA adds network components to handle the increased call volume.
Network security is based on Cisco firewall technology, with extensive logging capabilities at all gateways. The company claims that no security breaches have been encountered to date. Network quality of service is closely monitored, based on an IP-based network monitoring system that operates on a 24×7 basis. Frequent backups are also a key part of the system architecture, with up-to-the second transaction monitoring and rollback available, data that can be restored to any point in time within the last two months. Any system upgrades that are required are first deployed on test servers prior to moving those changes to the production environments.
The iTeleCenter service is available with three different pricing options, all of which include the same features, but varying in the number of predetermined extensions and minutes. The Lite plan is offered as a starter plan for individuals and small businesses. It includes three extensions and 50 minutes per month, is priced at $9.95 per month, with 6.9 cents per additional minute. The Pro plan is designed for small business owners with moderate usage, and provides up to ten extensions and 750 minutes per month. This plan costs $34.95 per month with 5.9 cents per additional minute. The Premier plan runs $79.95 per month, providing up to 50 extensions and 2,500 minutes per month, with 3.9 cents per additional minute.
Further information on the iTelecenter solutions can be found at www.itelecenter.com. Our next tutorial will continue our review of various service providers hosted voice solutions.
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.