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Understanding SIP trunking and evaluating SIP trunk providers

by Tab Schadt, DoubleHorn Communications (originally published at http://www.epmag.com/item/Understanding-SIP-trunking-evaluating-SIP-trunk-providers_123096)

SIP trunking provides a communications solution to deliver high-quality voice communications and accommodate a highly mobile work force.

For those in the burgeoning oil exploration and energy development industry, operations depend on a seamless flow of communications between employees at headquarters, in regional offices, and in remote fields. To facilitate this communication capability quickly, affordably, and without adding complexity to the IT infrastructure, many oil and gas operators are adopting a technology known as session initiation protocol (SIP) trunking.

With SIP trunking, employees can securely and reliably make and receive phone calls; conduct video conferences; exchange email, photos, charts, and graphs; and more – all over the Internet. Gone is the need to invest in and manage multiple phone and data lines. With SIP trunking, all communications take place over the company’s Internet connection. As long as employees can access the Internet (even if they’re working in a remote field using a wireless PC card, broadband Internet satellite, or similar technology), SIP trunking keeps them connected. The SIP trunk ensures that communications from one endpoint to another are routed securely and appropriately, including phone calls to mobile devices or tablets.

According to a recent study by Infonetics Research, the use of SIP trunks jumped by 83% in 2012 compared to the previous year, “as multisite businesses adopt SIP trunking for cost savings and flexibility.” Summit Midstream Partners is a good example. Summit focuses on owning, operating, developing, and acquiring strategically located midstream infrastructure in unconventional resource basins.

“We have business operations and field professionals working in multiple locations across several states,” said Ken Bussell, vice president of technology for Summit Midstream Partners. “Many of these personnel travel between offices frequently. We needed a communications solution that would deliver high-quality voice communications and accommodate our highly mobile work force while taking advantage of our existing communications network to save costs. SIP trunking was the solution we chose. The provider we selected is responsible for enabling high-quality, reliable, and secure voice communications.”

For a growing number of oil and gas companies the question is no longer whether or not to implement SIP trunking; it is which SIP trunking provider to work with to realize the most benefit. Summit Midstream Partners chose DoubleHorn Communications. The vendor selection process is important to ensure interoperability, security, and a seamless integration of technologies.

Exploring considerations in vendor evaluation

When beginning to identify potential SIP trunk providers, it is important to develop a short list of those with a comprehensive offering. While it is possible to buy the individual components – hardware, software, and services – from separate vendors, the result can be less than satisfying. Choosing multiple vendors means a company will most likely be left playing the role of integrator and will need to be sure the various components are interoperable. And should a problem arise, a company may end up stuck between multiple vendors, none of which want to take responsibility for the issue at hand. Of course, all the while network users will not be able to do their work, and productivity will be nose-diving.

The alternative is a managed services provider (MSP) with the ability to offer all the technologies, services, and integration required, alleviating the aforementioned challenges. The right MSP will have already done all the necessary pre-installation compatibility testing, ensuring all solutions work together as they should.

In the case of Summit Midstream Partners, it was operating a Shoretel IP PBX platform. DoubleHorn’s SIP trunks were tested and validated interoperable with the Shoretel platform, ensuring a secure integration of the technologies both at the customer premises via an Ingate SIParator and within the DoubleHorn Core Network. Its trunk solution offers additional reassurance by securing its trunks with an Acme Packet session border controller (SBC).

The diagram demonstrates the SIP trunk configuration. In addition, the major use for SBCs today – connecting SIP trunks with service providers’ networks – has proven to be challenging in terms of actual implementation. Users must work with a service provider to procure SIP trunks in the first place, so it makes sense to outsource the key access point into the carrier network as well.

One-stop shop for SIP trunking

In addition to the interoperability and integration offered by an MSP, the optimal “one-stop shop” also should offer professional services capabilities with SIP trunking experience and a proven methodology for quickly implementing, turning up, and managing the communications network.

And in the event communications applications are performing at anything less than optimum levels, the SIP trunking provider’s professional services team will quickly respond and restore performance regardless of the individual piece of hardware or software that is causing the problem. The focus won’t be on attempting to shift blame to another vendor on the network; it will be on working fast to ensure the problem is solved and the network remains within service level agreements.

There are some SIP trunking providers today that will even provide and manage the performance and availability of the underlying Internet Protocol network itself. These SIP trunking providers have invested in creating a high-availability, fault-tolerant, reliable network that is tuned and optimized specifically for hosted session-based communications and that is on net with major carriers. For those providers that do offer their own network, users should make sure that it is fully compliant with all federal and local security standards at the application, network, and packet level.

It also should be noted that choosing to work with one provider for all SIP trunking needs can be a more successful path forward not only from a technology perspective but also from a business operations standpoint. Rather than receiving multiple invoices from various communications networking vendors, users receive just one invoice each month for their communications infrastructure.

One final suggestion is that as a user evaluates providers, it should give strong preference to those that have been in the market for some time with satisfied customer references to prove their claims. The booming market for SIP trunks is attracting unproven providers like moths to a flame. By selecting an established SIP trunk provider with a successful track record, users can benefit from years of cost savings and secure, reliable communications capabilities.

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