Beware the sharks!

IT & data guru Darren Chapman from Pivotal Data Solutions tells us how to avoid the traps when changing phone systems to the NBN

So, you have your new NBN connection in your small business, had it for over 12 months in fact. However, now you keep getting calls from telecoms providers telling you that your phone services need to be migrated to the NBN or they will be cut-off. If you have then been brave enough to endure their jargon filled sales calls they may have also told you that you need a new phone system and they have a great deal where you can pay off this fantastic new system over several years for only slightly more per month than what you pay now.

How much of this is true?

In many cases, only the first part, that your phone lines will be disconnected if you do not initiate a change to a voice service delivered over the NBN. To be slightly more specific, many businesses have more than one phone line and one of the common ways to get these lines in the past was over an ISDN service. OnRamp being the name Telstra used to use for their ISDN product. In NBN parlance ISDN is referred to as a special service and ISDN in particular, is subject to a cut-off date that is either the end of last month (30th of September 2019) or when your site’s ready for service window closes which is 18 months after NBN was available to be connected in your area, whichever comes later.

Here’s where the aggressive sales tactics (or outright lies) start to take over. Do you need a new phone system? In many cases no, although it is probably time to throw out the rotary dial phone! Do you need to pay more than what you have been paying, again in many cases no, and in fact savings on your monthly phone bill in the order of 50% are well and truly possible with the same provider!

As a rough guide you shouldn’t be paying any more than $70 per month per “landline” all calls to Australian phone numbers (including mobiles) included.

This excludes your internet connection which will be between $80 to $120 per month. Oh, and they manage “it” all for you, codswallop! This is rarely the case for anything marginally more complex than a network with two computers and a printer.

Having said that, changing over from an ISDN service to an NBN based service can be a complex process with a lot to consider much of which your expected to know but invariably will have long forgotten.

What should you do?

Engage a technical professional to help or at least get a second quote before you sign. A few hundred dollars for good advice from your local computer or phone services provider could easily save you from paying $20,000 dollars over 5 years (excluding call costs!) for a system you didn’t need or if you did need it, would have only cost $5,000 if you paid for it upfront. Ask your accountant, that is equivalent to an 80% annual interest rate with monthly payments of $340!

I don’t sell phone systems or voice services so why am I so riled up about this!?

First of all, I detest unqualified people giving bad advice in any industry, come to think of it didn’t we just have a financial services royal commission around this topic! Secondly, I don’t like to see big business taking advantage of the trust afforded to them by time poor, small business owners. Enough ranting.

What things do you need to think about if it’s not too late, you haven’t signed your life away and you still have time before you’re your phones are cut off?
  • When should I start getting this sorted? NOW! Refer to what I said above, in many cases you can save a significant amount off your monthly phone bill so why wait! If that isn’t enough incentive, then think of the stress to you and your business if your main phone number didn’t work for a month or more because that is how long it can take, if it all goes well!
  • Do you want to keep your main phone number? Most likely YES! It will need to be ported across to the new service thanks to LNP (Local Number Portability not the political party!). This can be an absolute nightmare without good planning and even then, it can take much longer than expected if you have anything resembling a bundled service.
  • Do you have any other services bundled with the ISDN service? You can bet you probably do even if all you think you have is a single incoming number.
  • Is your current internet connection up to the grade? There is a difference between a home and a business connection service especially from the reputable internet service providers or Retail Service Providers (RSP) in NBN parlance. You will discover this when you need support.
  • Is your router up to the grade? A 30 second internet outage can go by completely unnoticed for web browsing and email however these types of intermittent connectivity issues will make a voice over internet protocol (VoIP) system unusable. Invest in an enterprise grade router and if you don’t know what a router is ask your trusted technical advisor. Hint, the one you need is not the one they give away for free and generally not the super fancy looking one made for gaming at home!
  • Get your voice connection from the same provider as your internet connection so there is only one call to make (via mobile!) if something stops working.
  • What happens when the internet goes down or the power goes out? How will you continue to make and receive calls? Mobile broadband failover is a good (only) option however it is useless if you have a weak signal where your router is installed, or it slows to a crawl in a widespread outage. Mobile failover can be added to any connection with the right router.
  • Look for providers with good ratings for support. The underlying technology is all the same the difference comes down to how well your chosen provider can fund and support what they are offering.

If the questions above can help save just one small business from the pain and confusion that can be a move of their phone lines to the NBN I will rejoice.

Behind every NBN horror story I have been called in to help fix there has always been either bad advice or bad planning.

The NBN project is a massive undertaking and something that was desperately needed to modernise Australia’s communications infrastructure and allow us to compete on the local, national and global stage. As with any large change there will be the potential for disruption however, that is easily avoided with good advice and good planning.

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