Wednesday, 28 October 2015


The TalkTalk Hack saga is a sad affair. Watching the Chief Executive Dido Harding struggling to explain the situation on television was painful. We're now seeing reports of a 15 year old hacker in Northern Ireland under arrest in connection with the events.

Have TalkTalk under invested in computer security? Were their applications written and tested to be secure? It is reported in the Daily Telegraph that TalkTalk with in the process of reducing spending on IT by 25%. Was that a sensible use of resources? 

You have to ask about the risk of an organisation's executive team where technology skills are under represented. This will lead to false economies on IT spending.  For a technology company such as Talk Talk it is unforgivable.  It seems the trend in the Telecoms Industry to focus more on marketing skills as an essential qualification for recruitment into the Executive Team.

Friday, 25 September 2015

USA pricing in the UK

We've been trialling some Software as a Service for the purposes of providing remote training sessions. After running trials of several products we decided on using GoToTraining. It has good features and the way it is implemented reduces the strain on our currently limited Internet data link.

While we are in the UK we managed to contract to receive the service at USA prices. More later....

Monday, 14 September 2015

UK Telecommunications User Group

I've been giving the UKTUG a hand in formulating a response to the European Union consultation on digital communications in the European Union. Most of the questions were slanted towards the EU team having already decided what it wants to report. Many important topics like IPv6 were ignored. Regardless it is important that members of SME businesses put forward their views. It might affect future legislation.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Can't give them away...

Our domain registrar/hosting company Easyspace have emailed us an offer of a "free"  Lumia 640 LTE Smartphone worth £130 if we sign-up for Office 365.

Either Office 365 is overpriced or Microsoft has loads of Lumia phones it can't sell.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Taking cards

We occasionally need to add a fee for our holiday home guests which is outside of the primary rental handled by our agents (Sykes Cottages). An example of this is a deposit fee for the use of the in-house telephone system, or perhaps accepting the outstanding balance of call costs. The benefit to our guests is the don't have to use cash. If they are from another country the currency conversion is automatic on their credit/debit card account.

I've just been trying out Paypal's new reader. It handles CHIP and PIN, magnetic strip swipe and also touch payment. The reader links by BlueTooth wireless to your iPad/iPhone or Android Tablet/Phone. You have to download the appropriate PayPal/Here App from Google Play or from Apple as appropriate. After minimal configuration the device is up and working.for the first time in a few minutes. Subsequently it doesn't take long to get it operational again.

You need to have:

  • A PayPal Business Account
  • A Wifi or 3G/4G signal to allow you phone/tablet to connect to the Internet.
The handling fee is about 2.75% per transaction.

Operating a configured device is quite easy. First start the PayPal Here App on your tablet/Phone. Get things going by typing in your PaylPal password on your tablet/phone, Then switch on the bluetooth card reader. You enter details of the transaction on your/tablet/phone to get a total fee. You then hand the card reader to your client. It shows the amount you intend to charge. Ask them to either touch,insert, or swipe the magnetic strip of their card. For the latter two they will be asked to enter their card PIN. Your client can then approve the transaction.

Once the payment has been approved you can print a receipt or email a copy to them. The App will display some limited statistics such as transactions and totals. Unlike the iZettle approach you cannot do "Card Not Present" payments, you'd need a different Paypal service to handle those, it costs £20 a month to do that. 

There's no obvious way of replacing the battery when renewal is required. The iZettle has an exchangeable battery.

My initial impression is that it works well, ideal for a small business which needs to take an occasional card payment face to face. 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Choosing a VOIP Service

Choosing a VOIP service is not always down to finding the lowest price. Cheap is not the same as inexpensive. You'll need to think about what features you need to support your organisation both now and in the future.

Telephone services vendors are Grand Masters when it comes down to sneaking in additional costs/fees to the customer's bill. The headline price figure displayed prominently on a web site is rarely what you end up paying.

You'll need to consider what access you have to technical support for computers and networks. Once a VOIP service is working they generally work well. However there is often an initial need to tinker with network settings to get everything working properly. You might need to make some improvements to your data network to ensure good data security and a good quality voice on your phones. You should also have access to a technician during the operation of your service for when problems arise. Such problems are infrequent, but baffling for the lay-person. The level of data network support provided by the VOIP service vendor can vary considerably. Their support often stops at the point where the telecom data service enters your building.

If you are using VOIP phones they are generally just plug in and go provided they've been properly configured. Just as with your desk top PC the software hidden in the phones will need an occasional update for fixes, improvements and security patches. You may need technical support to ensure this update process takes place. Some VOIP vendors will do this remotely, others may give you no assistance on this matter.

Before committing to any particular VOIP service supplier be sure to try it out to check the voice quality to several remote destinations. There are different methods of voice encoding used in VOIP which can affect the quality of the voice transmission. I'll repeat it, "Make sure you check the quality of voice received at the other end." It is usually not too difficult to persuade someone at a remote location to asses the quality of the calls. Don't rely solely on what you hear at your end of the call. What might sound good to you can be horrible at the remote end.

You should also carefully check the contract period and how it is handled at renewal. You might pay monthly but still be enrolling in a three year contract with expensive exit charges should you need to change your mind. Make sure you have an exit should the vendor be unable to get your system working. Watch out for extra costs such as telephone number rental.

In assessing a contract make sure you know:
  • Implementation Costs
  • Expected cost
  • Contractually committed cost
  • "Out of plan" cost projections

When comparing phone call tariffs work out how many minutes you'll need per use per month then check what the costs will be if you exceed the plan. Some call plans tie the "minutes" to users with no transfer between user plans. Watch out for how call times are measured. Is it to the nearest minute, or are call times rounded up to the next whole minute. Call Set up fees can vary considerably between vendors; the financial impact depends on the call usage pattern of your business. You may find some vendors particularly BT round up the individual call costs to the next pence amount. If your business makes a lot of short outgoing calls the impact of call set up fees and cost rounding can be significant.

Despite all the considerations mentioned above you will almost inevitably save a lot of money on telecoms costs by moving to VOIP. You also gain considerably in business flexibility. However don't ditch your existing phone system until you've used the VOIP for a while and be sure to retain at least one incoming number on a traditional land line.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Save money on your phone system.

There have been many advances in Cloud Computing. Now any organisation who has dispersed employees or groups of employees with access to the Internet can provide them with the facilities of a PABX telephone system at a very low set up cost. The use of a hosted Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) telephone system can provide the facilities previously only available to larger enterprises.

  • Members/employees can be allocated internal phone extension numbers regardless of where they are in the world;
  • The organisation can gain access to low cost telephone tariffs, a fraction of the main public telephone companies with no noticeable loss in quality. Itemised call billing costs are traceable back to individual users. You will save money!
  • Expensive destinations can be blocked;
  • Members can be assigned to one or more incoming phone lines or share lines.
  • Calls can follow people from their office to their mobile phone or home lines.
  • Call recording, voice mail, SMS messaging and Fax can be quickly added;
  • Receptionist, conferencing, call transfer and call rollover are part of the package;
  • No real technical skills are required to operate the system. The hosting company takes care of the technicalities;
  • You can set up a new desk/role/location with a working phone facility in a couple of minutes or tear it down equally quickly. It is a matter of opening the box containing the phone handset, plug it in and you are ready to go in a few minutes.

You might save a substantial sum: 

  1. The BT standard land line call cost (ex VAT) in the UK, outside of a prepaid plan, is £0.17 per minute and a £0.19 call set up charge.  SIPGate charge just £0.01 per minute and no set up charge.  
  2. A 10 minute call to South Africa would cost £18.50 with BT business land line, the same call via SIPGate would be £0.59
  3. On VOIP systems calls between phone extensions are free, regardless of the geographic location of the participants.

Here are some systems you might like to consider:

We will post some more information on this blog over the next few days.We've set one up recently. 

Edit: 27th July 2015 The day after creating the posting, I received an email from BT announcing a price increase in September 2015. For residential services the price increase is 7% on average, which is way above the annual rate of inflation. Here's a link to a copy of partial details.