VOIP gains trucking's interest

Eric Pell, director of information systems for Gainey Transportation Services (GTS), will tell you that the decision to switch from a traditional phone system to one based on computer lines and the Internet came down to a simple, two-word reason: saving money. For the Grand Rapids, MI-based carrier, moving to a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology, which allows the carrier to make telephone

Eric Pell, director of information systems for Gainey Transportation Services (GTS), will tell you that the decision to switch from a traditional phone system to one based on computer lines and the Internet came down to a simple, two-word reason: saving money.

For the Grand Rapids, MI-based carrier, moving to a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology, which allows the carrier to make telephone calls using a its existing data network instead of a regular (or analog) phone line, will result in a savings of about $60,000 per year in phone line, maintenance and long distance fees. That's a big deal in an industry currently beset by high fuel prices and other rising costs, Pell points out.

“We had also gotten to the point where our phone system was really old-12 to 15 years — so we were going to need to replace it anyway,” Pell told Fleet Owner. “We looked at what it would cost to overhaul and upgrade our current phone system versus moving to a new one based on VOIP. When we took into consideration all the additional features we would get, the costs of moving to VOIP made more sense.”

This decision also made sense because the GTS staff is far more familiar with managing computer systems and Internet connections than with managing analog phone lines and connections. “Now that our phones run over Internet connections, it proved far easier for us to get the system up and running and troubleshoot problems,” says Pell. “We went live in February with VOIP in our main terminal and Grand Rapids, and deployed it to our other nine terminals over the following three months,” he adds.

Gainey uses a SuperStack 3 NBX system from 3Com for its VOIP solution, supported by nine NBX V3000 “chassis” or hubs, one at each of Gainey's remote terminals. The NBX V3000 systems provide all the functionality of a larger IP chassis for a fraction of the cost and footprint, making it an ideal, cost/space-saving choice for remote offices, 3Com Pell explains.

According to the Federal Communications Systems (FCC), the appeal of VOIP is that if you have a broadband Internet connection, you need not maintain and pay the additional cost for a line just to make telephone calls. With many VOIP plans you can talk for as long as you want with any person in the world-providing the other party has an Internet connection — at a much lower cost.

Rocking T Inc., a TX-based trucking company with offices in several states, is also using VOIP to cut long distance phone charges because most of its locations have broadband Internet access. The carrier is using a Quadro4x VOIP system developed by Dallas-based Epygi Technologies. In addition to saving Rocking T up to 75% on hardware, maintenance and long distance charges, it offers voicemail and networking features usually available only to larger companies.

The Quadro acts as a gateway by bridging traditional PSTN network calls onto the Internet, using a relay capability to allow the Quadro to act as a long distance bridge between any phones, says Raymond Brady, Rocking T's manger of IT. The freedom to call a co-worker without concern for distance or expense enables greater communication within a business is a major plus, he notes.

“Our installation went very smoothly,” Brady says. “I had the first box up and going and made a test VOIP call in about an hour. I have configured such connections before and I was very pleased with how easy the process was.”

For Gainey Transportation, VOIP allows customers to dial any of its offices to reach any employee from coast to coast. Another great feature, says Pell, is that employees within the company can use four-digit dialing to contact each other quickly and forward calls between sites simply, without incurring long distance charges. Additionally, employees in remote offices like Atlanta and Lexington now have voicemail capabilities.

“We also have more capabilities, such as intelligent routing, which is especially valuable for our driver managers,” Pell adds. “We now set these managers up in groups so if one is busy, a driver gets automatically switched to another manager in that pool for faster response.”

According to the FCC, the fact that VOIP is digital it means that it may offer features and services that are not available with a traditional phone. However, there are some disadvantages as well. For example, some VOIP services don't work during power outages and the service provider may not offer backup power. In addition, not all VOIP services connect directly to emergency services through 9-1-1, and VOIP providers may not always offer directory assistance/white page listings, the agency notes.

In any case, the FCC has strongly backed VOIP. In fact, the agency has exempted VOIP from state regulation and taxes. Last November, the FCC ruled that the services of Edison, NJ-based Internet phone provider Vonage should be considered interstate in nature. That decision insulated the company from regulation by individual states, meaning that it does not have to pay the same level of state taxes as tradition telephone companies.

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