Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The 3 Types of VoIP Lines for Business

By: John Shepler

Businesses large and small have been migrating to VoIP telephone technology for years now. Some are delighted with the move and have never look back. Others feel like they’ve lost something in the way of performance. The calls are often muddled and it’s hard to carry on a two way conversation. Would you believe that its the exact same technology involved? Why is it that VoIP telephony can range from excellent to unacceptable? Let’s take a look.

Check out the range of VoIP options for your business.What’s VoIP
VoIP or Voice over Internet Protocol is a means to convert telephones into computer peripherals. The reason to do that is both to save money and enable applications that just won’t work on the old style telephone network. Network voice is a powerful tool, but can more easily be degraded that simpler analog phones.

Old School Phone Systems
Business phone lines are sometimes called POTS for Plain Old Telephone Service. They consist of twisted copper pair wires that run directly from the phone set all the way to the telephone company. Each phone has its own set of wires. Once you get more than a few phones, however, you face a mounting phone bill since the telco charges you to make internal as well as external calls.

Companies get around this by installing their own phone switches. Small systems use Key Telephone Systems where multiple outside lines are available on each phone but you can also call within the building on your own wiring. Larger companies install PBX (Private Branch Exchange) switches that manage a pool of outside lines that can be assigned to any phone as needed.

If you only have a couple of phones, each with their own line, the phone company takes care of all the switching for you. With many phones, you become your own little phone company for inside calls. That means you have to take care of all the special phone wiring and the Key or PBX switching equipment. Plus, you have to pay for multiple outside analog lines or a digital PRI trunk to get to the public telephone system.

How VoIP is Different
With VoIP, each phone plugs into your company LAN. That gets rid of the second special phone network. You still need something to switch the calls between phones. This can be a VoIP PBX or IP PBX that you have in-house. It can also be a much larger hosted PBX system from a hosted VoIP service provider. Hosted means that a specialized company “hosts” or run the system. You are one of many clients that they host. It’s pretty much like buying web hosting. You simply pay by the month for service instead of having to install and maintain your own equipment.

VoIP Phone Line Needs
All VoIP phones connect to a local network. This can be a small home office network that has only a computer, WiFi router, VoIP phone adaptor (for a regular phone) and broadband modem. Or, it can be an extensive corporate LAN that is bridged into multiple business locations nationwide and even overseas. The principles and the requirements for high quality performance are the same.

Since the network is shared with many phones and other computing devices, it take some doing to make sure that you get high performance. With dedicated analog lines, that’s the phone company’s problem. With VoIP, it’s now your IT problem.

What’s needed is plenty of bandwidth to accommodate all the phones and other devices. But that’s not enough. You need to give the voice packets priority over data because phone calls will start sounding muddled and choppy long before you notice that the file is loading slower. The network also needs low latency, packet loss and jitter to be transparent to the packets carrying the VoIP digitized phone conversations.

3 Types of VoIP Phone Lines
All analog phone lines are alike. All ISDN PRI trunks are alike. VoIP phone lines can be quite different. They range from Internet VoIP to SIP Trunks to MPLS private networks.

Using the Internet as Your Phone LIne
The low end of the market, which keeps costs low for home offices and small businesses, uses a broadband Internet service to connect to the VoIP service provider. You can share your broadband connection with a couple of computers, a WiFi router, and a few VoIP phones. You’ll need a router that creates CoS (Class of Service) to prioritize the phones or the computers will interfere with your calls. Sometimes the service provider will give you an adaptor that does this.

The advantage of using the Internet as a phone line is that it’s cheap. You probably already have broadband for your computer. The lure is to save money by “eliminating the separate phone line.” The downside is that the Internet was never designed for telephony. It was intended to reliably transport data files. There is no prioritization of voice on the Internet and most access lines, like DSL, Cable, Satellite and Cellular, are shared broadband. It’s a cost vs performance tradeoff. You may find that some calls sound perfect but others break up or sound muddled. It all depends on what else is happening on the Internet while you are making your call.

One way to improve Internet VoIP is to use a dedicated Internet access (DIA) like T1 or Ethernet over Copper. This keeps your neighbors from disrupting your calls while they download large video and software programs, but you are still subject to network congestion on the Internet itself.

Private Line VoIP Service
Companies that depend on high quality phone service for customer support and employee productivity usually sidestep the Internet in favor of something more predictable. The outside line that compares most closely to the legacy analog and PRI lines is the SIP Trunk. This is a digital broadband line, but it is a private line that is not shared with others. It’s called a SIP trunk because it supports SIP or Session Initiation Protocol, the switching system for VoIP calls.

A simple SIP trunk is a T1 line that runs from your network to your service provider. It supports up to a couple dozen simultaneous phone conversations or a combination of phone calls and Internet. The Internet service has a lower priority than the phone calls and uses whatever bandwidth isn’t needed for the phones at any given time. Smaller companies that don’t have dozens of phones find this is a great cost saver compared to maintaining separate phone and broadband lines.

Larger SIP trunks are also available for bigger companies or call centers. Both copper and fiber optic bandwidth is available to support as many calls as you need.

Voice over MPLS Networks
Major corporations generally have many business sites located around the country and even in other countries. They still want any employee to easily call any other employee without paying long distance toll charges. They also need to make outside calls to anyone with a phone.

A sophisticated solution is called VoMPLS or Voice over MPLS networks. MPLS is a private network arrangement with a regional, national or international service footprint. The network operator ensures that each paying customer has the necessary Class of Service, bandwidth and low latency, packet loss and jitter that they need for high performance.

VoMPLS works a lot like VoIP using SIP Trunks. The difference is that instead of having to run dedicated private lines among all your locations, you simply need an access line from each location to the MPLS network. This can give you a major cost savings, especially on those long international connections, while maintaining high network performance.

Are you in search of a better telephone solution, to reduce costs, increase available features or both? If so, there are VoIP telephone solutions you should take a close look at.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Benefits of Migrating From T1 to Fiber

By: John Shepler

If you’ve been using T1 lines for years, maybe decades, you know how solid and reliable they are. Your natural inclination is to stick with what’s working. After all, why mess with success? You should know that there are really good reasons to do just that.

Moving up in bandwidth beyond T1 linesWhat’s So Great About T1 Lines?
The appeal of T1 lies in its design and technical maturity. T-Carrier technology, which includes T1, E1 and T3 (DS3) line services, was developed in the mid-twentieth century for long distance telephone trunking to replace noisy analog carriers. Being digital, it was easy to expand the role of T1 lines to carrying packets as well as PCM audio telephone calls.

T1 Service Characteristics
T1 lines come into your building on one or two twisted copper pair using the same wires that carry multi-line telephone. This means that you can get T1 just about anywhere you can get regular POTS phone service. The service is symmetrical, meaning that upload and download speed are the same. There are no usage limits. Whatever you can load on the line during the month, you can transport. This is a dedicated private line, meaning you are the only user and security is high. So, with all that going for T1, why would you want to make a change?

Time Marches On
The 1.5 Mbps bandwidth of T1 was more than enough for business users… once upon a time. Today, 1.5 Mbps is still enough for credit card verification, email, casual Web browsing, and backup for small computer systems. It’s not a bad choice for small retail operations and offices, especially in rural ares where other bandwidth services are hard to come by.

Most users are used to higher bandwidths now, even on their smartphones. They expect faster response and really need it to efficiently do their jobs. That’s OK. You can get higher bandwidth from T1 lines. It’s done by bonding two or more together to make one large pipe. The size of that bandwidth pipe ranges from 3 Mbps on up to about 10 or 12 Mbps. If you need more than that, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

How About T3/DS3?
A faster version of T1 is T3, also known as DS3. The terms T3 and DS3 generally mean the same thing, although, strictly speaking, T3 refers to the physical line and DS3 is the organization of the data.

T3/DS3 isn’t just a little faster than T1, it’s a lot faster at 45 Mbps. This is more than enough for most small operations and many medium size companies. That makes T3/DS3 the logical upgrade from T1, right?

Yes and no. T3/DS3 is, indeed, a popular line service. It’s available in many business locations, but not nearly as many as T1. That’s because T3 doesn’t use twisted copper pair wiring. It’s provisioned on a pair of coaxial cables. That’s only for the last few hundred feet at most. T3/DS3 is transported primarily by fiber optics. If the fiber passes near your location, you may be able to get T3/DS3. If not, you’ll need to stick with copper.

The Ethernet over Copper Option
A newer technology than T1 is called EoC or Ethernet over Copper. This never was a a telephone company product. It’s an extension of the LAN Ethernet protocol for metro connections. Whatever goes on your LAN can be carried by EoC.

The big advantage of Ethernet over Copper is that it uses the same twisted copper pair as T1 lines. A more advanced modulation scheme allows EoC to offer speeds ranging from 3 Mbps on up to 50 Mbps, sometimes higher. The tradeoff is that the farther you are from the provider office, the less bandwidth is available. EoC is quite popular in the 10 and 20 Mbps bandwidths.

Moving Up to Fiber
Carrier Ethernet is available over fiber as well as copper. This is called EoF or Ethernet over Fiber. Once you move up to fiber, the bandwidth limitations disappear. Fiber optic service typically starts at 10 Mbps, with 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps as popular service levels. Some companies and now requiring 10 Gbps EoC, which is more and more available.

You may already know that fiber optic service comes in two protocols: SONET and Ethernet over Fiber. SONET is an older service that is the fiber optic extension of T-Carrier. DS/T3 is generally transported to the curb over a SONET service.

Choosing Ethernet vs SONET
SONET fiber services typically range from OC3 at 155 Mbps on up to OC-192 at 10 Gbps, although higher bandwidths are available. The increments are 155 Mbps, 622 Mbps, 1.2 Gbps, 2.4 Gbps and 10 Gbps.

Carrier Ethernet works differently. There aren’t large increments in bandwidth. You can pretty much specify the bandwidth you want in the 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps range. Popular service levels are 10 Mbps, 100 Mbps and 1 Gbps. You’ll recognize these as standard Ethernet LAN speeds.

Ethernet over Fiber is not only much more scalable than SONET, it is generally less expensive. The cost difference can be dramatic in some locations. You may pay half or less for EoF as you would for SONET. You’ll still get highly reliable professional grade service with low latency, jitter and packet loss.

Are you feeling stymied by the limitations of your old T1 lines? Now may be the perfect time to migrate your connectivity to Ethernet over Fiber at a lower cost than you might expect. You’ll also be laying the groundwork for future expansion, with higher bandwidth levels quickly available as you need them.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Friday, September 05, 2014

Acquiring Studio Quality ISDN BRI Audio Lines

By: John Shepler

ISDN BRI has been the gold standard for audio connections between studios, film production companies, and radio station broadcast locations. One problem is that ISDN BRI service has been getting more expensive and harder to find as of late. In some areas, the old faithful telephone companies have simply refused to provision new ISDN BRI lines. Does that mean you are out of luck for your voice over work or remote broadcasts? Not anymore.

Find ISDN BRI service now.New BRI Service, Not Telco
What’s new is the arrival of a nationwide ISDN BRI line service provided by a company in the audio production business, not the telephone companies. Truth be told, ISDN BRI isn’t a very important service for telcos. It has very specialized uses. Phone companies would really like to phase it out so they can concentrate on higher volume products. In some areas, they are already not accepting orders for moves, adds or changes.

Alternative Approaches
So where does that leave people who’s livelihood depends on high quality audio service connections? One approach is to record the program material and then transport it as you would any other file using the Internet. That’s preserves the quality but is hardly real-time. Another approach is to go with the flow and move to IP network services. These include private lines and the Internet. Private lines give you the quality and immediacy you need, but only go between designated locations. The Internet can be found everywhere, but performance for real-time audio can leave a lot to be desired.

ISDN BRI Still Best
The best option is to stick with a winner, ISDN BRI, but get the service from a nationwide provider, not the local phone company. Source Elements, a major player in the professional audio field, is now offering ISDN BRI service as a complement to their IP Audio and other services.

ISDN BRI is so desirable because it provides an industry accepted method of connecting live audio at high quality between any two facilities that are set up for the service. It’s a dial-up service that works something like your POTS phone line. You dial the ISDN number of the location you want to connect with. Terminal equipment at each end make the connection and you have an FM broadcast quality link for the duration of the call.

BRI For Voice Acting
A very popular use for iSDN BRI is in the voice acting or voiceover business. Professional announcers and actors can voice their lines without having to be present in the recording studio. This includes ADR or “looping” for film recording. What’s required is an ISDN BRI connection at each end along with a CODEC (CODer/DECoder) to handle to analog to digital to analog conversions. Standard microphones and control boards can generate the audio feed to the CODEC.

How It Works
You might think of ISDN BRI as a really high quality phone line. In fact, it is. ISDN stands for Integrated Services Data Network. It uses the switched circuit architecture of the public telephone system and standard twisted pair telephone wiring. Each ISDN line has a telephone number that can be called by any other ISDN line.

What’s different is the signal being transported. Instead of analog currents, ISDN is a digital format. There are two versions: BRI and PRI. BRI stands for Basic Rate Interface. It consists of 2 “B” or bearer channels and one “D” or delta channel. The bearer channels carry the digital audio. The D channel is used for system signaling. The bearer channels can be used separately at 64 Kbps each or bonded together for a 128 Kbps channel. Two bonded channels plus compression such as AAC or MP3 delivers studio quality microphone vocals.

Bidirectional and Low Latency
It should be noted that ISDN circuits are bi-directional. That’s a big selling point for audio work. A voice actor can be delivering lines through a microphone and receiving direction from the studio through headphones without the disturbing latency or time delay that plagues Internet services. ISDN is not a shared bandwidth service, so there is no such thing as network congestion causing dropouts in the signal.

You might recognize ISDNs larger service, PRI or Primary Rate Interface, as the telephone trunking standard used by many PBX business telephone systems. It is organized the same as BRI, but has 23 B channels and one D channel to support 23 simultaneous telephone calls. PRI is likely to be around for many years to come, although it is being challenged by SIP Trunks as a telephone transport technology.

How to Acquire New ISDN BRI Service
Do you have an audio application such as having a voiceover or voice acting business, a radio station with need for high quality remote broadcasts or studio to transmitter link, or a production studio that needs to connect with talent and other studios? If so, ISDN BRI may still be your connection of choice. Get a quote on competitive ISDN BRI service for your particular location now.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Is a Virtual Leased Line Right For Your Applications?

By: John Shepler

Leased lines have been popular with businesses since they were made available from the telephone companies decades ago. But how about a virtual leased line? Could you make good use of this technology?

Virtual Leased Lines can connect your business locations with high performance at reasonable cost.Before we get into virtual leased lines, let’s take a quick review of what leased lines are and how they work.

Leased Lines vs Shared Bandwidth
A leased line is a telecommunications line that you lease for a particular time period. This is typically 1 to 3 years. During that time, you have exclusive use of the line for your applications.

Contrast that with shared bandwidth, the norm on the Internet. You don’t lease the Internet, you may lease access to the Internet. Once you are on the Internet, your traffic gets in line with everyone else’s and traverses the various networks that get your packets from source to destination.

Last Mile Often Determines Performance
Actually, the core of the Internet works pretty well most of the time. The congestion and latency you may experience is generally caused by the access or last mile connection. Shared bandwidth services such as cellular broadband, satellite, DSL or cable broadband are shared “best effort” services. You get what you get at any particular time because your performance is determined by how much of the bandwidth pool is being used by other customers.

How Can You Improve This Situation?
With a leased line, of course. This is called DIA or Dedicated Internet Access. Typical leased lines include T1 (1.5 Mbps), Ethernet over Copper ( 10 to 50 Mbps), DS3 (45 Mbps), OCx (155 Mbps and up) and Ethernet over Fiber (10 Mbps to 10 Gbps and more).

Why choose this hybrid approach of dedicated access and public shared Internet? It’s to improve the performance of your Internet connection end to end. You need the Internet to connect with customers and vendors and gain access to the wealth of content that is the World Wide Web. DIA gives you the best shot at excellent performance for business.

Dedicated lines are for much more than simply connecting to the Internet. They were in heavy use before there even was an Internet. Radio stations employed specially equalized analog lines to get their signals from studio to transmitter. Fire alarm systems use low bandwidth dedicated lines to send alerts to monitoring stations.

Rise of the T1 Line
Computerization of business made the T1 line popular. This is a dedicated private leased line that offers 1.5 Mbps of bandwidth. It’s still used to interconnect retail franchises to headquarters and for connectivity in rural locations where other services aren’t available. T1 has been the standard way to connect cell phone towers to central offices, but that is giving way to fiber optical lines that support 4G and beyond. If 1.5 Mbps isn’t enough for your needs, you can bond T1 lines to get up to 10 or 12 Mbps. A specialized version of T1, called ISDN PRI, provides telephone line trunking for PBX telephone systems.

What T1 and other leased lines offer beyond dedicated use of the line capacity is low latency, jitter and packet loss, along with the security of knowing that you are the only one with access. This is especially valuable for banks and other financial institutions where maximizing security is a very high priority.

Low latency is an important characteristic in preserving the quality of voice communications and teleconferencing. It’s also key to getting the fastest response from cloud based services.

Addressing the Cost Issue
The one drawback of leased lines is that they get expensive over long distances. Every leg in the path requires dedicating or “nailing up” a hardwired circuit (or fiber channel) almost indefinitely. Is there any other suitable option?

Yes. It’s called the virtual leased line (VLL). “Virtual” may sound a bit like “Internet,” but this is something different. Virtual does mean that you share a connectivity resource. In this case, that resource is a privately run MPLS (Multi Protocol Label Switching) network.

MPLS is the answer to cost effective private bandwidth service for nationwide and International connection. Few companies can afford true dedicated private circuits on transatlantic cable or even to multiple locations in the US. MPLS providers create their own core fiber optic networks with huge service footprints. This gives you the connectivity you need to the locations you want to interconnect. The core of the network runs at 10, 40 or 100 Gbps, so you’ll have all the bandwidth you need now and for growth, without having to commit to line capacity you can’t load up at the moment.

How MPLS Works
MPLS is a specialized technology that uses proprietary label switching to set up communications paths. These paths support IP traffic, but the network is not based on IP. That’s a security benefit. More security is derived from MPLS being a “private” network with no access by the general public. If you still want more security, you have the option to encrypt your traffic. The MPLS network will transport it.

The MPLS network operator sets up your virtual leased line from point to point, as you specify. You have a committed information rate (CIR) that defines the bandwidth you are guaranteed. A bonus is that some MPLS carriers allow you to burst above that rate for show intervals, something a hardwired circuit can’t do. MPLS service level agreements also specify the latency, jitter and packet loss you can expect. These are similar to what you’d get with other leased line options.

Related Services
You may hear VLL also described as Virtual Private Wire Service (VPWS) or EoMPLS (Ethernet over MPLS). A related service is Virtual Private LAN Service (VPLS) that is a many to many meshed network. It gives you the option of creating a LAN that interconnects all of your business locations over a large MPLS network.

Does this technology sound like what you need right now for your applications? Get more information and latest pricing on dedicated leased private lines and virtual leased line options now.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When Broadband is Hard to Find

By: John Shepler

If your business is located downtown in a major metro area, the idea of network and telecom services being hard to find seems a little odd. You probably have at least a couple of competitive providers vying for your business, as well as the local telephone company. Your challenge is to find the best deal on connectivity, trunk lines and cloud services. There are likely options available that you don’t even know about.

Some places are a bit scarce on connectivity...If you are located in a rural area or working from a home office, this wealth of opportunity may be missing. You may feel that nothing is available or you are stuck with a single option that’s a real stretch for your budget. Actually, there may be more bandwidth options available than you think.

T1 Lines are Readily Available
Businesses with their own commercial addresses have it the easiest. They can almost always get at least some traditional telecommunications services. These include POTS phone service and T1 lines. Both use the same twisted pair copper cables that connect nearly every building.

T1 started out as a telephone trunking service, but has been used for dedicated private lines and Internet access for decades. Each T1 line provides 1.5 Mbps in both the upload and download directions. Today that’s pretty low-end broadband, but it’s more than sufficient for credit card verification, email and simple Web access. You can also run backups to the cloud and connect with headquarters.

Boosting T1 Bandwidth
Not enough bandwidth? T1 lines can be bonded together to create a larger data pipe. Two bonded lines gives you 3 Mbps, 4 lines offer 6 Mbps and so on up to 10 or 12 Mbps. Bonded T1 is highly reliable and readily available. You might find it a bit pricey because there is no economy of scale. Two lines cost 2x one line. Even so, out in the boonies T1 and bonded T1 is likely well worth the cost. That cost has dropped precipitously in the last few years, by the way. If you haven’t taken a look at T1 lately you may be surprised by the value. Even so, expect to spend a couple hundred dollars a month or more for T1 service.

Broadband From Space
Another service almost universally available is two-way satellite or VSAT. Many small retail locations use satellite for their transaction processing and connectivity to HQ. Satellite bandwidth has been similar to T1 at a somewhat lower cost. More advanced satellites now offer bandwidths of 10 Mbps or more for a higher price. The thing to know about satellites is that they can connect anywhere in the country with a clear view of the southern sky. You can even power the equipment “off the grid.” Limitations are that bandwidth is shared and you are generally limited in the amount of data you can upload or download each month. Latency is also high, making the service hard to use for VoIP telephony. Compare that with dedicated line services that offer low latency and have no usage limits.

Broadband From Cell Towers
If your needs are modest, you may get by with 3G or 4G fixed wireless. This is a fancier “all office” version of a smartphone hotspot. If you can get smartphone broadband at your location, this service should work for your office or store. Just know that usage is limited and sometimes involves overage charges. It’s great for transaction processing and simple Internet usage, but not for heavy video usage and software downloads.

What’s Available for the Home Office?
SOHO (Small Office Home Office) users generally choose DSL or Cable broadband because of the low cost with decent performance. It’s not uncommon to get all the speed you need for $50 or so. You won’t find anything like those prices with T1 or bonded T1 lines. That’s because the bandwidth is shared among many customers and is a “best effort” rather than guaranteed availability service.

I often get inquiries from home office users who can’t get or don’t “like” their cable or DSL choices, but are shocked at the cost of more reliable and higher performing business telecom services. Are there any other options available?

You, too, can get two-way satellite service. You may be quite happy with it or be frustrated by the latency (time delay hesitation), usage limits, and interruptions during bad weather. It depends on what you are doing.

Fixed Wireless for SOHO Use
How about fixed wireless? If you can get good cellular service, you might consider something like a “Mi-Fi” hotspot that creates a WiFi hotspot using bandwidth on your 3G or 4G LTE cellular plan. This lets you use your desktop and laptop computers, tablets and other Internet devices on the same Internet access available from your smartphone. Once again, this is “light duty” service that is great for limited or emergency usage, but not for consistently heavy traffic.

Other Wireless Options
Another option that’s available in some areas but not others is non-cellular fixed wireless. These are WISPs or Wireless Internet Service Providers. Generally, these companies install a small dish or antenna on your home or office building and give you a wired connection for your router. You’ll need to look for these locally, as they are typically local enterprises not connected with nationwide providers. You also need to be within line of sight from their tower or towers and not too far away.

Call for Fiber… Maybe
How about fiber optic service? Verizon, Google and other companies have been building out fiber systems in select locations around the country. If you are lucky enough to be within one of these service footprints, you can get a lot of bandwidth for the money with FTTP (Fiber to the Premises).

Finding Home Office Broadband
If you are have a home office, you can try checking for DSL/Cable services or 3G/4G cellular wireless. You can also do an Internet search for satellite broadband from Dish Network, DIRECTV and others. Look locally for non-cellular fixed wireless.

Finding Business Location Bandwidth
If your business has a commercial location, then the Telarus GeoQuote search on is for you. This service gives you instant pricing for T1 lines, DS3 bandwidth, Ethernet over Copper, fiber optic and business grade Cable broadband. A quick inquiry will also get you quotes on VSAT and high capacity fixed wireless services appropriate for your business locations.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

Note: Photo of Monument Valley courtesy of Josep Renalias on Wikimedia Commons.

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