Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Is Long Distance Service Dead or Alive?

The last couple of decades have seen fierce competition among telecom companies that want be the long distance telephone service provider for consumers and businesses. Have you noticed lately that you don't hear much about competitive long distance rates? Why is that?

Long distance phone service doesn't generate the buzz it once did. Now all the talk is about VoIP, bundled plans and cell phones. You might think that long distance carriers have dried up and blown away. Not so. Competitive long distance service is alive and well, if no longer in the spotlight. Would you be surprised to know that it might still be your lowest cost calling option?

Despite what you see advertised, one size phone service does not fit all situations. Oh, you can make just about any arrangement work as long as you have the ability to place local phone calls and long distance phone calls when you wish. But what is cost advantageous for one user can amount to paying too much for another. Here are some options and ideas on how to pick the right one for your business.

VoIP is indeed the hot new thing. The cost savings is believed to come from bypassing the long distance carrier, and preferably the local phone company as well. You do this by keeping your phone traffic within your own network or by using the Internet. Of course, you pay for any calls to phones on the public switched telephone network. You also need to factor in the cost of new VoIP phones, IP based PBX equipment or hosted PBX service, and expanded network bandwidth to accommodate both voice and data traffic. Enterprise level VoIP may or may not save you money, depending on the cost to convert and how much of your traffic goes outside anyway.

Since the incumbent and competitive local phone companies have been allowed to offer long distance service, the "bundled" packages of local and long distance minutes have become all the rage. Packaged arrangements offer the advantage of getting one bill a month instead of two. Low volume users will have a fixed price bill each month, regardless of variations in usage. Single line VoIP services may also offer a bundled plan of minutes per month intended for the residential and small business market. Bundled plans make sense if your combined local and long distance bill is higher than the bundled package price.

Some people avoid all wireline costs by cutting the wire and going completely cellular. This avant-garde approach might work for you if you are an independent professional or run a one-person sales office. It can be your best choice if you pair it with an inbound toll free service that lets your customers ring through to your cell phone or voice mail. This way you'll stay in touch with your clients no matter where you are.

Yes, alternative long distance providers are still around and offering lower per minute prices than ever before. There are several flavors of this service that you should be aware of.

The long distance service you are most familiar with is called one-plus or 1+. The provider you select notifies your local phone company that they are now providing your long distance service. It's called 1+ because you dial 1 plus the area code plus the seven digit phone number to reach your party.

If you are happy with your current local and long distance providers or have a bundled arrangement including broadband that can't be split up, you might still save on your long distance calls with a service known as "dialaround." What you do is dial a special toll free number, enter your access code, and then call the long distance number you want. You can generally program buttons on your phone to dial the access number and code so it's almost as convenient as 1+. In essence you are "dialing around" your current provider. Dialarounds generally offer very low per minute rates to particular destinations, especially overseas, that make them worth using for calls to those locations.

A mobile version of the dialaround is the billable calling card. Minutes are billed to your credit card so you are in no danger of running out like you might with a pre-paid card. Like the dialaround service, you call a toll free number from wherever you are and then enter a PIN code. You then dial the number you want. Billable calling cards are particularly good for domestic and overseas business travel where you might otherwise get dinged with very high hotel long distance rates.

The very lowest long distance rates you'll find are offered to volume business users with digital lines. If you have a medium or large company PBX system that uses T1 line service, you can get per minute rates that will make your eyes bug out. But, you have to use thousands of minutes a month to get these attractive rates. If you are running a call center or have a staff that spends a lot of time on the phone with customers or vendors, you may easily qualify for these special rates. Long distance T1 line service can be competitive with enterprise level VoIP because you keep the phone system you have now, including your TDM based PBX. If your system currently is connected via analog phone lines, you may have to add a digital interface card to your PBX to get the advantages of T1 based services.

Here are some low cost long distance calling options that you should compare with your current services. offers a selection of 1+ long distance providers and bundled local and long distance service packages, including broadband phone options. If you don't want to switch providers or can't due to bundling or contractual arrangements, you can still get the benefits of dialaround long distance services and pre-paid or billable calling cards.

Going completely wireless? Get the best prices on cell phones and cellular phone service here. Get an inbound toll free number so your customers can call your cell phone toll free.

Companies with PBX phone systems using T1 or PRI digital line service should get a competitive quote on T1 long distance voice service.

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