net neutrality voip

The Smoking Rooms of Net Neutrality welcomes VoIP Week contributor Dan Winfield, Co-Founder and CEO of Voxhub and 2014 ITSPA Council member.

Net neutrality is a hot topic amongst those in the VoIP industry and something all VoIP providers have had to deal with in one form or another, usually looming its head in the land of large network providers and mobile networks. Did you know, though, that there are many places in the UK where you are not free to use your favourite VoIP provider? No joke, as difficult as it is to believe, there are still places in 2014 that judge based on the protocol. And these places are on every block, every city and are allowed to openly discriminate.

Yes, I am talking about serviced offices.

VoIP services are about flexibility, and ironically this is what serviced offices are supposed to offer. So why do I put my head in my hands when I hear that a client is moving to a serviced office? In my experience, Voxhub customers making such a move typically have to leave because they are not allowed to use our service or they cannot do so due to firewall blocking. Also, much stress is generated during such ‘events’ due to customers becoming annoyed with the situation and, in the case of blocking, are often caught between two parties with no service! Of course, at Voxhub we do our best to find a diplomatic solution for any customers wanting to move to a serviced office, but it isn’t a task we like to undertake.

Before going any further I should say that I am fully aware of the financial dynamics of serviced offices, and the fact that they often have to invest in telephony for whole buildings in advance and figure out how to somehow repay this investment.  The grey area in all of this — and where the real problem lies — is that all serviced offices supply ‘Internet’ to their customers. Thus, as ‘VoIP services’ are synonymous with ‘Internet’, such services should not be blocked on the grounds that they compete with the in-house telephony VoIP or otherwise.

So why do I care? Let me quote Bender, that wise robot from the much loved cartoon “Futurama”:

“This is the worst kind of discrimination. The kind against me!”

I’ll explain. I have spent much of the last 6 months looking for office space for our Voxhub team in London, and as such have been forced to enter the underbelly of the office world as a potential customer. We sought our own office, but also investigated the serviced office option. Normally I would cross the road when I see a serviced office for fear of being jeered at, but there is a disturbing new type that dress themselves up as modern, fun and ‘Internet’ savvy. They even have high ceilings, wooden floors, unfinished walls and random furniture in corners of rooms. I was fooled, enough at least to give the concept a chance.

In one case, I was actually quite near to signing up with one of these new breed serviced offices. Naturally, I had asked questions about using our own phones, but I always had a sneaky feeling that they didn’t understand. At the very end of the process, in fact, they asked me how many of their phones I would want, and they even went as far as to increase the quoted rent costs when I said they could keep their phones because I didn’t need them. They tried to concede, but then stupidly said I had to pay an extra charge based on the number of phones in the room. Anyone who has seen our desks knows that this is a dumb thing to say, as during service development or trials we often have upwards of three or four phones on a single desk! Of course, I told them to stuff it.

I decided to make one last set of enquiries for serviced offices to see if my prejudice is correct. Sadly, it only made it clearer in my mind that these businesses need to be slapped into shape when it comes to understanding net neutrality.

  • All advertised Internet but gave no warning that certain services were not allowed.
  • Many very clearly indicated that I could not use VoIP telephones.
  • Some said I could use Skype but not the Voxhub service.
  • Some didn’t know anything but told me I had to direct my question to their telecom provider.

I had a very colourful call with one lady that highlights the problem. She told me that for our service I was allowed to use a software phone like Skype, that I wasn’t allowed to use a hardware VoIP phone, that I was allowed to use a laptop with a headset (and if the headset looked like a phone handset, that was also OK), and that I wasn’t allowed to use a laptop that looked like a phone with my headset from the previous question that looked like a handset.

VoIP Serviced Offices

As you can no doubt imagine, at this point I was trying not to laugh and the woman was probably wishing she hadn’t spoken to me. I snuck in one last question about using a phone that looked like a laptop, but I think by that point she realised something was going on and made an excuse about me needing to speak to someone more technical.

In all seriousness, by the end of the process I felt that not only was VoIP effectively blacklisted, but that my business wasn’t even allowed to trade in a serviced office without using someone else’s phones or paying danger money for being there!

A serviced office, in my opinion, should be considered a service provider and be included as part of any regulatory requirements and / or best practices, especially if they have outsourced their operations to a service provider that in any other environment would not operate this type of practice.

At day’s end, I am extremely glad that we were pushed away from taking a serviced office. Voxhub has now been accepted as a member of TechHub (we love hubs) and we are moving into our new studio space in Old Street today!

VoIP Week Posts:

Dan Winfield

By Dan Winfield

Dan is a founder and CEO of Voxhub, a complete end to end business telephony service designed to replace the 'traditional multi-supplier model of lines, PBX and telecom reseller' with a modern Internet focussed service from a single supplier.

Dan is an Internet veteran starting his working life in 1994 when he co-founded Ovate Ltd, one of the first Internet companies to focus on web application development.

Dan is an active member of the ITSPA council.

3 replies on “The Smoking Rooms of Net Neutrality”

That really is crazy – those stubborn serviced offices are going to feel a bit daft when they realise that they could have spent all this time using a comms solution as to actually add value to their proposition, rather than just ticking the box marked “phone calls”.
Tenants should be able to choose the service and hardware they want – it’s easy enough to do these days, after all.

Hope the move went well 🙂

This is turning into bit of an ipcortex comment-fest, but I do have a little bit of sympathy for serviced office providers who have been blindsided by the move to VoIP. I have a little experience here as we have a sister company: IPNSL who run the IT and telephony at the Bletchley Park site where we have our own offices. We got into this ages ago because looking at other sites, we’d seen how bad some of these services could be and decided we couldn’t abide occupying an office with bad infrastructure.

It’s not the smartest thing I’ve ever done as it is actually quite hard to make a living at when you are covering the capital investment in all of the infrastructure (we flood wire Ethernet around all of the offices and provide tenants with their own VLAN routed out to the Internet via a gigabit bearer and multiple 100Mbit/s transit circuits). Phones are an optional part of the package and customers are free to use external telephone services which some do. We are lucky as we have access to a very cost-effective Multi-tenant phone system :-), but I’m not sure the costs would stack up if we had invested in some behemoth of a phone system and still looking for a payback.

I agree about TechHub, they are brilliant – we use their Campus offices in London a bit – but they are aimed at a specific type of technology business. I guess that Landlords that see the value of investing in infrastructure to make their space more desirable rather than as a revenue tree will ultimately win out.

Hi Rob. I think you did the right thing where you are and I bet the connectivity is much better as a result. Serviced office Internet is often expensive and that should be what you pay the money for and not telephony. As you say though older outfits have legacy infrastructure costs.

Pop by if you are in our area.


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