Telco Ltd. Blog

Dealing with dialtone service outages

Today, we had a number of customers who contacted us because they were unable to make or receive any calls.  This was due to a significant localized dialtone outage (the dialtone provider shall remain nameless in this post, as I would consider their service good in general and I have no desire to draw negative attention to them).  Even though our own business was affected by the service outage, we were able to remain operational.  I’ll let you know how in a bit.

Unfortunately, anyone can be affected by dialtone outages, even companies like ours that sell telephone systems, since everyone is at the mercy of the dialtone provider to provide service.  I thought I would post a couple of tips on minimizing your risk of having dialtone issues, signs that you may be having dialtone trouble (as opposed to phone equipment trouble), and how to recover as well as you can if you ever do find yourself in the middle of an outage.

First, let’s talk minimizing risk.  The best way to do this is to have redundant dialtone.  The fact that nearly all businesses have multiple lines is a good start.  Many small businesses have analog phone lines, also known as 1FB lines or POTS lines (POTS stands for “Plain Old Telephone Service”; I’ll post on the different types of dialtone soon in a separate post)  With this type of service, it used to be that if you had a service issue, it would usually be only a line or two that was down, often not your main line, and you could hobble by until the dialtone provider was able to find and fix the issue.

These days, many analog lines are delivered digitally to the premises, even if broken down into an analog signal at the customer premises, and one of the nasty effects of having a digital line go down is that they ALL will go down simultaneously.  For this reason, it might not be a bad idea to have a line or two with a separate dialtone provider.  Be careful, though: many dialtone providers in the Phoenix area do not have their own equipment, but instead resell the service of another provider; thus, even if you get lines from two different providers, they might all still be provided by the same company and may still all go down in the event of a service interruption.  If you go this route, make sure that each dialtone provider has their own Central Office and equipment serving your address.

More and more companies are opting these days to feed digital lines directly into their phone systems to give their business certain feature advantages (again, this will be discussed in more detail in a separate post).  One option available to companies that have digital lines such as a standard T1 or a PRI-ISDN circuit is to also get a separate analog line for their main phone number.  This is what we have done in our office.  Thanks to a feature from our dialtone provider called Variable Call Forward, we are able to call forward the analog line to our PRI circuit.  If the PRI circuit ever goes down (and it has), we can turn off the call forwarding on our main line without having to go through our dialtone provider, and calls will begin ringing in instantly on the analog line.  We have a second analog line that calls can roll to if the first line is busy.

Some dialtone providers have automatic failover features, such as automatically detecting when a call cannot go through and re-routing the call to a different phone number of your choosing.  This seems to be more common with the VOIP-based dialtone services, but some of the traditional dialtone providers do as well.  If your provider offers this, you’ll want to set this up in advance, before you are experiencing trouble.

How can you tell whether the trouble you’re having is dialtone-related or related to the phone equipment on-site?  Generally, if your phones appear normal otherwise (i.e. the displays on the office phones are still working, and you can intercom from one phone to another within the office), you have a dialtone issue and should call your dialtone provider; you can ask them to temporarily forward your main number to another outside number while they work on the trouble.  If some phones in your office can access a specific outside line, but other phones cannot, you’ll want to give us a call (if you’re an existing customer of ours, of course).  Aside from this, it should be noted that most often, if you are unable to make a phone call to an outside number or receive a phone call from an outside number, it’s a dialtone provider issue.  Why?  With miles of cable between your premises and the Central Office, multiple splices in the cable, aging cable, multiple pieces of equipment at the Central Office, and the fact that a given call will usually travel through multiple Central offices, it’s more complex on their end, and more things can go wrong.  Having indicated that, if you’re a customer of ours, having trouble, and aren’t sure who to turn to, we’d be happy for you to call us and we can get you pointed in the right direction.

Even with our redundant dialtone setup here at Telco, we found ourselves in a rare quandary today when neither our primary nor backup dialtone was working.  In this case, ESI Cellular Management came to the rescue!  ESI Cellular Management is another tool available exclusively to owners of any ESI Communications Server phone system.  In our case, we had our dialtone provider forward our main line to one of our cell phones, and thanks to the ESI Cellular Management technology, we were able to have those calls ring on several of our ESI desk phones, and answer them, transfer the call from one phone to another, transfer to any individual’s voicemail, and more!  If you haven’t yet read about ESI Cellular Management, you can check out my previous post on ESI Cellular Management here.  It’s just another way that ESI and Telco set themselves apart from the crowd.

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