Thursday, April 26, 2012

Panasonic’s NCP: An Easy Migration

Last year I placed the Panasonic NCP 1000 online in our test bed. Timing is pretty crucial when you’re migrating a new office over to a new phone system. Having only been in our new offices a few months and just getting over construction to take on installing a new phone box wasn’t exactly an item at the top of my list. To obtain new advanced features, must we give up old must-have/iron-horse features?

I mapped out a plan to save our not-so-old phones because preserving customers’ assets isn’t something you want to ignore. Because we were using the Panasonic hybrid, I wanted to explore using SIP trunks and wanted an IP solution instead of a hardware-centric solution that our hybrid system offers (Panasonic KX-TDA100). I didn’t want to upgrade our hybrid to an IP box either. Instead, I really wanted to go through the upgrade “process” since we will eventually put some of our customers through it as well. Our cell stations were not compatible with the NCP so I replaced them with the new ones. That was the only twist in our implementation. I shoulder surfed the Hybrid configuration and setup the NCP pretty quickly. Our ACD (KX-NCV200) was reused and it was flawless, no loss of voice mail messages or any issues. In summary, Panasonic delivered an IP product that carries familiarity in the programming and user interface--meaning everything was obvious to anyone using the existing phones. Familiarity is a good thing and another line item of what not to ignore when replacing your telephony system.

We connected our fax machines and some 2500 sets to the NCP, SIP trunks, SIP conference phone, IP phones and good ol’ digital proprietary telephones (DPT). The NCP isn’t a grab-it-off-the-shelf system, and it’s not something you install without thinking because you could end up with lots of issues. I’m referring to the numbers and types of devices that the NCP will support. Panasonic has done a great job in preserving customers’ gear and traditional features. The DPTs and 2500 sets carry a weighted value and the NCP can only support so much “weight.”

Don’t slim down on the DSP board you buy, right-buy the first time otherwise you’ll incur wasted costs and suffer call processing issues. Any Panasonic system (KX-TDA/KX-TDE/NCP) may need the optional echo cancellation card added especially when anything IP/SIP is involved, otherwise you’ll “hear” about it. The echo daughter card resides on the optional OPB3 board. A simple qualifier is if you are using analog lines, POTS or Centrex and the loops measure with anything exceeding .35 milliamps of loop current--then go ahead and add the card, otherwise you are taking a chance. I’ve found this true in other systems and it’s a matter of awareness. Higher loop current raises audio levels due to the distance from the customer site to the Central Office (CO). In so doing, your chances for echo on an IP system increase as loop current increases.

The NCP comes in a nice form factor for the rack, it’s good to look at (does this count?), and it freed up space in our rack over the previous hybrid. For all those old timers that love 66/BIX/110 blocks--you don’t know what you’re missing. This is the one element of IPT that I’ve always respected and that is the housekeeping of an installation. Rack mounted looks better and if the installation doesn’t look good (neat, orderly, clean) then my bets are the site has numerous issues. I want to correct what I previously wrote, the Panasonic KX-NCV200 and KX-TVA boxes do have optional rack mount kits and I got mine – they are pricey but worth the “look” of getting gear off of plywood.

While you need to exercise some caution in how you configure the Panasonic NCP (DSP pool and weighted value of traditional gear), you won’t lose sleep over worrying about quality. One of the simple tricks that I use for testing is to place a call between two systems and to disable the caller-on-hold-reminder timer--otherwise you will get irritated with on hold reminders. Next, place a test call between the two systems and then place the call on hold with music-on-hold enabled. We do the same thing with IP/SIP trunks and we nail calls up for 30 minutes--first to judge the audio quality, second to see if the network (LAN) and carrier (WAN) will sustain the connection. As I’ve mentioned before, we often install systems with Centrex type services from the Telco. The first few months the system remained in our test bed and connected to only SIP trunks and no DPTs, 2500 sets, analog COs or Centrex and used all IP/SIP phones. Only two cards were installed in the chassis--the processor board with daughter board DSPs and the option card with the daughter board echo cancellation, and the rest is licensing and IP telephone sets.

I later removed the digital announcer card and door phone/door opener interface from our hybrid and installed them on the NCP’s OPB3 (option) board. We also installed the Panasonic SIP conference phone KX-NT700 and found that forgetting to press ENTER after dialing the last digit of any call delays them a bit. We also setup the KX-HGT100 SIP phone that really is very basic. The phone lacks a wall or desk stand (flips/reverses) that is a Panasonic tradition--one that they shouldn’t break. I can easily run 64 SIP phones but there is no access to/from voice paging or page groups with SIP extensions. CyberData and VALCOM each manufacture IP/SIP paging solutions. The other oddity is setting up SIP phones using a web interface, and the process isn’t great only because in the same amount of time it took me to setup one SIP phone, I could have programmed 10 more IP phones. The IP phones offer more features than most users will need. Keep in mind that SIP phones are slower to load than traditional digital proprietary sets, and recovering from a disaster still takes time on any box with SIP.

The NCP’s error log of minor and major alarms can also illuminate a button on a phone. This acts as a watchdog especially when you are evaluating services. I mapped the alarm button to my desk phone and have tracked SIP trunk issues. The lesson for newbies heading phone replacement efforts is you don’t screw around with real estate--in the phone world, buttons are “real estate” and if you don’t have enough of them and the right kinds, then you will have user revolt or varying degrees of buyer dissidence. Buttons keep businesses, at least in the SMB world, moving. So the idea of phones without multiple buttons and line appearances, along with systems not supporting traditional features, is a sales tactic used to overcome objections from customers.

Cutting over to the Panasonic IP-PBX meant I lost two older access points because they weren’t compatible. In retrospect, I could have easily yanked the processor card from the KX-TDA100 hybrid and converted it to IP with just one new card. My antique phones still work and some are dial-less while others are rotary dial. I’m happy to report that for this cutover, we didn’t have to give up traditional features like we did back in the early days of IPT. We added IP and SIP where we needed it. We preserved what we had and gained some improvements with the new box. No changes were required for the user experience of going from Panasonic hybrid to Panasonic IP. That’s a quality found in traditional manufacturers and it needs to be an ingrained attribute of any system offering.

Points to Remember:

You don’t have to give up traditional or basic features to get advanced features; Consider if you do, how much user behavior must change and how well will your new system meet user “expectations?”

Strive to preserve assets only when it makes sense

Know the “experience” before you inflict it upon someone else

What you miss on planning you will make up for in troubleshooting

Be patient before moving a test system into production, use time as a resource

Still not convinced about buttons as real estate? Cut your PC keyboards in half—remove half the keys and throw them away. How effective are you now?

Ensure that your DSP pool is adequately sized

Anticipate echo--it’s a chief cause of concern on any system and one problem you don’t want hanging over your head

Get the right options in your system, anticipate them pre-cutover and pre-contract, it’s usually less expensive

Posted by Matt Brunk, Telecomworx | May 11