An Insider’s Guide to Telecom Projects

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Contents

Chapter 1

Your Project

Chapter 2

Your Building

Chapter 3

Internet Services

Chapter 4

LAN Networks

Chapter 5

Phone Services

Chapter 6

WAN Networks

Chapter 7

Securing Your Network

Chapter 8

Avoiding Downtime

Chapter 1: Your Project!

Welcome to your guide for approaching telecom projects. Telecom projects can have a lot of moving parts.  Often projects that seem simple such as, adding a new internet connection or setting up phone services can quickly become overwhelming with the amount of options available. 

Team Designing Telecom Infrastructure

Determine What Type of Project You’re Working On

Let’s start with the easy questions.  What is driving your need for a telecom project? 

The need for a telecom project can almost always be narrowed down to one of the following categories: 

  • New office space.
  • Shopping around existing services.
  •  Adding a new service to an existing location.  
  •  Upgrading existing services.
  •  Office move.

TIP: Identifying which bucket you fall in will help you think about and approach the project.

Chapter 2: Your Building

Telecom services are incredibly building specific.  Even if you know what carriers are in the area they might not be in your building. Creating a list of carriers in your building, the types of networks available, and the estimated time to deliver services can be a useful exercise. This can save you money and headache down the road.

Step 1: Collect General Building Information

  •  Address: (Street Address, City, State, ZIP)
  •  Lease end date (if applicable):
  • Carrier Information for this Building:

Step 2: Collect Carrier Information For Your Building

Collecting the carrier information for your building requires being resourceful.  To figure this out you can:

  • Ask your neighbors
  • Ask the property management company
  • Look in the MPOE of the building
  • Google “Internet providers in (insert your area)”
  • Call up the main telecom providers.

Even if you don’t end up choosing one of the carriers, it’s good to keep your options open and know what other carriers are in the building and what types of services they offer. I recommend filling in a sheet similar to the one pictured here.  

Internet Service Providers Comparison Chart For Building

Chapter 3: Internet Services

At a High Level– Who will be using this internet connection and what are they using it for? Think about the estimated quantities and typical roles of the people utilizing this internet connection.

Desired Bandwidth Range

Determining how much bandwidth is needed for your office is a balancing act of two components,  bandwidth and cost.  As an IT professional, I bet you would love to have huge internet circuits so that all of your applications and users could run seamlessly without any slow down.  At a certain point that becomes cost prohibitive. You’ll need to find the sweet spot between the two.   What is the right amount of bandwidth that will allow the business to operate efficiently without hampering the business financially?  

For a more indepth article on determining bandwidth see: Find The Right Starting Bandwidth For Your Business

IP Address Requirement

Do you need a static IP or are you okay with a dynamic IP?  If you need a static IP,  how many will you need?

Dedicated or Shared Internet Service

Internet Service providers typically offer two types of services, dedicated connections and shared connections.  Shared Internet connections are also referred to as “best effort”, “broadband” or “High Speed Data”. Broadly speaking, shared internet connections are cheaper, they tend to have weaker SLAs behind them, and are not as reliable as their dedicated internet counterparts. 

For more on the difference between the two and how to decide which is best for your project, see: 5 Differences Between Best Effort and Dedicated Internet Services

LAN Networks

Once you figure out who can provide the internet service, specifically what you need, and it is established in your server room, the next challenge will be getting it from the server room to your users.  The two common ways are: magically through the air, aka Wi-Fi or via a hardwired connection.  

Wi-Fi Planning

How much space do you need to cover?

Generally speaking, is it a small space or a much larger space?  With smaller spaces you might be able to get away with only having one wireless access point.  With larger spaces, you might have hundreds of access points.  I like to think about Wireless Access Points like sprinkler heads on a lawn.  With this analogy you can easily visualize that for a small lawn you could potentially cover the entire area fairly well with 1 or 2 sprinkler heads.  Now imagine having a large expansive lawn and needing to water it. You’ll need to have many more sprinkler heads to get water coverage everywhere.  Wireless access points are similar in that regard. 

How many devices will connect to the network through the WiFi?

You will want to think about how many devices will be connected wirelessly to the network.  Review your wireless access points data sheets.  They will offer guidelines for how many devices can be connecting through each access point before additional access points should be added.

Hardwired Infrastructure

Wi-Fi offers great freedom and mobility, but if you are planning on having employees who are sitting at a desk,  nothing beats a hardwired connection.  Many certificates and courses have been created on the best way to configure and manage Local Area Networks (LAN) networks.  I won’t pretend to cover the topic in this post.  What I will say is sometimes companies will upgrade their internet bandwidth over the years and forget to check the compatibility of the gear on their LAN.  If the router and switches on your LAN are older you might not be able to realize the benefits of a faster internet connection.  Always make sure that your hardwired connections can handle the internet bandwidth.

Phone Services

Woman talking on the phone

I think about phone services as having 3 major components. 

  • Equipment
  • Underlying Service
  • Maintenance and Change Management. 

Equipment – When thinking of phone system equipment I’m referring to anything physical required to make phones work.  This includes the phones themselves, cabling, switches and the PBX. 

Underlying Service -This refers to the company that is helping you to complete your calls.   

Maintenance and change management – When something goes wrong or needs to be changed, who is responsible for making that change?  Common examples include:

  • You are responsible.  Your IT department might be in charge of handling any changes and fixes to the phone system. 
  • Outsourced Phone Vendor – Phone system management can get complex.  There are vendors who you can contract with to help manage your phone system. 
  • The company providing the phone service can also act as your vendor sometimes. The same company who is providing the service can also have a maintenance agreement with you to fix things that break and make changes where needed. 

As you narrow your search for a phone system you will find multiple ways to approach acquiring the 3 components mentioned above.  You’ll find companies that provide all three.  You can find solutions where each of the components is provided by a different company, and other hybrid models 

Before setting out to buy phone services, think about the features that are important to you. 

Common features of a modern day phone system

  • Mobility features
  • Softphone capabilities – using your computer or cell phone as your desk phone.
  • Automated attendant (Press 1 for Sales, 2 for Customer Service , ect)
  • Call recording
  • Call reports
  • Voicemail
  •  Unlimited nationwide calling
  • Connecting and transferring between multiple offices as if it were one office.

Other Questions To Consider When Buying a Phone System

  • Does the current office cabling infrastructure support modern digital phones? 
  • Are you supporting a call center?
  • Would you like your phone system to integrate with any CRMs or software?
  •  Do you need new phone numbers or would you like to keep your existing phone numbers?
  • Is there a need for fax, alarm, elevator or credit card machine phone lines?

Hosted VS Premise Based Phone Systems

Two common terms associated with phone systems are “Hosted” and “Premise” based phone systems.This is referring to where the computing and routing of the system lives.  

In a premise based phone system the computing power of the phone system or the “PBX”  is located on the customer premise, typically at your office in the server room. 

Hosted environments have moved the PBX to the cloud.

Wide Area Network (WAN) Networks

When connecting multiple offices or offices with data centers for the purpose of transferring data meant to stay on your network there are a handful of options to choose from. Each option fits with its own use cases.  Common ways of connecting multiple sites are: Carrier Ethernet Services, MPLS, VPN, and SD-WAN.  

Here are some big picture questions you can ask yourself when shopping for a WAN:

  1.       What is its primary function of your WAN?
  2.       How many sites do you have in your network design?
  3.       What applications need to run over the WAN?
  4.       What are the bandwidth requirements for each site?
  5.       Do you commonly use any public clouds (Azure, AWS, Google Cloud, Oracle, ect) that you would like to incorporate into your network?

WAN Topology Options

WANs are designed to pass traffic between sites. The type of topology you choose determines what sites can share traffic with what other sites. 

4 main types of network topologies.  

  1. Point to Point – There are only two sites that need to share data with one another.
  2. Full-Mesh – All sites can pass traffic to all other sites.
  3. Hub and Spoke – A central location needs to be able to communicate with other sites.
  4. A combination of the options above

Securing Your Network

Two People Viewing a Secure Laptop

Cyber security is a broad topic with many layers and different components to it.  As an IT professional you’ll be attempting to protect your network and digital assets  from a variety of threats.  

The purpose of this post is not to cover the finer points of cyber security, but I will point out a few of the main components and a few things about each. 

Firewalls

The Firewall is a core component of any cyber security plan.  One often overlooked detail is verifying that your firewall is able to handle the amount of bandwidth you are purchasing.  When looking  at a firewall datasheet you will see a few sets of numbers.  You’ll see something that shows how much bandwidth the firewall can handle, but then you will notice that number starts to get lower as you turn on more features. You’ll need to verify if your firewall is capable of handling the amount of bandwidth you intend to have.

DDOS Mitigation

DDOS attacks are unique because they use large volumes of common traffic to flood your network and overwhelm your resources. Because of the nature of these attacks, firewalls will not mitigate against a DDOS attack.  You will want to create your own internal DDOS plan or outsource the service to a DDOS mitigation vendor. 

For more on DDOS, see: DDOS Mitigation

Managed Security Providers

Setting up your firewall and establishing a plan to mitigate against DDOS attacks is a good start for securing your network, but by no means is it the end of your responsibility.  You might be  lucky enough to have cyber security pros inhouse, but if you don’t II recommend seeking outside assistance from a managed security provider.

Avoiding Downtime

A company’s productivity is heavily reliant on its ability to access the internet, make phone calls, and access resources at other sites.  How much work can you do when those connections are down?  There might be a handful of tasks that you can work on for a bit without access, but at some point it’s likely that things will come to a halt.  All networks experience downtime at one point or another. Knowing that, you are faced with the question of how to handle it.  It’s well worth having a redundancy plan in place. For some companies, downtime is acceptable.  For other companies it’s utterly unacceptable and downtime quickly means lost revenues, damage to the customer brand, and paying employees to be unproductive. If you’re at one of the companies where it is unacceptable, you’ll need to have some pretty good plans in place to avoid downtime. 

A simple question that will go a long way: What can go wrong and what will you do if it does?

Regarding Your Internet Connection

  • Is there a need to have a backup internet connection?
  • Do you need redundancy at the equipment level?

Regarding Voice Redundancy

  • If the phone system / site is not reachable, what would you like to happen?
  •  Do you need a backup phone system on site?
  • Where would you  forward call traffic in the event that your phone system is not working?  Common options include:  Another office, A call center, a voicemail. 
  • How would you forward traffic in the event that your phone system fails?  Is this set up to happen automatically?

WAN Redundancy

  • What is your plan if your WAN connection is down?
  • Can you use an alternate path to connect to your other buildings and data centers?

Backup Power

What happens if there is a power failure?  Most Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) only buy you enough time to shut down your equipment safely, but they are not meant to run machines for the long term. 

If you want to keep running when the power is out, you will need a backup plan for power in addition to the backup plan for your networks.

Summary

Setting up your telecom infrastructure for your office or multiple offices can require a lot of moving pieces. This post addressed the large building blocks upon which your telecom and communications structures are built on.  

The range of possibilities for building out your infrastructure is endless.  It’s not likely that any two businesses will use the same combination of tools.  There are a lot of winning combinations out there.  I hope this post provides a helpful guide for thinking about all of the pieces involved.

If you have lingering questions and would like my opinion on something you can get on my calendar by clicking the schedule a free consultation button.