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VoIP billing and tracking

What are your options for keeping track of VoIP calls made in your organization? How can you manage the billing process? In this tip, we profile your options, including software-based tracking and billing, hosted solutions and outsourcing.

If you're implementing voice over IP (VoIP) for your company, you may wonder about how to accurately track usage...

and revenue. Not to worry. If you didn't request some kind of billing software prior to your purchase, you still have many options. The majority of VoIP billing solutions are based around software, which can provide extremely flexible options both for providers and for customers in terms of levels of reporting and data. We'll be looking at both hosted and premise-based solutions here.

Software

Historically, mostly law firms were interested in tracking expenses such as printing, fax and phone calls. Cost recovery systems such as Equitrac were developed first to bolt onto copiers and track the number of copies made. The next step was tracking digital scanning, printing, copy and fax, and for integrating with traditional PBX systems. Today, Equitrac Call Accounting is doing the same with VoIP solutions.

The Call Accounting system tracks all calls, so you can match them with codes and then bill them to clients. Further, this software actually integrates with all major time and billing packages (another important law application), which allows for easy billing. The software, Equitrac Professional Enterprise Editions, includes a telephone management application that captures detailed information on VoIP systems for both cost recovery and expense management purposes. The system itself supports integration with various telephone systems (including VoIP and mobile calls) and allows you to manage a variety of different types of telecom equipment from the desktop. It prices and records every reimbursable call for improved recovery and expense management.

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Is there a billing system that allocates usage costs?

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Another software-based VoIP billing solution is developed by Alepo Technologies Inc. Their product, designed to be implemented by providers, offers carrier-grade Web-based administration and complete billing capabilities. Billing capabilities include support of flexible billing cycles and rating plans (including bonuses and discounts), real-time credit card clearing and electronic invoicing for postpaid accounts. It also includes automated email generation for late payments or expired credit cards and fully customizable XML invoices, as well as end-to-end prepaid management.

I was impressed with the fact that Alepo's VoIP billing software is very customizable. It allows you to generate reports, statistics and earnings comparisons, all of which can be exported to QuickBooks or Excel, giving you the information you need to properly manage your customer base. In addition, it has support from the major hardware manufacturers, including Cisco Systems Inc., Quintum Technologies Inc., NexTone Communications, Lucent Technologies and even Asterisk, an open source solution. They offer hosted plans for new and existing ITSPs, where some or all ITSP facilities are hosted and managed by the company.

Another competitor is CallTrac, from TelSoft Solutions, which is tightly integrated with Cisco's architecture. The software offers full accounting and billing support for Cisco's call manager telephone systems. Its VoIP virtual buffer module actually queries the Cisco call manager publisher's database using ODBC drivers. Again, it supports many different types of hybrid networks.

Hosted

Many companies have a hosted VoIP solution rather than a premise-based solution. If this is the choice at your company, it is likely you will not want to handle your own billing but would prefer using your hosting company's software. Two companies that offer solutions in this area are Solegy LLC and M5 Networks Inc. Just last month, Solegy (a provider of managed service deployment and back-end systems for VoIP) announced a partnership with Brekeke Software Inc., which provides voice and data communications technology. Brekeke provides SIP-based IP-PBX and SIP server software for the creation of VoIP telephony solutions. The software, managed through a Web-based tool, enables Solegy to offer a managed PBX service. Solegy's offering in the billing arena, ServicePDQ platform, is a customizable IP-based billing solution, which can help service providers manage all their customer accounts and billing information.

The software itself is geared toward service providers (i.e., EarthLink), though it is clear that through this partnership, Solegy is looking to become more of a full service VoIP provider to SMB customers looking for VoIP solutions. This may include offerings for premise-based solutions as well.

Outsourced

Of course, if you want to go the "one-vendor-does-all" route right now, you could outsource to a company like M5, the N.Y.-based managed IP telephony service. For about $700 per office, per location, and $40 to $70 per IP phone, one can go with a complete managed solution, which is wonderful for companies that prefer not to manage their systems locally. On the billing side, M5 offers its own call accounting software to help manage the billing and give you the reporting tools you need, without paying a premium. It offers account and billing codes, as well as a rebilling tool that can mark up different lines and charge calls at different rates.

There is a plethora of choices available today for companies looking for VoIP billing solutions. Make sure you find one that meets your strategic requirements now and that can also grow with you as you grow. Try to get demo software if you can and also reach out to the vendor's existing client base. The more you know about the product (and the company that supports the product), the better the odds are that you will make the correct decision regarding what to purchase for your company.

About the author:
Ken Milberg is the founder of Unix-Linux Solutions. He is also a board member of Unigroup of New York, the oldest Unix users group in New York City. Ken regularly answers user questions on Unix and Linux interoperability issues as a site expert on SearchOpenSource.com.

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