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March 21, 2012

Kool Smiles, a network of local dentists in the U.S., was an early adopter of SIP trunking.  SIP trunks have become a simple, cost-effective way for businesses to transition from traditional telephony to Voice-over-IP (or VoIP), which essentially shifts all phone calls to the Internet.

Kool Smiles, a network of local dentists in the U.S., was an early adopter of SIP trunking.  SIP trunks have become a simple, cost-effective way for businesses to transition from traditional telephony to Voice-over-IP (or VoIP), which essentially shifts all phone calls to the Internet.

With an expanding network of dental offices, Mark Blomquist, co-founder and Chief Technical Architect for Kool Smiles, knew there had to be a better way to handle their ballooning communications costs, and saw huge potential for cost reduction in moving all toll calls to the Internet.  Whichever solution he chose, it needed to be scalable to grow with his expanding business.  “We provide high-quality dental care to working-class children and adults who may have difficulty accessing a dental office geographically or financially,” Blomquist said. “Since we opened in 2002, we’ve seen a growing demand nationwide to open more offices, to help more families.” 

The result:  Kool Smiles cut their communications costs by 40%, and in less than a year the entire installation - including a new IP-PBX, phones, network upgrades and other network hardware-has paid for itself.  To date, the company has shifted more than 35,000 calls a day to toll-free Internet telephony, which is now live on 1,800 handsets. 

This kind of rapid ROI is appealing in today’s economic climate, as dental offices are looking to IT for new ways to stretch their dollars.  

Here’s how Kool Smiles did it:

A good investment
Kool Smiles needed a robust alternative to traditional telephony to accommodate their ever-increasing rollout of satellite dental clinics.  They had been using a standard TDM phone system which meant skyrocketing telephony costs.  “We were using an older 3Com NBX platform, and were looking for a solution that worked seamlessly with the newer Internet-based 3Com PBX offerings,” Blomquist explained. 

Kool Smiles also wanted to be able to use any new Internet-based applications- such as secure Instant messaging between offices, or even video chat-down the road, which meant their solution had to be able to handle new technologies.

What are SIP Trunks?

SIP trunking is a term applied to the options offered by many service providers.  These are traditional phone companies and others such as cable companies and new entrants referred to as Internet Telephony Service Providers or ITSPs. These service providers accept VoIP traffic over the Public Internet or private connections which they then place on the telephony network to reach residential and business customers.  Inbound calls are received at the service provider central office and then sent over the Internet to the intended recipient, again using VoIP as the transport medium. 

SIP trunking allows enterprises and small businesses to eliminate a PSTN gateway at their site and outsource that function to a carrier.  It is typically a lower-cost alternative to Primary Rate Interfaces (PRIs) because SIP trunks can be purchased in single-trunk increments (as compared to 23 channel increments for a PRI).
With SIP trunks, a single network can be maintained within the organization, rather than having both a voice and data network.  Internet bandwidth can be used more efficiently, streamlining expenses.  In addition, Moves, Adds and Changes can be completed without major wiring upgrades.  These benefits all lower costs for the business.

Simplified deployment

Blomquist deployed an enterprise session border controller (e-SBC)-in this case, an Ingate SIParator-with Ingate’s SIP Trunking software module at Kool Smiles’ headquarters in Georgia.  The e-SBC is a single, standalone piece of hardware that made it possible to connect their IP-PBX to their Internet telephony service provider’s SIP trunk. 

With the right e-SBC, SIP trunks can be installed in less than 20 minutes.  An e-SBC makes the process of deploying a SIP trunk simple, by:

  • Solving any compatibility issues with Kool Smiles’ existing hardware with the ITSP

  • Giving their network the ability to use SIP applications

  • Providing tight security for Kool Smiles’ voice traffic

“Key for us was a solution that made the interface to the service provider hassle-free.  The whole deployment needed to be easy, so we could focus on our core business-helping working class children and their parents to receive great dental care,” Blomquist said. “We also have the ability to scale up as we roll out new dental offices.”

With the Ingate SIParator in place, Kool Smiles was also able to service its practice sites from a single PBX at a central location, resulting in even further cost reductions.

Security

The e-SBC worked hand-in-hand with Kool Smiles’ existing security infrastructure, which maintained the security and integrity of the network.  With this architecture, Kool Smiles had the highest level of security for VoIP-a must in a medical environment.  The SIP trunk setup supported Secure Real Time Protocol (SRTP) which provides one of the most secure environments for Internet telephony and VoIP applications available.

“We work in a medical environment, so security of our communications is an extremely high priority,” Blomquist said.  

The ROI on SIP trunking

“We recouped our total investment in SIP trunking-including a new IP-PBX, phones, network upgrades and the Ingate solution-in twelve months,” Blomquist shared, who has seen a 40% reduction in the company’s phone bills. 

“Reducing costs and streamlining our support organizations allows us to focus more resources on our clinical and community responsibilities,” he continued.

The speed with which Kool Smiles achieved ROI was astonishing to Kool Smiles’ management team.  Their CIO recently approached Blomquist asking whether there was a “glitch” in his budget forecasts.  “They thought there was a coding issue somewhere,” Blomquist laughed.  “I told them this was intentional, that the savings for our initial investment paid for the system that quickly, and our ongoing communications costs were actually going to be that low.” “They had just noticed the cliff drop in costs,” he said.   

Today, everyone in the Kool Smiles network is using Ingate’s SIP trunking solution.  “Pick up a phone anywhere in our network of offices, you’re using VoIP,” Blomquist said.  “The call quality is excellent-a must in the dental field, as patient relations are critical.”  

Looking ahead, Kool Smiles is hoping to purchase additional e-SBCs to shift even more of their dental clinics and telecommuters to cost-effective VoIP.  

Steven Johnson is the President of InGate Systems (www.ingate.com).