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Using voip to Improve ngos Sustainability

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					                Using VoIP to Improve NGOs Sustainability

                                        Wahib Hanani


                     Department of Information and Computer Sciences


                       University of Hawai’i at Manoa, Honolulu, USA


                                       November 2010




Abstract


NGOs are often challenged by the high cost and lack of flexibility of ordinary telephone

systems.    Often, there are many communication costs related to the management and

implementations of programs for NGOs. Due to the current global financial crises, these

costs become an additional burden on already heavy load of an NGO’s budget. Voice over

the Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology allows convergent systems, where web and voice

technologies use the same network to provide the necessary communication services, while

simultaneously eliminating unnecessary costs incurred from multiple phone lines, long

distance phone calls both international and national, and mobile phone usage. The

contribution of this paper is to show how NGOs could improve their productivity and cut

their financial costs by using a VoIP system. It discusses the requirements for installing VoIP,

the security issues related to using VoIP for an organization, and the quality of service of the

system itself. It includes a case study of MA’AN Development Center, a local NGO located

in Palestine.
1. Introduction

In recent years, networks have been embedded in almost everything in everyday life, from

placing a phone call or sending an email to running a business. What was initially a few

computers connected by some cables has now become a huge array of heterogeneous devices

connected by phone lines, optical cables, and satellites. The internet is becoming the

backbone of any business; employees and employers alike are relying on the internet.

Receiving or sending emails, conducting research or being connected to an intranet are such

examples; in today’s ever changing world, every successful business should have a

connection to the internet. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) also rely on the

internet. NGO’s overall goal is to help communities and provide them with their most basic

needs without looking for a profit; therefore, most of these NGOs are also nonprofit

organizations. NGOs are distributed all over the world, and many of them cooperate and

work together to achieve similar goals. They communicate through the Internet, telephone,

and fax, as would any other business.


Traditional phone systems are expensive. Non-profit NGO’s sustainability is affected by the

efficiency of the systems they have. Replacing traditional phone systems at these NGOs with

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems, the latest phone system technology, will help

NGOs to be more sustainable as they spend far less on communication costs. It converts

regular telephone calls into digital data delivering the voice communications over the Internet

or a packet-switched network. Essentially, when using a VoIP system, the Internet is used to

make telephone calls as opposed to a traditional phone line. How could NGOs benefit from

VoIP? Reducing the cost of calls and saving money for extended periods of time, having a

communication system that is more consistent and is the new trend for business and pleasure

alike, thus enhancing employees’ productivity. This all contributes to NGOs becoming more

sustainable and more efficient in the community they wish to serve.

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2. Related work

VoIP or Internet telephone is real–time interactive audio over the internet. A user can make a

phone call from computer to computer, computer to telephone, computer to mobile, and vice

versa. Unlike traditional telephone services the call will be transmitted through the Internet

(Kurose and Ross, 2008).


   2.1. What are VoIP requirements?

To get started with VoIP service, there are just three basic items that are needed: a computer,

Internet access, and free software. The process of transmitting voice over the Internet

involves numerous steps such as sampling the voice, compressing it, assembling it into IP

packets, and transporting them across a data network to the receiver. The receiver side

disassembles the packets, decompresses the signals, and audible signals are produced through

devices such as speakers (Walker and Hicks, 2004). This mechanism requires basic

components to be configured in order to enable its full functionality (Walker and Hicks,

2004). These components are categorized as follows:


   a) Codecs

       A codec means either compressor - decompressor or coder - decoder, and can be

       implemented in either hardware or software. The purpose of a codec is to encode a

       data stream or signal from analog to digital and vice versa so that it can be sent out

       over a networked interconnection. Essentially, there are a number of codecs available

       with different characteristics such as speed and quality of the output (Practical

       Asterisk 1.6 2009).

   b) VoIP and TCP/IP protocols

       Voice over Internet Protocols such as Real Time Protocol (RTP), and Session

       Initiation Protocol (SIP) are used to transmit voice signals over the IP network. In the

       TCP model these protocols work on the application layer, which has to interact with
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   the transport layer protocols such as User Datagram Protocol

   (UDP) or Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) in order to be able

   to transport data. For the purpose of providing telephony services,

   there is a need that a number of different standards and protocols

   come together.

c) IP telephony servers or private branch exchange (PBX)

   An IP telephony server is usually a computer running a program that manages the

   setup or connection of VoIP terminals, and determines the status of the destination.

   Because the IP telephony server manages and controls all terminals, the VoIP network

   requires a client – server topology. An IP PBX is a private branch exchange

   (telephone switching system that serves a particular business or office). It can switch

   calls between two VoIP users or between VoIP users and a traditional telephone user,

   or even between two traditional telephone users. An IP PBX could be a hardware

   object or a free and open source software system such as Asterisk. To use a

   conventional PBX, separate networks are necessary for voice and data

   communications. One of the major advantages of an IP PBX is converged data and

   voice networks. This means through a single line for each user, internet can be

   accessed, VOIP can be utilized, and traditional telephone communication can be used.

d) VoIP gateway or router

   An IP PBX also provides the function of a VoIP gateway, which provides the

   conversion interface between the IP network and the traditional public switched

   telephone network (PSTN) for fax and voice calls. They usually translate from one

   signaling protocol to another.

e) IP phones and soft-phones




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    This is the terminal of communication which supports VoIP protocols. It can be a

    device (hard phone) or an application (soft phone). IP phones and soft phones are

    identified by an IP address and compatible with cordless and wireless configuration.

2.2. Security

Security with traditional telephone service has never been too much of an issue, but with

VoIP services it could be a different story. Since the call is broken into packets of data

that are carried over the Internet from one location to another, VoIP packet data is

vulnerable to different threats such as eavesdropping and denial of service. But these

threats could be addressed with different approaches.


Eavesdropping is the act of secretly listening to the private conversation of others without

their consent. Encryption is used to address the eavesdropping attack. Encryption means

to make the transfer information unreadable to anyone except those that have a key which

helps to decrypt the information and make it readable again. (Issues and challenges in

securing VoIP, 2009).


Denial of Service (DoS) is an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable. An open-

source IP private branch exchange (PBX) and an open-source VoIP client have

vulnerabilities that would allow hackers to compromise VoIP networks with DoS attacks.

DoS attack could be addressed by:


-   Firewalls to filter unwanted traffic.

-   Special-purpose hardware (such as routers and switches) that prevents the attacker

    from gaining unauthorized access.

-   VoIP-aware hardware that can distinguish VoIP traffic.

-   Effective authentication systems that can prevent unauthorized access to

    infrastructural components.

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   -   Recovery systems that can recover as quickly as possible after an attack attempt.

   (Issues and challenges in securing VoIP, 2009).


   Because VoIP integrates with the network, if the network is secured, then the VoIP is

   secured implicitly.


   2.3. Quality of Service (QoS)

   While VoIP technology becomes more popular, quality of VoIP service is improving.

   Quality of VoIP calls will soon be as good as quality of PSTN calls. QoS in IP telephony

   means to guarantee that voice packet traffic receives higher priority than other traffic

   packets to avoid being dropped or delayed. Poor VoIP call quality could happen for

   different reasons:


       -   Latency: Delay for packet delivery. This could be improved by enhancing the

           network connection.

       -   Jitter: Variations in delay of packet delivery. This could be addressed by applying

           a jitter buffer.

       -   Packet loss: Too much traffic in the network causes the network to drop packets.

           Better connection with better network hardware devices could address this issue.



3. Implementing VoIP for NGOs


NGOs are often challenged by high cost and inflexible telephonic and web based data

services. New technology such as VoIP, which allows the use of the same network for data

and voice, will provide suitable solutions for these challenges. Deployment of any new

application is always a challenge to network administrators and managers. Making the right

deployment decision leads to a successful implementation. VoIP could be implemented using

different approaches, and one of the best ways to implement a VoIP system for NGOs is
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using Open Source Software (OSS) components. OSS means free software, and thus there is

no need to buy a license. Asterisk is a popular OSS that is used widely by small businesses,

large businesses, or carriers in implementing VoIP systems. The code of Asterisk was written

by Mark Spencer of Digium, Inc., and contributed to by open source software engineers

around the world. Asterisk recommends running under an open source operating system such

as Linux-Debian or Linux –Centos, but it can also run on a wide variety of operating systems

including Linux, Mac OS X, OpenBSD, FreeBSD and Sun Solaries.


Asterisk provides all the features expected from a PBX. Asterisk has the following features

(http://www.asterisk.org ):


      Drivers for various VoIP protocols.

      Drivers for PSTN interface cards and devices.

      Routing and call handling for incoming calls.

      Outbound call generation and routing.

      Media management functions (record, play, generate tone, etc.).

      Call detail recording for accounting and billing.

      Transcoding (conversion from one media format to another).

      Protocol conversion (conversion from one protocol to another).

      Database integration for accessing information on relational databases.

      Web services integration for accessing data using standard internet protocols.

      LDAP integration for accessing corporate directory systems.

      Single and multi-party call bridging.

      Call recording and monitoring functions.

      Integrated "Dialplan" scripting language for call processing.



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      External call management in any programming or scripting language through Asterisk

       Gateway Interface (AGI)

      Event notification and CTI integration via the Asterisk Manager Interface (AMI).

      Speech synthesis (aka "text-to-speech") in various languages and dialects using third

       party engines.

      Speech recognition in various languages using third party recognition engines.


Asterisk supports many VoIP protocols such as H.323, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP),

Media Gateway Control Protocol (MGCP), Skinny Client Control Protocol (SCCP), and

Inter-Asterisk eXchange (IAX2). It is designed to be more flexible and to deal with a wide

range of telephony equipment using relatively inexpensive hardware.


   3.1. Implementing a VoIP system for MA’AN


MA’AN Development Center is an independent Palestinian development and training

institution established in January, 1989, registered by law as a non-profit organization.

MA’AN has four branches distributed in Palestine (West bank and Gaza), and its MA’AN’s

headquarters are located in Ramallah. MA’AN’s mission is to work hand in hand with

different NGOs, institutes, organizations and grassroots groups in the poorest and most

marginalized areas in Palestine to improve the quality of life in these areas.


       3.1.1. MA’AN network infrastructure

MA’AN’s main office is located in Ramallah. It has two branches (Jenin, Gaza) and two field

offices (Tulkarem, Khan Younis) distributed between the West bank and the Gaza Strip.

Opening a new office is a dynamic process which is influenced by the geographic coverage

of an NGO. The main purpose is to make it close and easier for beneficiaries in that area to




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contact MA’AN’s staff. All of MA’AN’s branches / offices are connected to the internet.

Each branch has its own Local Area Network (LAN) and a separate communication system.




For instance, MA’AN’s headquarters runs a traditional circuit switched (SIMENS HICOM1)

PBX which connects to Paltel PSTN. It uses four land lines, three as telephone numbers and

one as a fax number, as well as one Palestinian mobile number through an external GSM

(Global System for Mobile communications) adapter.


              3.1.2. Implementation Steps

As previously mentioned in section 2.1, the requirements for VOIP are Internet access, a

computer, and free software. However, when putting a VOIP system in place, one should

consider the quality of the components because it directly affects the quality of service.

MA’AN’s VoIP system was implemented to serve MA’AN’s needs, with the lowest possible

cost. The components used to have a VoIP system running at MA’AN were:


              -       Internet access: MA’AN has a 4Mbps ADSL connection to the internet.

              -       A computer ( 2.0GHz quad core processor, 2GB memory, and 250 GB HDD, PCI-

                      OpenVox A400P04 Analog Interface Card).
                                                            
1
     SIMENS HICOM PBX is a hardware device that supports a fixed number of extensions. 
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       -   Free software (Linux- Centos as an operating system, Asterisk as an IP PBX,

           FreePBX, which is web application use GUI (graphical user interface) to control

           and manage Asterisk, and X-Lite as a soft phone).

The following steps are the main steps to install the VoIP system:


   1. Download and install the operating system (CentOS, http://www.centos.org/) with the

       desired version; the latest version is usually recommended. CentOS should be

       installed with the following packages selected:

       Applications (Editors, Text-based Internet), Development (Development Libraries,

       Development Tools), Servers (DNS, Mail Server, MySQL Database Server, Server

       Configuration Tool, Web Server), and Base System (Administration Tools, Base).

   2. Download and install the four core Asterisk components—Asterisk, Asterisk-Addons,

       DAHDI, and LibPRI. (http://www.asterisk.org/)

   3. Download and install FreePBX. (http://www.freepbx.org/)

   4. Download and install X-Lite, then edit the configuration file to connect to your IP

       PBX to be able to make / receive calls. (http://www.counterpath.com/x-lite.html)

See the website www.best-solutions.org for more details.


   3.2. Financial benefits

There are more costs involved than a simple phone bill at the end of the month. Costs

include hardware requirements. How does VoIP reduce cost?


An IP PBX uses the internet connection to transfer calls, which means the same line could

carry many calls at the same time, whereas a traditional PBX needs a dedicated line for each

simultaneous call. This feature could save money by reducing the number dedicated lines. In

addition, extending and maintaining a VoIP system is much cheaper than for a hardware PBX




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because most of an IP PBX is built on free software rather than hardware as the case in a

traditional PBX.


A hard copy of bills for MA’AN’s four lines was collected and analyzed for a period of one

year (Jan, 2009 – Dec 2009). Figure (1) shows the total cost of all bills during 2009 for

different categories:


       -   Local calls: calls to local landline numbers; mainly MA’AN’s branches / offices.

       -   Jawwal (Pal mobile): calls to Palestinian mobile numbers.

       -   Israel Calls (Landline + Mobile): calls to Israeli Landline and mobile numbers.

       -   International calls.

                1000.0                                        896.6
                 800.0         716.5
                 600.0                        477.0
                 400.0                                                        238.9
                 200.0
                   0.0
                                             Jawwal        Israel Calls 
                                                                           International 
                             Local Calls   (Palestinian    (Landline + 
                                                                               Calls
                                             Mobile)         Mobile)
               Year 2009       716.5          477.0           896.6           238.9



                        Figure (1) MA’AN’s headquarter calls cost in 2009


Based on this analysis, MA’AN‘s main office paid $2329 in 2009. In addition, MA’AN pays

$40 per labor hour as fees to maintain the system. In 2009, this fee was $500.


Figure (1) shows that MA’AN paid $716.5 for local calls. With an IP PBX this cost could be

reduced by direct calls between branches through the internet, which brings the cost down to

zero dollars. For calls to Israel (landline and mobile,) MA’AN paid $896.6, the highest cost

in 2009. With VoIP technology, this cost could be minimized by two approaches. First,

MA’AN could use a VoIP provider to transfer calls to Israel. For instance, Skype is one of

the most popular VoIP providers all over the world, and it costs $20 per month to make
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unlimited calls to more than 40 countries including Israel. With this option, MA’AN could

save money on both International calls and calls to Israel. Second, MA’AN could use a GSM

adapter with an Israeli mobile number to transfer the calls to Israel. This would be more cost

effective using a Palestinian landline which costs 0.29 NIS per minute compared to the call

rate from a Palestinian landline to Israeli which is 0.75 NIS per minute. Maintaining a

traditional PBX is a hassle and needs both special training and special equipment. While

maintaining an IP PBX is easier, it doesn’t require any new or sophisticated equipment or

special training, and could be done by the designated IT person at the organization.


   3.3. Productivity improvements

VoIP opens possibilities that weren't available with traditional phone services. A company

using a traditional PBX system, for instance, is limited by hardware constraints. But the

software in VoIP solutions makes it easier to add features and make improvements along the

way. Voicemail is a feature shared between a traditional PBX and IP PBX. An IP-PBX

improves the way voicemail messages are sent as they are digitally encoded and sent to the

user’s email. This means that users can access, save, delete and forward them using a

computer, in addition to the traditional telephone methods. An IP PBX has unique features

that are not found in a traditional PBX. These features have great advantages in productivity

such as:


       -   Hunt Group: The Hunt Group is a time saving call transfer distribution

           mechanism. User extensions are ranked under one communal extension and are

           assigned different call priority weights. When the communal extension is dialed,

           the user extension with the highest priority weight will ring. On no answer, the

           user extension with the second highest priority will ring, and so on.

       -   Enterprise Instant Messaging (IM): users can promptly communicate with each

           other without having to take a telephone call or read an E-mail.
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        -   Call Recording: A reliable and easy-to-use feature, conversations can be recorded

            for order verification, quality monitoring and training requirements, and saved to

            the user’s voice mailbox for future use.

        -   Fax handling: IP PBX allows incoming faxes to be received and distributed

            through emails.

4. Conclusion

Transmitting calls through internet by using VoIP helps NGOs to improve their sustainability. VoIP

helps in:


    1. Lowering telecommunications costs: NGOs can save money on their telephony bills

        through broadband connectivity versus a traditional PSTN service.

    2. Simplifying Management and Administration: Before VoIP, networks were

        comprised of many "proprietary boxes" for voice and data networks that limited an

        NGO’s ability to integrate new applications. VoIP, on the other hand, is software, not

        hardware, and therefore, it is easier to deploy and integrate new services.

    3. Reduced infrastructure costs: Voice and data networks are converged onto a single IP

        network, thus significantly reducing infrastructure costs that are associated with a

        traditional PBX-based network.

    4. Improved employee productivity: VoIP system has unique features that improve the

        efficiency of employees, including hunt group, fax handling and on-demand

        recording.

    5. Improved employee access: IP telephony enables remote employees to connect with

        the NGO’s phone system from anywhere, thus making them available to make and

        receive calls as if they are in the office.




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5. References

  -   Dantu R, Fahmy S., Schulzrinne H., Cangussu J., Issues and challenges in securing

      VoIP, Computers & Security Vol 28, 2009

  -   Kurose, F. J., & Ross, K. W., Computer Networking A Top-Down Approach, 2008

  -   Robar, A., Freepbx 2.5 Powerful Telephony Solutions, 2009

  -   Walker, J.Q. and Hicks, J. T., Taking Charge of your VoIP Project: Cisco Press, 2004

  -   Wintermeyer, S. and Bosch, S., Practical Asterisk 1.4 & 1.6: From Beginner to

      Expert,2009




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