Technology Solutions

Setting the Tone

Small-office landlords call on VoIP to answer tenant communication needs.

Tapping into the demand for small-office space is as much an art as a business proposition. Small-office tenants can range from start-up businesses with little capital to put toward rent and amenities to consultants who need office space for short-term assignments to well-established national companies looking to create a presence in the local market. Regardless of their origin, such tenants often want a big bang for their buck: usually a small amount of space and a hefty supply of office amenities, such as conference rooms, copy machines, high-speed Internet access, and phone service.

In response, landlords as large as Equity Office Properties, the largest U.S. office landlord, have diversified into providing plug-and-play space in their Atlanta, Chicago, and Boston properties. However, smaller property owners and managers who are considering leasing to small-space users need to think differently about the level of amenities they offer to this specific user group. Small-space users typically want to move in with few hassles and short transition periods. They also want the best of today's business services built into their lease packages - services that include advanced yet inexpensive telecommunications.

Property owners who recognize this and can find low-cost ways to include these services in their lease packages - whether short or long term - can benefit from the marketing factor: Such amenities differentiate their space from similar properties in the market.

However, property owners will not benefit from these services if they require major capital investment and problematic integration and management duties. For owners to benefit, they need to be able to offer leading telecommunications solutions at inexpensive rates. Switching from traditional phone service providers to voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, is one alternative. VoIP allows property owners and managers to offer phone service without incurring high investment costs or complicated installation procedures.

What Is VoIP?

VoIP turns phone calls into data, compresses the data into small, transmittable packets, and then transmits these packets over the Internet. This method offers significant improvements over using traditional phone lines: faster connections, better sound quality, greater flexibility, the freedom to make calls through computers or integrated access devices, drastic reductions in toll charges, and new productivity-enhancing features.

Key features that may appeal to business tenants include:

• immediate service - easy integration and installation allow landlords to offer immediate, pre-installed VoIP services upon occupancy.

• value-added service - voice mail, virtual fax, and conference calling capabilities are immediately available to tenants, allowing them enhanced business building capabilities.

• disaster protection - recent improvements in VoIP service now allow built-in disaster recovery features, ensuring tenants that business can be easily re-routed to alternate locations in the event of a disaster.

Owners have two options to consider when implementing VoIP services. One involves purchasing and installing a brand new system, completely removing and replacing the existing phone system, and incurring large capital investment and ongoing on-site communications management. A second option is using a hosted service that requires no capital investment and offers much faster installation times. In this method, the service provider houses and manages all equipment completely off-site, reducing potentially the space that would be sacrificed to cumbersome private branch exchange, or PBX, equipment and providing fewer overall management hassles.

Weighing the Costs

In addition to being easier to implement, the costs of installing and maintaining hosted VoIP service also are far less expensive than those of traditional phone services. Hosted VoIP service typically is installed for up to 50 percent less than the cost of installing a traditional system. While both options involve a monthly fee, traditional service tacks on additional charges for user features and local toll calls. VoIP includes its feature set and local calling charges within its monthly fee structure, providing enhanced features, such as online fax capabilities and conference calling, as well as unlimited local calling.

There's also the question of longevity. As traditional phone systems become outdated, VoIP usage continues to grow. Approximately 52 percent of small businesses now are aware of VoIP and its possibilities, according to a recent Savitar survey. Installing VoIP solutions early on helps owners avoid costly upgrades and large-scale equipment re-installation down the road.

Commercial real estate owners will find making the simple switch from a traditional phone system to a VoIP solution allows them to offer something their competitors can't: A lease package that comes complete with advanced and ready-to-use telecommunications options. This benefit may help property managers and owners as they branch into providing plug-and-play space to a new customer base.

Craig Castillo

Craig Castillo is the marketing promotions manager at AccessLine Communications located in Bellevue, Wash. Contact him at (206) 381-2031 or craigca@accessline.com.

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