Reducing the high cost of intraoffice phone service

An inexpensive multiplexer and a 56-kilobit line

High-quality phone service at low cost

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When you have just one office, buzzing a coworker down the hall or sending an interoffice E-mail isn't very costly. But things can get out of control when "down the hall" is 500 miles away. That's what happened in 1990, when Brock Berry's phone bill shot up to $1,400 a month for a dial-up modem connection between his company's headquarters, in Dover, Del., and its two offices in Baltimore. Add to that another $150 for phone and fax. "When you go on-line, the meter is always ticking," says Berry.

Without question, Berry, vice-president of Berry Van Lines Inc., a 65-year-old $12-million moving company, could have lowered his phone bill by connecting the two offices with a 56-kilobit leased line from the phone company. Once attached, leased (or dedicated) lines allow the user to send E-mail, voice mail, and faxes over the same wire for a fixed monthly fee. The only trouble is that few small companies have been able to afford the sophisticated multiplexers needed to connect the leased lines to internal phone and computer networks. The good news: a new generation of less expensive powerful multiplexers has arrived.

In 1993, after leasing a 56-kilobit line for $1,200 a month from ATX Telecommunications, based in Bala Cynwyd, Pa. (800-220-4900), Berry hired the DataStore, a network integration specialist in Maple Shade, N.J., to help him install MICOM multiplexers in his Dover and Baltimore offices (MICOM Communications., Simi Valley, Calif., 805-583-8600, prices start at $995 per unit). The multiplexers, which are really just computers, have been programmed to examine data as they come in over the phone line and route them to the proper computer terminal, phone extension, or fax machine. Today, if Berry wants to talk with a coworker in Baltimore, he just hits a button on his phone.

The entire setup cost about $8,000, but Berry figures it was worth it. He's saving a minimum of 20% on his monthly phone bill. And then there's the nifty service he offers selected customers in Baltimore: a local phone number that connects to him in Dover. When a customer dials the number, the multiplexer in Baltimore transmits the signal to the multiplexer in Dover and then to Berry's phone. The customer gets to make a toll-free call, and Berry doesn't have the cost of maintaining an 800 number .

-- Joshua Macht