Gradwell Office Communications Server review

We review Gradwell's OCS to see if it offers a viable VoIP solution for businesses.

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VoIP telephony can represent major savings compared with traditional land lines but configuring your organisation's hardware and software infrastructure can be both complex and time-consuming.

There are added complications if you want to stick to Microsoft's communication platform. Microsoft's Office Communication Server (OCS) has a number of characteristic compatibility issues with standard SIP protocols and hardware - it only supports SIP over TCP, while standard VoIP servers support SIP over UDP. It's possible to get it to talk to common VoIP systems like Asterisk, but you'll need an extra Windows server and a lot of fiddly configuration to get anything approaching reliable communication using standard VoIP protocols.

Installing your own OCS server isn't for the inexperienced, but the Microsoft option can be less intimidating to MS admins and telephony experts than the free, more established Linux-based alternatives. This is where Gradwell's OCS comes in. Office Communication Server usually has to be routed via a hardware ISDN gateway or traditional (non-VoIP) hardware or digital PBX. Gradwell has implemented its own bridging program to provide SIP trunking over TCP, which is compatible with Microsoft's OCS servers, rather than UDP.

Gradwell assigned us a couple of unique phone numbers and OCS account login details for its system for this review. With all the telephony service configuration handled by Gradwell, all we had to do on our end was log in to Microsoft Communicator, which can act as a soft phone, and connect the optional pre-configured hardware VoIP phone, which Gradwell can provide. We were provided with a Polycom CX700, which runs embedded Microsoft Communicator for Phones. Sold by Gradwell for 355 (ex. VAT) the CX700 isn't a cheap option, but you can connect it directly to your network and use it. It's completely compatible with the OCS system, although it has considerably fewer features than you'd usually expect to find on an expensive VoIP phone there's no support for multiple lines, for a start. Snom's range of phones also supports OCS, if you flash them with an appropriate firmware.

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