First and foremost, you must develop a solid infrastructure for your prepaid calling card system to run on. Without a solid infrastructure, you will be spending more time worrying about your systems integrity than marketing your product. The following is a list of equipment and services that you will require to start the business. We have also included recommendations that we feel will ensure a solid infrastructure.
We list this item first not only because it is one of the products that we provide, but because it is the most vital in the list. Choosing a good billing software will ensure that every call made through your system is tracked and no call is left unbilled. CardSaver™ by PEC is not only a robust, dependable software package, it is also the simplest and most user-friendly package in the industry. CardSaver enables you to view reports on traffic passing in and out of your system. CardSaver also gives you complete control over your calling cards, including PIN generation, usage fees, expiration dates, and much more. CardSaver is a vital component for developing a solid infrastructure.
The VoIP gateway that handles all of the calls into and out of your system is the next vital component. If your hardware fails, your customers calls will not go through. Thus, we recommend choosing one of two brands for your VoIP gateway: Cisco or Quintum. Although we are a proud reseller of Quintum hardware, CardSaver fully integrates with Cisco VoIP gateways. These two vendors have a large following and many online forums exist where you can go to receive answers to any questions that you may have regarding configuration or specifications.
Today, you can purchase a Dell system for $499 with monitor included. That is a definitely a great deal, but unless you are only planning to use the system for Internet browsing and word processing, we do not recommend using these type of systems for your mission critical applications. Ideally, we recommend that your prepaid calling platform is broken into three separate servers, the RADIUS server which communicates directly with your VoIP gateway, the database server which maintains all the calling card and call data, and the web server which allows you to view reports and create new cards. Of course having three separate servers is not always an option, so in the scenario that you are using only one server, we recommend the following specifications:
Intel Pentium 4 Processor
1 GB RAM
Dual 10K SCSI hard drives
Gigabit Ethernet Adapter
Intel Xeon Processor (Dual Processor Preferred)
2+ GB RAM
Dual 15K SCSI hard drives
Gigabit Ethernet Adapter
The Internet service that you choose is the backbone of your calling card network. Choosing a reliable Internet service will ensure that your billing server and VoIP gateways will stay online. Ideally, you should place your servers in a co-location facility (i.e. 60 Hudson Street in New York). Internet service in a co-location facility is much less likely to go down than in your office or home. If you are placing your systems in a co-location facility, be sure to ask your Internet provider what kind of redundancy is available in case their service goes down; often, the provider will use the backbone of another Internet provider in this event. If your Internet provider does not have a failover plan, you may want to consider selecting a second Internet service as a backup.
The phone service that you choose is as important as the Internet service that you choose. If your phone lines are down, your customers cannot call into your system. Generally, phone service is more reliable than Internet service, so it not necessary to be as concerned about redundancy. However, be sure to choose the correct phone service for your application. If you have a system that supports T1 lines, make sure that the T1 is a PRI. If you require that the Caller ID is logged for every call, be sure to add Caller ID (ANI) service. If you have any questions about which lines to order, the best idea is to contact your equipment vendor or PEC.
I have had many customers, usually in Africa, that have, after configuring everything properly, complained about the system not working properly. After digging deeper into their problems, I came to realize that their line quality was so poor that the VoIP gateway could not understand the digits that customers were keying in from their phones. After changing their lines, the system worked perfectly.
In most places throughout the world, power outages are a daily event. If your systems are located in a place where power outages are common, it is essential to have some sort of power generator. For those living in places where electricity is taken for granted, it is still important to consider the integrity of your power service. It is essential, regardless of your location, to have a UPS battery backup. It is recommended that your battery backup can last at least two hours in case of a power outage. If you are placing your equipment in a co-location facility chances are that you will be connected to a generator, however, it is still necessary to have a UPS battery backup.