From dropshipping to your own pickup point. Scaling small business IP telephony

Hello, Habr!
My name is Dmitry, I work in a budgetary organization in the IT department. I am mainly engaged in telephony and networks.
Last year I was lucky enough to be involved in launching a successful startup.
Two guys, Anton and Vladimir, launched an online store. And in 10 months they have grown from dropshipping to their own point of issue. And this is the lease of new space and the expansion of the staff. I acted as a contractor: I helped the guys set up IP telephony from scratch, and then scale it, while saving on equipment. Details under the cut.

How it all began

The online trading market in 2020 grew by 44% compared to 2019.In previous years, the growth was 20-30%. A significant share of this growth comes from stores with physical showrooms that have opened an online direction. And the other part is new online stores.

The heroes of this story did not miss the wave of the trend and started trading online. Initially, all orders were accepted only through the website, there was no telephone connection. To launch with minimal investment, we used the dropshipping system. With this structure of cooperation, the online store transfers orders to the supplier, who delivers the goods to customers himself, and after receiving the payment transfers the commission to the online store. This scheme allows you to save on renting space, hiring employees and equipment. The only drawback is the small margin compared to wholesale purchases.

The guys’ trade went well. Having saved some money, they rented a space of 100 sq. m and began to use it as a warehouse and office. Some of the goods began to be purchased in bulk and sold at a premium.

First launch of IP telephony

There was a need for telephone communication, and a scheme with minimal costs was needed. On the recommendations of businessmen he knew, Anton came to me and offered me cooperation. I reviewed their requirements and shared my thoughts. The least expensive option to deploy IP telephony is to take a PC with average specifications and install Linux with Asterisk on it.

I used build on Debian, pure Ubuntu. I didn’t want to install Asterisk in a custom form and programmatically configure configs. Installed FreePBX; its free modules are enough to organize a simple telephony scheme: IVR, queue, subscribers. We bought a multichannel number from the operator (connected it with a SIP trunk) and two used DECT-handsets with a base (Gigaset C530A). Plus, we connected WebCall to order a callback from the site. Two managers took orders and made cold calls.

Scheme 1
Scheme 1

The number of orders increased gradually. We hired a storekeeper, a logistician and two more managers. We bought additional DECT handsets: two pieces of Gigaset C530H and two pieces of A540H. Tied them to the base (C530A), which was used for pipes purchased earlier. According to the characteristics declared by the manufacturer, up to six handsets can be tied to the base station. But at the same time, the station allows only three simultaneous calls. It was necessary to come up with another option, since all employees should be in touch at any time.

We solve the issue with competitive challenges

Logically, a simple solution suggested itself – to buy similar base stations and attach three handsets to them. But I decided not to act impulsively. If you analyze the work of the company, you can see a gradual growth, which means that in the future more employees, space and equipment will be required. Therefore, when purchasing telephony devices, it is better to foresee the possibility of scaling without unexpected expenses. We get the following requirements: 6 or more simultaneous calls from one base, seamless roaming, GAP support (since it is necessary to link already purchased handsets to the base).

According to these parameters, the Gigaset N670IP PRO base station, which comes with the C530H PRO handset, was suitable. It makes it possible to make up to 8 simultaneous calls – therefore, with it, we will get a reserve for two more lines, and if necessary, we will be able to upgrade the functionality of the base.

We bought this device and tied the six tubes we have. All employees were provided with communication and could move around the office with their pipes.

Business grows – so does the scale of the telephone network

As the online store developed, it completely abandoned dropshipping. To purchase goods at lower prices, intermediaries were excluded from the trade chain and channels were established directly with manufacturers. And as you know, to work with a manufacturer, you need to make bulk purchases in large quantities. This volume is 5-10 times more than when purchasing from an intermediary.

The old premises (100 sq. M. For office and warehouse) were abandoned. We rented two floors (the first floor for an office and a basement for a warehouse) with a total area of ​​400 sq. m and opened their own point of delivery of goods. The staff has grown to 30 people. It was necessary to provide everyone with communication, plus there was a need for a CRM system. Anton and Volodya again turned to me for help.

The guys invited me to the office, where we discussed new tasks. It was necessary to take into account the following requirements:

  • employees stay in touch, moving across the entire territory of two floors of the company (seamless roaming);

  • handsets have a display and a wireless connection; provide talk time from 12 hours;

  • on calls from new customers, a deal and a contact are automatically created in the CRM system;

  • call records are sent to the appropriate contacts and deals;

  • You can write to a client in WhatsApp directly from the CRM system.

Choosing equipment and organizing a new system

To ensure the integration of telephony with the CRM system, I decided not to fence my modules, but to offer my colleagues to use the lease of the IP telephony provider. We turned off the FreePBX server and reconfigured the phones to a rented PBX. The operator implemented the whole range of technologies: the possibility of flexible settings for integration with a CRM system, connection of the WhatsApp messenger, setting up call routing and a personal account with call logs.

Then the question arose about VoIP equipment. The most common wireless technologies in the same price range are DECT handsets and Wi-Fi.

In the case of Wi-Fi, we can face two unpleasant moments. The handsets hold a charge for a maximum of 6 hours (this is not enough for a full-time employee). The second problem is voice quality. The UDP transport protocol, which is used in IP telephony, is very sensitive to the Internet connection. At the slightest degradation of the Wi-Fi signal, voice packets are lost, which affects the quality of the conversation.

DECT handsets work longer without recharging: up to 12 hours of talk time. And in terms of voice quality, you need to take into account the distance of the tube from the base station: 30-50 m in the presence of walls and up to 300 m in open areas.

If we choose DECT technology, how can we ensure seamless roaming? Some manufacturers offer to install a repeater to the base. This device duplicates the settings of the base station, and the handset can be switched during a call. Such a repeater supports up to four simultaneous calls. The cost is about 10 thousand rubles for one device.

I figured out how this could be applied in our case. For example, for the accounting department and personnel we will supply the pipes purchased earlier, and for the rest of the employees we will purchase bases with repeaters. In total, 26 new pipes will be needed. If one base is 8 handsets, then you need 4 base stations and 2 repeaters. Base stations come with one handset; the price of the kit is about 7 thousand rubles. For 4 units we will pay 28 thousand. Plus 22 additional tubes – 110 thousand. And 2 repeaters – 20 thousand. Total 158 thousand rubles.

And there is another option: use the previously purchased Gigaset N670IP base station and handsets. For static employees, we will supply a VoIP gateway for 4 ports and analog tubes. This will cost about 14 thousand rubles. For mobile workers, another 20 tubes are needed. One base unit supports 20 handsets and 8 simultaneous calls. Three of these basic units can be combined into a single multi-microcell. There will be a total limit of 20 handsets and 8 simultaneous calls, but that should be enough. Let’s buy two N670IP base stations that come with the C530H PRO handsets. It will turn out to be 22 thousand rubles. And we will spend 60 thousand on 17 additional handsets (you can buy the C530H without the PRO extension, and having already connected them to the base station, upgrade to the PRO version). Total 96 thousand rubles.

For clarity, I made two tables:

DECT and repeater




Base station




Add. a tube









DECT and microcell N670IP




Base station




Add. a tube




VoIP gateway




Analog tube





As you can see, the difference is palpable. The fact that the repeater can handle up to four simultaneous calls also speaks in favor of the second scheme. We chose her.

We bought equipment and deployed it on two floors. To ensure roaming, I switched one base station to the combined mode “DECT-manager + base” and combined all three stations into one multi-microcell. During the setup, I also learned that from the DECT manager (DM) you can manage the entire network. And if you update the main unit to a newer version, the rest of the stations and handsets will be updated automatically (except for handsets other than PRO models).

Diagram 2. Final microcellular system
Diagram 2. Final microcellular system

If the store opens additional branches, you can buy a key and upgrade the N670IP PRO to an extended version, which allows you to combine more stations and create a large microcellular system to support 250 handsets or more.

In order not to hire a system administrator for themselves, the founders of the online store entered into an outsourcing service agreement with me. I made a remote forwarding to the DECT manager and VoIP gateway to connect from the outside. If necessary, I connect and make settings. And I work with PBX through my personal account.

Let’s sum up

Before organizing a telephone system from scratch, it is imperative to consider the possibility of further scalability in order to minimize future costs. In my case, it was also lucky that the previously purchased handsets were equipped with the GAP function and were able to re-bind them to the N670IP PRO base station.

The microcell function also helped to save money. Calculations showed that the use of this technology allowed the founders of the store to save a significant amount of money.

If you’ve organized and scaled small business telephony (or have something to say about repeaters and microcellular systems), share your ideas in the comments.

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