Why we love experts

Specialty manufacturing company has a power outage that knocks out the paging system -- which wouldn't be such a problem except the whole thing uses voice-over-IP, reports this IT manager pilot fish.

"All our telephones, loudspeakers and paging adapters are connected to the VoIP telephone system with Cat-6 cables," fish says. "I called our service provider and Barney, their best repairman, said he would head over right away so we could start figuring out what was damaged in the outage.

"When he arrived, we did a series of tests together, with me activating the paging button on the phone and talking into it, and Barney on the other end in the server room with a tester on the audio output of the VoIP adapter."

Barney confirms right away that there's no analog audio coming out of the VoIP adapter. He resets the device, updates its firmware, logs onto the device over the network and goes through every audio setting he and fish can think of, trying to make the audio output work.

But the most they get working is the ding dong pre-announcement tone that sounds before a public-address page. That comes over the speakers beautifully -- but nothing fish says into the phone after that does.

After an hour, it's clearly time to call the VoIP adapter vendor's support line.

"Barney called the vendor and started telling Fred, the support tech, all our information and what we'd tested," says fish. "Several minutes later, Barney tapped on my shoulder and told me Fred seemed to need more information.

"I took the phone and said hello -- and that was where things got really weird."

Fred's suggestion: Fish and Barney should use an amplifier to listen to the audio coming over the Ethernet cable that carries the digital audio into the VoIP adapter.

Wait, what? fish tells Fred. All I would get listening to the Cat-6 cable would be digital noise leaking through the insulation. But I have an inductive tester, which can amplify the signal coming off the audio cable. Is that what you mean?

No, Fred says, we need to test the digital signal. Maybe you could hook up a telephone "butt set" directly to the VoIP cable...

This is the VoIP hardware vendor's expert? fish thinks.

But he's had enough. "I just said 'I'm gonna hand you back to Barney' as I turned to Barney and motioned with my hand in a slitting-my-throat motion," fish says.

"Barney quietly dismissed Fred, telling him we were going to try another approach. By which he meant trying to figure it out ourselves.

"We eventually did get it working 30 minutes later -- with no help from Fred."

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