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Complete Guide to VoIP

Tuesday, September 8, 2015 - 14:30
Complete Guide to VoIP

A common decision facing today’s enterprises is whether or not to implement VoIP services in their organization. Most people today have heard of VoIP – a commonly used term – but to some it may still seem confounding and difficult to define. To round out your VoIP knowledge, answer your questions, and to help fill in the gaps, we’ll go over the main aspects of VoIP.

What is VoIP?

In the simplest terms, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is defined as a technology or set of standards for the delivery of telephone calls and other voice communications over the Internet.  It involves converting analog voice signals into digital signals.  As data usage across the web became more prevalent in the mid-1990s, the ability to generate voice signals over the Internet came into being.

Prior to this development, all calls came across Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) lines. These lines – comprised primarily of copper wires – lack the speed and bandwidth capabilities now inherent with digital lines utilizing IP. Moreover, traditional phone lines are limited to sending and receiving calls and faxes, and while the line is in use, it cannot be used for any other function. Beyond those purposes, there is not a lot of flexibility or further availability through the outdated technology that makes up basic analog voice lines.

In contrast, VoIP was specifically designed to run across digital data lines using the internet protocol. And with the prevalence and growth of mobile data accessible devices, VoIP implementation and its usage has grown as well. This technology allows users to connect virtually any device such as PCs, laptops, smartphones, tablets, and more to the internet – using both data and voice connections.

Learn How VoIP Works:

What Equipment is Required to Use VoIP?

VoIP is used in many enterprises today through IP-based handset phones or through software-based phones that run on computers. There are different brands and types of physical or hard phones. They may come with a basic display or one that has a large color display. Some have side cars for quick access to direct extensions and some come capable of conferencing functions.

Alternatively, a software-based phone, also known as a softphone, is an application that can run on computers or smartphones. The commonality between the two types of phones is that they both run over the digital or data network using the internet protocol.

Three Setups to Obtain VoIP Connectivity

1. Analog Telephone Adapter (ATA)

This connector enables an analog phone to connect to a digital or internet connection. You basically connect the phone cord to the ATA and another cord runs from the ATA to the internet router.

2. VoIP Across an IP Phone

With this type of phone, you can plug in directly to the internet router, without requiring an additional adapter.

3. VoIP Running Between Two Computers

The equipment required with this setup is: the VoIP software or soft phone, a sound card, high-speed internet connection, a built-in or external speaker, headset, and microphone. Once you have the proper equipment in place, you can then decide on the type of VoIP service to implement.

Options for Implementing VoIP

So you’ve obtained the necessary equipment to get started with VoIP. Now, you’ll need to decide on the best delivery method for using VoIP in your organization. Today's organizations now implement VoIP in a variety of ways. Some of these setups require onsite equipment, and some use a combination of TDM and IP both on-premises and through a service provider network.

1. Hosted VoIP

With a hosted VoIP setup, the Voice-over-IP service resides at the service provider's location. The provider's network and equipment are utilized to control calls. Some advantages to this VoIP service include: low upfront costs and minimal equipment purchasing. Moreover, there are no ongoing maintenance fees since patches, repairs, and upgrades are all handled by the provider. On the other hand, there could be less control for the organization and features may need to be individually selected and added à la carte.

2. Managed IP PBX

This solution is a good fit for companies that don't want to be bothered with managing all of the complexities of their communications network. A managed IP PBX is similar to a hosted VoIP setup; however, the difference is that instead of the service provider managing the VoIP system at their location, they additionally provide and manage the equipment that resides at the business's location. In this setup, the provider installs, configures, and deploys the equipment for the customer and then manages it for them through the duration of the service contract.

As with hosted VoIP, implementing a managed IP PBX requires little equipment or upfront costs, and the complexity of management is reduced by converging the networks. However, some companies are concerned about security issues, additional hardware costs, and the lack of control over the on-premises equipment that came from their provider.

3. Pure IP PBX

This VoIP implementation choice comes delivered as a software-based version of a traditional PBX - often in the form of an appliance. This appliance typically replaces any existing TDM PBX. It uses the existing data network to transport its voice services. Advantages of this setup are that there is more flexibility and control on the enterprise end for both deployment and ongoing maintenance. Downsides include the upfront expense of the new appliance and a hard cut over from one system to the other, without the possibility of gradual migration.

4. Hybrid IP PBX

This method of VoIP implementation involves using a combination of existing on-premises TDM equipment with IP. This option allows companies to make use of the capital investment they made when their TDM PBX was purchased.

To enable IP services, these companies must install an IP card into their existing PBX and use their onsite IP network to transport voice media over data circuits. In this way they are able to avoid per-minute long-distance charges typically incurred over traditional metered service.

Other positives realized when selecting this setup are that the migration process can be gradual and existing equipment can be used. On the other hand, there is a lesser degree of application integration that is possible with this infrastructure arrangement.

To Choose VoIP or not to Choose VoIP - That is the Question

So if you are still unsure whether setting up VoIP for your enterprise environment is still the correct decision - after reviewing your choices for VoIP implementation - take a look at some of the benefits and challenges to using VoIP.

Benefits of VoIP:

  • Advanced calling features and improved internal communications that come with VoIP installations offer more ways to stay connected. These implementations include enterprise features like auto-attendant, audio, video, and web conferencing. Furthermore, VoIP setups allow users to manage all features such as email, fax, IM, presence, and voicemail, through one unified solution aka Unified Communications.
  • Lowered infrastructure costs are realized using VoIP, in terms of a reduction in required network management and the amount of toll costs incurred. By merging data and voice networks, onsite IT business staff can handle adds/moves/changes with ease via a user-friendly web portal.
  • Mobile telephony features are available with VoIP installations and provide portable features like call forwarding, find-me/follow-me, ring-tone modifications, voicemail-to-text or visual voicemail options, mobile twinning, and more.
  • Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery is provided with most VoIP installations, including a failover solution or the ability to re-route the company’s main number to a cell phone(s).
  • Application Integration is possible using VoIP, by linking existing applications and programs with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) applications. When this information is merged, client information becomes readily available and calls can be placed right through that system.
  • Opportunity for Increased IT Focus often results from freeing the IT team from the day to day responsibility of managing on-prem hardware and applications. This allows the team to focus resources on creating competitive advantage.

Challenges of VoIP:

  • Additional equipment expenses may need to be incurred depending on the type of VoIP installation chosen to be implemented.
  • The capital expense vs. operating expense decision must be made by finance and senior management. VoIP structures, especially those that are hosted setups lend themselves to an operating expense model. If your company would prefer to purchase and keep equipment for a longer duration, it may lean towards a capital expense model instead.
  • Security and compliance issues with 911 are a concern for some companies. With shared provider resources they may worry that their proprietary information is vulnerable, though evidence points to few practical security worries in this scheme. Additionally, there are specific requirements for E911 service when using VoIP, which companies are required to keep current.
  • Lack of control is an issue for certain enterprises. Some VoIP setups may not be right for some companies if they want to retain more control over their equipment and configuration changes.

How VoIP Can be a Powerful Tool in Your Enterprise

As referenced above, the reasons to implement VoIP far outweigh the challenges. Using VoIP, companies are able to reduce their hardware and support costs, incur fewer calling charges, improve their available telecommunications features, and increase efficiencies through the use of VoIP coupled with powerful Unified Communications tools.

Now that you're more familiar with VoIP and all the ways it can benefit your enterprise, why not migrate to VoIP today? Or, click here to learn the hirstory of VoIP.

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