Say Goodbye to Your Old Phone System
VoIP is a major buzzword these days and for good reason. But as I speak with customers one thing I consistently find is confusion about what VoIP is and how it works. Why the confusion? Largely because VoIP is a broad term and is used to describe many different things. In this article I will try to explain what VoIP means for agencies and, most importantly, how it can save you money and increase productivity.
What is VoIP?
VoIP (Voice over IP) describes anything where voice communications (Voice) are carried over standard computer networks (IP) including the Internet. When discussing VoIP we are usually referring to one of two things:
- IP Phone Systems (PBXs) with Phones that run over computer networks
- Dial Tone that is delivered over the Internet to a PBX
IP Phone Systems:
In the past, phone systems were completely separate from computer networks with dedicated, proprietary PBX hardware and duplicate cabling. A PBX (Private Branch Exchange) is the “brains” of a phone system very much like a server is for a computer network.
VoIP Phone Systems eliminate the separation and redundancy between the two systems: Phones and computers share the same cabling, the PBX is software loaded on a computer, and the phones communicate with the server just like computers do. So how does this make things better?
Cost! – IP Phone Systems are much less expensive than traditional systems and usually have better features. The cost savings come from a number of areas:
- PBX – An IP PBX is just software loaded on a computer with no expensive specialized hardware needed.
- Phones -IP Phones are widely available and can work with almost any IP Phone system. High quality desktop phones can be purchased for under $150. A “soft phone” is software that loads onto a Windows PC or laptop and is often free.
- Cabling – Only one set of standard data cables can handle both phones and computers.
- Labor -Most IP Phone Systems are configured from a Web Browser or Windows PC via easy to navigate menus.
- Features – Most IP based phone systems (even the very inexpensive ones) have better features than traditional systems:
- Phones Everywhere! – IP phones can communicate over the internet. This means you can put phones anywhere you want. Remote offices, employee homes, soft phones on laptops that will work from anywhere. Some even provide “soft phones” for cell phones like the iPhone or Droids.
- Desktop Call Management – Some IP Phone Systems provide software to manage your calls. You can place, transfer, park, and record calls all with drag and drop ease on your Windows desktop. You can also see the status of all phones in your system and initiate chat sessions between users.
- Voicemail to Email, and Unified Messaging
- Auto Attendant / Digital Receptionist – (Press 1 for Sales, Press 2 for Service, etc…)
- Follow Me / Find Me
- Music On Hold
- Ring Groups and Call Queuing
- Dial by Name
- Conference Calling / Conference Rooms
- Call Recording
- Call History and Reporting
- And much more….
Local or Hosted – Because IP Phone Systems run over computers networks, you have the option of running the Phone System locally in your own network or using hosted on the Internet.
The second part of the VoIP equation is Dial Tone. Every phone system (PBX) must have “dial tone” available for actually placing the phone calls. Although it is often “packaged” together with the phone system in vendor’s quotes, the dial tone is actually a separate piece from the phone system.
Traditional phone systems use POTS or T1 lines for dial tone. POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) lines are traditional analog phone lines from the local phone company. T1 is a higher end digital line that can be less expensive than POTS for large numbers of lines. POTS and T1 Lines are often still a good solution but they can be very expensive. Most IP Phone Systems can use POTS or T1 for dial tone but they also add support for VoIP dial tone.
VoIP dial tone is simply phone service provided over the Internet. VoIP dial tone is provided via SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) which is a standard way for voice communications to be moved over computer networks. (SIP is also the way IP Phones communicate with IP Phone Systems).
The two big advantages of VoIP (SIP) dial tone are price and flexibility:
- Price – VoIP phone service is provided by many different companies, at many different price points. VoIP service runs anywhere from $10 to $30 per month, per line for unlimited voice and long distance.
- Flexibility – VoIP phone service is easily redirected to different locations. This means you can move your phone system to other locations. In hurricane affected areas like Houston this is a very convenient feature. You can simply take you IP Phone System to another location with Internet access and easily redirect your phone calls to be delivered to the new Internet connection. Most VoIP providers offer a Web based console for managing your phone numbers where you can make this change within a couple of minutes.
VoIP Phone service is not always the best choice but for many agencies VoIP dial tone combined with an IP Phone System provides a cost and feature combination that blows the doors off traditional systems.