VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) has been in use since the early 2000s by both businesses and consumers. However, if anyone remembers the early days of Vonage at home, you probably remember the horrible call quality issues. Today the technology has improved and the needed bandwidth is now readily available. VoIP is now the new standard for business and home phone systems.
VoIP basically means the phones are connected and calls are being carried over network equipment using Internet based protocols instead of the traditional low voltage copper lines in use since their invention by Alexander Graham Bell.
VoIP systems offer many benefits over traditional phone lines and phone systems including:
- Simplified self administration, usually web based
- Enhanced functionality including voicemail to text by email, call recording and internet based voicemail management
- Simple and powerful automated attendant systems for flexible and professional call routing
- Simple and powerful presence and call routing including find me follow me functionality, so calls can easily be routed to cell phones, home phones, office phones or wherever you are
- Simplified unified system for offices and remote staff because all that is needed is good Internet connectivity
- Built-in phone conferencing
VoIP solutions come in two main flavors, On Premise and Cloud Hosted.
The On Premise solutions have four main benefits:
- They can include integration with on premise CRM applications and other on premise software. This is great for customer service departments and other call heavy departments.
- Lower cost for some organizations that have a requirement for a large number of handsets but few actual users. This might include labs, manufacturing facilities, kitchen operations, etc. Hosted solutions will charge monthly for handsets even if they’re not being used while on premise solutions only charge for the lines being used for inbound and outbound calls.
- Greater control and visibility into security as systems are maintained in-house and access to systems is limited. This mitigates some exposure to threats like eavesdropping, call hijacking and long distance fraud, among other threats.
- Generally greater reliability and call quality due to the frequent use of dedicated switched circuits and the elimination of variables from network and Internet bandwidth limits.
Cloud Hosted solutions offer the following benefits:
- Very low up-front costs
- Handsets and possibly some networking equipment are the only needed equipment
- Dedicated Internet connectivity may also need to be purchased
- Very low maintenance costs as those costs are built into the monthly recurring subscription fees
- Unparalleled flexibility and scalability allowing phones to be setup at multiple locations, can be easily moved and can be easily expanded or contracted to accommodate changing workforce and business
- Lower Long Distance charges as many VoIP solutions offer fixed and inclusive National and International LD solutions
VoIP pitfalls and common mistakes
There are some significant pitfalls with using VoIP solutions, and often the sales people for these systems are not familiar with all the networking and technical challenges that should be considered, so it is really important to include your IT staff or consulting firm in these decisions.
Choosing the wrong VoIP solution or improper implementation can lead to lots of frustration, can impact call quality and wreak havoc on business data networks. Some of these mistakes include:
- Using the same data network that is used for your computer equipment
- In this setup users “uplink” their machines through the VoIP phones. This may be OK for some simple networks but it effectively puts a network switch in front of every computer. This can have a significant impact on network performance and may impact the performance of some high throughput applications.
- Using phones with slower ports than the existing networking equipment on your network. Many phones are sold with 10/100Mbps ports while many offices are running 1000Mbps networks. Newer networks are even going to 10Gig speeds. By uplinking to these phones, the networks are effectively slowed down by a factor of 10 or more. The phones with slower ports are less expensive and easier to sell for sales people who are not familiar with these limits.
- Not provisioning proper Internet connectivity or traffic segmentation and prioritization
- This can lead to dropped calls and call quality issues, especially when bandwidth becomes challenged by large computer downloads and online applications.
- Simultaneous loss of multiple critical business data systems including phones and Internet when there is a reliance on a single Internet provider.
- Purchasing too much networking equipment that overlaps with existing data infrastructure
- Sometimes VoIP providers try to replace existing networking switches and firewalls, which may not meet the needs of the data systems, but are sold to accommodate the needs of VoIP systems. This can lead to all sorts of network and security challenges.
Do you really need phones anymore?!
Before making any changes or replacing your current phone system, many businesses should really ask themselves do they even need phones anymore and if so how many? It used to be that every desk and person needed a phone with voicemail, but now that paradigm has shifted. Many startup companies don’t get phones for much of their staff unless they are direct client facing. I’ve seen whole offices of programmers with no phones.
With so many modes of communications including email, chat, IM, voice services like Skype and Google Voice, Slack, Yammer, etc. in addition to users’ mobile phones, desk phones have become superfluous for many. In fact, I have users complaining about having to have an office phone as it is just another voicemail they have to manage. Similarly many people are seeing their home LAN lines as unnecessary.
Alternative Internet based phone solutions
Many businesses should consider using a Virtual Phone System rather than a full-fledged VoIP or on-premise phone system. Virtual Phone Systems include some elements of a VoIP solution but do not actually include handsets.
These solutions allow businesses to have a phone number, automated attendant and call routing but lets them take advantage of the diverse phone solutions their staff already have in place including mobile phones, traditional LAN lines, etc. This is great for a distributed work force or sales team and offices that have low call volumes. These types of solutions can also be effectively combined with VoIP and On Premise systems to meet the needs of many businesses. Some of these Virtual Phone Systems include Grasshopper, VirtualPBX and OneBox.
Great VoIP solutions for office and home for people who don’t “need” a LAN line
The move is on in homes across US to drop their home LAN lines. People don’t see the need for the expense and functionality is redundant with their mobile phones. Even small home based businesses are simply using mobile phones and other solutions like a Virtual Phone System. But there are still good reasons to have a primary phone line and there are some really good inexpensive solutions to meet this need.
Some of the compelling reason to still have a “LAN” line are:
- Phone number tied to a location: Sometimes you need to call a location rather than a person and the LAN line is always in the same place. So if calling the house or the office, you may not care who picks up but that someone does.
- Safety: Having a fixed phone to ensure communications in the event of an emergency can be very important. Mobile phones wander and are tied to users but kids and staff may need to place calls to safety personnel when mobile phones are not available and don’t reflect a traceable address for 911 operators.
- Call quality: Good VoIP phones is still offer better call quality then mobile phones, especially within some buildings or areas where coverage may not be good.
Ooma is one of my favorites choices for VoIP solutions for home or small office. They offer “Free” and Premium solutions that meet most user’s needs at a very compelling price. The “Free” offering requires an up-font $100 purchase and monthly $4/month “Taxes and Fee” for their basic service plus International LD and other service charges. Their Premium services is only an additional $10/month, but this may not be necessary for many users.
In a world of so many communications options, the traditional phone has still managed to stay relevant. But with the Internet as its backbone, the phone has morphed into a much more flexible and capable tool with many different deployment options, which businesses and individuals should be keen to take advantage of.