Communication has always been an important part of our lives, but with the rise of globalization and the advances in technology, there are modern solutions for modern business problems. Nowadays, more and more institutions and companies are ditching their traditional phone services and switching to VoIP instead. By doing so, they are not just lowering their costs but are getting several more features, as well.
If you’re completely new to VoIP or have heard about it but are not sure how it can benefit your business, read on. Below are 9 things you should know about VoIP, including what it is, how it works, its advantages, disadvantages, and how it can benefit you and your business.
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) or IP telephony is a service that transmits voice over the Internet instead of through conventional phone lines. It provides phone service to people anywhere in the world, and because it uses the internet, this communication method is inexpensive. Moreover, it offers features you won’t find in your regular telephone.
If you have ever called someone using Skype or WhatsApp, or via Facebook Messenger, then you have made a VoIP call. Such a call is good enough for low-volume social media usage, but for high-volume VoIP calls in a business setting, companies have to use commercial-grade systems that can handle the load.
VoIP converts the speaker’s voice, which is an analog signal, into a digital signal, then transmits the “signal” over a high-speed Internet connection instead of through the public switched telephone network (PSTN) or plain old telephone service (POTS) used for traditional phone calls. The receiver decodes the signal and converts it back to analog, and so the recipient can hear the caller's voice. The communication can be in the form of voice, but can also be in the form of video and data transfer.
The communication can be done using a regular telephone plus an adapter, though most VoIP calls use dedicated VoIP handsets (called IP phones) or software (called softphones) that use a headset, or the microphone and speakers of a computer. With VoIP, a person with a softphone on his laptop, for example, can connect to the phone system using the internet, wherever he is, and the softphone works the same, regardless of location.
VoIP providers use computer servers when routing the calls. These servers make sure that the calls reach the intended recipients based on the phone numbers. The call traffic is then merged into the phone network via Session Internet Protocol (SIP) trunking.
A VoIP service can also be either cloud-hosted or on-site. With hosted services, the providers take care of the details. Things are simple for the client, especially if you use phones certified for the service, which are just plug and play. Most systems will not need any extra on-site hardware except for the phones.
An on-site system, meanwhile, is self-hosted and needs more work. You will need an IP-based private branch exchange (IP-PBX) for routing the calls to the correct phones. You will also need a PSTN gateway to convert signals to and from digital format, as needed.
A cloud-based PBX with your VoIP system can enable employees to be located at different places and in different time zones.
IP telephony offers call waiting, call forwarding, and other conventional phone features, but at a much lower cost. It also has features and services that are not available with traditional telephony, such as:
Remote working capability
Because VoIP calls use the Internet instead of traditional phone lines, the calls can be made from and transferred to any Internet-connected device in the world, so the phone you use is not limited to any physical location or attached to a particular phone line.
Because of this, working remotely is simple. You can make and receive phone calls through the office number, even if you are not in the office.
Because you can make VoIP calls from a computer, the software on your computer can be made to work with the phone system. This will allow a hospital receptionist, for example, to access patient records while talking to a patient on the phone.
With this feature, you can have your voicemail transcribed and the transcription sent to you via email, allowing you to check your messages even when it is not convenient to answer your phone.
You can also create a call center using VoIP services, as well as create an internal phone system by networking phones together. With VoIP, you can make conference calls to run meetings, workshops, and classes where you can train your staff, or address your customers who might be new to your products.
Another thing you can do is create a contact center for communicating with your customers and the public via SMS, chats or calls. Moreover, you can also use VoIP to assign different phone numbers and extensions to your employees and departments, which improves the routing of calls and makes your company seem more professional.
The cost of switching to VoIP could be minimal or significant, depending on the size of your organization and the infrastructure you already have available.
To use VoIP, you need:
A fast and reliable Internet connection, with adequate bandwidth to support high-quality calls — In case of many simultaneous calls, you may have to reduce your non-VoIP Internet usage to give the calls enough bandwidth. If your ISP has placed a cap on bandwidth usage, that is another factor that you must consider. It is unlikely for the users to exceed the cap, even if many people talk via VoIP, but regularly check your data usage, nevertheless.
Phones — These may be IP phones, softphones, smartphones or tablet computers. You can even use your old analog phones or fax machines, but they won’t be able to use the more advanced features that VoIP phones have.
Analog telephone adapters (ATAs) — You need these if you want to use an analog phone or fax machine with your VoIP system.
A private branch exchange (PBX) system — This is needed for bigger phone systems that have virtual extensions
Modem or router — This will ensure that your VoiP usage can handle any additional load. To maximize quality, providers usually suggest using a router that has configurable Quality of Service settings and assigning high priority to VoIP traffic.
A VoIP system offers flexibility and versatility, as you are not tied to your landline. VoIP phones can be used anytime, anywhere, and you can use your computer even while on a call.
POTS service uses copper phone line networks. These old networks are expensive to maintain, which is why traditional phone service is more expensive. With VoIP, the voice messages are just as clear as with POTS, but for a lower price. You can talk to anyone in the world without worrying about roaming charges, and you can use different kinds of Internet-connected devices instead of being limited to a traditional phone.
For institutions that have an existing data network, the cost of installing and maintaining the VoIP system is also minimal. Moreover, features that had additional charges before, such as call waiting, caller ID, and long distance calls, now come at no extra cost.
With VoIP, you can also access features that are either unavailable or cost prohibitive with POTS systems. You can have call routing, call recording, automated attendants, video conferencing, advanced call screening, and voicemail forwarding. In addition, conference call support is available, without the need for bridging services, unlike with POTS lines, where that capability comes with an additional cost.
Because VoIP uses the Internet, integration with email, online directories, and other Internet services is also simple. This streamlines maintenance and reduces operating costs.
VoIP systems are also easy to install because they use existing Internet networks, unlike POTS systems where you need to install telephone poles and cables. With VoIP, you only need a few pieces of hardware which you can purchase outright or lease. Many hosted services do not even need any additional hardware, or only need hardware that are based on standardized technologies instead of proprietary products. It is also cheaper to upgrade a VoIP system than to extend a PBX system.
Another benefit VoIP has is scalability. To expand the system, you usually just need to connect a SIP-enabled phone to the network and change some settings. Some phones are even just plug and play.
While VoIP comes with a lot of pros, it does have a few notable downsides.
Lack of stability
If there is a power outage or the Internet connection goes down, the VoIP system will be down as well. System upgrades and maintenance will also result in some downtime for the system, which may be frustrating for people used to always having a working telephone service.
Some systems cannot be integrated
Some systems that can be incorporated into landlines — such as home security systems, digital video records, and digital subscription TV services — cannot be integrated into VoIP.
Degradation of quality
Because the phone system depends on the computers used and the Internet, the quality of the call may be affected when opening or using programs that eat up a lot of processing power, or when the network is overloaded or spotty. It can also be affected by hacking, viruses, and worms.
Some VoIP vendors don’t offer 911 service; some do, but charge more for it. In addition, it can be hard to physically locate a VoIP caller in times of emergency.
Communication is crucial in commerce. With the business world swiftly moving toward globalization, people working for the same company — plus the company’s customer base — may be located all over the world, spread over different countries and in different time zones.
Thanks to VoIP, however, all these people can communicate with each other easily and affordably. Businesses in different industries and of different sizes can cut down costs while increasing company productivity by facilitating inter- and intra-office voice communications.
While many businesses have completely replaced their PSTN systems with VoIP service, this is not required. You can have both systems running in your office, if you wish.
When does it make sense to still have a traditional phone line? One instance is when the possibility of an emergency may be a concern. Because VoIP is portable, it is sometimes challenging for emergency responders to find the caller in distress. In addition, if an emergency causes Internet or power outage, the IP telephony will also be down.
It is generally a good idea to have a landline augment your VoIP system if reliability and high-quality phone calls are vital in your work.
When comparing VoIP vendors, research their rates, services, customer service, and reliability, as well as user reviews of the service. Comparing providers can be tricky, as many have similar features and set-ups. The difference usually lies in their coverage and support features.
List the pain points of your existing system so that you can identify the features that are a “must” in the new system. This will help you narrow down the VoIP vendors, too. Next, you can identify additional features that are or would be helpful to your company.
Also determine if you need a cloud hosted or an on-premise system, or if there are integrations with existing or upcoming software that need to be considered, such as with a CRM or ERP system.
In addition, check the VoIP’s level of reliability. Is there an SLA? Is the amount of downtime acceptable? Can the system support a mobile workforce? How soon can the new system be set up and does the vendor provide user training? Are there softphone applications available? How about mobile apps? Is the trial period adequate?
Businesses and institutions are cutting the cord and getting on the VoIP bandwagon. This is not surprising, though, as VoIP offers a wider feature set than traditional telephony, and for a cheaper price. As VoIP technology matures and cheap, high-speed Internet becomes the norm, we can expect the popularity of VoIP to continue to rise.