VoIP Phone Systems

VoIP Phone Systems

How VoIP Technology Fits Into Your Business Network

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For decades, PBX has been the standard for businesses needing to incorporate multiple lines and extensions in their day to day phone use. When Voice over IP (VoIP) came onto the scene, it looked to be a game changer. VoIP was easier to manage, had more options and in the long run was less expensive than analogue PBX.

Today, most businesses are opting to upgrade to VoIP - but before you make the choice to change, here are a few technological things to know about VoIP.

VoIP Technology Overview

Servers

Servers are the core of any VoIP set up. These are the computers that will translate digital signal to voice (and back again) as well as route your calls, track your metrics, and in some cases, act as an interactive voice response system (IVR). The more extensions and higher call volume you have, the more powerful the server should be.

Pros: Physical servers on site have a couple of advantages. Servers can be serviced in house rather inexpensively, or even remotely monitored by a third party service. This means that the cost of upkeep on a physical server is marginal. You buy the server and maintain it, costs are controllable and finite.

Expansion of your service really depends on the system you purchase, but typically, plan for expansion when purchasing your server.

Cons: If you lose internet service, you generally lose your phone connection.When an onsite server goes down, there typically isn't any backup. Having a dial-up backup modem will help, but your VoIP server runs the risk of overloading your dial-up bandwidth leaving you still dead in the water.

A DSL backup might work well depending on your server, but you will have to pay for DSL service to utilize it as a backup. If you're already on DSL when you have an outage, you are at the mercy of a repairman to solve the problem. Many local phone companies will offer an analogue backup package, but these solutions will not give you full functionality should your VoIP server go down. The best you can hope is to accept incoming calls and route them manually.

Cloud-based VoIP services

There is another option - the cloud. Cloud-based VoIP servers offer some flexibility that even new VoIP servers cannot compete with. So before you make a choice of servers, it is important to understand the pros and cons.

Pros: Cloud-based VoIP is managed by one provider. In essence, cloud-based VoIP is a one stop shop. This means that the business owner has more control over long-term and short-term costs. While physical cabling will always need an onsite vendor, everything else associated with your phone system can be handled with a single phone call.

Cons: VoIP is not the "be all, end all" in small to medium business voice solutions; there are some down sides. One of which is that service quality is and will continue to be an issue for years to come. Not all providers are the same.

A small cloud based business can set up a server in their basement and offer cloud services, this does not mean they are on par with larger, or more established businesses. The same can be said for those that buy "cloud space" from other services and pass their overhead on to their customers.

Researching a company's history of service and quality is imperative. BuyerZone can connect you to top notch VoIP sellers in your area.

The other disadvantage is that while there is less money needed for startup, there is a long term commitment to monthly, quarterly, or even yearly payments. Cloud based services of any sort will add to your monthly overhead.

Another disadvantage can be quality. In some cases, voice quality can suffer if there is too much delay from your business to the remote cloud server, or if your bandwidth given by your ISP is too low.

Other considerations

Bandwidth

Whether you decide to use an onsite server or go with the cloud, you will most likely have to address bandwidth issues with your ISP. This could conceivably be a simple phone call and a T1 install or it could be something as big as your local internet service provider installing a dedicated fiber line to your place of business.

Talking with your ISP can give you an idea of how much more bandwidth you will need. Adding a server and several (to a couple of hundred) phones means you will most likely require more bandwidth. How much bandwidth varies depending on your business' needs.

Tip: Find out how much bandwidth your current business practices uses. That provides a good baseline for how much more you will need. Getting a professional appraisal is highly recommended. You will spend money on the consult but save in costs and/or downtime on the back end.

VoIP Technology Overview

Infrastructure

At the end of the day, how well your VoIP performs all comes down to router space and speed. Upgrading to more bandwidth is a simple phone call in most cases. Not having enough speed or available ports in a router has the potential to touch off a major network overhaul as you expand. Typically, a wide area network (WAN) will consist of an ISP, a modem, a firewall, switch(es), and devices. Upgrades to firewalls and switches might be needed, as well as cabling.

For example, if one wishes to have both data and voice on their wireless system (great for warehouses and larger buildings) then WAPs (wireless access points) would have to be upgraded as well to Cat6 at least.

Tip: When planning to purchase new switches leave 25-50% of your new switch unpopulated. That is to say, if you are planning on 20 devices being on your new network, purchase of a 24 port switch is not as preferable as say, two 24 port switches. The extra "space" allows for future upgrades as well as the option to cut over other systems to be managed by your network ( I.E. fire alarms, security systems, cameras, etc).

Cabling might have to be added anyway as standard Cat3 used for analogue phones will not service VoIP phones, which have the same cable and bandwidth requirements as PCs, laptops, and modern network printers cash registers. Make sure your switch, firewall, and cabling are up to snuff. Failing to do so will result in dooming your upgrade before you even start.

One of the most exciting, and daunting aspects of changing to a VoIP telephone solution are the technological options. There are many options to choose from and while most are solid, research will ferret out less desirable results. Getting recommendations and reviews from those who have already made the leap will help arm you with the knowledge you need to gain the benefits of a VoIP solution.

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