As internet speeds and capacities increase and technologies and costs improve, more and more businesses are cutting the cord from traditional phone systems. They are choosing to adopt Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems.
Just the same, it’s smart to determine if the hype is justified. How good are the monetary savings? How seamlessly will it integrate with your current or future business technology? Is VoIP secure?
Before you make any decision regarding changes to your business phone systems, take a look at the pros and cons of VoIP.
How it works
VoIP works by converting voice into digital data and sending it through your Internet connection via the router.
VoIP allows for normal phone calls through the internet with all of the options usually enjoyed by business’s traditional PBX systems including voicemail, call waiting, call forwarding, conference calling, caller ID, and more.
In addition, VoIP software integrates well with desktop computers for use as “softphones”. The only requirement is that they have voice and audio input/output capabilities.
“The last decade saw a splurge of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) businesses mushrooming around the world.” – Forbes
Setting it up
Setting up a VoIP is fairly simple. You need a reliable internet connection with decent bandwidth. Most VoIP providers handle delivering calls and software needs—particularly if you’re using plug-and-play phones certified for that service provider.
Generally, there are no other hardware requirements aside from the phones themselves.
If you opt for a self-hosted, onsite VoIP system, it gets a little more involved. You’ll need to get a VoIP-friendly version of the private branch exchange (PBX) phone system many businesses already use to handle routing your calls to the appropriate phones on the network as well as a PTSN gateway to sit between the VoIP PBX software and the traditional public switch telephone network.
If you don’t wish to host your PBX software on your server, you can opt for a cloud-based phone system. That way, all of the hosting and management is done through a cloud service provider and paid on a subscription basis.
Whatever option you choose, managing the network phones and extensions is fairly simple and you can do further fine-tuning via your provider’s online account interface.
The IP phones themselves usually come in two forms. Most look very much like the traditional desktop business phone with all of the usual features—speakerphone, hold and transfer buttons, multi-caller functions, etc. Some even allow for video conferencing which comes in useful for demos, sales pitches, or just providing a human face to communication.
The other option is “softphones” which are software-based clients installed on computers and mobile devices. These offer the same full functionality as the desktop phones, plus often have instant messaging capability and, with video input available, allow for face-to-face video conferencing.
VoIP versus POTS
It’s common that when a new technology hits the scene that debate erupts over which is better. POTS is an acronym for Pretty Old Phone System, also known as PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). This has been the way businesses have handled communication since the days of Alexander Graham Bell. For that reason alone, many are hesitant to make the switch.
But how do the differences really compare for business? There are actually some solid reasons for POTS.
For one, there is continuity of business and of service. VoIP won’t work without an internet connection. Which means it’s not only vulnerable to network issues but power failures as well. POTS are much more dependable in these cases and allow businesses to maintain phone communication even when the internet is down.
911 calls can also be more reliable over landlines, whereas e911 calls are vulnerable to power or internet outages. For these reasons some companies, like alarm companies, require a landline in order to maintain their security monitoring.
And, in some cases, voice quality over POTS is still superior, but this may change as VoIP continues to evolve.
On the other side, VoIP offers a number of benefits not readily available to POTS subscribers.
What are the benefits of VoIP?
There’s a reason why so many businesses are adopting VoIP technology. While there exist a few pros to maintaining a POTS subscription, the benefits of switching to VoIP outnumber them.
Generally, VoIP systems are just cheaper than traditional phone systems. There is less hardware to purchase, and, in most cases, VoIP hosts don’t require any new hardware at all. If they do, it’s usually readily available hardware that’s not locked down with propriatary limitations.
When managing remote employees—even far-flung remote employees—there is no extra cost due to distance. Because the voice and data are being sent via the internet, there are no long distance fee considerations. New York calling Los Angeles is the same as calling across the street. In fact, most VoIP services offer free calls to coworkers regardless of location.
Monthly subscription fees are lower as well, and often don’t require a contract.
Much can depend on the amount of phone traffic you regularly have. At worst, you’re not likely to be spending more than you already are. However, you’ll have the added value VoIP can bring you.
“The advancements in technology have greatly helped small business owners to realize increased productivity and lower cost structure in all sectors.” – CIO
VoIP is particularly suited for those employees who are not tethered to a desk or traditional office setup.
Many providers offer dedicated apps for sending and receiving calls from remote locations using their data connection and mobile devices including those devices that fall under your business’s BYOD policies. You can set these apps to right simultaneously with an office phone. Apps can even function as a standalone extension.
Likewise, video conferencing options are available for salespeople to run demos and pitches with the same ease and low cost as voice communications from wherever is most convenient or effective, saving on both time and travel.
Being away from the phone is not a problem as voicemail and instant messaging can be converted to email or text messaging and sent to any device specified.
You won’t have to worry about installing additional hardware to accommodate new extensions when your business requires them. VoIP service expansion is as simple and inexpensive as purchasing another certified phone with plug-and-play adaptability. At most, connecting a VoIP-enabled phone to your network will require tweaking a few settings. You could also install the softphone client software onto additional networked computers.
VoIP allows for adding or removing any number of phones and extensions. So you can do what makes the most sense for your business’s current needs.
Integration with unified communications systems
If your business uses or is considering implementing a unified communications (UC) system, VoIP fits in well and may already be part of its infrastructure. Because both the UC system and VoIP rely on network connectivity and management, including both makes sense, and both use many of the same communication features such as instant messaging, call management, video calling and conferencing, and mobility.
VoIP becomes another tool for enhancing collaborative workflow and business productivity.
“Today’s small businesses have extensive options for selecting a business phone system, particularly now that cloud-hosted VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) solutions are so prominent in the marketplace.” – TechRepublic
Security on VoIP networks
When it comes to the security of your VoIP system, much of that is in the hands of the user. Many VoIP services don’t come with internal security obstacles for cybercriminals to overcome. For that, you need to rely on those same security protocols and best practices as usual.
You’ll want the usual robust firewall protections on your network and employee education regarding phishing scams and malware attacks. You can consider encryption and VPN options as well.
Taken as a whole, however, VoIP is as secure as traditional telephony.
Is VoIP for you?
VoIP is such a rapidly developing technology and is being adopted at a growing rate among companies worldwide. As such, it has been suggested that it may supplant POTS in time. You may want to consider making the switch. It’s simple, given the low costs, the flexibility, and multitude of services available with VoIP systems
As with any business decision, you should do the research and consult with your experts. You’ll likely find that companies dedicated to keeping a competitive edge and looking to take every advantage possible to strengthen their business are adopting VoIP as a useful tool.