Would My Business Really Benefit From Using VOIP?

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Published: 03rd June 2013
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VOIP, or 'voice Over Internet Protocol' to give it it's full name, basically entails making and receiving telephone calls via an Internet Protocol (IP) network (typically the internet) as opposed to the convention way through the public switched telephone network (PSTN). The benefit to using VOIP is mainly lower call charges, especially useful for businesses whom make a lot of calls overseas. But how exactly does it work and are there any downsides to using VOIP instead of conventional landlines?

How exactly does VOIP work?

VOIP phones or associated hardware and software convert conventional analog phone signals into digital signals that can then be transmitted over the internet. There are a number of steps involved in making this happen that usually take place inside the VOIP handset, software or VOIP hardware. These steps include digitisation of the analog voice signal which is then encoded and packaged into 'IP packets' that are then transmitted over a packet-switched network. On the receiving end of the transmission, the opposite procedure is carried out to revert the digital voice data back to analog to create the original voice stream. Providing then that both users at either end of the line have VOIP phones, the call can be handled entirely over the internet without any need for landline telephone cables. The vast majority of telephone applications (call centre telephony management software, hunt group software etc) can all utilise VOIP.

What are the main advantages?

From a business perspective there are a large number of benefits to be gained from converting to a VOIP telephony system. Low VOIP technology costs and increased bandwidth efficiency both contribute to reducing the cost of VOIP systems over conventional systems. In addition to these, what other key benefits are there?

Because VOIP runs on commodity hardware, such as personal computers, laptops and (more recently) personal smartphones there is no real need for separate telephone equipment such as handsets and associated equipment. This then saves time and money purchasing and installing this equipment. This also reduces the time and money involved in maintaining additional equipment.

Telephone call costs traditionally also include an element of profit for the phone service provider which is absent from VOIP calls. Cost savings can also be had from the fact that a single network can be employed to carry both voice and data reducing the need for separate networks. Some VOIP calls are completely free albeit that there is still a charge for the internet service to carry the call. Skpe is a good example of just such a service.

Unlike a traditional landline, VOIP phones are not 'fixed' to a phyiscal location. Where ever you are, as long as you can plug the phone into a network, you will receive your calls. Remote home workers for example can use the company VOIP services where ever they are providing they can get an internet connection.

Although IP data transmissions are inherently less reliable than data transmitted via a PSTN, suffering from packet transmission latency delays and so-called 'jitter', there is more and more software being developed to overcome these issues and bring the standard and reliability of VOIP on a par, if not in excess, of conventional PSTN systems. Providing thought is given the right hardware and software taking into consideration the full required use of the VOIP system, there should be very few problems in regards to quality of call.

So there appears to be a great number of advantages to using VOIP systems over conventional copper-wire PSTN systems. So are there any downsides?

Power failures can affect both telephony systems although due to VOIP being a more recent technology, the impact can be greater, well that is the current situation. The power to operate analog phones tends to be supplied by the service provider and therefore a power cut does not always render the phone unusable. Whilst voice machines may suffer, the ability to make and receive calls remains. The same is not true of VOIP systems, which are powered via a router, modem or similar equipment powered by the local electricity source. If there is a powercut therefore, the phones are rendered completely useless and no calls can be made or received. In more recent years however, battery backup systems are being used more and more as a way of overcoming this problem with VOIP given its increase in popularity. This disadvantage therefore, will soon become a thing of the past.

Because an IP has no correspondence to a physical location it is not possible to physically pinpoint where a call was made from for emergency purposes. Should a fire break out and an emergency call made using a conventional telephone line, due to the direct relationship between the line and the physical location, the emergency services will know exactly where the person was when the call was made. From a VOIP perspective, this problem is increased further by the use of 3G networks and virtual private networks for example, which allow calls to be made from any location as long as the network can be accessed.

Another issue faced by VOIP, and most other internet based transmissions in general, is that they are open to attack by malicious hackers. Using a variety of software hackers are able to eavesdrop on calls not conducted over a secure VLAN and can even change the content of calls. Whilst there is hardware and software available to combat these issues it is still quite expensive and therefore not always readily available to consumers. Having said this, providing that a carefully thought out and secure VOIP installation is carried out any risks can be kept to a minimum allowing businesses to take full advantage of VOIP solutions and the cost saving benefits that they attract.

Choosing the right VOIP consultants and installation engineers can help prevent the vast majority of the disadvantages mentioned above. Whilst installing a basic VOIP system is relatively straightforward, there is a lot of knowledge needed to pre-empt any issues and ensure that the right hardware and software is used based on the intended uses and requirements of the customer.

For businesses based in and around Manchester, The Network Guys Ltd, who provide a range of IT support services, can help ensure that your VOIP installation is of the right standard for your business needs. The Network Guys can be contacted via their website by clicking here.

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