Making The Switch to VoIP Phone Service
by Nate Rand
Switching to VoIP phone service?
Before you ditch your old analog phone service, here’s what you need to know.
VoIP, or voice-over-IP, is the result of cutting edge breakthroughs in IP telephony. The technology has the potential to allow consumers to slash their monthly phone bills, eliminate toll charges and leverage next generation calling features that were once out of reach to those with limited or restricted budgets.
Despite that cornucopia of potential benefits, migration isn’t as easy as plug-and-play. Migrating to VoIP phone service from analog without first addressing the basics could be a costly mistake.
Here are a few of the things that you will need to know prior to switching to VoIP phone service.
You may not be able to get rid of all of you analog line.
For businesses that use alarm systems, entrance door sensors, standard fax machines (not eFax), or other devices or functions that necessitate the use of analog phone lines it will likely be required to maintain some sort of analog / VoIP hybrid system in order to continue to support these systems. Luckily, the majority of VOIP phone service providers are well equipped to create this type of combination system with the use of special expansion cards or adapters.
That being said, there may be ways to replace these old analog devices with VoIP or Ethernet-powered devices that carry out the same functions. In most situations, upgrading the hardware to make it IP-ready is often more cost effective in the long run than continuing to pay to maintain the dated systems or devices would be.
You may need to update your office wiring.
If your physical office space and its wiring was designed more than a decade ago, you likely installed several runs of a CAT 6 wiring leading up to every workstation. And, that is okay if you’ve installed multiple wires and still have some freely available. VoIP phone service runs off Ethernet. Certain VoIP systems can ‘share’ and Ethernet port between the computer and the phone, however, it is almost always best to power the phones through a separate network that can be independently managed and provision specifically for voice applications. It is beneficial to confirm that each port can be deliver power over Ethernet to avoid the need of having to plug the IP phone into the wall.
You might need to upgrade switches and network infrastructure in order to achieve service quality and support traffic demand.
Regardless of whether or not your office wiring is capable of supporting a separate voice network, you will still need to determine your current data network traffic demands and whether or not you will require an additional device to separate voice traffic – such as a virtual LAN.
VoIP systems put strain on wide-area links, making it a vital success factor to understand typical traffic patterns, especially during peak usage times. You will need to uncover potential QoS issues and understand how these issues are managed over WAN links in order to effectively prioritize voice traffic and maintain a high level of call quality. Network switches should be examined as well. In certain situations, there may be bottlenecks that weren’t previously noticed when used in a data-only environment that might become problematic with the introduction of voice traffic.
Not all VoIP systems support remote offices.
One of the biggest factors that draws businesses with multiple office locations and remote users to VoIP is the ability to instantly connect dispersed workers to the corporate phone system. Advanced ‘softphone’ applications that can be accessed from any computer and certain smartphones can mimic the effect that an employee is making a call directly from inside the business even if they are stationed elsewhere. Not all systems support this type of function. Depending on how you’ve configured and setup your VPN and / or firewalls, you may have to examine multiple VoIP systems before you find one that does everything you need it to.
You need VoIP if you want a true unified communications system
The quest of a truly unified communications structure is not new, nor is it restricted solely to VoIP. However, VoIP is an excellent foundation for a complete unified communications system. That being said, it is possible to create such a solution using an analogy system – however, you probably wouldn’t want to. It is significantly harder to achieve the kind of results you would expect using analog lines because they are not nearly as flexible as VoIP.
Leading manufacturers and developers have been making great traction adding unified communications functions to their IM and email platforms, however, it is up to you to take the time necessary to develop a concise understanding of what additional software or add-ons might be required for both the email and PBX systems to enable such features. In a perfect scenario, you would want your IM client to know when you are on the phone or when you are able to accept a call or when calls should be directed to voicemail or another number or location.
Switching to VoIP phone service presents small and mid-sized businesses in particular with a competitive-edge and allows them to reap the rewards of a feature-rich communications powerhouse that was previously out of their reach. However, it is important to fight the urge to take the leap blindly, despite the promise of huge returns. Before switching, understand your business needs, determine your expectations and carefully measure your network capabilities and peak usage rates in order to ensure that you receive the greatest quality of service possible for your investment.
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