Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP,
is today’s hottest and most confusing new technology. Because of so much misunderstanding and complexity, Teleco has written this page to inform and educate business telephone system consumers. We hope that you find it helpful, but if you need more information, please call us.
VoIP consists of 3 major components…
Making Calls Over the Internet
This is the most common use of VoIP. It is often referred to as VoIP lines or trunks or VoIP service. If you have a high speed internet connection, like cable modem, DSL, or T1, you can use your high speed connection to make phone calls on the internet. There are many companies like Vonage, Lingo, and VoiceWing (Verizon) that offer VoIP lines. Cable companies, such as Cablevision and Time Warner, also offer VoIP lines, but only if you have their cable modem service. So, to boil it down, instead of getting your dial tone from Verizon over the traditional phone network, you get your dial done from your internet company. Any phone system made (even an old one) can take advantage of VoIP lines. You do not need an IP based (IP PBX) business telephone system or even IP compatible office phone system. This is one of the biggest misconceptions about VoIP. You can save money with VoIP without necessarily investing in new hardware. Teleco can help you decide if Voice over IP is right for you.
The advantage of VoIP lines are:
- Lower Bills. Usually you pay a flat monthly rate and all your calls in the USA and Canada are free. In some cases you also get one bill for both your voice and Internet services.
- You can take your number with you. If you move around the corner or across the country with VoIP you can keep your existing phone number even if you move to a different area code.
- Multiple area codes. You can get phone numbers from different area codes or even overseas numbers.
- Portability. You can move the VoIP router with you and take your service easily with you. You can even set it up to use your laptop with a virtual soft-phone and a WiFi connections to make calls from anywhere you can get high speed internet access.
- Features. VoIP lines come with Caller ID, Call Forwarding, and lots of other great features.
The problems with VoIP lines are:
- Quality is not quite as good as traditional phone service, but it’s close and getting better all the time.
- Set up can be very challenging, especially if you are planning on using your own router or have a network.
- Depending on how fast your internet connection is, it may be possible to make several calls at the same time over the internet. However, the more calls you make at once the slower your internet connection will be and the poorer the sound quality of your calls will be.
- Faxes, modem, and alarm systems don’t work well over VoIP lines. Sometimes they won’t work at all. Local fire and building codes often require traditional lines for fire alarm systems.
- If you need a lot of lines, you may need more then one high speed connection, so the cost of the high speed internet connection may outweigh the savings.
- There are some minor technical issue using VoIP lines and Automated Attendants and Voice Mail systems.
- If your internet access goes down, all your phone lines go down too.
- VoIP lines normally don’t work if the power does out, but you can set up back up batteries.
- Right now the Government does not tax VoIP service. If that changes the price VoIP may not be as attractive anymore.
- Inbound toll free service is not included in the monthly fee, so your savings may not be as big as promised.
- Many VoIP carriers are data companies and not phone companies. Often they are not able to fix voice problems. This is especially relevant to cable companies.
- Cable Company VoIP lines are usually limited to 8-12 lines and don’t offer DID or PRI services, though some carried have expanded this to 16-24 lines and are working on DID, PRI, and SIP options.
- Some VoIP carriers don’t provide up to date caller ID information on incoming calls.
Business class VoIP works in much the same way as for residential VoIP with one important difference. With business class VoIP, a T1 is delivered to your office that provides both VoIP voice lines and Internet service. This means that your VoIP provider and your ISP are the same company This distinction is very important once you need more then 3 or 4 outside lines. Since your Internet connection is coming from the VoIP phone company problems such as latency, jitter, and static are greatly reduced. Basically, your call has to travel a shorter distance. With residential, your call goes from your ISP, to your VoIP phone company, and then to the person your calling. That’s 3 steps, or hops, and problems that affect sound quality can occur anywhere along with way. Even if there are no problem, there can be slight delays in your voice transmission, similar to talking on a cell phone. With business class VoIP, your ISP and your VoIP telephone carrier are the same company. That reduces the call to 2 hops, so things work better and you can get more calls on the same Internet connection. Your telephone system sees VoIP lines just like traditional dial tones. You can get VoIP lines delivered as POTS, PRI, T1, or SIP lines. Teleco can help explain which type of line is best for your needs.
Business class VoIP also has the advantage of being dynamically allocated. This means that when fewer people are on the phones, the Internet speed is faster. Voice always gets priority, so phone lines are always available. Packages are available from 5 to 105 lines or more and may come with unlimited calling or a large allotment of included minutes.
Business service is far more important then residential, so it’s vital that you choose the right carrier. There are several major carriers like Verizon and Sprint and many smaller national carrier that you’ve probably never heard of such as XO Communications or Broadview Networks. There are even more regional carriers that only service a small area and even more resellers that just package someone else’s service. Let the experts at Teleco help you navigate through the maze of carriers and offers.
Connection Remote Workers or Remote Offices…Voice over IP Stations.
This is the 2nd major use of VoIP. You can “connect” to your office phone system from anywhere there is a high speed internet connection. Using a special VoIP MEGACO telephone, a Laptop “soft phone“, or even a PDA soft phone, you can work from home or the road and it’s just like being in your office. You have access to all your phone system features including your intercom, internal and external paging, all outside lines, voice mail, and even your extension can ring on your VoIP phone. Best of all, you don’t lose the use of your computer. One high speed internet connection can run your VoIP phone and your PC at the same time. There is a more basic type of VoIP phone that uses SIP technology. SIP phones are not as full featured as MEGACO phones, but they can be less expensive and more portable. There is even an SIP IP cordless phone that will run on your Wi-Fi 802.11 wireless network. VoIP station pricing has dropped substantially in the past 2 years. Call Teleco and see if adding VoIP stations is right for you.
With this same technology, you can link multiple office together into one seamless phone system. You can even share lines or one voice mail system. You can even run your entire phone system over your office LAN or WAN without separate voice wiring (often called Pure IP or IP Based telephone systems), though that is very expensive and complicated and is best suited for very large companies with full time IT staffs.
Voice over IP is very exciting and more and more people are using it everyday. Let the experts at Teleco help you understand if VoIP is right for you. Voice over IP is available on both the NEC IPK, NEC DSX, and Toshiba CIX digital telephone systems.
Hosted PBX / SIP
The 3rd and latest itineration of VoIP is the hosted PBX solution, also called IP Centrex. Using a technology called SIP, session initiated protocol, generic VoIP phones can connect to a virtual phone system located at your carriers facility. SIP allows users to take their phone and phone number with them anywhere there is an internet connection. The big advantage of SIP is that there is little or no hardware for you to maintain. Everything is “hosted”. That’s also the biggest disadvantage. There are no major hosted PBX companies yet. Since you don’t own the equipment you are not in total control. Features may be more robust then you need or may end up being less customizable depending on your specific needs. Certain other features are difficult or even impossible with a hosted system. Door phones, paging systems, even music on hold all create major problems when you don’t have any hardware onsite. Everything runs over your internet connection and through your LAN / network. You need to be able to manage your LAN in order to make sure everything runs correctly and with the proper sound quality. QoS or Quality of Service is a critical component and your LAN hardware may need to be upgraded to support QOS. You may need to get an expensive network assessment to deal with any problems that arise after the installation.
There are 2 basic types of hosted systems; 1st party and 3rd party. 1st party means your hosting carrier and your ISP are the same company. You don’t use generic Internet access, but dedicated Internet access. This is by far the best quality service. 1st party provides end to end QoS. Your calls do not go over the “cloud”. This can be very expensive however. The Internet access is normally delivered via T1 or Ethernet and therefore is not suitable for small companies. Expansion can also be a problem because each dedicated connection can only support a fixed number of phones. If you grow beyond that point, you could need a 2nd T1 just for a few phones which would be very expensive. Some 1st party hosted systems also do not support remote 3rd party phones, so setting up a phone at your home office can be difficult or impossible.
3rd party hosting runs of generic Internet access like DSL or cable service. There is NO QoS at all. Your calls go over the regular Internet and are subject to disruption, hacking, and monitoring. Quality is the biggest issue. If the Internet is slowed by a virus, hacker attack, or service disruption it can great affect your phones calls. 3rd party does make it very easy to move your service or to just use a phone at any remote locations. All you need is an Internet connection. 3rd party hosting is also the least expensive option, but to date, no major carriers support this option, only very small start up companies. Basically this is because of the lack of QoS control on phone calls using generic Internet.
Also, if your Internet access goes down, then of course you have no phone service at all.
You also lose a great deal of control over your telephone number. Normally your phone number is connected to a physical wire of some kind in your office. In a hosted solution, your phone line is not in your office at all. If something happens to your hosted PBX company, like they go our of business, your phone number could be in jeopardy. Switching hosting carrier or going back to a traditional phone system can be very difficult as well since your phone line is not in your office. Billing disputes can also leave your phone number held hostage by your hosted PBX provider.
Cost is another issue. Usually hosted PBXs are more expensive in the long run then buying your own PBX. You have to pay a monthly fee per hosted telephone. If you have lots of phones that can really add up. Conversely with your own PBX you pay a monthly fee for every outside line. If you have a lot more telephones then outside lines, hosted PBXs will probably end up costing much more then buying your own equipment. If you have a close coloration of lines and phones then a hosted solution may be a good fit for you.
SIP phones themselves are another issue. Unlike a PBX or Key Telephone system, SIP phones are generic. The biggest makers are Plantronics and Cisco. PBX/Key phones have multi-colored LED’s, lots of buttons, and easy to use one touch keys. SIP phones have very few buttons. Most features need to be accessed either on-line or through a menu on the phone’s display. SIP phones, depending on the provider, do have many impressive features and may be especially suited to power users. More basic users may find them complicated. You also don’t get a local vendor. You’re paying for a monthly service and there is no one locally to call if you have a problem, so an in house IT staff is very important if you are going with a hosted solution.
More VoIP Resources
- Laying the Groundwork for IP Telephony
- Avoiding Potholes on the VoIP Path
- VoIP Is Scary
- The Hidden Costs, and Savings, of VoIP
- VoIP Security a Moving Target
- Voice Blog
- VoIP News
- NY Time Technology
- Tech Speak
- SIP…Why isn’t anyone drinking?
- NEC IP Telephony
- The Big move to IP
- Is your IP Phone Vulnerable?
- Is voice quality holding back VoIP?
- Security threats come a-callin’
Below is a highly technical white paper on IP Requirements prepared by NEC