Investing in new technology doesn’t have to be intimidating. Phone service through the Internet, known as voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, offers many benefits, including increased productivity, greater mobility, and a lower total cost of ownership.
It’s no wonder the evolution toward VoIP from “plain old telephone service,” or POTS, and legacy private branch exchange networks, which allow businesses to connect many internal phones through an extension system, is well underway.
Online business research company JupiterResearch projects the broadband telephony market will more than double from 14.7 million subscribers in 2007 to 28.4 million in 2013. And Yankee Group, a technology research and consulting firm, estimates that there are now roughly 1.8 million small- and medium-size businesses potentially ready to make the switch today to an Internet-based phone system.
Like all investments, however, VoIP is not something you should rush into. It’s important to gain a basic understanding so you can ask providers the right questions to find out how capable they are of handling your telephony needs. Here are seven issues you need to recognize and plan for.
1. Network Preparedness
With VoIP, networks have the responsibility of moving voice, in addition to traditional data and video traffic. Voice streams are much more sensitive to network congestion than data, so it’s important to make sure your network has sufficient throughput to handle the added activity. For example, while you may not notice if a Web page takes a millisecond longer to load today than yesterday, a millisecond delay in delivering a voice packet manifests itself as a moment of silence or a stutter. To avoid bandwidth shortages and these momentary service disruptions, conduct a complete network inventory and gauge the bandwidth consumption of your existing applications and services, as well as your future call traffic patterns.
Because VoIP is delivered via the IP network using IP standards, it is subject to the same security vulnerabilities as the rest of your business’s IP-based systems, such as servers, routers, switches, firewalls, and databases. A comprehensive security policy should exist to address and document the security needs of VoIP.
Traditional handsets obtain inline power from POTS phone lines, but because VoIP handsets are connected to the Ethernet, power must be provided by alternate means. One option is to use an adapter to plug the phones into a standard power outlet. However, this leaves service susceptible to power outages. Instead, use POE (Power over Ethernet) switches that provide power over standard Ethernet lines and can be backed up with an onsite UPS (uninterruptible power supply).
4. Failover Options
Failover is the capability to automatically reroute traffic to a secondary or backup server should the primary server stop functioning. In the case of a remotely hosted private branch exchange network service, or PBX, call routing options natively exist that allow inbound calls to still be answered and subsequently forwarded to cell phones. Confer with your provider over its failover options and procedures, as these are integral to ensuring the continuous availability of your VoIP phone system.
5. Emergency 911
When a 911 call is made via a traditional phone, address information is transmitted to a local Public Safety Answering Point so emergency services can locate the caller. Due to the virtual and mobile nature of a VoIP handset, calls technically do not originate from a “physical” location, complicating the transmission of address information. Regulations now require that VoIP PBXes and service provider stations are mapped to a physical address so that the PSAP can recall your location. Understanding this upfront will allow you to better discuss your options with your service provider.
Because VoIP is delivered over Internet Protocol, phone system features can be extended to any location with an Internet connection, meaning telecommuters have access to the same features as in-office users without the expense of local PBX equipment. Mobility capabilities of VoIP vary, depending on the type of implementation, so outline both your long- and short-term mobility objectives upfront so you can see how VoIP can help you meet them.
Small business and consumer-oriented VoIP offerings generally use the public Internet to transport voice packets back to the service provider. In such cases, quality cannot be ensured. It is important not to underestimate the challenges of running real-time voice traffic over IP and to ask providers what they do to ensure a high quality of service, or QoS, that minimizes packet loss, jitter, and latency.
Scott Kinka is senior vice president of network services for Evolve IP, a provider of hosted solutions and managed technology for business communication.