Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), or Internet calling, makes it possible to make local or long distance telephone voice calls over the Internet without going through a traditional landline telephone company.
There are many different calling options, ranging from microphones plugged directly into the computer to VoIP handsets that look like regular phones but connect to the Internet via broadband. They work the same as traditional landline phones but cost significantly less.
Here is an overview of the major options in VoIP services and setup to help you weigh the effort and expense involved in implementing the technology.
First off, if you don’t already have a private telephone exchange (PBX), you’ll need to install one. A PBX is a piece of equipment that switches calls between enterprise users, allowing a group of people (at a company or campus, for example) to share a specific number of external phone lines, saving the added cost of having an external phone line for each user.
End-to-End VoIP or Combination?
The most important considerations in your VoIP system selection are how to setup your VoIP system and what combination of equipment and services you require. Once you have a PBX (private telephone network) installed you can either go for an end-to-end VoIP solution or use the PBX with a combination of traditional telephony services.
End-to-end VoIP solutions are cheaper but less reliable than traditional services. If the Internet Telephony Service Provider’s (ITSP) system goes down, you can be left without service for hours or possibly days at a time. However, the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) has what the industry calls ”five 9’s” of reliability, meaning the network is up 99.99 percent of the time. Through certain configurations, you can tap into this reliability and still benefit from the advantages of VoIP, but it may cost you more.
If you decide to go for the cost savings of an end-to-end solution, there are multiple ways to route your communications. One option is to bring phone calls into your PBX from an ITSP. Most ITSPs can port the current phone numbers on your existing analog lines or T1 service (E1 in Europe) from the local phone company to their service. The ITSP will send the calls over the Internet. The calls will either go directly to your PBX or to some type of gateway device or server (which will decode the call and send it on to your PBX).
Make sure that the ITSP will send the phone calls in a protocol your PBX or Gateway device will recognize (for example, Session Initiation Protocol or Media Gateway Control Protocol are two common industry protocols used to send calls).
Options for Integrating VoIP
If business disruption is a major concern, you can take advantage of the reliability of the public switched network by bringing analog lines or T1/E1 lines in from the local phone company to your PBX. Because your line to the outside world has ”five 9’s,” the only problems you would conceivably have to plan for would be any local power outages, or on-site network and equipment failure.
If you’re concerned about the inbound calls completing reliably, but want to save money on long distance and international calling, another solution is to setup a connection to the PSTN for inbound calls, and route outbound long distance and international calls over an ITSP.
As with any Internet-based technology, it is important to establish a security program that includes passwords, firewalls and protected networks to ensure that VoIP calls and your standard Internet service are protected from unauthorized users and uncontrolled access.
Finally, if you’re migrating from a legacy phone system to a VoIP system, you may want to consider keeping your current PSTN connection and simply replacing the PBX. The advantage of this is that you can keep the reliable voice circuit you already have to route calls while reducing the amount of time you need to test and put the new PBX into production. It can be time-consuming and frustrating to install a new data or voice circuit, so if you already have resources up and running, it’s best to stick with them.
You can get quite a bit of help finding a local solution provider who knows your business and can help you select and install a VoIP system in your business. Contact ITSPA at FindAPartner@itspa.net.