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Prepare for the inevitable: Switching to VoIP

Thought Leadership on Telecommunications presented by TeleStrategy, LLC.

The handwriting is on the wall, as they say. Within the next three years your telecom provider will force your business to use VoIP for your phone calls. You may have heard horror stories about VoIP, but the reality is that VoIP service quality is actually great if the service is deployed properly. The best providers have figured it out. And, VoIP enables all kinds of cool unified-communications tools to improve the productivity of your employees.

The term VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. It is a broad term that covers any phone calls made using Internet Protocol instead of using the traditional telephone lines, T1s or PRIs. In fact some of the largest local dial tone providers will not allow you to order traditional phone service if your business is in a building where they offer their fiber based services. Why? The short answer is because your telecom provider is currently using Internet Protocol (IP) technology in their backbone networks today and maintaining that old copper infrastructure with Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) technology is costing them a fortune. It makes sense that it is less costly for the telecom companies to have their customers using the same newer technology that they are using in their networks. You must prepare now so that you can migrate to VoIP on YOUR timeline and not your provider’s timeline. Here are the questions you need to ask to get yourself started:

1. Does my company require traditional guarantees of call quality or is my company fine with occasionally experiencing wireless/cellular phone type call quality?

VoIP technology is taking your analog voice signal and transforming it into a digital signal using Internet Protocol which is the language that is used to communicate on the internet and in telecom provider networks. Most businesses think that VoIP means using the internet for phone calls, and that is not accurate. If deployed correctly, VoIP services offer the same high level of call quality that you have experienced from your traditional voice services. “Deployed correctly” is the key to great call quality. If your company expects guaranteed call quality, VoIP service will probably not save you much money over your traditional phone service because you will need to have a dedicated connection between your location and your telecom provider. Across that dedicated connection you will run VoIP and your phone call will never touch the worldwide internet and the provider will provide quality guarantees.

If you are willing to try VoIP without a guarantee of call quality, then the savings can be huge because you can use your Internet connection to process your calls. The first question to ask yourself regarding call quality is “Is my company fine with occasionally having cellular level call quality?” If the answer is yes, then you will be happy using VoIP through an Internet connection. Voice across the internet, if deployed correctly and with adequate Internet bandwidth, will be very good quality 98% of the time. About two percent of the time you will have a “bad cell phone call” moment where the call drops or the words are clipped. If the answer is that you are not sure what your company’s tolerance is for call quality, you should choose a provider who will let you start with Internet based VoIP and transition to dedicated VoIP if needed. Not all providers offer both options.

2. Is my current phone system IP compatible?

Contact your existing phone vendor to find out if your current system is IP compatible. If it is, they will explain the process to upgrade your phone system to accept SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) from your telecom provider. SIP is one of the specific protocols that enable VoIP. It defines the messages that are sent between endpoints and it governs establishment, termination and other essential elements of a call. SIP can be used to transmit information between just two endpoints or many. In addition to voice, SIP can be used for video conferencing, instant messaging, media distribution and other applications.

Your telecom provider can deliver a dedicated SIP connection directly to your phone system or you can chose to use SIP trunking across your Internet connection (remember there are no call quality guarantees if you use SIP trunking across your internet connection). Critical to a successful deployment of SIP trunking across Internet (or often called SIP across BYOB – Bring Your Own Bandwidth) is selecting the right internet provider, sizing your internet bandwidth correctly, and several technical meetings between the phone system engineers, your IT team that manages your firewall, and the telecom provider engineer.

3. Do I want my staff dealing with the phones or do I want to outsource it?

If your current phone system is not IP compatible, then you need to start thinking about purchasing either a new IP PBX or looking at hosted VoIP. Purchasing a new IP PBX will be similar to the same process you have gone through with other phone system purchases, but you will be presented with a host of unified communications features to consider. You will need to purchase a maintenance contract and/or have someone onsite prepared to do all your adds, moves, and changes.

Another option is going with a hosted VoIP provider.  A hosted VoIP phone system is where the CPU or “brain” of the system that controls all the calls, settings and operation of your phone system is located or hosted by your provider in their data centers. Rather than purchasing an entire phone system, you can either rent or purchase the handsets or have no handsets and utilize headsets attached to the computer. You can rent the network router and switches if you want. With hosted VoIP you can have an operating expense monthly instead of a capital expense of the phone system and still enjoy all the advanced features of unified communications like “find me, follow me” and auto re-route of calls in the event of an outage or emergency. Hosted VoIP providers bill you monthly per user.

Hosted is a great option if you open and close offices frequently, want to scale up or down your number of users without buying a system for max capacity, and have multiple offices. Hosted VoIP can be especially attractive for large enterprises who need to update phone systems in branch locations, but they are not yet ready to evaluate IP PBX for headquarters or larger offices.

Larger businesses often become their own hosted VoIP provider to their enterprise by putting their IP PBX in a data center connected to an enterprise SIP connection with branch voice calls supported via an MPLS network. Carefully setting up the provider accounts riding the SIP connection can also guarantee those branches will have proper E911 service.

4. Who is the point person in the company with the technical expertise to manage the migration to VoIP?

You will need one person who manages the project regardless whether you are adding SIP to your IP ready phone system or going with a hosted VoIP provider. If you don’t have this resource internally, engage a consultant or telecommunications broker with extensive experience analyzing the options and successfully implementing VoIP solutions. Having experienced help with your analysis and deployment will allow you to avoid the mistakes that can make a mess of your migration and insure a good telephone experience for your employees.

With the answers to the four questions above, you will have the basic information you need to start planning for your migration to VoIP. Start now so that you are ready before your telecom provider discontinues your current telecom services or decides to increase the rates to force you to migrate on their time table. The good news is that VoIP offers excellent call quality, enhanced features, and you might even save some money!

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