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What Is VoiP?

VoIP (pronounced “voyp”) stands for Voice over Internet Protocol, and is a technology that makes phone calls possible from any internet-connected device with a microphone and speakers. 

You may not have heard of VoIP, but chances are you have used it without knowing it.

Popular internet messaging apps like Facebook’s Messenger and Microsoft’s Skype use VoIP technology to make voice calls. Many internet and cable television service providers today bundle VoIP phone service with their internet and cable packages.

Quick 2 minute VoIP overview.

VoIP has been steadily growing in popularity, and adoption of the technology has grown from replacing traditional telephones and cellular networks to adding voice and video calling capabilities to messaging apps. All of this has been driven by the convenience of internet connected devices and the low cost of VoIP phone systems compared to copper wire phone service.

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WHAT IS A VOIP PHONE?

VoIP phone can convert an audio signal to digital data. A traditional telephone can act as a VoIP phone when connected to analog telephone adapters (ATA) that perform the conversion. The digital data then travels over the public internet to the device or phone being called. That device converts the audio data back to sound using software and speakers.

How VoIP and VoIP Phones work
A VoIP phone system explained

Because VoIP conducts phone calls over the internet, a couple of requirements need to be met for a VoIP call to take place. The audio signal for the call needs to be converted to digital data, and that data needs to be sent over a network connection.

Devices other than phones can be used to make VoIP calls, as long as they have microphones, speakers, and an internet connection. Smartphones have the required hardware, so they just need an internet connection and a softphone to make VoIP calls. Desktop computers and laptops can also make calls with a headset or integrated mic and speakers. Traditional telephones can also be connected to a VoIP adapter that converts their calls to work over the internet.

Below are the three typical hardware configurations used to make a VoIP call:

 

Traditional phone to VoIP service

Analog phones need an adapter to receive their audio signal and convert it to digital data packets. The adapter sends this data to a router via an Ethernet cable. The router sends the audio call data over the internet to a VoIP service provider. A VoIP server then routes it to the destination being called.

Traditional phone using an ATA VoIP adapter
How a traditional phone can make use of VoIP

IP phone to VoIP service

An internet protocol phone is designed to create digital audio data and send it over an Ethernet connection to a router. The call data then travels to the VoIP server, which routes it to the other party’s device.

VoIP phone connecting to VoIP provider
A VoIP phone connecting to a VoIP provider

IP phone to IP phone

It’s also possible for IP phones or softphones to call each other directly without using a VoIP service to mediate between them. This direct calling method can be difficult to set up properly if one of the devices is inside a corporate network with a NAT router. In this scenario, the two VoIP phones send audio data to each other’s IP address through routers connected to the internet.

VoIP phones connecting directly without VoIP provider
Two VoIP phones connecting direction without a VoIP provider

You might be interested in: Cisco VoIP Phones, Polycom VoIP Phones

 

What Is a Softphone?

Softphones are applications that use VoIP technology to place telephone calls over the internet to other VoIP phones or to traditional telephone numbers.

Because it’s a software program, softphones are available for any computer or mobile device with internet connectivity, including desktops, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. As long as a device has a microphone, speakers, and an internet connection, it can be used with a softphone application.

WHY IS VOIP BETTER THAN PSTN?

VoIP has become increasingly popular as businesses have realized that it’s an elegant solution to a number of problems that plague traditional telephone services.

  • Limited capacity: Traditional telephones services need to install the infrastructure for each landline at a location, which limits the number of phone users that are supported at any given time.

  • Inadequate features: Because landline telephones operate separately from digital technologies, the hardware is limited to receiving, making, and recording voice calls.

  • Outdated hardware: Analog telephone systems aren’t able to integrate with digital technologies, which leaves voice calls orphaned from the rest of a business’s information systems.

BENEFITS OF SWITCHING TO VOIP?

VoIP offers a number of benefits when compared to a local telephone company’s service, but three stand out the most for companies with call centers, a large office workforce, or growing long distance bills.

  • Reduced phone charges: Because VoIP uses the internet to conduct voice calls, it can establish connections to anywhere in the world without incurring the same long distance charges you would expect from traditional phone services. 

    Calls made within the same service provider’s network are free regardless of the distance between the calls. For calls placed to different networks or landlines, calling costs are typically much lower than traditional phone services.

  • Increased productivity: VoIP increases worker productivity by integrating voice calls with larger unified communications platforms and business intelligence applications.

  • Better scalability: Traditional phone systems require equipment installed on-site to support the number of users at a location. VoIP can be scale up as a business grows much faster at less cost.

WHY USE VOIP FOR BUSINESS?

VoIP can offer the greatest benefits to organizations that stand to save on large phone service expenses, are struggling with legacy telephone equipment maintenance, or are transforming their processes with modern technology. Here are some of the reasons switching to VoIP may be a good choice for a business.

  • Lower cost: Long distance and international calls can become burdensome for national and global organizations. VoIP eliminates the premium that goes with long distance calls using traditional phone service.

  • Connect multiple offices: A business that spans numerous locations across one or more countries can find that traditional phone service is a logistical headache. VoIP offers businesses unified locations, which connects an entire organization’s phone systems to a single system.

  • Broadband internet service: Most organizations have the internet infrastructure and bandwidth to switch to VoIP. Call centers might require an increase in bandwidth to a location, but VoIP usually doesn’t require major upgrades.

  • Save on outdated phone systems: Traditional landline phone service requires costly maintenance of on-site equipment, and equipment upgrades are needed to increase the number of lines that are available. This maintenance is eliminated by VoIP because it uses the location’s existing local area network.

  • Need for scalable technology: Rapid workforce growth can test the scalability of a business’s existing information systems. VoIP scales as quickly as desktop computers, mobile devices, or desk phones can be purchased and installed.

  • Overcoming geography: Global organizations face the unique challenge of integrating teams spanning two or more countries. VoIP can make bridging the geographical divide much easier when included in a larger technology package for managing remote teams.

  • Unified communications: Adopting VoIP also clears a path to a unified communications platform that makes modern contact centers and internal communications more efficient. Because voice calling is a primary means of contact, traditional telephones prevent unified platforms from reaching their full potential.

  • Managed VoIP services: Managed service packages like Epik’s offer all the hardware and software needed as a complete service package for a simple per-user monthly charge. This takes the headache out of switching to VoIP for businesses that want to avoid the expense of purchasing and owning VoIP hardware themselves.

VOIP ISSUES AND DRAWBACKS

The drawbacks of replacing a traditional phone system with VoIP relate to the dependency of the internet technology that it relies on to deliver voice calls.

Whether it’s the increased cost of electricity or the difficulties that an unreliable internet connection can create, VoIP does come with a few downsides. Below are some of the potential drawbacks to be aware of when choosing a VoIP service.

  • Call qualityQuality issues that can happen with VoIP include excessive delays when placing calls, strange sounds, echoes, and excessive noise on the line that you usually don’t encounter with landlines.

    When these issues develop, they can be difficult to track down because they may be caused by poor internet service, insufficient bandwidth, the VoIP hardware, or the VoIP service provider.

    Many VoIP services have been improving their quality of service, but these issues often still linger when an inadequate internet connection is being used.

  • Need for a power source: Traditional telephones are powered with electricity which is delivered by the local telephone company through a landline. Since power is supplied through a landline, they can function during local power outages. VoIP devices, however, use power from a wall socket, which means they can fail during local power outages unless emergency power is available. The need to supply power can also increase an organization’s utility bill as a result.

  • Consumes internet bandwidth: VoIP operates over a broadband internet connection, so it will add a bandwidth load to your existing internet service. For large organizations, their bandwidth may need to be increased to accommodate the data usage that a new VoIP service will require. Many VoIP providers like Epik offer unlimited bandwidth with a set of fiber optic internet plans to solve this issue.

  • Security: Another weakness of technologies like VoIP is the ever-present security risk of sending data over a public network. Many VoIP phones and Hosted systems are designed to encrypt the voice data they send over the internet to protect against malicious eavesdropping, but organizations concerned about the potential loss of privacy should examine security closely when considering a VoIP service.

  • 911 emergency calling: 911 is part of the traditional phone system, and VoIP has not been required by regulators to offer a connection to 911 service. The need for emergency 911 service has led the VoIP industry to offer these services in most cases, especially for residential customers. Epik offers its own e911 technology to ensure emergency services can be reached.

GETTING THE BEST VOIP EXPERIENCE

There are several ways an organization can optimize the benefits of VoIP. Here’s are a few ideas:

  • Hosted VoIP solutions: Modern hosted solutions use cloud servers to provide the connectivity needed to manage a site’s VoIP service. Changing the resources needed for the number of users required is a simple process of adding or subtracting cloud servers, or changing server settings. It also makes recovery from hardware failures fast and reliable.

  • Fiber optic internet serviceFiber optic internet services like Epik’s FIBERLINK allows organizations to operate their own private network that connects disparate locations to the internet. These dedicated network connections are managed and maintained 24/7 by the service provider.

    The bandwidth and reliability of a private fiber-optic network is much higher than standard broadband internet connections. A private fiber-optic network allows your VoIP data to travel securely and unobstructed, avoiding public internet traffic.

  • Up-time guarantees: Uptime guarantees are important when choosing a hosted or managed internet service. With the advent of cloud technologies, these guarantees have been pushed as high as 99.9% by some service providers because they can quickly respond to outages and restore service with backup servers. Be sure to choose a service provider that stands by its guarantee.

  • Responsive support: Another important aspect of VoIP service is the responsiveness of the customer support offered by the service provider. Look for providers who guarantee response and resolution times and who provide multiple channels of contact, such as online chat, phone, and social media messaging.

You might be interested in: Questions to Ask When Considering Hosted VoIP for Business

FURTHER READING