How Does VoIP Work?

With the NBN expanding across Australia, new ways in the way we are doing business open up, also in the way we communicate orally. Whilst in the past VoIP was difficult to sell as an improvement over traditional landlines due to slow Internet speeds and sometimes unstable connections, things have come a long way. With the Coffs Harbour area being one of the first areas in the country to have widely established access to the NBN, VoIP has become an interesting option for many businesses.

As Voice over Internet Protocol communication develops further and high-speed Internet becomes cheap and easily accessible, an increasing number of businesses are ditching conventional landlines and moving to VoIP. The hype makes VoIP sound almost magical, making it out to be more flexible, have more features and also be significantly cheaper than placing your calls through traditional telephone service providers.

So, is VoIP really all it’s cracked up to be? Are there any potential pitfalls, and are they worth the monetary payoffs?

 

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How Does VoIP Work?

If you’re looking at a hosted service, things can be pretty simple. Many of the top VoIP providers can deliver calls to your phones and software clients without much hassle by handling the heavy lifting offsite. This is made even easier if you use phones that are plug-and-play certified for the service you’re subscribing to. Most of them do not require additional hardware aside from the phones, except for maybe a space for a small box of hardware somewhere at your office.

If you want to compare this to maintaining a self-hosted, on-site VoIP system, the latter requires a bit more work.  The first thing you need is an IP-based private branch exchange (that is a VoIP-friendly version of PBX phone systems that many businesses use) to route your calls to the appropriate phones on your network. You will also need a PSTN gateway to sit between the IP-PBX software and the analog signals of the public switched telephone network to convert calls to and from digital signals as required.

 

What Do You Need to Implement VoIP?

Depending on the size of your business and the infrastructure you already have in place, moving to VoIP could cost you next to nothing, or it could come with significant up-front costs.

To make VoIP work, you need a broadband connection. The more simultaneous users you have, the more bandwidth you’ll need. It is important to make sure that your internal network – including routers and switches – can handle the load, too. Our technicians at Advanced Technology can supply and install the best routers with configurable Quality of Service settings and will assign VoIP traffic high priority to maximize quality.

You need to take into consideration whether your Internet service provider has a bandwidth cap in place. Most VoIP service providers use the high-quality G.711 codec for VoIP communications which consumes 64kb of data for every second you talk. In practice, even a large number of people should be able to communicate on VoIP without hitting bandwidth caps, but it is still something you will want to keep close tabs on to avoid exceeding the data usage cap.

It is important – even if you subscribe to a cloud-based hosted VoIP service – that your phones can communicate over VoIP. Most VoIP systems use Session-Initiation Protocol technology to assign each phone or VoIP software client a specific address. As such, you need a SIP-enabled phone to make VoIP calls. If you want to keep your old analog touch-tone phones or fax machines, they can be plugged into an analog telephone adapter (ATA), however, they won’t be able to use many of the advanced features that SIP-based VoIP phones have to offer.

 

VoIP Positives

The question is, of course, what makes VoIP so attractive for businesses?

The biggest attraction is most definitely the low cost. Business VoIP services can be significantly less expensive than traditional phone services. There is less hardware to buy or lease as many hosted services often require no new hardware investment at all. If you do need hardware, it is typically based on standardized technologies such as SIP, as opposed to proprietary products that tie you to a particular service provider. Monthly subscription fees tend to be lower and often contract-free.

VoIP is cheaper than traditional landlines if you have staff in far away locations. As calls within the network travel exclusively over data networks and don’t need the use of public phone lines, most VoIP providers let you make calls to your coworkers for free, even if you’re in Coffs Harbour and they’re in Darwin or Perth.

Many VoIP providers offer mobile apps that let you make and receive calls from the road using your data connection. There are options to adjust the apps to ring simultaneously with your office phone or to act as a stand-alone extension.

Another boon is scalability. It is typically easy to add new extensions to a VoIP network by connecting your SIP-enabled phone to the network and adjusting the relevant software settings.

Most VoIP and IP-PBX software packages deliver robust feature sets comparable with traditional phone providers. The basics you’d expect to see are present – including conference calling, voicemail, Internet faxing, and caller ID – but VoIP services also have started to offer virtual receptionists and greeting functionality, customizable advanced call screening and forwarding rules, integration with office software and the ability to forward voicemail to your email or your mobile phone. Many providers offer these advanced features as part of a subscription. Although there is extra cost involved, it tends to be less than what a traditional phone provider would charge for the same services.

If you need only a single line and want cheap calling but don’t require all the bells and whistles associated with a business line, you might be able to get by with a residential VoIP plan. Be aware, however, that the terms of use for consumer-focused plans typically forbid using the line for commercial activities. Most providers also have stringent fair-use policies, so you might run into trouble if your residential line rings off the hook day in and day out.

 

VoIP Negatives

VoIP’s most significant drawback is that if your power or your Internet service goes out, so does your VoIP service. Hosted services skirt around this issue by automatically bumping incoming calls to voicemail, or by forwarding calls to your mobile phone in the event of a service disruption.  It does, however, not change the fact that you won’t be able to make or receive calls from your office phones in such a situation.

In rural Australia, the availability of a good, stable high speed Internet connection is a definite issue, with outages more frequent on the traditional network than they would be on the NBN. Also to consider is the fact that some ADSL connections might not be fast enough to handle clear, stable VoIP phone traffic.

Whilst the per-minute rates for international calls tend to be very competitive, reaching foreign locales can be iffy at times, especially if you’re calling a less-prominent country. At times of high Internet traffic the quality of the call can also suffer.

Some features that are provided by standard phone systems and are important to many businesses, such as line-hunt, haven’t made it yet on the list of features that have successfully been implemented in VoIP phone technology.

Finally, although VoIP voice quality typically rivals that of a landline or a good mobile phone connection, your network quality can seriously affect call quality. If you have a slow, spotty or crowded network, audio quality can suffer greatly or even drop out in a worst-case scenario.

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So, Is VoIP The Right Solution For Your Business?

In the end, it is a decision every business owner has to make for themselves by weighing up the pros and the cons and factoring in whether the positives outweigh the negatives for them. That decision can be made easier by engaging a professional service, such as Advanced Technology, to take a look at your current setup, assess the infrastructure you have in place and advise you on the best course of action for your individual situation.

Our technicians have in depth experience in the field of telephony and are sensible to the fact that different businesses have varying requirements. We’ll be happy to provide you with the right software and hardware solutions that seamlessly tie in with your operations, and a phone and data plan that is tailored to your needs as well as helping you keep your network healthy.

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