What’s all the fuss about VoIP and what does it mean to me?
This is a recurring question I’m often asked when discussing communications considerations for businesses. The acronym VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol.
It is actually a catch-all term for the consolidation of many forms of telecommunication applications into one network. VoIP enables computer data, audio, video, e-mail and other web based applications to be processed simultaneously and seamlessly. This capability is quietly causing a paradigm shift in how businesses communicate due to its cost effectiveness, such as, consolidation of IT and telecom networks, reduction of long distance expense, reduced staffing and remote office connectivity.
Without getting too technical let’s look at the mechanics of how VoIP works and how it differs from what Alexander Graham Bell gave us 140 years ago. Prior to VoIP, calls were processed using Ma Bell’s network of central offices and circuits spanning the country and globe. Traditional call processing utilized a network of telephone company cables, circuits and facilities. This was done for years using analog circuit switched facilities.
Jump forward to today – circuit switched technology is giving way to packet switched data (bear with me just a moment and I’ll explain what this is). Now calls are routed as data traffic on the Local Area Network (LAN) along with other data files to get to the other person down the hall. Calls to other businesses are routed over a Wide Area Network (WAN) or the Internet via a combination of Internet and traditional circuits.
Packet switching converts audio or analog voice signals into data packets (small bits of information) similar to file data or e-mail that can be transmitted along through routers that determine where the packets need to go. On the distant end, another router receives them with instructions on where to send the voice packets so they can be reassembled into an intelligent voice conversation. Without spending a lot of time on what makes this complex process happen, suffice it to say the process works extremely well. The quality of VoIP voice transmission has improved to the point where it is as good as or surpasses the voice quality of traditional land line based conversations.
So what does all this mean to me and my business?
The ability of integrating multiple forms of telecommunications into one network can provide an incredible efficiency realization to businesses. It is a very cost effective communications alternative.
One example would be for a multi-location business. Traditionally companies would have telephone systems in each branch linked together using expensive leased data circuits for data traffic, with traditional pay-by-the-minute long distance for voice conversations. With VoIP, long distance traffic becomes a simple extension-to-extension call thereby eliminating long distance charges between locations.
The leased data circuits are replaced with high bandwidth Internet circuits. Both voice and data traffic is routed over these “virtual” networks using the Internet or exchange carrier private networks. Now add to this the ability to utilize video and audio conferencing, remote connectivity, e-mail and a host of other communications and productivity enhancing tools simultaneously, and you begin to get the big picture.
Certainly the appeal of cost reduction is the primary motivating factor for VoIP consideration. Utilization of a single Ethernet or LAN based network, for instance, also provides for automatic reconfiguration of phones during staff moves. An IP phone can be moved to a new office and plugged into another Ethernet outlet without the need for a telephone technician. The extension number, voice mail box and all other attributes and features programmed into the phone simply move with it.
Remote teleworkers and travelling employees have access to all the same telephony features as those in the office via remote IP software in their notebook computer or IP telephones. Call routing and coverage can include both internal and remote personnel with station status information and greater cost control.
Voice over IP is here to stay. While it may be true that we are in an early phase of the curve when it comes to corporate implementation, the benefits are certainly worthy of serious consideration.
Jim Johnson is the Manager of the Telecom Division at Abacus IT Solutions. You may reach him at 205-443-5916 or email@example.com.
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