ShoreTel’s Guide to VoIP
VoIP, the Voice over Internet Protocol, is a way to use the Internet to make phone calls. It’s been around since the mid-1990s. Since then the number of businesses using it has steadily increased, and so has the variety of ways they’re using it. In this guide we’re going to compare VoIP to traditional office phone systems to better understand what it is, how it works, and why so many businesses are making the switch. And we’ll start with a simple comparison to music.
Vinyl records are a very limited medium. They hold music, that’s all they really do, and they need specialized equipment to do it. Compare the inflexibility of records with the flexibility and efficiency of their modern equivalent, MP3s. MP3s can be transferred between devices, downloaded from the Internet and even sent with emails. They can be played on phones, tablets and laptops. MP3s are highly adaptable and they’re a very efficient use of space and energy.
Traditional phone systems can be compared to vinyl records. They’re good for basic functions, calls and faxes, but they require specialized equipment. Traditional phones are far from flexible and they’re anything but adaptable. You can’t have a text chat with a traditional telephone just like you can’t download a vinyl record.
The weak link with traditional telephones is the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS). The POTS is a technology with roots in the copper wires and telegraphs of the Victorian Era. It’s far from cutting edge. And though the POTS is reliable, it’s an inefficient technology. A single phone call uses a set portion of a line and that line must be dedicated to that call, even if the phone’s just off the hook.
VoIP, on the other hand, is as far from traditional telephones as MP3s are from vinyl records. VoIP wasn’t designed around the copper wire networks formerly used for telegraphs. Rather, it was designed, from the ground up, to be used on the same IP networks on which the Internet is based. And just as you can access the Internet from your PC, smartphone or tablet, VoIP technology allows you to make phone calls with nearly anything that connects to the Internet.
There are two types of VoIP telephones, the hardphones and the softphones. VoIP hardphones look just like traditional office telephones. From the outside, you can’t tell them apart. VoIP softphones are actually programs (software or apps) that let computers and smart phones make VoIP calls. In both cases, the VoIP phone runs on its local computer or WiFi network.
It’s because they’re digital devices and they run on computer networks that VoIP phones can act like computers, and can also have access to the same information as computers. And this opens up worlds of new functionality, entirely unavailable to old-fashioned telephones.
Since VoIP operates digitally, on the same networks as computers, VoIP phones can combine forces with computers in many useful ways.
Use ‘Presence information’ to find out if you’ll get a busy signal before you make a call. Many VoIP systems tell you the availability of the person you’re about to call, even before you call. It can tell you if they’re busy, available, off-line or even out to lunch.
Ready to make that call? Many companies have now placed Click to Call buttons on their websites. When a person browsing the site clicks one, it automatically dials the company’s phone number, connecting the company with their soon-to-be customer.
What if you want to just have a quick text chat? Many VoIP services have text chat functions that allow you to type your messages back and forth. Maybe you want to have a more in-depth discussion and prefer to have it face to face. A VoIP video call makes that easy to do.
Are you in the type of business where people rarely stay behind their desks? Find Me/Follow Me (FMFM) is a set of functions that make sure the right people can get in touch with you when you want, where you want. FMFM can be set to ring multiple phones at once, or ring them in your predetermined sequence, whenever a customer calls your business number.
ShoreTel’s Sky Communicator has great implementations of these and other features.
The Bottom Line
Implementing a VoIP communications solution for your business is an excellent way to strengthen your bottom line. This is true for many reasons.
First, is the availability of the hardware. There are many VoIP softphone options that run on hardware (computers, smartphones) your office probably already has. So unlike records that require turntables, VoIP calls are like MP3s that are happy on a variety of devices; there’s a huge range of devices available on the market from which to choose.
Second, VoIP phones don’t need traditional phone lines. Like MP3s that can be transferred and played over a computer network, VoIP calls are equally at home on networks. Since most offices already have networked computers sharing an internet connection, VoIP can just tap into that same network. Adding a new VoIP phone won’t require running a new line as it can with traditional phones.
Third, telecom companies charge based on how much of their resource, their network, your phone call uses. Calls that occupy less of their network will cost less. Digital VoIP calls have an enormous advantage over analog POTS calls in this regard and so calling charges are usually far lower with VoIP calling plans.
And finally, there is overall operating efficiency. Take a look back at the More Features section above and ask yourself how many of those features sound useful. Now ask yourself how many your traditional phone system is able to do. Switching to VoIP brings those and many other advantages, some even unexpected, to your company and its bottom line.
Our Guest Contributor for this post is Craig Borowski from Software Advice, a company that researches and reviews Business Telephony software. A version of this article first appeared on the Hello Operator blog, which you can find here.