In the global business marketplace, communication is key. The ability to instantly connect with customers, employees, suppliers and distributors is necessary to stay competitive. Over the last decade, many companies both large and small have leaned of the advantages of IP solutions. Some companies are still debating on switching their services, and others look to new features and recent innovations. Here we explore the pros and cons of business VoIP, hosted PBX, SIP Trunking and unified communications.

VoIP is a relatively recent technology. It goes by many other names including Voice over Broadband (VoBB), internet telephony, IP telephony and broadband phone. VoIP is the transmission of voice data from one IP address to another. It was developed in 1995 as a way to get around charges associated with long-distance and international calls. Since its initial development, VoIP has revolutionized communication worldwide. In order to transfer voice data, the signal has to be broken down into small packets. Those packets are then routed over the internet to the receiver, where they are re-formed to create the voice. The voice signal is compressed for transfer and then decompressed upon receiving. VoIP streamlines a range of business applications including video conferencing. It has transformed the way companies communicate.

Business VoIP

When companies decide to implement VoIP solutions they will likely need to make some improvements to both their network and power supply infrastructure. Latency is when data packets are lost while being sent over traditional IP environments. VoIP needs the lowest latency possible, as it is voice data being transferred in real-time. Existing LAN cabling should be replaced with gigabit Ethernet or a fiber backbone. Companies need to be sure that they have reliable uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) for all crucial network components. These changes will also benefit daily activities like accessing web databases and using applications. As always, businesses need to be aware of security risks. Small companies are often less resilient to disruption of business caused by security breaches. The most common threats include confidentiality, service availability and user authenticity. If, for example, the only method of authentication used is caller ID an attacker can easily make it appear as though they are calling as someone else and gain unauthorized access to sensitive information. A quick internet search will return the default usernames and passwords to most VoIP systems. Therefore, it is crucial that when setting up the VoIP system companies change the default login information. Any unneeded services and ports should also be shut down. Otherwise, they provide hackers with easy access to the company’s servers from the internet. VoIP relies on the internet service to work. Anything that can affect your IT network or computer can also affect your VoIP system. Businesses should always check systems regularly and monitor their performance. VoIP is a natural integration of your computer and telephone systems, they work together to increase productivity and reduce costs.

Hosted PBX

Small businesses may find that it makes the most sense to use hosted VoIP solutions, also known as hosted PBX or private branch exchange. Hosted PBX is a cloud-based system accessible via an IP network. A hosting company provides the needed number of extensions and they handle all server maintenance, management, upgrades and security. The hosted PBX system can be managed on site via a control panel. This option is great for small or start-up companies, as they do not incur network infrastructure costs.  These systems still have many features available including call waiting, call routing, transfers, auto attendants, extension dialing and hold music. Hosted systems are easily deployed, as they only require businesses to have a network and the telephones, the host service provider handles everything else. Larger companies generally choose to have their PBX system on-site as they can customize it more precisely, but hosted PBX companies do provide many customization options.

SIP Trunking

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking is the use of VoIP to facilitate the connection of a PBX to the Internet. Throughout the telephone network, telecom providers are phasing out the old Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) with its analog, ISDN BRI, E1 or t1 lines, and are moving customers to IP. Therefore, a SIP trunk and a phone system upgrade in the near future will be inevitable. Verizon will phase out ISDN in the U.S. by 2018. According to Infonetics Research, Session Initiation Protocol trunking increased by 62% in 2015. The SIP protocol allows telecom providers to deliver over IP. With this standard protocol, VoIP providers connect one or more channels to the customer’s PBX. SIP trunks are not bound to a site, so it is easy to move office locations and support the same contact numbers. Connecting an IP PBX to SIP trunks is easier than via the PSTN. Security is also a concern here as SIP trunks are exposed to the internet; the SIP trunk must have a secure network and anti-fraud system in place. SIP trunking offers the advantage of being able to combine data, voice and video in a single line, eliminating the need for separate physical media for each. This results in enhanced reliability for multimedia services with lower costs.

Unified Communications

Unified communications describes the integration of real-time, enterprise-level communication services such as instant messaging, presence information, VoIP, mobility features like extensions and single number reach, audio, web and video conferencing, desktop sharing, data sharing and call control with communication services that are not real-time such as voicemail, email and fax. Unified communications is not available in one single product; rather it is a set of products that offer a consistent unified user experience across multiple devices and media types. In broad terms, unified communications encompass all forms of communications that are integrated into network communications, which help people exchange ideas and do their jobs more effectively. Unified communications seeks to integrate the software solutions that support synchronous and asynchronous communication so the end-user has easy access to all tools from whatever computing device they are using.

The Bottom Line

VoIP solutions continue to shape and change the communication landscape. According to IT World, switching to VoIP can save small businesses as much as 45% each month over traditional phone service. Implementing unified communications solutions can save companies with 100 employees up to 191 company-wide hours per day, 49,660 hours per year and up to $920,000 per year in productivity. According to Juniper Research, there will be 1 billion VoIP users by 2017. Using VoIP solutions can help companies save time and money. These tools help employees stay connected from anywhere, increasing productivity. As the global marketplace continues to expand communication tools will continue to be vital to staying competitive.

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