This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY
The technology and installation of traditional wired phone service has remained much the same since the days of Alexander Graham Bell. In stark contrast, IP-based voice communication for business use has made aggressive strides forward while overcoming some of its past barriers and misconceptions. Today, VoIP technology coupled with a quality-of-service enabled networks can provide businesses with enterprise-grade reliability and high-definition voice quality at a lower cost. Technology and networks are maturing as businesses are increasingly taking advantage of the comprehensive features and unmatched scalability of VoIP services without sacrificing quality.
How has VoIP matured, and what is the impact of today's best-of-class technology?
A critical element of VoIP maturation has been the VoIP providers’ increased utilization of private IP networks. Most of the free or extremely low-cost VoIP services offered to businesses were often an off-shoot from consumer-based offerings where the service providers deliver their voice communication via the public Internet. This means the voice traffic was routed based on a best effort service as capacity allowed from available Internet bandwidth.
Since voice prioritization is virtually impossible when using the public Internet, voice quality issues such as garbled calls and awkward timing delays in dialogue caused by dropped packets, latency and jitter were common.
Since the business use of VoIP has driven a low (or zero) tolerance for quality and reliability issues, VoIP providers have evolved to create private IP networks that prioritize voice traffic over data traffic. Similar to segmented lanes on a freeway with voice calls taking priority via the express lane, uncongested fast lanes were created on the network to ensure quality and reliability. Because the network acknowledges the priority of a voice packet over a data packet, the business consumer is awarded a high-quality voice experience.
Additionally, because the voice packet can be traced from origination to destination, it allows troubleshooting and monitoring to an unprecedented degree. B2B service providers are differentiating themselves with fully managed services that include 24x7 monitoring from end-to-end, including the local loop. If you have a fully-hosted VoIP solution, the service provider can diagnose and troubleshoot down to the individual phones.
Hosted VoIP? Premises-based phone system? There’s no wrong choice.
VoIP solutions are flexible and can be used by businesses of any size. Whether the business is a small single-location flower shop in the outskirts of Las Vegas or a large enterprise in the heart of Dallas, there are VoIP solutions available to completely meet the needs of each business.
Hosted VoIP is a fully-managed voice solution that provides the business with enhanced features, easy technology upgrades and a lower cost of ownership.
Hosted VoIP is a great solution for the small business that does not have an in-house IT staff, a business with an antiquated phone system in need of a major overhaul, or an enterprise with a dynamic and ever-changing workforce – even a company with multiple locations with a need to connect them together.
If a business wants to integrate its phone system across six locations in six different states, switching to hosted VoIP delivers a single bill and reduces the carrier relationships from six down to a single relationship that has end-to-end monitoring and troubleshooting capabilities. Sweetening the pot even further, the VoIP solution can reduce or eliminate long-distance and toll charges.
The company also gains the ability to seamlessly add service for new locations affordably and the flexibility to add or remove individual users/stations. Communications between office locations is also simplified with four-digit dialing. This integrated solution provides impressive benefits over a traditional solution.
There are many companies who are eager to transition to a VoIP solution due to its cost savings, scalability and enhanced features, but are not ready for a forklift replacement of their current phone system. The ability to leverage VoIP through SIP trunks has improved dramatically. Integration has become cleaner, faster and easier as technology and hardware-related incompatibility issues are overcome. A business does not have to upgrade to an IP-based phone system to be able to take advantage of VoIP solutions. Service providers are offering affordable plug-and-play VoIP services for existing phone systems connected to PRIs or analog lines by deploying a standard-based integrated access device.
In a testament to the growth and maturity of premises-based VoIP solutions, Gartner (News - Alert) reported in its "2009 Enterprise Telephony Equipment Market by Seat Licenses in North America" research that new IP seat licenses outsold (59 percent) traditional TDM seat licenses (41 percent). According to the firm, an IP seat license is a telephony seat that is in use and part of an IP-enabled PBX (News - Alert) or IP PBX system that terminates with an IP phone, whereas a TDM seat license is a telephony seat that is in use and part of an IP-enabled PBX or traditional PBX/KTS system that terminates with a digital or analog non-IP phone.
Just a few short years ago, integrating a legacy phone system with IP-based telephony was a formidable challenge. Since then, the tide has significantly turned with the evolution of SIP trunking. The SMB market is primed to reap the benefits of SIP trunking and is the area where significant growth is expected, driven by hardware, software and network providers moving from proprietary to standards-based systems and services.
In the near future, many more businesses will take advantage of the cost savings and operational efficiencies of SIP trunking, but will also leverage trunking services for other cloud-based applications.
The powerhouse of VoIP has been its next-generation class of features. Find me/follow me, remote office, simultaneous ring, and unified messaging are all essential tools in today’s business briefcase.
The busy account executive who has become accustomed to receiving his or her voicemails and e-mails in a common portal, or having his or her cell phone ring if someone tries to reach him/her desk phone, would put up a valiant fight if asked to revert to the antiquated features of traditional phone service.
As VoIP continues to evolve, its future sits soundly as a fundamental element of unified communications.
UC is the integration of real-time communication services such as instant messaging, telephony, videoconferencing, call control and speech recognition with non-real-time communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax). UC is not a single product, but rather a set of products that provides a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types.
With the continued evolution of UC, the organization’s telephony applications become less isolated and more integrated into the total solution. VoIP features will become a mandatory element of a robust UC portfolio.
To satisfy the demand and requirement of business VoIP users, successful service providers must offer scalable solutions backed by quality of service guarantees. From hosted PBX services to SIP trunking, deploying lower cost Internet-based solutions no longer means having to sacrifice voice quality. As you can imagine, different VoIP providers specialize in specific types and delivery of VoIP service, technology and integration.
As we’ve learned, all VoIP services are not created the same. When evaluating communication providers for your business, it is very important to obtain an apples-to-apples comparison of like solutions.
Here are four basic questions that you need answers to before obtaining quotes for VoIP service:
- Based on our needs, do we require a vendor with a private IP network, or is best effort service delivered over the public Internet sufficient?
- Do we need to continue using our current key system or PBX, or do we want a fully hosted solution where the provider is responsible for all equipment, maintenance and upgrades?
- Would it benefit us to consolidate from multiple voice/data providers down to a single vendor?
- What are my long-term communications needs that should be considered before I make a decision on which provider to use?
VoIP is a powerful tool in your business arsenal. When you look closely at your potential vendors, we hope this information helps you determine the best-fit provider that meets your needs in the short- and long-term.
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Edited by Jaclyn Allard