|If you're a
smart businessperson, you're probably always looking for new ways to
maximize efficiency and minimize costs. One of the ways you may be
thinking about is trying out Internet telephony and
over Internet Protocol), which lets you use
to make and receive phone calls.
Internet telephony isn't a new technology (it's been around for
years in one form or another), but only fairly recently has it
become reliable and ubiquitous enough to be a serious choice for
business. While Internet telephony was once an oddity often plagued
for garbled and dropped calls, these days a well-planned and
implemented VoIP system can provide call quality and reliability
that rivals mobile phone or landline calls.
VoIP offers benefits over conventional telephony, and they generally
boil down to lower cost, less complexity and more advanced
The technology's most noteworthy
advantage (and the one that attracts the most attention initially)
is the potential for savings on telecommunication charges.
Conventional business phone service can be quite pricey when you
consider the cost of multiple phone lines, additional charges for
special features like three-way or conference calling, and the fact
that most providers bill business calls by the minute, particularly
for long distance.
VoIP lets you conduct your voice
calls across the same data
you use for everyday applications like Web access and
eliminating the cost of dedicated voice lines. Even better, VoIP
providers typically don't charge extra for those added calling
features, and most offer unlimited local and long-distance calling
for a relatively low flat fee, while International calls often
entail nominal per-minute charges. It's not hard to see how VoIP
will usually result in lower and more predictable phone bills for
Key Terms To
A category of hardware and software that enables people to use the
Internet as the transmission medium for telephone calls.
Short for Voice over Internet Protocol, a category of hardware and
software that enables people to use the Internet as the transmission
medium for telephone calls.
A type of data
transmission in which a single medium (wire) can carry several
channels at once.
Short for Public Switched Telephone Network, which refers to the
international telephone system based on copper wires carrying analog
In addition to the lower-cost phone calls,
VoIP imparts additional savings by reducing the complexity of your
technology infrastructure. For example, when you eliminate dedicated voice
lines, you no longer need to administer separate voice and data networks.
Since each has usually has its own equipment and vendors, you'll likely pay
less for ongoing capital investments and support services. Many VoIP service
providers offer hosted
PBX services that let you take advantage of advanced VoIP features
without buying or maintaining any in-house equipment.
Beyond saving you money, VoIP also has the
potential to make you more productive by giving your communications a
mobility it's never had before. Mobile phones already let you keep in touch
on the road, but what if, instead of a separate phone number, you could take
your office line with you when you travel? Take a VoIP phone on the road,
and you can place or receive calls as if you were sitting at your desk from
almost anywhere. Moreover, since your phone number is mobile as well, you
can make "local" calls back home or call around the globe without worrying
about cell phone
roaming or hotel surcharges.
How It Works
To understand how VoIP works, it's helpful to compare it to how
conventional phone calls operate. When you place a "regular" phone call
using the Public Switched Telephone Network
or PSTN (also known
as POTS, for Plain Old Telephone Service)
it's known as a circuit-switched telephony, because it sets up a dedicated
connection between two points for the duration of the call.
VoIP, on the other hand, is known as
packet-switched telephony, because the voice information travels to its
destination in countless individual network packets across the Internet.
This type of communication presents special
because the Internet wasn't really designed for the kind of
communication a phone call represents. Individual
packets may, and
almost always do, take different paths to the same place. It's not enough
to simply get VoIP packets to their destination they must arrive a fairly
narrow time window and be assembled in the correct order to be intelligible
to the recipient.
To improve performance, VoIP employs encoding
schemes and compression technology to reduce the size of the voice packets
so they can be transmitted more efficiently. Audio signals are also
digitally processed in order to accentuate the voice information and
suppress background noise. To conserve
systems stop transmitting during lulls in a conversation and even generate
some "comfort noise" to forestall the eerie silence that might make you
think the call was disconnected.
VoIP uses a number of compression standards
that offer different balances between packet size and audio quality.
Generally speaking, the higher the compression the more simultaneous calls
you can have, but the lower voice quality will be.
The Right Foundation
To get the most out of VoIP, you'll need an Internet connection that
offers enough performance to accommodate an appropriate call volume for your
company. A good rule of thumb is to have enough capacity for roughly one
third of your employees. So, if you have 30 employees, you should have
enough capacity to allow 10 of them to be on the phone at any one time.
Internet access is pretty common these days, and you may be wondering
whether that super-fast cable modem or DSL connection you already have will
work with VoIP. While cable and
DSL connections are
great for tasks like browsing the Web or streaming video, they're not always
the best choice for VoIP, because most provide with lots of downstream (to
your network) bandwidth and relatively little upstream (away from your
Case in point: cable and DSL typically offer
download speeds of several megabits per second, but most provide a mere
fraction of that (sometimes as little as 128kbps) for uploads. This type of
asynchronous connection is fine for the kinds of tasks cited above because
they primarily involve one-way communication, but making calls over the
Internet is quite different. For VoIP, upstream bandwidth is every bit as
important as downstream, particularly if you plan to use more than just one
While a cable or DSL connection with
sufficient upstream bandwidth might be acceptable for a telecommuter, home
office or sole proprietor, larger
SMBs or those that
anticipate a lot of call volume will want to consider a high-speed
synchronous Internet connection like a T1 line. Although they can be a bit
more expensive and offer somewhat slower download speeds than some
business-class cable or DSL service, at 1.54 Mbps in each direction a T1
offers ample bandwidth to satisfy the requirements of both data and voice
Preparing for VoIP
The key to success with VoIP ultimately comes down to proper planning.
The scope of a VoIP implementation can vary according to an organization's
needs and desires, ranging from the relatively straightforward using VoIP
for local and long-distance calls or to communicate between a company's
multiple offices to more complex deployments like call centers.
In most cases, saving money immediately with
VoIP won't require you to purchase any additional phone equipment or
jettison what you already have, because devices called Media Gateways let
conventional phone equipment (ranging from individual phones to an entire
PBX) interface with your Internet connection. Taking advantage of VoIP's
most cutting-edge features (like the ability to have your calls follow you
as you travel) typically require specialized VoIP phones or other equipment
and/or a hosted PBX service.
automatically block the TCP/IP ports used by
MGCP, you may need
to add a device to your network to remedy this problem. These devices also
improve VoIP performance by prioritizing voice packets over more mundane
types of traffic so your calls aren't queued up behind, say, an e-mail
People cheered when phone number portability for mobile phones finally
became a reality last year. After all, having to forgo an established phone
number can be enormously inconvenient for an individual. For a business
however, losing a long-held phone number known by your customers is nothing
short of disaster.
Switching an existing business phone number
to a VoIP provider is possible, but the time frame for doing so can be
measured in anything ranging from minutes to months. Check in advance to see
whether your existing phone company has a number transfer agreement with
your prospective VoIP provider. It can streamline the process considerably.
Did You Know...
Voice over IP (VoIP) is perhaps the hottest technology in the
telecommunications industry today. Many people believe that
VoIP-based services will change the world, creating new
competition for the trillions of minutes and billions of dollars
worth of voice calls consumers make every year. [Source: