By Sue Buckley, Director of Connectivity and UC, ISG Technology Some would say the telephone has not changed much since AT&T was founded over a century ago. About the only significant upgrade in the phone system—which has never been completely rebooted in its history—was the switch from a rotary dialer to touch tone 50 years ago.
That reality plays out for businesses that keep paying the same phone company for the same service. But a company can breathe new life into old technology by leveraging the power of the Internet to get more from its phone system. This includes reliable video conferencing, collaboration tools for employees and partners, and integration with mobile devices. Doing all of that in the cloud has the added benefits discussed below.
VoIP and PBX Background
It used to be that a business that wanted a phone system with advanced features had to purchase their own on-premises PBX. Now small and medium-sized business can get that kind of enterprise sophistication by using a cloud-based PBX/Hosted Voice solution.
Some years ago, people looked to VoIP (Voice on the Internet Protocol) and SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) to go around the old phone company monopoly and tight-fisted cellular providers. But the VoIP reliability and latency problems of 15 years ago have been be resolved by private network VoIP carriers and improved PBX technology, with carrier-grade quality of service (QoS).
The VoIP Provider
The term VoIP stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol. It is a broad term that covers any phone calls made over the Internet, as opposed to traditional telephone lines, otherwise known as the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network). Other terms that are used interchangeably with VoIP include, IP telephony, Internet telephony, voice over broadband, broadband telephony, IP communications, and broadband phone service. They all describe the fact that the Internet is used to digitally transmit the voice signal to another telephone or endpoint.
The VoIP carrier ferries calls across private Internet-like (IP, or Internet protocol) networks. This means data is carried using the same packet structure as email, Facebook posts, Netflix video, WhatsApp messages, and other regular web traffic. That approach provides simplicity via the ability to work with standard network equipment on one converged network via a single Ethernet cable to the desktop for the phone and PC, eliminating expensive cable runs.
The VoIP provider uses carrier-grade, Ethernet/fiber bandwidth networks. This is not the normal cable or copper wire connected to the home or office (the so called “last mile”) but cross-country fiber cable used to connect ISPs to each other.
VoIP and PBX Options
So how does one implement VoIP and obtain a PBX? There are basically three options for business:
Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is a communications protocol that is widely used for managing multimedia communication sessions such as voice and video calls. SIP, therefore is one of the specific protocols that enable VoIP. The SIP trunks provide the connection between the PBX and the public telephone network, replacing the need for legacy telephone lines or PRIs (Primary Rate Interface). Voice circuits over Ethernet, or SIP trunking lets an office keep their existing IP phones but tap into the cost savings of VoIP.
An IP-PBX uses VoIP yet retains the ability to work with POTS (plain old telephone) copper wire lines, also called PSTN (public switched network), so that the desktop phone can talk to people who do not have VoIP. IP-PBX requires the installation of a premise PBX at the business and replacing existing analog desktop phones with IP phones in the office.
Hosted (Cloud) Voice PBX
The hosted voice PBX has the same enterprise features as the on-premise PBX except that is it hosted with a cloud service provider and eliminates installation of the phone system on premise. The business end users connect via IP to the provider for voice service. Hosted Voice/PBX companies handle call routing, or switching, at their own location and are responsible for managing all of the PBX equipment and software involved in the virtual PBX service. Hosted PBX services can function over the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) over the Internet (hosted IP PBX via Internet telephony, or VoIP), or over a combination of the two. A Hosted PBX lets employees work from their home, a hotel or on their cell phone while still being connected to the same office telephone system. Just like a Fortune 500 telephone system, you can transfer callers, put them on hold with music or have the phone answered by an automated attendant who can direct callers to different departments.
Voice and conference calls and data service provided by a hosted PBX in the cloud has several advantages. There is no equipment to purchase and no lease to negotiate. There is no meter: the provider charges the same fee per month. There is no on-site PBX to maintain, no software to upgrade and no need to hire a technician to keep it working. Plus a hosted cloud system provides failover to another site in the case of power outage, fire, or other. Finally it avoids technical obsolescence. Moving voice and computing infrastructure of all types to the cloud can free companies from investing in costly phone equipment while enabling use of sophisticated features, boosting reliability, increasing security, and leveraging best practices.
Tangible Benefits for the Business
So that’s the technical background. How does a hosted cloud PBX benefit a typical business?
A hosted solution provides the ability to go to a desktop client, mobile app or web page and with a few clicks make the mobile phone an extension of the desk phone on an as-needed basis. This lets the employee travel and move about without being tethered to the office. The employee who is out of the office can use office applications right from the mobile device without the awkwardness and often problematic VPN connection. The company can configure the phones such that an incoming call to, say, sales rings the mobile number of every member of sales team. There is no need to publish personal mobile numbers, because the business number will forward—a big advantage for security. Call forwarding also ensures that a live body answers every call.
In sum, VoIP brings the benefits of the Internet to the desktop. It provides the required QoS to ensure there is no jitter or delay in voice and video communications. People who have used Skype have seen this where people end up talking over each other.
The IP-PBX handles communications between the desktop, mobile device, and POTS networks. Placing that in the cloud is the least cost, most secure, and most reliable way to do so. Plus it avoids the risk of technical obsolescence as the provider upgrades their system to attract new customers and retain existing ones.
Sue Buckley is the Director of Connectivity and Hosted Voice Solution with ISG Technology, a full spectrum data center and IT infrastructure partner uniquely positioned to provide complete solutions from client premises all the way to the cloud. Learn more at www.isgtech.com/learn/hosted_voice.