VoIP: Does it really add value?

Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP has been widely acclaimed as the new wonder technology which combines traditional voice telephone communications with revolutionary high-speed Internet services. It is time to investigate the claims and present an unbiased view of the initial hype surrounding the technology.  

Overview 

Utilising data networks, VoIP circumvents a traditional telephone network and digitises voice data which is transmitted over the Internet as data packets using a unique IP address connecting VOIP phones. By substituting traditional phone networks with the Internet, costs may be considerably lower because charges for local service connections or long-distance calls are avoided. Additionally, companies do not have to install and maintain a private branch exchange (PBX) system for individual phone lines for every employee. Businesses can integrate voice communication with other data functions to deliver advanced features unavailable with standard phone services. 

What will your business gain? 

Cost for long-distance calls and local service are noticeably lower for both consumers and companies by eliminating dedicated telephone networks. Savings are also significant with the exclusion of separate service lines for voice and data. Smaller businesses could retain their broadband service and eliminate all or most of their phone services. Cost reductions are specifically noticeable in long-distance use. 

How does it compare? 

VoIP features can be far more advanced than even the most sophisticated PBX at an initial lower hardware cost. A web interface allows the compilation of a list of multiple phone numbers for automatic call forwarding. Companies can control calls by screening or blocking calls from specific numbers. In addition, a visual mailbox manages both voice mail and faxes which can also be forward to email addresses. 

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Smaller companies will benefit since PBX hardware is not only expensive, but it also requires on-site maintenance. VoIP brings a virtual PBX without the local hardware investment or maintenance. Companies will receive individual phone lines, voice mail, conference calling, call forwarding within the network and similar features for each employee. 

A VoIP phone number is linked to a virtual Internet location and consequently, remote workers can turn a laptop with Internet into an office phone with all the advanced features. Calls over a VoIP network does not necessarily require a special VoIP phone since calls to an office number can be forwarded to a mobile phone or home number.  

The greatest potential benefit to businesses comes from easier integration with existing IT applications such as customer-service call centres and utilising VoIP to introduce unified communication. Unified Communication refers to a suite of applications that share a similar design and interface to facilitate communication. Incorporating a variety of real-time and non-real-time communication channels. Functions include instant messaging, video calling, voice calls, conferencing, presence information, texting, integrated voicemail, fax, and email. 

Unified communication products use VoIP as a foundation. Within the UC suite of products, the voice component is powered by VoIP technology. A VoIP phone system modernises devices by using the Internet as the transport foundation. Unified communication thus makes use of VoIP technology to integrate different communication platforms. The system you choose can give your business an advantage and your customers a better experience with your organisation.  

Beyond cost 

As with any new technology, VoIP has had its critics and sceptics with legitimate questions about reliability, cost, and other potential problems. Questions regarding reliability are the most frequently asked because most users have experienced service failures while browsing the Web. However, these failures are mostly due to traffic surges to an IP address or server problems, and not network issues.  

A cost related issue that is sometimes raised is the relatively fleeting nature of computer technology. Potential users are concerned about the shorter usable life cycles of VoIP systems compared to traditional systems. However, the large cost differences shown by first-generation VoIP systems should settle fears about the more rapid turnover. 

Security fears have also surfaced as with any relatively newly introduced technology. One specific issue is voice spam which VoIP could be susceptible to since every phone number is an actual IP address. Instead of dialling individual phones, telemarketers could use VoIP to automatically contact thousands of IP addresses at once. 

However, current VoIP promoters indicate that networks can be engineered to prevent such intrusions. In fact, such automation may be viewed as a benefit rather than a problem since companies could use it to communicate with large numbers of mobile workers. 

At this early stage, it is safe to assert that the benefits will outweigh initial concerns, and VOIP may very well become an essential building block in business IT systems. Its potential for unified communication and integration of functionalities may serve towards its ultimate acceptance in the communications stable. 

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