Business VoIP

What is it and how can it benefit your business.

Article By Colin Elms

Senior Technical Solutions Manager, Samsung Communications

VoIP is rapidly replacing traditional telephony. It is a much superior communication technology compared to traditional telephone lines and offers many technical and cost advantages that simply cannot be ignored.

This articles gives you a complete overview of VoIP covering how it works, key features, benefits, types of systems and important technological considerations.

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VoIP Telephony

What is VoIP

Voice over IP is a technology that takes a stream of voice traffic, chops it up, and puts it into Internet Protocol (IP) packets.

The old way of carrying voice is to setup a dedicated path between phones for every call, also known as circuit switching. Think of your standard telephone at home – it has a dedicated pair of copper wires for each voice call, but when you use the Internet you can have many applications sharing the broadband service at the same time – web browsing, file sharing, listening to music, sending emails, and etc.

VoIP turns telephony into just another application that uses the data network and removes the need for dedicated network connections and hardware. In your office the LAN already carries many applications through the LAN cables or through the Wi-Fi service and you can use that same infrastructure for VoIP.

How Does VoIP Work

To understand VoIP you need to know what the “IP” in “VoIP” means. IP is the acronym for the Internet Protocol, which is used by computers to communicate through local data networks and the Internet.

The great benefit of IP is its ability to carry many different types of data on a common link; it does this by first putting data into a packet and attaching the required destination address to the packet.

This enables data switching equipment to sort through streams of packets and re-direct every one of them to their destination. So, in effect, IP eliminates the need for a dedicated path between a sending device and a receiving device.

Key Features of VoIP

More Functions

VoIP business phones have all of the features of digital desk phones used in traditional circuit switched telephone systems, but they use an IP network instead of a dedicated circuit.

As they use IP networks with high speeds and direct connections to other IP capable devices, they can incorporate many more features as well.

Less Hardware

Traditional circuit based phone systems have provided very reliable service for many years, but the main issue with traditional telephone systems is that every phone and carrier connection requires a dedicated hardware port.

This means that all of the endpoints, from desk phones to telephone exchanges, require physical interfaces and cabling. In addition, circuit based phone systems contain dedicated custom built hardware increasing the cost to purchase, install and maintain them.

Beyond Voice

Using IP for phones gives more than just Voice over IP; it also allows other types of media to be transported between them such as Video over IP.

Video is difficult to provide through traditional voice type circuits and has low image quality, but the high bandwidth of data networks easily supports the demands of good quality video.

Business Benefits of VoIP

Reduce Infrastructure Costs

VoIP desk phones reduce the need for costly and time consuming changes to the building cabling.

A traditional circuit switched telephone system must have a pair of wires between its inbuilt ports and the desk phones, and each port is dedicated to an individual user. So, when a phone gets moved, the building wiring must also be changed to provide connection to the new location, and this typically requires a technician to come to site and make changes.

The flexibility of VoIP means that the phone is just another device in the network, so all the user needs to do is unplug the desk phone from the old location and move it into available LAN socket at the new location and join the network – no other work is required.

And, in addition, some VoIP business phones have the ability for a PC to be connected through them. This means that only a single cable is needed for both the PC and VoIP phone, which substantially reduces the cost of building cabling.

Integration with Computers

VoIP allows phones to link to computing systems to add features.

Unified Communication (UC) technology provides a suite of applications that integrate the operation of the VoIP business phone with computers. UC is used to improve user access to information about people calling them and to simplify and speed up finding contact details of those they wish to contact.

Softphones and Desk Phones

A VoIP phone can also be a software application on a data enabled device, such as a smartphone, PC or tablet.

This enables it to be combined within these devices with advanced call handling features to create many new and innovative applications.

Roam Freely with VoIP

When VoIP is used remote desk phones can be anywhere in the world that an IP network can reach.

In the past it could be very expensive to have a remote desk phone linked to a phone system at another site. This is because they needed be linked using special types of switched circuits, or use telephone ports that could operate over long ranges.

VoIP is Secure

A properly secured VoIP link with encrypted voice traffic is reasonably easy to build.

In stark contrast, encrypting voice on legacy circuit switched links requires specialised hardware that is not easy to obtain, install, or use. In fact, when using VoIP it is possible to completely hide phone calls in a Virtual Private Network (VPN), so intruders may not even know that a voice call exists.

Types of VoIP Phone Systems

Pure VoIP Systems

Pure VoIP phone systems transport all voice traffic through VoIP.

This allows them to support a very large number of endpoints without having to allocate a dedicated hardware port for each one.

The capacity of pure VoIP systems can be very high for a very small amount of rack space, and they are also easy to expand to allow more phones to be connected.

As traditional voice services have not gone away, consider fax machines, PSTN and ISDN trunks, business grade pure VoIP systems can be equipped with hardware modules that make the conversion between these older type phone services and VoIP.

Hybrid VoIP Systems

Hybrid phone systems combine VoIP technology and legacy switching in the same device.

Existing legacy voice technology cannot be ignored; this is because many of the existing telephone trunk services provided by the major carriers still use dedicated physical links – think of analog PSTN (Public Switched Telephone) and ISDN (Integrated Service Digital Network) services.

Hybrid phone systems combine VoIP technology and legacy matrix switching in the same device. This enables them to provide the benefits of VoIP for new VoIP phones whilst still supporting existing digital desk phones and carrier trunks.

VoIP Technology

VoIP Systems versus Legacy Systems

VoIP overcomes a lot of the limitations of legacy phone systems.

To understand the difference between the two it is important to understand the methods used in the past to carry voice.

In a legacy telephone system when a call is made between phones connected to that system a connection is established through a hardware module called a switch matrix; and when the call is finished this connection is removed. This method is quick and efficient and has been used for many years; however, every phone needs to be physically connected to the switch matrix, so the phone system needs to be big enough to handle all of these phones.

The other drawback is that the switch matrix has low bandwidth, which limits the type of media that can be exchanged between devices. As a result, standard legacy systems only carry voice and low quality video between the phones.

SIP and VoIP

SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) is a method for sending call signalling information between devices over IP networks.

SIP is an open standard and has been adopted and enhanced to provide advanced feature interaction between VoIP devices that are not necessarily from the same vendor. This is particularly evident with the appearance of SIP capable phones that offer the benefits of VoIP and compatibility with many different devices.

VoIP Business Systems and SIP Trunks

SIP telephony has been widely adopted by network carriers to provide a VoIP replacement for traditional carrier links.

SIP and VoIP is used over broadband network connections to provide lower cost and more flexible services to both small and large businesses. In fact, there are telephony network carriers that will use your existing broadband service to provide phone calls without them needing to provide any on-site equipment – this reduces costs considerably for small business with suitable broadband services.

VoIP and the National Broadband Network (NBN)

A good broadband connection is essential for VoIP.

VoIP is sensitive to delay and packet loss. This is typically not an issue for most applications that use data networks. A one second delay in the arrival of a packet containing information for an email is not going to be noticed by anyone, but a one second delay in the arrival of a VoIP packet is very noticeable to the people in a phone conversation.

When an IP packet containing information for a file transfer is lost the computer receiving the file will request a replacement packet; this cannot be done for VoIP, as it takes too long for the replacement packet to be requested and received. So it is important that the data network carrying the VoIP traffic is capable of carrying the traffic between endpoints with minimum delay and to not lose too many packets while it is doing it.

Fortunately, VoIP can cope with some delay and packet loss without noticeably damaging voice quality, but a congested broadband link can be a problem for VoIP traffic. The good news is that the data transfer speeds of most modern LANs is very fast and VoIP quality is rarely an issue in these LANs. And when a properly designed and built broadband service is used for VoIP there is rarely an issue with VoIP over those links as well.

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