i-PhoneVoIPWhen Hurricane Sandy battered the east coast, power lines and telephone lines alike were destroyed. Communication into and out of the damaged region was hard to come by. Thankfully, many cell phone service providers were able to continue providing a signal to clients. For many businesses that utilized VoIP solutions, the fact that offices were closed and lines were down didn’t impact customer and client communication. Why? Because their VoIP systems were able to automatically forward the phone lines to alternate locations and cell phones.

Despite the rise in alternative forms of communication like email, text messaging, and even social networks, the best way to stay in touch with clients, customers, and coworkers is the same as it’s been for decades: the telephone. While these new methods may have reduced our reliance on the telephone, they haven’t reduced the effectiveness of communicating with someone on the other end of the line.

One of the most common questions I’m asked when working with small and medium businesses is about the apparent prohibitive cost of updating office phone systems. My suggestion isn’t always about finding ways to cut costs, but rather about finding a way to increase the value and utility around the phone solution the organization is using. And that answer always comes down to VoIP.

So, what is VoIP?

Voice over Internet Protocol (or VoIP) uses an internet connection to power telephones, instead of standard phone lines. Aside from clearer and more consistent connectivity, VoIP solutions bring a wealth of features and tools that increase what your team can achieve each time they pick up the phone and get to work. But as is often the case with technological innovation, increased functionality can lead to confusion and uncertainty; how many of these tools do you really need, and how will you use them?

Thankfully, understanding VoIP doesn’t have to be complicated, and my experience is that once business owners understand the VoIP solutions available, they are quick to adopt the technology and its associated benefits into their organization. The first thing to understand is that VoIP solutions are digital in nature, which means that the old PBX or switchboard in your utility closet will now be an artifact of the past. VoIP solutions replace this often-bulky hardware with streamlined systems that are managed digitally instead of with hard-wiring, routers, and switches.

Some organizations choose to manage their VoIP systems in-house. In the case of on-premise VoIP or PBX management, an employee or team member is tasked with monitoring and managing a virtual network of telephone lines and activity. Other organizations choose a provider like DiamondIT to manage their VoIP on their behalf, removing any complexity from the equation. Unbelievably, many hosted solutions are often comparable in cost to self-managed solutions, but remove all of the headache and time associated with managing the phone system yourself.

The two most common types of VoIP Solutions

Whether managed internally or hosted with another provider, VoIP can be broken up into two categories: “seats” and “SIP trunk systems.” VoIP seats provide a phone number to whichever employees and/or departments you choose. That number is assigned (or forwarded) to a specific phone or phones. For example, with a VoIP seat a phone number can be assigned to ring three times at a desk softphone, then ring three times on that person’s cell phone, and then ring at another desk three times before going to voicemail.

The ability to follow or track down the intended recipient makes VoIP seats very appealing to businesses where workers are on the go. A client of ours had survey teams doing work in the field, and needed to let their clients contact the teams. Obviously, the employees had dozens of different cell numbers, with just as many area codes.  Rather than thumbing through dozens of numbers, they were able to call a central location and have it routed to the team they wanted. It made the work a lot simpler.

SIP trunk systems, on the other hand, give an organization a set number of inbound and outbound phone lines, and a set of extensions that can be routed to different departments and phones. With a SIP trunk system, a user who picks up a phone to make an outbound call is simply given the next available line to dial out on. In addition to the limited flexibility in comparison to a VoIP seat, SIP trunk lines have a finite capacity; if all of the lines are busy, then inbound calls will automatically be placed on hold (or sent to voicemail) and outbound calls will be halted until a line becomes available. Some of the benefits of SIP trunk systems are that it is universally supported, and is easier to set up due to the lack of special routing lines. Because of these, it lends itself to easy scalability, and finds favor with both larger and growing companies (more than 25-50 employees).

However, both VoIP seats and SIP trunk systems bring a number of benefits and features that are not available using traditional PBX systems. For example, metrics like outbound dials and talk-time can be easily tracked and reported for sales teams. Calls themselves can be easily recorded and played back, which can be useful for training and support teams. If there is a connectivity outage or issue, calls can be automatically routed to cell phones or voicemail instead of giving customers a message of “this number is no longer in service.” Most VoIP providers don’t require the onerous contracts of traditional phone providers, and pricing for both VoIP seats and SIP trunk systems can be available at a lower price point than of that of traditional phone service.

Understanding how VoIP solutions can power your business communications into the future can provide a blueprint on how to have even more meaningful conversations with clients and colleagues. If you’d like more information about VoIP solutions and how DiamondIT can help your business move from old technology to new, reach out to us. We’ll be there to answer your call.