VoIP stands for “voice over IP (Internet protocol).” Sometimes referred to as “IP telephony,” “voice over broadband (VoBB),” or “Internet telephony,” VoIP describes communication serveries—voice, fax, voicemail, texting—that travel via the Internet, rather than the public switched phone network (PSTN, also known as “the phone company’s wires”).
Internet and telephone communication have been intertwined since the days when users dialed into the Internet via the legacy telephone network. As the Internet’s infrastructure became more widespread and robust, the relationship reversed as phone companies increasingly routed voice traffic through the Internet’s pipes and satellites. This works because, at some point in the path between sender and receiver, the signal is digitized, broken into packets, and transmitted over the Internet, just like any other web traffic like emails, websites, or instant messages (IMs).
You’ve probably used VoIP yourself, perhaps without knowing it. Is your home phone service provided by your cable company? That’s VoIP. Ever used Skype or Vonage? Also VoIP. Google Talk? Ditto.
If you have home phone service that gives you flat-rate calling across the entire country (i.e., no long-distance charges), you’ve already seen the cost savings that VoIP can offer. However, the potential cost savings to businesses are even greater.
- Eliminates the need for traditional copper wire telephone systems
- Works over your existing computer network infrastructure (in most cases)
- Far more powerful call-routing options. Phone numbers can be re-assigned to physical phones with just a few mouse clicks
- Centralized, remote administration of extensions, passwords, and provisioning
- Voicemail from anywhere. Even a web browser or email (in most cases)
- Make voice calls from your Internet-connected laptop simply by plugging in a headset
- Potential for much better audio quality (depending on what the person you’re calling has on their end)
- Significantly cheaper international calls
- Availability of truly secure, end-to-end encrypted and authenticated voice calls using standardized Secure Real-time Transport Protocol (SRTP)
- Overall market trend towards a “unified communications” model, where voice calls, faxes, voicemail, email, video conferencing, remote collaboration, Web presentations, IMs, and cloud-based data storage and processing, all occur over the same network
A myriad of VoIP providers and options currently exist, each offering services and features tailored to businesses of various sizes and market segments. Since VoIP relies on the Internet to function, some potential pitfalls do exist (latency and other quality-of-service issues chief among them), and it might not be the best solution for every business.
To find out how moving to a VoIP-based telephone solution might specifically benefit your business, contact your trusted technology advisor.