Most of the Insights articles I’ve written have dealt with the advantages of leveraging the cloud for computing purposes. The amazing levels of flexibility, scalability and continuity made possible by the cloud empower employees to work efficiently and without interruption on computers, laptops, tablets and any device that accesses the Internet. In this article, I want to examine how using the cloud for business phone service, which is often referred to as hosted phones, or voice over IP (VoIP), is also an excellent option with multiple advantages.
First, let’s take a look at the differences between the configuration of traditional phone systems versus hosted phones.
In a traditional phone system, your business must purchase a central PBX, which is essentially the heart of the phone system. A quality PBX system is generally an expensive investment, often in the tens of thousands of dollars plus installation and ongoing maintenance. Next, you tell the phone company how many lines you need. You pay the phone company for the service calls necessary for them to run the requested number of lines through your PBX system. Then you will pay the phone company a monthly fee based on the number of lines and individual phones. If your business expands and you need additional lines, the phone company will have to schedule an appointment to send someone to your office on a service call. In fact, every time you have any sort of problem with your phone system, a service call to your building is generally required.
With hosted phone service, your IT provider will own and manage the PBX so you don’t have the steep up-front costs. VoIP means that digital voice data is carried the same way computer data is carried. So the network is basically made up of your Internet service, a router, switch and your phones. Using the cloud means there are no physical phone lines – the “lines” are virtual and unlimited, so the scalability makes growth and expansion fast, easy and affordable. Just call your IT provider and tell them you need more lines – they can usually switch on your new lines in moments. In simple terms, you’re basically outsourcing your phone service for an affordable monthly fee.
There is a common misconception that VoIP can’t provide the same quality, clarity and reliability as traditional phone systems. This is simply not true. VoIP service can deliver the same quality sound and an even more reliable network than traditional service, but notice that I’ve used the word “can,” rather than “does.” That’s because the hosted phone network must be configured correctly for it to work properly. The lack of quality that people have historically associated with VoIP is inevitably the result of networks that are not configured appropriately to handle the call data volume.
In a “bad” network (one that is not configured correctly) packets of data can collide like cars in heavy traffic trying to race through an intersection. Within a network, there are specific technologies and hardware you can use such as proper switching to alleviate congestion. Unmanaged (dumb) switches can easily get overloaded resulting in choppy audio, delayed response times, and dropped calls. However, managed (smart) switches have the ability to “direct” data traffic and make adjustments and corrections to prevent collisions, which optimizes information flow. The important thing to remember is that proper switching gear is the key to quality VoIP. When you decide it’s time for your business to take advantage of hosted phones (and you will eventually, if you haven’t already) be sure you have confidence in your IT provider to match the appropriate technology with the needs of your business. They need to understand networking even more than phone service, as much of installation is IT driven.
It’s also important to remember that the quality of your Internet will affect the quality of your hosted phone service. You may set up the front end from the source to your router and switching gear correctly, but if you’re using best effort Internet service, you may not get the bandwidth you need to handle your computer and phone demands effectively. By choosing a dedicated service, you can access guaranteed bandwidth and set the rules to ensure that voice is clear and data is always running efficiently.
So assuming that you’ve had an expert take care of the setup and details of your switching gear, you’re ready to enjoy the many advantages of using hosted phones, including:
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