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Choosing the right VoIP solution

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Many organisations that have not embarked on a journey from traditional PSTN phone lines to VoIP are looking to make the change to take advances of the numerous benefits of this technology.
From lower costs to reduced space, hassle free maintenance and remote connectivity, VoIP has been hailed a game changer in the telecoms arena.

Mitchell Barker, founder of WhichVoIP, says VoIP is good for businesses that have high call costs and ones who need flexibility and scalability to service their customers. “VoIP is good to extend unified communications throughout the enterprise and keep staff on the road connected at all times. It is also ideal for businesses with multiple branches which need a system that can be supported internally where administration and provisioning can be done locally.”

He adds that VoIP is great mechanism to enable business continuity in the event of a major disaster where calls and technology can be moved anywhere else – on the fly. “However, businesses that cannot justify the costs for proper connectivity will find that VoIP is not for them,” he says.

Once a business has decided to adopt VoIP, they need to weigh up the options, and decide whether to go for a hosted VoIP solution or an in-house IP-PBX. “A lot of consideration should be given to the basic differences of each option, as well as the pros and cons of each.”

He says hosted PBX or hosted VoIP is a system that connects telephone extensions of a company to an outside public telephone network as well as to mobile networks. The provider houses most of the equipment and handles the technological needs and resources which the system in order to function. The IP phones will traditionally plug into an on-premise router, and practically all the calls and other features are handled by the provider’s server that is located off premise, at the provider’s location. The provider will charge a monthly service fee, which may include a number of minutes or similar.

He says an IP-PBX differs from a PBX because it uses IP routing. An IP PBX gives employees an extension number, the ability to conference, transfer and dial other employees. All calls are sent via data packets over a data network instead of the traditional phone network. By using a VoIP gateway, companies can connect existing phone lines to the IP PBX and make and receive phone calls via a regular PSTN line.

Barker says understanding the basic differences between hosted VoIP and an IP-PBX is the first step towards finding the perfect solution for the business. “Buying an IP-PBX phone system usually involves purchasing hardware such as a server and the interface cards necessary to connect your telephone company and IP phones. Hosted VoIP on the other hand, usually only requires the purchase of the IP phones themselves, although in some instances a suitable router might be needed too.”

There are benefits to both solutions, he says. “With hosted VoIP the initial equipment and setup costs are lower, as are the maintenance costs. In addition, monthly service costs are low, and adding lines is simple. Finally, upgraded software and additional features are usually part of the service. With IP-PBX, the initial setup costs are higher, as are the long term maintenance costs, but ongoing monthly costs once the system is paid for are reduced. In addition, this option gives the ability to SIP trunk to get lower cost calls.”

In terms of other benefits, providers have more resources, and any additional features and maintenance will be handled by the provider. “It is also easy to move the phone system, and adding and cancelling virtual numbers is easy. Also, in the event of a loss of connectivity, the calls can be routed to an alternate number or phone, as the PBX hardware is sitting off premise and will have back up power sources,” says Barker.

On the negative side, he points out that the quality of hosted VoIP is directly proportional to the quality of the company’s Internet connection, and loss of Internet will result in calls having to be routed to a cell phone as previously mentioned. “In addition, fees can increase and cancellation fees can apply too.”

Barker adds that IP-PBX has positives and negatives too. “Having an IP-PBX gives the business total control, allowing you to adjust, create, and delete users or extensions and turn on or off feature sets. “Moreover, new features could be added without any additional fees, and you can add VoIP trunks to save on call costs. In addition, owning your own hardware greatly lowers costs after time when the system is paid for.”

There are downsides too though, he adds. “Expansions can increase complexity, and you could be left in a tight spot should your IP-PBX manufacturer close their doors. Upgrades on software and patches could also require an outside expert which could, in turn, mean additional costs. Finally, any loss or failure of the PBX system would mean no calls at all, which can be highly detrimental to the business.”