A VoIP Primer
Since the days of Alexander Graham Bell, voice communication has traveled over copper wires in the form of tiny electrical signals. Almost 150 years later, we are still using this same technology (commonly referred to as POTS lines – plain old telephone service) to send our voices over landline phones. With the advent of VoIP (voice over internet protocol), we began to usher in a totally new era in communications. Instead of electrical signals, your voice is converted into bits of ones and zeros and sent in packets across the internet (just like email or web pages), to be reassembled and converted on the receiving end into sound you can understand. This means the sound on one end of the phone is exactly duplicated on the other end with no loss of quality or fidelity. It also means that phone service can be delivered much more inexpensively.
A Rough Start
There have been a few bumps in the road that have tarnished VoIP in the minds of the masses. Because your voice is getting chopped up into tiny packets and sent across the internet with all the other web traffic, there is the possibility of some of those packets getting lost or damaged en route. This happens all the time on the internet, but we don’t typically notice it because it means that a little graphic or two doesn’t load on a web page, or maybe our download goes a little slower than we expect – minor inconveniences at most. But with a voice conversation, those little packets are words and sentences – lose one or more of those and you could dramatically change the quality or content of a conversation. Early VoIP providers (and the internet at large) did a poor job of prioritizing voice traffic, so quality was often spotty at best. Even today, most VoIP service is subject to the ups and downs of the global public internet, leading to choppy quality, dropped calls and other audio issues. However, with fiber optic infrastructure becoming more and more prevalent, many of these issues will be mitigated in part if not entirely in the years to come.
VoIP: A Present Reality
Voice over IP service is much more common today than most people realize, especially those people who swear by analog POTS lines. If you have purchased a cell phone in the last five years, you use VoIP service every time you use your cell phone. All the major carriers and most of the minor ones send your voice over their IP network. The good news for you and them is that they have total control over that network, meaning the little packets that make up your voice aren’t competing with people surfing the web or downloading files on the public internet. In addition, many routers and switches now allow you to prioritize VoIP traffic over all other data traffic on a network, increasing reliability and quality.
Many landline telephone providers also deliver their service as VoIP. You may think you have analog lines, but unless you’re with AT&T (and sometimes even then), there’s a decent chance your telephone provider is delivering voice service to your building as VoIP and then converting it to analog (or PRI) inside your building.
VoIP: A Future Full of Potential
The digital revolution is still in full swing. Everything from movies to medical records are now converted into neat little ones and zeros. VoIP is the future of all voice communication. You probably already use it several times a day and new infrastructure is taking the place of antiquated copper cables to pave the way for a smooth and reliable communications service. VoIP also means greater flexibility for your business:
- True mobile office – as long as you have a good internet connection on your phone, you can use your VoIP service to make and receive calls on your office line no matter where you are.
- Multiple options – Talk on a desk phone, softphone app on your cell phone or using software on your PC or Mac.
- Virtual phone numbers – You’re no longer constrained to numbers in your local area code – you can get numbers across the country or the world, depending on your provider.
VoIP can also dramatically reduce your monthly phone bill; we had one client save over $400/mo. just by switch to VoIP service with a major telco provider.
Reap the Benefits
I’ll give you three real-world examples of the benefits above. I set up a VoIP system for a local law office using a hosted VoIP provider. The senior partner vacations in Costa Rica a couple times a year. He was able to take his desk phone, which was set up with his VoIP provider, down to Costa Rica, plug it into an internet connection and start making and receiving phone calls as if he was sitting in the office!
We have a VoIP system in our office and I have an app on my cell phone that connects to our system. I can call a client from that app and because it goes out our system at the office, it has the caller ID of the office, not my cell phone. Other people in the office can transfer calls to me as if I was at my desk and I can scroll through my voicemails to pick the ones that are most important.
I recently set up an on-premise VoIP system for a company that services different markets around the country. Thanks to the VoIP provider, I was able to get local telephone numbers in each of those markets. I then programmed those into the system and configured it so when a number was dialed that matched the area code, the caller ID would display the area code for that market rather than the area code of the actual phone system.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Scary
A whole world of possibilities opens up when you switch to a VoIP service. Are there downsides? Sure. Every technology is a two-edged sword, but as providers and infrastructure get better, voice over IP service will be the dominant force in telecommunications. If you don’t already have VoIP service for your business or organization, or you’ve been hesitant (or you got burned early on), I strongly encourage you to give it another look and – as always – if you have questions, just ask.