In over 20 years in the Technology and Telecoms business, I have witnessed the extraordinary and constant revolution in communicating. Whilst we all had computers and email, I don’t think anyone could have anticipated how fast and interconnected communications has become or how we have transitioned from using traditional copper-based to optical fibre-based networks.
Making a simple phone call has changed beyond recognition. No longer is voice traffic sent over a permanent copper circuit or connection, but sliced into ‘packets’ of data, prioritised and send over the network like all other data traffic. This is fast becoming the norm, and BT, in recognition of this transition, has already announced that in 2025 it is switching off its old-fashioned copper-based ISDN (integrated service digital network) and PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) network to let digitally based Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) reign supreme.
So what is Voice Over Internet Protocol or VoIP?
VoIP is a communications service that allows the user to make calls using the internet rather than the traditional copper phone lines. It is significantly cheaper than traditional PSTN or ISDN lines and is incredibly reliable if you have good connectivity.
Many of us experienced the initial versions of VoIP. Still, the quality was very patchy because it relied on having an even internet speed, with the ‘packets’ of data often getting messed up. To solve the problem, SIP (session initiation protocol) was developed. This allowed internet-based communication ‘packets’ (Voice, Messaging or Video) to be properly signalled and prioritised so calls could be sent and received correctly – using the catchy term SIP trunk! The resulting quality improvements have made VoIP calls almost indistinguishable from the original copper wire, analogue versions.
Many businesses have already moved to VoIP solutions – nearly half of them already have. So whilst that phone that sits on your desk looks like a traditional phone, likely, it is already VoIP/SIP based. For SMEs, VoIP brings new opportunities in terms of flexibility, scalability and its ability to integrate with existing and new technologies.
Cloud-based phone systems for business
VoIP offers small business a telephony solution that sits in the Cloud rather than on-site. These solutions are also known as Cloud-based telephony solutions. VoIP removes the need for an organisation to spend funds on expensive physical hardware and analogue or ISDN business phone lines. It also means they don’t have to budget for equipment maintenance or upgrade costs. A VoIP based phone system principally transforms into specialist communications software that only needs a stable internet connection to operate.
As a Cloud-based service, should any problems occur, backup data centres with recovery procedures in place will keep systems up and running to ensure business continuity. It’s unlikely a small business would have the internal resource or backup in place to manage this effectively. Other benefits are:
• Scalability – With a cloud-based software solution, new users can be added at the touch of a button. A huge advantage for small or growing businesses or those who need flexibility for special projects or busy periods. It is also ideal for those who rent their business premises or have remote workers, as numbers and devices are not tied to a single physical location.
• Cost control – Most VOIP phone systems for business are based on paying a monthly fixed fee. However, VoIP providers also keep call costs low and usually offer internal calls for free. As a result, people can work from home without generating additional cost.
• Flexible – Cloud-based phone systems can be accessed by a business and its employees from anywhere with an internet connection, from multiple devices. It is also possible to programme software to make it appear that staff are calling from certain locations – useful for those working from home but still using their usual line or remote workers acting as local agents.
• Integrates with existing technologies – Allows integration of voice, video, chat, text and enables dynamic, interactive conferencing across your communications and phone solution. Some VoIP providers allow integration with the leading CRMs and facilitate interaction between key programs such as Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Teams.
If you are SME and don’t already use a VoIP based phone system, and you see the clock ticking towards 2025, now is the time to look at the cloud telephony solutions available on offer.
You will need to evaluate the right option for your business and sector.
Choosing the right VoIP solution for your Business
There are good VoIP providers out there, but to make sure you get the best solution for your business, I would urge you to take into account the following important considerations:
1. What do you want to transition to? – Swap for a similar product (phone on a desk, etc) or leap Unified Comms, where you use a cloud portal that merges voice, video, messaging? This is a Board level decision and will involve canvassing the staff to see how they want to work in a post covid world. Leaving this choice solely to the IT department is the wrong option because it’s so fundamental to what everyone does day in day out.
2. What device do you want to use? – Many firms are now removing the telephone handset and using a headset on laptops and for calls. An application on mobile phones can be used when you or your employees are away from your computer. This is an excellent opportunity to retire ‘old tech’ like desk phones, and fixed PC’s so you can enable all your staff to use a range of ‘mobile’ devices – laptops/tablets and phones – so they can work from the office or home seamlessly.
3. Do you want to integrate Communications with your CRM? Many firms are now wanting to get one total view of the customer and log all communication with clients. Any voice, video or message with customers can be attached to customer files and recorded. This can be quite complicated to achieve, so a business needs to be sure it is committed to both its CRM and Comms platform for a number of years. Many firms do this as a second stage after successfully implementing a VoIP solution. But you need to ensure the CRM applications you want can be easily integrated.
4. What is your view of Microsoft or Google? – Due to the predominance of these operating systems and applications like Microsoft Teams, it is very likely that a business will want their carrier-grade VoIP communications solution to integrate into Microsoft or Gmail. VoIP ensures a higher level of service due to its ability to monitor lines and manage traffic efficiently.
5. Be Happy with the partner you choose. Changing how you communicate is a rare decision and one you need to be happy with for five-plus years. It would be best if you found a solutions partner that understands your business and implements a product that you know can evolve with the market. There is an enormous number of product options available and, as the market develops, some products will fail or not have the resources to keep up as technology moves forward. Excalibur would always recommend choosing well-known products from established brands like Gamma, BT, Microsoft and Google, who will support you over many product cycles.
6. Make sure the other pieces of the IT jigsaw are ‘fit for purpose’ – you need to check your internet speed and that the quality is as strong as possible. Also, make sure your WIFI and internal cabling are sound. Very often, the product experience is injured by these component parts and not the communication application itself.
The output from these considerations will provide an important start to the process of finding the right VoIP provider to work with and establish what you want and need to get out of your telephony system. VoIP is a massive enabler, particularly for SMEs, as it provides simple, cost-effective access to a vast range of telephony capabilities that had only been available to the larger enterprise. So if you haven’t already, I would encourage you to migrate your businesses now – don’t wait for 2025.