Despite all the ways that we communicate these days – email, text, chat, social media, and of course, smartphone – it’s arguable that your desk phone is still an incredibly important piece of technology for your business. After all, there are times when people need to speak directly to other humans in real time – requests for customer service, urgent questions and important meetings… sometimes it’s just essential to be able to pick up the phone and dial.
But what kind of phone system should your business deploy? You have a number of choices, and there are pros and cons to each.
The Difference Between “Digital Phones” and VoIP
In recent decades, analog phones were replaced with “digital phones”, which are still traditional phone systems that make calls through phone lines, but the voices have been transformed into digital bits and bytes. Even more recently, voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, sends voice data through a data connection – over the Internet – rather than over phone lines.
First, we’ll explain what you should know about digital and VoIP phone systems. Then we’ll talk about the different types of VoIP systems you can deploy.
- Wiring: With a VoIP phone system, you only use half the wiring required for a digital phone system. Digital phones require both voice and data cables, whereas with VoIP systems, there’s only one cable to the desk: You plug the phone into an Ethernet wall plate and then plug a computer into the back of the phone.
- Bandwidth: With a VoIP system, bandwidth is shared among the computers and phones in the office. One issue that can cause problems is if your Internet bandwidth is inadequate, phones or computers may perform more slowly. However, VoIP phone systems can be fitted with backup Internet connections, so that if your office’s Internet goes out, the phone system won’t go out with it. Digital phones are unaffected by bandwidth, so with a digital phone system, you won’t have to worry about the possible need to upgrade your broadband connection.
- Mobility: VoIP phones are more “portable” than digital phones. With a VoIP phone system, moving a phone is simply a matter of physically moving a phone to another connection, and the phone number follows automatically. This makes office moves much simpler. With digital phones, transferring phones requires getting a technician to transfer the numbers to the new location.
- Maintenance: With digital phones, maintenance has to be done by a technician coming on-site. With VoIP phones, however, the system can be accessed remotely by anyone with administrator access privileges.
Navigating the Choice between Hosted and On-Premise VoIP
There’s something else you need to know about VoIP. You have two quite different deployment options: on-premise or hosted.
If you go the on-premise route, you must first invest in hardware and software up front to implement the system, and then need a sizable, dedicated IT staff to manage it. The benefit is that you have more control over your VoIP environment, and in the long run the operational expenses (OpEx) tend to be lower because you’re not paying an external third-party firm to manage and maintain it for you. This deployment option is best for large companies (more than 100 employees), and for businesses that must meet strict HIPAA, PCI, encryption or other regulatory requirements.
For most mid-sized businesses (fewer than 100 employees), hosted VoIP makes the most sense. Because hosted VoIP services are delivered via the cloud, they requires no up-front capital investment, very little maintenance and are easy to deploy – saving you capital expenses (CapEx). Hosted VoIP is priced per user, and the fee includes the physical phone system itself and all the robust features of VoIP, with all responsibility for buying and maintaining the applications servers and support issues falling on the provider’s shoulders. In other words, the VoIP provider does all the heavy lifting of actually deploying, operating and managing the system. Your staff is free to concentrate on more strategic issues.
The Business Case for Hosted VoIP
Hosted VoIP offers a significant number of business benefits over other types of phone systems. Here is just a sampling of them:
- Boost productivity. With hosted VoIP, you can configure your phones to simultaneously ring on multiple devices – such as on employees’ desk phones, cell phones and even their tablets or PCs – making it easy for your employees to receive calls from wherever they are. Voicemail can be automatically forwarded to employee’s email boxes – either as audio files, or transcribed and sent via text. And if your employees move to a different physical office or even a different building, they can take their phone number with them; no need to physically move equipment. Contrast this with the inflexibility of other phone systems, where you have to physically forward your phone to another one, or worse, miss important calls because you’ve been traveling or otherwise out of the office.
- Reduce costs. In addition to the fact that you use your existing data network for your voice calls, you reap other cost savings than what I mentioned earlier. For example, with VoIP you can call other companies on the same network with no additional charges, since standard long-distance calls are typically much cheaper on VoIP than using other phone systems. And you utilize your IT resources much more efficiently. For example, a typical voice conversation has an average of 35% to 50% of silence in it. With a traditional landline, you are paying for bandwidth these silences consume. With VoIP, the extra bandwidth is available for other voice, data or video communications.
- Easily scale to meet your needs. With hosted VoIP, you only pay for what you are using. If your business contracts, you pay for fewer “seats.” If your business grows, you can easily add new seats as needed. The same goes for bandwidth. For example, if you are a retailer and expect to get a lot of calls during the Christmas season, you can easily add bandwidth without any technician expense, equipment purchases or additional management or maintenance needs. Compare this to your traditional phone line, where you had to invest in additional infrastructure and go through the hassle of installing and configuring it if you needed more lines for your business.
Making the Switch
The sooner you can migrate to hosted VoIP, the better, to lay the foundation for growth, management and scalability and help improve your bottom line. Increased employee productivity and the ability to reallocate your technology dollars to more strategic initiatives are also benefits.