Telco Ltd. Blog

The many flavors of VoIP

There has been a real buzz over Voice over IP (VoIP) during the last couple of years.  We get asked about it often by businesses looking to purchase a new phone system, who want to make sure they’re not being “left out”.  How does it work?  Will it save money on long distance?  What other benefits does it provide?  In many people’s minds, the concept is a bit undefined; they’re not sure exactly what it will do for them, but they do know that their next system should support it.

First, a small explanation of what VoIP technology is, and the basic reason it’s so promising.  In traditional telephony, voice conversations take place over a dedicated line.  This is generally a pair of wires that carry your voice to the other person you are speaking to, and their voice back to you.  Granted, there is sophisticated equipment that routes your call from point A to point B, so there are usually a number of sets of wires that are actually being connected, but the point is that you are using a dedicated connection when you are on that call.  Since there are a limited total number of connections that can be made, even the phone company can run out of connections, and this is why you can sometimes try to make a call and hear the “all circuits are busy” recording.

VoIP technology is more sophisticated.  When you are on a conversation using VoIP technology, your voice is broken out into many small bits at lightning speed and sent to the other end very quickly, where it is reassembled and played to the person at the other end.  These small voice bits, or packets, have several pathways they can take to their destination and will take whatever path is the most efficient at that millisecond in time.  As long as they can be reassembled properly at the other end within a reasonable time frame (on the order of milliseconds), it does not matter what path they take to get there.  Because a dedicated path does not need to be established in this scenario, certain things can be done to make calls more efficient, such as cutting out the parts of the conversation where no talking is happening, like between words, and voice compression can also take place.  The net effect is that the same resources that could once carry say, 24 calls simultaneously, may now be able to carry triple that number or more.

It’s important to note that, while all VoIP technology is the same in a basic sense as has been described, there are some different applications  that take advantage of this technology.

VoIP Dialtone

Dialtone providers have learned early on the tremendous efficiency gains (and cost reductions) that could be had with packet-based calls, and most carriers have upgraded their equipment so that, at least behind the scenes, they are using this technology.  Most are also now offering VoIP-based phone lines to both business and consumer customers.  In some cases, the interface to your home or business may not even be any different, but they can offer more competitive dialtone rates to you because of this technology.

Some companies, such as Vonage, deliver dialtone over the Internet, and they provide you with a special box called an ATA (or Analog Terminal Adapter) that converts the IP technology into an analog signal that will work with your phone or business phone system.  Companies that provide dialtone via the Internet in this manner are called ITSPs, or Internet Telephony Service Providers, and they can usually offer very aggressive rates in the form of lower monthly rates or free long distance.  Some newer phone systems have circuitry that can understand IP dialtone natively, and in such a case an ATA box is not required.

Phone System VoIP

Phone system manufacturers have also realized that they can do some fantastic things with VoIP technology.  These applications offer tremendous benefits by taking advantage of two things: (1) the fact that most Internet connections are based on a monthly fee, and that you are not charged based on the amount of traffic you generate, and (2) the global nature of the Internet.

  • Local IP Phones: these are used instead of traditional digital phones, and rather than requiring separate cabling can use the same cable that your computer uses on your office LAN (Local Area Network).  Their functionality is usually the same as a normal digital phone by the same manufacturer.
  • Remote IP Phones: these can be used off-site, such as at a home residence for telecommuters or executives.  While remote IP phones from most manufacturers offer a more limited feature set than a local IP phone, remote phones from ESI (the manufacturer whose phone systems we sell) offer exactly the same experience that a local IP phone does, meaning that a remote user can see who is on their phone in the office at a glance, intercom, answer incoming calls to the business, act as a customer service agent as part of an ACD (Automatic Call Distribution) group, and more.
  • Remote “Soft” Phones: this is software installed on a computer, such as a traveling sales rep’s laptop, that, when used in conjunction with a headset, allows the user to have similar functionality to a Remote phone, without the phone’s footprint.  This is extremely beneficial for “road warriors” and can be used anywhere in the world there is a decent broadband Internet connection (wired or wireless).
  • Site-to-site VoIP: this is beneficial for businesses with multiple locations.  These locations can be virtually connected together to make it as if the users in all offices are together in one large office.  In addition to bringing everyone together without having to dial outside phone numbers from one site to another, this can eliminate long distance charges between offices.  ESI’s implementation of this is called ESI-Link, and supports tying up to 100 phone systems together.

ESI offers all of the above-mentioned types of phone system-based VoIP in their Communications Server phone systems, and does so with a very rich feature-set and high-quality voice codecs, making it an outstanding investment value.

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Discussion

  1. voip providers  May 29, 2009

    Great post! I have been looking for information just like this. You have picked up a regular reader. How often do you update?

  2. admin  May 29, 2009

    I have been updating less often lately. But am hoping to get back into the swing of things again. Thanks for your interest!

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