June 9, 2023

What is VoIP?

What is VoIP?

Today we’re covering another infamous acronym of the IT world: VoIP. VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol. Still sounds like jargon, we know. Put simply, it’s a technology that allows voice communication and other multimedia sessions to be transmitted over the internet rather than traditional telephone lines. 

So, instead of using analog signals like traditional telephony, VoIP converts voice and other audio signals into digital data packets and transmits them over an IP network. You might know it better as “the internet”. We know - very Matrix of us. 

But why would someone use a VoIP phone? It creates unprecedented location flexibility in your organisation whilst driving the cost of a phone solution down. It is a win-win.

What’s in it for you?

By harnessing the prowess of the internet, VoIP enables you to make and receive calls without the limitations of local phone service or physical copper wires. With a robust internet connection and the assistance of a reliable VoIP service provider, the possibilities become near-on endless. Welcome to the world of any time, anywhere communication for business! 

No longer bound to a specific desk, VoIP empowers us to embrace true mobility. Say how ya goin’ to doing business from a sunbed in Bali. I should try that someday…

A VoIP phone number, coupled with a business phone app, can transform the way your organisation communicates. Whether you're at the office, working remotely, or on the go, VoIP ensures seamless communication without compromising on quality or convenience.

What are your VoIP options?

VoIP officially launched in 1995, the same year Coolio brought us Gangsta’s Paradise. Almost 3 decades later, unlike our taste in music, our VoIP options have developed somewhat. Your system can comprise of:

  • A phone and VoIP adapter: This option connects a traditional telephone to a VoIP adapter, which converts the analog signal from the phone into digital packets that can be transmitted over an IP network.
  • A computer: VoIP can be used with a computer by installing software-based VoIP applications or using web-based VoIP services. Users can make calls using a microphone and speakers or a headset connected to the computer.
  • A smartphone: Many smartphones have built-in VoIP capabilities or can download VoIP apps. These apps allow users to make calls using a Wi-Fi or mobile data connection, bypassing traditional phone networks.

Want our opinion? We like the way a smartphone provides the flexibility and reachability that really leverages the features of a VoIP phone. As an extra boost, we recommend that your mobile devices are enrolled and managed in a centralised system for security reasons (this is known as MDM - mobile device management.) You can use a system such as inTune, which is a feature of a Microsoft Cloud - AKA Azure - environment.

So...what is a VoIP phone?

A VoIP phone, also known as an IP phone, is a specialised hardware device designed for making VoIP calls. It looks just like a traditional telephone but uses an IP network instead of a traditional phone line to transmit calls.

VoIP phones have built-in hardware and software to handle the conversion of voice into digital data packets - and vice versa. They typically connect directly to the internet or a local network and can be used to make and receive calls without the need for a computer or additional adapters.

VoIP phones usually come with handsets, receivers, speaker locations and the same buttons and keypads you recognise from your other business phones.

What’s the difference between PBX and VoIP?

It might not be the most exciting subject, but you’ll need to choose between PBX (Private Branch Exchange) and VoIP for your office. The main difference between a VoIP phone and a PBX system is the underlying technology used for communication. 

A PBX phone system relies on using physical hardware and circuits to handle calls internally and connect to external phone lines. A VoIP phone, on the other hand, uses digital packets and an IP network for communication. 

Here at The Virtual IT Department, we’re team VoIP. This offers greater flexibility, scalability, and cost-effectiveness compared to PBX. That’s mostly because it eliminates the need for dedicated hardware and allows users to make calls from various devices such as computers, smartphones, or IP phones. Additionally, VoIP offers advanced features like virtual numbers, call routing, and integration with other digital communication tools, making it a more versatile and future-proof solution for modern businesses.

How does VoIP work?

Without getting too geeky, VoIP technology uses packet-switched protocols to let traditional telephony services operate over computer networks. 

Let’s take that step-by-step.

  1. Your phone connects to the switch or router in a VoIP-compatible network - your LAN.
  2. You dial a phone number and your IP phone tells your VoIP service provider to call that number.
  3. Voice signals are put into network packets, like an electronic envelope. Once the call is connected, these data packets are exchanged from your IP phone. This takes less than a second.
  4. Your VoIP phone converts these data packets (or signals) back into the sound you can hear.

Set up is relatively simple, but we recommend reaching out to a professional. This is because any cloud-based system requires sound security control to keep your data safe.

You’ll need to think about how the phone server is hosted and which features you want to leverage from your VoIP system. Certain products are more suited to certain situations. For example, 3CX is a stronger player for a call centre environment, whereas Teams Calling is a good go-to for a simple, integrated phone structure.

Basically, a professional who knows the products on the market (without mentioning any names…) can help you match the best products to your business objectives. We always get to know our clients’ businesses to make sure we get them going with the perfect product.

Is using VoIP right for you?

This one’s easy: Yes. In fact, you’re probably already making VoIP calls whenever you’re on a long-distance call. Phone companies often use IP gateways to reduce the bandwidth needed to host long-distance calls.

In particular, VoIP really shines in businesses that offer flexible working arrangements, because the system is so accessible. It’s a strong collaborative tool, too. For example, we might use it to send a voicemail to multiple emails so a team can work together to respond to that voicemail. We also use it to see when our workmates are in a meeting, so we know not to send any calls their way.

With time, we’re confident that IP telephony will replace all traditional telephony that uses circuit-switched networks. The cost savings, flexibility and minimal infrastructure needed make it a no-brainer.

What are the benefits of Voice over IP?

There are almost too many benefits to list, but we’ll give it a crack anyway.

  • Cost savings: VoIP services are typically more cost-effective compared to traditional phone services, especially for long-distance and international calls. Bonus: They eliminate the need for separate voice and data networks, reducing infrastructure and maintenance costs. 
  • Flexibility and mobility: VoIP allows users to make and receive calls from anywhere with an internet connection AKA most places on planet Earth. It offers mobility features such as call forwarding, simultaneous ringing on multiple devices, and integration with mobile phones, so users can stay connected even while on the move. An enormous benefit in this remote working era.
  • Rich features: VoIP systems offer a range of advanced features such as voicemail, call recording, call routing, auto-attendants, and integration with other business applications. These features enhance productivity and streamline communication processes, and would normally be a chargeable “extra” to your service plan with a normal phone company.
  • Scalability: VoIP systems are highly scalable, allowing businesses to easily add or remove lines and extensions as their needs change. It offers flexibility in adjusting capacity according to demand without the headache of big hardware changes.
  • Integration with other applications: VoIP can integrate with other communication and collaboration tools like email, instant messaging, video conferencing, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems. For simpler workflows and more efficiency throughout your business. 

Better customer service: Offer more ways for your customers to connect with your business and boost the efficiency of your contact team. VoIP systems, when linked up to a good broadband internet connection, mean you can rely on great call quality and minimal downtime.

Are there any VoIP disadvantages? 

No tech is perfect. (Trust us: We work to get temperamental technology under control every day.) So what are the downsides of a VoIP phone?

  • An internet hiccup or power outage can temporarily stop your VoIP phone system from working.
  • A shaky internet connection can impact call quality. Luckily, you can work around this by establishing a separate internet connection dedicated to your VoIP comms.
  • Since this is online, there’s a risk of cyber attacks. However, most service providers build protection against cyber threats into software.
  • When data packets don’t reach their destination, this results in dropped calls - known as “packet loss.” From time to time, packets reach their destination in the wrong order, leading to unintelligible calls AKA “jitter”.
  • VoIP phone systems don’t always support emergency calls. A 000 caller’s location can’t be automatically recognised, because VoIP is designed to be mobile. Certain VoIP services, however, do support emergency calls.

How to choose the right VoIP provider

So you’ve realised that the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. How can you now choose the best VoIP provider for you?

First of all, you’ll need to consider your budget, current needs and scalability requirements. Check out customer reviews and don’t be afraid to book consultations with different providers so you can weigh up your options.

Some biggies here are:

  • Does the provider offer 24/7 live support?
  • Is their service compatible with your network?
  • Can you rely on their service? Do they have a history of downtime?
  • Do they have other clients in your industry or work with businesses of a similar size to yours?
  • Do they have multiple redundant data centres?

Of course, The Virtual IT Department can do heaps of the legwork for you. We know the ins and outs of Australia’s best VoIP service providers and can recommend the best match for your business. We usually find 3CX and Teams Calling are both excellent choices. Between them, they meet all sorts of needs, so we can recommend one or the other based on the business we’re working with.

What VoIP equipment do you need?

Switching to a VoIP phone system is simple, but there are a couple of things you’ll need to get started. This varies depending on whether you choose hard phones (similar to your traditional desk phone) or softphones (software that’s installed on your phone or computer).

If you go with the softphone option, you can simply use the speakers and microphone built into your device. Otherwise, if you’d rather go hands-free, grab some headset equipment.

The good news is that your current headsets might work just fine (more savings!). If they’re not IP-enabled, an Analogue Telephone Adapter (ATA) can connect your headsets to your VoIP technology. 

Hardware aside, you’ll need to have a good internet connection to get started.

If you’re unsure whether you have all the gear (and the right idea), our team can make sure your equipment - from hardware to software - is good to go.

Let’s talk about IT

Summing things up, VoIP is your flexible, scalable and economical phone solution that can serve your business as its needs evolve over time. From complex call cues to accessible phone lines, it’s a solution worth discovering. 

If you are asking the question, we can help! Give us a call on 1300 10 10 40 to talk through your business needs and the solution that’s right for you.

FAQs about VoIP

Still got some burning questions? Here are some of the FAQs our clients send our way. Hopefully, they help you, too.

Do I need a special phone for VoIP?

Nope — you can use your existing desk phone, computer or mobile phone. If your existing phones are not compatible with VoIP, you’ll just need an ATA.

Can I use my work VoIP phone at home?

You can use your work VoIP phone at home or even on holiday. All you need is a device that’s set up for VoIP and a good internet connection. The setup isn’t technical at all — it simply involves plugging a power cord into the wall and a network cable to your phone. You can start making calls over the internet in minutes.

Can VoIP calls be traced?

Yes. VoIP calls can be traced because they work by sending data over the internet, and you’ll have a phone number that’s registered with a service provider. Any calls can be traced back to your IP address.

Can VoIP phones work over WiFi? 

Yes, you can make VoIP calls using WiFi. This means you can work from just about anywhere — you’re no longer stuck to your desk while you close those deals.

Are VoIP calls free?

VoIP calls are free apart from a service hosting cost. Typically, they cost 50-75% less than traditional phone lines. 

How much does VoIP cost?

The 90s are over, which means we no longer need expensive proprietary equipment to get set up with VoIP! Ongoing costs depend on your setup, and whether you’re calling a landline, other VoIP services, or doing an app-to-app call (such as Skype or WhatsApp).

In other words, you’ll just pay for the VoIP service and internet. Chat to The Virtual IT Department for a quote for your business.

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