Infrastructure is something that most small and medium businesses tend to think of as an expense — you know, electricity, gas, telephone, IT hardware. And unfortunately, these infrastructure costs are on the rise, becoming a bigger expense each month.
So throw out your phones!
What? That’s right, you can lower your economic burden and increase the architectural value of your existing infrastructure by throwing out your current POTs (or Plain Old Telephone) and integrating a VoIP system with your existing infrastructure — whether you simply have a desktop or notebook computer or a large office with a server (or several servers).
VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, is a protocol that takes analog audio signals — what you hear when you talk on the phone — and morphs them into digital data that can be transmitted over the Internet. VoIP offers significant savings on long-distance rates and as a result, many small and medium businesses use VoIP via their ISP’s broadband cable or DSL lines.
You can make a VoIP call from a PC three different ways:
- The quickest, easiest way to make a VoIP call is to use a device called an ATA (analog telephone adaptor). Companies such as AT&T and Vonage are already making headway into the small office market providing ATA services. After purchasing a VoIP router through a traditional retail outlet (think BestBuy or Amazon.com), you simply plug your current telephone into the router — which is, in turn, connected to your broadband connection. To make a call, pick up the phone — unlike a cell phone, you get a dial tone with a VoIP connection — and dial the person with whom you want to talk. You’re not limited to calling other VoIP users; you can talk to anyone, anywhere, as long as he or she has telephone service.
- You can also make a call using an IP phone handset. IP phones look just like “regular” phones except that IP phones have an Ethernet connector rather than the old RJ-11 plug. IP phones connect directly to your network router — no VoIP router necessary — and come complete with the hardware and software necessary to make a VoIP call.
- By installing software from companies such as Skype, you can connect computer-to-computer. Once you’ve installed the software, (and checked to ensure that your computer has a microphone, speakers, a sound card) you can dial other computers who also have the appropriate software installed.
Better still are bundled packages from service providers that combine both voice and data services over a T1 line. According to “Integrated Access Saves Costs, Gives Small Sites IP Voice Short Cut,” a July, 2005 report by research firm Gartner, these bundled services often bring significant infrastructure savings to small and medium businesses, providing a T1 line where many small businesses had only DSL and bundling voice and data services for less than DSL services in some locations. Bundled services come with an Integrated Access Device (IAD) — rather than a voice router — to convert your voice calls into data packets and then route voice and data packets.
VoIP makes it easy for business to grow and add remote employees and remote locations. An employee in your Beijing office can plug an IP phone into a working LAN port, connect to your VPN and can dial your office in Minneapolis for free — because the call is simply routed through your own servers as an internal call. And with an IP handset, VoIP numbers move with the phone, not the jack to which the phone is connected, which means whether you’re in Mumbai or Montreal, customers dial one number.
You may be asking yourself, if it’s so easy, why isn’t everyone already using VoIP? More businesses than you would expect are using VoIP — from the Fortune 500 to the mom-and-pop dry cleaner on the corner. According to a Yankee Group report, “Assessing the SMB VoIP Market,” over 5% of small and medium businesses in the US — or approximately 400,000 businesses — have already adopted VoIP as their primary means of communication.
Cost shouldn’t be a barrier to timely communication that can help keep your business running smoothly. From business partners to branch offices and employees in the field, with economical VoIP service, you can afford to pick up the phone and keep the lines of communication open.