With the recent Vonage IPO and flurry of television commercials for new VoIP or “voice-over-IP” services, many are wondering what this new technology is, what it means,and how it can help them.
VoIP is a very simple concept – instead of sending voice over copper wires and TDM’ing or “time division multiplexing” it (a discussion of which would turn non-technies green); VoIP sends voice out the same way data is sent out from your computer. When you send an email from your computer to another location, the data is “packetized”, or broken into small bits that are then sent the most efficient way over the Internet. The packets do not arrive in order, but are stored in buffer memory and reordered before they appear as a new email or file on the recipients computer. Voice data can also be “packetized”, but each packet must be reordered with no time delay in order to make sure it sounds right on the other end.
After ten years of research by many companies, VoIP technology has solved this delay problem among others to provide voice quality that rivals the quality of more traditional approaches, at a fraction of the cost.
What does this mean for the small business owner?
First of all , by switching from “traditional big telecom” to a VoIP provider – you can cut costs by as much as 100% for phone service. You can add an 800 line for as little as $9.99/month, have high end features such as conferencing, *69,*67, call waiting, etc without any extra charges, and you can get your voice mails from the Internet instead of pulling them from a sometimes unreliable answering machine.
As your computers now share bandwidth with your phones, it is possible to run into a bandwidth crunch. This is directly analogous to having several people taking a shower in your house at once; water pressure may run a little low. VoIP technologists have solved this problem in two ways; one, through the use of proprietary “compression” algorithms that actually predict voice from existing patterns, and two, through what is known as QoS or “quality of service” that prioritizes voice traffic. If you have a VoIP service provider such as Vonage, you can configure voice priority through a menu on your Internet based console.
If you prefer to have the control of your telco system at your fingertips, you can install an IPPBX like the one from Linksys that was just announced for roughly $1k, and add extensions,.music on hold, and distinctive rings to your small 4-5 person office. Perceptions are everything, and most new customers will think you are a much larger company than you are. These systems also allow your more control over the type of Quality of Service approach used and the type of compression algorithm used.
A great solution for small businesses that works in conjunction with a small IPPBX is the ipDialog SipTone(TM) III. This phone is a great choice for small businesses, as it has a 100 number call log, it can be set up in about five minutes, and looks nice on your desk. Three way conferencing, call waiting, calls-on-hold, and distinctive rings can all be controlled by this phone, giving you a “big company” phone system for your “small company”. The MSRP of this phone is $119 until June 1st.
The bottom line is that VoIP has removed our dependence on big telcom, with its big prices and lack of service. It promises to allow even bigger and better things as it moves into ubiquity.