April 07, 2011, 9:54 AM — The telephone switchboard and landline desk phone may not be dead, but they are becoming relics of the past along with office ashtrays and typewriters.
Businesses are increasingly turning away from PBX (private branch exchange) phone systems and toward VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephony, which enables conversations to travel as data across the Internet. By 2013 more than 80% of businesses will use VoIP, according to research by In-Stat.
Is VoIP Right for You?
VoIP can be ideal if your company handles many calls among multiple people, has mobile employees, or juggles satellite offices. Implementing the technology can help to shrink or eliminate the cost of long-distance and conference calls.
In addition, VoIP provides the flexibility to manage calls as you would other data. For example, a caller's contact information may pop up on a Web-based dashboard or on a smartphone with a VoIP app when they ring your number. Depending on the service, voice calls can be translated to text that you read via e-mail or on a smartphone. Many VoIP services extend beyond voice to encompass instant messaging, virtual meetings, and videoconferencing. VoIP is key to unified communications efforts to integrate all of your correspondence into a single, digital hub.
If you already have a local or wide-area network, then you've already laid much of the groundwork. Make sure that your organization has enough bandwidth--a T1 line or better--before trying to cram your calls through a sluggish data pipeline.
What kind of VoIP system you need depends on the size of your business and the number of locations. One person working at home probably doesn't need much more than a consumer service such as Skype, ViaTalk, or Vonage. Just sign up, download the app, don a headset, and you're good to go. Skype even offers encryption to keep calls private. Mobile VoIP apps can help you rein in cell phone bills.
But that's not enough if you need individual phone lines for your employees. In this case, the many VoIP options essentially break down to either a hosted or on-site VoIP service. Hybrid services can blend the two, letting you combine old and new equipment.