Things to Consider When Assessing a VoIP Implementation
Our first VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) deployment was in 1999. We connected three offices—in Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Alabama—over a Sprint T-1 network to provide phone system integration, network connectivity, and video conferencing. BCS has been on the bleeding edge of the technology. We have learned our lessons about what works, as well as the pitfalls and how to avoid them.
So, if you are thinking about VoIP, consider the following:
1. Bandwidth is important.
If you have DSL or satellite, you should not even look at VoIP. But, if you have cable or FIOS, or dedicated bandwidth (MPLS, Metro Ethernet, etc.), you meet the most basic requirement.
2. Is your Internet reliable?
VoIP is delivered over your Internet service. When your Internet goes down, you lose phone service as well. If your Internet is reliable, you meet the second requirement.
3. A true network assessment
Some hosted VoIP providers will simply ask you to run a speed test from a browser. This is not an adequate predictor your network will support VoIP. A true network assessment looks at your network cabling and hardware, and also includes a test that emulates VoIP calling.
A VoIP phone shares the same cable as your computer. Computers are less sensitive to poor cabling than VoIP. Cables should be terminated on patch panels in the data room and on data jacks at the workstations. Crimped cables cause intermittent hard-to-trace failures.
VoIP phones require a more powerful Ethernet switch than a computer-only network. The Ethernet switch should provide power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE delivers power to the VoIP phone over the computer cabling, rather than using a local power supply at each phone. Using PoE allows the use of a battery backup to keep the phones live for a specific period during a power failure, and also provides centralized surge protection. Usually, the phones can share the same PoE switch as any IP security cameras or wireless access points.
The Ethernet switch should also be able to deliver quality of service (QoS), a feature that prioritizes voice above data. When you visit a website that takes longer to load, it’s no big deal. When making a VoIP call, you want real-time talk and listen, with no delays. Without QoS, you may experience choppy or dropped calls, as other Internet sessions on your network hog the bandwidth.
A true network assessment also simulates VoIP phone calls. BCS sets up a device at your potential site that emulates several simultaneous VoIP calls over five business days. At the end of the test, we generate a report that shows whether your network and Internet service is VoIP ready.
4. How do you use your phone system? Which features are important?
A hosted VoIP phone system, running on a server in the cloud, does not have the same features found in a 15-year-old, premise-based phone system. VoIP dazzles with offerings such as a decentralized phone system, smartphone apps, voicemail to email, reduced monthly phone charges, and flexibility to take your phone anywhere. However, you may lose features you’ve come to rely on, such as speed dial, easy hold transfer, overhead paging, intercom, station buttons, and simple night/holiday ring mode.
BCS strives to understand how you use your phones, address your concerns, and design a phone system that fits your needs.
5. VoIP phones
It might be tempting to undersize the phones to lessen the cost of your initial investment. Avoid this trap. Some phones do only need basic functionality, while others, such as for the receptionist or customer service, require more features and buttons. The phone should meet the position and usage. While it is possible to upgrade phones after a VoIP deployment, you can spare yourself the extra expense of additional phones, programming, and installation by starting with a solid plan.
Any technology offers benefits, disadvantages, and risks. Be sure to understand what you are committing to and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you are considering VoIP services, the staff at BCS are glad to talk with you.
My name is Bill Mitchell and I am co-owner and service manager of Business Communications Systems, Inc. BCS started in 1991, selling, installing, and servicing telephone systems for businesses in the Central Massachusetts region. We offer both premise-based traditional and IP telephone systems and hosted VoIP solutions.