VoIP Phone Systems: A Guide

VoIP simply stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol and means the use of the internet for telephony. It’s the basis of many modern phone systems and allows voice calls through well known apps and services. At Gradwell, we’ve had almost 20 years of experience in supplying and supporting the technology to over 8,000 customers nationwide and beyond.

What is VoIP?

Ever used Facebook’s call function? That’s VoIP. FaceTime or FaceTime Audio? VoIP again. Skype? Well, you get the idea.

VoIP phone systems allow you to make low cost calls over the internet; using a multitude of different networks and operators, you can connect with members of staff, clients and customers across the globe both cost-effectively and efficiently.

Back in the early days of VoIP, the unreliability of dial-up connections meant that landline calls were highly superior – VoIP was beset by poor audio quality and high drop rate.  However, with modern internet speeds, including Fibre Optic broadband and Leased Lines, VoIP phone systems far surpasses landline connectivity in quality and innovation.  If you run a business, you know how beneficial this is: vital sales calls, multi-partner conference calls, being available for your customer or client when they need you the most. 

VoIP can also be a great addition to your home – in fact, it may become essential, with Openreach planning to switch off their ISDN network by 2025, migrating nearly all UK landlines over to a SIP trunk -based VoIP service.

How does VoIP work?

How does VoIP differentiate from traditional phone calls? First, we’ll need to debunk some jargon:

In terms of landline calls (or ISDN and PSTN), VoIP bypasses the national landline network’s copper wire by using data packets of information (usually audio) transmitted across a network. These IP packets are received over the packet-switched network, and ‘de-packetised’ as the voice you hear through your VoIP endpoint – the technical term for a VoIP desktop phone, VoIP mobile phone, soft phone application (VoIP Software), or other receiver, click to learn more. Mobile phones operate calls through connection to the PSTN, maintained via a terrestrial network of base stations.

When you use VoIP, your voice is converted into digital information which is then transmitted in as data over the internet, unlike the way traditional phone lines work via a local phone provider.

For business phone systems, a Private Branch Exchange (PBX) refers to the main piece of tech that routes all your calls, using Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) in SIP trunks to make those connections. Modern PBXs are also called IP PBXs to indicate they use VoIP, rather than analogue connections (although now this is often assumed).

Your PBX can be a physical bit of hardware, run and maintained by you (or your IT department); however, with modern cloud solutions, your VoIP provider can usually run your PBX via the cloud – essentially a phone system combined with Software as a Service (SaaS). This allows you to control your system with a personal online control panel, resulting in instant access to your add-ons and personal features, as well as a real-time overview of your business telecoms.

What are the different types of VoIP phone systems?

VoIP as a technology exists to power calling. Typically a business user will come across it in the following ways:

Mobile applications

These include Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Facetime and any other voice application designed to run primarily on a mobile or tablet device. This also includes mobile apps for business communications, like Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

On-premise IP PBX systems

An IP PBX is essentially a phone system that uses VoIP to place and receive calls. Traditional PBXs used analogue connections, whereas IP PBX systems use internet connections and SIP Trunking (or alternative technology) to route calls to and from the traditional phone networks. On-premise refers to the fact that the system is housed or managed internally. This approach usually requires more up-front spend (capital expenditure) as well as in-house expertise. These systems will also need a SIP Trunk provider to function.

Hosted PBX systems

There are many names for these systems including Cloud Hosted PBX, Hosted Voice, Cloud Calling and so on. Hosted PBX systems are cloud-hosted, meaning the provider takes care of all functionality, security, updates and delivery.

All the user has to do is configure the setup of their system and users as they see fit. In many cases, the provider will even pre-provision phone hardware for you. Hosted systems are becoming increasingly popular, particularly for small businesses, as they require almost no capital expenditure or in-house expertise.

With COVID-19 changing the way that businesses operate, there has never been a better time to think about a cloud PBX.

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