Monday, January 21, 2013

Packet Voice Moves to the Cloud

Many businesses and individuals have already switched to VoIP for their telephone service. The original impetus is a cost savings over legacy phone service. Beyond that, enterprise VoIP services offer the opportunity for reduced staff and maintenance coupled with a richer feature set. Just when you thought that VoIP was a settled technology, a new wrinkle comes along. That’s VoIP up in the cloud.

Can you save money and gain features with Hosted PBX services in the cloud?Why move your phone service to a cloud? Let’s take a look at why this might be advantageous to your company and how we got from the old-timey candlestick and desk sets to something as amorphous as a cloud.

A generic technical term for VoIP technology is packet voice. Packets are a computer network protocol most often associated with Ethernet. A packet is a self-contained piece of data that has all the information needed to get it from source to destination. Packets are packets. It doesn’t matter what’s inside. Packets can carry voice, images, video, data and whatever else you can reduce to binary digits.

The major technical leap in packet voice is changing from a switched circuit telephone network to a packet switched network. Switched circuit means that every telephone call has an electrical circuit set up to connect the two (or more) phone sets involved in the conversation. This is unique to the public telephone system and has been that way since its inception. All telephone activity was originally voice calls made between electrically passive telephone sets. Look at one of those old phones. Do you see an AC cord? No way. The electrical power for the call was supplied by batteries at the telephone switching center.

When computer networks became more prevalent than telephone networks, the idea of what a network is changed dramatically. Both telephone and computer networks can run over twisted pair copper wire equally well. What’s different is that computer networks don’t set up and tear down electrical circuits every time that one piece of equipment wants to exchange data with another. The circuits that connect each computer device are continuous. What is switched is the data packets themselves. Ethernet switches or routers ensure that packets get to their intended destinations without having to create new circuit connections on the fly just for a single or group of packets.

Here’s why that’s important. VoIP or packet voice is transported over computer networks rather than switched circuit telephone networks that are only used for telephones. By connecting the phone to the LAN, you can eliminate the separate telephone network. All that wiring and the personnel needed to maintain it and change connections as phones are moved, added or deleted goes away. The cost of running the telephone network also goes away.

Something much larger doesn’t go away. That’s the switching system needed to interconnect telephones, even those using packets, and connect to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) for outside lines. That specialized switching system is most often called a Public Branch Exchange or PBX. Small businesses with few phones and outside lines may use a simpler system called KTS or Key Telephone System. Those are the phones with individual line lights that tell you if a particular phone line is being used or available for your call. Medium and larger companies have the more automated PBX equipment that manages both internal calls and multiple outside lines.

This is where the cloud comes in. An in-house PBX system can be set up to work with legacy analog phones (switched circuit) or the newer IP telephones used for VoIP. You can connect the phones and PBX to your computer network to eliminate the separate telephone wiring, but you still have to make connections to the public phone network if you want to take or make outside calls. PBX systems aren’t cheap, either. They require a major investment, ongoing maintenance efforts and the likelihood that you’ll have to replace the one you have when it goes obsolete or runs out of capacity.

Why not move that PBX to the cloud the same way that you move servers from in-house to the cloud? That’s the idea behind Hosted PBX, also called Hosted VoIP. The hosting is done by a very large packet voice switching system located at a cloud service provider. You don’t have to buy this system, maintain it or worry about upgrades and obsolescence. That’s the job of the cloud service provider. You simply pay a monthly fee for each phone or “seat” that you need.

Ironically, this concept takes us back to the early days of telephony when there was a large central switching system that connected to each telephone. The difference between the old “Ma Bell” approach and Hosted VoIP is that you are no longer tied to the single phone company that owns the phone wires. You can order network connections called SIP trunks to connect to any cloud provider you want. VoIP technology also allows new applications that integrate telephones and computers, important for call centers and contact centers.

Packet network technology has enabled computers to network within companies and all over the world. This technology is now being used to transmit video conferences and telephone calls on the Internet and private network connections. The rise of cloud computing companies takes packet switching equipment to the next level by moving the central hardware to the cloud, where it can be managed by specialized service providers. The advantage to you is lower costs and more features.

Are you wondering whether your business telephone system is optimum for your current requirements? Why not explore other options that include VoIP, SIP Trunking and Hosted PBX services? Get pricing and features for competing enterprise grade VoIP services to compare with your current setup.

Click to check pricing and features or get support from a Telarus product specialist.

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