IP Phone Systems: Where Do I Start?

By Ryan Ayers
Updated: January 26, 2011

Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, has been widely adopted by businesses over the last several years as an alternative to traditional telephone systems. With its increased functionality and comparatively low cost, VoIP presents many advantages over analog phone systems. As is true when purchasing any new technology for your business, you should be sure to have at least a basic understanding of the purpose, functions and advantages of the different types VoIP systems available to you.

What Is VoIP?

In basic terms, VoIP is a telephone system engineered to transmit your telephone calls over data lines. Using either your existing Internet service, or one specifically used for your VoIP needs, your business telephone calls are digitally transmitted. Your phone system functions in much the same way that traditional telephone exchanges work, but allows for greater flexibility, lower pricing and greatly enhanced features.

Why Use VoIP?

Particularly attractive for smaller businesses are the features and increased functionality of VoIP systems. These systems enhance a small business’ ability to provide support to its customer base through options such as call queuing, remote access, and conference calling at little or no extra fee.
Features often found in VoIP service packages are:

  • Integrated messaging
  • Call forward/remote access
  • Call queuing
  • PC calling
  • Auto attendant/call routing
  • Call/data/video conferencing
  • Integrated contact files

These features, and the many others associated with IP telephone systems, allow companies to appear much larger in their customers’ eyes as well as streamlining routine office functions. This increase in productivity and efficacy generally far outweighs the costs initially involved with implementing the VoIP system.

Hosted Service vs. On-Premise Equipment

There are several different methods for setting up an IP phone system. The two most prevalent are either purchasing the hardware and maintaining your own network/system or using a hosted service through a provider. Each of these has its advantages and disadvantages.

Maintaining Your Own Network

Maintaining your own network and IP phone system will save you the monthly service charges from a provider, but only makes life easier for your business if you already have the staff and infrastructure in place to service and maintain the system. If you already have an IT staff in place with sufficient knowledge of VoIP systems, this option may be worth looking into. In addition to eliminating fees for monthly service, this will also eliminate charges for maintenance and system updates (i.e. adding lines, moving extensions, expanding network, etc.).

Using a Hosted Service 

Typically, using a hosted service through a provider specializing in VoIP is the most practical solution for a small to medium sized business. This option does come with monthly service and maintenance fees, but it frees you from the necessity of building and supporting your network and systems in-house. A hosted service also allows for scalable implementation of your VoIP system, making it easy and financially painless to add features, reconfigure your network, add/move lines and change other network options.

The choice for businesses is no longer whether to switch from an analog, or traditional, phone system to a VoIP telephone system. The choice has become a matter of finding or creating the right method and service to fill your business’ needs.

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