What Are VoIP Phone Systems?
The way we communicate has changed dramatically in recent years, with businesses looking for more efficient and cost-effective communication solutions. One of the key changes has been the adoption of VoIP phone systems. VoIP stands for Voice over Internet Protocol, and it essentially means using the internet to make phone calls, instead of relying on traditional phone lines. In this article, we take a closer look at what VoIP phone systems are and how they work.
Overview of VoIP Phone Systems
A VoIP phone is a hardware or software-based telephone that utilizes VoIP technology to send and receive phone calls over an IP network. The phone converts analog telephony audio into a digital format, enabling it to transmit the audio over the internet and convert incoming digital phone signals from the internet into standard telephone audio.
VoIP phones, also known as IP phones, offer many features and capabilities not found in traditional analog phones. Additional performance requirements exist because phone calls are placed over the internet rather than the legacy public switched telephone network (PSTN).
How Do VoIP Phone Systems Work?
VoIP phones convert voice calls into digital signals that are transported through IP networks, such as the internet. VoIP phones may work through physical phones that use VoIP technology or as virtual phone software installed onto a computer or mobile device.
Several networking components are required to make VoIP phones work. Phones are assigned IP addresses through the Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol, which automatically configures the network and the VoIP parameters. A domain name system tracks the IP addresses to enable devices, such as IP phones, to connect to each other.
VoIP phones require several protocols to facilitate the delivery of voice communications over the internet. Scroll down to read about the different VoIP protocols and their purpose.
Types of VoIP Phones
There are two main types of IP phones: hardware-based and software-based phones. Many VoIP service providers offer both types.
Hardware-based VoIP phones resemble a traditional hard-wired or cordless telephone. These phones include features such as a speakerphone or microphone, a touchpad, and display hardware to show user input and caller ID. These phones also have call transfer, multiparty calling, and support for multiple VoIP accounts, and some can transmit and receive image data during calls, making them considered video telephones.
Software-based IP phones, also known as softphones, are virtual phone software clients installed on a user’s computer or mobile device. The softphone user interface often resembles a phone handset with a touchpad and caller ID display. A headset with a microphone that connects to the computer or mobile device is encouraged or sometimes required to make calls. These clients offer similar capabilities to hardware-based IP phones such as voicemail, call conferencing, and call transfer. Some clients may also offer additional capabilities, such as video conferencing and instant messaging (IM).
Traditional analog phones may also be converted into IP phones by connecting to an analog telephone adapter (ATA). Analog phones can be converted by plugging the Ethernet network jack into the ATA, which then connects to the phone. The analog phone will connect to the internet rather than the PSTN, and it will appear to the phone system as a VoIP phone.
VoIP Phone Features
The primary feature of a VoIP phone system is that it enables voice calls to be made through the internet or other IP networks. VoIP phones may include other features and functionality, such as video calling, IM, team chat, text messaging, online faxing, voicemail with speech-to-text transcription, records and logs of calls, Bluetooth communication with devices such as headsets, handsets, speakers, and microphones, easy conference call access, auto attendant, mobile and desktop apps, mobile and local number portability that enables a subscriber to choose a new telephone carrier without needing a new number, call routing, call recording, call analytics, and integration with customer relationship management (CRM) and other software.
VoIP Phone Systems vs. Traditional Phone Systems
These systems differ from traditional phone systems like landlines and cellular phones. They rely on IP networks instead of physical wiring to the PSTN network or cellular networks.
Compared to landline phone systems deployed on a similar scale, VoIP phone systems cost significantly less and include additional features beyond voice calling. However, as VoIP phones rely on IP networks, such as the internet, performance can be hindered by poor connections.
VoIP phone systems are also significantly cheaper than mobile phone systems deployed on a similar scale. Modern mobile phones may have similar features to VoIP systems, but they often lack enterprise-focused capabilities like analytics, CRM, and software integration.
Advantages of VoIP Phones
VoIP phones offer several advantages to organizations, including:
- Cost savings: Organizations can reduce calling costs by switching to VoIP services. While traditional analog phones may have lower upfront costs, they are more costly to support, upgrade, and integrate with communications applications. IP phones also offer less expensive long-distance and international calls. VoIP phone calls are charged at the local rate of the call’s destination.
- Performance: VoIP phones offer greater mobility and scalability than traditional handsets. If an organization moves to a new location, it does not need to acquire new phone lines, which it would with a traditional phone system. You can add new phones to a VoIP system. The only limitation is the available bandwidth on the organization’s network. Softphones also enhance mobility since clients are not tethered to physical locations as they would be with hard-wired phones.
- Integration: VoIP phones can integrate with other business applications. For example, organizations can integrate their CRM software with VoIP phones. This allows them to view call records and analytics for different customers and sales leads or to make phone calls straight from CRM applications.
Disadvantages of VoIP Phones
VoIP phones do have several disadvantages, including:
- Performance constraints: VoIP phones require a reliable internet connection and are susceptible to bandwidth constraints. With insufficient bandwidth, phone calls may experience latency, which can result in delays and dropped calls. Additionally, if an organization has a power or internet outage, users cannot make calls from their VoIP phones.
- Emergency calling: Emergency calls with VoIP phones can be difficult because IP addresses do not offer the exact location of callers, which makes it difficult for 911 operators to route VoIP phone calls to the appropriate emergency call center. The Federal Communications Commission requires VoIP providers to support Enhanced 911 (E911); however, they may use third-party providers to fulfill this requirement.
As VoIP phones use IP networks, such as the internet, data must go through a VoIP server. For VoIP servers listening to incoming traffic from VoIP phones, the industry standard is port 5060. Generally, this is configured as the default for VoIP phone services.
While this is the industry default, VoIP servers do not need to be configured to port 5060 and can be set to any random port. This can help avoid malicious attacks on VoIP servers, which generally target those connected to port 5060.
VoIP phones use several technology standards and protocols, including H.323. This is the most commonly used VoIP protocol that supports audio, video, and data communications across IP networks. It provides several VoIP functions, including bandwidth management and call control.
VoIP phone systems are rapidly becoming the go-to choice for businesses. They offer cost savings and increased functionality compared to traditional phone systems. With softphones and mobile apps, businesses can take advantage of the mobility offered by VoIP. As VoIP technology continues to evolve, we can expect VoIP phone systems to become even more reliable, feature-rich, and cost-effective.