What is VoIP?
VoIP is the business telephone system which is now the most popular choice for companies upgrading or implementing phone systems. VoIP harnesses the fact that broadband is becoming increasing reliable (some would say rock solid), cheaper and fater (speed is not important for VoIP). IP phone systems mean that you can vastly increase your business buying power as you can access an enterprise level phone system with none of the associated costs. By watching the video below, you will understand how a VoIP phone sysem works in under 7 minutes.
Also, because VoIP uses the internet to make calls, lots of new premium features and services, which previously were not available to businesses, become available to the system users. With a Saffwood Communications hosted phone system, it means we can give you lots of free features such as voicemail, voicemails sent to your email, music on hold management, call diverts, inbound caller queues and much more all without the cost.
But knowing how these technologies work isn't vital to harnessing the power of VoIP. After all, you don't need to know how your current phone line or phone system works to be able to make phone calls do you?.
With VoIP, your voice is converted into a data packet which is then send down your phone line at super high speeds. You don't need a superfast internet connection to send the packet at high speed, fibre as example. Most of our customers use standard ADSL. If you are wondering how a voice get's turned into data, then remember that your phone line already uses the internet to send faxes, data from Google searches. The fact this is a VoIP data packet really doesn't matter to your broadband line.
It's worth focusing in on a bit of an industry myth here: Many people think VoIP is about making free calls (we can thank Skype for this). It's true that peer to peer (one VoIP phone to another with the same supplier) is free, but when you are making calls to a standard telephone, the likes of which with BT etc, then there must be a charge for this. What is also true is that VoIP offers far cheaper calls and better features than a standard analogue line or phone system.
To explain further why VoIP calls must be chargable: when you make a call, this is transfered from your VoIP phone (or IP phone sysetm) via your router then to the traditional PBX exchange (think the green boxes you see telephone engineers working on in the street). From here the calls is now transferred to the destination point (the number you are ringing). once it reaches, the destination rings and you have your conversation. Any carrier that carriers this connection will charge, so BT, Virgin, Talk Talk will all charge the VoIP phone system provider for using their network. This costs needs to be passed on for an VoIP provider to do business.
VoIP can seem complicated, but remember, living with it is very each. In reality, we send you some phones to plug into the internet and you can then start making and receiving phone calls like you would on and phone, or phone systems. The added value is that you can have access to a huge number of features that are either not possible with single lines, or would cost a lot of money with a traditional phone system. Call recording is a great example of this.
The key item is to start with the simple solution, IE what you need, and when you are happy with that, move onto the next best thing you want. We also help customers by offering a 30 day risk free trial with all out phone systems.
The wiki entry for VoIP can be found below:
A guide, 'For Dummies' series, can be found here:
Information for "How Stuff Works" can be found here too
Typically, and as with VoIP, you want to pick up the phone and make a call, or pick up the phone and receive a call. There are two ways of making a VoIP call, one is with an IP phone (a phone that sits on your desk, just like an office phone). The only difference with this is that an IP phone plugs into the internet with a ethernet cable (a cable that you woul plug into your PC). The other option, and less popular, is to install a softphone on your PC. This is a software application that means you see a keypad on your screen and dial from there. You would need a PC headset and mic to make use of this.
You can download a free softphone from the link below:
Most businesses will opt for a deskphone, whether this is a walkabout or static. The most popular phone is the Cisco 7940 as this offers great functionality such as caller hold, ID, transfer, plus unlike a softphone, when your PC gets switched off, then your phone will work as per normal. As Saffwood is a platimum provider with Cisco, we provide the hardware at unbeatable rates
You will need a broadband line for the IP phones to connect and route calls out to the exchange. But all of the expensive equipment is actually hosted in our data centres, so there is very little to no cost to you.
To make calls, you will either want to use a Softphone (which can be downloaded free of charge) or an VoIP enabled phone such as a Cisco 7940 IP phone. Aparnt from that, you don't need any more equipment on site to harness the power of a VoIP phone system.
You can call any number in the world, just as you could with a traditional analogue or digital phone. Anyone call recieve your calls and frankly they won't know you are using VoIP as the call quality is the same, and often better than standard phone calls.
The call quality is often better than a standard phone call. This is due to the fact that it does not go through the same routes as traditional phone calls. Think that the phone lines in the ground have been there for decades. As they see more winters they become more and more faulty. As VoIP phone calls hit your nearest exchange, then jump via SIP to the destination exchange, they don't need to go through all the corroded exchanges in between.
Yes - and with Cisco phones, there is a port to run an internet cable from the back to your PC so you only need one data port.
NOnly if you were using a softphone. We only reccomend softphones if costs have to be kept low, or you are a call centres. 98% of Saffwoods business customers use Cisco or SNOM deskphones as they offer great funcationality and will work exactly like a traditional office phone
Yes, your phone wil ring as per normal, but remember with caller queues and IVR's, you are getter a huge amount of inbound call handling to avoid missed calls and voicemails if you line is tied up.
Yes, please see the below
Yes, please see the below
VoIP is the communication method which will change the way you think about how you make and receive telephone calls. VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol is the method by which voice is converted to data then transmitted over the internet and will ring any phone just as a traditional telephone would do.
So how does VoIP help me and businesses? Firstly the call costs associated with VoIP phone systems are far less than traditional systems such as ISDN and PSTN. Because VoIP is predominantly a software service (or SaaS), it means the cost for setting up this type of phone system is far less.
VoIP has the potential to, and in some respects already is, revolutionising, the way businesses approach phone systems. VoIP providers such as Saffwood Communications have been in business for 7 years and are fast growing. All major carriers such as BT and Talk Talk have moved to supply VoIP as Fibre to the Cabinet, FTTC, has enabled all carriers to offer high volume of call on a single broadband line.
In effect, VoIP has reinvented the wheel where phone systems are concerned. In this web page we will take a closer look at the technique and methodologies that VoIP uses with Saffwood which is already starting to replace the traditional PBX and ISDN phone system.
There are many different ways that a VoIP call can be routed depending on what infrastructure is on site with the client. The main types of VoIP used in business phone systems are:
The first is an analogue telephone adaptor, or ATA for short. This is the lowest level of VoIP as it allows you to connect a VoIP phone to your analogue phone. This takes the analogue signal generated by a standard telephone and converts it into a digital data packet which can be used by a VoIP enabled phone, also referred to as an IP phone. There is some setup which is required with an ATA, however your phone system provider (Saffwood) will do this for you.
The next, and most commonly used is an IP Phone. An IP phone is a specialist phone which has been enabled for internet connectivity. Again this VoIP phones will be pre-configured then sent to you. They simply need plugging into power mains and the internet by way of an Ethernet cable. From there they connect directly to our data centre where the PBX is hosted by Saffwood. This allows you to have all the function of a phone system with no of the associated costs.
Lastly there is a Softphone. A Softphone is a software application which displays a phone keypad on your computer and allows you to make phones calls to any destination via VoIP. The advantage of Softphones is they are very cheap and often free, however if your PC is turned off, then your VoIP phone will not be able to receive any calls. IP phones do not have this issue as long as they remain plugged into power and the internet. When a Softphone rings, your PC speaker will play a ringing sound, and you can speak thorough your PC mic or through a headset with a mic attached.
If you have an interest in trialling VoIP, whether a phone system or a single line, you can apply for a trial period with Saffwood on 0845 241 1008. There is a huge amount of information on our website about VoIP, and we can get you setup with 100 minutes of calling credit usually within 24 hours. Once you are setup, you can make and receive calls on either your VoIP phone, or Softphone straight away.
Below we will take a closer look at how people and businesses use VoIP
Using VoIP For Business
Even when you make a call on your standard telephone or ISDN phone system, some of the call maybe routed on a VoIP network. This is because large carriers use VoIP and SIP to streamline their network infrastructure and how they place and route calls. This is done via IP gateways to connection VoIP with the traditional PBX network. This process is called switching, and also call routing (even relaying).
As SIP carriers get even more reliable, it’s highly likely that by 2020 all traditional PBX for phone lines and phone systems will be replaced with Packet Switching IP services. The reason for this is that IP telephone makes the most sense to large suppliers and carriers as it allows them to be more cost effective, better streamlined and offer better call quality on VoIP rather than the phone lines which have been in the ground for nearly 5 decades. Businesses are already the largest uses of hosted phone systems (phone systems that have little to no onsite equipment). Domestic uses are starting to take up more and more IP telephony, but not as much as business users.
So where can you make calls from and to?
Anywhere that has a an internet connection and a decent router will allow you to make a VoIP phone call. For people on the move, the most popular way to make calls is from a PC and a softphone, as PC’s can easily connect up to wireless connections when out and about. In regards to where you can make calls to: you can call any phone line in the world from a VoIP phone, it doesn’t need to be an IP phone where you are calling. This is because the data packet for an internet call is seamlessly placed onto the traditional PBX network allowing you to talk to anyone on any type of phone, or phone system.
You can take advantage of Saffwood’s per second billing and no call connection charges with any of our VoIP phones or phone systems. You can also take advantage of bundle minutes which offer even lower call charges to help you save more and more money. There is also a raft of features to take advantage of too:
With a VoIP enable phone, or VoIP phone system (sometimes referred to as a hosted phone system, you can take advantage of features such as:
- Caller ID
- Call waiting
- Call transfer
- Repeat dial
- Return call
- Three-way calling
- Inbound telephone queuing systems
- Auto attendants
- Out of ours services
- Choose to refuse
- Voicemail to email
- Call parking
- Muli call handling
- And much more......
Emerging technologies with VoIP allow call filtering. This means that when a call comes into your phone system, you can choose to send this to different locals or destinations within your phone system. This allows for seamless call handling, efficiency increases and better customer care and experience. You can:
- Forward the call to a number or destination
- Transfer a call to a voicemail facility
- Block the call
- Play automated messages
A popular feature with VoIP is the ability to have a voicemail transferred to email with the audio message as an attachment. These voicemails can then access via the VoIP phone systems web portal, from the phone, and listen to on a PC from the audio file. Where smart phones are connection to email, the audio file can then be played from the smart phone on the move.
At this stage we’ve been able to look at the overview of VoIP. In the following sections we are going to take a look at the technologies and methodologies that VoIP uses to make it work and to make it such an effective tool for business communication. Most businesses use the IP service for phone systems hosted by Saffwood Communications.
Switching Circuits with Hosted VoIP Systems
Current phone systems use old methods of routing phone calls. These tend to be a little inefficient as they are using technology from 100 years ago in some cases.
A switching circuit is a basic method for keeping a connection open by two parties. The person making the call and the person taking the call. This circuit is maintained and left open for the duration of the call so that people can take to one another. This is the basic principle behind the PSTN network.
With standard phone calls and phone systems, there is a basic process for how calls are made:
- You lift up your phone and get a dial tone. This opens your circuit.
- Following this you then dial the telephone number for the destination that you want to talk to.
- The carrier of your phone calls (be it BT or Saffwood) then routes this call over carriers and exchanges.
- Upon arriving at the destination, the person that you are callings phone will start to ring out.
- The person (hopefully) will then answer which will complete the circuit
- Once the conversation is over, both parties hangup which closes the circuit
If you remember the old pictures of BT assistants with long wireless coming out of ports on a wall, frantically trying to connection one port to another, this relates to the very old method of each phone call needing to have its own wire connection on the public branching exchange (PBX) In this day and age, the cost of a phone call was comparatively higher due to the sheer effort required, and human intervention needed to make a phone call happen. Phew!
A VoIP call uses only 85K of bandwidth. With the average ADSL broadband connection allowing 9 calls, fibre connection allowing an average of 80 calls, and lease lines allowing thousands of calls at once, you’ll find that most suppliers and businesses want to use IP telephone as this vastly reduces the cost of traditional phone lines.
So how does the old method of phone calls compare the modern day – well with the advent of faster, cheaper and more reliable broadband, thousands of calls can be routed down the same lines (be it at the client end making calls from an office, or carrier making use of SIP trunks to efficiently route telephone calls.
The Advantages of Using VoIP (Phone Systems)
VoIP utilises the internets switching abilities to provide hosted telephone services. Vs. traditional circuit switches, VoIP has several key advantages. Firstly, it allows multiple calls to live in the same room used by only one circuit switch. With old networks a call will take up the that line allowing only one call at a time to be placed. With hosted VoIP carrier services, the packet size is less allowing more calls to be carried down the same line. Packet size can be further reduce with compression services which can make the data packet even smaller (down to 35K)
VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol): Codecs
To transfer make calls, IP telephony uses a codec. This stands for a coder-decoder, which converts your voice to a data packet which can then be transmitted down the internet and converted back to voice so that people can hear.
Codecs accomplish the conversion by sampling the audio signal several thousand times per second. For instance, a G.711 codec samples the audio at 64,000 times a second. It converts each tiny sample into digitized data and compresses it for transmission. When the 64,000 samples are reassembled, the pieces of audio missing between each sample are so small that to the human ear, it sounds like one continuous second of audio signal. There are different sampling rates in VoIP depending on the codec being used:
Codecs work by converting audio signals at a very high rates (thousands of bites per second). The G.711 Codec samples audio at a rate of 64K per seconds. It works by converting each sample into a digital data packet and compressing it. When the audio is put back together, the quality of the call is exactly the same as a standard telephone, or telephone system. The compression and sampling rates are different for each VoIP codec
The g.7928 Codec samples at a rate of 8,000 times per second. It is also the most common codec in VoIP as it offers high call quality and low compression.
What allows codecs to work is algorithms. These compress packets of data and streamlines the transition based on what broadband bandwidth is available. There are different annexes for transmission for VoIP phone systems which are referred to as Annex A and B. You will also hear about Annexes when you look at advanced ADSL2+ broadband services.
The codec works with the algorithm to convert and sort everything out, but it's not any good without knowing where to send the data. In VoIP, that task is handled by soft switches.
Softswitches play a part in VoIP. They sort and handling the tasks of where to send data and voice traffic down carrier routes. A softswitch is in many respects a beating hart part of the phone system process.
VoIP: The Softswitch and other protocols
The soft switch contains a database of users and phone numbers. If it doesn't have the information it needs, it hands off the request downstream to other soft switches until it finds one that can answer the request. Once it finds the user, it locates the current IP address of the device associated with that user in a similar series of requests. It sends back all the relevant information to the softphone or IP phone, allowing the exchange of data between the two endpoints.
In a softswitch is a long list, or database, of phone numbers. If the softswitch has not had the correct data stored, is will pass that information off downstram (DSA). It will do this until it finds a switch that will handle the call. Once the switch is located, it will then pass the information back to the IP phone, or softphone and you will hear a ringing. As this is happening, the information, or data packet, is being passed down relay SIP routes to the destination which will answer and open the circuit.
Soft switches work in tandem with network devices to make VoIP possible. For all these devices to work together, they must communicate in the same way. This communication is one of the most important aspects that will have to be refined for VoIP to take off.
These services work in harmony with any network applications to allow VoIP to work. For all these applications to be active together they need to communication in harmony. This is one of the most important aspects for VoIP.
The Protocols that VoIP use and offer
As we have been covering, a VoIP call with use a mixture of analogue, switches (soft) and IP phones to work together as a UI (or user interface). An analogue interface will use a codec covering all aspects. So how does VoIP work when transferring data from an IP based solution to a none IP based solution. The way this works is through protocols and VoIP.
There are a large variety of PCL’s used when employing a hosted VoIP phone system or service. These PCL’s which applications will interact with each other for VoIP. They also have audio codecs as well, the most prevalent of these is the H.323. This is a highly rounded protocol and was initially used for video services (video conferencing services). In realtime is offers interactive feeds for data and audio sharing for applications including VoIP. H.323 is the catch all PCL that in fact has many protocols wrapped within it (which is why it is so used).
One of the challenges that is face by using H.323 is that this when design, was not specifically designed to work solely for VoIP. As mentioned above, it was also used for video conferencing and realtime tracking of audio.
When SIP entered the arena, an alternate offering to VoIP came with it. As this was lower and more streamlines than the PCL mainly in use at the time, it took advantage of other PCL’s being used to handle and large part of the process for placing a VoIP call. Part of the usage that SIP brought about was Gateway Control which is now a commonly used VoiP PCL. This allows terminating control and is geared towards applications such as call parking.
In international arena’s, a major complexity, but one which is handled is that fact that PCL’s are not always compatible for VoIP. These calls when moving internationally may traverse over several networks and mean that the VoIP signal is conflicted. As VoIP is still seen as a juvenile service (compared to the 100 year old analogue network) – the governing body for VoIP will still need to create a universal codec and protocol to handle this.
Like new services entering the business market place, there are major advantages for VoIP, especially when used as a VoIP phone system. It offers business and developers a raft of features not available on traditional platforms including ISDN, BT Featureline and other analogue service.
Below we take a closer look at VoIP call monitoring-services.
Call Monitoring Services with VoIP
There are very acute benefits for VoIP phone system services. The biggest benefits for businesses looking to use a VoIP service is the low cost associated with the service. This is because all of the hardware, in a hosted solution, is house with the VoIP phone system provider rather than being based on the customer or client site. The service also offers lower rates than associated with other phone systems, and better than standard call quality (HD voice is possible with peer-to-peer).
Call recording is a major advantage of VoIP. As this service is effectively a software package, unlike with other phone systems, VoIP lends itself to having features such as call recording active. With ISDN phone systems, call recoding often means having software applied at the exchange and a cost per minute for recording. With IP telephone, typically 100% call recording can be achieve for a small fixed fee per extension or user.
Many businesses utilise call recording to score calls based on quality and compliance. This is especially true for call centre and contact centres. By logging onto a web portal which comes free with many business VoIP services, you can search for recorded calls and then play them back. Some VoIP services, those used in call centres, also offer the opportunity to listen live to calls. There are distinct benefits to both live and recording call recording and monitoring.
You are also able to monitor the quality of your VoIP system through hardware and software which is detailed below: Different parameters are used to dictate the quality of the line. Typically these include:
Latency – This refers to the delay with voice traffic from someone speaking to you hearing it. If you have ever clicked a page on a website and it’s taken a while to realise that you have performed that action, then you have experience latency. With VoIP, this is caused by high ping. Typically ping should be 50MS or less depending upon what type of connection you have.
Degradation – This is what happens when data packets arrive at the destination in the wrong order, or are missing. If you have heard a voice that sounds a little “robotic” then you have heard this. Packet loss happens when the routers or SIP carriers are poor quality, or the signal is being sent through a load balancing router handling multiple ADSL lines which splits up the packet before being sent or received.
You can choose from a variety of methods to monitor your connections and VoIP service. This is defined and active-monitoring and passive-monitoring. Active is where you have hardware installed which will review the connections in realtime. For larger business, this sort of service, QOS, or Quality of Service, is usually the way to go. Passive is better for small business and means that reports on any issues and available and sent at internvals.
Call recording can also aid in the analysis of monitoring for VoIP. In many cases it’s possible, to the trained ear, to listen to the call made over a VoIP service and hear where the issue lies. A basic example is if one part can hear the other, but not the other way round, it would point to bandwidth issues.
Making VoIP calls from a mobile phone:
For businesses which are on the move, you can download a VoIP softphone client onto a smart phone. This application works exactly like your phone keypad and will access your contacts. This service will mean that your VoIP phone system can ring your mobile (though the application) as it would any IP extension. This is a great service businesses on the move, and is often referred to as Presence.
Ideally you would want your phone to be on a suitable wireless network ,but 3G and 4G will support VoIP. It’s important to note that when doing this is will use data within your allowance, and the quality of the call would be effected by the connection that you have on your mobile at the time of the call, and during the call.