VoIP 101: A guide to phone and video conferencing solutions
Posted on: October 9, 2020
It wasn’t long ago that the only real option for making internet calls was Skype. The earliest Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) player dominated the landscape after its acquisition by Microsoft in 2012, but application changes, technological advances and industry evolution eventually led to the rise of rival services.
Now, the extensive availability of easily accessible VoIP solutions and the extraordinary demand for video calling during the COVID-19 pandemic has produced a sudden abundance of alternatives for remote companies and their work-from-home employees. In the wake of the coronavirus, downloads and usage have soared for video conferencing solutions, such as Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and GoToConnect.
With constantly updated features, new integrations and different price models, there is a lot that CIOs need to consider when it comes to all-in-one options for remote communication. Among those considerations is also a change in mindset for organizations, a progressive shift in how they think about purchasing solutions, toward adaptability and evaluation.
What is VoIP?
Voice over Internet Protocol is a technology that enables you to make voice calls with a broadband internet connection instead of using an analog phone line. Converting your voice into a digital signal that travels over the internet, VoIP is basically phone service online.
All that is needed to make a direct call is a broadband connection, a computer and specialized VoIP phone or regular phone connected to an adapter.
Why use VoIP?
There are many benefits to using VoIP for your business and employees, including unified communications on one platform and the ability to make conference calls. Two of the biggest advantages of using VoIP, though, are greater affordability and flexibility.
Unlike an analog telephone system with copper wiring and lots of specific equipment, VoIP doesn’t require a dedicated line or much extra hardware to set up, reducing upfront costs. VoIP rates are typically lower than traditional phone service because the calls are measured in bits rather than minutes. They also allow for cheaper long-distance and international calls and a reduced monthly bill. VoIP calls can even be viewed as free because, except for the cost of their internet, using the service may not involve any added charges.
Just as importantly with so many people socially distancing and working from home, VoIP networks offer mobility, convenience and 24/7 remote connectivity. Users can make and receive calls almost anywhere, as long as they have a decent internet connection. In addition to IP-adapted hardphones, VoIP software can be installed on a computer or a smart device, through mobile and tablet apps, turning them into softphones.
Hardphones vs. softphones
Hardphones and softphones are both types of VoIP communication systems that enable phone calls using the internet. The essential difference is that a hardphone is a physical device, while a softphone is a software application.
Plugged in at a workstation and connected to a company’s IP network, hardphones appear and operate similarly to conventional phone systems, though they function as mini computers. They have a handheld receiver, base and buttons, but also include screens for video calls and conferencing, plus other advanced VoIP features, such as call recording, call forwarding and do not disturb. Because of their familiarity, hardphones are easy to learn and use.
Softphones allow users to communicate with software that can be run on any internet-connected, VoIP-capable device, like desktop or laptop computers, tablets and smartphones. All you need is a microphone, speakers and an internet connection and, after downloading the VoIP app, you can immediately call, chat, or video conference from anywhere. Softphones usually have a user-friendly interface that functions like an actual telephone, as well as other enhanced features.
Which is better for your business?
When weighing your VoIP options, there are pros and cons to both hardphones and smartphones. Depending on factors like business size, call volume and organizational type, companies will find variations in cost, mobility and user interface.
Because there is an independent device handling calls and the system is powered by Ethernet, hardphones tend to have the edge in call quality and reliability. While softphones are generally fine with strong computer power and a good internet connection, moments of spotty reception or running too many programs could overload the system and compromise performance. Hardphones are best for larger organizations and traditional offices that conduct most of their business in-house and need consistent call quality.
Softphones are better in terms of cost and mobility. They don’t have expensive hardware to install and maintain, whereas hardphones require some physical external equipment. With their flexible and remote communication functionality, softphones are well-suited for on-the-go or work-from-home employees and more economical companies.
Video conferencing solutions
In recent years, new VoIP applications have emerged as alternatives to Skype, the most well-known softphone example.
With greater usage and fiercer competition, platforms are increasingly imitating and one-upping each other on features. Some are completely free, while others offer free tiers or trials; some charge monthly fees, others use an annual subscription model. Applications can also vary widely on video conference participant limits, mobile friendliness and privacy protection, as well as on features like meeting transcription, screen sharing, virtual backgrounds and more.
From cost to integrations, security to compatibility, the video conferencing market is continuously evolving. It can be hard for companies to keep up and know when to upgrade. But rather than trying to find the perfect, permanent video and telecommunications solution and viewing it as one big decision, businesses have an opportunity to change their purchasing approach.
With the convergence of video, phone and chat functionality, the relatively reasonable prices across the board and the simplicity of updating services, organizations should get in the habit of trying out various options. Be prepared to change your solutions set more often than in the past. You should think about dating instead of marrying your communications and IT Services. And if you’re looking for a partner to help you leverage technology to enhance your business operations, look no further than Calance.
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