Unified VoIP Frequently Askes Questions

Introduction…

Last December we participated in a round table discussion where we presented some information and opinion on the new Unified approach to communications, with a special focus on VoIP systems. For several weeks after we found ourselves answering allot of great questions on the subject and receiving many requests for even more information. So here are the best of those questions along with answers that may help clarify this exciting new approach to communications.

Are Unified communications and VoIP the same thing?

No. Unified is an overall design concept that simplifies a communications system by minimizing the number of separate parts and combining their features into fewer, but more powerful components. Voice over Internet Protocol, AKA VoIP or IP Telephony is a widely accepted method of conveying telephone calls by sending them across data networks.

How does VoIP work?

Using Voice-over Internet Protocol, speech is converted to the same type of signals that computers use to communicate. These signals are organized as phone calls and are conveyed by a data network rather than a traditional phone system with dedicated phone cabling. VoIP conversations can travel within an office on a local area network (LAN) across a campus or municipality (CAN/MAN), or across the country or world on a wide area network (WAN).

What are the main advantages of using VoIP?

Cost savings was the original reason VoIP gained popularity. Before IP Telephony private calls between sites were carried on expensive, dedicated circuits that used up valuable bandwidth even if there were few conversations in progress. With VoIP the voice signals are sent as, and mixed with, data packets so the full bandwidth of a circuit is available for data when voice traffic is not present.

Today many more features make VoIP an attractive choice with the greatest potential being its ability to support unified applications. These applications can in turn accelerate a company’s growth, increase its customer service ability, and reduce overall communications costs.

How does VoIP sound?

Many of today’s VoIP calls are more crisp and clear than any other type of phone call. A person half way around the world can sound like they are in the next office. But in some cases VoIP can sound like a bad cell phone call. The two main factors that determine VoIP call quality are the selection and installation of the VoIP system, and the quality of the data network on which it runs. Most VoIP systems sound good and the best VoIP systems sound absolutely great. Unfortunately some networks are not quite mature and need as little help to get the best out of a VoIP system. The good news and bad news are the same. If you have a network problem you may hear it on the phone system, but this presents the opportunity to make corrections that will improve not only voice signals but overall network performance.

Will a new VoIP telephone work like my old phone system?

Not exactly, VoIP systems automate call processing to a far greater extent than traditional systems, which have relied on a more tactile use of the phone’s buttons. While some VoIP systems try to maintain the look and feel of traditional line buttons, many new VoIP systems give the user their calls in a simplified manner according to a predetermined routine. Most VoIP systems also include a graphic interface that lets a user’s computer extend the functionality of their VoIP phone.

Will VoIP run on my network?

VoIP will work on most modern Ethernet LANs with few problems. For systems that span two or more sites careful attention must be given to the size and quality of the broadband circuits that connect them. For assured performance the switches and routers that run the network should be capable of actively managing the flow of data traffic. This management will expedite voice traffic for best quality and optimize its throughput between sites.

Can I make phone calls on the Internet?

Calls may be places using a good Internet connection between remote sites or to a regular telephone number using an Internet telephone company. Site-to-site calls are essentially free while long distance calls placed over the Internet to regular phone numbers cost much less than most discount calling plans available from the local phone company.

How secure are VoIP calls?

 

If a VoIP call transits to the phone company it is as susceptible to wire taps as any other phone calls. Calls made through Internet broadband phone companies can also be monitored and decoded, but require much more sophisticated monitoring equipment. Calls made between private sites or from a remote office IP phone on a VPN are extremely secure, and can be made inaccessible while in transit by the stealth characteristics of a popular carrier transport method called MPLS.

What about placing emergency 911 calls?

It is critically important for all systems to have access to a local phone line, or a T-1 circuit capable of identifying the location from which the call originates. The phone system should automatically route the emergency call onto these circuits.

Is VoIP for everyone?

No one phone system today is all things to all users. Those that have no need for advanced features and no patience for new technology may prefer a more traditional phone system. Others may have an investment in an existing system and may merely need to add a couple of features or a few phones to meet their needs.

Can I upgrade my existing telephone system to VoIP?

Yes, but the addition of VoIP alone may not meet all the needs of a growing organization. VoIP is available in several different basic design concepts and it is critical for the organization to understand the architectural and size differences.

What are there different types of VoIP?

VoIP has quickly evolved from protocols like H.323 and MEGACO to SIP and IAX. But the underlying architecture has been much slower to change and today there are three main approaches to using these technologies. They are integrated, converged, and unified and can be simply defined:

Integrated: Differing technologies from different sources.

Converged: The same (IP) technology from different sources.

Unified: The same (IP) technology from one source.

Of the three, the Unified design is the newest in the market. It has the greatest number of developers producing new products, and holds the greatest potential for new applications.

Why should I be interested in a Unified approach; what will it do for my organization?

Overall it acts as a business growth accelerator by:

Increasing operational efficiency

Reducing telecommunications and maintenance costs

Improving market response and customer service

For example, the average unified VoIP phone systems use only three basic components. (Compare parts lists)

 

Unified is one of today’s most popular communications buzz words. Doesn’t Unified really refer to a particular brands feature set, proprietary technology, or market approach?

Technically… NO! While many brands use the word “unified” to describe their products and some manufacturers have even changed their company names to include the word “unified”, this use is pure marketing. The real definition lies in the systems architecture.

What are some examples of Unified systems?

 

Connectivity and pathway – Traditional vs. Unified cable distribution PICS.

Data Transport – Separate switches, routers, and firewalls vs. Unified PICS.

New VoIP – Integrated phone & VM system vs. Unified PICS.

Show a unified system evolution

Are unified solutions standards based?

Can I migrate, my existing infrastructure to a Unified solution?

Can I deploy a new Unified solution on with my existing infrastructure?

Most often, yes. For example, traditional connectivity may be upgraded to Unified distribution without needing to change data switches routers or firewalls. Switches, routers, and firewalls may be replaced by one Unified device that does the job of all three with no need to touch the cabling or phone system. An old phone system may be replaced by a Unified VoIP phone system if the local and wide area network is up to standard and using newer, commercial grade equipment. A Network Readiness Assessment is recommended for all large scale VoIP deployments.

Does the real opportunity involve combining unified approach with a VoIP system?

Now you’re getting it!

What other criteria makes a system Unified?

 

Please see our Unified checklist.

What does a Unified system cost?

 

Generally a Unified system will cost much less than other systems with the same capability and feature set. If one reduces a traditional system to its basic features then a unified system which is inherently feature rich may have the same or a slightly higher initial cost. A unified system may cost slightly more to implement but will cost significantly less to maintain compared to traditional system. The Unified system’s total cost of ownership is often much less then any other type. Because Unified systems are very easy to install many companies have saved even more by doing it themselves.

Conclusion

While VoIP systems has distinct advantages, an overall Unified design offers a new and different set of opportunities. By learning how to combine the two an organization may enjoy accelerated growth and reducing costs.