Digital phone technology lets you take advantage of all the benefits of Voice over Internet Protocol without having actual VoIP equipment installed.
“A gateway appliance is available that converts VoIP to an interface that your existing phone system recognizes without having to replace the equipment you already have,” says John Putnam, vice president of direct sales, PowerNet Global. “This type of system is very flexible. You only purchase what you need, so you’re not paying for capacity that you’ll never use. In many cases, you’ll also pay less for long distance.”
Smart Business spoke with Putnam about how to reap the benefits of adding digital capabilities to your business’s existing phone systems.
What key benefits does a company stand to gain by going digital?
A gateway appliance enables you to keep your existing phone system and take advantage of new technology at the same time. These are very cost-effective solutions and, in many cases, you’ll save money.
For example, a traditional T1 line gives you 23 or 24 lines, no matter how many lines you actually need. With the gateway, you can get the exact number of lines that you need. So if you only need six, you get six. The gateway is flexible and accommodates for growth, so you can add lines as needed. It also has multiple T1 interfaces and can accommodate up to four T1s, or 96 lines.
Is the technology cumbersome, and is there a learning curve?
No. The installation is simple and takes place in the background. Your phones will function just as they did yesterday. You’ll have the same phone, the same phone number, the same dial tone and the same features — only now, you’re potentially saving money.
How long does it take to get the digital technology in place?
It’s a quick and painless process. There are no lost calls. The service provider installs, verifies and tests that the gateway is working and then moves your numbers to the box. If you’re adding capacity to your existing system, the provider can work quickly. If it’s a case of porting numbers from a different carrier, however, the provider is at the mercy of the other carrier in terms of time required to move the numbers over but typically less than 30 days.
Can digital phone service be used in tandem with a traditional T1 phone system?
Yes. Say you have a maxed out T1 and you need six more lines; instead of installing another T1 with 24 lines, you can order those six lines as digital lines over the Internet. Then if you need additional lines down the road, you can easily add them. If you need fewer lines, you can easily scale down.
This approach not only gives you redundancy but also allows you to test the digital technology and get comfortable with it. Once you’re comfortable, you’ll feel confident adding more lines over time.
What are the advantages of being able to add or subtract phone lines?
This is particularly useful for companies that experience seasonal fluctuations in their sales cycle. For example, say you’re a trucking company that handles a lot of shipping in the summer. In the summer, you need to crank up your capacity to 50 lines, and in the fall and winter, you only need 20 lines. With digital, you can go up or down with just a single phone call and a few clicks of the mouse.
Are there drawbacks?
When voice is delivered over the Internet, a good connection becomes paramount. You need to make sure you have enough bandwidth and it must be a high-quality, reliable connection. If you frequently lose your Internet service, you’re going to lose your calls, as well.
Fiber, Internet T1s and other higher-quality Internet connections are preferred. It’s one thing if it takes awhile to receive your emails, or if web pages load slowly, but it’s quite another thing to lose your voice connection.
Are there any quality of service issues?
In the early days, providers would put cheap solutions in place that ran both voice and data on the same Internet connection, and the data side would negatively impact voice. Downloads of music, videos, etc., would chew up bandwidth at the expense of voice quality.
Today, we attack that in two ways. First, the newer gateways have quality of service built in that prioritizes voice traffic or carves out specific bandwidth for voice. Second, because the Internet is more affordable now, we can set up two separate connections — one dedicated for voice and one dedicated for data — and they can be sized according to need.
What would you say to companies that are hesitant to try digital?
There’s nothing to be uneasy about. There are companies using millions of minutes of VoIP per month with no problems whatsoever.
If you have traditional phone service, chances are your carrier is backhauling its traffic over IP anyway.
John Putnam is vice president of direct sales at PowerNet Global. Reach him at (866) 813-9455.
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