Smart Business spoke with Jim Ferguson, president of sales and marketing for Mpower Communications, to learn more about VoIP and the advantages it offers.
What are customers buying when they implement VoIP?
Customers are not or should not be actually buying VoIP. They are buying the value of what VoIP can bring. In fact, VoIP should be sold as service, not just voice.
We look at VoIP as a solution, not just a product. We offer one provider and single billing convenience for customers, which is a decided advantage for any business owner.
What are the advantages of VoIP for business owners?
Business owners of all sizes realize several advantages from the implementation of VoIP.
Among them are control over costs, flexibility in terms of managing their calls, reporting capability in user management from a desktop, and the ability to have one common platform and a common dialing plan regardless of their location. For instance, a company with a phone center in India, headquarters in New York and a location in California can have one inter-company dialing plan for all of them. That is hard to do with traditional circuit-switched networks.
Another advantage is the ability to combine voice and data. VoIP provides a very fluid ‘pipe,’ which is more efficient than the traditional circuit-switched network used commonly today. Data applications are easily layered on an all-IP network. Voice is packetized, and becomes one of the data applications.
With whom would business owners consult when considering the acquisition of VoIP?
Integrated Communication Providers (ICPs), which provide hosted IP Telephony and IP Trunking services. ICPs provide turnkey solutions for small enterprise businesses. Small companies naturally want to avoid the large capital expenditures typically needed for PBX and IP PBX telephone systems, yet desire the next-generation services that VoIP can provide. Providers that are going after the smaller business market, which is really an underserved market, are taking what larger enterprises enjoy typically and pushing their services downstream to smaller businesses. So the ICPs are providing that sort of consultancy or solutions.
If providers are selling voice, they should really be selling it as it relates to improving customers’ productivity with better communication tools, not just because it’s ‘cool’ to have VoIP. Mid- to large-sized enterprises typically have an IT manager and CPE partner or vendor who works with ICP providers. ICP providers have built the high quality of service (QoS) IP networks needed to deliver to voice.
How can employers determine whether VoIP is viable for them?
Perhaps the best way is to do a cost-benefit analysis and assess the return on investment. One thing to look at is the cost of buying IP Trunking service and IP PBX equipment versus hosted IP telephony. Smaller companies may not have the resources to purchase and manage their own systems, so utilizing hosted services may make more sense for them.
What should business owners be looking for when they implement VoIP?
Businesses should be looking for communication providers or CPE vendors that can assess their internal LAN (local area network) to support VoIP, provide security solutions that support VoIP, end-user training, and guarantee service levels. It is important that businesses qualify their LAN to support VoIP and have robust, secure firewall protection when connecting to an IP network.
Whether purchasing a CPE-based or hosted VoIP solution, businesses need to consider their future needs. Telephony technology is evolving rapidly, and emerging services are developing. Therefore, the system a business owner implements today must be capable of ‘layering on’ new services. Without getting too technical, a viable VoIP system should feature a network architecture that fully supports integrated communications services from POTS to integrated voice and data over IP and it should be designed to support future applications.
When should business owners consider switching to VoIP?
Now. VoIP and IP networks have enabled new services that improve how businesses communicate. Web and video conferencing, online collaboration, secure instant messaging, and find-me-follow-me services are just the beginning. VoIP communication platforms already integrate mobile and wireline handsets regardless of your location or mobility. Virtual workplaces will become more common, improving business productivity. Since most business owners use broadband internet connections today, now is an ideal time for them to get involved in VoIP.
JIM FERGUSON is the president for sales and marketing for Mpower Communications, which serves California, Nevada, and parts of Illinois. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.