What is VoIP? How does it fit in to my business? And will it save me money?

Cisco 7941

So we’ve all heard of VoIP right? Do we really know what it is and what it looks like? Is it better? Isn’t Skype VoIP?

Lots of questions!

Let’s start at the beginning.

Way back some traditional office phone system manufacturers recognised that life would be easier if they could attached their phones to the computer CAT5 network. This would mean that the phones wouldn’t need their own dedicated cabling back to the phone switch and moving extensions around would become a whole lot simpler by simply moving cables around in the server room.

Then a few enterprising companies thought…why don’t the phones become part of the data network and use the same technology as the computers to talk back to the phone switch. This was the birth of LAN telephony. In the server room the same traditional phone switch connected to an ISDN2 or ISDN30 as before, but instead now used a data connection for the phones and switch to talk to each other.

The next step was for these same manufacturers (and some new ones by now) to enable the use of the same method to now route branch phone calls over their office internet connection rather than breaking out in to POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service). For multi branch business suddenly calling different offices became free! Basic VoIP was here.

A few consumer services popped up, notably Skype (now owned by Microsoft), which took advantage of people’s internet connections at home to allow them to use the internet to call other Skype users around the world for free, or for a low-ish cost, regular landline or mobile numbers. Skype works by using something called Peer-Networking, where the call is routed through a number of Skype users eventually to the recipient. Whilst very secure, this caused some concerns for business users and the potential for calls to be eavesdropped so take up in the commercial space was tiny to be virtually non-existent so ISDN was still very much in use.

Now that branch-to-branch calling within a business was possible with VoIP, the next stage was to move the phone system out of the office and in to the Cloud. Using some clever technology, the office now only needed some intelligent telephones that would “reach out” into the internet and connected to a phone system hosted by a telecoms company. These phone systems could then be partitioned so each customer is isolated from each other but take advantage of the scale a larger system can provide (very much in the same vein as hosted Exchange works). All calls are then connected to POTS via the telecoms companies connection into the BT network. This is known as Hosted or Managed Telephony and uses VoIP as the mechanism to make it all work.

So it is better? Cheaper?

The main reasons for switching to a hosted solution is not really around cost or should be a cost based decision. The key difference is this type of service is delivered via a subscription model (so per user per month) rather than a combination of Cap-Ex, Line Rental, Maintenance etc from a traditional system. So over a lifetime you will probably spend a similar amount of money, but distributed more evenly over (say) a 5 year period.

The key benefit is that you end up with a better solution with much higher levels of features that exist only in a much “bigger” system without having all the optional extra costs such as auto-attendant, voicemail etc. Being a subscription based service you can scale up and down (although admittedly scaling down can be a challenge) depending on need, and as a non location specific service you can have your “work” phone on your desk, on your mobile or at home without needing to muck about with diverting etc. It makes working from home a lot more invisible to your customers! And one of the best bit’s is that you can transfer your existing BT number across (which are tied to the local exchange) which means any future office moves won’t affect your phone number.

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So should you consider it? Here at the Engine Room we switched to VoIP (with Voicenet now 8×8) a few years ago as a low cost entry into a more clever phone system when the size of the team started to grow. Having had a number of office moves since then, not having to deal with BT, new phone numbers etc is a massive saving in time and hassle.

If you’re thinking about moving office, you should definitely think about it, and if you have an obsolete or at capacity traditional system it’s worth exploring. Come talk to us and we can guide you though the best options to suit your business.

 

 

 

So is Windows Phone 8 any good?

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It was with a feeling of trepidation that I decided to ditch Apple’s iOS after having been an avid iPhone fanboy since the beginning. I loved the simplicity, wealth of apps and the solid design. So why change?

I found myself in the Apple trap, where you feel compelled to get the latest and greatest just because it’s new. However, each edition tended to only bring small improvements and change, and after upgrading from a 4 to 4s I started to feel a little jaded by the whole thing.

So having seen Windows Phone 8 arrive, I decided to make the jump and try something new. Having used Windows 8 on my desktop , I figured it would make sense to try for a more seamless experience. At the time the HTC 8X was an o2 exclusive and the Nokia (https://www.o2.co.uk/shop/phones/nokia/lumia-920/) was a Vodafone exclusive so on a wet and cold December evening, I tromped off to the o2 store and bought a shiny new HTC 8X (https://www.o2.co.uk/shop/phones/htc/windows-phone-8x/). Everyone said I’d hate it and would be back to my iPhone in less than a week!

Now, as an aside, the guy in the o2 shop was amazing! I was determined to change phone, but he also managed to switch me on to a more appropriate tariff as well (saving £25 per month!).

So first thoughts – the Interface is simple and friendly. Windows Phone uses “Tiles” on the home screen – these can be dynamic and show you bits of content (such as the weather, or News for instance). Applications not on the home screen are all grouped together in a list (which can get quite long) but you can click on the Search item and lookup). Typically you’ll put your most useful or favourite Apps on the home screen in any case.Windows 8 Home Screen

Setting it up was easy – as it’s essentially Outlook on the phone, setting up my Exchange email account was a breeze, as was getting it connected to my SkyDrive (if you use Office 365 that’s equally easy to set up). Apps are installed via the “Store” App (and you’ll see a distinct lack of Apps compared to Android and Apple – more on that later) and is a fairly simple and straightforward exercise. I’ll admit to not having purchased any Apps so I cannot comment on what that experience is like.

Apps

Anyway, to ensure my commitment to this new phone, I cleaned up my iPhone 4s and gave it to my mum (who promptly fell in love with it – but that’s another story!) and off I went in to this brave new world.

And you know what? It was ok. Some things took a bit of getting used to, and I missed some Apps (most notably the Barclays banking App) but after a week, it was starting to fit quite nicely in to my life. As a fairly simple user, my demands were not high, but it pretty much did what I needed it to and in a very easy and simple way. No fuss, no bother. It just worked. The limited choice of Apps did initially bother me, but new ones are arriving all the time, and it’s altogether possible that there is too much choice on the other platforms. It’s worth being aware that certain Apps are unlikely to appear any time soon, such as Banking and perhaps other manufacturers (such as BMW) will probably not find the investment in creating Apps for Windows Phone worthwhile.

And so time passed by, and the recent announcement of iOS 7 and (invariably) another evolution of the iPhone prompted me to think about my phone and write this little piece about it. Will I go back to an Apple iPhone? Possibly, although it would need to be pretty compelling considering the high cost of the phone and most likely very minor changes from the 5. The Nokia Lumia 925 (https://www.o2.co.uk/shop/phones/nokia/lumia-925/) is a very nice looking Windows phone (the camera in the HTC is rubbish – The Nokia camera is significantly better) and if I was in the market for a new phone that’s what I’d be getting.

With the imminent release of 8.1 it’ll be interesting to see what that brings although I suppose Windows Mobile 8.5 or 9 will bring the more significant change (and perhaps I’ll be bored of it by then and ready to jump into Android)!